April 17, 2016

So many people have been asking me “Have you done 100 miles yet”. When I tell them no they’re like “what you playing at”. The reality is that I have never cycled before so my training is all about building up slowly. I’m comfortable at consecutive 3/4 hour ride now (45-60 miles) and my trainer is slowly increasing the distance each week. Despite this the whole “incomplete 100 mile” thing was frustrating me a bit!

This weekend that all changed as I entered and completed my first century. It was the Lionheart Sportive, a 100 mile hilly course (6600ft elevation) which starts and finishes at Longleat. I was representing one of my chosen charities CLIC Sargent.

Despite the fact I have been training hard for 6 months I was really, really anxious the night before and I couldn’t sleep until about 3am. My legs were aching from a 2 hour ride that day and I was really concerned that I might not complete the 100. One thing I have learnt since I started this process is that the mental battle is the toughest.

I was up at 6am and rode to Longleat at 6-40. It’s really hilly here and even the 8 miles to the start line took me 45 mins. I was due to start at 8:12 but I jumped in with the first group at 8am instead. It was immediately apparent that most cyclists were of a good level, if this was the first group then the last group must be super fast. I had decided beforehand that I was going to stick to my own ride and not get drawn into a race, something that’s easier said than done. From the start line we proceeded around the grounds, past the safari entrance and then climbed out of Longleat. It’s not an ideal warm up and I had to constantly remind myself to take it easy.

Coming out of Longleat I got excited and dropped a group to catch up with the next. Five mins later and they overtook me on the next climb, giving me a smirk as they went past. I had learnt my lesson – pointless showing off here as 99% of people are better than me.

The first 18 miles until the food station went really quickly. I hadn’t had much breakfast because of nerves so I was looking forward to getting some food down me. There would be 4 food stations along the way (18 mile, 32, 50 and 71). There was tons of food and drink on offer in addition to bike and medical assistance should you need it.

The course was pretty hilly but things got interesting after the 2nd food station where there was a timed climb named King Alfred’s Tower. I had been freaking out about this climb but in all honesty it wasn’t all that bad. It was about 1.5 mile with an average gradient of 7% – the max gradient was 20% at the end. I was blowing a little but it’s no bigger than many climbs around the peak district.

At the 50 mile mark you have to decide if you want to turn off for the 100km route. I have done 50 miles many times before so naturally I was feeling really good. I set out and despite a few aches I was doing well. At the start of the day I really wanted to achieve a 15mph average – something that would have been brilliant for me on such a hilly course – but in reality I expected to ride around 13-14mph. To my amazement I was at 15.5mph, something I don’t always achieve on the flat.

Everything was going swimmingly, but I knew that after 70 mile I was going to places I haven’t been before. When I stopped at the feed station at 71 mile I felt really tired. I stocked up on food quickly and set out, wanting it over and done with… At 80 miles I was fucked.
The sugar gels and energy bars – which had done their job so well the last few miles – were now not working, I was just exhausted.
It’s a huge mental battle at this point and even though I knew I would never stop, my brain is screaming at me to pull over. Miles seem to take hours and each climb feels like 20% with your legs feeling like lead. I remember looking at my Garmin and I knew there was a sneaky 500ft of elevation somewhere. Coming into Longleat grounds there were people applauding you and the adrenaline is going, but with only a few miles left this elevation still hasn’t come. BAM, and then it comes, right before the finish. It was really, really tough on my chicken legs.

Crossing the line was a bit weird. I was that tired I didn’t really know what was going on. Some young lad but a medal around my neck and I refueled with a bean hot-pot and some bread. Naturally I was chuffed, but it was a brutal demonstration of how hard America will be.

However I felt pretty good, I had a bit of a pain in my knees and naturally I was tired bit overall I’m very happy with how it went. I’ve now got 100 miles under my belt – I know I can do it! Many of these cyclists will be resting tomorrow but I will be out again, slogging away. It was the longest distance and highest elevation I have ever ridden and I was really chuffed with my 14.9mph average. I wasn’t so chuffed with the 8 mile ride home, that was really really hard.

A massive thanks to the organisers Human Race and all of the volunteers/staff. That was my first ever cycle event and I wasn’t sure what to expect but it far exceeded my expectations.

I’m just in the local pub now and, in addition to walking a bit funny, I’ve eaten two main meals. The girl behind the bar thinks I’m mental!

Will stick the video online soon, thanks for reading!

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