So, the 22nd of March kind of snuck up on me. I knew it was coming, but I just put it to the back of my mind, and hoped that my carried over fitness might see me through. Obviously I knew that running and swimming is not the same as spinning the pedals, but somehow, life just takes over, and before you know it, you're on the start line staring down the barrel of 105 miles with three chunky hill climbs! The funny thing with a longer day that I have found out, in 25 years of endurance challenges is that its never the first 60 miles that is the problem, its what follows that is the unknown. It's how you're going to feel in the final 45 miles that really matters. And, furthermore, if you're wondering how you're going to feel in miles 60 - 105, you're probably not quite prepared enough! That was definitely me at 08:15 on Sunday morning!
Happily - the weather was dry, and the roads were typically 'Somerset' quiet on a Sunday morning. So off the group went. As is usual, myself, Mark and Dan pushed off a few minutes later, having ensured that the support crew were all prepped and ready to roll. With a rush of adrenaline, and explaining to Dan and Mark how I had considered the importance for today of trying to calculate an expected average effort - and trying not to go way over that in the early stages of the ride, we set off in a blaze of whirring cranks, trying to catch the lead peleton.
As we crossed the bridge at Burrowbridge there was no sign. And it took another few miles, past Othery, until we began to reel them back in. At Pedwell Hill, we latched on to the group, and mercifully got amongst the group for the first climb.
However, it didn't take long, and my enthusiasm had got the better of me, and the lovely twisting sweeping corners down through Shapwick saw me accelerating again, swinging leads with Mark as we charged towards the nature reserve, and then Westbury Sub Mendip. Crossing towards Easton, the Mendips loom large, and dominate the eyeline, and the group begins to settle itself, ready for the day's first big challenge, Kites Croft Climb, a nasty, characterful narrow lane that ascends right to the top of the Mendips in double quick time. 700 feet of climbing at 8% soon splits the group. Knowing that I was in less than peak riding fitness I slid immediately to the back of the group, not wishing to have the ignominy of being passed by everyone. But by halfway up the hill, I noticed that the handful of riders ahead weren't pulling away. Taking gulps of air, and just pushing slightly harder, I eased past a handful of riders, and by the top of the hill I was feeling pretty damned pleased. I can't take any credit, I'm convinced my all new carbon Ridley was the main reason for this great climb. And as we crested the hills, and joined the descent down through Cheddar Gorge, I suddenly felt very thankful to my new bike. We had bonded on Kites Croft.
The descent of Cheddar felt smooth, and taking care at the Narrows and Horseshoe Bend Buttress not to swing too wide. Passing through Cheddar in a flash, we ploughed on down across the levels to Wedmore, where the feedstation, Jason, and Sam were awaiting our arrival. We waited for support vehicle 2 to arrive, whilst making sure that all items at the feed station would be safe for riders to consume :-) Duly, Si and Andy rolled up in Support Van 2 - ready to supervise the doughnuts, meaning that stage 2 was underway for us. We took off again at high speed, thankfully enjoying a tailwind across to Mark, and Woolavington before the descent down into Bridgwater, and the prospect of the Quantocks,
A High Vis. jacket greeted us on the edge of Bridgwater, as we quickly skirted the town, and out past Durleigh reservoir. The climb up Enmore Hill is a long steady one, and this time I opted for a much slower approach, taking time to chat with Mark, until we reached the final steeper section. We made short work of the top of the Quantocks, before dropping down the high speed Cothelstone Hill descent, down into Bishops Lydeard, and the second feed...
At this point, the ride splits, and the sensible short coursers, pedalled off down towards Bradford on Tone, with just one climb remaining. We however knew very well what lay in wait. The infamous Elworthy and Raleighs Cross Road that heads towards Exmoor, is a challenging ride on any day. But with already 65 miles in the legs, it is at this point that I needed a good talking to. The climb up to Willett Tower is steady, and on any normal day suits me nicely, but the road then shelves steeply down to Elworthy Cross, and the punishing climb up to Raleighs Cross begins. Given 670 feet of ascent and an average of 10.2% by our friends at Strava - it doesn't sound too bad, but it really is... its a real leg cruncher, and so tough midway through a big ride. Its like this whole ride - it doesn't sound too tricky - but somehow, in the flesh it's tougher than you'd imagine. Anyhow, we hold it together until the top of the hill, and we push on across the top of Exmoor. I'm praying for the descent into Wiveliscombe, as an opportunity to recover. And sure enough, after a short dark spell across the hill tops, I perk up as we speed down off Exmoor,
The flat fast ride to Milverton and Hillcommon is gone in a flash, and so too the short stretch to Bradford on Tone, and so we hit the last climb. Small voices are in my head - telling me its the last one. This is never a good sign. "Just get this climb done, and you're as good as home..." - well the climb through West Buckland passes, with moderate discomfort, and we're waving good bye to one of our team who is heading back to Exeter via Cullompton, as we turn towards Staple Fitzpaine. For me, this was the darkest time of the ride, when despite my best efforts at eating, my blood sugar levels plummeted. With heavy legs, and forward speed decreasing by the minute, a slightly lightheaded feeling, I reached into my backpocket. The Chocolate Ride Bar that was waiting for me was just what my legs needed. That last injection of sugar was just what the doctor ordered, and suddenly I felt like I was back in the room. We whizzed along the final lanes in the afternoon sunshine, scooting under the A358, and back into North Curry to a wonderful warm cup of tea, and a change of clothes.
Next time - more winter training required. Although I seem to remember saying that last year?