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So, with far more prep done than I had managed last year I should have been more than ready for this event.
Despite many miles cycled this year as the event came closer I started to have doubts... I have indeed done a lot of miles this year, however I don't feel super fit or well trained. I also started having doubts about my ability to ride down Leith Hill. A few years ago, I had a pretty nasty fall on Leith Hill and as a result I am still nervous about downhills and cornering. A week ago, I was considering pulling out of the event as I was constantly visualising the downhill and me falling off my bike. This is not a fun flashback, I wasn't sure I was brave enough to start the ride this weekend.
But I decided to go and register for the event and then see how I felt over the weekend. So on Friday I headed down to the expo at Excel London to register and pick up my pack.
I managed to catch up with Judith and James on the Primal stand at the Expo, it looked amazing and seemed to be really popular, I know many people who visited the stand and a lot of them bought many pairs of socks...
Whilst at the Expo I also visited the Silverline stand and took part in their 200mtr Wattbike challenge, the winner was 9.65 seconds, it took me just over 13 seconds and I can tell you that 13 seconds has never felt so long!
Saturday evening I decided I was brave enough to at least start the event, so I prepped my bike, with the weather forecast being pretty miserable - strong winds and lots of rain forecast I decided on my winter bike (Liv Avail Advanced Pro 2) with disc brakes and wider tyres I felt this was a sensible choice, better to be safe.
Sunday morning I was up at 3.20am... 3.20am is that even a real time of day?! I rolled out of bed and reluctantly forced myself to drink a peppermint tea and eat an omelette. I hate eating or drinking when I first wake up and it’s even worse when you are up at that time in the morning. But it was a necessary evil.
Adam drove me to the start area, we arrived at about 5.30, I had to be in my start pen by 5.48, luckily it was easy to find, but it was already raining. I had decided against taking waterproofs as the weather was supposed to be warm but wet, so I was just wearing my Primal Theta Women's Helix Kit and standing still in the start pen I was not warm! That will teach me, I should have at least taken a gilet - ah hindsight is amazing hey?
Still, eventually I was on my way, my wave started at 6.36am, some music on the start line and some friendly volunteers including Elle from keepitsimpelle then I was off into London on the first section of the course.
The first 45 miles is usually quite fast and fun, it's reasonably flat and the miles usually pass pretty quickly. This year the weather had other ideas... By the time I got into central London I was feeling like a victim. The storm was battering us, the strong winds and heavy rain were far from fun. After a few weeks of hot weather and no rain this was a bit of a shock to the system. But I persevered, and by the time I got to Newlands Corner, approximately 48 miles into the course I felt better, possibly as we were now up in the Surrey Hills and they provided a bit of shelter from the wind.
The hilly section actually felt quite pleasant, it seemed like they were less crowded than when I have ridden the event in previous years, it’s possible I suppose that some people may have changed their minds about participating when they saw the forecast? Often the hills in a mass sportive can feel quite dangerous with it being difficult to negotiate round people on the up hills and people travelling rather quickly on the downhills, but this time I felt safe, people seemed to be being sensible and slightly cautious given the weather conditions and as a result all my worries about riding down Leith Hill had been unnecessary, a combination of my winter bike and considerate cyclists around me meant I managed to descend the hills with no issues. I cannot tell you how pleased I was, despite the roads looking like rivers and the rain hurting when it hit my skin.
Once the hills were over there was less than 30 miles left to go, and at this point the wind was more often behind me and my legs seemed to wake up. I felt less like a victim of the storm and more like a cyclist. I really enjoyed the last 30 miles, although I was picturing my dry towel I had left in my kit bag and the picnic that our cycle club had organised for the finish. Thoughts of dry clothes, cheese sandwiches and crisps propelled me to the finish.
I crossed the finish line with an event time of 6hrs and 35 minutes and a moving time of 6hrs 26 minutes - the difference in time being the time I was stopped at crossing points etc. (which was quite frequently towards the end) as luckily I had enough nutrition and hydration on me to avoid needing to stop at the hubs.
I am really pleased. That's something I rarely say. I have ridden the event twice before with quicker times both times. However, both times I have started, ridden and finished with friends and the weather has been pleasant. This time I started, rode and finished alone, in horrendous weather, yet I conquered my fears and felt brave and determined.
Crossing the finish line felt like an achievement and that's something I rarely say, I am always over analysing my performances and criticising, finding ways I should have been better, stronger or faster. This time I didn't feel like that. Before I started I thought 6 hours would have been my absolute best-case scenario, with good weather and no incidents, and 7 hours would be my worst case, I came in mid-way between those expectations and was pleased with my ride.
Now it’s time to get going with some serious training for Ironman Italy in September...