Pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and to my limits, in this weekends training ride with more experienced riders.
This weekend I was invited by Halfords to take part in a training ride for the Dallaglio Flintoff CycleSlam2012 challenge. It was too good an opportunity to miss despite the fact that I knew there were so many factors against me. The mileage we were going to cover was 20 miles more than I’d ever done before (102km/64miles), it was a very hilly route (which I’m definitely not used to) and I’d only once taken part in a group ride of this scale (Cycletta, where everyone was female and of mixed ability, whereas this group was mostly men and everyone was clearly a lot more experienced than me!). But I was going to meet Lawrence Dallaglio so I figured that made it all worth giving a go!
I would like to admit now though that it didn’t go quite as well as I’d have hoped. The preparation was all there. I had an early night (without alcohol – despite a close friends leaving do), had filled and packed my new Camelbak hydration rucksack with water, energy snacks and tools, and loaded the route onto my new garmin cycle computer. But the nerves set in. I knew this was going to be hard, that I was a little out of my depth but I was still desperate to get on and prove to myself that I could do it.
It was clear quite early on that I was not going to keep up. We left the start point at the Mitcham Halfords store in small groups to alleviate traffic and safety concerns and headed out of the city into the countryside. Within the first 10 miles I’d been overtaken by all the cyclists behind me and watched them disappear into the distance. I’m quite used to cycling on my own though so didn’t feel daunted by this. The route was well sign-posted and I had the course to follow on the Garmin Edge 200 attached to the front of my bike. With this there was no way I could get lost, it has a small map on the screen of where the turns are and beeps if you go off route. I think it’s amazing - I never have to get lost again!
So, off I pootled, on my own through the amazing scenery of the Epsom Downs and on towards Box Hill. I’d been warned about how steep this hill is by some of my colleagues, so was very anxious. I’d been steadily climbing for a while, when the trees cleared and I had a fantastic view of the city spreading out beneath me. I was amazed that I’d made it to the top, even more so at how much easier it was than I’d thought it have been! But then I came out the other side. Winding down a steep track, with sharp hairpin turns, and steep drops alongside the road – I made my way down very slowly, and soon became aware that I’d congratulated myself too early! Because, of course, once I’d made my way down, I then had to climb back up again the other side. And this was hard. So hard, that I actually got off the bike to walk. My calf muscles were screaming by the time I reached the top and could get back on the bike. But on I got and started cycling again. I didn’t last much longer though as I had my first experience of leg cramping through my quads. I was surprised by how fast it came on and how debilitating it was. At one point I couldn’t do anything other than a comedy shuffle astride the bike. I couldn’t get off unless I was to throw myself sideways to the ground – which I was not prepared to do! Thankfully the cramps subsided quickly as well and I was able carry on.
It was around this time that a car pulled up alongside me. It took me a while to work out what was going on, but eventually realised it was the support crew tasked with taking down the direction arrows and check that everyone was ok. I was so far behind they had started to tidy up the course! They asked if I wanted to be picked up and advised that I was probably still an hour away from the lunch stop. I declined at first, determined to complete the route, but eventually realised that I was fighting a losing battle against time and those hills. There was two steep inclines still to come and I wasn’t sure my legs would cope. I didn’t want to risk injury, especially as I have two more big cycling weekends coming up, so conceded defeat. I can’t begin to explain how disappointed I was, and must admit I did shed a tear or two in frustration, while I waited for the mechanics van to collect me.
Despite my disappointment at joining them for the ride back to the start point, it was really interesting to see how these events work ‘behind the scenes’. The team of mechanics from Halfords pulled up a few times to help stricken cyclists with broken chains or difficult punctures, and I was impressed by how efficient they were. They had a great banter between them and the cyclists which I think helped in those moments of stress. I took advantage of their expertise as well to get some advice on my bike and they even talked me through some problems I’d been having with my gears. All in all, not a bad end to the day.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I still wish I’d been able to manage more but I can appreciate that I didn’t do too badly with the challenge. I managed to cycle 25 miles, mostly uphill, and maintained an average speed of 9mph. I’ve been averaging 10mph on my regular flat routes so felt this was still good going. It’s made me realise how important it is to build up gradually with your training and that you shouldn’t push yourself too early. I think my confidence has taken a slight knock but I know now that I need to work harder than ever with my training so that I don’t end up been driven to the finish line in Paris! I’ve got 15 weeks to go. This will come round in no time but when I does, I’m going to be prepared…
Halfords is the Official Cycling Partner of the Dallaglio Flintoff 2012 Cycle Slam, supported by Virgin Media, and will be supplying Boardman Performance Series Team Carbon road bikes to Lawrence and Freddie as well as providing mechanical support and spares for all riders during the 22 day event. To help raise money for the Cycle Slam charities, enter the competition on the Halfords website or donate here.
For more information on the Women's Only London to Paris Ride, call 0870 333 1662, visit Action Medical Research or contact email@example.com
Erica is riding a 2011 Ridgeback Radium road bike (RRP £799.99) For more information, visit www.ridgeback.co.uk or join the facebook page, facebook.com/ridgebackbikes
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