Free your mind and your legs will follow. (Rule #6 from ‘The Rules’ of the Velominati)
“Your mind is your worst enemy. Do all your thinking before you start riding your bike. Once the pedals start to turn, wrap yourself in the sensations of the ride – the smell of the air, the sound of the tires, the feeling of flight as the bicycle rolls over the road.”
After offering a friend the advice, “You should do something that scares you every day” (thanks to Baz Luhrmann for that little gem), I decided that I probably ought to practise what I was preaching. I had seen a bike ‘Sportive’ was to be held not far from home, and whilst I’m not interested in competitive racing, the idea of following a pre-determined course and getting a free t-shirt for completing the challenge at my own pace was a combination of scary and appealing. Despite being quite nervous about cycling much further than I ever had before (and about doing it as a lone ranger), I laid out my rather foxy gel shorts and set my alarm for 7am on Saturday morning.
Not really sleeping much on Friday night wasn’t the best preparation. I’m not sure if it was down to nerves or that annoying thing your body does when it knows you have to wake up early. In fear of sleeping through your alarm, you can’t seem to drop off for hours on end, resulting in even greater sleep deprivation than the early morning was already causing.
Five hours of restless snoozing later, I made it down to the Wycombe Wanderers stadium on time, filled in my entry form and wheeled my bike over to the start. I started to wonder if I was a bit out of my depth when I noticed the first female biker I saw had an Ironman tattoo on her leg. My fingers were firmly crossed that she was doing the ‘Epic’ course, or even the ‘Standard’ one. I had entered the shorter ‘Fun’ event, which frankly I found a slightly demeaning name considering it would probably still be quite challenging for everyone who had chosen it… i.e. me. 65km with a few sizeable hills isn’t just a casual Sunday afternoon ‘pootle’ as far as I’m concerned.
It was a bit tricky figuring out how to pace myself to begin with and I was definitely overtaken by more people than I overtook in the first few kilometres. However, once we encountered our first proper hill I managed to make up some ground. It turns out my first bike buddy was right when she told me I’d be a decent climber owing to my power to weight ratio. When it comes to cycling up hills, I definitely have an advantage over the MAMILs (‘middle aged men in lycra’). Unfortunately for me the weight advantage was reversed going back downhill and I’m sure they were all happy to peg back the midget who had passed them a kilometre earlier without standing up on her pedals.
I don’t really know what I spent most of the ride thinking about. It’s a nice feeling just pedalling along outdoors. Rarely in my life have I been as excited about a flapjack as I was at the feed station. I concentrated throughout on avoiding stones and potholes because I’m pretty under confident about repairing a puncture. I may have the gel shorts and shiny shoes, but it’s definitely a case of ‘all the gear, no idea’ as far as bike mechanics go. Bikers’ code dictates you ask fellow cyclists who have stopped for repairs if they are okay or need any assistance. Bearing in mind the only real help I could offer would be phoning a marshal – which they presumably have the capability to do themselves – I just end up being a combination of useless but courteous in this situation.
One MAMIL actually did need my help after a pretty spectacular crash. Whilst going down a hill, I watched on from a few metres behind as he headed into a bend a bit too fast. Seconds later, he skidded sideways, flew four or five metres over his handlebars and dive-bombed in the hedge. I slowed down (carefully, might I add) and walked back up the road to where his bike had managed to land surprisingly neatly against the verge. No sign of the man. The only clue to his whereabouts was a hole in the hedge. After a short, quite surreal conversation with the bodyless voice, we established that nothing was broken. He emerged out of the hole absolutely covered in nettles and weeds, bringing new meaning to my understanding of the phrase ‘being dragged through a hedge backwards’. Thankfully he was nothing more than nettle-stung and embarrassed, but I definitely took extra care not to go too fast from then on.
The last half an hour or so was the only time I really started to look forward to being finished. It rained pretty heavily and to be honest I was starting to get bored of my own company. I was pleased to receive my ‘Finisher’ t-shirt and medal, but more pleased still to get a cup of tea. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for them in general, I even had a bath when I got home. I enjoyed my first sportive and I’d recommend doing one to other amateur cyclists like me. I’m sure I’ll do another at some point, but I feel like I fully earned a day on the sofa watching the World Cup the next day. In case you were wondering, I slept like a log on Saturday night. Despite my bath though, the next bit of Baz Luhrmann’s advice I’ll be following is without a doubt, “Stretch”.
Please follow @inkingfeeling on Twitter to stay up to date…