Evans Cycles RideIt! Hatfield Sportive Report

Another busy week for me, including

  • Monday – 40 and a bit miles on the bike on Bank Holiday Monday, an actual rest day on Tuesday
  • Tuesday – REST DAY ?!
  • Wednesday – 5:30am open water swim session
  • Thursday – Freedom Tri run session, featuring pyramid intervals
  • Friday – evening pool swim session, featuring hard graft and cramp
  • Saturday – 7am open water swim session, first 2 lapper of the year

And to round the week of with my first ever sportive.  A sportive is a group bike ride, not a race – it’s not competitive, so pretty relaxed.  There were three distances on offer today:

  • Short – 28 miles  Elevation 1800ft
  • Medium – 55 miles Elevation 3400ft
  • Long – 86 miles Elevation 5100ft

I’d opted for the medium distance, as short seemed a bit short, and long seemed a bit long.   The medium distance was still a bit long for me really – I’ve only ever cycled 50 miles once before, and that was last October, although I have done a couple of 40 (ish) mile rides in the last few weeks.

Unfortunately, the weather report leading up to the ride had been abysmal.  Heavy rain and strong windy had been forecast all week.  Thankfully as we got closer to Sunday, the rain at least had dropped off the forecast, but it was still forecast to be a cool 10c and string winds still:

Wind :(

Wind 😦

Great.  Cycling in the wind is hateful.  There’s rarely a proper good tail wind, and a cross wind can be as fatiguing as a headwind.  My good friend Lisa “Ninja #1” Preston posted this on Facebook the other day, which I’d had in mind pretty much all week:



Anyway, enough moaning for now, there’ll be plenty more of that later on.  At least the rain had stopped.

There was no specific start time for the sportive, just bowl up between 8:30 and 10:30, register, and make way to the start pen, when there’s a load of riders ready to go, they’re given a short safety briefing, and details about how the different distance routes are sign posted, then then set off.

I arrived at 9:15, and went in to register, and have my timing chip stuck onto my helmet (must remember to remove that at some point!).  I was given a couple of boxes of High-5 sports nutrition products – gels, energy powders, hydration tablets, etc.  One box just for turning up, and another, bigger box for signing up 4 weeks in advance.  It looks like a good selection of products – probably £20 if purchased separately, so off to a good start.

On the way out of registration, I met up with Russell from the triathlon club.  He’d suggested we cycle together to share the work at the front in a mini peloton, a great idea, considering the wind.  I went off to faff about and get myself ride ready, and get back to the start line.  We listened to the safety briefing, and set off at about 9:45.

The first few miles went well, I don’t know if we had a bit of a tail wind, but over the first 5 miles, we managed to average just shy of 18mph – a good bit quicker than I’m used to cycling.  Group cycling is fairly new to me, I’m not really that confident cycling close behind someone to get the most aerodynamic benefit from drafting, and also unsure of the etiquette of how long to spend following, and how long to spend up front.  Russell is a far more experienced rider than me, having been a road cyclist since 2008, and having done some pretty serious cycling over the years, including John O’Groats to Lands End, so I followed his lead, and tried to keep up.

We carried on, eating up the miles.  After an hour, we’d covered 16.2 miles, and done more down hill than up hill, 683ft up vs 918ft down.  The Hertfordshire countryside is beautiful, and there’s so much you miss hacking up and down the A1.  We were going through villages and hamlets that I’d never heard of, despite the whole ride being within a 20 mile radius of where I live.  My legs were feeling good, we were shifting along, and enjoying the ride.

We rode with a few other guys for a while.  I almost felt like a proper cyclist, riding in peloton formation with a bunch of guys, a couple of them with Islington CC jerseys.  It was going quite well until I got dropped, and we fell off the back of their group.

Approaching the first feed station, we caught up with Freedom Tri member, Will Gee. Unfortunately, he’d fallen victim to a rough bit of road, of which there was plenty, and picked up not only his second puncture of the day, but had hit a pothole so hard, he’d managed to put a massive dent into the rim of his rear wheel.  We stopped to see if they were OK, and Russell gave Will a spare inner tube, so that he could hopefully get to the feed station.  The feed station also had mobile bike mechanic support, laid on by Evans Cycles, and we waited for Will to arrive to see if the mechanics were  able to straighten Will’s wheel out so he could complete the ride.

The Evans guys came up trumps, and straightened the rim out, and pumped the tyre up to proper pressure, and we said we’d ride together, but thankfully there were no further mechanical problems for the rest of the day.

The feed station was really good – loads of cake and flapjack, and a chance to fill up the bottles with High-5 energy drink.  It was also good to get off the bike for a bit.  With the stop to help Will out, and stop at the feed station a couple of miles later, we must have been off the bikes for over an hour, as by Garmin elapsed time was 1:10 longer than the moving time.  I suppose that’s a good thing about it not being a race – apart from wanting to get home, and beating the weather before the rain sets in, there’s no real pressure on time.

We set off again as a trio, Russell, Will and I, and carried on riding.  The next 10 miles or so were OK, mostly downhill, but still windy.

At around mile 38, there was a 3 mile climb – constant up hill, so the speed suffered during those miles, averaging just shy of 12mph for those three miles.   That uphill really hit me hard, and my legs were starting to suffer.  There was a bit of respite, and a bit of downhill (about a quarter of a mile), before the next mile and a half of solid uphill.

I think that those two climbs pretty much finished me off.  I had now cycled further than I’d ridden since October, on far hillier terrain, and in far windier conditions,  and I was struggling.  Russell and Will were absolute gents and slowed down for me, but my lack of time in the saddle was really showing me up.

We passed the 50 mile marker, and all I could think about was finishing and getting off the bike.  I was done.  I had nothing left.

When we a short sharp hill near mile 51, my thighs seized with cramp, and I had to stop.  The first time ever I’d suffered from cramp on the bike, and the first time I’d had to get off and push.  As soon as I was at the top of the hill, I got back on the bike, and got moving again.  This cramp happened again during the next hill at mile 53 – down into granny gear, pedal for as long as I could, then pretty much fall off the bike, and do the walk of shame.  No hill had ever beaten me before, but these last two, at this late stage of the ride beat me.  Mile 53 took me 7 minutes and 27 seconds.  I can run quicker than that (on a good day).

I got back on, and limped to the finish.  Just to add insult to injury, the race HQ was on top of a hill too, but I just about managed to stay on the bike for the last incline.

I went through the finish tent, and stopped the clock.

Total distance: 55.24 miles
Moving Time: 3:44:57
Elapsed Time: 4:54:54
Avg Speed: 14.7 mph
Avg Moving Speed: 14.7 mph
Max Speed: 35.0 mph

All in all, I’m very happy with that.  On a good day, with appropriate cycling endurance training, I’d have liked to have been quicker, but considering the hills, the wind, and everything else, I can’t grumble at all.

I’ll definitely be doing more sportives in the future – it’s a good way to spend a few hours looking at the countryside, and the group riding feels a lot less like effort – it’s more enjoyable cycling with other people.


Will cycle for pie

Will cycle for pie

Next race: the Blenheim Palace Triathlon on 8th June

Garmin details:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/497446062

Greenway Challenge 2014 Race Report

Hello!  Me again! 😀

So, since my first triathlon of the season last weekend, I’ve had a pretty full and varied week of training:

  • Monday evening – ran 10k
  • Tuesday – early morning “endurance swim” of a mile, followed by a 5k time trial at lunchtime (26:45) followed by a mile of Fartlek/strides
  • Wednesday – 16 mile bike ride (55 minutes/17.2mph)
  • Thursday – Freedom Tri run session – dreaded hill repeats
  • Friday night – Freedom Tri pool session (featuring cramp)
  • Saturday – first open water swim session of the year – 900m of cold, rubbery goodness

So I was fired up and raring to go for an off road, trail half marathon!

Not having ran more than 10k since the Brighton marathon 4 weeks ago also made me a bit nervous of the distance, but I was hopeful that I’d be able to pull a half marathon out of the bag.  I also suffered cramp during the swim session on Friday, and could still really feel this in my calf still – it felt like my muscles had been pulled, so I decided that I’d wear my rather fetching knee length compression socks, to try and keep my calves in check.

This is the third year I’ve ran this race, 2012 in 2:08:41 and 2013 in 2:06:11 (both Garmin time, as the race isn’t chip timed).  I’d have been happy to get close to these times, but my running buddy Tom was hoping to beat our time of 2:05:09 that we set at the Baldock Beast half marathon that we completed in February, so we agreed on trying to run at a pace of 9:30/mile, which should see us right.

Being nice and local, I had a relative lie-in, setting the alarm for 8:00, and got up, had a standard race day breakfast of porridge, coffee and a pint of water, had a shower, and sort my kit out, and Tom picked me up at 8:45.  We were there in a few minutes, and had plenty of to pick up our race numbers, have a drink, and a chat with some of the other runners.  Being so local, we both knew a good few people running, neighbours, old school mates, and club mates from Freedom Tri.

Chatting to club mate Greg about pace before the race, we said we were shooting for 2 and a bit hours, so we agreed to run together – Tom, Greg, and I – the Three Amigos!  Greg was treating the Greenway Challenge as part of a longer training run, as he’s training for the Liverpool marathon in a couple of weeks, so he was more interested in just doing the distance, rather than a specific pace.  He’s ran the race before in 1:44 a couple of years ago, so he’s a good bit quicker than Tom and me, but it was great to have his company.

A few minutes before the race, we headed off to the start, and started promptly at 10am.  The race isn’t chip timed, so the final results are all based on gun time, however, I’m more interested in the time it takes me to run the race, not including getting to the start line, although being a small race, the difference between my Garmin time and the official time was only actually 25 seconds, but in bigger races, this can be many minutes from when the starting gun fires, and you cross the start line.

The Greenway is quite narrow, so with a few hundred runners and a bottleneck over a narrow bridge, the first mile was quite slowish – 9:54.  We picked the pack up for the second mile, despite having to go up the hill from Thursday night’s dreaded hill repeats.  Mile 2 was completed in 9:20.  At about mile 2, there’s the first road crossing, and Sam was there waiting to cheer us on, and take some snaps – she was out on her bike, cycling around to support us all.  Here we are, the Three Amigos, me left, Greg in the background, and Tom, right.

Three Amigos!

Three Amigos!

We crossed Norton Road, and must have picked up the pace, as mile 3 was the quickest mile of the day, completed in 8:56, looking at the stats from my watch, mile 3 was also the flattest.

We carried on well, taking on the hills of miles 4 and 5 well, and saw Sam again just before mile 4.  The water station at mile 5 was a welcome sight – I was carrying my own water during the race, but it was getting warm, and I was rationing myself, as it was such a hot day.  We stopped to neck a quick cup of water, and carried on.

The next few miles were thankfully mostly down hill, passing the 10k mark in 58 minutes, we were on pace for our target “2 and a bit hour” race.  We saw Sam again at this point, crossing Letchworth Gate, and she snapped us again:

6 miles in

6 miles in

Sam headed off home to pick up our son Ewan, and cycle back to meet us at the finish line, so we weren’t to see Sam again on the course.

There are a couple of horrible hills when you get to the Hitchin part of the Greenway, but we managed to run up them, which is a first.  The last couple of times we’ve always taken a tactical walk at this point.  We did slow down a bit for the hills though.

At just after the 10 mile point we hit the second water station and stopped again for water.  There’s a road crossing and gate during this mile, so including the water stop, this mile was the slowest, and the only mile to creep over 10 minutes to 10:15.

There were a couple more undulations in the last couple of miles, but it was mainly down hill from here.  The last 2 miles of the race are on road, taking us past Fearnhill school on Icknield Way, where I went to school.  It is nice being so local!

We were soon back to Standalone farm, where the race started and finished.  Here’s me and Tom on the finishing straight.  It might look like I’m about to slap Tom around the back of the head, but I’m actually coming in for a high-5 from club mate Jackie – it’s the Freedom Tri way!

Finishing straight

Finishing straight

I completed the race in a Garmin time of 2:01:45, official time of 2:02:10.  My third fastest ever half marathon, and a course personal best of 4:26.

There were no medals or prizes at the end of the race, instead North Herts Road Runners give the proceeds from the race go towards Woolgrove School, which is a special needs academy in Letchworth.  There were, however, very welcome cups of tea and cakes laid on – better than any medal!

Here we are at the finish:



Not sure where Tom had wondered off to, but left to right, me, Rob Clarke, Greg Bowie, Angela Phillips, John Phillips, Paul Fairchild.

One slight negative from the race – the dreaded runners nipple from my running vest.  Despite a generous application of Vaseline, I was rubbed raw:



Luckily it washed out though!

All in all, a great day out, loads of friendly faces, and a good time was had by all!  Definitely one for next years race calendar.

Garmin time: 2:01:45

Official time: 2:02:10

Position: 151 out of 227

Here’s the Garmin trace for you stat fans:  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/492639449

So what’s next?  Well, next weekend, I’m taking part in a sportive – The Evans Cycles RideIt! Hatfield Sportive.  I’ve opted for the “medium” distance, which is a 57 mile tour of the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside.