Every race you’ve prepared a lot for should be approach with a certain amount of nervousness. If you’ve put the hours of effort in, you want that churning feeling your stomach at the start: it lets you know you care and you’re going to give it all ya’gat.
However, I’ve never ever been quite as nervous as I was on Sunday before the Burgess Hill 71 mile “Springtime Classic”. I had a feeling it’d be full of excellent cyclists who knew what they were doing; cyclists with actual cycling clothes and who knew how they would fix a flat tyre, should worse come to worse.
I knew things weren’t going to be easy as I sat in the car, listening to the rain batter the windows. You know that feeling when you’re camping and really need a wee but it’s ever so rainy outside and you know you’re doomed to get your pajamas soggy? That. I then couldn’t get my front wheel back on, and had to ask a fellow rider. He was quite excited to help, I think, and started to tell me about loosening cranks and shifting shafts. Or something. I’ve no idea. But with my wheel and waterproofs good to go, I lined up with the other cyclists, had my necklace timer chip scanned and off I went.
The first 5 miles went quite quickly, and I was comfortably easing my way out of the towns and deep into the countryside. The road steadily began to get more and more undulating, and the group I’d started with disappeared off into the distance. I surprised myself going up the hills – I actually wasn’t too bad! On every hill I managed to pass another cyclist or two, and felt strong on the majority. The descents were a different matter though. I was useless. I know it’s a mixture of fear (I’ve come off before – no fun, don’t recommend) and utter lack of bike handling skills, but I lost a lot of ground to the people I’d chicked going up coming back down again. Something to work on!
At about 40 miles, there was a compulsory feed stop. Compulsory! It was in a little church hall in Hever, and there were tables absolutely full of food: bananas, jelly babies, muffins, sausage rolls – a full on feast. There was also a proper toilet, and as I was the only female at the stop, it was all mine! Aside from the very sheepish looking gent who appeared as I went in… I didn’t hang around, as I didn’t have any friends and couldn’t eat most of the spread, but I did grab a handful of jelly babies, text Mark to say I hadn’t got lost/given up/died and journeyed on.
It was in the second half things got really tough. The hills and the weather had already been shitty, but they were about to get worse. It became incredibly windy, and it was the rain the makes you ever so wet. Hill after hill after hill kept appearing and my bike and my legs started to whinge. At about 50 miles, there was a huge downhill and it just went on and on. At last! I thought. But, no… this downhill turned into “Topps Hill”, one of those hills that actually warn cars how steep they are (20%, in this case). I was determined not to give in, despite the large “APPROACHING THE WALK OF SHAME” signs that littered the sides of the road. The legs kept going, and I even managed to chick three blokes. Sorry not sorry.
I was quite chuffed with myself for this, and this gloating managed to carry me through the next 5 miles or so. The last 10 miles, however, as is always the case with these things, were rubbish. My bike started to really complain, creaking and so on, and my head started to go too. The wind had really picked up and the hills were just completely unrelenting. I’ve never been more pleased to see the ‘Welcome to Burgess Hill’ sign, nor the shining beacon of Waitrose. I pulled in, wet, dirty, absolutely knackered, but pretty proud of myself. I knew I’d not come last – an actual fear I’d had in the lead up to the race – and surprised myself completely with how alright I am at cycling up hills.
We got our times printed out straight away, and were given a voucher for tea, soup, a roll and some cake. I didn’t stay, but everyone that did looked very happy with it.
Despite the horrible weather, the horrible hills and well… that mostly, I am tempted to have a go again next year. It was a fantastically organised race – arrows everywhere on the route, really friendly marshals, easy to get to from Brighton and only £19 with British Cycling membership. The feed stations were super awesome too. So although I didn’t have the best day out I could’ve done, I did – looking back today – actually quite enjoy it, and I’m really proud of myself for finishing… and starting in the first place! This girl can etc.
One thing that did bother me though was the complete lack of women taking part. In my event there were only 12 other participants. My mate Kev and I were talking this morning about how maybe it’s the last mass participation sport that is so male dominated – and it really, really was. If you’re a cyclist, and I know so many of you are, I’d love to know your thoughts on this, male and female!
I’d also really like a group of women to do this event with me next year – lemme know if you’d be keen. Doubling the number of females taking part would be brilliant.