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Race Report – King Of The Downs

I had two goals coming into todays race:

1. Finish.
2. Don’t destroy myself halfway around the course.

I finished, and I didn’t destroy myself – though I did do a fairly good job of damaging parts in the process.  I added two supplementary goals this morning on my ride into Victoria Station:

3. Follow a nutrition plan for once
4. Complete the course in less than 4 hours

I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but I actually managed to do everything that I set out to do.  It’s not something that I am sure that I could get used to, but I will try my best.  So how did the day go?

The alarm went off at 4:45am, which hurt, but was not the most painful hurt of the day I am glad to say.  Dragging myself out of bed and onto my bike, I had 19km to ride from home to Victoria Train Station to catch my train to Gatwick for the sportive.  19km was a nice little warm up, even if it was spent dodging drunk clubbers emerging into Sunday morning daylight and teenie-boppers at the train station complaining of cold wearing two-fifths of fuck all.  It was then a quick train ride down to Gatwick, a short ride, and I was at Evans Cycles corporate headquarters for the start of the sportive.

89km.  4000ft of climbing.  I had never ridden that distance before.  I had not done much climbing.  This was going to be a challenge.  I had 5 climbs to negotiate – Leith Hill, Pitch Hill, Combe Bottom, Ranmore Common and Box Hill.

Leith Hill was my first step, about 18km in.  It was a cracker for us of the South Downs persuasion.  I actually thought this would be the hardest climb of the day at 14%-ish, so I stayed within myself on the run up to it, and then stayed in the saddle as much as I could on the way up.  It was hard work, but knowing that the first and most difficult climb was done kept me going.  Besides, I still had 72km to go!

Pitch Hill was tricky, but didn’t feel as bad as the Leith.  On this occasion I found a wheel to get behind, and focused solely on staying on track.  That’s not something that I get much of a chance to do, given that I do most of my rides on my lonesome.  So I definitely made the most of it.

I tried the same thing on Combe Bottom – but crashed and burned horribly this time.  This was the first time that I had to stop on a climb, which as it turns out was probably the hardest climb of the day.  I tried the same strategy as the second hill following a wheel, but about 2/3rds of the way up I cracked completely.  My brain was telling my legs to pedal, but my legs refused and soon enough I was off my bike and trying to work out how I was going to get started again.  Fortunately I managed to get enough momentum going downhill to turn around and get up the remainder of the hill.  It was hard work, and my legs and hips were struggling a bit; but three out of five climbs were in the bag – home stretch!

Climb Four – Ranmore Common was where most of my co-riders decided to push the too-hard button, even if for most of them this consisted of a lot of whinging rather than stopping as I did.  I simply didn’t have anything in the gas tank at this stage, despite my nutrition being on track and taking on the right level of fluid.  It wasn’t energy that was bringing me down, I just didn’t have the strength in my legs to get up this one.  So, four hills – two walks and two completions.  That left it down to Box Hill to determine my quit rate for the day.

Box Hill was the only of the climbs I had attempted before, and when I did climb it I didn’t find it much of a challenge to be honest.  This time around it was much longer and felt tougher, probably on a count of the 2 hours in the saddle and four climbs I had done previously.  It was absolutely packed full of cyclists, probably because it was a nice day out and it was a Sunday – usually a good mix for that part of town.  Most importantly, I was able to turn the legs on the slighter gradient of Box Hill and actually got up faster than a lot of my colleagues.

There was 25km left, and some relatively flat sections remaining to get back to the start.  I also needed to push hard to ensure that I finished under the four hour goal.  This section hurt as much as the climbs did, I have to say.  I pushed my legs and body right to the limit during this final 25km, turning a higher gear than I thought I could across the flat sections of the South Downs to get home.  I also passed many of the cyclists that had whizzed by me on some of the hills during this section, which also vindicated my decision to take it easy on the hills in order to push on the flat – even though it wasn’t really a race.

Crossing the finish line in 3:57:45 meant that I achieved everything that I had hoped, even if perhaps I had left a bit more of myself on the course than I had hoped.  As of this evening however my legs feel good, I don’t have the foot pain that long runs usually give me (check for cycling!) and hopefully this week I can still get a good week of training in.

One race done for the year! Three to go!

Listening To: ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ by Something For Kate



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