in Cycling, Ride 999, Sport

An ‘early-season’ century…from hell

On Sunday morning I intended to ride over to Edlesborough to take part in the CC Luton Reliability Ride, the last of the series of 100km winter sportives in the Chilterns. As has become part of my routine I was watching the long-range weather forecast in hope with my fingers crossed for it to stay above freezing—as I've blogged before, the one thing that will keep me from going out is ice on the road. Unfortunately Saturday was very wet and Saturday night ended up being -2°C which put paid to my plans of going out early.

By 9am things had started to warm up nicely—the frost had disappeared from the cars and the roads looked wet instead of white so I decided to head out. I wanted to make the most of it and not lose out on the fact that I didn't start the reliability ride. Perhaps I could ride even longer than 100km? I decided to load up the route that I followed for my first ever century last year and head out to Silverstone.

The ride out was fantastic. It only took me about 3h30m to get to Silverstone village, 53 miles away and just over halfway on my route. This meant that for the second weekend in a row I had ridden over 50 miles at 16.7mph, a speed that seemed unreachable to me a few months ago. The training is paying off! Feeling very pleased with myself, I had a quick sandwich, some buttered malt loaf and some mini cheddars from the village shop and chatted to a lovely family that were out on their own local ride.

I had expected to see some water sometime after noon and thought I had come prepared for rain, tucking my shower mac into the back pocket of my fleece jersey before I left the house. How wrong I was.

Spots of rain started to appear as I finished my lunch and this made me hurry along. I quickly donned my mac and set out on the return leg. The spots quickly turned to torrents and then the wind came, like a vicious bully, determined to slow me down and make my adventure completely miserable. Words cannot convey how difficult the ride back was—the only thing waterproof on me was my jacket and my Sealskinz socks (I think, although both seemed to suffer defeat in the end) so I soon found that I was saturated in my hat, my bib tights (which ‘wicked’ the water all the way up my legs and onto my tops), my shoes (squelchy!) and worst of all, my gloves. A bit of water isn't too bad but I was saturated within just a few miles and I knew that I had to cover 50 to get back.

The ride back was on a very exposed route and it was (or seemed) rare that I had the shelter of a few buildings or trees to my side. The gusts of wind were either coming straight at me, slowing me to a crawl even on descents, or blowing me sideways towards the gutters or passing cars. It is miserable to be going downhill at 8mph, pedalling just to keep going. At one point, as I was working as hard as I could up a hill towards Dunstable, a car behind me decided that he didn't like me for whatever reason and started honking like a madman. I shouted at his car as loudly as I could but I don't think the sound went much further than the edges of my bike. By the time I reached Dagnall, less than 10 miles from home, my hands had gone beyond freezing and I was alarmed to feel my pulse shaking through the middle fingers of my left hand—I’m not a doctor but I don’t think that is a good sign that all is well. My hands took turns off of the handlebars so that I could flex them into something resembling warmth.

Although the ride back was slow and physically tough with the wind and cold, the biggest challenge for me felt like a mental one. Twice I screamed like a man possessed into the wind as it battered me and more than once I felt like stopping, calling a friend for a lift and giving up. But I didn't.

When I got home my wife had to literally peel my clothes off me as my hands were no longer working properly. I was astonished by the weight of my soaked-through garments—carrying around my fully-saturated gear would have added even more to my journey time.

I had never been so glad to be out of the elements with a cup of tea in my hand. Disappointingly, my average speed had dropped to 14.4mph—you can really see this in the speed graph from Veloviewer below—but I am thinking that those miles home are probably worth more to me in training as they were so tough.

Despite everything, I'm glad to get a century on the board this year and the first half of the ride gave me lots of hope. Of course, I'm going to have to tackle the course again on a day with fine weather to see exactly what time I can do it in!


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