Monday, 6 September 2010

Essex 100 bike ride: I suffered

The toughest part of the Essex 100 for me was just before the lunch stop, where my computer was telling me to expect the little village hall at Pebmarsh around the next corner and all that I met was a succession of thigh burning climbs.

By the top of the fourth hill, I couldn't even think about the lunch stop. My forward thinking stretched no further than the top of it.

Somewhere between the start and that hill lay the tattered remains of my optimism.

I certainly had it at 7.20am, when I had passed under the inflatable start sign at the Danbury Outdoor Centre with a pair of new wheels (see previous post) and the full length of the 100 mile route laid out before me. We had been released in packs of five but it wasn't long before our little echelon was a good thirty strong.

This was the kind of riding that makes you realise why you get out of bed at 4.40am on a Sunday to go cycling. Beautiful scenery, deserted country lanes, only the birds and the hum of tyres on tarmac to pierce the silence. With the rising sun behind us and the breeze in our favour we rode at a cracking pace.

But as the miles passed, so our pack reduced, and by 40 miles we were down to five. All of them besides me, as it turned out, from the Essex Roads club. We strengthened the crew by one at a set of traffic lights, and by the time we hit the first serious incline, we were six.

And that made those short and severe gradients hurt no less whatsoever. I counted at least five of them, proper leg bashers.

Then, when I could endure not one hill more, the route flattened out and the lunch stop appeared around a corner, complete with a little drinks lady to refill my bottle with squash and a scoop of Zip-Vit and a table piled high with sandwiches and Mr Kipling cakes.

The lunch stop seems to take forever to arrive because it is placed 60 miles around the route, instead of the expected 50. The upside to that is there are only 40 miles remaining, but I wasn't taking any chances. Besides, I was hungry.

I think I managed three sandwiches, two cups of soup, a jam tart and a cup of coffee. If the others hadn't got up to leave I would have managed a lot more.

I almost rolled out of that hall, and I'm sure my bike gave off a little yelp as I sat back on it.

With the tea lady's chirpy "it's all downhill from here!" still ringing in my ears, we were climbing again.

As it turned out I needed all that fuel, and quite a few Power Beans for the last five miles - a will sapping five-mile slog up a piece of neolithic geography that is the hill to Danbury, and the finish.

The policeman didn't help: "You're doing 13mph in case you're interested," he said as his colleague arrested a BMW driver.

That hill hadn't seemed half as steep on the way down.

I don't think I've ever been more thankful to see an inflatable sausage with "Finish" written on it.

Around 450 riders took part. Our group completed the ride took me 5 hours and 27 minutes. We set off at about 7.20am and I don't think many arrived back before us.

I just want to say thanks to the organisers for the free massage to get my legs working again, to Fletch for the use of his van - I felt like the A-Team rolling up in that - and to Lizzie for the steak dinner she cooked for me when I got home.

Thanks also to all my friends and colleagues for the well wishes and incredible generosity. We raised £230. Unlucky for you I'll be tapping you up again soon.

This time I've got the London to Paris in mind.

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