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Thursday 26 March 2015

Dambuster triathlon recce: How To Embarrass Yourself On a Bike

I’ve finally got comfortable on the turbo trainer. In one sense anyway.

There has been a distinct lack of adventures. No falling off it, no breaking it, no kicking it, no throwing it into a cupboard, padlocking the door and eating the key. There has been a distinct lack of adventures. ACTUAL comfort is a completely different issue and one which I’m using padded shorts for. But I hadn’t attempted a group ride. 

Cue dramatic music ...

I may have accidentally entered a half iron triathlonWhich will involve riding a bike. *gasp* With other people *bigger gasp*. 

So when I was offered the chance of a recce of the bike section of the race I jumped at itA ride on the race route with experienced cyclists? Heck yes! Would I be a liability and downright danger? Same answer. 

I was still feeling a bit under the weather but would try to avoid throwing up on any expensive looking bikes and try not to cough on anyone who mentioned they had an important race coming upI’m kind like that. 

Due to the trusty Ford blowing up its turbo, I had a borrowed car – a little Peugeot. A REALLY little Peugeot. My first crisis was discovering that the bike rack didn’t fit on this miniature motor

However, by putting all the seats down, removing the headrests and moving all the seats forward, I could fit the bike in the back without having to remove bike wheels (important as I’m likely to forget to reconnect brakes). I can drive fine with my knees under my chin. Honest. It’s actually incredibly comfortable. Who needs to be able to change gear, anyway?

I took everything I could think of including floor pump, 2 sets of clothes, sunglasses with multiple lenses, trainers, bike shoes, drink bottles, hydration tablets and snacks. 

Arrived at the car park and discovered 15 different people each with their own floor pump, multiple changes of clothes, sunglasses, trainers, bike shoes, drink bottles and nutrition and other assorted kit. Maybe I hadn’t over packed after all.The sound of bumpers dragging the road was obviously the norm among triathletes. 

There were more bikes in that car park than at the bottom of a Dutch canal. Lots of bikes. I can’t tell the difference between an expensive bike and a cheap one. So I just avoided touching ANY of them.

Everyone else looked a bit serious and as though they knew exactly what they were doing. All expensive kit and shiny bikes. And they all knew each other. They didn’t look at all as though they fell over at major roundabouts because they couldn’t get their foot unclippedNo one else was dressed head to toe in budget kit or wearing their padded shorts over their running tights. I got the sinking feeling that I wasn’t going to fit in ...

The group of cyclists. I'm skulking at the back. This is PRE pushing-up-the-hill. (Source: Inspire2Tri

The organiser gave a briefing of the route and safety instructions and checked that everyone had done a group ride before. I tentatively raised my hand and was immediately outed as ‘person-not-to-ride-next-to-in-case-they-fell-off-and-scratched-my-expensive-bike-on-the-way-down.  

In fact at least one person looked as though they were probably wondering whether it would be good form to send me off in a group on my own.

I was relieved when they announced the faster groups were going first. Good. The ones with the most expensive bikes and the shiniest gear would go off first and there would be less people to watch me attempt to start but fall off / drop my bike / hit the kerb / embarrass selfAs I undoubtedly would.

Then they decided the slow group would go first. 

Bugger. Despite having spent the last 2 months pedalling furiously and going precisely nowhere on the turbo and most up my childhood years cycling to whichever pub the parents had decided would make a good bike ride destination, I am NOT a confident road cyclist. Especially not when trying to balance on a road bike with tyres the width of a chipolata sausage and with my feet attached to the pedals.

I also really, really hadn’t helped myself by leaving the bike in the hardest gear. Sigh. I clipped right foot into pedal, prepared to push off ... and didn’t go anywhere at all thanks to the start being up a steep hill and my bike being in completely the wrong gear.

had a flashback to the time I’d jammed the spin bike in a class by spinning the resistance dial the wrong way and couldn’t remember which way to turn the knob to get it back to the able-to-turn-pedals-by-human-force-setting and had to creep off the bike in the middle of the class and find a different oneThere wasn’t the option to nab someone else’s bike this time. They were all standing over them looking disapproving. 

But one of the ride leaders took pity on me and actually PUSHED ME UP THE HILL.

The shame.

Was completely unable to clip feet into pedals due to mortification of being pushed up hill and waved them around in the air in my attempts to find the pedals, change into an easier gear and keep the momentum up. I am SO smooth at this cycling. 


I finally got my feet clipped in and was so relieved to actually be moving and clipped in that in attempt to join rest of cycle group, I zipped across road andalmost threw myself under the wheels of a Volvo

So to recap so far: 

  • NOT wearing proper gear instead a strange medley of running and cycle gear culminating in the padded cycling shorts on top of leggings look.
  • NOT being able to actually get bike to go and having to be pushed up a hill.
  • NOT able to actually pedal bike.
  • NOT able to clip in without waving legs around.
  • Attempting to kill self by throwing self –and bike – under passing car.

Decided only way to redeem self was by keeping up with rest of group and keeping quiet. And not getting pushed up any more hills. 

Kept quiet, kept head down and kept pedalling. 

But all of a sudden the road seemed to disappear and we were at the crest of what would be called in a kids playground a death slideAmazing.

Was extremely disappointed that the rest of the group didn’t cycle as fast as they could down the massive hill as I did look slightly odd doing that and shouting “Wheeeeeee!” on my own. Maybe they didn’t understand how to do downhills.  

I was relieved I did give it a bit of welly on the downhill as it gave me momentum to inch up what appeared to be an even bigger mountain on the other side. It was definitely a mountain and it all but had snow at the top and people with crampons and ropes.

While I appreciate that the midlands aren’t particularly mountainous, this hill didn’t seem to be stopping. It was the hill that kept on giving. I’d run out of gears a fair way back and I was running out of available breath and I was already at what felt like max heart rate. In fact I felt as though I was exceeding that by some way. I was EXPECTING a mountain goat or a Sherpa at any moment. But I was HOPING for a St Bernard with a flask of brandy around its neck. 

On the plus side I wasn’t stopping ... but only because I couldn’t unclip my feet to get off and walk because there wasn’t anyone around to push me off the hill to get me going again.

Just as my legs were about to give out and my breathing hit 0906 caller volume, I arrived at the peak. Well. Top.

The group stopped at the top to wait for everyone. Thank goodness. A chance to try and regain composure and get breathing down to normal volume or at least down to ‘barking sea lion volume level.

Sea Lion Volume ... Source

I checked my watch. Yep. I’d almost hit max heart rate ... and we’d gone 0.81 of a mile. Oh. Only 24.19 miles to go then. *Screams inside head*.

Legs suggested slyly that it might hurt less if I didn’t go as fast as I could downhill and maybe saved my breath for actually breathing rather than shouting “Wheeeeeee!”. Especially as it had been scientifically proven that shouting Wheeeeeee!”doesn’t actually make you go any faster. 

Told legs to shut up and keep pedalling. But decided to keep shouts of “Wheeeeeee!” inside head from now on.

I don’t think I was the only person to overcook it on that uphill and when we reached the next peak in the range (read: hill) we were all going a bit slower than on the first one. It certainly felt easier anyway. Maybe having a chance to warm up a bit and get a few miles done made the difference. This hill was the 2nd in a group of 3 big hills (we’d go over the 1stin the set on the last part of the loop) called The Rutland Ripple. 

We were on a main road and appeared to have left the hills behind us and I’d noticed that I was getting passed by cyclist after cyclist. This was a bit worrying. I had no idea of the route we were riding and probably only a 50% chance of making it back to the car if I turned around and tried to remember the way I’d come. 

I was very relieved when I realised that I’d been caught up by the fast cyclist group rather than being dropped by the slow cyclists. I know I have to be pushed up hills, but I do have my pride. 

Well, maybe not pride but my car is in a car park 10 miles away and if I get lost I may never find my way back to it again. Or more importantly find my way to the cake we’d been promised at the end of the ride. 

We stopped to regroup a few times as the groups were getting a bit mixed up now and we took it as an opportunity to have a drink and a chat. I was relieved that I wasn’t at the back of the group. Training on the turbo is brilliant, but it meant that I had no idea of the speed I ride at on the roads. 

One thing that the ride highlighted was that it wastime to get the bike serviced. In the last 5 miles, it had developed a squeak in the right pedal and the gears were very clicky. Apparently there was more to looking after your bike than a quick wash and a liberal application of WD40 every now and then.However nothing actually fell off the bike which was a bonus. Especially as I’d be unable to stop to retrieve it due to being clipped in and having no handy chap to push start me up the hill.  

The bike ride was only just over an hour long, but it was interesting to see the difference in other road users. We started out about 9:30am on a Sunday morning so the majority of people on the road were probably driving for leisure rather than rushing to work but there were some huge variances in the amount of safe distance they gave us. 

Most people were brilliant, but one old lady overtook me on a busy main road, only to screech to a halt directly in front of me to turn left into a farm gateway. It was a bit of a close call. She just didn’t seem to get the idea that there might be other people on the road. She was beeped at by a couple of the cars behind her and it was good to know that not ALL road users are out to get the cyclists. Just apparently little old ladies.

Beware this behind the wheel of a car. Source 
The last section of the ride was mainly flat with enough small undulations to keep it interesting and it was fast with a good quality road. I’d been fairly reasonable on the uphills but I didn’t have much power on the flats so had to work much harder to keep up with the others at the front. Which was good. I want to make sure I improve on these rides. If I’m going to nearly end up under the wheels of an old lady’s Nissan Micra every time I venture out I want it at least to be a good ride up to that point

It was a good ride. Stopping for the chats every now and then gave us a chance to get to know the others and to reassure me that I wasn’t a pariah for my earlier misdemeanours and choice of kit. We were all going to be doing the Dambuster triathlon so it didn’t take long for the race chat to start.  "Have you been cycling long?” (Are you competition), “How long have you been training? (Are you competition), “What other races have you got coming up?” (Can I hobble you in these so you aren’t competition) and more importantly the discreet detective work of some of the others trying to work out how old people were. (Are you in my age group?) But it was all friendly and nice to know I wasn’t the only one there new to triathlon. (We can be nice to her, she’s not competition)

We were back to our starting point within 90 minutes and it was reassuring that I needed no help to stop, despite my less than salubrious start. 

However, there was a catch. We weren’t allowed cake until we’d run 4km. This was the 2nd part of the training and a test to see how well our legs did after a bike ride. The triathlon test.

I decided to keep myself going by spotting runners in the distance and trying to catch them up. Plus the quicker I got back to Mary’s studio, the quicker I could get at the food

I stumped along the path, like a stiff-legged scarecrow in thermals and trainers and concentrated on the cake. It was a nice surprise that the garden centre was a lot closer than I’d expected and because it’s nice to be neat – it was exactly at the 1 mile mark. The backwards section of an out and back always feels so much quicker than the way there so I kept running and ignored the coldness of the wind on my face.

It was done in a blink. Then I was in the warm of the studio, surrounded by cake and with a steaming cup of coffee in my hand. 

Cake, coffee and cycling. AND I didn’t fall offThings were definitely looking up. 


  1. Well done Sarah! Sorry but I did laugh out loud at the thought of being pushed uphill... I however would not have a hope in hell on the clipping in front so you have that on me!

    1. I'm still wondering if they'll ever let me out of the Embarrassing Cyclists Club ...

  2. EVERY time I read your posts I'm giggling away. So much of what you've written I've also experienced. The shame of being pushed up a hill too! Although, thankfully, I was not on a snazzy road bike but a hybrid that I thought would be perfectly okay to take on 60 miles of welsh hillsides - mountains!!! not hills!! Lots of lessons learned.
    Thank you for the fabulous descriptions. :-)
    I'm sure you'll progress from ECC to Pro ECC soon.

  3. Ouch! 60 miles of Welsh Hills! *cries* I'd need someone to push me all the way up!! Any cycling tips gratefully received!!