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Friday, 26 October 2018

Swim Rutland 4k: A bit of chop and a bit of smug

I've taken part in this iconic event twice before with mixed results which have included missing the boat across to the start and rushing across the pebbly beach in my wetsuit like an anxious walrus, doing my fastest 2k swim time after picking up a pair of particularly quick feet and being particularly pleased at being able to warm up my wetsuit for the first time in the traditional swimmer way. My resulting smugness almost resulted in me missing the start.

However, this year instead of the usual 2km swim across Rutland Water and taking the iconic ship The Rutland Belle to the start, I would be swimming there AND back. A 4km swim and my furthest distance to date. Eeek. 

However, it was a great place to do this, I've swam in this reservoir many times including during races such as The Vitruvian and The Dambuster and during the summer open water sessions and I was exciting to do this event in somewhere so familiar. That didn't mean that I wasn't nervous. I was eyeing up swimmers at the start checking out the feet and hoping to attach myself to a particularly non-kicky but draft-friendly pair. I was however a little concerned about the weather.

The skies were a slate grey and the wind, having swirled across from the US hurricanes, was blowing hard and rocking the bright orange buoys that marked the route across to the now deconsecrated St Matthews on the shore at Normanton. Rutland Water is one of the largest man-made reservoirs in Europe and it looked a long way across today. 

At least I didn't have to worry about the organisation. Swim Rutland is run by the same people as the Rutland Marathon and Half-Marathon and everything runs like clockwork. I knew I would be in safe hands for my longest swim distance as there were always plenty of safety crews with kayakers and Stand-up Paddleboarders along the swim route. 

Ok. Deep breath. And in. I followed the crowd of people in yellow swim hats – the mad people doing the 4km swim. And tried not to think about the people doing the 8km swim … Maybe one day. But not today. 

A deep breath and we were in. There is something relaxing about swimming a long distance. There isn't the rush and panic and crush that you get in shorter distances as people jostle for position. There's time to find your pace and find your rhythm. And in my case find a likely pair of feet to draft.

I spotted a likely pair early on and followed on. When I'm a bit nervous about a swim, I find that finding some feet to draft relaxes me further. There is no pressure about pace, about sighting. You can get into your own rhythm and just concentrate on stroke, pull and breathing. If the feet are going quicker than you'd like then you can speed up or let them go. Or if too slow you can pass the swimmer or slow down. No pressure, no stress, just swim. 

Due to the wind, the swim out was tougher than I'd expected. There were some waves halfway across which is unusual for Rutland Water. It was strange going up and down with the waves almost as though I was in the sea but with fresh water. It was tough making headway but everyone was in the same water with the same conditions and the feet I was following stayed in sight so I clung on and followed them through the chop.

Coming in towards the Normanton shore, I could see the abbey when I sighted on the left hand side. It was a striking sight, especially against the dark and stormy skies. About 50m from shore, the stream of swimmers turned around the last buoy to the right and came back around in a u-turn towards Whitwell. 2Km done. 

Coming up to halfway through the chop, I suddenly had cramp in my right calf. My foot jerked up and I stopped swimming and clung onto my tow-float to give my legs a break and a chance for the cramp to ease. Ugh. How frustrating. The lovely feet I had been following disappeared into the distance as I bobbed along with the waves trying to relieve the pain in my calf. I massaged it with my hand and decided to strike out again. 

Just 1 kilometre to go now and I was going with the wind rather than against it this time. My arms were fatigued now as I was swimming twice my usual 1900m distance and I was ready to reach the finish which I could now see on the bank I was swimming towards. Stroke, pull,Stroke, pull, stroke, pull, breathe … and repeat. Coming up to the bank I could feel the soft touch of weed on my legs and could feel it as I pulled my hands through the water like mermaid hair. Pull and stroke. Breathe. 

And I could feel the stones under my hands. 

I stood, realising that I'd finished 4k of swimming and wondering how this girl who had started open water swimming not that long ago had done this. 

And I was proud.

If you fancy having a go at this event the 2019 Rutland Swim is 11/08/2019 and costs £38. Enter here. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Cowman Triathlon: Mono-Boob, The Poo Fairy & Reckless Recceing

Does anything else panic triathletes like no visit from the Poo Fairy on the morning before the race? No-one wants to be that person who halfway through the race is crying and has poo down their legs. NO-ONE.

Despite being chilled out at the start of this one, the Poo Fairy did not visit. I had all the coffee. No visit. At what point do I call the race off? I do not want to be Mrs Soils-Her-Trisuit. 

And then Newport Pagnell Services. NPS I love you. Poo Fairy I love you too. 

ALL THE FILTERS. It's early, ok??

Finally got to the start of The Cowman about 30 mins before the transition closed. I saw another tri buddy, JS and a FrontRunner buddy Raph who was about to complete his first-ever triathlon. Nice to have tri buddies especially if you strike a start line deal that no-one kicks anyone else in the head during the swim.I was wearing 2 hats since nearly losing my goggles at the Vitruvian Triathlon in a previous event due to a head strike by a friend. I don't know why she's doing triathlon as judging by the kick she would be AMAZING at cagefighting. 

Start of Swim
It was a deep water start so I climbed into lake avoiding the floating Carling can at the waters edge. The water was so warm it was almost bath temperature. I'm not sure whether it was due to the heat of the day or the fact that 100 triathletes were already wee-ing in it but it was nice to have a warm start whatever the reason. 

Avoiding the Carling cans
There was a bit of smacking and kicking at the start but there was no panic at all and the bashing didn't even interrupt my breathing rhythm. I picked up a pair of feet early on going the right speed and hung on. It seemed I'd picked a winner, he was a nice consistent swimmer so easy to follow and he was going close to the buoys and sighting well. 

Someone else was trying to draft same pair of feet at one point so I nudged them away. Often if this happens I give way but I was comfortable today so gave them the bugger off cues. Occasionally I felt a touch on my feet so knew someone else was following my toes like a front crawl train. 

It was over quickly and before I knew it the blue gantry was visible on the bank and everyone took off like they had engines, churning the water with their arms and legs. I  cracked on at my own pace and swam right up to the arch and was helped up by the marshals. I stoped my watch for for the swim and was amazed to see it read 32 ... a 6 minute swim Pb. 

I smiled my way out into transition. Knowing that even if everything else went to hell today I’d had a cracking swim. 

Slapped the helmet on and the glasses, glove-free today and ran the bike out of transition grinning like a chimp.  Standard Sarah.

As usual there were the usual group clogging up the mount / dismount line trying in vain to swing their legs over their bikes without smacking each other and attempting to clip in. These are often the fast swimmers to whom cycling is as mysterious as successful DIY is to me. I pushed my bike past the lot of them and did a flying mount about 10 metres past the mount line and got a clap from the marshal. Why thank you. I’ve been practising. Or maybe it was my thighs smacking together as I tried to clip in. Who knows. 

The bike out was along a lane and through a fenced off layby so you had to cycle on a bit of trail and out through a garden gate sized gap at the end. Managed it without any problems except still being far too excited about my swim time which was demonstrated by me bellowing “Wooo! Going cross country!!” at the bemused marshal.

Out onto the familiar roads of Olney that I’d recced previously in preparation for the triathlon. I wanted this race to be a good one so I’d ridden the cycle loops 4 or 5 times. There were no cars queuing along the roads this time which meant the ride through the town was a lot smoother. Overtook a female cyclist going through the town and turned left up the hill.

As I got to the roundabout a Sunday group of 20 cyclists came from the right but cleared just as I went past - perfect timing. I waved at the marshal as I went past. And set out down the hill … where I fumbled my first drinks bottle and heard the thump as it hit the road. Bollocks.  

The road out of Olney is undulating and the surface is a little rough in places but it’s interesting without any proper climbs. Bumpy, lumpy without any standy-uppy. 

After a couple of miles it turns left onto a busier road with a better road surface. A couple of miles towards Denton, under the yellow speed cameras, up the hill and then a left into the lanes for a fast sweeping section … except everyone went on past the turn. Uh … what?

No really. What? Has someone moved the signs?? I had a bit of A Moment. I’d listened to the race briefing. Of course I had. But I didn’t remember anything about a different race route. I could see cyclists on the hill in front of me carrying on ahead. 

Just at my crisis crescendo a yellow arrow appeared on a signpost pointing ahead. The panic died down a little but I’m a suspicious cow. What if some sod had been out changing the arrows?

I carried on following the cyclists ahead expecting there to be a left turn any moment … any moment … any moment now … any moment NOW …. nothing. At this rate the lot of us were going to end up in Northampton. 

I went to grab a drink to calm my nerves about getting on the Northampton dual carriageway and getting mown down by Bounds Taxis and a Travis Perkins lorry when **thump** the second drinks bottle hit the road. I was now lost, with no water and about to meet my imminent death on the A45.

On Pinky the borrowed bike 

But finally a left turn arrow! Up a hill. A bloody hill. I recognised this hill. It was my sweary hill which I used to run when I worked in Northampton. We did nearly end up in bloody Northampton. Bloody hills. Bloody Northampton. AND I'd told my training buddy there was only one hill on the course. She was going to kill. me. I sped up a bit. She'd have to catch me first. 

But I was now lost AND confused. This bike course was meant to be 2 loops  I caught another cyclist up going up the hill. I knew he wanted to talk to me by the way his mouth was open, panting. Just the time for a chat, right? I checked whether this was a 2 lap course. Nope apparently just 1 big lap now. I MUST learn to listen more to race briefings. II did attend but apparently I also took nothing in. Maybe we'd been told about it when I was looking at that duck. 

Coming back out onto the Newport Pagnell Road, I was in familiar territory. The road was quieter here and interesting. It was windy and undulating and felt a bit more like a country road than the busy A428. Except what was that strange noise? 

Nope. Not a duck. Tyres seemed ok. Not a puncture. I took a quick peek between my legs and spotted the toolkit hanging off the back of the saddle and dragging on the rear tyre. No wonder that hill had felt like hard work. I tried to get it back on while moving but it wasn't having it. I slowed down, stopped and ripped it off the saddle and shoved it down the front of my trisuit. Sorted. I now had a massive lump at the front of my trisuit and a mono boob. Not very aero and I looked as though I'd had a boob job mid-race which had gone horribly wrong. And every time I went over a bump my tits jingled.

Needless to say the race photos were interesting. And did not get bought. 


Finally came into transition and racked the bike. And couldn't get the toolkit out of my trisuit. Standing up off the bike had allowed gravity to get involved and I had to stick my hand down the front of my trisuit and have a good old rummage around before I could snag it and pull it out of the neck of the suit. Must have looked like I was doing an impromptu lucky dip and winning a tool kit, Thankfully no-one else asked to have a go.  

And out on the run. Well this went just about as well as the bike. Not only was it baking hot, it turned out I'd recced the wrong direction. This was turning into a bit of theme. 

The run was pretty. Really pretty. And would have been really lovely it was just 1 of the 5km loops. It had hills, narrow trails, farm tracks, hills, cars and combine harvesters and hills. It also had 28*c heat. 

I love a pretty run. When I'm allowed to go slow and stop occasionally to look at ducks and walk up the hills. This was tough. Really tough. The trails were rough underfeet and were rutted farm trails so big holes, stones and quite angled at points. I was overheating and had a moment (don't lie, Sarah, SEVERAL moments) where I thought “At least if I pass out from heat stroke I get a lie down”. It really was THAT tough. 

I stopped at the water station every time and I could have cried as I saw my time slipping away. Despite the toolkit and the bottle problems on the bike, I was hitting some good paces but the heat and the run were taking my margin away. I just wanted to stop. I'd had enough. I was tired, overheating and in pain. 

Coming away from the water station, a man in front of me was obviously suffering from the heat too. I asked him if he wanted to run with me (we were going at similar paces) and we ran together for 2 laps, the chat being a welcome distraction from the pain and the searing heat. He ran off through the finish funnel and I carried on for my final lap, marvelling at how the company of a stranger can help move the miles past. 

Don't cry, don't cry, don't pass out ...

The last lap was a relief and it's amazing how much better you feel when you know you're on the home stretch despite the accumulated miles in your legs. The finish was made better by Simon cheering me through the finish funnel and I was finally allowed to stop bloody running.

Nearly ice cream time!!
A lady was at the finish funnel with sponges sponging the triathletes after their race. I went through 3 times. And told her I loved her. I really did. 

Thank you Sponge Lady.

Total: 5:22:09
Swim 33:51
T1 01:47
Bike 02:44:12 (longer than usual)
T2 01:10
Run 01:51:07 (argh!!)

Monday, 8 October 2018

Ride London 100: It was a Bit Damp, Mum

As you know, I'm a REALLY organised person. *cough* Ok. I'm the sort of person who basically has the vaguest idea of when my next event is and I also tend to have a bit of a woolly idea of what day of the week I'm on. I would blame shift work but actually I've always been like this.

Earlier in the year, I'd been ecstatic to find out I had finally got into Ride London 100 after years of being unlucky in the ballot. And then I was also ecstatic about the fact I got to run and party in Manchester with my ASICS buddies. On the same weekend. In Manchester. And Ride London was in … well … London.

That's do-able right? A Friday and Saturday of fun with my run and tri buddies, shovel some dinner down in the evening, leave Manchester at 9pm and then drive 4 hours down to London to pick up my friend Becca at 03.00am. With 2 hours for snacks en route. And plenty of time to be in my start pen for 04:40am.

Easy, right? It would be like The Blues Brothers but with more petrol and less sunglasses and police chases.

Well it should have been easy. Except that Highways England thought that roads that people could actually drive down were boring and thoughtfully closed the M1. And just to mix it up, they then closed the diverted road. 

My panic-reaction to this was to drive in circles for 2 hours trying to work out where the hell I was. This didn't help but neither did the sat nav helpfully telling me to make a U-turn at EVERY available opportunity until I was ready to launch it at the next Highways England worker I saw. Which was none. They appeared to have closed the road, coned it off and then buggered off for 4 hours for a second breakfast. Or maybe they'd all been knocked out by sat navs launched by stressed and dizzy drivers and were lying down unconscious somewhere under the traffic cones. Who knew. 

I drove in loops getting steadily more sweary and worked up. You could tell how many loops I'd done by the volume and obscenity scale of the swearing. For anyone standing at the side of the road as I went past it must have been a little like a gerbil with tourettes in a very large sideways wheel. Doppler swearing. 

I made it to central London 6 hours after I'd left Manchester, hyped up on energy drinks and coffee and with a croaky voice thanks to 'chatting' to the sat nav all the way. I promptly got lost in a construction site and was completely unable to make it to the arranged pick up point to get Becca meaning she had an impromptu mile ride at 3am through London. Sorry, Becca. 

After circling the O2 car parks (spot a theme yet?) Becca and I eventually found our parking spot, retrieved our bikes and even managed to talk our way into the private car park attendant's toilet to dispose of approximately 8 gallons of coffee and energy drink. 

To get to the start point of Ride London 100, we had to take our bikes across the river Thames on the Emirates Skyline which is a cable car system which links Greenwich peninsular to the Royal Victoria dock. I was looking forward to this as I'd never been on the Emirates Skyline and I was excited to get a new view of London … what I DIDN'T know was that the cable car kept moving! As a result, we had to get ourselves and two bikes into a tiny cable car before we ran out of floor space. It was like trying to get some really expensive shopping onto the conveyer belt before you and it fell to a horrible death. However, all the caffeine may have made this seem a little more dramatic than it actually was. 

But once on the cable car, with the bikes stacked, we could relax and enjoy the journey. High above London with the city lights glittering at 4am on a dark morning really made it feel special and a really good way to start the adventure of my first 100 mile ride!

As we arrived at the other side, we managed to get the bikes off the cable car without dropping either or falling to a gruesome death and we carried them down the stairs. A few more cyclists joined us as the cable cars started arriving and we all set off towards the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. More and more cyclists joined us from different directions, their red taillights twinkling in the early morning gloom. We took a couple of wrong turns when the signs to the start disappeared but got there after a bit of discussion and a turn down an alley took us along a dark tarmac path which was lit with lights along the side at ground level like a fairy trail. 

Becca and I were on different starts so we parted with a 'goodbye' and a 'good luck!' as we turned in different directions. 

There was the option to drop a kit bag off in lorries similar to those used by the London Marathon and you could tell that the organisers were the same as the whole process was slick and fast. 

Setting off towards my start with my pockets full of snacks but needing a wee, I spotted a tall man on his own making for the portaloos. I stopped him and said “I’ll look after your bike if you’ll look after mine” and the deal was struck. It felt safer than leaving the bike by the loos (although plenty of people were!) and the tall chap wouldn't have wanted a bike fitted for a short girl so it seemed a good plan. I later heard that someone’s bike had disappeared from outside these toilets. I don't know whether someone had done a swap when they spotted a better bike or had just wandered up in bike kit and picked up one they liked the look off. There didn't appear to be any security at the start so anyone wearing lycra could have come along and picked up a bike without looking out of place. If you're doing the event on your own, it's worth bringing a lock – even a cheap one to stop opportunist thieves. 

The weather forecast which had been emailed out from Ride London had predicted a temperature of 23*c but had warned of hydrating properly in temperatures up to 30*c. After the hot summer we'd had it wouldn't have been surprising to have such high temps but I brought a rain jacket with me as an afterthought. It had been unused for the entire summer but it would be useful if we got a couple of spots of rain. 

As I was using this sportive as training for my 70.3 triathlons, I decided to wear my trisuit. I was aware that I wouldn't look like a proper cyclist *gasp* but I 'd decided to wear what I'd wear for my races. I might get shunned at the cake stops - I mean aid stations *cough* - but I wouldn’t know anyone so even if they went all elitist and 'Velominati Rules' on me I wouldn’t see them again. Unless they overtook me. In which case I'd deserve it.

I was in my Blue area and wave E start pen for about 04:45 as there was an allocated 'load' time of 04:40 – 05:20. Even so I was miles back from the start and everyone from every wave and every pen seemed to be mixed together. The pen and wave areas seemed to be guidelines rather than rules. 

It was also clear that there was a distinct lack of females in my wave – I was surrounded by white, middle-aged men in lycra. I was already wearing the wrong kit. Maybe I was also in the wrong pen. I appeared to have wandered into the MAMIL zone.

It's lucky I don't scare easily as if the smell of Deep Heat, over-tight lycra and expensive bikes was anything to go by I was in the equivalent of the middle aged Tour de France. Yes. I'm including myself in that. According to The Guardian, Ride London 100 2017 was about an 80%-20% male-to-female split but I was struggling to see any other females at all. Maybe we were just hard to spot among the other shaved legs and bright kit.

We were in the pen for over 75 minutes. However, people were reasonably friendly. I took a couple of photos for people and even lent my mobile to someone who had left his wallet and phone at the office and needed someone to pick them up. There was a lot of hanging around so it seemed a shame not to have a chat while we stuck doing it. And while they couldn't get away. 

After inching forward about 6 inches at a time, we finally reached the staggered start and the gantry which arched over the road. Our adrenaline rising to the clock counting down and the sounds of Queen ringing in our ears, with a spin of the pedals we were off. 

How can I describe the first 10 miles? It was group riding at its best, the bikes weaving like an intricate dance. I was lucky enough to be in a group with people who appeared to be reasonably experienced riders so the level of bike handling was fairly decent. There was a lot of movement of bikes and people but most people appeared to be used to group riding apart from a couple who were freewheeling. (No fucking freewheeling up front!) Brilliant high speed, great fun and the closest I've come to riding in a proper peloton. 

That being said, there were a couple of accidents that I saw. The roads were closed and cyclists were using all of the road … which was fine until there was a raised concrete islands separating the lanes. A couple of cyclists came a cropper hitting these. I also saw a cyclist hit another rear wheel of another cyclist and lose control, ending in a horrible crash of metal. With 25,000 cyclists, there were bound to be some accidents especially with high adrenaline and the thrill of some great roads and high-speed group riding. 

After being used to riding in Warwickshire, dodging potholes and avoiding drain covers and cracks in the road, I couldn't believe how smooth the London and Surrey road surfaces were. I still had to keep a keen eye out for unexpected moves by the cyclists around me, but it made cycling less stressful and meant I could have a look at the scenery instead of expecting to drop into a crater the size of a Ford Anglia the moment I looked away. 

Rain had been suggested by the morning forecast – which I sincerely had hoped was wrong - but it had started spitting when I was in the start pen so I had put my rain jacket on. The jacket promptly came off at mile 10 as I overheated but it was back on at mile 25 when the heavens opened and what appeared to half of the Thames poured from the lowered clouds.

Photo from Ride London twitter ... of me!!

The rain really started in earnest and the roads were under a seething and bubbling tide of water. Drafting was no longer possible due to the spray from the wheels in front and the fun of the peloton and thrill of following faster wheels was ended. Even the smoothly fitted drain covers became hazards, especially on corners because of the risk of sliding on them. Bends had to be anticipated tin order to brake accordingly which wasn't always easy in the bends and winds of the Surrey Hills and had to be taken wide. Metal structures at corners were padded with plastic cushions to limit injury but I still didn’t want to hit a lamp post at speed. I like having teeth and wanted to keep them in my head.

Having heard that the route was fast and mainly flat, I had intended to aim for a 20mph average speed, however the high winds, driving rain and amount of surface water meant that I had to change my plan. Corners had to be taken very slowly as the conditions wouldn't forgive any mistakes today. Better to ride a slow 100 miles than do a fast 10 miles and slide across the road on my face.

I genuinely think I’ve been drier swimming in a lake. After an hour on the bike, I was that sodden, drenched wetness where water drips off the end of your nose and your fingers are pruned. The rain was even in my snack bag and bike shoes. Every time I pedalled, a mini wave in my shoes sloshed. The rain was relentless and constant and worst of all, it just didn’t let up. Large puddles hid hazards on the road surface and new rivers ran across the road and and washed debris and sticks into the path of the cyclists. It was a new sport: when mountain biking met open water swimming. 

I was a little disappointed not to see any deer in Richmond Park but they had possibly been washed downriver and were now prowling around Kingston. The first hills on the route were in this park although it was undulating rather than steep. I also had a quick snack stop as due to the early start time I hadn’t had breakfast. I'm not someone who 'forgets' to eat (who even ARE those people??) so I scoffed a Cliff Bar, had a chat to the marshals and headed back onto the river … I mean road. 

At around Hampton Court Green, a lady cycling near me told me that my behind saddle bag was hanging off my bike. This bag is the bane of my cycling life. It's a great size, it tucks in well behind the saddle, stores everything crucial … and then randomly falls off the bike at awkward moments. I'd safety-pinned it on so had thought that it would be secure but it had obviously decided that today was the day to hang sideways off the saddle like a drunk hanging off a lamp post.

Luckily everything was saved before I dropped a cycling breadcrumb trail of kit and I got chatting to the lady who had told me, who introduced herself as Melanie from Surrey. She had ridden the 100 previously but not in such dreadful weather. As we chatted everything sport, it came to light that her friend had recently joined my triathlon club after moving from South England to the Midlands. It's a small world!

The rain wasn't easing up and I made the decision at about mile 35 to ditch my cycling glasses. I hate not wearing glasses on the bike as I'm always worried I'll end up with a bee in the eyeball, but it was a choice between not being able to see anything and likely hitting a tree or being able to see and chancing bug-ball. 

Every time I moved my feet, water sloshed in my shoes and when I took my neoprene gloves off at an aid station the gloves weighed about 5kg each. I'd forgotten about the absorbent properties of neoprene … NOT the best choice for a wet day! At least should I miss a water station, I'd be able to rehydrate using my hands. Actually, I'd probably be able to irrigate my garden in hot weather using the water in just one glove. It was utterly ridiculous.

I got to the 40 mile mark just past Pyrford Village. Not even halfway. I was wet, cold and miserable. I was cycling in appalling conditions and I had a half iron distance race next weekend which I didn't want to ruin by getting too cold today.

Decision time. Would I have more to lose or to gain by completing it? It was a tough one. I was miserable and wet but I would be disappointed if I didn't complete it. My legs felt good, nothing hurt or ached. I currently wasn’t shivering but more importantly there didn’t seem to be any checkpoints nearby offering a nice dry lift home. And waiting around would probably make me colder than carrying on cycling. Decision made. Crack on, Booker. Besides, Melanie was good company and having a cycling buddy makes the miles go quicker. 

I’d been dreading the hills on this course but friends had made them sound bigger than they actually were. If you listen to the descriptions, they sound positively monstrous and snow covered and towering and with the requirement for crampons, ropes and St Bernards with brandy flasks to gain the top. 

But to be honest, I didn’t realise Newlands Corner WAS Newlands Corner until I was near the top and Melanie told me what it was called. I always get a bit nervous when a hill has a name but it wasn't horrific and by the time I realised it was over. We had a quick pit stop at the damp aid station at the top, ironically to fill our water bottles and we were good to go. 

The big hills all come fairly quickly after the first one and Leith Hill was the next. I'd HEARD about this one. Afterwards I found out it's about 1.5 miles long and although it averages only about 6%, it gets worse as it goes on and hits well over 10% before the top. When I finally got there I would be at the highest point in Surrey.

However, I didn't know how long the hill was before I started it. I was chatting to the cyclists around me heading up Leith Hill. I struggle with not knowing a hill. If you've got an end point to aim for, it's a LOT easier. 

Basically the conversation went like this:
Is that chimney the top?”
No. It's a bit further yet.”
Ok. [silence briefly]. Is that tree the top?”
No. A bit more.”
Ok. [thoughtful silence]. What about THAT tree?”
What about-”

It was the hill that kept on giving. More hill. It kept on giving me more hill. I kept thinking I was near the top and then I'd look up and there would be ANOTHER climb stretching up above me. It was like an Everest to my little legs. I was expecting a sherpa any moment. 

Box Hill was pretty and winding. It had been a hill climb during the Olympics and as a result, it had been resurfaced so was smooth and lovely to ride. There were graphics sprayed on the road for the National Trust and trying to read the text as I rolled over it kept me entertained and kept my mind off my legs. It was a bit like climbing Edge Hill which is a local climb near me but Box Hill isn’t as steep. And it’s prettier! It zig zags like an Alpine road and it's a treat to ride it. It's not too steep, it just keeps going and the view is amazing!

Some people were walking the hills. But they were just hills. They weren't monstrous, mountainous, they weren't vertical and they weren't that long despite the horror stories I'd been told. 

However, the descents were another issue. The wet didn't affect the climbs too much but the water on the road and the debris washed into the roads by the constantly moving water made the descents treacherous and dangerous. I usually love descending and reaching speeds over 40mph but on this day, I was on my brakes almost constantly and my hands were cramping from holding them on. It was such a shame. In nice weather, it would have been glorious to fly down the hills but in the wet with brakes half-functioning and steep corners there was no option but to crawl. It was gutting. 

Descending a hill at mile 73, I suddenly started feeling bumps through my front wheel and as I pulled the bike to a stop at the side of the road, I could hear the hissing as the air rushed out of my front tyre. Checking the tyre, there was a deep cut in it. It was a fairly quick tyre change - I knew that turbo tyre changes and all that swearing and crying would come in handy one day - but we couldn't get enough pressure into the tube. The single c02 canister I had failed but even Melanie's trusty hand pump couldn’t get the pressure high enough to ride a further 27 miles safely on it. 

No-one stopped to assist us but I spotted a yellow hi-viz vest up the road, so I popped over to see whether the wearer was a marshal for the event. The chap in the vest didn’t appear to be sure whether he actually WAS a marshal or not answering my question of whether he was with “Yes. No. Kind of.” Alrighty then.

Not trusting him with a hand pump (or even a sharp pencil) I asked him where the nearest aid station was. Apparently it was 'Near.' Ok. Useful.

How far was 'near' I enquired. He was completely unable to elaborate. Half a mile? 2 miles? 10 miles? I tried to prompt a response but he was about as sure about this as he was about being a marshal and was completely unable to even guess. Apparently it was near a hill. Oh. Ok. 

Deciding we'd have to go with it. We slowly trundled up the road with a half inflated tyre. Luckily the hub was about half a mile away and the helpful marshals quickly got some pressure into the tube in with a track pump and were back in the business of cycling a river!

I wouldn't say the sun came out, but the rain seemed to ease off slightly and the last few rolling miles were pleasant. At around 80 miles, we were joined by the riders doing the 46 mile route. It was surprising and we hadn't realised it, but we had been spoiled with the level of cycling of the 100 riders as some of the handling skills of the cyclists doing the 46 miles route were truly appalling and the event became immediately more dangerous.

I guess that it was that the 46 appealed to people ho were less experienced on their bikes but there were some truly appalling manoeuvres including a woman who stopped her bike in the middle of the road without warning and started pulling to the edge presenting the side of the her bike to all of the oncoming riders. Melanie narrowly missed hitting her as the woman gave no warning of her intention to stop at all. Another problem with this kind of behaviour in a busy sportive was that as soon as one cyclist went down, the 3 or 4 cyclists immediately behind would be unable to stop in time and would also go down. There simply wasn't the space to leave 25m between the bike in front in case they did something silly.

After 90 miles, we came up to Wimbledon Hill. The end wasn't far away and the roads had been fast and flat again – a relief after the Surrey Hills but this was a sneaky little hill about half a mile long. 

Back on the level and smooth roads in London, we put our heads down. The roads were busier now and there was a nasty headwind. We were tired, slightly damp and covered in mud from the tyre change but so close to the finish! After the lanes and hills, It was a strange but lovely contrast to cycle around Trafalgar Square and the towering buildings, especially without the roar and danger of the traffic. 

The final stretch was The Mall and what a place to finish your first 100 mile ride! I could see the finish arch from a long way away and decided to give it some welly. I really gave it what I felt was a sprint finish. A vision blacking, oxygen depriving, eyeballs out sprint. 

… Well that was how it felt. When I looked at my speed afterwards, I gave it a slipper. Not a welly, a slipper. One of those granny ones. It was slow. REALLY slow.

And then I passed under the finish arch and that was that. My first hundre- … ninety-eight point three mile bike ride.