Back in January I sat down and gave some serious thought to what I wanted to achieve in 2014 and as a Sports Science graduate I decided that my approach was going to be scientific.
So what I came up with was to ride as much as I can and get as fit as I can! Well, I did graduate almost 20 years ago and the memory is fading.
My primary target was the Dartmoor Classic (100k route) in June and being awarded with a shiny gold medal. The Classic is a fantastic sportive. The organisation is excellent, the route is challenging, the environment can be challenging and the scenery is simply stunning.
My training was all going well during the first two weeks of the year until I lost my front wheel on a greasy road surface and hit the deck hard. Thankfully I was only moving at 15 mph but 15 to zero still hurts, especially at my age. My steel framed Genesis Equilibrium bounced well but it's just a pity that I didn't. It knocked the stuffing out of me and left me no other option than to call my wife and ask for a lift home.
Not that I had planned falling off to crash test my Zennor Vélo test kit but nevertheless it stood up very well. I'd been wearing bib shorts with summer weight leg warmers and summer jacket and they only suffered very minor cosmetic damage with a couple of very small holes that weren't that noticeable. You can't ever say we don't put our test kit through its paces!
My confidence had been knocked and whilst I missed cycling during the next couple of weeks I was worried about coming off again. The fall had hurt me physically but I hadn't realised how much it was hurting my confidence. There was only one thing to do and that was to get back on my bike and ride.
That first ride was awful. It was as if I'd never ridden a bike before and it was so stressful. On every bend I was waiting for the bike to slide and for me to come off again. Roundabouts were the worst and I was convinced that I was going to come off. Even on a flat, straight section of road I'd convinced myself that I could feel the back wheel losing grip and starting to slide. I survived that ride but it took me another couple of rides before I could ride without worrying too much and a few more rides again before I got back up to speed.
I'd achieved a bronze standard at the Dartmoor Classic in 2013 so I thought that with my ‘scientific approach' and the arrival of my new Neil Pryde Alize aero road bike the gold was within my grasp. However, as the weeks rolled by and May arrived I felt my confidence taking a hit again. This time it wasn't because I'd fallen off again, it was because I was only averaging 1 ride and 50 miles per week. Life was getting in the way of my riding. I was telling myself that it wasn't enough miles and that I was going to struggle on the Dartmoor hills. Doubt set in and my confidence took another dip.
Then, one of the committee members from my cycling club organised a charity ride 3 weeks before Dartmoor. The plan was to ride 111 miles with nearly 8,500ft of climbing through East Cornwall and venturing across the border into Devon. I'd not ridden that kind of mileage for a couple of years and I'd never done that much climbing so it was going to be a challenge. But, if I could crack this ride then Dartmoor's 67 miles and 6,700ft of climbing wasn't going to be a problem.
Long story short, I did crack it. I averaged 16mph and even achieved a Strava PR on a segment at 110 miles. I no longer doubted myself and confidence was high. Confidence was so high that I revised my Dartmoor Classic target of achieving the gold standard time to achieving the gold standard time for the under 40's age category which was ten minutes less than for the Vets category.
My final preparation was a 100km charity ride for the Merlin MS Charity the week before Dartmoor and this ride reaffirmed my newly found confidence. I was feeling strong and all that remained was to pray for favourable weather conditions on Dartmoor.
My confidence roller coaster then took another turn. The day before Dartmoor I got stung on the wrist by a bee and I tend to experience quite severe swelling as a consequence. This sting was to be no exception. I woke up on the morning of the ride to a swollen hand and wrist which I couldn't bend. I could move my fingers so I guessed I could still change gear and brake but I didn't know how strong my grip would be.
The weather for the Classic was hot and couldn't have been in starker contrast to 2013's 40mph winds and torrential rain. That said, the hot weather was to bring its own challenges. I always plan how much water and food I need for a ride to give myself the best chance of performing as I want to. I usually drink one bottle per hour but the feed station was at 34 miles and about two and a half hours in. I guessed / hoped I'd be able to stretch my 2 bottles / 2 hour supply out to the feed station where I could refill for the hour and three quarter second half of the ride. I made my water bottles last until the feed station but it was getting hot. The increasing temperatures and my increased effort to strike gold took my fluid intake to another level, a level I'd not reached before. I rationed myself to make it last but I knew I needed more. I could stop in a village along the route and try to find a friendly shop but it was a Sunday and couldn't see any shops open. I was also worried that if I stopped I'd lose time and miss out on gold so I ploughed on. I even consumed more gels than I would normally do in hope that its fluid content might help in some way.
I remember laughing at myself because I was thinking that if I rode harder and faster I would finish sooner and need less fluid! It's like accelerating in your car to get to a filling station before you run out of fuel. That was nuts but it was how my mind was trying to problem solve.
I'd lost my riding partner in a mele of riders (some walking) and vehicles on a narrow steep lane quite early on. We each thought we were behind the other so we each rode hard to catch the other up but in the congestion of hundreds of riders we never met up until the end. Most of my training had been with this riding partner and as he is a much better rider I would more often than not use him to pace me along. I had lost my pace maker so I was desperate to find other riders to join up with but it never happened. I'd see a group ahead and work hard to get on their wheel but when I got there I realised they weren't as quick as I needed so I pushed on to hopefully find other riders ahead.
As was my dwindling mental capacity, it was only after the ride that I realised that it was never very likely that I'd catch up with better riders. How could I. They were better and quicker than me! Nevertheless, it was this irrational thinking that pushed me on and kept my pace up to the end even though the twinges of cramp were more frequent and more worrying.
The finishing straight was through Newton Abbot Race Course and the finish line beneath a red arch so there was no option other than to get out of my saddle and sprint. Just before the line I heard my long lost riding partner cheering me on so at least I knew where he was! I finished in 4 hours 21 minutes which was 9 minutes inside the gold standard for Old Giffers like me but I'd missed the Young Guns gold time by a minute.
I'd ridden the course 45 minutes quicker than in 2013 and I was elated but that feeling of elation was almost overwhelmed by an emotional relief that I'd got through the confidence roller coaster to achieve my goal. And there was no way that a trip to the first aid tent to have my bee sting swelling treated (as it was almost to my elbow) could take the shine off my achievement.