Surviving that first sportive

Rachel, one of our customers, talks about a recent cycling experience during her training for the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100.

I’ve always cycled for leisure with my family and have taken part in annual charity rides for years, but 2015 has seen my cycling go to a new level. I finally invested in a decent road bike and I was lucky enough to get a ballot place in the Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100. Training started in earnest but August seemed a long way off and I felt the need for an additional challenge to test my levels of fitness and endurance. And so I stumbled into the world of sportives.

Evans Cycles organises Ride-It events around the country and I found one close to home. The medium route of 50 miles was just what I needed and, being held at the end of June, the timing couldn’t have been better. I duly signed up to cycle the North Downs (in time to guarantee my free box of High5 goodies, naturally!) and then got down to the business of racking up the hours and miles every week.

As the day of the sportive approached I began to get cold feet. I didn’t know anyone else doing it and a lot of people from my local cycling club were planning to ride in a different sportive on the same day. Plus I’d had the chance to study the route, had ridden parts of it and was worrying about the five hills, two of which feature in the unofficial UK top 100 climbs. Even worse, the day before couldn’t have been any busier, crammed with commitments for my kids and little time to prepare my bike or even eat! I went to bed that night thinking ‘maybe I will, maybe I won’t’, but I woke before the alarm went off so resolved to just get on and do it.

I can’t believe how stupidly nervous I felt – the sort of nervous that makes you take forever to actually get ready and get started. After fiddling with my helmet, shoes and anything else I could think of, I finally got myself to the start tent ready for the briefing. I contemplated joining the women’s guided ride that was setting out a little later, but I didn’t want to feel reliant on someone else guiding me round and I thought there would be opportunities to fall in with a group of riders who would work together.

It didn’t turn out quite like that. I was actually on my own for much of the time, which was fine for the most part – I’m used to training on my own for 1-2 hours and know how to motivate myself – but did I miss the camaraderie of riding with others and having moral support when the going gets tough. I did hook up with a few riders at various points along the way – always helpful, if only for a few minutes – but never when I needed someone to tell me to ‘keep pedaling, you’re nearly at the top’, typical!

Needless to say, my mindset probably determined how I tackled the last few climbs. I’ve ridden Leith Hill before, I knew I could get up it and I did. I felt negative about Whitedown, having failed to conquer it on a previous ride, and I only managed to pedal part way before accepting that a grinding halt, closely followed by a standing fall, was imminent if I didn’t unclip and walk instead. That said, so did quite a few other riders and one guy admitted that it took him six attempts before he’d ever got to the top, so I didn’t feel like a total failure.

Ironically, in the closing stages of the course I seemed to collect a number of riders behind me, so as well as keeping the pedals turning I had to remember to point out potholes (love the Surrey roads!), signal and basically masquerade as temporary ride leader – it seemed quite odd after so many miles of having no one around!

Getting back to Polesden Lacey was welcome relief, even if riding over the sleeping policemen along the main drive were the last thing I needed! Did I feel jubilant? Not at the time, but over the next day or so I began to feel like I’d actually achieved quite a lot – even if Whitedown didn’t make it onto my tick list. I hadn’t wimped out of doing my first sportive, I didn’t get lost (thanks Evans for all those bright pink signs along the way!), I proved to myself that I can last longer riding on my own than I thought I would. And when I looked at my stats on Map My Ride I was really pleased with my average speed on the flat, considering I didn’t have the advantage of riding in a group. My ability to descend at speed also improved significantly between the first and final hills. I simply observed anyone ahead of me who seemed confident and tried to emulate them to the best of my ability – I was less scared, didn’t hold on to the brakes for dear life, and reached speeds previously unimaginable!

More importantly, this sportive proved that my training is going in the right direction for August. When I viewed the official finish times I rather pathetically tried to work out how I fared (remember, a sportive is not a race, people!) and was delighted to have just crept into the top half of the field. I’ve stopped myself from trying to work out how much better my time would have been had my stops been shorter at the feed stations… or if Whitedown had been levelled.

So would I do it again? Absolutely yes. Would I recommend sportives to others? Very definitely, just treat them as a personal challenge – whether you want to test yourself over a longer distance than normal or want to tackle hills you don’t normally come across. Which is why I’m now checking event calendars for a post-Pru challenge!


Rachel subsequently took part in the Pru 100 sportive and completed it in a quicker time than she’d estimated – all that training paid off!

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