of weeks ago on a ride with my friend, Pete, riding the South Downs Way (SDW) was
mentioned. And by nightfall I’d agreed to attempt it in a day. Almost instantly
I regretted the decision, as my brain flooded with worries, worries and
South Downs Way is not to be under-estimated. Whilst only 100 miles, it
is predominantly off-road with over 3,500 m of climbing (as a gauge the Ben
Nevis summit is
1,345 m). A lot of the terrain is extremely exposed and it’s rare for it not to
be tremendously windy. Completing it within 10 hours is considered an achievement. And I’d just agreed to ride
it with someone much, much faster, fitter and more skillful than me. I train for 1-hour flat
out cross-country races…what the frig was I doing!!??
The logistics are an additional challenge. We needed to get ourselves to the start, have sufficient food and drink available and then get home. Our plan was for Pete to drive us to the start, picking me up at 04:30 and my husband kindly agreed to meet us twice on route (at Bignor Hill and Ditchling Beacon so we could grab provisions) and then again at the end to drive us home. Pete then had the job of collecting his van the following day.
So, on Tuesday 28 August just after 6am, Pete and I set off from
Winchester and a little over 10 hours of riding later we arrived in Eastbourne
like Cheshire Cats. I’d done it! And, I’d loved all of it. The scenery had been stunning,
the weather was kind-hearted and the Goddess of Mechanicals had looked down on
Here’s a few things I did that really helped me:
- Respect for the SDW! 10 days before, I did a
4-hour ride on the South Downs. It was meant to boost my confidence. But I rode
it under-fuelled, too fast and the heat was unbearable with sweat dripping into
my eyes. Afterwards I had a spaced out feeling and my confidence was
anything but boosted. In hindsight this was a blessing in disguise. It meant
that I needed a plan! I agreed with my coach, Jenny Copnall, to ride to heart rate and stick to
130-150bpm (my zones 3 & 4). For some of the hills it was impossible to
keep this low but overall I stuck to this pacing as much as possible.
- A working and
comfortable bike. At the beginning of the year I had a bike fit at Cyclefit and
I'd thoroughly recommend them. Also, just before, I got my bike
serviced at Velocipede Cycles, who I race for. So, I was as confident as I
could be that the bike wouldn’t be the limiting factor!
- Nutrition. I was super worried
about this as I usually have no appetite when riding. But I put together hourly bags on
50-60 grams of carbohydrate and I force fed myself the contents. I used a
mixture of bananas, fig rolls, garibaldis, roast potatoes, bagels, jelly babies
and fingers of fudge. For drink I had water and electrolyte tablets.
- An “enjoy the moment”
mindset. I deliberately didn’t have distance showing on my Garmin as I didn’t
want to be obsessing about that. I just had time (and heart rate). I intentionally didn’t
know how many big hills there were or when they were. My approach was that I would just have
to ride whatever was ahead of my front wheel.
- Comfort. Any ride over 3 hours
and my saddle becomes quite uncomfortable. This became quite a stressor for me, so I decided to switch my
normally super comfy road saddle onto my mountain bike but somehow this was
even worse so I switched back to my original saddle. I couldn't see how my bootie was going to last the 10-hour ordeal! At
the very last minute I decided to wear two pairs of shorts. This totally went
against my usual “nothing new on race day” approach but the risk luckily worked out and
my bootie survived!
- Good company. I loved riding the SDW
with Pete. Not because he kindly opened 99% of the countless gates (my attempts
normally accidentally inflicted pain on him); but because it feels like we share the
same magic and joy of cycling.
experience has been a brilliant reminder for me to try to not fear failure and to pick
up the dice and roll’em because outside the comfort zone is where the magic can happen!
The Cheshire Cats in Eastbourne
If it's not on Strava, it didn't happen!
Author: Claire Hitchings