The longest bike ride to date. I was nervous, no I was beyond nervous. If I could not get through this, then there was no point in trying Iron Man in July. So hesitantly I packed some of my bags the night before, ate all the food and got a good nights sleep to stand myself in good stead for the event the next day.

The event was pilgrims hospice 100-mile challenge, and on the face of it the event was advertised as a fun cycle that was laid back, however, like always there were of course cut offs to make sure people did not take it too easy. The route started us off in Canterbury, down to Dover via the centre of Kent (hills hills hills) and then back up to Canterbury via the East of Kent (flat as a pancake). Adam, who I did my first cycle sportive with back in October/November 2017, was signed up to it also, to test himself before the big day. Therefore it seemed like a good idea to measure any improvements in the same way.

Leg 1: Being a nasty human

The day started out with a vicious ride through the centre of Canterbury. I was already stressed about being late to the first batch of starters, signing up on the day and having to run back to the car to get my water bottle after starting. When I saw the descent into the city centre, I did panic a bit. I was on my own due to going back to the car to get water, and the roads were already busy. However, the day had started in such a pants way I was beyond being flustered and just adopted the nasty cycling mentality of “I do not care if you have to wait, you will wait”. I wandered into the middle of the road when potholes arose in front of me, ignored angry drivers, I did not slow down to let cars past as I usually did, I did not even say good morning to passersby on the pavements. I was in full dick head cyclist mode, head down and crack on. Which seemed to work. I got through the centre and out into the countryside unscathed and caught some people up from my wave.

On catching up with people, I did not slow and chat; I did not stay behind slower riders, I overtook, ignoring angry cars behind me for slowing them down. I signalled with my head in a nonchalant manner rather than risk one arm waving around, again not caring if people had not seen. I had somewhere grown a set of balls so big I was in danger of being a total Lycra knob head. This first 25 miles of the event sped by; I suspect this may have something to do with my no messing approach.

The first food stop had supporters cheering us all in which was lovely and snapped me out of my mood and back into nice friendly Emmelia mode. Unfortunately, this handicapped me somewhat. I stopped at the food stop chatting to many cyclists, eating two sandwiches, a pack of crisps, flapjacks, sweets, chocolate and all manner of pastries. After 15 minutes I hauled myself off my sunspot and back onto the bike.

Leg 2: Knee worries

The second leg started off well. I had slightly mellowed but still was not taking any messing. I peddled like a woman possessed up to the hills and tried to make good time on the flat, feeling a little queasy from all the food. Going down the hills was still an issue. On reaching a set speed, I would get scared and clamp on around my breaks, hindering any sizable time gains. I tried to tuck in behind people and keep up but they all had no problem with potential death, and I just was not confident enough to fly around bends at the risk of crashing into a car. It was here that my right knee began to get a numbing pain in it, deciding it was nothing import it was ignored.

It was not until Adam caught up with me and I was chatting to him that my speed improved downhill. He was flying and talking to me; I had no option but to keep up. Chatting to him kept my mind off the “what ifs” of crashing. Before I knew it, I was speeding down hills trying to keep up with him. Granted, there were moments I did not want to go as fast as him, and I did slow down, but my speed had certainly increased. If he got in front, I hunted him down and caught up. This leg went so quickly because of this and before I knew it we were at the third food stop.

At the second food stop, I was a feeling a little sorry for myself as I hobbled around grabbing all the food in sight. A man came up to me and asked if I got knee pain when I cycled. “Yes, I do” I replied hesitantly, wondering how on earth he could read my mind.
“I thought so,” He said, “you need to put your bike seat up about 3 inches you are nowhere near high enough. Get the mechanic to have a look at it now while you are here and it should help the pain out.”
I thanked him and wandered over to the mechanic for a seat alteration.

“You are miles too low,” the mechanic said “it should be at your hip roughly, here you go try this” The seat went up to a ridiculous height.
“I struggle to get on and off as it is,” I told him, slightly worried about falling off a million times in a day.
“That will come with time” he mused, “you need to learn to get on and off at the proper height, you will find cycling much easier now promise.”

I took my bike and new seat height over to a small area of tarmac and tried to practice getting on and off. I could not get my bum anywhere near the seat, so I lowered it a fraction to avoid the impending million falling offs. It was still very high compared to what I was used to and getting on was a struggle. Adam explained that I should use the peddles as a shelf to help mount my metal steed and then once I was moving just keep going, easier said than done! After a few error trials eventually, I managed to haul myself up and started to get going. “It’s very high up here!” I shouted at Adam “how the hell am I going to get off!?”
“Just throw yourself on the floor worse comes to worse” he replied.

Not quite going to work at junctions that one, I pondered to myself, but decided not to worry about stopping until I had to. We set off together at a decent pace.

Leg 3: Fatigue and Tantrums

It was around 3 miles into this leg that Adam showed his experience on the bike and whizzed off, I kept him in sight but decided to pace myself, especially now I was cycling on what felt like a mountain and this was the longest ride I had ever done. I did not even know if I would manage to make the distance! I plundered on solo quite happily. The hills were tough but nothing unbearable and I was still overtaking people who filled me with confidence that I did not suck at this cycling malarkey.

The ride weaved in and out of scenic, small villages. Around country lanes filled with potholes to dodge and some technical descents also. It was a ride that was keeping me engaged and mentally stimulated which was making the time whizz by.

It was when we began to approach Dover I got excited. I had run out of water and only had one gel pack left. I was beginning to flag and needed a food stop desperately; there was one in Dover I recalled from the previous food stop map. Cycling through Dover I was so ravenous that I did not stop at junctions and let cars go I flew out in front of cars (not a dangerous distance do not panic) and just got going. “food food food food” I sang to myself over and over as a promise to my body that we were nearly there…

Cycling out of Dover and to the top of the white cliffs, I felt deflated. We should have had a food stop by now. My body began to shut down because of the false lies I had been singing; there was no food here! At the top of the white cliffs, I could see no tents or buildings up ahead where food would be either.

Cycling along the top of the cliffs my pace had halved, and my mood was foul. “Just keep going Em” I muttered to myself, “it must be soon, they wouldn’t starve us it is a charity ride!” Another 40 minutes went by, cycling through Deal along the coast. The route was now nice and flat as we went through the busy seaside town. Cars everywhere honking their horns at just about everyone. Junctions were busy with tourists, locals, cars, cyclists, dogs, children and it was a nightmare. Resting bitch face well and truly on and beyond being angry, I took no prisoners. I crept out in front of cars, shouted: “on your right” to cyclists hesitating at junctions and just got on with it. I was shaking a bit as it was so busy and I was terrified of being knocked over, but the hunt for food was worth more than my life at that moment.

Once out of the hustle and bustle of Deal the adrenaline stopped, and my pace slowed right down. People overtook me in flocks, herds, prides or whatever you call a massive group of cyclists. This did not help my mood. The sun was beaming down, and I could feel my sun cream melting off my skin. “I need water, or I am going to pass out” I panicked. Whacking my bike into its lowest gear in a bid to keep my body moving I continued down the nice flat roads only to stop around 2 miles later to have my emergency gel and contemplate how I would not be able to do Iron Man after all. Of course, I forgot about the new seat height and ended up ungracefully in a hedge which added to my fantastic mood. Although I would not class this as a fall, it was more a grab onto something to stop falling.

“I can not even finish a 103-mile charity bike ride, no chance of Iron Man being finished,” I thought, admitting defeat and sucking on my energy gel, admiring the beautiful views.

Annoyed that I had not brought more water with me, had relied on food stops and was not going to finish I growled at my bike, crushed the energy gel wrapper into a ball and hurled it at the tarmac and stamped on it over and over. Then felt bad for littering, picked it up and had a word with me about how we were going to manage the rest of the day.

A woman slowed down next to where I had stopped “Urm are you ok? Have we missed a food stop somewhere? My tracker says it should have been 10k ago, but I did not see it” she asked.  “I am fine and no idea” I replied “I have not seen one and I am on the verge of killing people if I do not eat”  She looked worried and got on her bike, peddling away fast at that comment.  “The food stop is just up this road!” A man shouted going past us. “Keep going!”

The energy gel kicked in, and the mention of food and water created a new lease on life. I apologised to my bike for being a cow and carried on.

The feeling of seeing the village hall of pit stop 3 is a feeling that will probably never be rivalled. I can not imagine anyone ever being happier than I was at that point in time. Marriage, winning the lottery neither had anything on arriving at that food stop. Dismounting via hanging onto a brick wall and throwing my bike on the grass I ran up to the water jugs and slugged until I could drink no more. The hall was adorned with sweets; homemade cakes from the locals and sandwiches with every filling. I was in love; I did not want ever to leave. I did not go for 20 minutes, which was a bit silly but I figured I had earnt it. Tantrums do burn a lot of calories after all.

Sunburn beginning to grow to a lovely shade of lobster and legs dying a little bit I decided it best to crack on. “It is only 15 miles to the next food stop as this one was moved,” a marshal said. Excellent news! 15 miles was nothing, so food was only around the corner! Re stoked, with just about every cake known to man, off I went nearly falling off my bike trying to get on with the new height and sore legs, not the best combination.

Leg 4: Burn baby burn!

For this leg, we had all been told it was flat, and that was no lie. It was lovely. Undulating country lanes, nothing technical, little traffic and a nice spin out for tired legs. The weather by now was unbearably hot, however, which was making dehydration a bit of a worry. It was at this point one-handed cycling needed to be practised. I could not afford to stop every time I needed a drink of water but equally needed a drink every mile or so. Hesitantly I would take my hand off the bars a few times to gauge balance when tired and eventually dived for my water bottle while trying to look where I was going.

After a few attempts and dropping the bloody bottle twice, I was beginning to get the hang of it, be it in a wobbly and slow manner. I was still going forward and drinking though which was a triumph for me. Two men joined me, and we got chatting. One was scheduled in for a 5-day bike ride of 100 miles each day the other was an Iron Man I used them as pacers to keep me going to the next stop which worked wonders and got me to the pit stop in no time.

The last food stop saw another 15 minute stop mainly due to being in such a good mood that there was little distance left until I arrived home. A few hills and then bosh done! A dishy young man came over ” you keep overtaking us! We leave each food stop about 15 minutes before you, and you keep managing to overtake us” he smirked.
“Ah well its the first time I’ve ridden 100 miles on a bike, so I just want it to be over, I am not usually pacey” I replied humbly
“Well you can not be doing too badly, we are going now so we will see you at the finish line. Hopefully, we will beat you on this leg!” and with that, he and his friend vanished.
Now there was a competition I was willing to take on!
I spent far too long chatting to people at this pit stop. Many people could not believe it was my first bike ride over 80 miles and offered congratulations. All were friendly and had a laugh which put me into full relaxation mode.

Leg 5: Homeward Bound

The last leg was a little more challenging than the last. The terrain became a little more hilly as we went further inland and legs were beginning to feel the pain of going further than they had before. “Please stop!” they cried “this is further than normal what are you doing to us!?” Sailing around larger villages and the suburbs of Canterbury the traffic became busy again but this time rather than being nasty Emmelia I was in a good mood from being overfed and chatting. I let cars past, spoke to people in the race as we cycled and got some more one-handed cycle practice in.

The start and finish line were on top of a steep climb, which seems to be a theme of these sportives. Happy that this was the last bit before a rest for 48 hours I dug deep and found some energy, told my legs to be quiet and got going. Halfway up the hill a man had put himself behind me. “keep going doll you’ve got this, you are going at a good pace”. This threw me off, and I nearly ended up on the side of the man in front of me. The man behind laughed “just do not crash or we all go down!” he chuckled. No pressure then I thought. Push push push, “come on legs; you can do it”. With someone on my tail, I could not stop, or they would crash into me, which oddly was a good thing, if I was cycling on my own I might have well stopped and had a quick break which I did not need.

“COME ON YOU LOT! NEARLY THERE” a passerby in a car shouted. Someone that had finished already. “JUST AROUND THE CORNER!”

Looking up there was a corner and a familiar roundabout we had left at the start. Whooopieeee!!!!!! We were done. I do not think I have cycled up a hill so fast. True to the passersby word, we were done. Drifting over the finish line and collecting my medal I felt very very happy. Around 7 hours it had taken. Minus an hour for stopping to stuff my face and hopefully I would be able to do a 110 bike ride in 7 hours for Iron Man, though granted the climbs at Iron Man are ten times worse… still a bit of optimism never hurt anyone!

The man from the last pit stop rolled in just behind me “well ok you win, you beat us again you devil” he chimed. “well done, see you at another one no doubt, we will beat you one day!” Feeling uplifted that I was someone’s target to beat. I skipped back to the car. “Maybe I am not that bad at cycling,” I thought to myself. After all, if I had fulled well and not slowed down near Dover to have tantrums and had not stopped for as long as I did at the food stops, I might have shaved off a considerable portion of time from the day. Finally positives from what was looking to be a day from hell.

Feeling exhausted and sunburn glowing I sat in the car and thought about running a marathon now, after all, that is what I would have to do on the day of Iron Man. Instead I opted to stop off at Dominos on the route home and stuff my face some more, as I had not done enough of that all day…

Lessons from my first long cycle

  • Do not spend so long at food stops on the next ride. Yes, it was nice to break the body in gradually, but the next 100-miler needed to be self-sufficient and kept up to pace to gauge where I am and what to expect on the day.
  • Keep eating all the time on the bike or your body will give in. It is not always a mental battle. Sometimes your body gives up as it’s not had enough food or water.
  • Buy a sun cream that doesn’t sweat off.
  • Hunt people down in races for motivation. Have a target, overtake them and then get a new one.
  • Follow people downhill for confidence. Follow their lines or talk to them to take your mind off anything going wrong.  Eventually, confidence will grow, and you will gain speed on your own.
  • Learn to cycle one handed for water. Really should have had this figured out well before this race as it would have saved on time. However, the importance of being able to drink and ride is invaluable. Time will not allow stopping at Iron Man, and I will need to drink a lot.
  • Prepare for a race in advance, or you will be in a foul mood all day. Do not pack and sign up on the day, be organised for a calm mind.
  • Try not to relax too much, or you waste time chatting. This won’t is a problem on race day as everyone will be focused I would have thought and will not want to talk. A healthy balance of dick head Emmelia at the start and chatty Emmelia at the end needs to be adapted to not hack everyone off but not to take any messing on race day.
  • Attack hills. They are over and done with quicker, and you get a nice rest at the end.