My pal Jen’s Epping epic

Map reference: London Etape, 185k, 1,400m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Torq gels, cheese and jam bagel, possibly the worst ever givaway gel… and extraordinary ‘performance coffee’

Those of you in the sportive loop will know that this ride was three weeks ago… I’m slipping; houswifery, back-to-school-dom and house-moving-itus are slowing me down. But it’s a ride worth mentioning. It started at the Olympic velodrome and headed in a large loop into Cambridgeshire through Epping Forest. It was always going to be a flattish ride so Jen (yes, I signed her up while she was out of the country) and I had no idea how long it would take.

I estimated 7 1/2 hours, but, I had never seen Jen in competition mode. It took us 6 hours 21 mins of moving time… and I was basically hanging on to Jen’s wheel the whole way. Or, I had fallen off and I was pedalling at maximum effort to get back on. Sounds hilarious but it was actually really hard work. From the off, through the East End, Jen flitted through the crowds of cyclist. She has never really ridden in a group so was pedalling past perfectly fast pelotons and isolating us as the groups stretched out. I was cursing and grumbling and desperately trying to hold on, thinking it was going to be a very long ride in this degree of pain; or, clearly a much shorter race than I had anticipated, but a lot less comfortable.

After a puncture at 10k, we settled down a bit, and by the time we were out into proper countryside, Jen had got the hang of picking a pack to hang on to, and at her size (5ft2) she was able to just tuck in and roll along. I, unfortunately, had a habit of dropping off the back on the longer rises (no hills as such) and then having to battle back onto the back in order to rest up for the next drive. Our average moving speed was 29k/h and we were very held up later as we headed back into London, so we were really clicking along. I spent an uncomfortably large percentage of the six hours at panic stations; heart racing, sweat pouring into my eyes, legs throbbing. We didn’t stop at the first or second feedstation, carrying enough carbs with us to get us by (thank heavens for jelly babies…Bassetts, bless you).

The 20k to the third feedstation was hard, the field had thinned out and I was mostly just hanging on to Jen’s back wheel, and with her being so small draughting was less effective than if she had been bigger. She was tiring too. We swung into the feedstation to be stopped by a ‘glamourous’ woman on a stall offering ‘performance coffee’. She astounded us by greeting us warmly along the lines of ‘Ahh, now you’ll want this, because as women, you won’t be wanting to eat fattening, sugary stuff’. We sniggered, drank the coffee (tasted like regular instant coffee to me) and headed for the real snacks. There was no time (or energy) to take offence to her ridiculous implication that we should diet. There were very few women for her to bond with on the ride, and with her fake nails I don’t suppose she ever did any real exercise.

At this stop we were also given some gels (I’ll look up what they were, when I can) which were absolutely awful. They were too large and squirted all over the bike and my hand, making both so sticky I was struggling to change gear. And they tasted foul too. They are to be avoided at all costs. Jen’s squirted everywhere too, so it wasn’t just me. Honestly, guys, do test these things on the road before giving them out.

Quick as we could, we hopped back on the bikes and charged back towards Epping. with 20k to go I thought Jen had finally managed to drop me for good. For mile after mile I could see her but couldn’t get back up to her.  I willed her to just understand that it was fine to go on without me, but luckily two large blokes came by and I hopped onto their tail in a last ditch attempt to catch up. They delivered me to Jen’s back wheel just as she turned round to see if I was there. I still don’t know if she know how long I was missing. She rides in her own zone, legs just pedalling and pedalling.

As we headed into London we were really slowed down by the early afternoon traffic. Jen’s knee began to play up but she powered on through the final spin of the Velodrome and then we hobbled off to the car. By the time we got home an hour later, neither of us could walk properly, we were staggering about, giggling like drunk octagenarians. Still, no harm done, by the morning we were fine. That’s the joy of cycling, if it had been a marathon, I’d probably still be limping.

Note to Jen: Get that Dragon ride booked. 

Loopy, me?

Map reference: out to the Surrey Hills but staying as flat as I could, 135k, 1,300m elevation, oops.

Carbs and caffeine: tuna sandwich at good old Bike Beans

Finally, the kids are back at school and I can get out. Jen, who said she hadn’t ridden her bike for five weeks (but let it slip that she has been spinning away during her globe-trotting tour), was up for trying to get in some distance to prepare for L’Etape London. She is surprisingly jittery about the sportive, considering she beats me up every hill and easily keeps up the pace up on the flat.

I decided we should go out Peaslake way as, soon enough, the hills around there will be too cruddy with the winter weather. I tried to avoid too much of the up-down-up again route that we usually do, but it is hard to be on the flat around there.

We rode 70k without stopping to try to get used to just keeping the legs turning, stopping only to mainline a few jelly babies and gels.

At times I felt quite out of sorts trying to keep up (that will be the depression of watching tiny Jen getting smaller and smaller as she pulled away from me up the hills) and I developed a bit of a headache despite drinking plenty of water.

We had a proper stop at Bike Beans and that helped. We then took a deliberately long circuit home back across to Cobham in order to keep the mileage up, and Jen and I parted company at 105k in Richmond Park.

With some discipline, I decided to carry on pedalling rather than going home for a shower (I must say sorry to the school gate mums, again), and challenged myself to get up to 125k. To do this I headed out of Ham gate, to do a circuit around Ham, I then did another circuit to be sure, and set off to Richmond Park. Cutting across the park I realised I was past 126k and my new target had to be 130k. I doubled back on myself to make sure I hit my new number. That achieved, I made my way back to the car. Unfortunately, as I neared, I realised that my Garmin now read 132k. So, of course I then had to circuit the Coombe Estate to get a nice round 135k. As I passed the car, the reading was still 134k, I carried on for a couple of hundred metres and quickly turned around as it ticked over to 135k. Thank heavens it stayed on the magic number or I might still be out there looping the area.

Note to self: watch those OCD tendencies when you are tired