Taming of a Dragon
Event:Wiggle Dragon Ride
Distance: 133 Miles
Arriving back from holiday, where I had just completed my most running mileage in 7 days, a letter was awaiting me, it was my Dragon Ride entry, this was a massive shock to the system, my running had been going well but it soon dawned on me how under prepared I was for this massive cycling challenge. The Dragon Ride was only 3 1/2 weeks away.
No time like the present. The following day after returning from Greece I rode 48 miles over the Malverns and 52 miles over the Forest of Dean the next day. I began looking at Cycle Sportive events to use as further preparation, Dad and I soon entered the Wheel Heroes Sportive, 100 miles and flat, perfect! I knew that I couldn’t improve greatly on the bike in 3 weeks and realised in was just a case of getting the miles in the legs. The Monday and Wednesday prior to the event I opted to ride instead of run, covering 72 miles.
The morning of the 27th May we set off for the Cotswolds on a scorching hot day, I was confident I could manage the distance but knew hydration was going to be vital. The Sportive was in aid of Cancer Charities and nearly 1000 riders had entered, 400 of those doing the 100 mile route. We set off in a group of 25 but soon dropped them and continued to chase and pass cyclists ahead on the rode untill we came across 4 other riders of similar ability, as a 6 we worked together sharing our turns on the front to face the wind. I say the course was flat, but there were obviously a few hills and we quickly became a 4. We pressed on and after chatting to the other 2 riders discovered that one was only 14!! He had been ill over the few days and faded away in the latter stages. 25 or so miles later we finished in a time of 5hrs 20mins, averaging 18mph. I had drank 6 bottles and had a good set of cycling tan lines to show for my efforts!
I felt no ill effects the days after, my legs ached a little but nothing major, I decided to jog on Tuesday and do a few laps of the race course, unbeknown to me the Track County Champs were on, I had entered the 3000m on Thurs but was unaware of events on Tuesday. I stayed around for a while and eventually got persuaded to race the 1500m, which I won (although not in the way I would have liked to have won – I stayed in the group and sprinted the last 200m). Thursday I intended to use the same tactic although the race panned out a little differently, with Richie B leading off the front from the start with Rich H, Mike Fawcett and myself in the group behind, we caught Richie and Mike attacked with 800m to go. I dug in and stayed behind him untill 200m where I kicked and took the win. From that Thursday to the day of The Dragon Ride, rightly or wrongly I ran only twice in 10 days, I didn’t even go on the bike.
I had prepared the bike on Saturday and woke on Sunday morning extremely nervous, the weather had been awful the last couple of days I could only imagine the weather in Wales was better, but I very much doubted it. Race HQ, it began to rain, 4,500 riders had entered the sportive, the event had sold out in 2 hours when in came online back in November. Nearly every rider had a rain jactet on as we rolled across the timing matts, thankfully the rain eased off after 10 miles. Dad and I had decided that if it was going to be bad weather, we would take the shorter route of 78 miles, a choice I was considering regardless, but in the back of my mind it was never really an option.
The furtherest I had ridden was 100 miles two weeks ago and the course was flat, this course was further and extremely mountainous, almost alpine. The first major climb was the Black Mountains, a distance of 5.5km and an average gradient of 6%. This was a gruelling climb, but we set a good rythm, spinning the pedals, constantly passing other cyclists, ahead you could see riders snaking their up the mountain. The key part of the ride for me was pace, I’m a good climber, but I had to go easy so that I would be able to complete the distance, I closely monitored my heart rate. Once at the top, it was all about the descent, the roads were not closed but that didn’t stop riders using the racing lines while hurtling down the mountain roads and sharp hair pin bends. There was no time to take in the views while descending, its all about getting in the most aerodynamic position possible. I maxed 45mph on one descent and still had riders flying pass me! There was one more climb (The Cray) before a feed station at the 71 mile mark, I was over half way.
From then on, the climbs came thick and fast, or rather long and painfully slow. There had been one climb which I had been dreading, the Devils Elbow. It’s only 1.5km, doesn’t sound much? The average gradient is 10%, the maximum gradient is 20% and on the hairpin its 33%. I had to climb off the saddle to just even turn the pedalsand wrestled with the bike to say upright, I was managing about 5mph. Unsurprisingly, many riders struggled on the climb, those who weren’t riding were pushing and those who weren’t pushing were stood exhausted on the roadside. The Dragon Ride was not to be underestimated.
The last 2 major climbs were the Rhigos and the Bwlch (6km/av.6%) and riders standing on the roadside was becoming a common site. This long last drag was soul destroying, the road was straight and kept getting steeper, I was head down and gripping onto the bars. The sign at the summit said “Welcome to the Valleys”, I knew the descent would be good. After 112 miles (Ironman distance – the thought of running a marathon after cycling this far was incomprehendable, Dad laughed “piece of cake”) we had climbed the last mountain, it was all downhill from here on. The descent didn’t dissapoint, the bends were fast and furious and good bike handling skills were essential. Once the road flattened, the ride turned into a time trial. I was feeling strong, due to the way I had paced it, my average heart rate was 140bpm, 70% of my max.
The route description had said that the course was 130 miles, we had now done 130 miles, “where’s the f**king finish?!” the Dragon had more fire in its belly, we passed a “5km to go” sign, my heart sank and my legs faded, after doing my fair share on the front of the group we had found ourselves in I had been dropped and watched the riders go on ahead, Dad included who hadn’t noticed I had been spat out the back, he soon slowed and we crossed the line after 133.1 miles in 8hrs 47mins, riding time 8hrs 26mins (the 19mins time difference comes from stopping at 2 feed stations along the way). Out of the 4,500 riders, 1,900 had chosen to do the 133 mile route, we placed 564th and 565th. It was a great feeling and a massive achievement, one which only really sank in yesterday! For once it was nice to cross a finishing line where time wasn’t a concern, its not often I can say that. The Dragon had been tamed, but I will take up the battle next year when I’m sure the course will be further and steeper.