Tales of an endurance athlete
Duathlete at heart, but will do aything running/cycling/swimming/multisport related. Within reason of course:-)

The South Downs Way - On a Crossbike!

tiggaby tiggaJul 11th 2018
OK… this wasn’t a race, but believe me it is one incredible challenge!

It has been a long ass time since I had a 'report card' for an event, this was no race though just a challenge. Off road, hilly… and as it turns out, stupidly hot too!

I would love to start racing seriously again, I really miss the focus, dedication required. Most of all I simply miss being in the best possible condition I can be to give of my best… and take any result that comes with it if I race. Since being rear ended by a muppet car driver in 2016 whilst riding my bike I have struggled to keep the right side of my body functioning without breaking. Maybe it’s an old age thing, but the minute I string a few weeks of training together and see things are going well and consider racing…. The lack of self help (ie stretching/dreaded foam rollering/time off legs etc.) kicks me in the balls and my right calf breaks, or right hamstring tweaks, right SI joint gets aggravated!! I do not think it’s coincidence that the brunt of the shunt was my right butt cheek. Full of excuses eh?! Hehehe…

Every now and then I find something to challenge myself, and a little added motivation. This time it came in the form of The Sown Downs Way. This is a mostly off road path that links Winchester and Eastbourne, running almost parallel to the south coastline bypassing all towns and cities and only passing through some of the smallest villages… The south of the UK is densely populated, but this route avoids all that and for nearly 100miles (160km) you ride spectating as you pass some of the most incredible views. Sometimes you can only stop and admire this natural beauty only enhanced by the fact we were ‘blessed’ with the warmest and driest spell the UK has seen like a gazillion years… ok, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s probably the best summer we’ve had since I’ve lived here.

One hundred miles… phhhfft, you say, I should be able to do that in my sleep?! Yes, I probably could wing it on roads with minimal training, but to add to this challenge the off road element we decided to do this on a cyclocross bike. Off road riding these days normally involves a full suspension mountain bike, or at the very least front shocks and nice big wide tyres to prevent punctures. A cyclocross bike is essentially a road bike, but taken off road with slighting beefed up wheels to take the additional punishment and slightly different bike geometry to have the pedals/chainset clear of the ground by a little more than a standard road bike. That means, no suspension. Add to this, I decided to enter 6 weeks before the event and haven’t been off road in many many years…. Many years!! Skills I had to find, and a set of balls I had to dust off in order to ride down hills without fear… or with less fear than usual!

Another big reason to give this a go was a good friend of mine who sees himself as the ‘fatboy’ on a bike â€" He has wanted to do this on a cross bike for a while, so I entered us both and said happy birthday Glenn!! Needless to say he said ‘hell yeah’…. Actually his exact words were ‘F@ck yeah baby’! The challenge was on, Glenn has ridden more cx off road than me but we both had not ridden much in the way of hardcore ‘gnarly’ terrain normally associated with MTBing. We recce’d the south downs way in parts on a couple of weeks to get a feel for the terrain and after the first one we realised this was not going to be a normal ride. It is seriously hilly, proper bumpy, technical and whilst we didn’t pass through any villages as such…. It was punctureville out there! Or as Glenn might put it the Puncture Pixies roam wild out there. The basic rules to this event were no tyres wider than 40mm, no suspension, preferable drop bars and ride on the SDW following their GPS/markers (99% on the SDW itself) â€" these ‘rules’ apply to those entering on a crossbike, the softies can enter on a mountain bike too😉

Five weeks to build the confidence on the off road elements and also get strong enough to cover what was going to be a long day in the saddle â€" Considering my start point was zero as I had a knee operation at the end of March, it gave me only a few weeks to build. As I say we were lucky with the weather so I had some decent training and even managed to accumulate enough bike time to acquire a cycle tan! Mostly compliments of the 6hours we rode on the SDW two weeks before in cloudless warm conditions. I haven’t had a proper one of those for a while! One that any Tour De France rider would be proud of after the TDF… glove tan included! Yep, it’s a site to behold ladies…. NOT!

7th July was ‘D’ day â€" 6:30am we were ready to roll out along with about 200 others, half on cross bike, half of MTBs. A well organised even in the end! It is not easy to put out orange markers and tape on trees along a 100mile route all off road point to point course, man and supply 7 aid station. Given the 30+deg heat all day, there was no way we could have done this without stopping multiple times and as we don’t pass many villages and the amount of calories and liquid needed, on day of extreme weather it was going to take all the aid stations we could visit and abuse the numerous public taps available to top up too.
The route itself is simply spectacular in this kind of weather. The first part leaving Winchester was pretty slow going with single track and mass start and our aim just to finish, we eased into the first 20miles to QE Park which has a couple of steep sections. I was probably under geared but I always figured I could ride the uphills at my pace enabling me to ride my gears more efficiently and I’d be up the road to open any of the numerous gates we encountered for Glenn. That was a great plan for the first two thirds, but the lack of preparation riding in that way left me in trouble up the hills in the final 30miles as dehydration took hold and cramp set in. Pushing a 36x28 over some extremely steep and rough hills took it’s toll… and boy did I suffer. The hands, arms and shoulders take a continuous battering without suspension. On a crossbike every bump is felt and by the end I was alternating between three different hand positions in order to avoid finger cramp and avoid the blisters getting worse, I realise now that without hydraulic brakes which are super sensitive and required just light fingers to control, I would have been in trouble. Still, the scenery is still spectacular reaching some high points along the way nearer Brighton and Eastbourne where you can simply see for miles… I could easily understand why people live, and would want to live so close to such an awesome playground for any outdoorsy type!

Following our much needed lunch stop at Truleigh Hill with the wives, who were out supporting and entertaining the dogs who enjoying a day out too… we set off refreshed and full, and actually quite confident we’d finish this. Forty miles to go… how hard could this be? I’d scrutinised the profile and knew that although there were some hills, nothing was silly steep, just long in comparison to the first half. Still in bumpy chalky terrain, bumpy I thought the gearing I had would be OK. It wasn’t, it got nasty and even quick coke in Alfriston didn’t seem to do much to hydrate me. I had a stomach full of liquid yet I was still struggling to keep myself hydrated?! This is what happens to me, without specific preparation for course and conditions if the race is longer than 3 hours my body can’t cope with the stresses of such an extreme situation. Grrrrr… we plugged on and once we crested the climb out of Jevington and both of collapsed for a couple minutes on the grass…. We knew we nearly there. 6km later we were at Beachy Head crossing the finish line in a smidge under 12hours. An epic day on a bike, on the hottest (av temperature for the 12 hour ride was 29deg) day of the year. This was the toughest 1 day ride I’d done, and ‘Fatboy’ Glenn had outlasted about 60% of the field who had dropped out and crossed the line in the top half of the field that did finish! Chapeau Glenn… that is a tick in the box that I am seriously proud of. The South Downs Way on a crossbike!

For now, it’s back to enjoying the bike and exploring the New Forest off road on bike that I’m beginning to love more and more!!

Glenns solo night out in preparation:
My Strava for the day
The South Downs Way - On a Crossbike!
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