Let me start the blog with a slight spoiler alert: I ballsed this one up, guys.
Let’s begin by reviewing “training” for this event: I didn’t do enough. I worked hard and improved my bike fitness in the run-up, but no amount of power interval training on a wattbike in a sweaty gym will set you up for the gravelly climbs of Kielder Forest. I will issue no blame on anything or anyone other than myself for this.
I did not do enough climbing. I did not do enough descending. Which leads me to lesson numero dos: I need to get better at going down hills. I am terrified of descents. I wish I could be one of the amazing cyclists I so admire, who whizz past at a rate of knots. I am too busy gripping the brakes until my forearms explode and my teeth shatter. I am too busy thinking about road rash if I misjudge a pothole or a bend. I am too busy NOT enjoying the free speed that comes with downhill.
A few months back, I asked Beardy to help me with my cycling. He is one of those modest types that just loves being out on his bikes and happens to be insanely good at being on those bikes. Literally all bikes. He has all the bikes. Being an Endura employee, I felt compelled to enter Riever as it would be fantastic training for my A Race later in the year. The goal for 2019 is to absolutely nail the bike split. I can swim well, running will always be a bit of an issue but if I can nail the bike, it gives me the opportunity of redemption at 70.3 and 140.6 level. With all this in mind, I worked out my FTP and then bodged together a training plan which wasn’t really a training plan as it was sort of shoe-horned in to a 70.3 plan…. Setting myself up well there!
In the weeks and days leading up to Riever, I was largely shitting myself. I would be tackling it on a cyclocross bike. Grippy but narrow tyres and aggressive geometry were filling me with dread the more I read in the Facebook group about bike set ups. No matter, I could still do it. Right?
The thing is…. I had pretty much decided that I couldn’t do it. The negativity had started to creep in hella early this time. I felt a wee pang of excitement at work the week before, but other than that, I was dreading it.
I prepped decent nutrition. I prepped decent kit. I prepped my bike. But my mind was not prepped. And neither were my legs.
I am totally ok with a 0325 alarm clock. A 30 minute lie in when compared to Lakesman. I was totally ok with a 2hr30min drive at 4am.
We set off on time (remarkable) and made it to Kielder with only one minor navigational error. Overnight road closures were the source of much stress but eventually we were on the same road as other people carting bikes into the depths of the borders.
We registered in good time and then snacked in the car and made final adjustments to bikes and kit.
Beardy had had a bit of a mare with his wheels in the run up. An attempt to convert them to the more favourable tubeless set up had gone tits up so he was running tubes on wider tires with a deeper rim on the back. This meant trying to source a 33mm tire with a minimum of a 60mm presta. Apparently this is not a common set up for tubes and so he had 2. 2 Entire tubes. Wiggle & Chain Reaction’s entire stock. And one was already on the rear wheel.
I had maintained my narrower tyre set up so had plenty of spare tubes and all the required tools. My Endura MT500 Hydrapak backpack was stowed to the brim with tasty snacks and 2litres of water with 750ml of High Five Energy mix in a bidon. We were ready! I was determined not to bonk or hit a wall.
It was fucking baltic at the start. It had dropped to -5c on the hills over to Kielder and our bikes were covered in ice on arrival. An icy saddle sounds appealing after a 100+ km ride, but it isn’t what you need at 8am.
Bikes de-iced, we set off on time, with “Mr Endura” (Ian) getting a special shoutout from the organiser. I got to the end of the row of flags and CLUNK.
What the actual shit.
My chain had come clean off. I hadn’t even shifted. This has never happened (on this bike) at any time ever and WHY is this happening now?! A quick jump off and re-position and I was able to get underway. Somewhat mortified. Thank you to the RD who quickly abandoned his MC duties to hold my bike while I reattached my chain….. SAKES.
The ride out is neutralised for the first 3km or so to prevent people from sprinting off the line and to drive home the fact that this is not a race. You start with a nice, gradual climb which is a good warmup for the legs and lungs. And then I heard the words no one ever wants to hear: “I think I’ve got a puncture”. I turned to look at Beardy expecting it to be a joke.
It was not a joke.
We hadn’t even crossed the first timing matt. Jesus H Christ. This is going to be a long day.
Of course, it was a total dick to change. Beardy told me to go on ahead and if he couldn’t get it seated in the tyre he’d call it a day and see me when I’d finished.
I pedalled on, a little upset and worried that he’d worked so hard on his bike for this to happen so early in the day. And, because it happened WHILE WE WERE ON A TARMAC ROAD, I began to shit myself about only packing 3 spare tubes….
Of course, while we’d been stood beside the road, literally the whole field had passed us. So I was immediately on a catch-up mission. I reminded myself to take it easy and relaxed a little and enjoyed the climbs and the absolutely beautiful scenery. After about 20 minutes Beardy appeared at my side with a “haven’t you finished yet” and a slightly under-inflated rear tyre.
The 130km route has approximately 2400m of elevation (81miles with 7900ft for those of you who speak imperial) so it is pretty lumpy by my standards. Lakesman had 1000m in 180km. For the first 20 or so kilometers, I was actually enjoying the satisfaction of climbing and was coping relatively well with the variable surfaces. One particularly tricky section featured boulder sized chunks of sharp flint and it was marked as a “steep descent”. I gritted my teeth and went for it. We reached the bottom having aged a few years and with forearms so full of lactic, it felt like they were no longer attached to my body. At 35km, I started to feel a bit weary. I don’t know why. I had plenty of snacks and so far had managed to eat enough and drink enough. I’m used to shite sleep the night before an event so I knew what to expect with tiredness. But all this allowed the “I can’t do its” to start to seep in very, VERY early. This was an entirely new kind of event for me. I ride off road at home, both on CX and on my MTB, but the trails in Kinross-shire are hard-packed with very little loose gravel. Despite living in Scotland and being unable to leave the relative flatness of my immediate surrounding without climbing a hill, I am a total novice with climbing.
Beardy provided encouragement and support throughout, making sure I ate and was holding it together. By 40km, however, I was not holding it together anymore. With 90km to go, I was really struggling. For some reason, despite my legs feeling ok so far, I was dying on the hills. Beardy was spinning in his easiest gear which I can usually keep up with, but on this day I simply did not have the strength to keep up. I was being passed a LOT and this was really grating on me. It’s not a race at all, but people seemed to be gliding passed with little effort (in huge gears, to be fair… I run a compact double with an 9 speed 11/27 rear. No 32-tooth cog for me on the back!)
At around 50km, we had run into Justin. A rider in the 200km event who had experienced a gnarly mechanical leaving him with 2 gears on the back. Ouch. He rode with us and kept us chatting. We knew we were going to be up against it for the 1230pm cut off at 65km.
Justin was retiring and to be honest, I was pretty much following suit. I felt utterly broken. Not so much physically (although the lactic burn in my quads was making me wince with every climb, and for some reason, my lower back was in shreds) but mentally I was done. DONE. The thought of another 65km with the same elevation again had me wanting to do a little cry at the side of the road.
Somehow, we made it to the cut off point with minutes to spare.
I am tough. And I’ll rarely pass up a challenge. I have never, ever DNF’d. Until today. When presented with the choice of going hard or going home, I went home.
And I stand by my choice. I know, I know. I can hear you all groaning and rolling your eyes.
I absolutely love being outside on my bike, I love being outside full stop. But today, I was losing the love because I had thrown my training in the bin and ruined it for myself. I chose not to push through pain barriers on an event that was approximately 18 million miles outside my comfort zone. I chose to listen to my head and call it a day.
It was a gutting decision to make. I could see in Beardy’s eyes that he was bitterly disappointed. He knew I wasn’t ready though and, despite having the fitness (though lacking in spare tubes) to continue, he chose to stick with me and call it a day.
Once I stopped moving and got back to the car, I realised how cold I was. I hadn’t felt it out on the bike, thanks to my brilliant Endura kit, but as the adrenaline wore off, my body would not heat up. I had thermal joggers, a base layer and hoodie AND a DryRobe on in the car and I still needed the heating up full. It wasn’t until we got home that I’d eventually thawed out. Imagine if I’d started to suffer with that if I’d stayed out? That would have been bad news.
I am reliably informed that the pain of the choice, as much as I believe it was correct, will dissipate.
Besides… I have Kinross Sportive in a couple of weeks, and a lot of work to do in that time, apparently! At least I can literally roll out of bed and roll to the start for that one…
I have never DNF’d since I started my adventures in endurance. And I am honestly shocked at myself for choosing to DNF. At least if they’d stopped me from continuing, the decision would have been out of my hands and I could have used that as an excuse. But there is no excuse. I simply didn’t prepare and train enough for an event that requires SERIOUS respect. 130km on the road is a bit of a trek but it’s no huge feat for someone with an iron distance under their belt. But this was so tough. And I was not tough enough!
This whole experience has been a stark reminder that you can’t wing it for everything. And for a lot of things, winging it is the absolute worst thing you can do. I know what I need to do now to improve. And, being a goal-oriented lass with a strong will to do better, I will come back from this braver and better-equipped.
Would I recommend Riever? Absolutely. ABSOLUTELY. What a place! Such a great atmosphere and everyone I spoke to was wonderful. Fantastic marshalls, volunteers and a really slick event. It just wasn’t my day.
Onwards and upwards!