About two weeks ago I went the distance for a good cause. I’d done 20 miles a couple of times, but hadn’t had the chance to train for the 40 mile British Heart Foundation cycle at all. It was around a forest near Mansfield with cycling tracks of varying abilities.
In the weeks before I’d begged colleagues, family and friends to donate and was humbled by the response. Every pound was an achievement, and I excitedly monitored the charity web page http://www.justgiving.com/overrideladies (which is still open for donations. Special thanks to Fiona, a blogger who donated!)
I was anxious. What if I injured myself? What if I had a puncture? I hadn’t had the opportunity to get an inner tube kit and wasn’t sure how to change a tyre if it did blow out. What if I couldn’t finish it? There was rather a lot of uncertainty, but at least I knew I could get there. I woke my lovely boyfriend up at 6am and soon we were off. There was no turning back now. Just as we arrived the sun rose into a hazy pink gold and blue sky. Beautiful.
I had a cycling shirt and then winter running outfit over the top. Full length lycra trousers, a waterproof jacket from my boyfriend and a bag full of cereal bars. Great for that extra push.
I was anxious to start ahead of the slower riders, so I went right to the start line. There was a great sense of community, we were all in this together, and an excited tension. We were reminded it was not a race. I was treating it like one though, for all those who had supported me and would ask for my time. I saw a lady from my cycling group at the start but when I went back to the crowd I couldn’t find her again and I didn’t have their phone numbers. I found out later that they set off in the second wave.
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The starting horn sounded and we were off in a blur of spokes and helmets. For the first 20 miles going out I was powering through, pedalling furiously, showering myself with mud and puddle water. We went past farmer’s fields, into a park, past a cockerel strutting his stuff, past caravans, lakes, over little bridges and round country lanes. The scenery was lovely, with golden bronze trees everywhere and farmer’s fields. There were army cadets helping us across busier roads and at water stops along the way (though I preferred to pedal on, I didn’t want to lose momentum).
On the way back several people got punctures tires hissing suddenly from the carpet of prickly conker shells. They had their bikes upside down replacing the inner tube. I could see why mountain bikes had been recommended. Quite a few cyclists with thinner tyres suffered. I zoomed past, hoping the next lot wouldn’t stop me in my tracks.
Then we were on the way back. I wasn’t sure how far I had to go as I could only get the distance in kilometres. Didn’t someone say there was 0.8km in a mile? I started to lose heart a bit. The route looked familiar but I couldn’t remember how far out I was. As I passed the farmland again I saw a band of rain sweeping through. I was glad of the jacket but I didn’t want to stop to zip it up so I did get a little drenched. When it stopped, I swung my bag round and text, drank or ate cereal bars as I cycled. The speedier sportsmen zipped past, sweat flying off them. Some had hearts on the back of their rucksacks showing who they were riding for.
Finally we were into the forest again and I felt relieved. I’d had great fun but time was starting to drag now and after 30 miles my legs started burning. Every push became painful and I was grateful for the downhills. The route had been fairly flat, especially after compared to the hills where I live, and I had expected to feel the strain long before now.
Other participants spurred me on, yelling out encouragement as they passed. We kept saying to each other “surely it’s not much further!” and finally we heard the cheers of the crowd and the megaphone announcements gradually getting closer. It took me a while to work up a last sprint as I was drained (despite the many cereal bars) and my circulation was on fire. But finally we came out of the wooded track and onto the finishing field. It was over and I had done it. Twice my furthest distance, off road and in only four hours. Ten miles an hour was a speed to be proud of. I put on my medal and the camera flashed in my tired but triumphant mud-splattered face.
Will I do it again? I’m not sure. It was a little too long. 30 miles would have been enough, but I’m sure it would have been easier with training. I am so grateful to all those who had a heart and donated. I have so far raised £170. Thank you.