Sportives can be exciting, daunting and confusing.
(By ‘can be' I mean 'definitely are').
They are fun but have so many, uncontrollable, variables.
They are empowering but logistically a nightmare at times.
They are, in their very nature, a challenge and will be completely unique to you and your two wheels.
If you’re thinking about attempting your first or aiming to enjoy your next one more than the last, these personal (and somewhat embarrassing) experiences will hopefully help prepare you. A whistle stop tour if you will of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
I had a terrible first sportive. It was a 30 mile route in Cheshire and I DNF’d (did not finish). Even though I had an unknown prolapsed disc at the time, that wasn’t the main catalyst for the pain. I wasn't mentally prepared for it. I’d only ever ridden in my garage on a turbo or predominately a well known, comfortable route around my home town of Wirral. Not having anyone to compare myself with, I tricked myself into thinking I was a decent rider (too much time imagining I was Lizzie Armitstead - see 'bumpy ride' blog post). I even remember considering the night before that ‘I could do well in this’.
The morning was sportive prep 101: porridge was soaked in a jar to eat when I arrived, the car was packed and post ride clothes and slides in a backpack. Unfortunately, no amount of logistical best practice would make up for a head and pair of legs that weren't ready to ride a solo sportive. At mile 15, without inhalers or cash in my back pocket, I had to call a local taxi (thank you Google) and make my way to the finish line.
There was celebratory malt loaf and tea back at the ranch. How English I thought as I packed the bike back into my car ahead of the hour drive home, accompanied only by an emotional CD I found in my glove compartment.
- Don’t be embarrassed by a DNF (even if the ones closest to you find it hilarious).
- Speak to people before your first sportive. Mentally preparing seems to be more effective than porridge preparing.
- Always bring taxi money, otherwise you'll get charged more for going via the cash machine.
- Try to have friends, family or your partner at the finish line incase it does go tits up.
- If you have a bad experience, book another one asap. Don't let the sour aftertaste of embarrassment and ego bruising stain the rest of your cycling sportive future.
This was another sportive I rode solo, but thankfully with a positive outcome.
The Macmillan Cycletta is supported by Vicky Pendleton and open to women only.
Getting to the start line is one of the main issues with any sporting event, especially with the added confusion of a bike (which doesn't class as a human on public transport before you try to board a bus in London by the way). I jumped on the train from London Waterloo to Guildford. About an hour later, I arrived at the station in good time. After making ‘sportive frieeends’ with other riders on route, we cycled to the start line together. Not long after sign on, we were ready to begin the ride. No time for getting cold, nervous or bored - 3 ingredients for a pre-sportive bad mood. I edged my way to the front of the pack and a mile in managed to spot a group who looked to be riding at a pace similar to my level (naturally, the group who had just been dropped from the lead groups).
It was a surprisingly hilly and tough sportive but the group and I supported each other the whole way, switching turns on the front and chatting away most of the miles. I thought to myself 'a few hours ago we were complete strangers and now we are talking about our life ambitions' whilst suffering the fate of the Southern roads. We finished and I came 7th in my age group. I think there were 7 in my age group.
- Buddy up on a ride. Be an invited wheel sucker and then let someone else be.
- Always say yes to the free massage at the end.
- If you’re wanting to build confidence, find a women’s only sportive ride.
The London Prudential.
100 miles of closed roads in London. Superb in theory, unless it absolutely chucks it down so heavily that you can barely see your front wheel and the only rest bite is savouring the very few ‘under the bridge’ moments.
Every toilet or food stop was a Krypton Factor style test; physically in keeping any form of warmth and mentally in getting back on the saddle. People were clocking up more punctures than miles. The organisers, quite rightly, omitted Box Hill and Leith Hill from the route which cut down the sportive to around 80 miles. It was emotional and rather shitty for the most part and therefore a huge achievement for the sportive trophy case.
- Appreciate good weather whenever you get it. Don’t let a good day go unnoticed.
- Slow not slip. Don’t panic to finish a sportive when the weather is dangerous.
- Let go of the outcome, enjoy the ride. Don’t hang on to the time you thought you’d achieve or the experience you thought you’d have. You may miss the lessons you find from the way it did turn out, if you’re hanging on to the way you wanted it to.
- Have friends who bring warm clothes. All hail the supporters who travel to the finish line with a friendly face and a warm hooded jumper.
- Have a quick escape route at the end. It was a long day and thankfully I only had a 3 mile ride home before I could put my feet up and enjoy the emotion that only finishing a tough ride can bring.
- Control what you can, let go of what you can't (you can also take this out of a cycling context and use it in general life).
From not completing a 30 mile sportive to riding London to Paris in 24 hours - it’s been quite an interesting few years (my guest piece on London to Paris can be found here).
Come DNF or rain, every sportive is built to challenge and cherish.
You can see a list of UK based sportives for 2016 here:
See you on the start line.