Six weeks ago I was a semi-retired local rugby player who agreed to take part in an experiment.
Cycling Weekly had the idea that with cutting edge Microsoft technology and a ton of expert advice, turning a novice like me into a sportive aficionado would be a cinch.
The big event was the Bitter Beast in Dorset on November 15, and I’m typing this having completed my first ever sportive – 69 miles and 2647 ft of climbing later and I think I can now call myself a cyclist. So I guess they were right!
The target ahead
The six-week target seemed a long way off when I agreed to this, but as I laid out my Lycra for the day ahead it felt like the time had passed in the blink of an eye. Ahead of the event my feeling was actually one of excitement and I just wanted to get out there and prove to myself that I could do it!
I had a Skype call from Rebecca Charlton, one of my mentors from Cycling Weekly, a couple of days before the sportive to ask if I was all set to go. I think because I’ve been fortunate enough to play some big rugby games in my time I wasn’t nervous, I just hoped to do myself justice and not look too silly in the process!
I’ve been glued to the Surface Pro 3, just one of the Windows 10 devices that have helped me through this challenge. Having pro cyclist Alex Dowsett and CW checking on my progress has been pretty exciting.
I’ve been recording my training data via my Microsoft Band, and then I’ve used Microsoft Health to share data like ride speed, heart rate and fatigue from my activities with Alex and Rebecca. With such a short time to train it’s been invaluable to have such immediate feedback, and I feel like it’s really helped on my accelerated programme.
I may not have felt too nervous but there have been plenty of times throughout this process that I have felt a little embarrassed to admit I don’t understand all the cycling terminology.
These guys throw in their ‘compacts’ and ‘SPD-SLs’, and I’ve sometimes felt a bit out of my depth. So I have to admit to nodding and smiling and then using Cortana, to look up what they were all on about. It has proved impressively intelligent at finding the right search results… (An SPD-SL is a type of pedal by the way).
I’ve never been so organised and I knew I’d put in the hard work, but Rebecca reminded me of something that Alex had told me, which was not to fall at the last hurdle.
I’d tried foods that suited me in training and they told me it was important to do everything on the day as I had done before. Just as it’s not a good idea to forget your kit, it’s not a good idea to eat something that doesn’t agree with you on the morning. I have two small children so getting a night of uninterrupted sleep isn’t always an option, but I also tried to have a restful night.
I can see on my Microsoft Band exactly how much quality sleep I’ve had each night and it can be quite shocking to see the reality, but I managed a solid seven hours so that did the trick.
On the day
Looking around on the day of the event there seemed to be a fair amount of serious looking riders. After all, you have to be serious to ride in rain and high winds in November, and that was confirmed when I was dropped from my starting group after about two miles!
No matter, as I had my game plan which was always to ride my own ride and not expend energy on trying to stick to the wheels of more experienced riders.
The first few miles were tough and doubts entered my head as to whether I had bitten off more than I could chew as I contemplated the 35 miles that still lay ahead. But once I found a rhythm that suited me I settled down and felt comfortable at a steady, if not electric pace.
Then after around 15 miles came the first big climb… I have to say without other riders riding alongside me trying to get me up there I don’t think I would have made it up without having to stop. The camaraderie all the way round was excellent with experienced riders speeding past me but not without offering words of encouragement.
I’ve definitely got the bug and I certainly won’t be packing it in now that the initial challenge is over. I’m lucky enough to have annotated articles, training plans, advice and drills from one of Britain’s best riders all saved in my OneNote so that won’t go to waste. I’m already planning my next sportive, so I hope to see you out there!
– Get organised, don’t self-sabotage! Forgetting your helmet, shoes or a wheel will undo all your hard work
– Don’t try any new nutrition products on the day of the sportive, use what you’ve tried and tested in training
– Get an early night before the event and steer clear of the alcohol until after the event
– Look into using one or two of the multiple fitness and training apps available, they are a useful tool in tracking your progress
– Relax and enjoy it!