Sportive blogger Madeleine returns from holiday and swaps flip flops for SPDs at the Wiggle Mega Meon. Despite bringing banana loaf for the journey, she quickly finds that the tough Hampshire route ain't no picnic.
Above: After some gentle hire bike pootling in Vietnam, the Mega Meon was a rude awakening for Madeleine.
During my recent family tour of Vietnam, the unthinkable happened. After 10 days of a tour, I became so desperate to get back on my bike that I climbed aboard the only thing there was with two wheels and pedals - a bike with a basket on it and a seat that had more padding than Chris Hoy has muscle; what's more, I rode it in flip-flops!
This was the only bike I was able to get my hands on in two weeks, so on my return and in the week leading up to the Wiggle Mega Meon Sportive, I knew I needed to get some serious cycling hours into my legs. Not to worry though - I summoned a trusty ride partner, Tom, home from his holidays in Majorca (where he didn't spot Bradley Wiggins) to keep me company on some longer rides. I was still worried though, since the longest ride we did together still fell short of the Epic and Standard ride distances (150 kms and 125 kms respectively) – although I did introduce him to some of Surrey and Sussex’s amazing back lanes – including the lethal Barhatch Lane climb in the Winterfold forest (great time Tom by the way!).
Above: Madeleine's chosen route.
I was supposed to do the 95 miler, however I decided to leave that to the big boys (my dad and his friend Mark), and I'd do the 80 mile course so that we could get back to the car at similar times.
Event HQ was based at South Downs College (just outside Portsmouth), and at the start line we were told that there would be 1600 of us on the roads. This was the biggest sportive I've been to yet, and I observed that everybody had looked out their best cycling kit just for the occasion... me included! Maybe it was because the photographs were free. The only place you'll see more Rapha kit is Box Hill on a weekend (they'd make a killing if they had a shop nearby). I planned to leave around 7.30 so that meant that I actually left the start just before 8. I peeled off the front of the bunch I was with because I didn't want to be stuck behind and found myself all alone on a gentle descent where I could've really used Tom as my windbreak.
It wasn't to be and it was a good half an hour until I managed to spot a small echelon of riders that I could tag on the back of. I was even hoping there'd be a hill so that I could catch on to them quicker but sadly none came. So typical. Furthermore, I was low on energy food. Attempts at finding my inner domestic goddess had failed following a sad cremation of flapjacks in the oven at home, which the rest of the family found hilarious. I was slightly more successful with a banana loaf so I thought I'd wrap that up. I'd advise you to steer well clear of this treacherous snack. Especially when it contains walnut. Next time I'll label it 'Choking Hazard; not suitable for children under 3 years and certainly not for people who are undergoing physical exertion and wish to use their trachea for actually breathing’. I chucked the rest of the banana loaf straight into the bin at the first food station!
Food station #1 enabled me to stock up on energy drink and chocolate spread sandwiches, and I left the food station just before a group of about 10 men, who were helping a slightly larger mate around the course They became a recurring sight, as they caught me up after Butser Hill -"the easy way up", Mark had said. Yeah right. Then we would go our own respective speeds again, separating, and then they seemed to magically reappear at random points on the increasingly undulating route! In fact, I pointedly remember cycling past them for the 4th time as the larger man was taking a time out to sit up and list all the stats from his cycling computer to mates…
"If I have things right, chaps, we are in the middle of the ride, with the major climb out of the way, we've done nearly 1000m of climbing".
If you're a glass half full person I suppose this information might've been quite uplifting, but I was about 3 hours into my ride and felt any hope of finishing within 5 hours was now out of reach. For this reason, I crusaded onwards past food station #2, so I was again riding with only lactate burn to keep me alert...
"All intentions I had of taking a picture of the view of the sea at the top of the climb were swiftly discarded in the interest of getting my free tea!"
'You should've trained HARDER' a strategically placed orange Wiggle sign caught my eye. I made a mental note of this and decided that the next time the Honda motorbike buzzed past with its pedal powered pace line of Wiggle orange and black Lycra clad bees, I'd kick them off their cosy draft. Especially since the route now stuck resolutely in the direction of southeast, which, as it happened was the exact direction that a 15mph wind was coming from. I'm afraid that apart from the headwind, I really don't remember much else before food station #3 (with about 35 km to go).
I had to stop at the last food station because I was desperately low on water. I was pleased to meet someone who commented that my dotty Morvelo shorts cheered him up when I went past him! However, my well-dressed legs felt as if they were slowly filling with cement, and I decided I needed to push off again before cramp set in. The only way I could take my mind off my complaining glutes was, sadly, by singing. If the first sign of madness is talking to yourself, then where exactly does singing enter the equation? Enter Jason Derulo's Ridin' Solo wafting up a very windy valley.
The headwind persisted the entire way back, crushing my speed, and forcing me to connect dusty synapses that haven't been used since summer exams in order to figure out how quickly I could make it back. This sort of mental acrobatics would have to start all over again as I hit the most terrible, windy, slowly uphill, B-road that led us back to base. A sign suggested 10 miles to go; this had to be converted to kilometers, then compared to current speed in order to find a target time. I was on for less than 5 hours, but every single one of those 16 kilometers became more and more torturous.
All intentions I had of taking a picture of the view of the sea at the top of the climb were swiftly discarded in the interest of getting my free tea! I took comfort in the fact that other people were clearly in a lot more pain than I was - the roadside verge was littered with people trying to pummel or stretch their muscles into submission for the final push.
I'd like to tell you how I rolled over the finish in style but that couldn't be much further from the truth. Attempts to show my relief upon finishing resulted in a pained wince as I accepted my prizes and finisher medal from the ‘podium girls’ (AKA staff handing out those massive bags of free stuff. In true form, I celebrated by performing a stretching ritual whilst waiting for my Dad and Mark arrived back to base. Recently, one of my Dad’s mates let it slip to Mark that his unofficial nickname is Mental Mark. Unfortunately, he appeared to be quite proud of this, and evidence of him deserving this title arrived as he announced after 165 km (they added a bit of extra distance on by accident) that he wanted to do the ride again backwards! Its comments like this that makes one wonder what exactly is in those energy drinks?