My second medal in two weeks, and medal and challenge #5, was the Women on Wheels ride in Bury St Edmunds. It was ‘only’ a 50-mile cycle event, which was really quite sedate compared with the rides I’d been doing of late; however, this was a ride I was doing on my own. It would be the furthest I’d ever ridden on my own, even in training.
The WoW events are female-only mass-participation cycling events which are aimed at all ages and abilities of female cyclists and take part all over Suffolk throughout the summer. I did my first WoW event in Debenham last year – a 34-mile ride – but Bury St Edmunds, which was their flagship event, was celebrating its 5th year with a party in the park afterwards, so I fancied giving that one a try.
The event took place exactly one week after the Tour Ride event. In hindsight, I think I probably did have a touch of heatstroke towards the end of the Tour Ride. I remember definitely struggling to cope with the sun and heat a little throughout the following couple of days. I am a sun worshipper so it was certainly out of character for me. I began to grow concerned that the forecast for the WoW event was meant to be even a couple of degrees warmer than it was on the Tour Ride. And would be further inland, well away from any coastal breeze. The wind would be lighter but I honestly didn’t know whether or not that was a good thing.
All I knew was that I didn’t want to have another dizzy spell or panic attack and/or be stranded somewhere in need of rescuing with no shade or no water or…the doubts went on and on.
I actually considered the 70-mile route but given the conditions I settled for 50. It was again an early start. I don’t ever think I will enjoy them or get used to them, but, as it was going to be another hot one I didn’t mind. I just wanted to get going so I could finish.
On arrival I registered and got my bike and myself ready. I wasn’t having a great morning Crohns-wise so there were one or two visits to the porta-loo which I think was nerves more than anything. I saw a couple of my ambassador colleagues who were also doing the 50 with a couple of others so I thought I might tag along with them for a while and see how it went. However, after yet another porta-loo visit, I thought I’d missed them at the start; it later transpired they had been a few groups behind me, so I didn’t get to ride with them in the end.
Off we set to yet more cowbells and cheering in a group of 20 or so, and I decided to just go along with the flow. I found myself going at a similar pace of another girl, who I later discovered was called Claire, so we naturally seemed to stick together. We eventually got chatting about cycling, running, swimming, triathlons, the endurance runs Claire had coming up, and anything and everything in between. It was a nice fast-ish pace which was a good balance between limited exertion in the soaring temperatures and getting around and finished before it got too hot.
We reached the first stop at about 25 miles in, and although I didn’t admit it to Claire, I was feeling nervous. I think it was the heat, lack of shade, being in the middle of unfamiliar countryside, and anything else I could think of. We only stopped for long enough to use the facilities, have a bite to eat and top up the water, and decided to get going again. I started to douse myself in water in a bid to cool my core temperature down, and just feel like I was doing something to control the heat and the impending panic attack that, in my mind at least, would inevitably follow.
Eat. Drink. Douse. Rinse and repeat.
Thankfully after about 35 miles there was a little cloud cover. Not much but it helped. We approached Rattlesden and the second stop with about ten miles to go. We didn’t really need to stop as we were on a roll but decided it wouldn’t hurt to get more water. I’d doused myself about 5 minutes prior to arriving at the stop, not realising we would be stopping shortly, and on sitting down in the little village hall with the kind ladies putting on the spread for us, I began to drip. Everywhere. Profusely. The poor unsuspecting ladies must have thought I was sweating inordinate amounts, and part of me felt the need to explain that it was (mostly) water. I decided that whatever it was, it was probably quite rude to continue dripping all over their carpets and chairs so I waited outside where I could drip on the ground until we got going again.
Considering how quickly the first forty miles went, the final ten or so went very slowly. I think because I didn’t know the roads I didn’t realise how far away I still was from the finish. Around every corner I expected to see the entrance to the park. Eventually it did come and we sailed into the finish amid more cheers and bells ringing. We’d made it. Somehow. And I’d now reset the bar on my solo riding distance.
I was elated to find we had earned ourselves a medal. I didn’t realise prior to the event that there would be a medal – there hadn’t been one at Debenham the year before – and it was a nice one too; they’d clearly made an effort with it. Medal #5 was placed around my neck and I gave myself a pat on the back, before tucking into a hard-earned burger from the barbeque stall under the much-needed shade of a tree.
It was great to be part of a female-friendly atmosphere. There were lots of women who took part who wouldn’t have done so otherwise, because they didn’t need to feel self-conscious in front of male cyclists; many women who didn’t usually ride their bikes but who had made new cycling friends and who had enjoyed themselves so much that they would now get out on their bikes more often. It’s why I love the events so much. There are more still to take place in Sudbury and Debenham in September – check out their website for more info.
Less than a week later my bike and I were heading off to the Isle of Wight, with my other half of course, to discover what a real hill actually is…but I will save that for the next blog. The next challenge in aid of Crohns and Colitis UK will be the Crafted Classique sportive, although I still can’t decide whether it will be the 100km or the 100 mile….