I started this blog to share ups and downs. People always like to hear good news. This post is neither an outcry for pity nor an invitation for ‘Schadenfreude’, but maybe some can take something from my failures too.
The big goal I set myself for this year was to win the National 12Hrs. Well… I FAILED. I still came 3rd, but in many ways it (or I rather) was a complete disaster. I don’t mean any disrespect to any of the other people who were riding the 12Hr and covered less distance. Every single person completing it deserves lots of respect, but I am just very disappointed in myself, knowing I can do better.
Where did it go wrong? Here is my rather long analysis of my mistakes, some positives and lessons to take away from this and finally lots of questions about where to go from here.
- Specificity: I didn’t plan my whole season around the 12Hr. As it was my first year of dedicated TTing, I just wanted to give everything a go and see how I would do. Accept that I couldn’t target everything, would not do very well at some events, but at least take it all in as experience. If the National 12Hr would have been my only target I should have planned my season differently. Fewer races, don’t bother with shorts 10 milers etc. I don’t regret approaching things this way this year, but realise that more specificity and focus would have helped.
- Planning: This was my first TT where I actually had support. My non-cycling husband came along. We arrived a day early to drive the course (just once) and I cycled up and down a bit to check that my TT bike and my spare road bike worked OK. We spent the night in a cheap Travelodge with a crappy soft mattress and a tiny little fan. I now know that I should have been more serious about this. Arrive a few days in advance. Book a B&B or hotel with a good bed. Drive the course more than just once, cycle the course more than just once, practice the corners, figure out where the best places would be for Chris to stop with the car and do bottle hand ups etc etc. So much to learn both for me in terms of how to make best use of a helper and for Chris how to best support me. I lost a lot of time because I kept stopping to eat and take on electrolyte capsules (because of the heat and cramp) and new bottles (one on frame and 1.5 in vest). I looked into modifying the Shiv frame to be able to carry more than one bottle on it, but was told by the bike shop I would risk the warranty. Perhaps I should reconsider the behind-seat option for extra bottles? Also I should practice bottle hand ups with Chris in the park and perhaps also in a 100m TT to see what it is like in an actual race situation as well as towards the end of a long training ride to know what it will be like when I am quite tired. I am not very comfortable with taking my left hand off the bars..I also need to learn what and how to eat on the go (and how to grab it from a helper) so stopping simply won’t be needed anymore (I lost about 15-20 minutes due to these feed/water stops).
- Preparation: I did have slime in the inner tubes and checked the tires over for potential bits of flint, cuts etc, but somehow managed to puncture my clincher disc wheel just 28 miles into the 12Hr TT, coming to a sudden halt. I didn’t carry a mobile phone (as the skinsuit doesn’t have a pocket), and had to walk back for about 10mins along the A road to luckily find the support team from another rider. They were kind enough to not only let me use their mobile phone so I could call my husband who was stationed near the HQ, but also lend me a spare wheel and talk me out of giving up right there and then. Thanks Liz and Nathan, I owe you! On hindsight, we should have opted for the scenario where your helper drives along the course, making sure not to pass you more frequently than every 10 mile, but at least be able to react more quickly to mechanical problems (as well as do bottle hand ups along the course). I am still not sure how I could carry a mobile phone. Perhaps ask a tailor to attach a pocket to my skinsuit? Get one custom made? How to make sure the number doesn’t cover the entrance to the pocket, or doesn’t come off when trying to get the mobile phone out?
- Cross-wind: I knew this weakness would catch up with me sooner or later. I am really bad at handling cross wind. In the past I would simply not go out on my bike as soon as the wind was over a certain strength. I have become a bit more brave, but even at wind speeds of just 10-12 mph riding with any wheel over 50mm deep scares me. It is not so much the steady wind, but the sudden gusts that catch me out. I tried to overcome this by trying to relax more and ‘becoming one’ with my bike, rather than fighting it, but whilst most of the course was well sheltered some of those gusts going along the busy A road on Sunday during the 12Hr freaked me out so much, that each subsequent lap I would sit up for the whole length of the A road. I am such a chicken. I guess I could have opted for a shallower front wheel, but at the start of the day it all seemed fine, and in a way it was a good learning experience.
- Pacing: I should have known better. It is not the first time I am commenting on my poor pacing, yet I keep making the same mistake each time. I ignored my power meter, raced on feel only, got focused on average speed rather than power and lost my head completely. From driving the course I should have known that braking Beryl’s record on 277 miles would have been impossible (if I can already do it one day anyway), but I wanted to give it a go, so set off at 23.5 mph average (knowing I would lose time on bottle changes, eating etc). Mad. Stupid. Perhaps I was lucky that an early puncture called a halt to this. But no, silly me than raced as quickly as I could for the next few miles to HQ to swap Mark Turnbull’s spare wheel out for my own again. Not a great idea to overdo it like that if you still have 10.5 hours to go.. I subsequently lost power in my legs, lost all focus and even more so will power. Thinking all had been lost anyway. I could see it from my heart rate too, which was dropping like a rock to the point where I put in such little effort I just couldn’t snap out of it anymore.
- Equipment: Never use equipment during a long TT or any important race for that matter that you haven’t tried before. I wore a new pair of shoes for the 12Hr. Although they were exactly the same as my old pair, they were probably a bit more tight due to lack of wear and I ended up with pretty bad hot spots. I also made the mistake of taping up one of my ankles (for support as they are extremely floppy) but too tightly resulting in a funny bunion kind of lump on the side of my left foot. The Kask Bambino is not the best choice either for a long TT in the heat. My head was exploding after about 9hrs but stupidly I didn’t stop to wet my head until the last half an hour or so. Looking at photos from the event, I am still not sure the Bambino is actually a good helmet fit for my position anyway. I lost my visor when trying to wipe an insect off my shoulder, but luckily a kind spectator/helper found it and brought it back to HQ. More air in my face was probably a good thing, but after many hours squinting into the sun my eyes were quite blood shot.
- Injuries: The main reason why I have to tape up my ankles for support now is that I ruined them completely through a few too many dancing injuries when I was young, but wanting to perform so badly that rather than skipping a performance, I would just tape them up and put some camouflage on them so my mum wouldn’t notice. The week before the National 12Hr I had ridden a 50mile TT (on the E2/50C and achieved a time of 01:51:37 which I am still very happy with). Perhaps I shouldn’t have entered that event so close to the National 12Hr anyway.. It was the hottest day of the year, and desperate for water I took a left just after the finish to some farm shop. In my exhaustion and excitement I didn’t notice a lump in the road and boom.. crash. Luckily my bike only had a tiny scratch on the handle bar, but my head and neck were quite painful and my right leg and arm had a few bruises and cuts. When the adrenaline is still running you tend not to realise the extent of your injuries, but driving home and sleeping that night was tough. It also meant I couldn’t train much in the days leading up to the National 12Hr. The wounds weren’t completely healed yet and especially the one on my forearm made staying in the aero bars for 12Hrs quite a challenge. On hind sight I probably shouldn’t have done the National 12Hr at all.
- Dealing with setbacks: A 12hr TT is a tough thing to do both physically and mentally even when everything goes well, that is why most people don’t even attempt it. It requires a lot of mental strength and perseverance. But over 12hrs a lot of things can go wrong too and learning how to deal with those things, not giving up, keeping positive, sticking to pace and power etc…all things to work on … next time (but ideally I can avoid bad luck). Failing you one big target for the year, achieving well short of what you know you are capable off, makes you question yourself big time both during and after the ride.
- Positives: After all the moaning above, it is perhaps worth looking into some positives too.
- I did at least finish the 12Hr despite all adversity, which is a major mental achievement. Some more experienced TTers packed. Perhaps they know better?
- My husband is now much more motivated to learn how best to support me. As a non-cyclist, he even wants to learn how to fix a flat. Other helpers gave him lots of good advice and he is really keen to help me do better next time, so that is a major plus.
- I may have failed on achieving my main target for the year, but en route I did achieve some other good results. I improved my power by quite a bit, I got more comfortable on my TT bike, I won my category in the South East Women Time Trial Series (although next year I will undoubtedly have to compete in a higher category), I beat some long-standing club records, I enjoyed riding my bike this year, and I may be in with a good chance of doing well in the BBAR (Best British All-Rounder) and the season is not over yet.
- And, as I didn’t trash myself during the 12Hr, my legs are fine. I didn’t hospitalize myself with an infected saddle sore like after Le Mans 24Hr last year;-)
So what is next? I am not sure yet. I am a bit lost for what to do and when, but one thing is for sure: I will give the Nat 12Hr another go and come back stronger, more disciplined and better prepared!
Many thanks to Team Swift for organising this year’s championship. The atmosphere, organisation and support were brilliant.
For the official photos see link