It took me a year, but I am super chuffed to have achieved last year’s goal: winning the National 12hr TT title. Being awarded the Best British All-Rounder title last year was amazing – and I wouldn’t do it justice by considering it ‘solace’ for missing out on my main goal – but winning the Nat12hr this year means a lot to me, as this was the one my heart was really set on.
I try to use my blog as reflections rather than event write-ups these days, but this one is special, so here is my story of the race and the build-up to the day.
Last year I set the Nat12hr as my main goal and failed, so this year a ‘no-pressure’ approach seemed a better way of going about things. I may have spoken about defending my BBAR title as my main goal for this year, but in my heart of hearts, the Nat12hr was still always the one. It is much easier to put less pressure on yourself and just to think of the Nat12hr as going for a nice long bike ride. The BBAR was always an unexpected ‘gift’ and I am delighted to see Hayley Simmonds absolutely flying away with the title this year. I couldn’t think of a nicer and more talented cyclist to pass the trophy on to. She is a proper legend and I doubt it is the last time we’ll see her name on that trophy.
My training this year changed a bit: quality over quantity. Last summer I was blessed with the knowledge I would be changing jobs in September. Although I still worked the same hours, I certainly didn’t commit the same emotional energy to my job last summer as I do in my current job. I learned this year that this ‘turbo bunny’ approach may be effective for some goals, but ultimately I want to mix it up with riding on the road and riding with friends. So next year I may adopt some more of that ‘ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike’ philosophy again.
My last time trial prior to the Nat12hr was on the 19th of July, giving me a full month without racing to prepare. I loved having a few weeks without the pressure and logistical faff of racing, just riding my bike for fun, doing a nice long Audax, catching up with friends, and I even managed to do some of the dreaded DIY I have been trying to escape for a long time now… Soon we may have a living room where we are actually able to invite people after a 2 year delay..
In the week prior to the Nat12hr I had some work meetings in Wales and with the kind permission of my boss I used the opportunity to fit some good training miles around meetings. Taking the train up from London Euston on Wednesday for a meeting in Aberystwyth, then cycle from there to Wrexham for a meeting on Thursday and from Wrexham back home to Hampton Hill with an overnight stop in Sutton Coldfield at my in-laws. The clients must have thought I was mad, but I hope they appreciate that madness and understand I approach my work with the same mad passion as my cycling. If only I could live and work in Wales… such stunning scenery which more than made up for the pretty challenging road profiles especially considering I was cycling with a full backpack including laptop, chargers, work papers, shoes, clothes etc. The last 140 mile leg from Sutton Coldfield back home on Friday was particularly challenging with 7 out of 8 hours in the pouring rain, but it turned out to be good character building stuff and actually great preparation for an equally soggy championship.
During the final week I took it pretty easy with just a few commutes and one or two easier turbo sessions. I also made sure I ate and slept well and tried to be as casual about the upcoming event as possible. My coach gave me some very useful last bits of advice, which – as is so often the case with me – I largely ignored/forgot in the heat of the event… I thank him for ‘getting me’ and putting up with me. No doubt I may be able to execute things exactly as planned one day…
My husband Chris came along to support me for the Nat12hr. Driving me to Shropshire, recceing the course and potential bottle hand-up points, preparing my drink and feed bottles, and generally doing most of the thinking work for me, so all I had to worry about for the next day was keeping those wheels turning. Much appreciated.
After a good night sleep at a local B&B and the kind owners even getting up at 5:30am to make me porridge, we arrived at HQ shortly after 6am with the first few competitors already on the road. Having said hello and good luck to many familiar faces at HQ, it was time to get the bike ready and get changed. When we left London on Saturday the weather was amazing (30 degrees and sunny), but it had rained all night in Shropshire and the forecast wasn’t exactly looking encouraging. I wore my long sleeved club TT suit in the hope to stand out a bit from other competitors so Chris could spot me more easily. This still failed, as at one point he mistook Jill for me and showed a baffled Jill a timing board with an equal sign on it 😉 I also wore the raceback vest back-to-front with some extra fluid for the first few hours and was later grateful for it when the baselayer kept me nice and warm in the downpour.
Last year I punctured in the first hour and then completely lost the plot riding at 25mileTT pacing for the next hour or so. This year I paced it a bit better, but still overdid it in the first 3 hours. I think I was slightly misquoted in Cycling Weekly and on the Cycling Time Trials report of the event, but basically I rode those first few hours thinking I was superwoman (knowing full well I am not! But it all felt so manageable at that time…), but then I had to pay for it with cramp in both hamstrings for the next 3 hours. Just before that point I had a 10-minute lead on Jill. On hind sight, I should never have overtaken her, just keeping a sensible distance and pace it like that for the remainder of the event, but I was foolish. What’s new?! Despite knowing I should ignore it, I was still chasing that elusive Beryl Burton record on tough courses, when will I ever learn that may be out of reach?!
4-7 hours: This was the most horrible part of the event. Fighting through those cramps, not being able to pedal at all at times, seeing my lead disappear not being able to do anything about it and wondering when these pains would end… Luckily the cramps only lasted for 3 hours rather than 8! Luctor et emergo. So happy I got through that bad spell.
7-10 hours: I think around 7 hours into the event, I was finally able to transfer from on upright position on the base bars back to the aerobars again without my hamstrings objecting. Perhaps the torrential downpours were helping my muscles to relax somehow. It was a bit dicey at times, with big puddles, lots of spray and a lot of traffic on the single carriage A-roads, but luckily most drivers were sensible and gave the riders lots of space.
10-12hours: I am not a 100% sure, but I think it was roughly around the 2hours to go mark that the marshals moved us over to the finishing circuit, which was a 12.62mile loop of narrow, twisty, undulating roads intersected with a few miles on the A-road, but with a big lump to get over. Whoever made the decision to let us turn at the Espley roundabout during the last lap of the previous circuit, deserves a big hug. Not sure I could have faced that Teplow pave again! Prior to entering the finishing circuit, Jill and I had been very close. Either she was a minute up or I was leading by about the same margin. So on the finishing circuit there was still all to play for. By the end Chris was no longer giving me time checks (or was no longer hearing it), so I was just trying to keep the power up and not overdo it because time was running out to make up for any time potentially lost due to more hamstring cramp. Whilst tough, the finishing circuit was good fun too with supporters along the side of the road, some cycling in the opposite direction and the sun coming out again to make for a nice end to the day. In the end, my 12 hours were up very near time-keeper 3 and as it happened Jill had also finished by the same timekeeper. Andy, Jill’s husband kindly lend me his club beanie and a nice warm fleece and helped me off the bike, whilst I waited for Chris to come find me with the car.
At that moment neither of us knew who won, we both had 257 miles on the Garmin and it had been so close for so long. At HQ they weren’t sure either and it was really nice to be awarded joined first with a distance of 256.77mile that evening.
Although I can’t grumble about being named outright winner by 0.12miles when they rechecked everything again later that night, in a way that moment of tied first was one of the best cycling moments all year. After all, last year when I set the Nat12hr TT as my main goal, the whole thing was about seeing how close I could come to Jill as she was the reigning champion at that time. Now I know, very close indeed. Unfortunately Jill opted for the 24hr last year so the battle had to be delayed by a year. After this year’s epic race I already look forward to next year’s battle. So much fun when you can push each other to the very end.
Lessons learned… where to start?!:
- Pacing – I didn’t pace it as madly as last year and actually had good overall average power, but executing the plan as my coach briefed me could have added some mileage and/or avoided the cramps. But who knows? So many other factors and so much can go wrong over 12 hours.
- Position – Although I am quite flexible, my TT bike is probably set up a bit too aggressively for these long distance events. I am planning to get a bike fit soon to get that sorted out.
Nutrition – oh …. A lot to improve on, both in terms of how regularly I need hand-ups and what to put in my bottles (fearing the cramps, I may have overdone the electrolytes and salt tablets on this occasion). More hand-up practice required too. The bananas we used were too short and mushy, which meant I dropped some exploding bananas at least 4 times. By the time I finally managed to grab one, we were down to our very last one.
- Lights – with more long distance events in mind I need to find a good light that attaches to the Shiv TT seat post so the saddle can be freed up for additional behind-saddle bottles.
- Hot feet – the downpour really sorted that one out this time, so note to self is for other long but dry events just to use a water bottle hand-up and spray the water over my feet to cool them down. Maybe some new shoes would be nice too as these now stink beyond hope.
- Support – I can’t thank Chris enough for coming out to help me for these long events, but probably a good idea to either show him how to fix things on the bike should anything go wrong or bring an additional helper who knows that stuff. An extra helper also makes it less stressful perhaps for Chris.
I am still learning so much about cycling and myself, but I am pretty sure long distance time trialling is not only what I am best at, but also what I enjoy most. ‘Enjoy’ is a weird word to use for sitting on a TT bike all day, but it is overcoming the challenges and problems you inevitably suffer over that period, that I thrive on. That, and the friendly atmosphere with all those amazing supporters along the side of the road and fellow mad competitors at the HQ. Many thanks to all of them and a special thanks to Ruth, who organised the race, and all her marshals, timekeepers, HQ support etc.