Staffs to Snowdon Update: The Dirty Reiver 2017

Let me start by getting the moan and groan stuff out of the way.
I did not complete the 200km ride because I am still getting over a heavy cold. Absolutely gutted, however at the point when I had to make the decision to turn left and do 200km or turn right for the 130km I decided that I would become a liability to myself and the event if I carried on. I had already had a couple of dizzy spells and regurgitated some fluid a few times. The hardest part was not being able to breath on the hills, coughing up flem and a sore chest from the heavy breathing all led to my decision to take the easy option.
There we go. Now lets look at what a great weekend it was. A great learning experience overall, and I am happy with my overall time, distance, climbing and descents.

  • Distance: 128.3km (80 miles) all off road
  • Moving Time: 6 hours 40 minutes
  • Total Climb: 2272 metres (7454 feet)
  • Rest Time: 1 hour 2 minutes
This was my first ‘Gravel Grinding’ event and with over 700 riders it is the biggest event of this type in the UK, saying that there were riders there from a number of other countries with America being the furthest away. I was at the start line feeling very much out of my depth. There were lots of serious riders with some serious kit. I decided to stay back a bit and let the keener riders get the start they wanted. They started us off in waves, so I suppose I was around 100th to start. I settled into a steady rhythm being mindful not to get caught up in the excitement and start racing with others.
The first 2 to 3 miles there was a lot of jostling for positions from some of the riders, and I would guess every few hundred yards there would be someone mending a puncture. Not sure if the two are related but it made me be more cautious as the last thing you want is a puncture so early on.
Things started to settle down and I settled into my own game plan. The target was to ride at an average of 20km per hour, which would give me a 10 hour ride time, and a maximum of 2 hours rest over the whole distance. So a final overall time of 12 hours. This may have been a bit ambitious but you have to set some goals and have a plan.
I knew that the amount of climbing was going to get me as I had never climbed so much in a single ride before. My best before this ride was 915 metres. Anyway the plan with this in mind was to crawl up the hills in the lowest gear and ride like the wind down the other side to make up what I had lost on the climb. This strategy was to conserve muscle stress on the climb, and here comes the first lesson.

POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO

I have lost a lot of weight over the last few months, and I have a light bike, but I still can loose some more weight and I need to carry less stuff. The bottom line is the less you and all your stuff weighs the easier it is to haul it all up the hill. The 2nd part to this is to practice hill repeats and build your leg muscles up.
I was crawling up the hills being past by people who made it look like the hill was not even there. Then I noticed that they all had thighs and calves that looked like they belonged on the Incredible Hulk. All the time I have put into training has been focused on distance. I have spoken about hill repeats, I have watched videos on training for hills, but none of that actually makes you any better at doing hills. So over the next few months it is time to get out and find some hills.
I reached the first feed station and grabbed a few snacks, a cup of coffee and was standing there enjoying the sun, when it dawned on me that feed stations are actually just wasting time. I had enough energy gels and snacks for the ride. So apart from topping up my fluids for the next section it just lured me in to having a break when in reality I did not feel like one. Looking around those riding with their friends it was a nice social stop, whereas the solo riders were like me just standing there like a prized plum. Billy no mates. Or they were simply topping up and heading off as quickly as they arrived.
Feed stations are much needed and are a welcome sight, but you need to just grab and go. At the 2nd feed station I did this. I grabbed some stuff, topped up my fluids and headed off thinking I will just take it easy while I enjoy my snacks. By the time I had finished fueling up I was 2.7km further on and still felt refreshed and ready to go. (other opinions are available).
I linked up with a guy who was just as fast as me on the hills and like a rocket going down hill. We rode together and chatted for a bit. We were similar in our riding styles which made the ride easier. Chatting with someone just takes your mind off the distance and stops you looking at your Garmin all the time. We got separated when he took a turn a bit fast and rolled off the edge of the track into the grass. I heard him laughing to himself and I rode steadily up the next hill thinking he would catch me up but that was the last i saw of him until we bumped into each other at the castle at the end.
It was about 90km when my cold started to get to me. My nose was sore from the continual running, my head was pounding. I may have been dehydrated but I had been drinking loads. I had only recently changed to a Camalbak instead of bottles for two reasons. The last ride I did my bottles got ejected from the bike because of the rough terrain and I wasted time going back for them, and drinking from a Camalbak is far easier than grabbing a bottle so you tend to drink more. The 1st feed station was at about 60km and I had drunk 2 litres by the time I got there so my fluid intake strategy was working fine. Not sure if having a cold altered my hydration level as I must have lost at least a litre through my nose. Not all at once of course.
It was around 100km and thoughts had turned to bailing out and doing the 130km. I really felt unwell. All my power had gone, the hills were just a grind now and even on the flats I had not got that power that I had early on. The descents were still fast but not like before I was just going through it. Is this what is referred to as the bonk in cycling terms? Just nothing to give. Had I hydrated enough, had I taken enough fuel on board? Should I just grin and bare it, after all I was still on target for my time and distance. Then i started to think about the what ifs. What if I carry on past the split and do the 200km and it all went wrong. I did not set out to be a liability to myself and also to the organisers of the event. So after about another 15km I had decided to bail and head back on the 130km route.
It was the right decision, and after the split when the trail turned downwards all the way to Keilder Lake it felt absolutely the right thing to do. Had I failed?
Had I failed……
Yes, but only in my preparation for the event. I had failed to loose enough weight. I had failed to climb enough hills. I had failed in my preparation, but I had succeeded on the day. Yes I had a cold and that played a part in taking the shorter route. I had succeeded in riding 80 miles off road on a bike with no suspension. I was on track with my time and distance. I have climbed the most in any single ride that I have done so far. I have taken part in the Dirty Reiver, and I will be taking part next year as well.
and finally……
Not forgetting this ride is part of my training. This is not the end game. This is a major stage in my training. This ride was always to see how far I have come and to gauge how far I still need to go, and that makes it a great success.
June last year I was 3 stone heavier riding about 10 miles a week around Cannock Chase. Now if I ride less than 100 miles a week it feels like I have had a week off.
So my charity ride is now about 90 days away. Time to adjust my final 90 day plan, get myself on track to ride from Staffordshire to the summit of Snowdon in 1 day. 

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