Going Round and Round with Gracie

Posted: August 28, 2015 in Cycling, Time Trial, Tricycle
Tags: , , , , , ,
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Waiting for the start

There was a lot of nervous chatter hanging in the air at the start. I was just as guilty as everyone else. This was my first 12 hour and I was doing it on Gracie the Trike. There were three other trikes taking part but they were all at the front end of the starting order, I was near the back. Normally on a time trial the slower ones are started first, why was I near the back with the fast boys on two wheels? This was just a little unnerving. Every minute another competitor took off down the road and the line advanced forward until I was sitting there poised and ready to go. I had no doubt that I wouldn’t catch my minute man, but when the start marshal casually mentioned that he had completed the Tour de France any vague hope I had evaporated into the wind.

The first part of the course consisted of some long stretches of road and a few “double backs” which would eventually lead to the meat of the day, the Rye and Camber circuits. It wasn’t a case of if the riders behind me would come past, it was a case of when. It took a lot longer than I expected but once the tap was opened they seemed to come flying past at regular intervals, although surprisingly not in numerical order. There were some really fast cyclists out on the course today.

Something that really bugs me is when someone overtakes and then seems to slow down. In my furtive imagination I think that they have seen me in the far distance and have put in a little extra effort to reel in the Trike. As they come past the purpose for the extra little effort goes and they slow down a little. At this point I hit a dilemma, should I now reel them in? this is probably an unrealistic task, but seems possible as I am slowly gaining, or should I slow slightly until they are on their way. Usually the slight difference in speed takes its toll and before long there is a sizable gap between us and all thoughts of a heroic yet pointless chase are gone.

There were signs and marshals everywhere. This was good as it left very little for me to get wrong. I habitually don’t read the route notes as they make very little sense to me. This meant that I had no clue about where I was going. This would be resolved on the second lap, but the first circuit would be an adventure. I came to a roundabout with no signs or marshals. Panic! What to do? In the absence of being told anything straight on seemed the right thing to do. I carried on but felt uneasy about it. What if I’d gone wrong. I was only a few hours in, it would just be embarrassing to mess it up so early when tiredness and exhaustion are no excuse. After a while I saw a cyclist ahead. Was this another competitor or someone out for a Sunday ride? Slowly I got nearer, close enough to see their number. This was a good sign, at least two of us had made the same mistake. More importantly there was someone on two wheels that I could overtake. This was unexpected and lifted my spirts. A few miles later there were marshals and signs galore, I was going in the right direction. Life was good.

I was doing this unsupported, most other riders had people. They were dotted around the course handing out food, water and encouragement to their riders. All I had was a crate that had been deposited somewhere on the course. I was hoping that I would spot it at some point or else I would be in real trouble later on. I passed a layby packed with people waiting for their riders to pass. It was nice to receive the cheers and congratulations when I passed, it made me feel a part of the event. A few moments later, at the roundabout I saw my crate, next time round I’ll be stopping there to take on food and water.

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The box of sugary delights

I was now on the second loop and a familiar set of  roads. I could sneer at the roundabout that had caused the consternation the first time round. I could look round a bit more rather than worry about if I was going the right way. I could admire the sandstone outcrop at the side of the road and wonder if anyone had climbed it. I could be a bit more careful on the junctions around Rye and keep all the wheels on the ground. Heading up past the wind farm I saw others coming down the other way, The Rye circuit must have closed and we were now on the Camber circuit. More significantly, I saw trikes. Not that I’m competitive or anything but they were not that far ahead. I started doing “possibility maths”. How big was the gap? Was it getting bigger or smaller? Was it possible to catch them? Most of this had more to do with possibility than maths and most of my calculations were based firmly in fantasy. This furtive thinking was halted when I reached my crate at the roundabout.

My “Nutrition and Hydration Plan” was a little haphazard to say the least. My only experience of feeding on long time trails is doing two 24 hour trials both of which I’d got it horribly wrong, on the first I’d ended up buying sandwiches from a service station on the course and on the second I didn’t finish due to dehydration and stupidity. This time I’d put a little thought into it, but not much. There was plenty of water with added science stuff to stop me dehydrating and feeling bloated at the same time. There were bottles of Coca Cola, normally I detest the stuff but after riding for miles on end it suddenly becomes the drink of choice. There was lots of sweet stuff including small packets of Haribo, for something sweet and non-chocolate. I’d also put in some savoury things as the relentless eating of jellies and chocolate leaves I hideous cloying taste in my mouth and a stomach ache reminiscent of childhood. The savoury selection may have been a mistake, two pork pies and two Cornish Pasties.

The art of doing long time trials I’ve been told comes down to two things:

  1. Keep moving forward
  2. Don’t go slowly

Which means stop as little as possible and if you can do it on the bike, don’t do it standing at the side of the road. This is why I was trying to stuff a pork pie into my face whilst peddling into the wind on the start of the Camber Circuit. Now a pork pie, fresh from the fridge, cut into slices and served as part of a meal is a wondrous thing and completely different to a whole pork pie that has been stood at the side of the road in the sun for a few hours. The pastry was gooey and soft, it attached its self to my gums and teeth like super strong glue. The meat was warm and fatty. What should have been a joyous savoury moment had become a torment. I wasn’t unhappy when I hit a bump and the hateful little thing jumped out of my hand and into the verge. I won’t be eating another that was for sure.

I was prepared for the wind by the second circuit. It didn’t make it easier and I’m sure that my cursing would have offended anyone who was listening. It wasn’t only the wind, my legs hurt, my back hurt and my bum was getting sore. Having to struggle against the wind just made it all so much worse. The torment ended just past Camber. I’d like to think that I’d suddenly become a stronger cyclist but it was probably more to do with the wind pushing me along.

The second peak of the day happened between Camber and Lydd. I saw someone ahead. This could be another chance to overtake someone. After a while I it dawned on me that it was a Trike ahead. This felt good, it meant that I was going faster than at least one other Trike and that if this carried on I would be in my favourite position of “Not Last”. The Trike category was only in my head, but for me that was a very real and tangible category. Up ahead was a direct competitor and I was gaining. My ego was doing somersaults of delight. I may have had a big grin on my face as well. “Not Last”, my target position for this event, was one step closer. If only I had a clue about the other Trikes.

I was told at the when I stopped at the crate for more sustenance (my nutrition and hydration plan had degraded to Coca Cola and Haribo, supplemented with lots of water) that this would be my last Camber loop. That felt good. The marshal did qualify that with “unless you can do the next loop in under 40 minutes”. Not a chance! One more battle with the wind, one more passing the white sand shoe in the middle of the road, one more being blow towards Lydd one more rattling over the rubbish road surface by the airport and then sweet relief as a marshal directed me North instead of South at the roundabout. I was heading for the finishing circuit.

There was something strange on the way to the finishing circuit; a hill. It wasn’t big or long or steep but after being out on the Romney Marsh for hours it seemed like a mountain. I had to change down a gear and even then it was a struggle. It wasn’t made any better by the rider with dreadlocks and tattooed legs coming past me like a speeding train.

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Gracie, cleaned and ready to go

Whist going round and round the finishing circuit I contemplated quite how lonely doing this sort of thing is. There must have been between 30 and 40 riders on the circuit but the chances of actually seeing them were slim. Every now and again someone would come flashing past, not slow enough to chat to though, and that would be that. Of course passing someone was always a bit of an ego booster. It happened twice for me on the finishing circuit, first it was past the cyclist I’d passed much earlier and then it was the one that counted. I passed another Trike. This was in my league, this had consequences. At that moment I was “Not Last” and potentially “Top Half”, better than I had expected. I had a celebratory stretch and a mouthful of Haribo. Little victories need celebrations.

After what seemed like an eternity of going round and round the finishing circuit, time started to run out. I calculated that I was on my last and it was now just a matter of where I would run out of time. I don’t know why but I really wanted to stop by the time keeper with the portable oxygen supply and tubes in her nose, after the pub and the climb. As the clock ticked its way to the twelve hours it became more obvious that that was going to be where I stopped. They were in sight…

And Stop.

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