I did it! I cycled 103 miles (166 kilometers) over killer hills with a total elevation gain of 11,000 feet (3353 meters). That’s more than half the height of Kilimajaro (Africa’s highest mountain) in a single day!
As much as I hate running, I absolutely love cycling. But I don’t love it so much that I’d do as my husband does and cycle to work every day, taking an extra long route for the extra training. Nor do I love it so much that I’d focus all my attention on cycling training; going out, like I see the cycling guys here in the UK do, three days a week with Saturday or Sunday completely set aside for a very long ride. I can’t train for the sake of training. I train so I can do stuff.
That’s why I go to the gym. It’s why I run (sometimes). It’s why I’m now working on my swimming. And it’s why I cycle. I want to be able to do cool stuff and enjoy myself. And the cool stuff I want to do requires training.
That means I’ll probably never excel at any of these things. But I don’t care. Compared to runners, swimmers, and cyclists, my abilities are less than average. I’ve gotten myself up to the level that I can participate in some of the same events they do, but I do them much more slowly. But I don’t give a shit because I can do them too!
Yesterday was such an awesome day. I enjoyed every single bit of it.
The Hoy 100 is a cycling event organized by Evans Cycles in the UK together with Sir Chris Hoy, the most decorated Olympic cyclist of all time. He was there! I saw him! He launched the event and was in the first group to leave yesterday morning, and of course I never saw him again. My husband, who also participated in the event and who managed to speak with Hoy afterwards, told me he reached up to 100km/hour on one of the hair-greying, steep descents in yesterday’s ride.
Let me tell you about those descents. Going uphill on a bike is really hard, especially if the inclination is
very steep. It can be gruelling, heart-pounding, and profuse-sweat-producing. No. Not “can be”. It is. But in the end, if you put your head down, get on your lowest gear, and keep your legs moving, you’ll get yourself up that hill. I don’t know what the inclinations were going up some of those horrible hills we did. I suspect there were a few points that were 20-25% inclinations. There are always signs before steep descents in the UK (rarely before ascents). We went down two 25% declines, one of which included hairpin turns. It was one of the scariest things do to in the whole world. 25% is so steep that you feel like your back wheel is just going to flip over your head. I can deal with the ascents. The descents scare the living daylight out of me. It’s one place where it’s easy for the more trained cyclists to pass me. At one point on a descent, I very briefly considered being less cautious and trying to go down at speeds similar to those some of the other cyclists were doing. That thought took me only three seconds to get over. I reminded myself that my mantra for travel and sports is to keep safe, keep safe, KEEP SAFE or don’t do it at all. If I didn’t feel safe going down a hill any faster than I was already going, then I would not risk it and go faster. PERIOD.
I might not go down descents as fast as some of the other riders, and I might not go up ascents as fast as some of them. But let me tell you this: I NEVER get off my bike no matter how steep the ascent or the descent as a matter of principle. I’m here to do this event on my bike, then I’m going to do it on my bike. You know those fast cyclists? Some of them had to get off their bikes on some of those ascents. My husband, who was riding with significantly faster cyclists than me, said even some of the really fast cyclists got off their bikes on the ascents. I saw several cyclists, all of whom got back much faster than me, get off their bikes to go up the ascents. Did I get off my bike? No! I say that gives me some extra brownie points. It makes me feel proud.
The cycle yesterday took us all around the Yorkshire Dales in the north of England. We had stunning
views. Going up Malham Cove was breath taking. As we were climbing up that heart-deadening climb, I looked to my right and said to the cyclist next to me, “This view is almost worth the climb.” I said “almost” only jokingly. It definitely was worth the climb. What a view! We also cycled up Fleet Moss, the highest road in Yorkshire. It’s classified by the “Cycle the Yorkshire Dales” website as 9 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. Once at the top, we had almost endless views of purple, heather-adorned moors. We had another 9 out of 10 difficulty climb during the ride. The Malham Cove climb is classified as a 7 out of 10. Those are the climbs I know the names of that I could look up. And then there were about three more horrible climbs, the names of which I am ignorant.
I must ashamedly admit that I didn’t train properly for this event. It popped up in my Facebook feed
about a month before it was to happen. I saw it and immediately sent the link to my husband, asking him if he’d like to do it. Of course, I have the type of husband that immediately says yes to this sort of thing. So we signed up very shortly afterwards. That’s when my husband started taking extra long cycling routes to work. I had been working hard at the gym for months and doing spinning classes at least twice a week, but I hadn’t managed to do any real cycling for quite some time. So the last two Sundays before the event I went out and did two 100 km cycles in the Yorkshire Dales. The first Sunday was really hard. The second Sunday was hard too, but I felt just a little less exhausted at the end of it than I did the first Sunday. Going out on those two rides showed me that I had the physical strength and endurance to ride just the little bit more to get up to 166 km, but that I was having problems maintaining my energy levels. So my main concern became figuring out what I needed to do to cycle 100 miles without “hitting the wall”.
I discovered that being able to wrap my head around the distance, being able to visualize it, and also knowing that I had cycled up hills before that were just as steep or maybe even steeper than the ones I did yesterday makes a world of difference to me. There was a very steep, very long climb near the end of yesterday’s ride. Had I not cycled up many steep hills over the past three years, I would have looked at that hill and immediately thought (as I had done before when I started cycling in Yorkshire), “Fuck this. That ain’t happening. I can’t do that. Someone call me a car and take me home.” But this time, even though it was nearing the end of 100 miles and I was exhausted, I looked at the climb and immediately told myself, “I’ve done hills like this. I KNOW I can do them. This isn’t steep. I’ve done steeper. You’re almost done, Nadia. You’ve got this!”
When I started cycling around three years ago, my husband took me out into the nearby area to start training. All it took was one hill. I saw the hill, got off my bike, and walked up it, crying all the way and cursing my husband. I could not believe he had the gall to take me up a hill like that on my first ride. There was another one just like it further on, and I got off my bike for that as well. Once I reached the top of the second one, I got on my bike, cycled down the descent, and once at the bottom I immediately got off the bike, sat on the ground, and wouldn’t budge for another twenty minutes. I hated on my husband for the rest of that day. Those hills are now just a normal part of a day’s short training ride for me. If it wasn’t for those hills, I wouldn’t have been able to cross the Pyrenees and the Alps when I cycled across Europe two springs ago without thinking they were tremendously difficult. Yorkshire is a GREAT training ground for cyclists. I can’t imagine you can get any better.
I did manage to keep my energy levels up through the whole ride yesterday. And that is my proudest achievement. I felt strong throughout. I was tired, of course. But I felt strong. I felt like I was able to maintain my normal cycling ability for a full 100 miles. I had lots of bite-sized pieces of a fat-free date and walnut cake I made the night before. I made sure to munch on those regularly. I had dates and dried apricots that I ate along the way. The organizers of the event put up three feeding stations on the route. At each station I ate bananas (plural), nachos (for the salt), and at the second and third stations I topped up one of my two water bottles with an electrolyte solution they made available. I had to dilute the electrolyte solution at the last stop with water because it was quite sugary. And with every few drinks of electrolyte solution I’d also drink some normal water. And of course, I made sure I drank water every 10 to 20 kilometers. It worked! The little training I did before the event helped point out an important area I needed to focus on, which I did. It worked!
Despite the large number of cyclists participating in the event – I was told around 400 – I managed to
cycle on my own quite a lot during the day. My husband, who was well in front of me, told me he had the same experience. The route was long enough that the cyclists were properly spread out, each cycling according to their own ability. But whenever I cycled past someone (only really in the first two hours of the ride) or whenever someone passed me, we had brief chats to encourage each other on. It was really nice. As I was climbing that last horribly long hill, I heard the pants of two men behind me. I couldn’t see them but I could hear them. Once we reached the top, I said, “It had better be all downhill from here to Skipton (our destination)!” One of the two guys laughed and panted, “It sure better be! That’s all I’m saying!” We had about six more kilometres to cycle until we were done. We reached the top and the two men cycled a bit ahead, faster than me, as most people are, on the descents. But they slowed down a bit on one of the small ascents soon after and I caught up. They noticed me there and said to me, “Would you like to cycle with us till the end?” I was overjoyed. “I’d love to! I’ll try to keep up with you.” They were two men who were probably in their fifties, both with completely greyed heads. We had a lovely conversation. They asked me if I was doing this event on my own. I explained that my husband was doing it too but that he will have arrived in Skipton much earlier. They asked me why he didn’t ride with me. I told them that when we ride together, he gets frustrated because I’m too slow for him and I get demotivated because he’s too fast for me. So I told him we’d both ride this event at our own abilities so we could both enjoy it. The man-in-the-yellow-jersey understood. “When I go out cycling with my partner I have to take my mountain bike with me instead of my road bike so I can slow down for her.” We pulled in to the finishing line together. I was absolutely elated. My husband was sitting on the grass, waiting for me to come in. “Woooooohoooooo!” I yelped. “I made it!” I told him. Me and man-in-the-yellow-jersey high-fived each other. These were properly fit guys. Man-in-the-red-jersey had, only a couple weeks earlier, done another 100 mile cycle down south. Man-in-the-yellow-jersey does triathlons and has a killer 400 meter swim time. Even though I’m slow, I managed to cycle in with these fellas. That was a really good feeling.
Don’t you dare even think this is the end of it. I’ve got some more events planned. It’s the only way I know how to keep myself in training. I train so I can do cool things. Doing cool things gives me intense happiness.