Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Endura Lionheart 2014

On the start line, Longleat House.
I picked the Endura Lionheart as my first race of the year for several reasons: one, I've never been to this part of the country before (rural Wiltshire, nr. Frome); two, I read about it in the book Classic Cycling Race Routes by Chris Sidwell; three, the event centre is Longleat Safari Park (well, OK, Longleat House) and the start goes past the lion enclosure! Lots of good reasons :)

This is my third event raising money for the NHS who saved my life and rebuilt my leg. You can still donate if you follow the justgiving link to the right of this page.

Rebecca and I drove down on the Saturday and stayed in Frome at the Old Bath Arms Hotel which is very quirky - I seem to know how to pick these places - without realising I'd chosen a pub/hotel which has themed rooms! We were in the Hollywood Room which was lovely. I was quite impressed with this place actually. Frome is a town which seems to be on the border somewhere between a tourist place and real life, if you know what I mean. We found a good Italian restaurant, Castello's, across the street from the hotel and then after a pint it was sleep time for me!

Sunday morning and I was up at the crack of dawn raring to go see the lions. Frome is about 5 miles from Longleat so I had decided to bike to the event centre to avoid the stress of parking and getting everything sorted there. I took my time and got my stuff together in the hotel car park, then set off at about 0725 for the event. Found it no problem, only had to look at the map once to make sure I was going the right way.

First thing on getting there - this is a really really good venue for an event centre. There's lots of space, beautiful grounds, the house itself. Top. The weather was OK but it felt like it might become a bit changeable, and so it proved! Because I'd ridden in I just went straight to the start line and queued up. Got underway about 0815. First stretch is through the estate and past the safari park. No animals to see :( Maybe it was too early for them or maybe they don't come near the fences, I don't know. But getting chased off by lions was only a dream after all.

A few miles in, still looking fresh. sportivephoto.com

The first part of this route, the first 40 miles or so, is hilly. Not major climbs, but up-down rolling hills and countryside. Well OK, there's one major climb, King Alfred's Tower, which on this ride was a timed section too. The weather over this first half of the ride was very odd. At one point there were ice crystals coming out of the sky so hard that I had to shield my face with my hand so I could carry on seeing where I was going! It only lasted a few minutes, and thank goodness it didn't happen on a fast descent, but it was pretty mental.

Anyway, I digress, King Alfred's Tower. I don't mind admitting that I look these routes up before I do them, and I tend to make a mental note of any bits of road that have an upward chevron on them on the Ordnance Survey map. This ride had two the second of which was the aforementioned road up to the tower. The tower itself is visible from a lot of the first part of the ride, and it sort of looms in your head, you know that after 32 miles you've got this big hill to get up. I'd never ridden it before, so didn't know really what to expect, but the ride brochure described it as a 'killer climb'. Anyway it was pretty tough, as expected. There was also a car just in front of me to take into account with pacing, as well as people getting off and walking. The climb has three main pitches I would say, and after the second one, when the third and final one came into view, two people in front of me decided they'd had enough. Luckily they were far enough ahead not to bother me as they got off, otherwise I would not have been happy. On this last bit I was just thinking "14 operations, 14 operations" and that got me to the top. My heart rate was at absolute maximum on that last bit. In truth though, my climbing legs may have come back. I wasn't scared of being clipped in like I was on the Ride with Brad last year. I guess I somehow knew that I could get to the top, no matter how bad it got. So it was. I also don't mind admitting that my leg situation spurred me on. I wanted to see people get off and go past them. In the opposite sense, one rider blasted past me right at the top making a lot of noise which made me chuckle. Maybe he was one of the fastest up it, I don't know, I didn't get to see his number :)

After King Alfred's Tower, the emotional side of the ride changed as I began to contemplate the second half. At the second feed station (again I hadn't stopped at the first as per my usual strategy) there was a lot of food and drink, including wine tasting which I don't think I've ever seen before at a sportive feed stop! The feed stops on this ride are billed as being amazing and it's true there was a lot of cake and sandwiches etc. and Haribo! which I love and took a big handful of. I didn't stop long though - I still had my eye on the time and wanted to try to get round in 7 hours. It was already looking doubtful but I decided to push on and see what the state of it looked like at the third and final feed stop at 70 miles.

Wine tasting at a feed station after 48 miles? Surely not!
By this point I was cold and wet, the weather didn't know what to do and I didn't have my jacket with me. So I didn't stop long here, just a toilet break and a refuel. Fortunately the weather settled and I didn't see rain again until the finish. The second half of the route, after the split point, is a long gradual descent along the Nadar Valley and then a long gradual ascent back up the Wylye Valley. Both of these were scenic and enjoyable, even after 50 miles already!

After feed stop 3, I knew my 7 hour target was pretty much impossible, and then getting a puncture after about 72 miles put the tin lid on it. I nearly threw my bike in the hedge at that point, I hate getting punctures, and that's two on the last 4 rides. Bah! I have even now got one of those CO2 inflation things but I didn't use it. I just decided to take my time, eat and drink a bit and press on.

This is the part of these 100 mile rides that I find the hardest psychologically, I know that once I get within 10 miles or so of the finish some adrenalin will kick in, but the hour between 70 and 85 miles is usually pretty tough. As it turned out this one wasn't too bad, the weather held out and the route was interesting enough that my mind didn't go anywhere near a dark place :)

My OTE caffeine gel after 85 miles really picked me up - they are amazing those things - until the finish. The last few miles before the run in to Longleat House were a bit of a tease. You go right past the safari park entrance and then do another couple of miles to arrive round at the driveway into Longleat Estate. I have to say this is probably the best run in to a finish of a sportive I've ever done, right down the perfectly straight driveway to the house. Awesome. That made a brilliant end to an excellent route. Happy :)

Here's a video of the run in from my Virb camera:

Collecting my medal off the nice lady at the finish line.

I find myself wondering about these sportives now that have two route options. I'm sure it used to be that more people did the longer option, but now it seems that after you pass the split point on the long route you barely see anyone. It could be that I'm slower now so everyone's in front of me, I guess I can check the results to see if that's true or not. But it could also be that more people are now doing the short option, which is a shame because I think it has led to the following situation: the first part of the ride is more interesting terrain-wise because everyone does it, then the short route zips back to the event centre, while the long route gets a much less varied extra 40 miles bolted on. I'm not really complaining about the run out along the valley and back, but it was definitely less interesting than the first 40 miles. And I think it was the same on the Wiggle Rut in October.

Having said that I would definitely do this ride again, and recommend it. No wonder it's so popular. Next time though I want to take another day and see the animals myself. I'm a bit jealous of Rebecca's day, and I think she's not a bit jealous of mine ;)

At the finish, Longleat House.
Done the ride, got the T-shirt!

Finally, here's my strava track for this ride. The observant will notice that the moving time was exactly 7 hours! That's quite amazing considering it was my target. If only I could do these rides without stopping :)

1 comment: