For the second year running, we co-sponsored the Women’s National Masters RR and Men’s Cold Dark North Support Race with Crimson Performance. This year, however, George and I decided to race the challenging Dolphinholme course too, and get a taste of road racing in the North of England.
We weren’t in the least bit surprised. Partly due to constant checking of weather apps, but also due to this particular event’s history. We’ve only ever known it to rain.
I struggled to eat breakfast, feeling low-level sick with nerves, but I forced a bowl of cereal in. I knew it wasn’t enough, but I couldn’t face eating anything else.
We got to HQ at 8am to be ready for George’s rider briefing by 9am. The car park was already pretty full and riders were readying themselves, setting up rollers and pinning numbers. I tried to forget my own race and focused on making sure George had everything he needed. I did some professional pinning, prepared his bottles and we decided he’d carry just the one, taking another from me mid-race if need be. There was no desire to carry any extra weight around this bumpy course.
The race set off, and I hitched a ride with Coach Watto (Cycle Team Ldn). He had two riders in the men’s race, so was planning to be around the course in case they needed extra bottles. We parked up at the top of the stabbiest bastardiest hill (almost getting stuck in a bog) and saw his first rider, Drew come through, “There’s been a crash!” We trotted back to the car, shouted at George as he flew by and continued to drive the opposite way around the course. We didn’t find any crashed riders, but scooped up 2 other guys who’d punctured and dropped them back at HQ.
I watched the remaining laps of the race, noting the grimaces on almost everyone’s face, and wondered whether I’d survive. This was nothing like the races I’d done so far.
The sky was brightening, but the cloud cover was still ominous. I waited at the finish, a long draggy climb, ready to dangle a bottle out for George if he needed it. He didn’t. He’d formed a chasing group and they were working well together. His jersey was open, his eyes were focused on the road ahead and they disappeared over the hill, into their last lap.
It felt long.
My nerves began to resurface as I waited for the men to finish. We’d done a good job of distracting me, but now reality was closing in. I needed to get ready to race. My bike had been clunking the day before, switching gears without me asking it to. I think it had been knocked at some point during our car journey. We’d fiddled with it, and it was improved, but unfortunately it wasn’t running smoothly; I’d just have to make do.
The men’s race finished in a blur of wheels and legs, bodies hauled out the saddle to push up the final climb. There was a couple of minutes’ gap and George’s chase group came into view.
“GO! GO! GO!” He finished in 19th and had set the bar high!
By now it was lunchtime. I tried to eat a jam sandwich. It was a struggle. I spotted the refreshments table and stirred up a potent concoction of instant coffee powder, sugar and a splash of hot water (which I’ve just coined as, The Jesspresso). By now, the village hall was swarming with ladies, some with skinsuits half on, some already warming up and some just signing on and picking up numbers.
As it always does, the time disappeared and we were on the start line. I saw some friendly faces from Crimson Performance and Valley Striders CC, and hoped I’d be able to stick with them for at least part of the race…
I didn’t! I started too gingerly. Sitting on the back of the group as it strung out ahead of me. One punctured rider, followed by a crash within moments, meant some swerving and braking, and I was adrift.
It’s a situation I’ve become accustomed to, so I put my head down and got stuck in. I knew that with some effort I’d be able to get to a group, because I didn’t fancy the next 60km on my own.
I dug deep, working hard up the climbs and trying not to brake too much on the descents. It’s a technical and challenging course and there’s no let-up. I was overtaking other stragglers and finally got myself into a group: A chase, chase group. Although I was relieved to see other wheels, we didn’t particularly work well together and we never really got any rhythm. I’d come through on the climbs, but would move out to the back for the descents. Some of these women were absolute rockets downhill and I just didn’t have the skills (or confidence) to try and match them. I was happy enough with the state of things and felt better with every lap on the corners and descents. Practice makes perfect!
My stomach started to rumble, “Oh dear”. That’s never good. The lack of proper breakfast and lunch was starting to take its toll. I swigged my drink and squeezed a gel into my mouth. “Bleurgh”. With just over a lap to go, I hoped it’d be enough to get me round.
The last lap was a blur of mist and mizzle; I couldn’t remember what climbs I’d done and what was left; I blame lack of food for lack of brain function. I tried to distract myself from even trying to work it out and just concentrated on pedalling. Whatever there was left, it’d all be over soon.
We turned a corner and were into the final climb. Relief washed over me, I’d done it. I just needed to haul myself up this last drag and I’d have completed the Women’s National Master’s Road Race. I thought about getting out the saddle, but my body didn’t bother doing it. “You didn’t feed me enough”. Fair. I rolled over the line and flopped over onto my handlebars. It was done.
I was 30th overall, but 8th in my age category and it’s the result I’m most proud of so far. Thanks so much to race organisers, The Cold Dark North, for putting on such a brilliant and challenging event, and to Crimson Performance for co-sponsoring the event with us! Bring on 2020!
All photography by the amazing Ellen Isherwood. Check out the full album here: Click me