On the 29th July Jam Cycling travelled up t’North to watch the Women’s National Masters Road Race. It was held up in Oakenclough, Lancashire and preceded by a men’s support race.
The women’s race was open to category 1-4 riders aged 30 or over (split into further age groups of 30-34, 35-39, 40-44, 45-49, 50-54, 55-59 and 60+). Meaning there were 21 podium places up for grabs!
After a 35-day heatwave in the UK, it was pretty (majorly) unfortunate to wake up to driving winds, grey skies and pouring rain. I suppose when the organisers are called Cold Dark North, we can’t say we weren’t warned. Unhindered by the weather, both events were well attended, and Claughton Memorial Hall was busy with riders, their families, commissaires and volunteers.
Jam Ambassador, Cat Forrest, describes her experience below:
“The National Masters Champs was to be the biggest bike race I’d done and only my second ever road race.
In the dry it would’ve been a tough race. In the rain, it was carnage.
The race started on an undulating part of the course, the whole bunch pretty much stayed together with the typical washing machine effect in full force. I found myself further back than I wanted to be and was trying to make up ground on the right of the road to little avail – my inexperience showing. I recognised a few of the more experienced riders around me though and felt I was in good company, so didn’t panic and just tried to hold ground, follow wheels to move up and pick off riders where I could.
The pace was solid but not crazy and my legs were feeling okay.
We turned a left then a right and a few gaps started appearing, but nothing of note. I got a bit caught into the gravel section through the turn so had to chase back on, but was still sitting comfortably about two thirds of the way back in the bunch.
Then came the left turn onto Delph Rd – the start of the fated climb! The road narrows and everyone was fighting for position – I got caught up on the turn and found myself with no clear road. The pace stepped up and all I could see was the front of the bunch start to move away from me.
Up the climb, the first splits started to appear and I found myself just off the back of the 2nd group. I’d made up some ground following the turn, but not quite enough to stay with it. I was also trying hard to keep my HR down as much as possible – one learning from my first road race was how spikey my HR had been in the first part of the race as the pace was going up and down with people surging and trying to spit people out the back.
It was exhausting enough to manage on a flat course, but on a hilly one would spell disaster!
The first climb was done and the course went into a descent before turning another left up a shorter climb and then into a long descent. This is where the real damage was done.
The shorter climb was one where gearing was key – it was easy to over gear and flood the legs, but if you went too low you’d be going nowhere. One of the riders had evidently got things wrong and was fighting to get her chain back on.
The descent in the dry would’ve been fine, in the wet it was sketchy to say the least – I was descending at speeds far greater than normal and at one point found myself having to take a detour up a road on the right to avoid going head first into the hedge as I horrifically misjudged the corner and couldn’t scrub enough speed or stay upright turning at that speed (about 63kmph according to Strava).
Needless to say, I completely lost everyone and was left fighting to chase the wheels of a couple of others who were trying to catch the group ahead too.
HR was through the roof at this point!
Anyway, settled down just in time for the climb again, found myself feeling good up the climb and, with some cheering from Jam Cycling, managed to put a bit of a gap into the group I was with. Emma from Scarpa is a whippet on a descent though and after my near miss I was probably a little more cautious, so by the time the smaller climb came again she'd brought us all back together.
It was about this point my calf niggle decided to start rearing its ugly head.
I cramped up last week in road race number one and had been nursing it all week. It felt 100% on Saturday, so I wasn’t really thinking about it and certainly hadn't been concerned until this point.
It was niggling whenever I started putting power through and I was finding my mind getting distracted. I tried to push on and keep doing my turn in the group, but as we got onto the undulating section before the climb it was giving me some serious grief.
I didn’t really know what to do – I’d worked hard for this race and was already feeling like I’d fucked it by losing the 2nd group, so really wanted to take something from it by finishing, but this wasn’t the usual hurt.
It wasn’t a ‘my legs are burning’ pain that I’ve learnt to suffer and push through this year.
We were nearing the climb so I decided I’d keep pushing and see how it felt coming off the top. Alas, turning the corner into the climb and needing to up the power was just too much and I just couldn’t do it. I ended up spinning up the hill, basically one legged, and feeling a mix of being utterly pissed off and searing pain.
After the race, I was feeling like I really let myself down because I didn’t perform how I know I’m physically capable. Also, I felt like I let the people who’ve shown a lot of belief in me down.
I know this is only amateur racing and in the grand scheme doesn’t really matter, but a lot goes into the training, planning, prep and support by each rider and their friends and family, so when you don’t pull it off how you know you’re capable, it leaves you on a downer.
I’ve had a good night’s sleep and, whilst I’m still pissed off about the race, I’m so glad I got on that start line when it would’ve been very easy not to. I’ve walked away a bit broken and with a bit of a dent to the ego, but with a wealth of knowledge for next time.
That’s why we do these things – to learn and progress, learn and progress. It’s bike lessons and it’s life lessons.
Big shout out to the organisers for making it such a friendly and fun race even in the rain, my coach for getting me in shape to even have the belief I could race and the support crew braving the conditions – I wouldn’t have made the start without their banter, advice, number pinning expertise and general humour in the shitty conditions!”
We were supremely impressed with every rider that turned up and raced! There were 60 men and 48 women on their respective start lines, with the majority of those toughing it out to the very end. We’re planning on being there next year and we hope to see some of you there racing for your stripes!
Photos from Jess Fawcett and Toby Cummins.