I’d been a little intimidated by the results other team members were getting already this season. But also egged on by them. This was my first race out for SSLL and I wanted to do them proud. These guys seem to be a rather successful bunch and I’m glad to have them as team mates. All week I had been looking forward to BUCS, feeling more positive than I ever have before. I’m normally a bag of nerves but I think the excitement of the start of the season and the knowledge that I’ve been training really well meant I was bursting to test out what I could do. I’ve spent most of my winter either sat in front of a computer, doing exams or feeding cancer cells in the microbiology lab (I have an exceedingly cool research project at university that I like to drop into every conversation possible…have I mentioned I’m doing cancer research?) so this event was a little break from the intense uni work and a highlight to look forward to.
The British University Champs has been a target of mine this season. In 2014, BUCS was the first 10 and 25 mile time trials I had done and since then, I have been hooked! Being a bit of a perfectionist I strongly remember the sense of dread before my first time trials and the fear of doing it ‘wrong’. Of course, learning what your body can do, how you can push it further and also cheat aerodynamics and friction a bit more than last time is the art of time trialling and takes a while to even begin to perfect. But it was the feeling of elation after my first time trial which was something else that had me coming back for more! The endorphin rush from smashing myself as hard as I could for 10 miles was amazing. And it was 2.5 times better after the 25 TT!
I felt pretty chilled while driving up to the BUCS 10 in Cambridge. I’d had pangs of nerves but nothing unmanageable. I was a bit worried as I hadn’t had a good winter on the bike. They say ‘winter miles means summer smiles’. Well in that case, I am frowning. I had originally planned for 2016 to be an off season while I focussed on finishing my masters at uni but by January, I had changed my tune and wanted to be back out there racing. I started training on February 6th after exams had finished and at that point it was straight into a build period as BUCS was only 9 weeks away. What little training I had done over winter would have to be good enough for a base. Bob Tobin of Cyclepowermeters.com has worked his magic in getting me race-ready in such a short space of time.
I always spend the week before a race imagining everything that could possibly go wrong. It’s not an enjoyable week, I’ll tell you that but it does help me pre-empt some problems I might run into and iron out the creases. For example, where am I going to park, planning nutrition, practising and timing myself getting into and out of my skinsuit when sweaty mimicking the emergency pre-race/post-warm up loo stop…all details that must be considered carefully to get on the line in the best condition. This race deserved extra worry as I haven’t raced for a while and I have some new equipment. I have a new disc and new front wheel which I hadn’t ridden or even got round to putting tubs on two weeks before race day. Tubs are a whole new ball game to me. From three days of research, there seems to be no ‘right’ tyre (that doesn’t cost £70) as they are all a compromise between speed, puncture resistance and price. The first set I bought (Vittoria CX 23mm) were too narrow for the wide rims of the Revolver 6 front wheel. The next set were too heavy (Challenge Strada 25mm). The next set I plumped for were lighter tyres (Vittoria Crono 24), but I balked at how thin they were when they arrived…and hastily bought a bottle of Vittoria Pit Stop for peace of mind.
Three of us were racing from the University of Surrey and made the drive up to Cambridge; Rob Taylor, Paul Mearman and myself. Fifty women were signed onto the event and I knew there’d be some tough competition from some of the names I recognised. I thought I could probably scrape top 5 but that the podium was out of reach. The course is the E33/10 starting near Stow-cum-Quy, heading out to a big roundabout near Newmarket before turning round and coming straight back. Before the race we did a quick course recce in the car and noted that 2 miles in there is a climb of about 3-4 minutes at 4% gradient. That means it’s too long to just power over and needs careful pacing to not burn yourself out too soon. After that, the road becomes dead straight (an old Roman road at a guess) and you can see all of the next 2.5 miles ahead of you. Then it’s round the roundabout, take the 5th exit towards Bottisham and back along the same road.
I had planned my pre-race timings ahead so I’d be on the start line warm and ready to go. I factored in extra time for a loo stop as the new trip suits from NoPinz and designed to be rather tight. At 1:15pm, I was off. There was a 10mph tailwind on the outward leg. I was feeling good and was pushing towards the upper end of my pacing range. After the turn around there was a 10mph headwind but I can’t say I noticed it. Eight miles in, and although I was close to the end, I was starting to feel pretty sick. I kept looking down at my Garmin to check how much distance but it didn’t seem to shift much. I don’t normally have distance on view as it’s not a metric I’m particularly interested in. It’s normally time that I’m looking at and counting down. With 1.5 miles left to go, I said to myself ‘it’s alright, 1.5 minutes isn’t too bad’. Except it wasn’t minutes was it! My heart rate had already peaked at 187bpm for too long and was now drifting down to 185bpm. My legs were burning and starting to slow. I tried to keep up the cadence but I had pretty much already played all my cards. At 9.8 miles, the finish flag came into view and I managed to find a little more energy out of nowhere to pick up the pace slightly for last 20 seconds.
I stopped the clock at 23:44 which was 4 minutes 2 seconds faster than my BUCS 2014 attempt on this course. Apparently, this makes me the sixth women ever to go below 24 minutes. Birmingham’s Molly Patch came third with a time of 24:17. Hayley Simmonds, British Time Trial Champion and newly professional rider for the American team United Health Care won the women’s event by a huge margin with a time of 22:09.
I’ll be back out racing again at BUCS 25 in two weeks’ time.