The combination of a notoriously fast course and weather forecast getting warmer and better as the week went on, lead to a very nervous trip up to Newmarket for the Shaftesbury 50.
I’d ridden this course once before, in 2014. It was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I’d gotten some bad news in the morning and selfishly chose a ‘float’ day over being by my best friend’s side… and didn’t Karma bite me on the ass? I’d forgotten to bring any water bottles on a 30C day and had scavenged a 0.5l bottle off Katja. I came off the first roundabout early, which meant a vaguely illegal hop over the grassy central reservation to get back onto the A11. Then after what seemed like FOREVER, my Garmin clocked 50 miles, I saw a marshal and happily wound to a standstill. Ummm, turns out that wasn’t the finish but the marshal for the turn…I’d forgotten about my little detour.
This time round I was determined to not to let silly mistakes ruin my ride. However, traffic on the M25 meant that there was no time to recce the course so I had to rely on the post-it note stuck to my bars. And David’s parting words of “Its going to be a float, don’t f*ck up” were about as useful as my old rowing coach hollering down the megaphone across the river “RELAX, Clarry, RELAX”.
I was off third and confident that I would overtake both riders ahead of me before Hayley Simmonds (off fifth) went past me. It was clearly a fast day as I managed to break my 10 mile PB en route and sure enough I was the first rider on the road after 10 miles. As if by magic, just as I was wondering where Hayley had got to, she glided past me, resplendent in her stripey skinsuit and f*cked off into the distance.
Unusually, my race was going exactly as I had expected it to. I hit the top turn with an average speed of 27.8mph and my legs were still feeling good. I took the roundabouts super slowly, having made a conscious decision that it was better to lose time being absolutely certain I was going the right way than lose time going off course. The poor road surface on the A11 made it feel like I was riding through tar and my speed dropped and dropped. I shuffle about on my saddle, my calves start to cramp up, things are starting to get uncomfortable. A bit of desperate mental arithmetic told me that with 30 miles gone, only a catastrophic equipment failure would stop me from PBing. The way back down towards Four Wentways was tough and I lost a lot of time on the last ten miles. Power was beyond pathetic at this point and I was begging for the finish to appear.
I collapse into a layby and empty the rest of my water bottle. I knew it would be a 1.51 but not exactly what.. yes, I forgot to start my Garmin until I got onto the A11. I hang about for a bit, expecting my travel companion Pete to finish soon after me, get bored then roll the 5 miles back to HQ at an immense 11mph.
I’m greeted by a cheery and super chatty Mark Holt so I know that Hayley has done something special! 1:42:20, some 4 minutes off the Comp Record. I’m lucky enough to sneak into 2nd place with a 1:51:59 (just a casual 12 minute14 PB by the way), the twelfth fastest time recorded. Not bad going for someone who takes a fairly minimalistic approach to training.
And just to tie up the loose ends on my missing person case, 90 minutes later than expected, Pete returns to HQ. Seems like 2 hours in a car with me was enough for my ineptitude to rub off. He’d missed the turn off for the finish then somehow managed to do a 30 mile loop to get back to HQ. All on one 500 mil water bottle, which he’d nearly finished before the start. Now severely dehydrated, he was bundled into the car at top speed so that I could get home for Zoe’s bedtime. Stopping briefly a mile down the road for his queasiness to pass, I showed classic Clarry levels of sympathy as I shoved the rest of a bacon butty down whilst he made friends with a hedge. Then subjected him to 2 hours of bad chat and even worse driving… I think he might be getting a lift from someone else next time :o)