Words by Liz Morrell
Liz Morrell reveals the countdown to her first ever closed roads event a year after taking up road cycling and reveals how TWC readers inspired her to complete Velothon Wales.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for Total Women's Cycling about my rather up and down journey towards my biggest sportive to date – the Velothon Wales. Having only started proper road cycling this time last year deciding to suddenly tackle my first ever closed road race, and my biggest event to date, was a bit of a pipe dream when I booked my place back in the winter.
“I’ll get loads of training in," I thought. But, as I mentioned in my previous piece real life kicked in and meant that whilst I had all the best intentions of a structured training programme, life, family and work got in the way.
None-the-less, I mustered all the strength and determination I needed to take part - so, how did I get on?
Three weeks before: Encouraging words
My journey to Velothon Wales was published on Total Women’s Cycling and the response was fantastic. Friends and family love the honesty of my write-up whilst readers I’ve never met before took the time to share some invaluable words of advice and encouragement. I was armed with tips galore and learned a little more what to expect but the clock was ticking fast and the event was less than three weeks away at that point.
Two weeks before - My first 100 miler, with tears
My cycling club had organised its first ever 100-mile ride for members. Around half of the 18 riders that turned up for the event had never done further than three-quarters of the distance so many of us would break new records that day and I was keen to get my furthest ride to date under my belt so that I could get my head around completing the 140km Velothon Wales event.
But it wasn't my day. I was struggling at 35 miles and hoped that the bacon sarnie and tea I stopped for would revive me, but by 50 miles I was shedding silent tears at the back of the pack and when someone noticed that I was feeling properly sorry for myself, I remember crying; “I’ll never be able to do Velothon Wales if I can’t manage a flat 100-mile ride". Things weren’t helped by the fact we were riding into really a strong headwind but the most likely cause was that my legs were still shot by a hard hill rep training rides I went all out for a few days before hand.
As ever my fellow riders were encouraging and supportive and by 75 miles at the next food stop, I felt more confident. The next 25 miles weren't so bad and I rolled home feeling exhilarated when I passed the 100-mile mark – even though my Garmin seemed to have less energy than me and nearly failed to capture the ride. I was thrilled that I managed my first 100-mile ride but my aching limbs and my tears mid ride left me truly doubting my ability for Velothon Wales.
One week before: Serious doubts
Despite resting, my muscles were aching and I was seriously worried. Our club run, the last ride of any distance that I did before Velothon Wales, was only 35 miles but after my performance the week before I felt really nervous. I had a good chat with a few people on the ride about whether they think I should switch to the shorter 110 km route – which also misses out the two mountains, the Tumble and Caerphilly Mountain, that I was daunted by and haven’t managed to try out. Although one friend said I should switch, most were convinced that I could do it if I just believed in myself, so I decided to stick with my original choice.
The day before: Soaking up the atmosphere
After good luck cards from friends, I finally decided to take the bull by the horns and embrace my fear. I hitched a lift with another club member down to the Velothon Wales registration in Cardiff to pick up my number board and soaked up a bit of the atmosphere. The tactic worked.
Suddenly, the nerves fell away a little and – dare I say it I began to feel excited! I met up with a few other members of the club for a drink and, bar stomach cramps and a few moments where I zoned out with worry, we chatted about what was to come.
The day: Getting to the start line
On my first ever sportive this time last year, I didn’t sleep. I woke up feeling sick, couldn’t eat and wanted to just go back to bed. On the day of Velothon Wales, I actually started believing in myself and it was all thanks to yet more words of encouragement I saw by readers of TWC, and particularly one woman who sounded very similar to myself, and yet completed it with no problems. I drove to my friend’s house who was giving me a lift and we excitedly chatted about the event. At the car park, we immediately caught up with fellow riders from the club and headed to our start pen together.
The event itself: How it really was
Hedged in our start pen was nerve-racking to say the least. I’d put down a finish time of 5 to 5.5 hours so that I would be positioned with other members from Thornbury Cycling Club but realistically I was still worried about whether I would finish at all before the broom wagon kicked in, let alone make that sort of time.
I was also worried about so many riders starting off together. Although, I managed to follow some of the faster riders from my club for the first couple of miles or so before I soon dropped back and found my own pace and, as it was spot on what I’d been advised to do, settled into my 15-17mph pace for the first 30 – 40 miles and soon learnt how to deal with other quicker riders passing me.
I guess the one thing I hadn’t prepared for was some of the accidents I saw – the first, a stretcher bearing ambulance affair within only a few miles of the start and a couple of others where riders were down in the recovery position after a fall – a reminder that unlike some of the other sportives I’d done the pace of this one as a closed road event was a whole different ball game and that as a less experienced rider I needed to take care.
But what a ball game it was. The experience of closed roads was exhilarating even if it took a while to get used to not stopping for lights, roundabouts or traffic and being able to take up the whole road not just a small part of it was truly liberating.
The first 40 or so miles flew by before The Tumble came into view. Having not managed to ride it before I was somewhat daunted by the challenge but determined to conquer it. I did stop twice – once to grab a drink and another just for a breather for a few seconds. However, I didn’t get off and push and even managed to smile for the camera (even if the photos would later look like The Tumble was a small hill rather than the steep half hour plus drag it was) so in my view at least I conquered it.
Caerphilly mountain was a somewhat different affair – positioned towards the end of the ride this was one challenge I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make and when most of my fellow riders were dismounting I have to admit I did the same.
The atmosphere and buzz of Velothon Wales was amazing though. Crowds along the route banged pans, rang bells and shouted words of encouragement as we passed and you couldn’t help but want to go faster as a result – no matter how tired you were feeling.
The finish sprint was like nothing I’ve done before and I had enough fuel in the tank to push the last stretch and finished with a huge smile on my face. I completed my first ever closed road event and my second longest ride at 89 miles in 6 hours 23 minutes and was thrilled.
A week later I completed my second Great Weston Ride – taking an hour off last year’s time despite not feeling well.
The journey I’ve been on in just a year since I rode my first sportive with Great Weston Ride 2016 has been amazing. I’ve lost two stone in weight, got fit, made new friends and cycled more than 2,500 miles in the last twelve months. Completing Velothon Wales was most definitely the highlight of that journey.