Well, that was a lot harder than we all thought it would be! ‘Sufferfest’ and ‘hot as hell’ were two comments from riders much, much stronger than me’, ‘Brutal’ and ‘DNF, heatstroke’ were two from club riding friends, out for a good ride!
The Dragon Ride is into its 16th year. I’d heard lots about it and managed to get an entry to the Devil at the last moment, that’s 300km and 4,000+m of climbing. That’s a good long day on the bike – but should offer nothing untoward.
So, why did I, like so many others, hit the wall, literally? Climbing like a snail up the last big climb before returning to Port Talbot. I wanted to stop, I wanted to ring my wife for some normality, if there was one shop open in Wales on a Sunday I'd have bought every ice cream they had. I was a blithering mess. I just wanted to go home! If there was anyway of getting to the finish line, on a shorter, flatter road than the route – I WOULD HAVE TAKEN IT!
The problem? The difference from previous years? Cycling into the fire of a Dragon. The BBC weather predicted 20 degrees for Brecon. I reckon it was more like 25+ at times - that’s hot – and that changes everything. Especially, as I’m sure for many, it was probably our first ride in such heat since last Summer.
I have never - ever - wanted a race to finish so much as this one.
The ride is beautiful, genuinely, around the Llyn Brianne reservoir, the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever ridden though in the UK. But this ride was the real exception to the rule – you can’t have enough of a good thing. The riding was amazing, the scenery beautiful – but I just wanted out – I just wanted to be back on a road that didn’t contain a 25% climb and mile after mile of undulating road. I'd had too much of a good thing!
I think the temperature caught everyone out – even the organisers. I thought Human Race did a fantastic job. The best organised ride I’ve done for years but it was around the reservoir, the extra loop in the Devil ride, where the Devil riders ended up on a 50 mile section, caught in the mid day sun – and without any shade or food stop.
We were caught up a motorbike outrider who slowed and asked if we needed water. Three of our group of five were out. He was a lifesaver, as he decanted his bottles into ours.
The food stop after the Devil loop was carnage – more like a banquet for punch drink people. I’ve never seen so much eaten by so few – and I’ve actually never seen boiled potatoes covered in salt eaten by any cyclists ever! Very welcome addition to race fuel though.
After crawling to the line I managed the ride in 11.26hrs / 190 miles / 4,500m climbing. Finishing 18th out of 260 overall and 6th of 49 in 50+ age group.
A lot of my trouble was completely my own fault. I set off way too hard as I was in the last wave and another cyclist and I madly tried to catch everyone up. that’s what really did for me, and him… I saw him crawl in 45 minutes after me, wacked. After two hours we were averaging 20mph. by the end I averaged 17.7mph. you can guess how slow the last two hours were.
This seems to be a good learning ride for everyone though. You should never stop learning. For me it was the big reminder not to go off too fast - haven't made that fundamental mistake for a few years. And how to cope with hitting the wall - cry!
For others it’s about hydration and fueling. I have no strategy other than drink when I can. My mouth/throat are always very dry early on, so I find I drink a lot in first hour and then I struggle to even get it down later on.
But I do think it is good to occasionally reach your limits. Otherwise you don't learn and don't progress. You progress so much more from the learning’s of one ride like The Dragon, than just finishing as normal.
Well done to everyone who started – that was a tough day!
My own recipe for disaster - for hitting a wall!
6 boiled potatoes with salt
half a flapjack
an eggy roll
4 litres of water
2 litres of energy drink
50 jelly babies
1 pot of pasta
3 slices cheese on toast
1 Snicker Bar
3 energy bars
To Finish (almost repeated at every service station from Port Talbot to London)
2 cartons of coconut water
1 McDonald’s milkshake
! McDonalds chicken legend!
1 family packet of chocolate buttons
1 litre of water
keep eating, eating, eating - pancakes courtesy of 10 year old nutritionist, Audrey
Chris Ward was brought up with the dodgy sight of his father appearing in their lounge every Sunday lunchtime in the brightest red & yellow wool of FCCC (Farnborough & Camberley Cycling Club). It was the spindle thin bright white legs though that put him off cycling until he was 40.
Since then, in a bid to play catch up he has cycled up and down Ventoux 6 times in a day, cycled the whole Le Tour route with Tour de Force, managed C2C2C in a day, road round the M25, competed in the Trans Alp, Trans Rockies and Cape Epic Mountain Bike Races and finally in 2015 & 2016, qualified in St Tropez and Albi and competed for GB in the UCI amateur World Championships.
In Helen, he has the most understanding wife and so is able to continue looking for the answer to 'what next?' When he's not cycling he's hanging out in coffee shops writing books about it and trying to engage the world in charitable campaigns...