National 50 Mile Champs TT

RTTC National 50 – 2.12.47, 12th place

I’ve been looking forward to the National 50 for a little while. I’d checked the HQ, planned what I needed to take, calculated the hour I needed to be leaving home to get there in good time. One error: I’d somehow assumed, it being the end of June, that the weather was just going to be ok.

You’d think after 24 years living in England, I wouldn’t be so stupid. Mr Brennan kindly mentioned to me that there had been whisperings of tornadoes in Wales and some forum turbulence, so I checked the weather. Oh good – 25mph wind and 40mph gusts. YAY. The recipe for a fast time. Rain, too? Excellent!

With 6 hours of driving planned to get to and from this event, I was considering a write-off. But actually, it turns out that this Saturday was to be the very windy day I surpassed the expectations I had set out for myself. So in other words, this was one of those rare occasions where I think I did pretty ok.

Brennan and I packed up my little car, and off we (he) drove. Owning a finely tuned Subaru himself, it took him a while to become accustomed to:

  • – The fact you have to play cat and mouse with the windscreen wipers to get them NOT to stop in the middle of the screen
  • – The fact the handbrake does not function without the car being in 1st gear
  • – The slightly slow-to-function brakes

But he did like the neat volume controls on the wheel (next to the button for the horn which works intermittently).

On the drive down we witnessed bursts of sun, rainstorms, and high wind. Reassuring.

On arrival, the whole set up struck me as much more like a ‘normal’ time trial than the National 25 which had been a bling-fest of bike porn as 150 men and 50 women got ready to go. In this case, the womens event was on Saturday and the mens in Sunday, so there were just 30 of us there. A “National Event”… 30… I know.. thankfully I can reassure myself the cream of the domestic scene crop was included.  Really though, it’s worth noting there were plenty of gaps on the results sheet as wide as minutes and there are loads of female TTers in the country who I wish had been there. A proper full field would be such an event.

The more low-key HQ didn’t, however, change the fact the woman parked next to me had 3 sets of wheels in beautiful wheel bags, as I set up my Roo with her Frankenstein aero front and 100-spoked-wind-turbine alloy Powertap next door. Roo-bee looked a bit forlorn, but I know once I’ve funded a rear wheel for her she’s going to look kick ass and I love her all the same.

HQ was 6miles from the start, so after some faffing I was on the way. I soon realised I’d picked up number 34, instead of my true number 14 – thankfully the timekeepers saw the funny side and swapped the numbers. A blessing since TT regulation could have been harsher. This whole event was becoming a bit of a comedy of errors.

The startlist had some weird gaps and I only had about 3 riders in front of me. The organisers had put me pretty close to the start, understandably since I’ve only done two 50mile TTs – one in my first year of racing (2011) and one this year in terrible conditions – my 2hrs19min PB would have made me one of the slowest entrants. I won’t lie – when they held me up and mumbled: “30 seconds. 10 seconds.3.2.1.GO” my main goal was to overtake all the ladies in front.

And off I went. The wind hadn’t really slowed but it was a tailwind for the first section. It was a smash-fest of dual carriageway fun – but I was a bit concerned to see my wattage was really low. I tried to go harder but there really was only so much I could do to make whooshing down DC with the wind behind me hard work. A roundabout. Over. A hill. Over. A left turn and a man in yellow: Go Left.

Left was FUN. It was the only single carriageway section, and it was twisty and bumpy and included a lot of opportunities to nearly come off. At one point a man pulled out in front of me in his silly car and I invented a whole string of insults beginning ‘F’ ‘T’ and ‘B’. I was quite proud of my little invention before I felt a bit guilty and mumbled a quick mid-TT ‘sorry God’  before putting my head back down to concentrate on the job in hand. I must have been in the mood for a fight.

The lanes went on to mile 17 where LEFT and LEFT very soon after – and proceeded into a wall of headwind combined with dodgy crosswind. The Charlotteville 50 in May was hard work because of the wind, but this really did feel like being blown around the road. There was a moment when I did 13mph – I kid you not. You know that thing when a gust hits you as you ride along the beach in Majorca, and you have to basically stop to regain control of the bike? It was like that.

I kept in mind we were all in the same conditions and ploughed on. Overtaking number 1, number 5, and number 12 (the only 3 ladies in front of me since no10 DNSed and 1 and 5 were set off at 5minute intervals). So there was no-one in front, but plenty chasing behind.

Finally, a LEFT turn signalled a little shelter. The next section back to the start (before lap 2) was also into headwind, but it wasn’t as severe. On my way I passed Brennan who cheered loudly, and that helped a lot as I heaved and snotted my way up the hill, mouth wide and huffing (sexy).

At the 25 mile mark I knew I was on the way to a PB. The roads went on forever and there was a moment I started to lose it a bit. Strangely, my TT heart rate is usually very linear – like this from the Charlotteville 50:

I must have lost concentration quite a bit because I’ve really never seen it do this:
I’m not, if I’m honest, sure what to make of that. I do know around 25 miles I had a gel, and got myself comfy, and for a second got a bit concerned I might be off course – so maybe this is what happened. The weird dips are the downhill sections on the hilly country lane section – and that final kick is the headwind section before the finish. I think.
Regardless, I was gunning for a new PB in what people who rode on the day have called ‘horrendous conditions’.
With my previous PB of 2.19, I was planning  – when I expected good weather – to aim for a 2.15, so when I came through the finish on a horrible windy day of 20mph+ wind with 2.12.47 – I was overjoyed. I bagged the Redhill CC 50mile record too, which at 2hours14 I’m told has stood for 57 years. I’m not sure I deserve to hold ay records considering where I stand against women from other clubs but it’s nice all the same.
There were some incredible women there – and Julia Shaw did an outstanding 1hour53 which is still miles off her PB, understandable considering the wind. I’ve got a lot to look up to, and a lot of hard work to do to try and improve on my time, but this was was one off those rare ‘pay-off’ days when training seems infinitely worthwhile.
And a quick note to the organisers: Your banana cake: BEST banana cake EVER.

Published by michellearthurs

I'm an NCTJ Journalist and work at Cycling Weekly. Previous to this, I was the Editor at Total Women's Cycling. I've also dabbled in marketing and copywriting - having been Marketing Coordinator and Social Media/Content Editor at Evans Cycles. My first job was working on a local newspaper.  I've written for a variety of titles on a freelance basis, too. I got into cycling when I entered my first triathlon in 2010. I now race crits, road races, time trials, and do a lot of track training for not very much track racing.

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