Tuesday 28 February 2012

Race Report: Hell of the Ashdown 2012 (100km route)

I had a certain amount of trepidation going into this sportive. As I said previously I had a bad experience in 2010 with this course, and because of that I've always had demons to clear.

I signed up in November last year when entries opened - my friend Chris signed up too, and we secured the same start time of 09:02am. There are two route options, a "100km" route (actually 106km), and a "50km" route (actually 53km) called "Devil's de Tour". Chris and I signed up for the 100km version, and Mrs fancied taking on the challenge too and, seeing as this was her first organised bike event, she opted for the 50km route (her race report is here on www.totkat.org). A good plan - Chris had done the same thing last year.

My car is "in the shop" and so I have an enormous Audi A4 Avant of boat-like proportions for the week as a loaner car. It swallowed the bikes and associated kit like they were a small snack.

You could ship freight containers in this thing - I love it!

We signed in and relaxed with a cup of tea ahead of our start time. 9:02am came and, after a quick commemorative photo, we set off.

Chris (L) overloading the CCD with his jacket and me (R) posing ahead of the "Hell"

Chris and I had agreed before hand that we weren't going to race each other, we'd play it by ear and if one of us naturally pulled away we'd just roll with it.

Right at the start there's a massive hill - don't let it knock your confidence, it's short and sharp and soon over, then it's into the ride proper. I was a little restricted on the flat and downhill due to having a faulty front mech - I couldn't move onto the big ring at all, nor could I use the smallest cog on the cassette. I knew previously that I had been having some gearing problems, but thankfully, it being more about the uphills than the fast rolling flats, I wasn't too crippled.

First lesson: Always check your equipment well in advance of the event.

The first 30km flew past, and we made it to the first of the two feed stations in what felt like no time. There were two climbs I remembered from both years as being Big Climbs that Deserved Respect - the first was encouragingly named "The Wall", and came just after the stop. It's quite distinctive as you round the corner at the bottom and see it stretching up ahead of you into the sky. On the climbs, Chris was pulling away from me - he had a wider ranged cassette so he could stay sat down and plug away keeping a good cadence while I ran out of gears and needed to get out of the saddle a bit more. I caught up over the brows of the hills though, so we ended up staying together the whole way round.

The first feed stop

Second lesson: Think about the gearing you will need in advance, and make sure you've selected a cassette with an appropriate range (and appropriate chainrings to match).

The Wall, despite its imposing name, wasn't the mountain I remember. I felt quite good on the way up, and had plenty of energy left for the shallower climb that ran on from the top of the steep section - overtaking a dozen or two other riders on the way and catching back up with Chris.

It was disappointing not to have the high gears I needed to really take advantage of the rolling ups and downs, but with some occasionally comedic high cadence moments I don't think it held us up too much. I flew up the hill I remember walking up near to tears two years previously, and we made it to the second feed station in high spirits.

I knew it had taken around an hour and a quarter the last two years from the second feed station to the finish, and there was only the mighty "Star Hill" between us and completion. Again, I had this obstacle pretty much the size of Everest in my head, and was amazed that I just dug in and rode up it. I put in a couple of higher cadence out of the saddle moments, but most of the rise was sat down, plugging away, and overtaking people. What a different experience to the last two years!

Spot the comedy cadence and rest stops

It was a bit lumpy

We finished and rode over the timing mat at precisely the same time in order to get an equal time - though it transpires that Chris must have crossed the start mat a second behind me, as he ended up one second quicker! Bah!

I finished 369th out of 956, one place behind Chris, in a time of 4:37:31 - absolutely smashing my 2011 time of 5:23:27 (a 46:56 improvement) and 5 hour target. My secondary objective was to break into the middle third of finishers - as it was I was 39% down the field, so very nearly made it into the top third!

Obligatory finishers picture with Chris (I'm not sure why he was pulling a funny face!)

I'm really very happy about the result, even my most positive estimate put me at 4:45:00 - and I know with a bit less hanging around at the feed stations and having all my gears to hand (or foot) I could knock another few minutes off the time. So I think next year's challenge is to break 4 hours.

My bottle full of gels was an interesting experiment. I didn't get sick of the taste at all, but the liquid was a bit too viscous to eat easily through the bottle nozzle. With a bit of adjustment I think it could be a winning formula though, and certainly an order of magnitude easier than fiddling with individually wrapped gels.

I was particularly pleased about my heart rate - the majority of the time was spent in Zone 1, with 55 minutes in zone 2, and just under 7 in Zone 3. This means for the most part I was well under my functional threshold which means I have more "in the tank" to commit without crossing over into a level I couldn't sustain for an endurance event. This is what endurance training has given me, and proves that I am building a good aerobic base. There's a lot more work to do, but - just like my recent 5km PB - it's a great motivator to see real results-based evidence.

HR plot - lots of Zone 1 (under 152bpm), this is a good thing

Mrs had also done amazingly, and smashed her target with an amazing 02:26:14 finish. She was second female (the margin was under 2 minutes - she's blaming chatting at the feed station for that!), and beat most of the blokes too, coming a stonking 4th overall! Check out her position in the results table here.

My Garmin plot for the event is here.

Finish picture with a squeeeeee-ing Mrs

I got some odd looks when upon finishing I ran into the cafeteria, changed my shoes, and ran out! The 15 minute run I'd been advised to tack on the end was a real eye-opener. I remember the leaden legs I had at the Thames Turbo races last year, I had no experience of running off the bike at all. I'd by lying if I said that my legs were feeling fresh as I ran out - but certainly the long runs and brick sessions had helped. I kept cadence high and form good (and pretty much sweated to death due to running in bib-tights and two tops on the hottest day of the year so far).

A few of my favourite photos from the event, taken en route by Sportivephoto Limited.

Event photos, a couple with Chris, and one with a cheery wave for the camera

Am now very happy, no longer scared of the Big Hills, and actively looking forward to next year and the sub-4 hour challenge!

Official documentation!

Thank you Catford CC for a wonderful event, friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and brilliant marshals.


  1. Glad you enjoyed it, I can't believe you went for a run afterwards :D

    If you want comedy cadence you'll have to ride it on fixed :)

    1. I'm not sure I'm up for those hills on a fixie! (up or down :)