Hell of the Ashdown

I am not a natural climber, Essex does not have the hills. I have become acclimatised to the flat, rolling bumps of my surroundings. So I have to go hill hunting.

It was an early start for the Catford CC ride, my alarm sounded at 0540, all had been sorted the night before so breakfast, wash and a final check and all ready to go. The drive to Biggin Hill didn’t take long, just over an hour and the car park at the Charles Darwin School, our host for the day, had not even started to fill so I was guided to a half empty parking area.

Once registered, I was handed my rider number and wrist band. It was back to the van to prep the bike, fit the number, get changed and then time for the off.

The start line

I had been lucky to receive the first time slot available so I sat at the start gate. I was the only one and concerned that I may have to set the pace for the whole race. The organisation from Catford CC is fantastic and will only allow a small number of riders to leave at any one time; approximately 10 riders left at 08:00. There was no time to get comfortable or warm up, within the 1st mile we descended around 150ft then began to climb 250ft at 12.7%. Nothing like giving you a baptism of fire but then the name does not say ‘fluffy bunny bike ride.’

My aim was to pass the 1st feed stop at 32 miles and head straight to the one at 55 miles. The start of the ride had been harder than the previous attempt, mainly due to the change of start location. I need to work on my endurance levels and with further hills looming, I decided not to push it. The people offering their time at the feed stops deserve a special mention and a big thank you. A ride like this and you get a warm welcome, hot tea and coffee, malt loaf, bananas, flapjacks but no full English breakfast that I did request.

32 mile stop

The stop was a short one as I wanted to stay warm for the descent and the climb up Kidds Hill, aptly known as The Wall, just under a mile at 8.5%. This was just a teaser for things to come. The next 20 miles consisting of going downhill, very fast then of course, what goes down must come up and it did so. Very steeply! I hit a wobbly top speed of 41.6 mph and ended up braking as the bike started to feel a bit twitchy. Lycra clad and typical English winter affected roads do not make for a happy ending and Lainey would have killed me if I ended up in hospital.

My miss timed eating schedule had played havoc with my guts. So some adjustment is required. I had split the hour into 3 x 20 minute alarms. 2 would consist of a bite of an energy bar and on the hour, a gel. With the continuous hydration, I felt as if it was all swilling around and I craved savory instead of the sweetness. With a short 7% climb to the 55 mile stop I hunted for what I craved. Sitting there on the table, with angels singing harmoniously in the background, was a plate of cheesy bites, I nearly ate the lot. The last time we arrived at this stop we only had 8 miles to go so my spirits were up beat.

As I left the feed stop I spoke with the marshalls, I asked for some clarification on distance and they responded with 13. I’m thinking 13km is close to 8 miles, happy days. My legs were feeling it but I felt OK. A marshall tried to hand me an energy gel and with a devilish twinkle in his eye said, “you’ll need this for Star Hill.” I did not take it as I had enough churning around. Turned right I began to climb again for a further 2 miles. I should have clarified whether the distance was in kilometers or miles, it was in fact 13 miles and some of the steepest climbs were ready to chew me up and spit me out.

It was time to dig in. Getting back on a level road, I could easily return to a steady 17/18mph. As soon as a hill appeared the speed rapidly dropped off. What didn’t help either was passing the finishing spot from the previous year plus having someone pass our small group as if we were standing still. I did not even attempt to get on his wheel.
After descending a segment called Suicide Drop it was time to climb, who wants to finish a ride on a sprint. Hogtrough Hill started at 9% for 0.7 miles and then to add a final kick ramped up to 13% for the last 0.2 miles, no one wants it easy. Returning to familiar ground, as we had followed the same route earlier in the day but from the other direction. I stupidly thought that morning, this would be nice to climb so on the return leg we did, the final half a mile at 9% with a steep switchback.

I was glad to see the finish but nothing left in my legs for a final push but happy with the 4hrs41 to complete the 67.5 but highlighted deficiencies in my riding.

I’m done

There needs to be more preparation before The Fred Whitton Challenge in May;

I need to do more hills, Essex has an abundance of these!!!!!

I need to get my eating plan right and with the right food. Mudguards weighed me down, creating unnecessary drag, that’s my excuse.

I need to improve endurance and spend more quality time in the saddle.

The Hell of the Ashdown is a ride I’d recommend to all. Decent hills allow you to get into a steady rhythm and will test you. Especially if you normally ride in flat areas.

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