Back in 2011 my husband and I tackled our first sportive. It was both spectacularly life-affirming and excruciatingly embarrassing in equal measures.
Following the knee-jerk decision to cycle from Lands End to John O'Groats (LEJOG) with my family for charity in the summer of 2012, I needed to get in some serious training. Novices in long-distance cycling, my husband and I thought we'd utilise sportives to get in much-needed training miles.
Let's just say we had our eyes well and truly opened when we tackled our first sportive. It's an experience we've never forgotten and still joke about to this day.
As we'd be cycling over 100-miles most days on LEJOG, the decision was made, well I made the decision, to commit Gavin and I to the popular Blenheim Palace 100-miler through stunning Oxfordshire countryside. At the time we weren't even engaged, so to this day I'm still shocked he asked me to marry him after I nearly killed him off on that ride.
It was a case of the blind leading the blind. We were so wrapped up in the excitement of everything, sportives, the thought of cycling LEJOG, that we had no idea what we were doing.
To save you from a similar fate, I've compiled the worst of our mistakes that are easily avoided, so you can have a more enjoyable experience on your first sportive.
Choose the location of your event wisely
Trust me, I've witnessed my poor husband capitulate behind the wheel of our car after our first 100-mile sportive. We had over 70-miles to drive home and after about half an hour into the journey the wheels really started to fall off. Apparently the other cars on the road had started to turn into jelly babies.
Unfortunately, I wasn't insured on the car at the time, so we had to pull over so he could power nap until the fatigue had worn off. Two hours later, and we were on our way home.
Lesson learnt = try a sportive closer to home or have a chaperone for your first event.
Stick to what you know - Food
In my experience new foods are literally a recipe for disaster on sportives. I've come close to instantaneous bowel evacuations on numerous occasions after greedily shovelling anything and everything I could get my mitts on at the feed stations.
Not one to learn from my mistakes, I was on track for a pretty quick 60-mile sportive when all of a sudden a belly full of sugar, caffeine and e-numbers decided to make their presence known. I had to churn through the last 20-miles using Jedi mind powers to keep in the wolf banging very hard on the door.
You'll be pleased to know that I managed to make it over the finish line. Just.
Lesson learnt = don't try any new 'exotic' sports food/gels and try to test run what you will eat on the ride so you know what your stomach can handle.
Stick to what you know - Clothes
I thought I'd rock up to my first event in some spangly new gear I'd treated myself to. I may have looked the part, but it ended up causing me a whole world of pain.
Secret weapons for your next sportive
The chamois pad in the bibs was perhaps one of the worst I've ever experienced. Too long, too thick, and riddled with crippling ridges. After cycling 100-miles in these shorts, I ended up with severe chafing and numbness that took a couple of days to subside.
Lesson learnt = tried and tested is the best, it's not a fashion show at the end of the day.
Slow and steady wins the race
Don't get swept up in the moment and shoot off like a coiled spring. Pace yourself. If you find yourself with extra juice in the tank, go for it nearing the end.
This is probably one of the only things of any use I've taught my husband. He jokes that I'm a cycling metronome. You'll find me spinning away at the same pace on the flat, up hills, anywhere. Then once I'm warmed up - around the 70-mile mark - I let the legs loose. It's probably not the best technique, but it works for me.
Lesson learnt = it's a marathon, not a sprint, know your limits.
Preparation, preparation, preparation
You'd be surprised what an early start and a belly full of nerves can do to your organisational skills. I've been close to missing the start gun on numerous occasions because I've underestimated the time it takes, or negated to adequately prepare.
It takes an inordinate amount of time to prepare for a ride - filling water bottles, checking tyres, packing your saddle bag and deciding what to wear - it all takes longer than you think.
I've learnt from bitter experience that you can never be too prepared for a sportive. I ended up cycling a sportive in leggings because I'd driven to the start thinking my kit bag of cycling clothes was safely in the boot. Oh no. In my rush, yes I'd packed a bag, but a bag of inner tubes and lube not my cycling kit.
I now go to sleep with EVERYTHING in place, so all I need to do is wake up and put on my cycling kit. No matter how late it is or how long it takes.
Trust me, trying to find the zip ties for my ride number at 5 o'clock in the morning, while trying to remember whether I've squeezed that extra inner tube in my saddle bag is stress inducing and makes for a few maritals if we're cycling together.
Lesson learnt = When you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail. For everyone's sake, including your own just get all your stuff together the night before, it makes everything MUCH easier and more enjoyable.
Read about one of our favourite women-specific sportives here.
What clangers have you committed on your first sportive, or are you still blundering through? Share with us your experiences to save other Vixens from a similar fate.
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