Last weekend was a tough one. It marked the 2nd challenge in the trilogy of girl power sporting events my 13 yr old daughter and I had signed up for this summer and it was only getting more difficult. After meeting the challenge of completing the Race for Life Pretty Muddy 5km the previous weekend, we now had to face the Macmillan Cycletta in Bedford, a very pretty but hilly cycling sportive for women of all ages and abilities. We signed ourselves up for the Challenge distance of 70km which was the longest route on offer believing that with a bit of training, we could do this. After all, I had already done it twice before on my own so why would it be any different?
However, we didn’t exactly get off to the best start as we were both a bit ill after sharing a mystery tummy bug/cold that had been mutating through the local schools for the past week. Despite this, we were both determined to do the Cycletta after all the training. Admittedly, we were also lured by the promise of a treasure trove full of useful things to use, wear, eat and drink in the shape of the goody bag we would receive at the finish line. The goody bag got us through some very tense moments when we struggled during the hard rides, suffered setbacks or I had fallen. The harder we trained, the bigger the goody bag seemed to grow in our minds. Even when we hit breaking point, when my daughter was so fed up with cycling that she didn’t want to do the Cycletta or anything else ever again, the goody bag didn’t fail to get her back on the saddle.
So it was with the goody bag in mind, like a holy grail in front of us, that we Nurofened ourselves up to the start line among the throng of cyclists. And soon we were caught up with the enthusiasm of the riders, spectators and hyped up event marshals and we set off en masse to the blast of the start air horn and cheers. But then it started to rain…
I was already a sceptical cyclist who rode with the inevitability that I was going to fall at some point. The question was only, when? Now that rain had been added to the equation, I knew that the odds were not in my favour. But cycling alongside an all-weather rugby-playing teenager meant that I had to ignore the wet and cold and overcome the fear of cycling in the rain on slick roads and over terrifying, slippery cattle guards. You would think that having to ride over a rain-drenched cattle guard just once would have been bad enough but no, the Cycletta course forced us to do this 4 times. My daughter was over the moon, of course, as cattle guards are her ‘favourite’ to cycle over. Naturally, my teenager bombed over them at such a ridiculous speed and I had no choice but to follow her over the death bars just so I didn’t get left behind. By some miracle there were no spills and the goody bag was still in my sight.
We carried on cycling through the rain and started to quickly clock up the kilometres and unlike my previous times doing this Cycletta, we took our time chatting and commiserating which made it much easier to get through the demanding parts when all we could grumble was ‘I’m so wet/tired/cold‼!’ It also differed from the previous Cyclettas because doing it with a teenager meant stopping at every Feed Station. The smorgasbord of sugary fixes looked as if they had been taken from the party of a hyperactive child. There was ‘pick N mix’, chocolate Swiss rolls, several types of biscuits, Jaffa cakes, chocolate flap jacks, bars and energy gels. Alongside these treats was a platter of cut up bananas and oranges that had been placed next to some tortilla chips sticking out from the display like an uninvited guest. You can imagine that when a tired, hungry teenager that happens to be going through a growth spurt is told to ‘help themselves’ to anything, that is precisely what they do and after hours of tough cycling in the cold rain, a table of multi-coloured free sweets is irresistible. In the circumstances, I could only make sure that she was also fuelling up on plenty of our own packed food as I had practically packed a whole picnic in the big pockets of our cycling gear.
We continued the Cycletta on the second loop of the course, still in the rain, and as we tired the hills grew and the clusters of cyclists spread out. I then had a near miss collision on a sharp corner when tiredness and distraction caused me to bizarrely try to manoeuvre the turn with my feet as if I was skiing, instead of using the handle bars. But at the last second I was roused by my daughter shouts of disbelief. She came through again when the inevitable happened and I hesitated just a fraction of a second too late while cycling through a busy town centre full of cars and pedestrians. As usual, the moment of realisation hit me that I was falling before the pavement did and I simply waited for the pain. But I had no choice but to be brave and carry on because I was with my daughter and after all, our goody bags were almost within reach.
We neared the end of the Cycletta and the final climbs but although our handy cycle computers displayed that we had cycled more than 70km, the finish line wasn’t anywhere in sight. We were outraged but were even more determined than ever to finally get to the end and get those goody bags. Another hill? Bring it on! So yet another climb and some more corners to navigate until we finally saw some banners in the distance, then spectators and ultimately the elusive Finish. With a sprint to the end we crossed the line, completing the Challenge feeling exhausted and still very wet but happy. We finally did it—more than 70km—and we were so elated and relieved to stop that we almost couldn’t believe that it was actually over.
It wasn’t until a smiling organiser approached us that we remembered about the all-important goody bag that had led us like a beacon to the end. However, she came to us very empty handed and full of apologies because they had run out. She promised that they would post them to us but after all that we had gone through, I dreaded my daughter’s reaction. I could see her fighting an internal battle as the realisation hit her with the injustice of using carrot but getting stick started to take hold but in the end, tiredness won out and all she could mutter was ‘They’d better!’ Cycletta, we’re still waiting…
Despite the amount of food on offer at the Feed Stations, what we ate more than anything else to get through the Cycletta was another variation on the DoE trek bars, Cocoa coconut bars. Like the DoE bars, they contain a good amount of protein and carbohydrates and so are more suited to recovery unless you are participating in something such as a long sportive or are hiking.