Caging the chimp on the Dartmoor Classic

Heather’s event report from the Dartmoor classic sportive.

Last Sunday saw possibly my only real event of 2021 thanks to a knee injury that has prevented me running since January. 

We recce’d the route for the Dartmoor Classic over half term and in some ways I’m glad we did because we got to experience the stunning scenery of Dartmoor on a glorious sunny day but in some ways I wish we hadn’t. Twice I’d had to get off my bike before I fell off, the second time I stood at the side of the road and cried (not like me), proclaiming that I couldn’t do it (also not like me), I didn’t want to do it! We were 50km from the car in the middle of Dartmoor, I didn’t have any choice, but my poor husband had to push me up every incline for the next 50km. Mentally I was completely destroyed, I might not be fast on the hills but normally there isn’t much that I can’t get up. 

Three weeks later, after lots of sleepless nights, self doubt, panic messages to Allie (Including at least one declaring that I had definitely decided not to do it) somehow I was stood on the start line, self confidence at rock bottom but knowing I had unfinished business.

I’d decided to do the medium route (still 108km, 2000m of ascent and 2/3 of the major climbs) and I’d made my peace with that decision, it was sensible, long rides with lots of climbing aggravate my knee, but I couldn’t come to terms with the decision not to do it at all. My goal was just to get round, if I could do so without crying then that would be a bonus – I was unlikely to be the only one who would have to walk up the steepest bits.

The BBC forecast 20% chance of rain for Sunday – well the entire Dartmoor quota of rain must have fallen on me. We set off in drizzle and as we climbed up onto the moor we were soon cycling in cloud – visibility was as low as a few meters in places. Before long we hit the first ~20% gradient and as I passed the spot where I had to get off three weeks previously I felt OK! I wasn’t even close to my limit. Maybe I could do this after all? I started feeling a little more optimistic, enough to remember the glorious views of Haytor in the sunshine and smile, for possibly the first time in three weeks. 

“Still a long way to go, keep fuelling, the worst is yet to come” but the first glimmer of hope that I wouldn’t be returning home in the broom wagon🤞.

The descent into Ashburton is steep and even in the glorious weather over half term was covered in water. I love descending, but in thick fog and with a ridiculous amount of traffic given the weather, this descent was treacherous, even I used my brakes and waited until the bottom to shovel a couple of Shot Blocks in my mouth.

Next up was ‘Holme Chase’. That climb. ~500m averaging 20% followed by another 3km of climbing. I passed the second place where I’d thrown my bike in the hedge and cried, thinking “was that it?” It wasn’t anywhere near as steep as I remembered. I was even overtaking people, lots of people. I still had over half the climbing left in front of me but now I knew that I could do it. Maybe the fog helped, you couldn’t see the views but you couldn’t see the hills either, it was a bit like one of Allie’s ‘tough but achievable’ turbo sessions where you are willing that arch to appear around the corner but you know there’s a way to go before you get any respite. 

A couple more steep climbs before the feed, including the 20% out of Dartmeet but nothing could dampen my spirits now, not even the rain, as far as I was concerned it was in the bag.

The feed station was at the Princetown brewery, sadly not open. The spread was apparently fantastic. I have a delicate constitution when exercising so I’m fussy about my fuelling and I carry everything I think I will need with me, so just a quick comfort break and some water for me and I’m off. Princetown, as anyone who knows Dartmoor will be aware, is the highest point so predominantly downhill from here! The clouds even lifted a little and I could see a little bit more of the scenery. The next bit was fast! Especially considering that after the drop down to Two Bridges it was ~20km of mostly gentle climbing before the awesome descent into Mortonhampstead. The road here was wider, visibility better and the rain must have eased slightly as I don’t think I even touched the brakes. (Strava has me hitting >72kph on that descent, I was feeling better!). The climb out of Mortonhampstead was longer than I remembered but it was the last one (or so I thought) and then just 20km down the Teign valley back to the finish. Clearly the weather gods decided I might start enjoying myself and they weren’t having that, the heavens opened and it lashed it down the whole way back. The sort of rain that’s so hard it hurts. But I didn’t care, I’d done it. I’d exorcised my ‘demon of Dartmoor’ and my chimp was firmly back in his cage. I passed the finish timing tower with a big grin on my face. 

For some reason the official Start/Finish line is ~5km from the race course and event village and the route back takes in all of the hills in Newton Abbott which seems a little unnecessary (not the words I used on Sunday) but once finally back at the race course, goodie bag and medal collected it finally stopped raining and the sun came out. I got to wait for my husband and his mate, who’d done the long route (176km, 3500m of ascent), sat in watery sunshine 🌞 

I finished in 4h 27m (elapsed ‘Strava’ time – my chip didn’t work) for the official course. Difficult to tell where I came from the provisional results but definitely in the top 10 females. (Not that that was important 😂). 

Everyone has bad days, don’t let it define you – trust in the training (thank you Allie!).


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