The day started early, leaving the house at 7.00 to drive down to the New Forest to take part in our first Sportive. I had convinced Martyn we should do it together and that we wouldn’t race it but just enjoy it, I wasn’t until we arrived that it became apparent Martyn had other ideas!

Arriving in Brockenhurst it was great to be back where I had spent so many days training last year. I love the New Forest it’s one of those places where you can ride for miles through different landscapes from heathland to forest, the scenery is always changing and hills spring up out of no where.

We set off on the Epic route which was 35 miles long at 9:45. The course meandered through forest and heath using the main forest tracks linked together by the odd road section. It was great to see so many people of different abilities doing the same ride,  all out to enjoy the fresh air with friends on their bikes, it reminded me of The Ride London back in August which had the same feel.

Martyn soon picked up the pace and we seemed to be eating into the miles, to get ‘Gold’ you had to finish in 3 hours 50 which seemed fast for an off road race and like I said we were taking it easy, or so I had been led to believe !!…

The first food stop was at roughly a third of the way round, there was lots of snacks to choose from and I had half a banana and tried one of my USN Vooma caffeine gels, which USN had kindly given me to test during the event. I had used other brands of gels before in my XC races but not during an endurance event. As we were stopped I could open with my hands, but usually during a race I would do this with my teeth moving. I think from the way the packaging is designed it would be easy to open with teeth and shouldn’t spew out over you before you can eat it which is a bonus!

Vooma Energy Gel

The gel was mocha flavour, not being a coffee drinker I was intrigued to see what this tasted like! it tasted like it smells when you walk into Starbucks with a hint of chocolate and a warming feeling. What I liked about this gel is that the texture was nice, some can be too sticky and leave your mouth feeling dry but this did not, which is a real plus for me as there is nothing worse than having a sticky horrible mouth when your racing and breathing hard.

The gel contained 24g carbs which is good for the size of pack and I would have been able to fit a couple easily in my jersey pocket.

As with most other gels if taken, it contained a mix of carbs and electrolytes which is great because it means you can take it just with water, saving you from having to buy energy drinks as well, and for a racer on a budget like me that’s a great option!

The gel seemed to kick in after about 10/15 minutes and I felt like I had an extra boost of energy and was able to push hard which was good as we had reached the hilliest part of the course and the extra energy helped me keep up with Martyn who was setting a medium/fast pace.

I only took one gel but think that if you needed to take them more regularly it would still taste and be fine. Some gels, if i take them too often don’t agree with my stomach but this seemed fine and I would be keen to try during a XC race where I usually take one per lap (every 30/40 mins).

The miles seemed to fly by as we got close to the end. We chose not to stop at the next feed station and pushed on, we were doing very well until we got about 8 miles from the finish and I heard this shout of ‘stop’! from behind, Martyn had a puncture! We quickly pulled out a new inner tube and got it changed but had some pump issues. Luckily a nice guy and his little boy stopped and lent us their pump. Once sorted we continued in having lost around 10/15 minutes, we pushed a little harder,  but now raining slightly as well we were keen to see the end and a nice hot drink! It seemed like all the drama was going to happen in these last few miles as we went flying down a hill and it was my turn to shout stop! Martyn pulled up and pulled along side him, not able to open my eye because I had so much grit in it, not ideal. After a brief stop we were back in and eased off slightly and enjoyed the last part of the course.

We crossed the finish line in 2 hours 50 minutes travelling time which was a great achievement for our first sportive and meant we were comfortably within the time for a gold finishing position.

For anyone thinking about doing an off or in road sportive I would say go for it! It’s a brilliant way to get out and see new areas you wouldn’t usually cycle in and also a great sense of achievement to finish.

My tips would be take lots of layers, even if it looks like a nice day the weather in the UK is unpredictable especially in winter! Drink plenty, staying hydrated is important so make sure you have at least one bottle of water with you. If you’re doing a longer distance than you are used to make sure you have some decent padded shorts and chamois cream or Vaseline to stop any irritation. Take two snacks with you incase you get hungry in between feed stations, peanut butter sandwiches are great, as are bananas and gels. I can personally recommended the USN Vooma mocha gel it kept me going to the end.