Event Review

REVIEW: Endura Lionheart 2014

by Jennifer Trotman

GB Flag

The Endura Lionheart starts from Longleat, which is only an hour's drive away, and also means a not too anti-social start - 5:30am alarm, 6:15am on the road.  This year was my 4th appearance, and as I drove there over the hills, it wasn't snowing, so I was already off to a better start than last year! 

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Down the drive

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Waiting

I must have been ahead of previous years though, as the queue to get in was minimal, but the views down the long drive were as stunning as ever. I ended up in a different car park to usual which initially annoyed me as it was a little bit further away from the start village. But it was on tarmac...which I learned to appreciate as I later picked my way through the mud to the toilets! There was a really long queue for those, which was also about to irritate me, when I realised that 5 or so of them were women only, and not being queued for. Result! There were a couple of male riders who were happy to use them too! 

One of the best things about this event is the pre-registration pack that you get a few weeks before, so there's no need to register on the day. Just stick a tag on your helmet, number on your bike, map in your pocket and job done! So, with all that done in advance, I really didn't faff much on site. The forecast had predicted variable and rather cold conditions, so I was pretty much wearing everything I could. The only concession I'd made to possible warmth later on was to stash my mitts in a pocket. 

I had no idea what time it was, having not yet prodded the Garmin into life, but I headed for the start and was far nearer the front than usual. Standing outside Longleat House, the Bath stone glowing in the rising sun, relatively sheltered, I did wonder about my layer choices... but it wasn't really warm, there was definitely wind, and I was going with the weather forecast. After all, it's usually worse than I expect, not better! 

I stood there on my own, wondering if the Marquess was sneaking a peak at us all, listening to the riders around me chatting, and watching the flag blow in the wind, as the organisers got everything ready. Big foreign cycling events get helicopters, we got a radio-controlled quadcopter, which I think was filming us, but maybe someone was just playing with their toy. 

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Rider briefing

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Start line

As it turns out, I was in the second of the groups to be let away. Our time came, the normal briefing happened, and sometime a bit after 8:00am I was on my way under the arch, and off around the estate. 

There's a big loop around the estate, past the long queue of waiting riders, to be completed before you even get out into the wider world. The way I look at it, that meant there were about 1100 other riders behind me, and it would take a while for them all to get their revenge by going past me, so I wasn't going to be lonely for a while! I think 1387 had signed up, and by the looks of it, the turnout was pretty good, though I reckon they were going to be hard pushed to get them all away by their 9:00am deadline. 

It's actually a surprisingly lumpy loop, especially when you've not warmed up, and takes in many cattle grids, the lake where the seals should be swimming and the sleeping lions. It's a long drag up the main drive, that always leaves some walking, but it was much easier without last year's blizzard! In fact, you've done about 4 miles before you leave the estate! 

The route changes every year, and I think this year was like previous years but anti-clockwise. It was really nippy out there, and there was quite a lot of climbing early on - or at least it felt like it to me. Due to recent form issues, I hadn't made up my mind whether I was doing the 100km or 100miles route. I knew the first feed stop was 25 miles in, and I was just aiming for that. 

A lot of the main junctions were marshalled, and there were also motorcycle outriders helping the deflated and otherwise stricken - I saw the aftermath of a couple of accidents. There were, however, some other interesting junctions where marshals would have been a good idea - especially since you end up in a mindset where you think that if there's not marshalling then it's not necessary, and possibly don't pay due care and attention to the route. Still, all the route signage was good, with the addition of little orange repeater ribbons to stop you feeling lost between junctions. 

The weather became increasingly changeable. I was in the process of dreading the King Alfred's Tower climb that was due later that day, when we went up what seemed to be to be a bigger narrower and busier climb, that I wasn't even expecting! Still, having made it up that the skies darkened as we were heading for the feed stop at Evercreech. Soon the wind picked up and the hail came down! Yes, hail! With rain mixed in with it, of course...

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Crowded first feed

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First feed

The feed might have been perfectly timed for hiding from the downpour for a bit, but the village hall itself was heaving, so sheltering was easier said than done. It was a nightmare finding anywhere to put the bike, and one of the nice ladies handing out Nuun drink tablets held onto mine so that I could fill my bottle up from the water tanks lined up outside. I finally managed to find a space to park up the bike next to a wall as someone left, and went inside to fight my way through corralled, damp and ravenous riders stuffing their faces with handfuls of food as fast as the friendly ladies could unwrap it. Not an attractive spectacle. Toilet break duly taken, I ate a bit of flapjack, and grabbed half a banana for later - it was time to see if the hail had stopped. 

Luckily it had, but I had to hang around a bit for riders to come and go before I was able to dig my bike out from under what was now a several-layer deep pile of carbon! Not that I was in any rush, knowing that that the timed climb to that Tower was ahead. I also wanted the traffic to spread out - the worst thing about climbs like that is other riders getting in the way. And on what was now to be a wet, muddy, slippery, steep climb...? 

I needn't have worried - they'd put a sign up asking those walking to stick to the left, and those riding to the right, which helped. It also wasn't too busy when I got there, and I have done it before - something I kept telling myself as I literally dribbled my way up. There were three of those 'oops the front wheel is lifting moments', but I kept it down low and kept going... and yep, did it again.  

It didn't take me as long to recover as it sometimes does too, which also cheered me up; as did flying along the fairly flat miles that came afterwards. Shame about the muddy Stourhead estate that came next though. The road surfaces weren't great, the weather had made bits of it really wobbly under wheel, and the much-vaunted views were absent because I was too busy paying attention to the road ahead! 

I was feeling fairly good, but getting colder as the day went on. Various squalls passed over, then the skies got even darker, and about 3 miles out from the next feed stop the hail came down again. I pulled my winter collar up over my face and developed a mini peloton of people hiding behind me as I pushed on.

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Yapps Yard

EL8
Clasic Car

After it passed, and the sun came out, we reached the route split - which was also the feed stop based in the yard of Yapps Brothers Wine Merchants. The feed was just as busy before, but it was mostly all outside this time. Somewhat randomly there was not only food on tables, but also rescue greyhounds, portable toilets, classic cars, coffee to buy, and wine to sample. I wish...but I'd never have gotten going again if I'd indulged in that! 

So, 100 miles or 100 km? I had been told and told and told not to overdo it by my friends and family beforehand. I was feeling ok, but probably no better than that. However, I was cold, and now wet, and the weather was unlikely to get better. Given the choice between 50 more miles, and maybe 20 more it was a no-brainer. Time to go kilo-metric. 

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Decision time

The short route and I headed North, and fairly directly for Lord Bath's home. Unfortunately this proved to be directly into the wind, and straight up a really large hill. In fact, possibly the biggest climb of the day, while I was at my coldest. Well gee, that was fun. As was the long section across the ridge afterwards where the wind blew from the side, straight across your face, turning your skin to ice and stealing the air from your lungs as you tried to inhale, all the time trying to stay upright and not crab sideways. It might have been easier to do the longer route and dodge it more, especially as it seems that the majority of the climbing was in the first section of the ride! It was a very sapping final slog. Nowhere to hide - head down and just keep going. 

Those last few miles were really hard work, and there wasn't much left in the tank. As usual, and on reflection, I don't think I'd eaten enough. I'd been guessing at around 70 miles, a sort of deliberate mental pacing trick, and it turned out to be more like 60, which came as a bit of a shock and also quite a relief, as suddenly we were retracing our steps to turn right back on to the estate.  

There was enough just left in my legs to enjoy sprinting down the straight Longleat Drive, flying towards the main house and then under the occasionally deflating finish arch though! 

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The end

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Claud the Butler

There - Lionheart 2014 done. Limited edition medal collected, I confessed my shorter distance to an understanding timing man, who pressed buttons, and stopped my official record lying. I knew I'd made the right decision, but I was still a bit cross about it, in a totally illogical fashion. I think if I'd had company to ride with, I could probably have made it around the 100 miles, but this way I lived to ride another day. 

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Goody bag

One of the main downsides to riding events on your own is the lack of apres ride. I stuck my head into the food tent to collect my goodie bag, and passed on the free hotpot, because I knew Claud the Butler was there, and what I really needed was good coffee and a friendly familiar face. I had a lovely black americano, and a bit of chat, before making my way back to my little car, and heading for home.


Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 10 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 9 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 8 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 10 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 7 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 10 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 8 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 9 out of 10
Overall Rating 90.0%