Once upon a time I used to enjoy singing Magnificat - now I ride them. Well, I rode all over this one! Charlotte says I'm training hard. And I reckon she knows a thing or two about training. When the going got tough (which it did at a number of points along the way) I reminded myself of this - "shut up legs, you're in training!"
The forecast for blistering heat (and more reliable recent conditions) did not deter me from a seriously early start to get down to Newbury and join the throng. Over 2,000 likeminded cyclists - all of us, out of our minds.
During the 82 mile circuit I found myself pondering a great many things, navigating some demanding South facing hills with the sun beating down on myself and my companions... It occurred to me, as it has in the past, that there are a great many lessons to be learnt from the saddle, applicable elsewhere.
Make no assumptions. One may have been taught that what goes up must come down. This is only partly true. Experience tells me that it's best to assume very little, and that it's best to simply get on with it. Thinking about hills does not get you up them, in the same way that merely considering the obstacles that stand between us and our goals does not usually get us past them.
The second assumption to address and deconstruct is that the downhills are easier than the uphills. My forearms, neck, back and shoulders reveal a different story. Descending into the unknown is never easy. None of the journey is likely to be plain sailing. Vigilance and diligence are required whatever the terrain.
The marshalls along the route reminded me of another crucial tidbit - look before you leap! They flagged up junctions where caution was advised (and advisable). But that's all they did. They didn't wield lollipops. There is wisdom on offer, but no one's going to carry you there. Knowledge is not much use when out on a ride - it's experience that counts.
Whilst it felt as though I was overtaken by the whole world and their wife yesterday, I knew I was not alone. People would stop and help if I asked them to, and I had a phone number in the event of an emergency. A good reminder really - I need never feel alone, and support is only ever a phone call away.
The food stations, to my mind essential on these long journeys, are about keeping going. Finding what works, and then using it. Keeping topped up, and avoiding hunger.
In order to stay on the road, it's vital to keep one's bike in good working order. Carrying a toolkit at all times is important, as you never know when you're going to run into trouble. There will be potholes along the way...
There is no point comparing using only one's eyes. Whilst I appreciate a shiny (ideally Italian carbon frame with impressive wheels) bike, it's not really about the kit. Appearances can be deceptive. It's essential to actually walk the walk. As a wise someone pointed out to my yesterday - if you've got the money, it's easier to buy the pricey bike than get out and actually do the training. I've yet to hear of someone that is truly happy simply because of their material comfort. Often it's the opposite.
The sportives I have been undertaking are not in fact races. Everyone who completes the course in one piece is a winner. Safety is paramount. Herein lies a good parallel - to take it easy. One mile at a time is how you get from the start to the finish. Together we get stronger, fitter and maybe even faster. But that's not really the aim.
Training is about putting the footwork in and I've certainly been doing that. Practice, practice, practice. If at first you don't succeed, try again. I have learnt so much over recent months. And have plenty more still to learn (like the basic art of bike maintenance - which will happen). There is always more to be learnt. What has been helpful has been the wisdom and experience available to me from the real 'winners' - the old timers who keep coming back. So, it's not so much the shiny new bikes I gravitate towards, but those that look to have clocked a few miles. Those who carry decent repair kits with all the essentials in the event of a mid-ride emergency (rather than those who are keen to shed the extra ounces in the interests of velocity).
Arriving early was a good move. Something I've picked up along the way. And there was tea and cake afterwards, and a healthy sense of fellowship. We all picked up medals. And most of us wore them. Because it's the taking part that matters.
No one said it would be an easy road. No one said it would be a flat road. But it is a well worn path that I have chosen to travel. The events I have signed up for are, for the most part, courses that have been completed by hundreds, if not thousands of other enthusiastic amateurs. They are not beyond my compact chainset (though my legs might protest otherwise).