Susan’s top sportive tips

Susan Dowling

After taking on her first sportive at 55, Susan (left) caught the bug and rode the Mersea May event. Here are her top tips.

As a teenager I was always off out exploring on my bike, but after moving to London in 1978 I rarely cycled at all. Nobody really cycled in London in 1978; it was nowhere near as popular as it is today. 

Fast forward several years and my love of cycling was reignited in 2011. That year was spent getting used to the freedom that a bike gives you to ride around and stop anywhere you want – without worrying about where to park! In 2012 the riding stepped up a notch and I signed up for two charity rides, and it was with this new found confidence that I registered my entry for the first Prudential Ride London Ballot – which sadly proved unsuccessful.  

Having psyched myself up for the challenge and feeling slightly disappointed at not getting a place, I then considered doing my first sportive, eventually registering for the Wiggle Spring Saddle Sportive from Newmarket. 

So there I was, about to ride my first sportive at a mature 55 years of age!  

At this point I was still using my trusty hybrid as I didn’t own a road bike. It was quite hard work at times as although Suffolk is relatively flat the cross-winds are fierce, but I found the whole event so friendly and welcoming. Since then I’ve gone on to do so many more – including Ride London! 

On Sunday I am riding the Mersea May Sportive in Essex and I am really proud to be representing Breeze at the event. If you’re still considering registering for your first sportive, below are a few of my top tips to put your mind at ease. 

No matter how old you are, or what type of bike you ride, just give it a go. When you get to the finish line you’ll receive a hero's welcome no matter how long it takes you to get there, so relax and enjoy. 

What if I have nobody to ride with? 

Don't be put off if you have nobody to ride with. Most of the challenges I’ve done have been on my own, and most other riders will acknowledge you when they pass and have a chat with you for a while to pass the time.  

How far should I be able to ride before the event? 

You should gradually increase your distances as you prepare for the event, and I aim to be able to ride at least 80% of the distance before the day of the ride. Breeze is a great way to find other people to ride with, and even if the distance is not what you’re looking for you may still find ladies within the group who are also looking to ride further distances. 

What should I eat before, during and after? 

The night before a sportive I will usually have a bowl of pasta. On the day I sometimes will struggle to eat if it’s a very early start but ideally I like to have porridge. If it’s too early and I’m driving to the start, rather than setting off with an empty tank I will have croissants or a Danish pastry on the way.  

While I’m waiting at the start line I’ll usually have a boiled egg and a banana, and after the ride I normally just eat whatever I’ve been craving in those last few miles!    

What should I take on the day? 

 Aside from the usual inner tubes, pump and multi-tool I take a few emergency energy snacks and plenty of fluids. For a long summer ride I will always apply P20 Once a Day sun protection which sees me through the day.  

How should I pace my ride? 

I try to work out what time I need to be at each feed station by to complete my chosen distance, and avoid overstaying at stops so that I don’t cool down and find it harder to restart. I tend to count my miles up to the halfway point and then count down on the way back so that I see the end getting closer! 

If you want to cycle further in 2017, take a look at our great sportives for women.

For more expert tips, advice, articles and videos, visit the British Cycling Insight Zone.

Ride review

I really enjoyed the Mersea May event. The route was very scenic considering that it's mostly flat and the cakes were delicious - so much so that I sampled the carrot, lemon drizzle and lime, coconut and ginger! The sportive is small and very welcoming, and I've promised to return again next year!