Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Qatar cycling adventures Part 1

Ive been cycling in Qatar now for the last year - mainly short trips to work and back - 15 km a day - which for a hardened London cycle commuter and a trusty steed like Grey Legs is not too much of a challenge.  No hills,  stunning views and perfect weather apart from the heat, occasional strong winds and the odd dust storm.  But until recently I hadn't attempted anything longer - largely because the crazy driving is such that I'd been nervous to venture further out on any main roads.

Then last December I heard news that some of my cycling chums at Al Jazeera were planning to join an organised 100km ride - so with only one weekend to get some training in, I decided to give it a go.  After all, it was an organised ride with support cars early on a Friday morning - the only time when traffic is limited.

I was apprehensive, having never cycled 100km in one go before - despite using my bike as my main mode of transport for quite a few years in the UK - I'd always wanted to attempt a sportive event but somehow never got the opportunity.  So this was the perfect chance to start in a safe environment, in a large group, with few hills and nice temperatures.


I didn't give myself the best chance when I happened to still be in the ladies loo when the riders set off!!!  But once I caught up to the back of the pack, I felt so good for the first few miles and I was keeping up nicely until the wind started to pick up and the flat desert surroundings offered no protection.  It seems almost everyone cycling was a seasoned distance rider and the pace soon started to tell.  It was all Grey Legs and I could do to hang on to the back of the pack.

I was breathing heavily and pushing 110% just to keep to around 25km per hour against the wind.  Eventually, we lost touch and settled into our own pace with two friends from AlJazeera for company.   There wasn't much to see along the way - the odd camel roaming about and even one "parked outside" its owners house, saddled and ready to go!!  Regret not stopping to take his pic - he was a beauty.

There were a few water stops along the way where lovely volunteers cheered us up with questions like.... "are you the last riders?" and "is anyone behind you?" ....... err quite tough questions to answer when you're cycling with your eyes facing forwards and not in the back of your head!  But at least they did save us bananas and water to top us up which was gratefully received!

After the worst section along a busy truck road with another hellish headwind, the only relief came when trucks came thundering past at close quarters and pulled us along in their draft.  Despite taking on regular fuel, I was intensely fatigued, I was getting lactic acid build up in my legs and suffering cramp in my feet and right calf.  My hands had gone so numb that I had to ride one handed while I allowed the blood to return to the other.  And don't even get me started on the subject of saddle soreness (I was riding without any padding - except the natural kind!).... guess what was top of my Christmas list!!?

But we were soon close to home and eventually were guided back to base by a Red Crescent Ambulance.... and by that point I was so tired I could barely lift my raw aching backside out of the saddle to go over speed bumps.  But after just over 4 hours, we'd made it!!


Id been expecting a finish line, a cheering crowd welcoming home the tail enders and stragglers!  We were sure we weren't the last so when we cycled into the entrance to the Education City Club House from where we'd started, we were a little deflated to see almost no one around..... people basically packing up - no finish line, no official time, no ceremony.  Instead, we went inside and found the organisers and riders in a hall eating the buffet lunch they'd provided and there we did finally receive our medals.

I felt I really deserved that medal and was so proud of myself for finishing!! In fact I was quite shell shocked to be honest. And swore I wouldn't do that again until I'd done some proper training!!......well, that was the theory............. It turned out to be the prelude to an altogether bigger challenge to come when I decided to cycle solo to Qatar's Singing Sand Dune a couple of weeks ago! ...... Ill recount that epic journey in part 2 (once Ive got over the trauma) !!

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