In 2017 Ruth Miller and her now husband Alex would ride the BC Bike Race and then on the following days get married in Canada, it's sounds like a huge adventure we need to hear more about. Ben Thomas Coaching supported Ruth and Alex towards the goal of completing the event. Ruth talks us through her year.
"Alex (my fiancé) entered us for the BC Bike Race last summer – 7 day stage race he had an eye on it for a while but I dismissed it as being ridiculous. However, on the evening of registration opening he said ‘I’m entering. If I enter us as a mixed pair will you come with me?’.. so that was it.
We got towards Christmas having done very little but play hockey and a few trips to Swinley and general fitness and after a flick through the website reality kicked in. I needed a bike and we needed some help and to do some training. 6 weeks later after being on the excellent Mountain Trax demo scheme, I’d ordered a bike, we’d been introduced to Ben Thomas, 2 times National Champion and Transalp winner. We.had been out to ride with him and discussed goals, and we decided to work together for the next 6 months.
Having briefly looked at some photos from previous years BC Bike Race I was scared of what we’d taken on. My initial goal was to get round it safely, and be in a good enough position to try and enjoy it.
We looked at what capacity we had to train, around work commitments, and considering we were both playing pretty competitive club hockey for Basingstoke HC. We did the dreaded FTP test to establish a baseline, to add to what Ben had seen by taking us out on the local trails. I could access the new Wattbikes at my local gym, and learnt to sync my Garmin to it, which , meant we could do power and heart rate based workouts planned and created for us during the week, as well as incorporating longer endurance heart-rate based rides into our commutes, and on Sundays. General life would get in the way at times, but by and large, we stuck to the monthly plans, and we always received feedback and plan adjustments.
I’d put some effort into training for a half ironman in 2016, including doing something most days, and teaching myself to swim, but nothing like this new training. Especially not the consistent hours and specific efforts, the discipline. Having a coach really helped keep us focused with the monitoring and constant feedback. I really started to enjoy the training, and I was enjoying my new bike, so yes it did need commitment, but I was enjoying it, and with the ongoing dialogue with Ben, making it fun became a key part for me.
We rode a few events in the lead up to our main goal. The first on the list was the amazing Scott MTB Marathon Series R1 (Builth Wells) in April, with R2 (Wantage) and the Bucks Off-Road 100km (West Drayton MBC) in May. These aren’t really ‘races’ but it it was a good confidence boost to finish 2nd female at Builth and 1st at Wantage and Bucks – plus I loved it.
Having booked pretty much all available holiday to go to BCBR, and certainly with the wallets looking extremely empty, we were never going to squeeze another multi-stage event in the build-up or even long weekends away. We’d also decided to get married while out in Canada so things like hen and stag dos got in the way a bit too.
While I was still concerned that the technicality of the trails in BC were likely to be something new again entirely, we’d have to deal with it, and I at least gained confidence in knowing I could ride 4-5 hours hard on a bike. And still get on my bike the next day.
Bucks MTB Sportive - Photo Frankie Snell
Finally it was time to start BCBR. Reflecting now, it was probably one of the hardest weeks of my life in many ways. Physically and technically yes it was hard, I’d never ridden big singletrack trails like it – we’d squeezed in one visit to Afan and Cwmcarn very early in training which was all we’d done previously but here everything was just BIG! And very unrelenting. Mentally, it took a lot of focus for me to stay on the bike. Also, having largely trained separately and developed entirely difference strengths, we struggled to ride together and it was pretty stressful, to the point that by day 5 we did what it transpired a number of other pairs did – rode separately – as officially, it was allowed that the pair’s time would only be taken from the second rider over the line. While the technicality was a challenge, there is no way we’d have got round without having done the training.
The event is truly epic. The organisation is superb, the settings – North Vancouver, Cumberland, Powell River, Sechelt, Squamish, Whistler – stunning. The welcome from the locals, the camaraderie amongst the riders, the event crew, the local support on some sections of the course - awesome. We started to relax when got past the technical North Vancouver stage (which turned out to be maybe a favourite!) and got to Squamish but knew there were 2 big days ahead. The Half Nelson was amazing, while 1500m of climbing in just 33km on the final day into Whistler was a killer, but you knew the reward would come!
We finished with massive smiles and a lot of emotion - 7th mixed pair out of 18 after 26 hours and 41 minutes of riding across 7 days. We were a whole 4 hours slower than the winners, but when we finally put it into perspective, we were 13 hours quicker than the pair who were 18th.
We also got married on the banks of Alta Lake in Whistler three days after the event with few family and friends who had flown out. It was stunning and fortunately any battle scars were safely hidden for the day.
After Canada Alex was happy to go back into hockey training, while still do some events to finish the season, but I’d decided my hockey days were over and was up for more. I was signed up for Ride London but a combination of dead legs and a bad puncture stop made it my least enjoyable RL yet. So some rest and recovery before Brighton Big Dog, then Torq in your Sleep in August.
My legs weren’t feeling amazing by Big Dog, but I finished 2nd female and definitely very happy with that in what was a truly great UK event- I found the climbs tough going, but the descents more than made up for the efforts each lap, and there were lots of smiles that day. It’s such a well organised event with excellent supporting sponsors and prizes – it was just great fun, I’d highly recommend.
Next the Gorrick/ Torq in your Sleep 6 hour. I’d ridden the Minley course before a few times in a pair, and had also gone out with Ben a few weeks earlier and ridden some of the usual sections. As well as being really fun and pretty speedy to follow some racing lines, I knew what to expect on August Bank Holiday weekend for the 6 hour solo, and I felt good going into it. At the end of lap 2 I was called out as 1st Female Vet, and no one else went past me the rest of the day. I finished lap 7 with 6 mins to spare to win the Vets and also first female overall.
It seemed a shame not to do the final Scott MTB Marathon event of the season, so I set off to Hope Valley the following weekend suspecting it would be a hard one – and it was. After struggling up the first climb I relaxed and went with the flow a bit, including joining the social hike-a-bike queue up Jacob’s Ladder, but it still hurt. My time wasn't great but I left happy to finish, and determined to come back stronger. I’m quite new to the MTB community, but the togetherness that weekend, dedicated to the memory of Charlie Craig, was really quite special.
The end of season came around and with a combination of being really quite knackered, a week of illness, and then a back injury flaring up quite badly, meant nearly 2 months off the bike. Ben planned recovery sessions and I was in the pool and doing pilates and yoga a lot, but as my back settled, we drew up a strength and conditioning plan for the winter, and gentle reintroduction to the bike. I used the Gorrick 25 event in November at Crowthorne Woods as a target to get back on the bike, and was pleased to finish 2nd – admittedly out of 3, not too far off top spot but I definitely didn’t feel too fit!
We’ve also been looking at the diary for next year, and I’m really quite excited to be going to the Belgian Mountainbike Challenge in May. But lots of training to do for that – I’ve been doing some long rides over Christmas and my first event to test the water was the local Brass Monkey events.
2017 was absolutely amazing. Yes BC Bike Race was hard, but it’s not something I’d have normally thrown myself into head first. And it’s left me wanting to do more. As a better rider. Definitely. I love being up hills, mountains. It’s a freedom, an independence, and I like the physical challenge of getting up there, and the technical challenge and fun getting down!
I’m in my early 40s, let’s face it, if I don’t give it a go now, and build what I’ve done, it would be a complete waste. So I’m looking forward already to another year and lots of adventures and fun along the way. Working with someone who has been there, done it, and has a genuine passion for it themselves, but also is genuinely also passionate about supporting others achieve their goals, just adds to the motivation factor and the fun with it.
Bring on 2018, and if you’re considering a goal, just do it. And it helps to have people to share your journey with. Definitely consider looking to work with someone who’ll meet your needs, providing the levels of support and motivating you value as well as expertise. And have fun!"
Brighton Big Dog - Photo Kevin Sherldrake