Again it was an early start, not as early as last time but stupidly early for a Sunday morning. This time though there would be no knock at the door, I was going to be doing this one alone. Lee wasn't going to be with me. The weather looked good for the day, forecast was dry but overcast, which I was pleased with being the end of October and all. I had pre-packed the night before and checked my bike - I was ready to go! Loaded full of High5 Gels and my Bulk Powders Protein at the ready I loaded the car with my bags and bike and set of for Lacock College.
|The long queue for the start|
|Ready for the Start|
So the time had come to make my way to the start, felt a bit odd doing it on my own, but I had my music this time so had something to keep my mind occupied. I made my way to the start line and queued up with all the others who had the same idea to start as early as possible. I just hung around and waited to be called forward with the group and get through the timing tent.
At last I was off! A little later than expected but the ride had begun. Considering I hadn't been on my bike, apart from a 2 mile spin around my village, since the New Forest 100 I felt pretty good. I rolled out of the college and made my way out to the route following the signs. I hadn't really set myself a goal as I didn't know how I'd feel after the 100, but as I made my way through the first few miles I thought 5 hours would be a decent attempt. So that was set and I got to work!
After 5 miles the route planners had thrown in a cheeky little climb up Church Hill. At just over a mile long and 114m in elevation it was a nice little test early in the ride, which I felt really good after reaching the top. It was a good little 'warm up' for the legs considering what was to come. At the 7 mile point another climb, roughly the same as the first about a mile long and just over 114m high it was another little tester for the quads. Once again at the top I felt reasonably good, I didn't hurt and actually dropped a few other riders on the way up. I was starting to think that the 5 hour target may have been a bit high and that perhaps I could go sub-5! Why not? The start had been good my pace was high and I felt great!
The next 45 minutes or so went by without any incident the terrain was up and down but nothing that I would consider testing. My average pace was up and down too but hanging around the 17.6mph and 18.1mph. The 5 hour target was going to get smashed if I could keep this going. The way I was feeling there was no reason why I couldn't. I knew the first feed station was close, I felt that good I was considering skipping it and carrying on to the second station without stopping. I checked my bottles and one of them was near empty, I made the decision to stop and refill, a decision that proved priceless! I pulled into the feed stop at All Cannings, refilled my bottle with water and had a cheeky chocolate brownie and was away again. A very short stop as I didn't want to lose the momentum I had.
I got back on the bike and started the second part of the ride. The weather had turned slightly it was still dry but the wind had picked up dramatically. It was, at some parts, hard to keep upright on the bike the wind was that strong. But I just kept peddling knowing the next feed station was about 26 miles down the road. However this was going to be without doubt the hardest 26 miles I had ever done on a bike. It felt like the whole section was uphill, two reasons. One it was uphill pretty much all the way and two the wind was so strong that even the flat(ish) parts felt like a huge climb!
The hills just kept coming - up and up and up. Every little bend brought more hills the horizon always seemed to be above me and never reachable. On some flat sections I was in the lowest gear - and peddling like my life depending on it - but the wind was so strong it felt like I was riding up Everest! My legs were burning and my head kept telling me to stop! But I didn't, I refused, no amount of weather or hills were going to stop me. This was for charity and people had already donated a shed load of money to the cause, I was not letting them down, not now not ever!
At about 49-50 miles I reached the town of Marlborough, which made my heart sink. Knowing the town as I do I knew there was a monstrous climb ahead right through the middle of the town. My legs were shot and burning like never before. The climb started and I wasn't the only one struggling, I passed about 5 other riders on the climb who didn't look like they were enjoying themselves very much. I knew that the feed station was about 6 miles away, what I didn't know at this time was that the 6 miles were uphill and not just a bump, I mean a proper climb!
My speed dropped to about 6.6mph, I was in ruins the climb just went on and on, I kept looking at my Garmin begging for the miles to go by quicker, the road was open and visible so the whole climb was in front of me, although as it was so far I couldn't see the top! Through the Fyfield Down National Nature Reserve I went. A couple of riders ahead and a chain of riders behind. I set my sights on the riders ahead and a psychological goal of keeping the group behind me at bay. I kept peddling I didn't slow my rate and kept going like a man possessed! Mile after mile the hill kept coming! I caught the riders in front and ahead I could see a flag flapping furiously in the wind, but I knew what it was, it was the feed station - the God of Cycling was at last smiling down on me. I reached the top and pulled into the station. A climb that had lasted nearly 6 miles and reached 286m in elevation had absolutely ruined me. I'd never been so happy to get of my bike. I wasn't the only one. Everyone who came into the stop said the same thing, 'What the hell was that!'
My average speed had dropped to 11mph and the last 5 miles had taken me 26 minutes to complete. All throughout I'd been in and around the 17 to 20 minute marker for 5 miles. The climb had killed me. The decision to stop at the first feed station had saved my ride. If I hadn't filled my bottle I would never have made it to the second stop. The High5 gels had been like a shot of adrenaline and kept me going. With only 24 miles left the 5 hour target was now again a proper target. In fact it was going to be a big ask now!
I climbed back on the saddle and rolled out of the stop and was immediately greeted with a HUGE descent to the bottom of the monster climb! It was heavenly! Just rolling, no peddling. The organisers knew that the climb would have hurt folk and had tried to make the last third of the ride as gentle as possible. What they had counted on was the wind being so strong. The flats still felt like hills but with the pain of the last climb still in my legs everything felt 10 times harder than it should be. I just kept going! The thought of stopping was constantly in my mind. My head telling my legs that we weren't going to make it made life hard, but I knew people had faith in me by donating to my efforts, I've said it before I was not going to let them down! Not now, not ever.
The miles rolled by and I just put my head down and peddled. I tried not to think of anything, humming along to the music in my head phones. All I could think about was the end, recovery and what I was going to treat myself to eat at the end. The cold was taking effect now too. Sweat and cold high winds do not mix. I'm not going to lie, I was freezing!
73 miles down and spirits were low - but knowing there was only 7 miles left I was perking up a bit. I turned a right hand bend and my legs screamed at me, not again. ANOTHER CLIMB! Really! Right, lets get up this and finish this ride, I said to myself, nothing is stopping me now! 4 miles the climb lasted for, it felt horrible! Just shy of 200m in elevation it was an absolute killer! I honestly didn't think I could make it. The wind was getting stronger and my legs were getting weaker but I kept going! I was going to make it no matter what. At the top I noticed a sign that said, 'Caution'.
Not sure what I was to be cautious about my concentration levels soon peaked as the last 3 miles were a rapid descent to the end. The hill was steep and had some real sharp turns but never had I been so glad to be going down hill. No peddling for about 2 miles felt incredible and the last mile was almost flat. I started to notice landmarks from my drive to the start and knew I was close. My legs started to pump harder and the relief in my head knowing the end was close was unbelievable.
I pulled into the college and started on the last leg, a few speed bumps slowed me down on the way in but right now I didn't care. I had my head down and was peddling to the finish. I heard a cheer and a familiar voice! I looked up and saw my wife and son stood on the side right next to the finish and my mother in law taking a few pics too! My heart skipped a beat! I was a little overwhelmed too to be honest. I was so happy they were there and it made me realise why I had carried on and why I wasn't going to quit. They had faith in me and supported me all the way. I sat up and waved like a crazy person - almost forgetting that the finish was a sharp left hand turn with a bollard in the middle! I'd done it! Finished! I stopped my Garmin and looked at the time, 5 hours and 7 minutes! I was over the moon, I knew that if the wind had been as strong I would have gone sub-5! I spent a few seconds crouched over my handle bars getting my head together and trying to find my legs.
Never before had I been on a ride and thought I wouldn't get to the end! Never before had I experienced such high winds whilst riding a bike. Never before had I ridden up so many long and steep climbs! But now I had! Challenge Two was done and dusted! It was without doubt the hardest thing I've ever done on a bike! But it was all worth it. The donations had been coming in and by the end of Sunday I had broken the £500 raised barrier. I couldn't have asked for more. I was humbled and overwhelmed.
Thanks for reading and hope you've enjoyed it!
|Much needed rest!!!|