3.15am alarm and within minutes we were driving into London, I’d heard about this long distance sportive a few months back and thought it sounded intriguing. Cycling 444miles in 2 days capital to capital, but now at this early hour as I try and eat porridge while making sure Davina stays awake at the wheel it seems like a stupid thing to be doing on a Bank Holiday weekend, when I could have spent it on the sofa. But when do I ever spend a weekend on the sofa, it just not me.
We arrived at Tower Bridge at 4.45am, I say my goodbyes to Davina, ‘see you tonight in York’. York! That sounds a long way away. The mood is surprisingly bubbly at the start. Riders and organisers busy doing final preparations, I sure most athletes would deem 5am and such a long journey ahead as ludicrous and daunting but I have ventured into the world of audax riders and adventurers, for whom early starts and far horizons are the norm. My plan was to start with a fast group, so I wait around at the start as people begin. 10/15 minutes pass and I commit and attach myself to 3 riders. Unfortunately the early pace is slow and we go off course after a mile and have to double back. They don’t seem to mind but I’m keen to crack on. However I can’t risk going off alone until we are out of central London and the signing is clearer.
The first feed stop is at 30 miles and I decide not to stop long and head off in front of the group I’d been with. Hoping to catch up and latch onto a faster group. Unfortunately this never happens and I spent most of the day riding alone. After the rubbish roads of central London and all the traffic lights it was nice to be finally out in the countryside. Initially the course was on minor roads but towards the end of the day we seemed to use more A roads. Long straight, busy, windy roads are not my idea of pleasant riding (more for the TT riders of this world).
The halfway point of the day was the beautiful Burghley Park, I refuel for a couple of minutes and press on. Unfortunately I miss a sign in the market town of Stamford and spend 10 minutes trying to find the correct route out of town. Annoyed I try and make up time and floor it. The pace is very good for 30 miles but I then start getting cramp in my quad. Unlike other sports I’d done, in cycling you can carry on outputting the power despite the cramp. (In running I remember as soon as you cramp up your pace slows instantly).
With 140 miles done I’m starting to feel it and craving the next feed stop, it seems to take an age to appear, I decide to stop slightly longer at this one, say 10 minutes, but as I pull in I see a friendly face leaving, it’s ‘Chris the farmer’ who I met in Belgium a few weeks ago with a couple of other riders who I missed at the start. I’m desparate to join a good group and take some shelter from the wind but I had to let them go, I can’t risk not eating. It takes another 25 miles to catch them and I’m finally on someone’s wheel after so long alone. Instantly it’s easier. In a group of 4, you are only really working for 15 minutes every hour, I so wish I had started with them. Plus as they are at the front of the field they have their own out rider. So now I didn’t have to pay attention to the route as I could just follow the motorbike. (3 times today I had gone off course). We get to the last feed stop of the day at 181 miles, only 40 miles to go.
Soon after this feed when taking a turn at the front I pull clear. Suitably rested from being in a group, I decide to blast the last section to get to York. It’s a joy being behind the motorbike, so much safer. He alternates from being 50 metres in front of me to being just behind me depending on the traffic, giving me the best protection. The finish at York Racecourse is a very welcome sight after 12 hours on the bike. Happy with my day’s average speed of 19.2mph but cursing having done so much alone, I make a mental note to try and start tomorrow with Chris’s group.
It’s just after 5pm and Davina is there, clearly relishing the prospect of spending the night in a tent! Initially I feel fine but make the school boy error of not putting warm clothes on immediately, so a few minutes later I cramp up and struggle to walk. We grab out kit from the transport truck and make camp. I spend the next few hours organising kit and eating – a few bowls of pasta, a lovely broccoli superfood dish Davina picked up en route, 2 tins of baked beans, and endless tea, biscuits and chocolate. Oh the joy of one pot cooking on camp, my hot chocolate drink tastes of baked beans and no doubt my porridge in the morning will taste of both.
My calves have totally seized up, I try and stay warm in my sleeping bag but decide a shower might help. For some reason ‘head of accounts’ has only £2 left. So I commandeer it and head off to buy more food and grab a shower. To my utter dismay the portable showers are coin operated. Right decision time, do I pay for a shower or spend our last £2 on food. Easy really, despite eating non-stop for the last 2 hours I’m still craving more, so I decide to fluant the rules by showering in the sink! This is enterprising stuff, not wasting my limited funds, I splash the hot water from the sink into the shower. Clean and chuffed with my ingenious showering, I swan over to the food wagon for more chocolate. I love camping but it later transpires that Davina doesn’t, a campsite where riders are finishing the route up until midnight is a loud busy place, so it’s not really about getting some sleep, more just resting the legs.
I drift off just after midnight with the alarm set for 3am! Vowing that I must make tomorrow easier for myself......little did I know.