Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A year on....

Finally I get to ride the Fred Whitton challenge proper..!!

It might seem slightly strange, but I have been nervous about this all week.  And that is a bit of a new experience too, as I'm usually only a "night-before-nerves" person!

Lorna, my lovely wife, had volunteered to help out at registration on Saturday and Sunday, so we headed down to Coniston early so that she could do that.
It was a slightly odd experience showing my registration card to my wife and digging out my photo ID so she could check that I was who I said I was, and then explaining to her that the mobile number (hers) on the card was the one that had a reachable emergency contact who would in fact be in Coniston on Sunday, and no there wasn't a landline number that I could put as well.  Our girls don't answer the 'phone at home ;o)

Paul the organiser of the event was clearly very busy early in the proceedings, and although I wanted to have a chat with him, it made sense to wait until things quietened down for him.  His wife Sally (lovely, lovely lady incidentally) was at the box with *my* number in it so we got to have a brief chat while someone dug out the Fred Whitton Jersey that I would only feel justified in wearing once I'd ridden the *actual* event on Sunday.

I'd arranged to meet a few people too, Emma and Ali I bumped into right away.  They were picking up some tub-bags from the Saddleback guys.  Nice bit of kit - will have to find out where to get one!
Ali has trained like a demon for this and has done a magnificent job raising money for Macmillan, and has a very personal reason for doing so.  It's really worth a few quid if you can spare it!  
Ali's JustGiving page

Paul and Craig - who were eyeing up a crazy fast time - arrived soon after with Jen who was being a rolling support for quite a few riders, and who had very kindly offered to have a couple of replacement bottles for me at Whinlatter.

I also met up with plenty of Club members, both those riding and those who were marshaling and helping out.  I seemed to know quite a lot of people :o)  but one of the priorities was was meet up with our friend Cath who was staying with us.  Considering the number of people milling about, finding her was quite easy really, although she'd missed Lorna in ID checking area.
We headed in to Coniston for a bite to eat and a coffee and actually ended up in the little cafe that I'd 'refueled' in after riding the Fred route with the editor of Outdoor Fitness mag - but that's another story for another day :)
The coffee and cumberland sausage sandwich were still very good!!

Once Lorna was done with Registrating we headed home in convoy.  It was a lovely clear day, and Cath mentioned that it was a rarity for her to have been able to see SO many of the Lake District Fells, because they were normally a bit shy and hiding their heads in the clouds :)

Anyway - a very pleasant evening of more food, and chat, and making sure the important things were already in the car (remember the No Bike Shoes debacle on Day 1 of the 10 Freds?)  and not getting to bed early enough followed.

I hadn't realised just how light is at 4:15 am at the moment - but I found out on Sunday what with a bucketful of porridge to make and coffee for Lorna who was leaving a little before 5,  and bikes to put on the car and an inordinate amount of faffage to accomplish so that we could get away by 5:30....
which we did.

Unfortunately I'd underestimated the queuing for the Car Park at the Sports Centre so we arrived a little late for the planned 7am start for Cath - Sorry about that :o(  And she got away at around 7:30.
In the meantime I met up with a few of the Club boys and went to find our little group of "sub 7:30'ers" and off we went.

There is a tendency for folk set off way too hard on this route and Hawkshead Hill, which isn't a steep climb especially, starts before the legs are warmed up. We climbed it at a 'reasonable' effort, the kind that gets the heart rate up and the rest of you warm, but without blowing the rest of the route before you've really started. And the reward is a very pleasant descent towards Clappersgate.  Not too many folk descending tentatively here, so it was smooth and quick.  Nice!

I saw Cath in the wooded bit just before the drop into Clappersgate and said something like "have a good one..." :o)
As I approached Brathay I recalled that I'd seen somewhere that Toks - a runner I know who's doing the 10-in-10 and this was Day 3 - was starting early and as I hammered down the hill towards the start line I saw her.
So I yelled and waved and made like a complete maniac, wishing her luck - and I suspect she was thinking "Who on earth is that...??" ;)

Anyway our little group was working well together and we'd made good time to Ambleside.  The sharp little climb up Holbeck Lane woke the legs back up, but on reaching the flatter section there was time to look right and the view down Windermere was breathtaking.  We climbed together up Kirkstone although the group that had been 4 was now 3, and as we reached the top we passed a large group of riders giving us an almost clear run down the Pass into Patterdale.
When it's clear this descent is one of the most satisfying in the area.  As long as you know where the metal covers and dodgy surfaces are, it's an absolute peach of a descent.
Equally if you *can't * use all of the road and there are cars or other cyclists doing unpredictable things it can be one of the most dangerous!
Today I was lucky - I had the road to myself so could really enjoy the speed and flow of the road.
There was a decent tailwind along the valley floor too - so we quickly regrouped and were making excellent time through Glenridding and towards the Matterdale climb.  Fantastic :)

There was a little voice in my head saying - yes, it's all very well, but you KNOW that the A66 is going to be IN to this wind, don't you!!!  

The climb towards Dockray was uneventful.  Legs nicely warmed up by now, and Jen and Steph were, as promised, in the Quarry Car Park and we got a cheery wave.  I contemplated doing a single bottle swap here, but thought better of it - no point in carrying and extra 750g up the "3 Passes", eh!  ;o)

As we were being blown towards the Troutbeck Inn it was clear that the wind had already strengthened from this morning, and would indeed be quite sporting for the next 8 or 9 miles.
Again our little group worked well, taking turns on the front and making reasonable progress, actually.
About half way along a group of 3 (who may well have been using us for a tow) went past and Simon, who was on the front at the time time hooked up on the back wheel.  That group of 3 then shared the work until we got to Keswick.
That worked out rather well :)

The run down Borrowdale was a little more sheltered than I'd expected.  The road surface was predictably not silky smooth - it never is, but again there wasn't too much traffic, so keeping to the smoother bits which are generally in the middle was reasonably easy to do.
My table-tennis-ball sized bladder at this point was starting to grumble, and with the 3 Passes to come, a 'comfort' break was taken about 3/4 of the way to Seatoller

Ahhhhhhh!  That's better. :)

The Honister climb was carnage.  Never seen so many people on there at the same time.  so it was a case of sit down, keep a line and lots of yelling to try and make sure no-one swiped across the road into us.  That said, it was a reasonably smooth ascent and most of the folk pushing their bikes were keeping to the sides and those who were riding were mostly doing so without taking up all of the road like a sine curve :)
And there was, mercifully no combustion-engined traffic to deal with.  Another stroke of luck!

I did think at that point that for some it was going to be a long old day!

There wasn't too much wind on the last bit of the climb and again I had a relatively clear start to the descent of Honister.  I was held up a little on the double bends which drop away to the-bridge-that-lots-hit because there were some emergency vehicles dealing with someone just after said bends.  Hopefully it wasn't a bad one!

The section along Buttermere was strange in that the wind kept swirling around and wasn't consistent.  At this point a few of the faster guys from the Club started coming past me.  It is still a mystery to be how people can recognise me when they approach from behind..... 
It was a bit busy at the Youth Hostel where many were stopping for food. I didn't. I had enough with me for all that malarkey :o)

Anyway - Newlands.  


Nice little helpful wind that funneled and got stronger towards the top, and as promised, Dr Dave was at the summit with his camera - excellent.

He caught me having a sneaky 'standing up' moment ;o)

Had one slight moment on the flat bit at the top where another cyclist almost did a "Ferrari move"  on me and pushed me in to the side of a stationary car.  But I was still able to accelerate over the top and down the descent, the top part of which was clear again.
The Newlands descent is also fantastic - even more so with a following wind like now.  The greatest risk comes from feral sheep - but they'd either already had their fun, or were bored.
Climbing Whinlatter I started to see some of the earlier starters from the Club, and then was passed by the really fast boys who looked like they weren't even trying.  Actually they weren't because Grant spoke to me in sentences ;o)

At the top, Jen and Steph and their distinctive Flanders Flag were, again as promised, set up with a support station where I was able to exchange my empty bottles for full ones and had a piece of flapjack handed to me, was introduced to another cyclist who was also being looked after, and was sent on my way.
Because of the new parking restrictions that have been made on Whinlatter, the Timing point this year was positioned a little way down the descent.

The story of the next bit is wind!  And plenty of it.  And a stroke of luck!
I needed another quick 'comfort' break after Loweswater before Fangs - apologies to the octogenarian ramblers that I didn't entirely hide myself from - and Paul and Craig who were aiming for an aforementioned quicker-than-me time caught me on Fangs Brow, and they were in a group of about 10 or 15 other riders.
One of the benefits of knowing the course well is knowing where you can afford to be a little bit more brutal with yourself, and where it's not a good idea. And this group weren't riding *much* faster than me, and it didn't take a genius to work out that being in a group like that over Cold Fell would be extremely helpful.
So I stuck my head down to make sure I stayed with them through Lamplugh and because I descended faster than most, did a turn on the front from Croasdale to Ennerdale.

Even *with* the benefit of a large group - about 15 riders at this point - the ride over Cold Fell was a brute.  But much less of a brute than it would have been on your own! I was very glad to get to the descent and back in to the relative shelter of the hedges.
There is a sharp double bend just before Calder Bridge and (when it's clear) you really need to get the line/speed thing right!
Right out to the right for the L-hander, sweep around but all the way back to the left for the Right hander which tightens, aim for the apex if it's safe to OR scrub off a lot of speed otherwise.....

As the bloke in front of me found out by not being far enough left......

You'll run out of road.

He did. but in such a graceful and controlled way that when he fell into the hedge he was pretty much stationary!!

Timing point and Feed station at Calder Bridge - more carnage!
I reckon there must have been 2-300 people there.  It was heaving.  One of the people manning that station was Barty from the Club who gave me a cheery wave and encouragement - amazed that he spotted me to be honest as he was looking run off his feet, and was by the sounds of the conversation he had with Lorna at the end of the day! - and a "Git on yer way, lad"... which I did.
I did my best to stay with Paul and Craig along the road to Gosforth with limited success, although did get to ride a short section of that bit with another Club rider who'd been having some make-me-squeal-like-a-girl cramping.  He was still riding on though!!  Hardcore :)

I was feeling reasonably strong along Eskdale - tired, but not strafed if you know what I mean, and the wind was finally being helpful again.
The climb of Hardknott - unless you are made of the alien protoplasm that Rob Jebb and the other fast buggers are - is a very individual and solitary experience.  It's a tough climb.
Psychologically a breeze on your back is incredibly helpful, but probably not as actually helpful as you think it is.  Which also goes to show that so much of the steep climbing is in your head!
Perversely, I love this climb.  It demands respect which if you give it, it'll be good to you and 'let' you climb it!  But if it thinks you are taking the piss, OR you are scared of it, it'll spit you off and laugh at you!

Yes, yes - I know it's just a bit of tarmac - but that climb will still be there when we are ALL gone!!

Someone asked me if today would be a 'sitting' day on the steep climbs, and I'd said I didn't think so. As it turned out, it WAS!  And I took it as a compliment as one of the guys who was taking pictures on the steep hairpins near the top said,  "Great controlled ride, mate"
Made me smile that :)
About 10 seconds later this picture was taken :o)
It's still about a 20% gradient here

The descent was again pretty clear although one of the corners had a lot of Oops-too-fast back tyre rubber on it, a nice line of which the bloke in front of me left!! There was a lovely smooth free-wheel to Cockley Beck, and the wind was funneling up to Wrynose too.  I really enjoyed the climb over Wrynose.  On the other hand I did slightly underestimate the strength of the tail wind in descent.  It did mean it was the fastest I've been down there, AND I caught up with Craig (Kitch) from our club, but it was a little more rapid than I was expecting.  Fun though :o)

A word here for the people who were supporting on "Hardnose".
Even wrapped up in down duvet jackets and many layers - it must have been really rough out there for them.  And yet there they were, full of enthusiasm and encouragement both for the folk they were specifically there for, and for hundreds of random strangers inexplicably riding pushbikes in that inhospitable place.  

To the two small children who were there with their heads poking out of the sunroof holding signs for their Daddy and who cheered me on too - YOU were awesome :o)

The section through to Little Langdale was fabulous again. A 'little bit of sugar' before climbing back out - putting the head down and burying yourself for the last few miles back in to Coniston - into the wind.  Craig and I worked together for the first bit, and the last two miles were just a case of emptying the tank.

Did that. Timed out and there were Jen and Steph still smiling at the finish - They did an amazing job!  Craig who'd nailed the last section and come in under 7 hours - "hat" to you sir, and Paul who just missed a sub 7 by seconds, and Emma who was 4th lady in a 7:31  In the conditions all fantastic perfomances.


I headed toward the de-chipping area and there was my lovely wife - also wearing her 'feathers' - quite right too - it was cold and windy! - who asked me how it was

"Really really hard," I said, and paused...... "REALLY hard!"

I wasn't actually sure of my time as I'd failed to start my Garmin at the start, and wasn't sure how long it had taken me to realise although it wasn't *that* long, just after we got on to the road after the start......  so when they downloaded my chip and printed out my time I was genuinely surprised and delighted at what it said


OK I know it can't be compared, but that's 1:31 faster than my previous best 'official' timed circulation of the route and nearly 20 minutes faster than I thought I'd be capable of.  Apparently the beam rivaled that of the Cheshire Cat!
Pleased with that!

After a very welcome Pasty (Food of Champions) and beans and peas a couple of cups of tea and some sweet things, I got changed chatted to a few people and we waited for the others to finish.

Cath's story is for her to tell - but she was buzzing having finished.

Ali did brilliantly, and her story which I'm sure she'll tell in detail, is a testament to the benefits of structured training and meticulous preparation. She rode EVERY climb, and has earned every penny of the sponsorship that she's raised. 

It's a fantastic event.  The work that Paul Loftus and the Lakes Road Club, supported by so many other clubs and individuals and sponsored by Saddleback, put in to make this event run so well is incredible.  Especially as its raison d'etre is to raise money for 3 very worthy charities.
Judging by the fatigue that I saw in Lorna and the other folk I know who were involved in providing the infrastructure for the event, I'd say they'd worked harder than most of us who rode it did!!

I'm glad to have been a part of the specifically raising money for charity part last year on my own, but riding the actual event this year really iced that particular cake for me.

The Fred Whitton Challenge
Just the one
Because I can!