Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Fred Whitton Challenge 2010

What a cracking day out the Fred Whitton Challenge is. I was determined to start as early as I could due to having to drive the 300ish miles home after the event so I set my alarm for 4:45am the night before, after popping round to see the Sammons and take over their kitchen for my pre-race meal. Mark said he would come and support me which was good of him, though he did have an ulterior motive which was to go for a trot round the Coniston Fell Race route while I was out. I picked him up just after 5am then we headed up there, the weather looking really promising it was quite clear with little wind.

We got there around 6:30 and the centre was already busy with people getting ready and setting off. I picked up my dibber and some goodies then set about faffing around my bike; first lesson learned of the day was not to buy stuff on the way to an event and use it for the first time in the event. I wanted a mini-pump that would fit in my saddle bag (it didn't fit) so I had to try and mount it on the bottle cage mounts, the allen key for which I had only gone and left at home! Anyway while I was faffing around trying to find a suitable tool Mark just went and borrowed a multitool from someone and we used that. One more toilet stop then I was ready, about an hour later than planned.

Don't forget to dib at the start then I was off down the lane. Hawkshead Hill is not marked as a pass on the route map but it still makes for a good warm-up, I fell in behind a few blokes who like me were taking it steady at the start chatting away amongst themselves commenting on how many fast lads where there and muttering things like: "It's a marathon, not a sprint" every time someone shot past us. Over the top a good sized group caught us so I went with them on the descent down through Ambleside to the start of the long climb up to Kirkstone. The views as we got higher were lovely, early on a sunny spring morning looking out over Windermere it couldn't get much better!

Through Troutbeck and down onto the main A-road up to the pass I was a little surprised to see marshals in the road, the first event I had done that you didn't have to give way at every junction. I noticed a headwind here too, blowing down from the pass so made an effort to catch up with a small group in front; the weather was looking a bit more gloomy further up which made me glad I had decided to put an extra layer on before heading off. I got chatting to a guy nearer the top who commented on the paramedic cars that were following us round he reckoned that they are usually kept busy each year on the descents. Kirkstone is more of a long drag than a short, sharp slap in the face that some of the later climbs are but nevertheless I was glad to reach the top and get some speed up. There were lots of people up here supporting the event which was really good to see as was the view. Not that I got much time to take it in. This descent is fast; I tried not to think about the 'what if?'s and concentrated on passing the slower cyclists while at the same time allowing room for the nutters who were flying past lying flat on their top tubes 'Le Tour' style. This as well as keeping an eye out for vehicles coming the other way and potholes in the road, we must have been touching 50mph at some of the steeper bits.

The gradient finally eased and I had a big smile on my face; it gave me a similar rush to a long, runnable descent in a fell race such as Great Whernside. It was here we caught up to a guy on a hand-cranked bike and I was impressed, his hands still frantically pedalling with the speed from the slope, he seemed to be loving it and I wished him luck as we passed.

I got some food down me then fell in behind a couple of riders for the flatter section past Ullswater, they were going a little slow for me but I would rather have waited for a faster group to catch us than try and catch one up. It wasn't long before I looked back to see quite an impressive sight, there seemed to be a group of around 30-40 riders spread out across the road as a peloton and they were gaining ground fast! There was no way I was going to be able to stick with this lot but it made for an enjoyable few miles before the climb up to Matterdale watching these guys work together as a group, steadily dropping people like me out of the back.

Climbing up to Matterdale End I was becoming mindful of trying to stick with some others for the drag down the A66 to Keswick, I needn't have worried though there were so many people out today if you lose one group another one will be along shortly! One guy was going slow here and a Saddleback support van pulled up alongside to offer him some help, I didn't know what the problem was but it was reassuring to know they were there to help out just in case.

Blencathra came into view here, left onto the A66 where there was some good supporters cheering us on then began for most people the only bad section of the route. This can be a busy road so it is just a case of sticking to the last metre or so of tarmac at the left in a long train of bikes until you reach Keswick. We passed the odd slower rider though and some faster lads came through, I noticed on the flatter sections I was struggling to keep up with those in front but it seemed more of a mechanical thing than me feeling tired; the guys in front just seemed to have less rolling resistance than me I found myself pedalling much more often than the guy whose wheel I was on. There was a group in a car here who must have been the family of one of the blokes in the group since they were stopping periodically in laybys and jumping out to take pictures and shout encouragement as we sped past, then back in the car to catch us up to do the same again!

I lost the group at the roundabout where we turned for Keswick due to a car (not every junction was marshaled unfortunately) so flew through the town trying to catch them up but this was unnecessary, again I was killing myself trying to stick with a group when I should have just slackened off a bit and waited for the next one to come along. The next group at this point though I had no chance sticking with since it was the wheelbase lot with Rob Jebb in tow; there were plenty hangers on however so it made for good progress down past Derwentwater and into Borrowdale. The road had a new surface in sections down here but there was still the odd pothole; I caught one while distracted struggling to keep up with a car behind trying to get past so I slowed down, drank the rest of my water and readied myself for the climb up Honister, I was going far too fast anyway. Rosthwaite was nice, I have fond memories of camping there (and some not so fond - have you ever camped at Stonethwaite?) and from doing the Borrowdale Race in August; the sun was out and I was feeling good with only a niggling worry of puncture from the pothole, my tyres were feeling a bit flat especially the rear.

Through Seatoller I almost stopped at the toilets there, I remember reading recommendations to do this since at the feed stop in Buttermere there is only limited facilities but in the end I didn't - a decision I regretted. Then began the climb up to Honister, this starts off really steep through the trees and I saw a couple of riders get off right there and start walking. I was in bottom gear and stayed there for most of the way up to the slate mine but I had managed to find a nice steady rhythm and was getting a bit warm now the sun was out. The traffic got worse further up but people were patient enough and I don't remember anyone getting in the way. Sweat was dripping off me as we climbed above the trees and again I was aware of the bumps through my back tyre much more than usual, there just didn't seem to be enough air in it. I was climbing at about the same rate as a Swedish bloke who breathlessly commented on how another 2 riders could just breeze past chatting away as they had just done, I could hardly reply. There was loads of support again here one woman was shouting out "Come on lads you're doing well" at which point a girl climbing just behind us shouted back: "and lasses!". It wasn't much longer until we rounded the corner and passed the slate mine then it was brakes on straight away, the road drops off steeply and quickly so you have to be really careful not to let your speed get away with you or else it becomes really hard to slow down due to the bumps and ruts in the poor road surface. Two riders had come a cropper further down; it was a bit of a blur but one bloke was sat with a foil blanket on next to a paramedic on the right-hand verge and someone else was off on the left. The road bends to the right there with a dry stone wall at the left, on top of which was a slightly mangled looking bike. From reading some other reports after the event this could have been the guy who built up too much speed, slid sideways into the wall breaking his collarbone and knocking himself out.

Once again I tried to block out the 'what if?' thoughts and focus on the road, luckily there was little traffic coming the other way and I was thankful for that my brakes were taking enough abuse. One bloke with no fear at all came flying down the outside shouting out: "ON YOU'RE RIGHT!".

It's a nice ride down towards Buttermere once the steep stuff is behind you but I had forgotten how far it was from Honister, the descent had cooled me down nicely but my gloves were now quite damp so as soon as I stopped at the Hostel I packed them away. It was very busy here, they were even running out of sandwiches. I was feeling a bit queasy which is always a sign for me of not eating and drinking enough so I got some food quick, settling for a banana, some jam sandwiches and flapjack then plenty juice. Once my water bottle was filled I debated leaving then and stopping for a pee in a bush somewhere but the climb to Newlands starts almost immediately so I went inside the Hostel to find the loo. Thankfully there was only about 4 people in the queue but what with only having 2 toilets it still took about 10 mins. While in the queue I overheard a guy on the payphone talking to some supporters: "Where are you Whinlatter?".... "Aye, I'm at Buttermere I couldn't get a signal"......."I will carry on to meet you but I'm quitting, I'm covered in bandages I dropped it down through Borrowdale". At which point everyone in the queue turned round to see the damage the guy had done to himself, poor bloke he looked in a bit of a mess.

I contemplated checking my tyres here, or getting them checked but just wanted to get off; it was busy and I had already spent far too long there. I dibbed and set off down the road then before you are even settled you turn right and head up Newlands Pass, a guy in front said he didn't remember it being so close to the food stop but I said it's one thing they mention in the route notes: not to eat too much due to the next climb being so close. This is a nice climb with some fantastic views, unfortunately I heard a "POP!Hiiisssssssssss" from just behind me where another poor bloke's front tyre went. Still, better here than about 5 miles back coming down from Honister.

Having never been up this way before I wasn't sure what to expect and the climb does kick up steeply towards the top but I was still feeling ok and even managed a smile for the photographer at the top. Another steep drop off here similar to the Honister one then it was a nice descent down through the quiet valley where the only drawback was the headwind. It seemed to take ages to reach Braithwaite where again there was lots of support before the climb up Whinlatter. I don't remember much about this climb apart from there being lots of trees and quite a few cars on the road, it certainly wasn't much trouble on my granny ring. I nearly went the wrong way at the top following the bloke in front who pulled off to the right where the mechanics were, again the support here was great.

Things after here got a lot quieter and I continued to enjoy myself, a nice steady descent through the lanes towards Loweswater where I spent long stretches on my own without seeing any other cyclists. At one point my mobile rang in my back pocket, it was Lisa asking how I was; due to having no signal for most of the route I hadn't managed to speak to her to let her know how things were going and it was a bit odd for both of us to be talking while riding the event. Heading down through Loweswater you could hear sirens echoing up the valley, I never saw the vehicle but whoever it was they were speeding up towards Honister.

This part of the route dragged for me, I was starting to feel tired and my mind was wandering; with the various slight ups and downs you couldn't stick in one gear and find a rhythm and I just wanted to get through Ennerdale Bridge and reach the feed stop. Fangs Brow was the next climb and not too long or taxing; there were a few groups of cyclists heading the other way here presumably on the coast to coast, most of them had huge panniers with them. I think the guy next to me on the climb must have hit a real bad patch since he stopped pedalling and dropped his head into his hands resting on his handlebars letting out a huge groan. My knees were starting to ache a little above the kneecaps which made me wonder whether my seat height had dropped a bit, either that or just another symptom of fatigue.

Once up Fangs Brow the view got even better, you could see out over the coast to the Isle of Man on the horizon. Western Lakes is my favourite part of Cumbria by far, it seems quieter than other parts and somehow more remote. The ride was good over from here down into Ennerdale Bridge, we must have had a slight tailwind since the speed came easy. On reaching another cattle grid at speed the guy in front hardly slowed and did a little 'bunny hop' to clear the grid which looked a great idea so I had a go; this might have worked if my tyres had had enough air in them but as it was I could virtually feel my rims hit the road so I wasn't going to try that little trick again.

We passed some nice downhill switchbacks on the way down to Ennerdale Bridge then picked up some good speed on the lanes before the village, definitely a tail wind. I was already thinking that we were almost at the food stop but then remembered the sign at Calderbridge saying 9 miles to Ennerdale and that is over Cold Fell. On the climb up there I started getting cramps in my left thigh on every 'pull' of the left pedal so that was another sign telling me to drink the rest of my water and eat something.

More often than not in the reports I have read people describe this climb as a real drag into the prevailing wind off the sea, thankfully today that wasn't the case as the wind if anything seemed to be helping. It didn't take too long to get over the top and gain some speed, it was a decent run over to the second feed; the view spoiled somewhat by the blot of Sellafield on the coast. A few tricky hairpin bends later I pulled into a busy, sunny Calderbridge at about 2pm.

First thing I wanted to do was get my tyres checked so I went over to one of the support mechanics who was stood next to two big track pumps and said something like: "Have you got a trackpump?". He gave me an odd look as I realised what I had just said so I just smiled and asked him whether he could check my tyres, sure enough they were about half what they should have been which explained the bounciness over the bumps and maybe even the decreased rolling resistance. I can't believe I rode so far without checking them.

Once again I wasn't hungry but that shouldn't stop you from shovelling the food in however I had grown sick of sugary and oaty things so was pleased to see plenty of tuna sandwiches, they tasted fantastic! Surprising how the quality of food seems to improve the further into these type of events you get it must be a biological thing, something to do with the body making sure it gets what is lacking. There were some nice fresh orange segments here as well as lots of cake and flapjack, I even tried the energy drink but it tasted foul. Off inside for another toilet stop where I could hear somebody dry heaving in one of the cubicles. More juice then I sent a quick text message while listening to the paramedics planning their logistics over Hardknott then it was time to get going. The atmosphere at that second stop was great and I felt like I could have stayed there a lot longer but I just wanted to get back.

The roads down that way are quite familiar to me now since we have spent some time round there the past few years, it's not far to Gosforth but that road can get a bit busy. My phone bleeped just on the section with the depressing view of Sellafield, it was Mark telling me that Rob Jebb had just finished. Through Gosforth then down towards Santon Bridge I was feeling refreshed and led a small group down through the lanes, pedalling hard, burning all those calories I had just eaten so that I reach empty just in time for Hardknott! Up over Irton Pike we passed a few slower people, though I'm sure they were just sensibly pacing themselves.

I fell in with a group from a club I can't remember now but they were in yellow and blue, through the lanes of Eskdale. I'm sure it was in my mind but I detected some tension, everyone seemed to have gone quiet and there were a lot more riders taking their time. We had done nearly 100 miles though by that point.

Me, foremost in my mind was my bladder I must have drank a little too much at that last feedstop so I decided to stop after that cattle grid at the bottom of the climb and nip behind the wall. The amount of people I saw who just crossed the grid and got off to walk was surprising. I clipped back in and set off to see how far I would get and it was hard work. I got up that first ramp and past the zig-zags leading up past the fort sweat already dripping from me but I was thankful for the slight ease in gradient; the route notes say to use this to get your breath back and I did. The support up here was again really encouraging even the riders walking would say something good as you passed.

The trouble with Hardknott is not just how physically tough it is with 100 miles and plenty hills already in the legs, I think mentally the fact that you can see virtually all the climb from the bottom up breaks you. I was supposed to be recovering and steeling myself for the last push to the top but all I could do was watch the riders in front reach the next set of hairpins and thinking there was no way I was going to be able to get up those the way I was feeling. It was my lower back more than anything else my hips were swaying all over the place! I passed another guy walking just before hitting the steep bit and as he said:"Well done" I said I wouldn't be that far behind him in getting off and walking, I had obviously made my mind up and on reaching the last viciously steep hairpin I could take the cramps in my back no more so just stopped, unclipped and got off.

Thinking back I could have just rested and stretched my back but it all boils down to what your goals are; I just wanted to get back, sure it would have been nice to be able to say I rode the whole route but that will have to wait for another year, at that point my main aim was to finish as soon as I could and walking was quicker than battling the gradient. So I did what felt like a walk of shame to the top, even some of the supporters lining the route would be shouting encouragement to those still pedalling while remaining distinctly quiet as I passed.

It wasn't long before I could clip back in and ride past the Mountain Rescue guys at the top and get ready for the descent. This was very steep and really dangerous, the hairpins are really tight and the road surface is rutted and broken which meant you have to be very careful while braking, which you pretty much do all the way down. My brakes were getting louder towards the bottom which I assume was due to them getting hot but they still worked well, more than can be said for my arms! I passed a bloke who seemed to be fixing a puncture, what a place to end up with a flat but he looked to be in good shape so that was a blessing at least.

The wind seemed to be blowing down from Wrynose pass which made progress across the valley slow, or I was just too knackered to be able to pedal hard enough. I got as far as the last steep kick up to the top and had to get off again, Hardknott had broken me I was so slow on the steep bits it was quicker to walk. Over the top and past some familiar running territory at the 3 Shires Stone for another scary descent into Little Langdale, this one is not quite as bad as the last descent down from Hardknot but there are still some dodgy hairpins and I was less lucky with traffic here. Again the pressure on my arms was hurting but it wasn't too long before we were heading down through the lanes past the Three Shires Inn, more familiar running terriotory; it made a change passing the pub completely knackered on a bike as opposed to on foot at the end of the Three Shires Race.

Down past the T-junction and then up onto the main Coniston road it was good to see marshalls and policemen in the road keeping an eye out for you, one of them telling me it was only just over 2 miles to the finish now. There were a few cars queued up waiting especially on the way out of Coniston, all the cyclists who had obviously finished well before me showered, changed, packed up and heading for home! This was a long 2 miles; there is a slight incline for the first stretch but the rest makes for a nice end to the route. I was feeling quite emotional too, thinking back over the months since getting the entry back in winter and the long rides I had done since then. It felt good arriving back in Coniston and heading to the finish, loads of people on the lane and the was Mark wondering where I had got to.

We couldn't quite remember exactly what time I had set off and it seemed I hadn't beaten 9 hours but when I handed my dibber in a got my printout my time was 8h48min so I was reasonably chuffed with that. A bit disappointed to have walked on the last two passes and if I hadn't faffed about at the feed stops I probably could've knocked over half an hour off that but considering I hadn't ridden 100 miles up until the last weekend of April this year I was very happy.

It was good to have a lie down on the sports field and get some food down me, Mark had been for a trot round the Coniston Fell Race route so at least he had something to keep him occupied for a few hours anyway and he even offered to drive back which was good of him. I was completely spent but over the moon, it was a prefect way to spend a day in the saddle and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys long days out riding. Thanks must go to everyone involved with putting the event on the whole day went without a hitch the organisation being flawless. I even wanted to buy a t-shirt but the only size they had left by the time I finished was XL.

Thanks to Mark for the support too :) Oh and don't forget the missus for giving me all the passes to let me train!

No comments:

Post a Comment