So this weekend I (Helen) set out to do the Action Challenge Ride24hr Newcastle to London cycle…
Having completed the event before I thought I knew what to expect. This year I was going with a group of 3 other amazing ladies: Lisa, Laura and Katherine. We had trained hard and we were both excited and nervous about the challenge.
I took Friday off work to travel up to Newcastle. I was booked on the 1pm train from Kings Cross and was pleased when I arrived at the station and the trains were running on time as last year I had a nightmare of a journey travelling up to the start.
When I arrived in Newcastle it was raining quite hard so I waited for a taxi and soon met another cyclist who was booked into the same hotel (Holiday Inn Jesmond) so we decided to share a taxi. At check in there were lots of other cyclists also arriving ahead of the event so plenty of people to talk to and a number of us arranged to go for dinner that evening in a local Italian restaurant. That evening a few of us met in the lobby and headed down to meet the others in Pani’s cafe. A number of cyclists had had problems with traffic driving to Newcastle so we arrived in stages but it was so nice to meet some of the other cyclists, have a chat about the ride and loosely prepare a strategy for surviving the 315mile challenge…
Morning arrived on Saturday, I had breakfast with Katherine, and we headed to the start to register and met Laura and Lisa there.
The first plan to fail was my clothing strategy… As it hadn’t been cold in the few days preceding the ride I had opted for a short sleeved jersey and normal bib shorts, standing at the start we realised it was substantially cooler than we had thought it would be so there was a last minute change to add a long sleeved baselayer under my jersey. Race briefing took place then we were off… Well, attempting to be anyway.
The forecast for the ride was horrendous, 40mph headwinds and heavy rain storms, but the forecast is so often wrong and so much weather reporting appears to turn into unnecessary scaremongering so I had tried to not pay too much attention to the ever changing forecast.
Then the predictions came true in epic style, no sooner had we started than the wind arrived, and it appeared intent on ensuring we did not leave Newcastle, it was strong and it meant we were battling a lot harder to try to move forward against it. Then came the rain, sharp heavy rain that soaked us instantly, made the roads slippery and brakes on the bike less effective. August in the UK, 15 degrees, 40mph wind and pouring rain… Of course, British Summertime at its most hospitable!
We plodded on… Plodding being the operative word, I often refer to myself as a turtle in sporting activities, I feel slow and steady, this weekend just slow… I was far from steady as the wind was blowing me about like a bin bag caught on a thorn, it was relentless and the first stage of the ride was not flat so hills combined with wind and rain was more than a bit tough. As the conditions were so difficult it became hard to stick as a group as everyone was having their own challenges eventually we arrived at the first rest stop all within minutes of each other but all drained from the first stage and struggling more than we would have anticipated, 45miles had taken just over 3hrs so we were a little slower than plan but resolved to stick closer together through the next stage and try to shield each other from the wind as much as possible.
We set out on stage 2 as a group with each rider doing a 10min stint on the front then changing places so it meant you only had to peddle at maximum effort for 10mins of every 40, this have everybody some respite and worked well, however as the wind picked up we were reducing the time on the front of the pack as 10minutes was proving tough, but we were all together and the terrain was easier than stage 1 even though the weather was determined to add to the challenge.
Then we had a disaster, at 75miles the wind managed to blow Lisa off her bike. I will let her tell you the story, but it was an unpleasant experience and left us all feeling quite emotionally shaken. Once Lisa was safely under the care of medics we continued, now about 1hr 40mins behind our planned schedule. We managed to continue to work as a group heading towards York and met Alex another cyclist I knew from previous events so he joined us.
By York I was mentally and physically exhausted, the last 95miles had taken everything I had. But we stopped at York, had some hot food, I cried, I had had enough, but pulled myself together and Brett swapped my wheels for Lisa’s as mine were too deep and a definite hindrance in the ridiculous wind. The next stage was flatter and shorter at 40miles so it should have been an easier ride although it was now dark and I had cycled this stage in the daylight the year before so was very aware of how far behind schedule we were. This stage was tough for me, I didn’t want to be on my bike, my legs were slowly going through the motions but my brain didn’t want to help me out, I didn’t want to ride anymore, I had lost all enthusiasm and did not want to be there. I got slower and slower and more and more grumpy and by the time I eventually arrived in Scunthorpe 135 miles into the ride I was having a real argument with myself, my mind had given up.
My boyfriend Adam and our friend Steve had driven up to Scunthorpe to support us and Adam had bought my other bike with him so I could swap onto a smaller frame with different wheels in the hope that this would give me some respite against the conditions. In the rest stop I went to see a physio as my neck and shoulders were in an awful lot of pain from the way I had been bracing myself against the wind, so she tried to massage out the knots that had formed and recommended I visit a physio at every stop along the route to keep the pain minimal. Alex wasn’t feeling well at this stage so we decided that we would recover for a few moments and do the next stage just the 2 of us therefore the Kat and Laura went on ahead and my friend Steve rode with Alex and I from Scunthorpe.
Back on my bike it was dark, and windy and hilly and by this point all enthusiasm had left me. Adam drove with us as closely as the roads would permit, offering encouragement and carrying all our saddle bags etc so we had less weight on our bikes, but even so I couldn’t find it in me to continue, I didn’t want to do it, I had no motivation to continue, this wasn’t how I had planned it to be. About 20 miles into this stage I was done, I knew we were miles behind schedule and at this speed I couldn’t face another 20hours of torture when I had already been trying my hardest for 10hrs and felt like I was getting no where. Alex had brightened up by now so I told him I would travel in the car with Adam for the rest of this stage whilst he rode with Steve and I and meet him at the next stop to continue the rest of the ride. Unfortunately this was not to be as when Alex arrived at Sleaford he was exhausted, he had an accident involving a kerb as he arrived in the rest stop and it was clear and the ride was over for him as well. My Ride24hr 2016 challenge well and truly ended here. It had been my idea for us to do this ride, I thought it would be a fun challenge to do together, I had done it before and really enjoyed it, now the girls were going through a torturous challenge and I wasn’t even going to do it with them.
So from here on in I travelled in the car with Adam, useless as a cyclist, attempting to do a better job as a supporter. We drove 5 miles at a time, stopping to cheer on the girls as they came past, then going ahead again, making sure we had everything they needed, food, water etc. changes of clothes etc and trying to be as encouraging as possible. The next stop was Peterborough with only 95miles left to cycle, riders here looked decidedly jaded with the effect the ride was having on them clear to see. Here the organisers told us that any cyclists that had not left this stop by 8.30am would not be allowed to proceed. We chose not to tell the girls this, we sat with them and encouraged them to eat and rest and once they felt ready they were on their way. The next stage was a long one so we bought croissants and stopped approximately 30miles into the stage so they could have a breakfast break. We also stopped frequently to help other cyclists, offering food, water, gels, coffee, jelly babies and anything else they might need, even pumping up a tyre for a cyclist who had a puncture.
The final stop was Buntingford and after a gruelling stage the effort all the riders had been through was showing but there were only 40miles left to cycle. The organisers told us that they would be closing the finish line in London at 4pm, but once again we chose not to mention this to Laura and Kat and just tried to help them get ready to leave as soon as they were able.
From here we drove into London, cheering on cyclists that we passed on route, trying to be upbeat and encouraging. We arrived at the finish line approximately 3.40pm. There was a steady flow of cyclists still finishing just over 29hrs later and we cheered as loudly as we could whilst Brett tried to capture some finish line photographs. 3.50pm, the girls weren’t here yet, we were getting incredibly anxious. By about 4.10pm Lisa and I were in floods of tears waiting for them to be finished, anxious for them and devastated that our own challenge had not ended the way we would have hoped, but we did not want to be crying when they arrived. We pulled ourselves together and at approximately 4.25pm they had made it!!! There was a lot of emotion on that finish line including plenty of hugs and a lot of tears. Almost 30hrs after our adventure had stated it was finally over and Laura and Kat had completed this incredible challenge.
Girls – well done! I could not be prouder of you, your determination was incredible. I am so so sorry I was not with you at your sides as I should have been whilst you went through this challenge.
I am devastated and ridiculously disappointed with myself, this morning I was in floods of tears on my way home from the horses. I am struggling to come to terms with my challenge ending in the manner it did. I set out to cycle from Newcastle to London, I failed.
They say you can achieve as long as your mind believes. On this occasion my mind did not believe. If I am looking for excuses I probably have some, too many events in the weeks preceding this challenge including the 24hr relay run, being ill after the London Tri, but I will try not to dwell on this as it wont change anything. It wont take me back and put me on the road in Lincolnshire to finish my challenge, it wont allow me to go back in time and amend my decisions, so as I sit here on the train to work crying my eyes out (luckily London commuters don’t pay any attention to others) I am gutted and I have cried out one of my contact lenses so I will be half blind for the rest of the day.
Now to try and pick myself up, learn my lessons and train for the next challenge. If anyone is travelling from Newcastle to Sleaford in the not to distant future and finds my mojo along the way can you please send it to me? I need it back.