I'm not a proper roadie (although I do sometimes wear lycra). I only got a road bike to help train for mountain biking and adventure racing but I am a fan of gratuitous aerobic exercise and very soon started to hear about the mother of all sportives.
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I got an entry and to begin with the training was going well. Five weeks left; 112 miles isn't that far is it? The hills can't be that big can they?
Training continued; two weekends of weddings and two weeks of ski touring in the alps. Granted, I'll have lost some cycling fitness but I can eat cake and walk up big hills with skis on.
I drive up to the Lakes on Saturday in lashing rain and howling wind but Sunday morning comes and the wind and rain is gone. 1000 riders set off with a certain sense of trepidation. We started at 8am and have to keep reminding ourselves to slow down; it is a long way after all. The first pass is Kirkstone with a 50mph descent of the back; dry-stone walls look sharp at that speed! North we go past Ulswater and get to the A66 just as a big group of club riders catch us. Brilliant, we get into a peloton and the group accelerates us towards Keswick. I get moaned at by a shaven roadie for not taking my turn at the front. (I was to busy stuffing my face to notice - honest)
Halfway up Borrowdale I realise that we've overcooked it; we have been going way faster than my legs will allow. Let the suffering begin.
Honister has never felt so vertical but is over soon enough. We arrive at the first feed station and wolf down some bananas and set off again. Straight round the corner is Newlands Pass; riders are bunched and impatient drivers look frustrated in their cars. My stomach decides it doesn't like banana and ejects it. My legs hurt.
A bit of flat then over Winlatter. My legs don't work like they used to. Not to worry it's a long cruise down the West coast now. No Passes there.
Oh dear, two more big hills. This is not fun any more. My legs don't work; I can't hold food down to refuel. Roadies are psychos, what bit of this is fun? At least in AR you have Nav and strategy to take your mind off the pain, where is the single-track? Taxi for Mr Morgan please, I want out. Road bike for sale, I will not be doing this again.
Blackberry yoghurt flavoured Torq gels with caffeine. Gross but seem to restore some energy and psych; I am ready for Hardknott and Wrynose. How bad can they be?
Hardknott is vertical. My respect goes out to all those who rode it all, I didn't. Wrynose is a lot shorter and less steep and is the last big hill followed by a long cruise down to Coniston.
Oh the elation of finishing. Discussion turns to how it will be different next year. I'll train harder and smash this year's time. After all what a brilliant and fantastically enjoyable event. Oh the scenery and camaraderie.
I drive back to Sheffield and struggle to sleep because my legs hurt. The next day the kids at school laugh as I struggle to walk up the stairs. The Fred Whitton was definitely the physically hardest thing I have done despite having completed several multi day adventure races. I think it is the sustained nature of the event, there is no stopping to work out where you are going and what you are doing next; just head down and pedal.
It's funny how the elation at the end makes you feel that riding a bike for eight and a half hours is an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday. Next year it will all be different and I'll have trained so hard that it'll feel easy.