As I sat on the grass verge at the side of the A46 at the edge of Newark on Trent I thought of the last 12 hours and how it had ended in defeat for me. For those that know me I don’t take defeat well especially when I have so much passion for what I am doing. That said, sometimes the simplest decisions are the hardest.
At 6.09am on 11th July I set out on my challenge to ride from here in Ilkeston to Skegness and back in 1 day with only myself for company. I left Ilkeston very quietly and began what was to be one if the hardest days of my life. As I started out it felt good, and I mean really good as the pedals spun easily and the pace was quick. Over the last few months I had been training hard to get to where I was by going out most mornings and getting in around 20 miles, then at weekends I did 40 miles. However, the most I had done was last week when I undertook a 90 mile tour of Derbyshire. This was a reality check for me as it really took it out of me and made me aware of how much food and drink I would need to get this done.
After less than an hour I had passed by Nottingham and was well underway averaging around 17mph along the way. This, in itself, was a great pace and well over the expected 15mph I had planned on. Before I knew it I was passing by Bingham and well on my way to Newark. Despite the solitude of this challenge I was still feeling good as I new folks were following the updates via twitter but while the pedals kept spinning so easy the moral was high. After just 2 hours on the road I had passed Newark which meant I was well over 35 miles into my challenge with a total of 179 miles. This meant that I was well over a third of my way towards Skegness. After Newark it got a little more complicated as it meant negotiating some of the back roads and I wasn’t familiar with which meant more frequent stops to check the map.
Throughout the journey I had been eating regular and stocking up on energy bars, gel packs both of which taste quite nasty and for the life of me I could not comprehend anyone eating these under any other circumstances. At the 50 mile mark I decided to take a well earned rest of around 15 minutes while I ate some more and restocked the water bottles with the extra water I had in the rucksack. One of the things you don’t realise is that you really have to make sure you eat and drink LOTS when running any kind of distance on a bike. On average you will consume over 800 calories per hour and need to replace fluid at around 750ml per hour, this is not an easy thing to do.
As I carried on, I was still steaming ahead regularly thundering along at over 20mph which was awesome. At the time I put this down to the fact that the land was flat and I had spent the last few days stocking up on food by eating plenty, as well as continuing to stay fueled up on route. By 10.45am I saw a sign that read 17 mile to Skegness and I was truly amazed by the great time I had made, this meant that in 4hrs and 45 mins I had covered 71 miles which was far better than I had ever dreamed. I finally arrived at a rather busy and very hot Skegness at 12.02pm which meant that I had made it in just under 6 hrs, in actual riding time I had done it in 5hrs 6 minutes at an average of around 17.3mph.
There was no 2 ways about it I knew I had travelled 88 miles but I still felt good. However, in all my preparation with regard to food, drink, bike setup, money etc I had forgotten sunscreen.
While I admit, not the best looking legs around, they are bloody burnt to a crisp and today the sun burn hurts far more than the aching from all that cycling. Enough about that on with the story.
After less than 45 minutes of rest and stuffing my face with lots of sandwiches that i brought with me along with more energy bars and drinks it was time to go again. As soon as I started the journey back I realised what had happened on the way there. Without knowing it, I had been pushed along by a tail wind, when I say a tail wind I mean a 12+mph tail wind which had made it so much easier getting there. However, coming back this friendly tail wind became a vicious head wind which was hell bent on sapping every ounce of energy from my body. That combined with the less than aero dynamic rucksack, severe back ache and a very sore butt it was going to make it hard going.
After a total of 120 miles I stopped again to buy more water as I knew I would not be seeing anything for the next 20+miles and I needed to make sure that I had enough fluid. At this point the average speed had dropped from 17.3mph down to a mere 15.7mph, for the most part I was only able to get up to 10-11mph which compared to the journey up was not so good. From this point on things started to get much more difficult as I found it hard to focus and concentrate on what I was doing. Throughout the journey out I had carefully tracked my fluid intake to make sure I was drinking regularly every 10-15 minutes. Now I was unable to remember when I last drank any fluid and it became more guess work than anything else which was not good as the temperature was around 26c out, though with the wind it didn’t feel that hot.
It was shortly after this that I took a wrong turning which was to cost me over 5 miles of extra travelling and had it not been for my iPhone and Google Maps I would have continued on the wrong route. Before too much longer I was crossing the A15 and back toward Leadenham but I was really hurting now. I was having to stop every 45 minutes to give my bum and back a break as it was really starting to hurt now and I was having to stand on the bike and stretch every 5-10 minutes. I continued on through Leadenham and on toward the A17 heading back into Newark but turning the pedals now felt like running through treacle only it hurt more. Once on the A17 again I had to stop just 20 minutes after my last stop. The pain in my back was immense and mentally I was broken but I continued on despite the heavy traffic on the A17 on account of the Americana that was taking place. After a gruelling 7 miles more I came in towards Newark and I could take no more, I was broken and could not take any more. I sat at the side of the road trying to find some way to continue on the final 35 miles back to Ilkeston but it was 6pm, I was hurting, I was mentally beaten. No matter how I tried to break it down to smaller milestones they just looked to far to travel.
I then called Julie to tell her that I could not continue on followed by a call to my Dad to ask for a ride home. So there I was sat at the side of the A46 waiting to be collected feeling thoroughly defeated and while completing 145 miles solo on a bike was no small feat it was not what I set out to do, and I cried. We’ve all seen programmes where people cross the finish line a cry through all the pent up emotion and personally I used to think ‘what a load of b******s’ thinking that people just don’t do that, but that was exactly how I felt. The whole thing was just so enormous.
What did we learn?
So what did I learn from all of this? First and foremost never underestimate the challenge that you have ahead of you. Preparation is absolutely everything in these situations, a lesson which can carry you through into your professional life and one that I have learned the hard way. In retrospect I should have done more training of longer routes to ensure that I would be better prepared for the distance. Secondly, never underestimate the motivation that you get from working with others. This can be especially helpful when you are finding it the most difficult to push on.
I am still gutted that I did not complete the challenge especially as I was doing this for a very worthy charity. Some of the people I have spoken to have said that they will still donate the money as what was achieved was no small effort and for that I truly am thankful.
Would I do this again? Yes I definitely will, in fact I have already decided I want to go next spring. If anyone is interested in joining me next year then please let me know.
What would I do differently? I would get 1 or more people to come along on the challenge to help keep things motivated. Also, arrange for a “support vehicle” to accompany us on the trip to carry food and water for us. Carrying an extra 3-4kg on my back really did not help things.
Has this dose of reality changed my plans of doing end-to-end? I still want to go from John o Groats to Lands End in 5 days. What this challenge has taught me is that I will need to prepare much more for this challenge but it will be possible. I will also be looking for other people who are crazy enough to try this.
On a last note I would like to say a HUGE thank you for all of the support from everyone both in person and via Twitter. A thank you as always for my Dad coming out to collect me despite him having to miss the World Cup Final. Finally a last, but largest thank you of all for Me-Julie for all of her support before, during and after the challenge. I didn’t take defeat too well, Julie has been a massive support for me and has helped me no end. So thank you to everyone.