The last few years July has been all about the National 24 hour time trial championships. No holidays could be booked; no other events could even be contemplated. It is a great event, one I am proud to have won once (and even came third overall), and one I still warmly support, but I am not someone who is motivated by doing the same things year in year out. I like variety.
This July, it is time for something different. 2019 was to be the year of taking on new challenges. Time to leave my ‘comfort zone’ of flat time trials; time to discover new things, work on my weaknesses and overcome some fears.
One of my weaknesses is climbing. Yet one thing is for sure: I will never get any better at climbing by sticking to the flats. As if one hilly challenge isn’t enough, I have committed to three super hilly events… all in July… I may come to regret this … or I may finally learn to love hills.
The first challenge is Ride the Trafalgar Way, a 502km long sportive between Falmouth and London. The event follows the historic land route from Falmouth in Cornwall to the Admiralty in London along which a dispatch was sent in 1805 with the news of British victory over the combined fleets of the Spanish and the French during the Battle of Trafalgar. The journey then took 37 hours and involved 20+ changes of horses. For this cycling event I will only have 1 bike and ‘victory’ will be to complete it within 24 hours.
The sportive, that takes in 6,795m of climbing, has been running since 2015. Many cyclists have enjoyed the route, raising money for charity and challenging their endurance limits. Last year, Tim Wiggins set a new record, covering the challenging route in 19 hours and 40 minutes and Paul Rainbow rode the event within 24 hours on a fixie. I am not sure which achievement I am more impressed by to be honest. I am struggling riding up hill even on compact and a cassette so big you could serve a pizza on it. Doing this ride on fixed gears … pffff…. chapeau!
Sadly, this year, organiser Jim Bellinger had to pull the official event, but Melanie Wasley and I already had train tickets booked, so decided to go ahead with the ride anyway as a DIY. That means no group riding, no feed stations with nice hot food, no mechanical support, no broom wagon, no official photographer, no finisher medals or other niceties that come with the organised event, such as starting from the grounds at Pendennis Castle or access to the Admiralty upon finishing. Whilst it would have been nice to have all that amazing event infrastructure and support, both Mel and I have done a fair few long unsupported rides, so fingers crossed all will be well on this DIY adventure too. We got the essentials (bike, gpx files, credit card and a good dose of humour) and the weather forecast looks pleasant enough, so bring it on! We’ll be starting from Pendennis Castle around 8am on Friday 5 July. Hopefully we will be fast enough to avoid most of the morning traffic madness coming into London the next day but slow enough for somewhere, either in central London or on the way home, to be open to serve us a well-earned mega-sized breakfast.
Less than a week after finishing Ride the Trafalgar Way, I will be embarking on my next hilly challenge: 48h Pure Peak Grit, a never been done before extreme endurance hill challenge, which will see me cycle up every major hill in the Peak District on a single road ride…
The route is 602km long and involves a punishing 12,000m of climbing including 28 infamous hills, most with tough gradients ranging 10-25%. The prospect of 6,795m of elevation over 502km (i.e. 13.9m of elevation per km) in 24 hours is daunting enough, but 12,000m of climbing over 602km (i.e. 20m of elevation per km) is pretty damned scary; the fact that I will have an additional 24 hours to do so is little consolation.
So why ride Pure Peak Grit if I am dreading it so much, if I hate hills anyway and so soon after Ride the Trafalgar Way?
For two reasons. One is that the ride aims to promote the conservation of Britain’s first National Park and raises funds for Friends of the Peak District. As a country girl trapped in London I love any opportunity to escape the city and enjoy the countryside on my bike. As a consultant working with clients in the leisure and cultural sector, including strategies for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, I focus on the recreation and economic opportunities these places provide, but I am also aware that we cannot take these beautiful places for granted; that public funds to look after them are shrivelling away; and that the pressures on the country’s green lungs are increasing due to unsustainable ways of living and population growth in the surrounding urban areas.
The second reason why I feel strongly compelled to ride the Pure Peak Grit challenge is that it aims to promote the increasing wave of powerful women in endurance sports. There will be 11 of us and I can’t wait to meet and ride with these awesome women:
- Alaina Beacall:Trans Am Bike Racer 2018, multi-talented mastermind of Pure Peak Grit
- Ede Harrison: fastest woman in TransContinental Race 2018
- Angela Walker: TransContinental Racer 2017 and creator of All Points North
- Peta McSharry: is there any ultra race this woman has not done?! and driving force behind getting 2019 women to the 2019 Paris Brest Paris start line
- Lulu Drinkwater: using this challenge as a warm up for this year’s TransContinental Race
- Nicky Shaw: All Points North Racer 2019 and using the 1700km TransAlba Race as a ‘warm up’ for Pure Peak Grit
- Lucy Roebuck: Avid Audaxer and lover of hills (I hope the love will be infectious)
- Sian Lambert: finisher of multiple long distance cycling challenges (including London Edinburgh London) who can swim and run too
- Alice Thomson: All Points North Racer 2019, keen hill climber and one of the 158 women in the world who have successfully completed an Everesting challenge
- Debs Goddard: Duathlete, triathlete, Ironwoman and Audaxer
Give them all a follow on social media and a virtual cheer or actual cheer if our route happens to pass near your house (route details to follow closer to the event). .
With one weekend in between to regain some strength in my legs, I will then be setting off for France for the final challenge: Tour du Mont Blanc together with partner in hilly crimes Mel Wasley. It will be my very first time riding in the Alps up proper mountains (and descending …)
We could have made things a bit easier by riding the organised cyclo sportive (billed as ‘the world’s toughest one day bike race) the weekend before, but instead we are opting to ride Tour du Mont Blance as a DIY a week later, still aiming to finish the 338km ride through France, Switzerland and Italy with some 8,000m of elevation, within a day.
To make matters somewhat more complicated, we discovered a small overlap, between Bourg-St-Maurice and Beaufort, with the Tour de France stage 20 route which runs from Albertville to Val Thorens and also takes in the Cormet de Roselend…
The Tour goes in the opposite direction to us. The stage will start at 13:45 and they should have passed Bourg-St-Maurice by 15:30, according to the time schedule. If Mel and I start our ride at 5am from Les Houches (where we rented an AirBnB), it will likely be some time between 3pm and 5pm before we have covered the 220-odd ultra lumpy kilometers to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, so hopefully the roads will be re-opened by then, at least to cyclists … If not, we will just have to go with the flow and enjoy the Tour circus for a bit. I can think of worse things!
I may bore you with individual blogs about each of these hilly challenges. I may just do one blog at the end of July. Right now I have no idea whether the title will be “how I learned to love hills” or something more along the lines of “tears and tantrums”. Either way, I hope to give you some insight into how it all went and what I learned. It might also inspire you to challenge yourself and try new things.