All it takes is an off-hand comment, a little joke, someone probing me and my mind is off. Crazy adventures spring out of the most ridiculous situations, ideas that just grow and grow in my mind, ideas that become plans, plans that quickly come round to reality.
It must be about 6 weeks ago that I came up with this one, I needed miles in my legs for the fast approaching Dragon Ride, and a kick start to the freedom of post uni life.
My ankle was bad, but that’s a minor detail.
I had decided that the first week post hand in I was going to do some miles. Some serious miles in the chair. I’d created the starve routes, told my sister, told Lightfoot, told my mum, I even told Sian and Polly at the filming. The idea was slowly being mulled over and over in my mind.
750km, in 3 days. Bath to Cheshire. Cheshire to Bangor. Bangor to Bath.
But I’m only 12 weeks back into training, and my ankle is still very sore… but I was determined to give it a crack. I’d cycled home in the past but remember barely being able to move the next day. 250km home I knew I could probably make with a solid day, a flat 160km over to Bangor as a rest, and then the big one. Bangor to Bath, 340km passing right through the centre of Snowdonia. The length of Wales.
It really didn’t take long for the 6 weeks to come round and me to find myself checking over the cannondale, making sure I had enough rations to survive the journey. Saddle bag on, pockets packed with Belvitas, a couple of gels and bananas, and I was off.
The 8am start didn’t feel too bad, and I started off in my home territory, the Bath/Bristol bike path. Legs quickly into a chunky rhythm and I was purring along the bike path, set for a solid days riding.
The first few hours were pretty boring. Nothing different to a regular training ride, quite reserved not putting all my cards on the table, I was quickly through Gloucester and up into the unknown. I was following a route on my Garmin Edge 520 so the roads I was using were fairly quiet and reasonably surfaced. The next point of call was Worcester, Tewkesbury, 120km in and I knew I was half way, still making very good pace. I stopped at around 130km to refill the water bottles, have a quick pack of kettle chips and some magic juice.
Ohhhh the magic juice.
Those of you that know me well will know I’m caffeine sensitive. The slightest drop of caffeine and I’m a very hyper boy. So what better to knock back than a 500ml bottle of cherry Pepsi Max. It did’t take long for it to hit me and I was off again on my way to the North.
160km back and I knew I was into the unknown. I hadn’t ridden this far in a day since Ironman Wales back in September 2015, my ankle was still very sore but my power balance was at 50:50 so I knew it wasn’t misbehaving too much. So head down I cracked on. It was at this point that I realised I hadn’t left my big ring all day, my cadence very low as usual, I knew this would be draining my legs of power. Although I hadn’t encountered any real hills, just the odd lump.
At 180km the legs started to struggle and I hit a slight dark patch. Still riding somewhat reserved to my usual self due to my ankle and the looming days ahead, I kept ploughing northward, cutting through the beautiful English countryside, I think I even had a conversation with myself.
It’s at this point I realise that the story so far is quite boring. Boy sits on bike. Boy spins legs, eats a few biscuits. Few hours pass. Boy arrives at destination.
Sounds about right for the first day really. Nothing exciting happened and within 40km of home I was back in my own territory and knew exactly where I was. Mum quickly whipped a steak on, tub of Ben and Jerry’s at the ready and it wasn’t long before the three of us were watching pointless, while I stretched with the cats, oh I can’t wait for the next year…..
So I finished the first day very uneventfully, with no mechanical errors, no real bonks (running out of nutrients) at 30.6kph and an average of 220 watts. A very successful day.
But we hadn’t even scratched the surface.
The next day was tough.
160km on heavy legs, again into the wind like the day before, in the overwhelming sun. My ankle again started very sore but I had little choice but to get my head down and crack on.
The first 60km I knew very well, the back lanes of cheshire and over to Chester, soon to become my hunting ground, not many people love them more than me.
Pan flat, well surfaced roads, perfect for the fresh legged rider. But not today.
Time went slow for the first 60km, I was enjoying myself, but I was having to work. My heart rate was unusually low due to the fatigue and the sun wasn’t helping the situation. I was trying to keep my water consumption low so I didn’t have to make too many stops, an error I won’t be doing again.
I was soon on the Chester millennium Greenway. A beautiful sus-trans cycle path that took me across the border and the river, and onto the north coast of wales. Very flat and a joy to ride, I would thoroughly recommend this route to anyone looking for a gentle day out on the bike.
The north coast of Wales. Well theres a strange place.
A mixture of beautiful coastal views, perfectly surfaced cycle paths, strange holiday resorts and plenty of retired biddies. Still only making my way through one bottle of water, the heat started to get to me. I stopped to put my arm warmers on. Arm warmers? if you were too hot?
They were actually a life saver.
Taking the sun off my skin, stopping it draining my energy and cooling my arms and I was quickly back to it. I didn’t really enjoy much of the route through north east Wales, it was windy, my ankle was sore, my legs were struggling and there wasn’t much of a view.
But the second I passed the station at Abergele and Pensarn my breath was taken away!
The cycle path to the west of there is something I recommend anyone that possibly can to run, walk, crawl or cycle on a sunny day. Views that I can honestly compare to the sea front in the south of France.
All the way across to Conwy castle I was mesmerised.
I stopped at a little cafe on the coast to fill my bottles up, had a chat to some local riders and quickly got on my way. I managed to keep the days stoppage time to around 30 minutes similar to the day before, including traffic lights and junctions.
30km from Conwy and I had quickly slotted into Bangor. Up their ‘little’ hill and I was greeted by a hungover but smiley little sister. Packed with goodies for me, we enjoyed them in the sun, before I cooked her dinner, watched a film and she headed out for another lash with the gals.
Oh to be a fresher again. Another successful day with the average over 30kph, somewhat lower on the watt front but I had to be reserved for the final day.
And then the real party started.
That’s a really long way.
I didn’t actually know if it was possible, if I’d manage it. Sure I know people that have done it, some people do it quite regularly. 440 people on strava have done it this month. Out of nearly 200,000 people signed up to the gran fondo challenge it didn’t fill me with hope.
I knew people that had done it with friends, on wheels, in groups. People that had support vehicles and flat roads. On fresh legs at the start of the week. But unsupported, solo, on very heavy legs, starting through the highest peaks in Wales. I actually didn’t know if I was going to do it.
But that wasn’t going to stop me trying.
‘Who we are is why we win’
“Snowdonia is a region in northwest Wales concentrated around the mountains and glaciers of massive Snowdonia National Park.”
It’s big. It really big. I started at 7am after cooking a great bowl of porridge for breakfast. Laura grumbled a hungover goodbye from under her sleeping bag on the floor and I was off. 7:30, later than I’d planned to leave, but I had lights so wasn’t scared of getting caught in the dark.
It was bitter morning. The shorts and jersey I’d be riding in the sun for the past couple of days, (washed by Laura and Mum, legends), was wearing thin. The higher I climbed the mountain pass the thinner they came. I found some solace in the beauty of the landscape, a very different but equally impressive spectacle to the day before.
It was already almost too much. By 60km I’d been riding almost 3 hours, that’s very very slow. I couldn’t feel my face, hands or feet. I was in a bad way.
I kept ploughing on, 3 bananas and half a bottle of water down and I was struggling. It was really, really, really cold.
As the A5 dropped beyond Snowdonia and into the valley beyond I found a bit of warmth. Spinning my legs with all I had to avoid the juggernauts speeding past me my body began to thaw, and I started to find a rhythm.
Now and again I would check my distance and average speed, it was slowly creeping upwards. Onto the A49 after Shrewsbury and I text mum, I knew she’d be worrying. My legs were beginning to warm up a bit, maybe they would spring to life soon. Ambitious.
The next 100km was a bit of a dead zone. 340km is a long way. But in my head it was 60, 60, 40, 30, 30, 50, 70. Make sense?
Snowdonia, Shrewsbury, 100 miles, furthest ever week, Hereford, Gloucester, Bath. That’s how I broke it down.
Never once did I think ‘I’ve cycled (x) distance already today, I should be really tired’.. instead the mindset was ‘only this far to go, you can do that easy’. until the next checkpoint, and the next, and the next.
The dead zone to Hereford took quite a bit of time. 120km down, 120km to go afterwards, 100km mid section. I span through 100 miles and my legs were feeling ok, they’d warmed up, my ankle pain had taken a back seat and I was just cracking on. At 190km I had a little chuckle to myself. I’d now cycled further than I ever had in a week, in my life, and it was 2/3pm on a Wednesday afternoon. Legend.
And it wasn’t long before I was in Hereford. But I wasn’t in a good way.
I was tired, hungry, weary. There’s only so long bananas and belvitas can sustain you, and I was uncontrollably shivering. The route of A5/A49 had been successful, only a few points of dual carriageway and scariness. But I’m a big boy.
I bought a set of size 10 womens lycra leggings so I could stop crying about my legs. And knocked back 2 Cookies, 3 sandwiches, 2 cream brownies, 2 bottles of water, a pack of salt and vinegar crisps and a bottle of magic juice.
And my word. My legs came to life.
They sprung into action like they were fresh off the shelf. I made incredible time to Gloucester and steamed right through. Before I knew it I was trundling off the A38 and choo chooing towards the bike path. And then I was in my element. I don’t know where all this energy had come from.
I raced myself faster and faster and faster down the bike path. I was actually laughing. I just wanted more. And more. And more. My legs could have just kept going, I really don’t know what had come over me! And before I knew it I was back. In Bath. In a day.
I’d cycled from the north west coast of Wales, through the whole country, and I was back in the kitchen. I could only laugh, I didn’t think I’d manage it! An average speed of 29.6kph, and I can honestly say I could have kept going. If the saddle sore and dodgy ankle had let me. But I was going to hurt in the morning.
Quite a boring story really. Boy rides bike. Stops, sleeps, eats, rides more.
But somewhere in there there’s something useful to be taken from it.
It’s easy for people to tell you you can’t do something. To tell you it’s not possible. Make excuses for you, hide behind the excuses. They make themselves feel better about not doing it by telling themselves nobody can do it.
Regular boy cycles 750km in 3 days, with torn ligament, after 11 weeks of training.
These kind of people don’t want to hear that, because they want to believe they can’t do it themselves, that they’re not just being lazy. But there’s no audience for hard work. Nobody was there watching me cycle, supporting through the rough points. But everybody was jumping to ask about it, congratulate me, ask how I did it, any tips I can give.
So don’t forget:
A) back yourself. If you set your mind on something, chances are you’re gonna be able to do it, no matter what other people say, or think, or do.
B) Don’t give up. It would have been easy for me to take a day off, stop in Gloucester, get the train. But by keeping going I’ve discovered what I really could be capable of. And I actually had fun in the process.
C) Don’t listen to the internet, they’re stupid. Find examples of why you can, not why you can’t.
“Big thinking precedes great achievement.”
— Wilferd A. Peterson