As you know I have been training hard on the bike for my main event of 2016, which was Newcastle to London 315 miles by bike in 24 hours and it was last weekend. There were four of us taking part, Laura, Helen, Kat and myself, and we were both nervous and excited in equal measure.
The weekend started on Friday heading to Newcastle which was a mission in itself with everyone coming from any direction being delayed by hours including us. We finally made it to Newcastle just in time to register and head to the hotel for dinner before getting in bed. Saturday morning we were due to be off at 10:30am and both Laura and I had already had little moments thinking about the extremity of this challenge though agreeing we would tackle it stage by stage in order to get through it.
We had heard there would be terrible winds and most sections predicted rain but we had signed up for this and raised over £2,500 between the four of us for MacMillan Cancer and so we would be completing this whatever it took. Little did we know what that would be but we were ready.
The first stage was lumpy with constant ups and downs mixed with rain and mixed with heavy winds making everyone work extra hard, which is not something you want to do on an endurance ride. We saw the results of a horrific accident that left a cyclist with a broken back and fractured skull and pray he recovers fully! We regrouped and off we set on the next stage.
The second and third stages I had done last year with Helen when she took on this challenge and so I knew they were relatively flat and would be quick. This was of course based on the weather of last year which was almost perfect and in fact the polar opposite of what we were facing. Any cyclist knows how demoralising it is to be working your heart out but in the wind seeing yourself getting nowhere fast. Apparently the winds were up to 40 mph and so we were making sure we worked as a four taking ten minute turns on the front to share the load.
That was until about 75 miles in when I stopped pedalling for seconds to get my bottle of water. In that short space of time a massive gust of wind moved my bike so much I ended up being taken off my bike with full force being on the back of my head. I was unconscious and woke to my fellow lovely team mates surrounding me and a small group of strangers. Out of these strangers was an off duty paramedic and fireman and before I knew it I was shivering with cold, crying (a lot) and being covered in foil blankets before an ambulance was called and police had closed the road.
My main thought was that I needed to get back on my bike – we had a timetable to ensure we made the challenge within 24 hours and our first stage was 7 minutes behind so we were hoping the flat stages would see us gaining some time back and me being on the floor would not do that. I even asked my friend Laura to pause my garmin (I’m not joking) and if my bike was ok after agreeing to have a selfie for this blog post (at the time it made sense).
My husband had been called and was on his way and next thing I knew I was in the back of an ambulance. I have a sizeable lump on the back of my head my right ankle/knee/leg too the brunt of the impact so was sore and my helmet was done for. I was then told I was not allowed to continue.
Devastated, heart broken, gutted are not the words. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing pleasurable in cycling in gale force winds but I had spent the best part of the year training for this ride. I had put in over 2,300 miles and many hours in training and so to be told at 75 miles of a 315 mile event that I was done left me in a very sorry state and I would be lying if I said I am ok with it now as I’m not I am absolutely gutted. I know it could have been worse and I was lucky not to have been hit by a car – my poor friend Helen thought I was dead as I didn’t move or respond for over a minute. Thank god for my helmet – why some people don’t wear one is beyond me!
After crying a lot we headed to the next rest stop and I changed out of my cycling gear as I would no longer be needing that but we would continue as unofficial support car for our friends and stay with the ride until the end. The girls were lovely and super supportive given they could see how upset I was as they fought on in terrible conditions.
As the rest of the ride continued I got more and more stiff and sore and I will admit there would have been no way I could have continued. Last year as unofficial support we drove from rest stop to rest stop via sat nav for the most direct route but this year we followed the actual route and one word many used which I completely agree with is brutal, just an absolutely brutal ride. It is described as flat but let me tell you it is not. I am not too proud to admit I am not sure given the conditions I would have been able to continue and complete the ride anyway as the wind was wiping people out in huge numbers with 140 people dropping out the day before and over 260 people at the last stage pulling out. Helen in our group was one on stage 4 – I think my fall had affected her more than she realised and her head had given up on her.
It was the most physically and emotionally draining thing I have ever experienced and my husband said the same. Seeing the pain of people continuing on the ride knowing they wouldn’t make it in 24 hours and seeing coaches full of people who withdrew from the event because the conditions made it too much made it heart breaking to watch. In hindsight many said it should have been cancelled but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
Laura’s partner James and our friend Steve got on their bikes to help Laura and Kat and were a god send completing 180 miles with them especially given they had not event signed up for it!
Despite the weekend completely not working out as we had originally planned there were some funny moments including Kat applying chamois cream behind our car but unintentionally maintaining eye contact with my husband and this became a running joke of who she would look at when she was next applying. I also mooned the foursome at one point as they cycled past – I couldn’t spend the whole weekend crying!
Between my husband and I and Helen and her partner Adam we became the weirdos who were driving the route and helping out with words of encouragement, inner tubes, lights, punctures and food and drink as we went. People were very grateful though I think they all just thought we were nuts. A lot had spotted me when I was out cold as I was wearing pink compression socks that stuck out of the foil blanket and so at every stop someone would ask me how I was and if I was ok, which was very nice given most were suffering a lot in completing this challenge.
I am pleased to say that both Laura and Kat continued and they did so bloody well! Absolutely earned their medal! Very few people perhaps only a handful they think completed the challenge this year within the 24 hours and Action Challenge realised this and were very flexible with the finish times. Everyone who completed I am in awe of – brutal ride in brutal conditions with broken cyclists coming over that finish line – they should all be extremely proud of what they have achieved!
Me? I am broken, fed up and still wallowing in selfish self pity and will take some time off the bike now until I am less sore and stiff and of course have a new helmet!