As should be obvious by now to anyone who knows me, or has read any of these pages, I have a bit of history with the Fred Whitton Challenge. Widely regarded as one of the toughest one day cycling challenges around, last year saw me nearly being carted off, hypothermic, in an ambulance. Thanks mainly to Sol, but also to many cups of tea and some good Northern common sense, that didn’t happen, and instead I went on to finish in a little under 10 hours.
Just think about that. 10 hours. My average heart rate was somewhere in the high 150s. I’ve seen it written that this ride, in terms of time and calorific expenditure is the equivalent of two marathons back to back. As I’ve never run a marathon I have no idea whether this is true. If it is, my heart absolutely goes out to the thousands who completed the London marathon today, as I know just how much it hurt me to get even half way round. The second half was just a case of blind stubbornness on my part, a lot of support, and several Really Good cups of tea.
Anyway. I said at the end of last years event that I’d never do it again. Actually I said it about half way around, but even I didn’t really believe that at the time. So of course I entered again this year. After all, it would take an immense stroke of bad luck to have my entry accepted for this massively oversubscribed (no, I don’t know why either) event three years running. To coin a well overused phrase, if it wasn’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all, so obviously I got an entry this year, and so for the past few months I’ve been racking up the miles around The Fens, and generally letting the thing prey on my mind to the point where I started dreaming about the run through Borrowdale and into Honister last night. It wasn’t an unpleasant dream oddly enough, but it does show that I’m starting to think about this thing probably rather more than is healthy.
The first big test of the year came in the fantastic No Excuses sportive. Sol & I teamed up with Ironman Andy and The Hillingdon Locomotive Craig for this one. And Craig, after selflessly towing us all round for most of the ride, paid us the great compliment of saying “I dunno how you can do that given that your training just consists of ragging it around The Fens every now and then”. I walked away with a good finishing time, a belly full of tea and pastie, and an enormous smile. Things were looking good. And then came the Newmarket Spring Saddle sportive last weekend. This was a bit more serious, and 162kms, and a fair bit hillier. And I was recovering from a nasty chest infection (yup, I’m just getting the excuses in now) as well, which didn’t help. And although I was feeling positive before I turned a pedal at the start of the ride, it was immediately apparent that I was going to have a really really bad day. I died a thousand times. I ran out of energy about 2hrs and 50kms in, and just had to suffer the rest of it. The knowledge that I felt absolutely awful, but it was only going to go downhill for the next 4 or 5 hours was just crushing. The inevitability of the rest of the ride panned out in front of me, and I just had to hope for the best. It was also very apparent that Sol had set his sights on a sub 6hr30 time. Which sounds pretty easy really, but given that we did the same ride last year in 7hr30 when I was healthy, that should give you an idea of the size of the task. I swore in 13 different languages. I cursed. I made comedy groaning noises. I was probably gurning for queen and country. I was certainly frothing at the mouth and leaving trails of snot in my wake. But, slowly, it became apparent that I was going to make it. 6hrs16. And it’s probably safe to say that the tea and bacon butty at the finish line were the most enjoyable things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Compare that with today. I’d not sat on the bike since that ride. So today, I popped out for a quickie with fellow Fred Whittoneer Simon. (Not that Simon. Another Simon). We slipped out of the town, and into some of the more sparsely populated parts of High Suffolk. My senses were almost overwhelmed by the vibrancy of the smells, colours and sounds of the countryside. The heavy fragrance of the rape seed coated everything, and the contrast between the yellow of the fields, the deep blue of the sky, and the red of Simon’s shirt would have made a beautiful photo. It took me straight back to my childhood. Riding a bike just because it’s fun. Turning the pedals for the sheer joy of building as much speed as possible down the hills, revelling in the freedom of it all. When I was a child I used to dream of flying – skimming silently above the ground, no effort, just enjoying the act of moving effortlessly. Swooping through corners, diving into gullies, feeling the rush of the air on my face. Today was as close as I’ve ever come to that feeling whilst being awake.
And when I’m suffering (and I will, no question) during the Fred Whitton ride, I’ll try to take my mind back to that feeling. The euphoria of my childhood dream.
Finally, and it seems rather churlish to bring it up here, but one of the reasons for doing this again is to try to raise a few bob for charity. Actually, no, that’s a lie. It’s not of the reasons for doing it. I’m doing it because I want to. But it’s a handy way to publicise some fund raising that we’re doing on the back of this. http://www.justgiving.com/fredwhittontake3 if you fancy chipping a couple of quid in.
 Apologies obviously to Yeats. I doubt he ever thought that one was even a possibility.