“I never knew hell looked so pretty”
Those were the words I uttered as my bike, and body, creaked past another rider. We were taking part in the Wiggle Tour of the Peak District 2012. Ascending the legendary winnats pass, a road running through what looks like an axe cut in the hills of the peaks, and this wasn’t a very tidy axe cut, at an average of 12% and a max of 20% this was a slow grinding slog through an impossibly beautiful part of the UK.
In fact that description could be used to describe the whole route of this fiendishly devised sportive, at no point were you really allowed to rest, ever corner you turned the world seemed to rise above you. When the descents came, they were steep and very fast, and would probably have been a lot faster if they didn’t switch back and forth continuously, still a max of 45mph on some descents seemed fast enough, especially with the level of concentration needed to battle the fatigue!
The days ride started very well although with a very ominous overtone, after about 2 miles of slight downhill rolling we hit the first hill, and according to my Garmin that lasted for just under 4 miles, checking www.strava.com it shows that this climb was actually 3.3 miles with an average of 5.5% and a elevation gain of 972ft, that’s a tough start for any ride I think, although that felt quite good.
The next big climb (the first wasn’t even mentioned in the course literature), was to the Cat and Fiddle pub, Britain’s second highest pub!! This was a 6.8 mile, 3.3% average climb with a gain of 1237ft, now this was tough, mainly due to the fact all the way up the wind battered and bashed you constantly… For a fair while I followed the wheel of a young lady who was in a great rhythm, I did take my turn in front to help out as well, I’m not all selfish! Then we got into a train of riders, which slowly whittled away to 3 or 4 of us…one guy pulled us along at the front and shamelessly we let him…chappeau to you, that wind would have claimed me otherwise.
To make the ride more manageable, it was split into 3 sections by two food stops, both at 33 mile intervals, I used these as markers, and the first came at a nice time for me, I was really starting to feel the sun beat down on me (I don’t do well in strong sun, my arm coolers and cotton cap attested to that) and getting some much needed cold water and solid fuel in me was a relief. I didn’t stop for too long though, wanting to take advantage of my form and just the feeling of getting back on the bike.
Next marker though was the aforementioned winnats pass, this came just before the course split, yes, everyone had to climb this little section of hell, and hell it was, the sun was probably at its zenith by the time I hit it, and it turned the narrow road into a oven, as my legs slowly turned over and my bike squeaked at me (it had developed a squeak from the rear derailleur!) this mile long 12.1% average climb tried to kill me, as the road hit 20%, my body was screaming at me, I think mainly to lay down on the lovely lush green grass at the side of the road. But, my brain was being unreasonable, and insisted I carry on…..so I did, a guy stopped in front of me looked and shook his head, the pain in his face told it all….I acknowledged him with a grunt and carried on, slowly. At the top just as you turn the last corner and see what you hope is the summit, a throng of people started cheering and clapping, it was like a pure injection of adrenaline…. my legs for a few seconds were fresh again, and I stood up and flew up the last 25 feet, well it felt like that, to everyone watching i just prob stood up….I was over it though, surely that was the hardest climb, nothing that body wreakingly cruel could be done twice in a day could it?
Well the answer was to come pretty quickly, to really let you know that the long route was supposed to be tough, turning off the nice flat slightly down hill road when the route split, the road went mercilessly upwards, thankfully it was all under cover, so at least the sun wasn’t able to lend its energy sapping help to us.
Next milestone was the second feed stop, this coming at about 66 miles, well, it actually came a couple of miles later….much to my disgust….but up to there, the roads went up and down, a lot. I never really noticed a long flat road where I could get some nice speeds going to coast along, apart from one section, but the winds decided that it would really try to push me backwards, so when a small group of my fellow cyclists came past, their collective drafting did wonders for my speed, mood, and energy levels. These small moments when you get them, mean lots, they can only be fleeting, but the after effects can have a bearing on the forthcoming miles, of course more hills came, what surprised me was that I was able to leave drop the rest of the group, I guess the drafting really rested me well!!
The next 10 mile leading to the stop was made up of lots of small hills, each one doing its best to destroy the energy reserves in my body, when I finally pulled into the stop, which was halfway up a hill, I knew I was staying for a while. In the end, after a banana (of which I can not stand!) a bottle of water, a galaxy bar and a caffeine gel, and a good rest, I was ready to go again, well, I was ready to stop, but I only had about 30 miles left, taking a second to look around, the pain was written across everyone’s faces, at least its not just me I thought…..I haven’t been in a feed station that quiet, apart from the constant asking of where the toilets were, everyone had the same look of suffering, also, it wasn’t over, this is where mental toughness comes to the fore. Your body is refuelled, it can take you to the finish, now your mind has to play ball. I stretched out my burning legs, fixed my Garmin back on the bike and checked my gels and drink…..
Third part, and the third big monster climb, Holme moss, at 1719ft above sea level its one of the highest roads in the UK, this was due to start going up about the 75 mile mark, and climb till the distance hit 80. Now this isn’t all the holme moss climb, the climbing just starts before holme moss proper starts, its a gentle approach, a few percent to warm you up, then hits the teens, and only let’s up for a couple of times, the top again hits 10%. This climb for all intents and purposes, is alpine in character, exposed on one side, the summit looming above you with its giant communication tower (highest in Britain!)some sharp hairpins, buffeting winds and a snaking route….at the top you can grab an ice cream if you feel the need, I went on, with hindsight, I should of stopped for a little refueling…For the 3.4 mile proper of the climb, I averaged 9.9mph and did it in 20:41, not bad considering the miles beforehand.
I felt like I was at the top of the world, and could see everything, but before I could take in too much of the pretty scenery, I hit the descent….fast, long and needed tons of concentration, I reached 37mph and needed to back out slightly…These descents could certainly catch you out if you were not 100% on it……I wasn’t, so backing off a few MPH felt safer.
What happened after this, well, more miles, more hills and climbing, but I think my brain had shut down, I was on auto pilot, I knew I needed to keep pedalling till I saw that finish line, the road kept rising, my body was using its last reserves of energy, I had gone through a whole load of gels, including my double caffeine ones from clif, damn, I love those. When I entered chapel-en-le-firth I could have wept, it was so good to feel so close to the end, I latched onto a guy wearing the same assos top as me and just followed his rear hub, then I was on the approach rode, it was finally over, I cut the last corner and crossed the finish line…got off the bike and could have collapsed, I sat down on the grass of the school taken over for the weekend, and was presented with a huge bag of after ride goodies , no, not the ones from kilo-to-go, but from my saving grace over the weekend, thx Claire, not sure if I could have survived that without you. Coke and coffee was very much needed, as was the huge flapjack…
That was the hardest ride I’ve ever done, mentally and physically it was extremely demanding, and with the perfect sun bathing weather in full force the conditions were conspiring against me as well. Here’s hoping the the Wiggle Dragon ride in 2 weeks time in wales is more favourable, although not too much, otherwise what’s the point??