3 Sept 2014

London to Newcastle ride 24

This is it! The big day finally arrived. I woke at about 7am at my sisters house on The Isle of Dogs right next to the Thames in London.

I really couldn't believe it had finally arrived. Even as I donned my kit, checked I had everything that I needed, made the final checks of my bike and made sure I had some breakfast etc. I was still even on decaf tea at this point as I wanted full effect of any caffeine I had over the next 24 hours. It had been over 2 weeks since I stopped drinking any caffeine. 

Off I went, just before 8am I set off to Clissold park to pick up my rider number and make sure I was all in time to start with the everyone else. The ride across London was actually quite pleasant. Nice wide cycling super highways and very few motorists trying to kill me. It may be a little sensitive for some but I would say I felt far safer cycling in London than I do in Manchester.

Anyway as I made my way across the city, a bit of geographical confusion set in as I missed a turn. Then as I pulled over to check where I was I hit some glass, low and behold a flat already! Not a good sign for the day ahead. I had in a way over prepared for today as I was carrying 3 inner tubes instead of the usual 2. This time I even brought enough gas as well (lesson learnt). After much swearing to myself and trying not to wake the homeless person sleeping on a fully made up bed under the bridge where I stopped, I finally had my tube changed and I was back under-way. 

Hurrah other people on bikes! 
I finally started seeing other cyclists as I approached Clissold park and better still they were wearing ride 24 jerseys. I must be in the right place then! Sure enough I saw a big inflatable archway flags and stands all adorned with Ride24. I headed for the bike racks and parked her up. Then off to registration to pick up my numbers plus find out what was going on.

Number 90!
Rider number fixed to the handle bars of my bike and the other pinned to the back of my jersey. It was all feeing very much like any other sportive I had taken part in over the past 2+ years. This time however we were a group of about 120 riders, all on road bikes, each of us all mentally and physically prepared for the challenge ahead. 

Don't pass Bruce!!!
On mass we were herded into the starting pen for the final rider briefing. The main point was "Don't pass Bruce!", Bruce being the front pace rider and the man we were to follow all the way to Newcastle. He certainly had the credentials for leading the ride too. Turns out Bruce, (Kiwi)  had recently completed cycling 2000km in 7 days, plus had taken part in most of the ride 24 events over the past few years.
All safety points covered and everyone suitably briefed. It was countdown to 10am and ready to go.

Preparing to start In London

Already to go and being fed from the first thing too

Stage 1 London - Royston 43.1 miles
Mount up and hang on! It's time to ride the Bruce train.

The whistle blew and we passed over the start line at 10am on Saturday 30th of August 2014. We rolled out as a single group onto the streets of London, immediately we headed north and the pace was only slowed by traffic lights and motorists. As we wound our way through the city and traffic dropped off the pace started to rise, finally levelling out at around 20mph (40kph), this was going to be the way for the duration. Everyone was very chatty and we all spent the first stage to Royston getting to know each other as well as getting warmed up for the long day ahead. 

As we emerged out of London leaving the hustle and bustle of the city inside the M25, the country side opened up around us. As cyclists we see the things you never get to see as motorists and it certainly was buitiful to see.

I got talking to a young chap called Ben from Stratford-Upon-Avon. He was well into his cycling as many of the riders in the group were. He had the same thing with a girlfriend that always knew if he wasn't at home or work he would be out on his bike. Myself I know my wife has taken up starting and ending sentences with "bike" if she wants me to pay attention to what she says. Ben had been getting the miles in cycling 100+ a few times a month. 

As we hit the first good hill I dropped down the gears, got on the bar tops and sat well back. My hill climbing method is always to do this and keep a high cadence. Ben cramped and started to drop down the pack. As we were to find the Bruce train waits for no one, he was well and truly on a schedule so it was a case of keep up or get dropped!

It seemed like the miles had flown by when we reached the first stop. 44 miles in and the weather was really being kind to us. It was blue skies and light wind so far. End of stage 1 was a welcoming sight for many. Me included as I had been needing a wee since we left London!!!!

Stop 1 Royston

Stop 1 Royston

Stage 2 Royston - Peterborough 42.5 miles

The Bruce train just keeps on going!

So we left about 30 minutes after arriving at the first feed station in Royston with full water bottles and fingers crossed that the weather would remain dry we set off again. The pace didn't drop down at all, on the seemingly dead straight road from from Royston to Papworth Everard it even felt like it increased. Everyone was into the swing of things now. Following the wheel in front. Spin hard on the up hills, push harder on the down hills, always keep your distance close in, don't get dropped! At 43 miles it was a good flattish stage. When we finally did reach Peterborough a great surprise awaited us. Firstly the organisers had put on some hot food for us, BBQ time!  Everything from burgers and sausages to chicken and stakes. On top of all this we had the choice of great pastas, salads, hot and cold drinks, sweets chocolates and everything a hungry cyclist would need to keep him going over a long distance.

Sunshine at Stop 2

With a full on BBQ!

At first it did seem a little odd as it appeared they were still setting up as we arrived, turned out that the Bruce train was well ahead of schedule and we had over an hours stop to put us back on track. I saw this as a chance to plug my phone into the mains in the hope I would be able to record this whole ride on my Strava!!! 

The staff the gave us a caution briefing for the next stage. Essentially it was going to be the longest at 58 miles and we would be riding into dusk so we would need our lights. We had reflective snap bands handed out to us all to help with being seen. A great fashion accessory that you really never thought to wear!!! 

So stomachs full, water bottles brimmed, me feeling like I was mainlining caffeine, I was getting a massive hit from all the tea, coffee and max power high5 energy drinks. I stuffed my pockets with gels and away we went again. It was 4.45 and moral was high! 

Stage 3 Peterborough - Lincoln 58.3 miles 

The flat plains lay ahead as we left Peterborough, the wind was starting to pick up from the south west. As we headed east this began to take its toll on the lead group. Once you dropped back then you had nobody to hide behind and 100% of your effort was to fight the wind. 
We turned north again as we headed through Market Deeping towards Bourne on the A15. Then it was pretty much stay on the same road all the way to Lincoln. The minor undulations were not slowing Bruce down one bit. He was pounding away at the front leading the group at a relentless speed. All of us working hard together to stay as a group, drafting behind each other and doing what we could to keep our spirits up.

"Turn on your lights!" was the shout from a member of staff at the side of the road as we were now cycling into the dusk and about to drop into the busy city of Lincoln. 

I was sweating hard now and glad to see the stop in Lincoln.
I was straight in and putting my phone on charge as yet again I was down to 1%. Not really too happy with the way my brand new phone is coping with the battery life. I was thinking that I could really do with a Garmin at this point. Chatting with some of the blokes on the ride I was surprised to find that some of them had already had their Garmins run out and they were following the map/signs. The good old fashion way!

Stage 4 Lincoln - Goole 51.3 mile
The "Blinking" lights.

It was now properly dark and as a peleton we must have looked like the Blackpool illumination train on crack! I was finding some of the lights blinding and we were all now struggling to stay close behind each other. The roads up to Goole aren't particularly devoid of potholes either. The difference being that the first time you knew about them in the darkness of the night was about a microsecond before you hit it. I had adopted the tactic of floating just above my saddle now. It was saving my crotch from mind bending saddle soar pain of the constant rubbing and pounding of all the impacts. The pace remained high as before. The mind begins to wander as you cycle in the night like this. With the red lights flashing in front of you constantly I was doing my best to hide behind riders that didn't have their lights on bright flash. This sort of light is great when you are commuting for getting motorist to see you. Nightmare for when you are riding in a group as those behind you get blinded every few seconds. As we entered South Yorkshire I started seeing signs for places I know. Scunthorpe just as we were crossing the M180 then after what seemed like an age we picked up signs for Goole.

My legs were starting to feel quite tired now and I was having to really work to keep up with the pack. On the odd occasion I found that I was the last man in the group. this was not good news as when you are last man, if you drop back on your own you well and truly are on your own. Did I mention it was inky black and my lights were rubbish! I was finding it hard going having just a crappy narrow beam light as I was struggling to judge my distance to the guys in front. I was having to pedal to keep up then rest for a few seconds as I found I was closing up too fast, then pedal again as I had to keep up. I was finding it hard to concentrate now. When ever I felt like my mouth was getting dry I would drink. So that was how it was riding up to Goole. Pedal, glide, pedal, glide, drink, pedal, slow and SPRINT away from the junction or roundabout to close the gaps in the group. Suddenly I found myself on the back again and realised that nobody had passed me for me to be on the back! I was last man but those that were behind me had dropped and almost disappeared. Oddly my left hand was hurting as it appeared I may be getting a blister where I was holding onto my handlebars/brakes. With a sigh of relief we got to Goole as a much welcome rest stop. A photographer from a local news paper was there to take photos of us as we arrived and was asking us all questions about where we came from, why we were doing the ride etc. He did get a few withered smiles and grunts from some of the guys. I don't think he realised how tired everyone was at this point. Besides how civilised can someone be at 2 am???

Tired and needing food at stop 4

Stage 5 Goole - Easingwold 35.7 miles

This was a relatively short stage and did seem to fly by. However the rumour went around that this was a short stage because it was hilly! Not the best way to maintain moral in the troops! The Sergeant Major did wan to mention this but I managed to bite my tongue and ignore the comments. My only reply to this was "Well we wouldn't do it if it were easy now would we?". Inside I was hurting but at the same time I was enjoying it. For me it was like riding a train and being part of the ultimate group ride possible.

Off we went again and as the pace picked up to max chat again we headed North past Selby and on towards York. Actually Cycling through a City on a Saturday Night when all the Night Clubs are kicking everyone out is one of the most amusing things to do in a mass peleton of cyclists ever! York was one of the Start points for the recent TDF and the people of York gave us a similar welcome! Allez Allez was the shouts from not too sober locals as we sped our way through the city. One chap got quite the surprise as he staggered out of a Kebab shop, food in hand. This lifted our spirits quite well. Once we had escaped the confines of the old city we were again flying on the black smooth roads of the A19. Then it was Easingwold and a stop.

Stage 6 Easingwold - Coxhole 52.3 miles (see map above)

There was light at the end of the tunnel and the Northern lads were chatting away as this was their stomping ground! certainly all the guys from the area that use Strava were saying I wouldn't be surprised if I was looking at a few personal records from the pace we were riding at. However it did seem that us few that remained in the lead group at this point were happy with the pace. Yes it was punishing and yes I think my knees were about to explode at some points. We were all coping with our various sores and ailments at this point. Anyone that looked like they were having a hard time of it got pushed up a bit as we worked together. Keep on the wheel in front was the way.

Over to the East we could start to see the faint glow of the approaching sunrise. They do always say it is darkest just before the dawn. I was hurting as we approached Coxhole it just never seemed to end. I have cycled through the likes of Darlington before so had some idea of where we were. It was just feeling like where we were was not getting any closer to where we wanted to be!

Finally about 2 minutes before we were due to stop I saw a sign for Coxhole and the next rest stop.
I was a little worried about my legs as I was really sore. My knees hurt, my neck ached, my shoulders hurt and my hands were stinging. Thankfully my head was still in the game as I knew to give up now would be stupid and fatal. For some reason I had it in my head that the final stage was about 35 - 40 miles. a similar sort of distance to stage 1. After a nice bit of a brew, yet more jelly sweets and an empty bladder later I was happy to just sit down an relax for 5 minutes. I really didn't want to fall into the trap of closing my eyes though. This was endurance time not sleep time.

Stage 7 Coxhole - Newcastle 26.5 miles

Wow I just couldn't believe I was on the final stage. I hadn't been looking at the mileage as I knew that it would destroy my moral if I did. Now however to my surprise we had less than 27 miles to run. I was really happy that this was it and we could start the final leg.

Painfully I dragged myself back onto my bike and it seemed that I had to will my legs to get working. I was will and truly at the limit of my endurance, physically and mentally. However I knew that I had the steel to make this ride and I was too close to the finish to give up now! Bruce was still looking fresh as a daisy and was back into his pace as we dropped into Durham. I was recognising the roads as the last time I cycled along them I was being soaked to the skin as well as being mega lost. We came out of Durham and turned left towards Chester-le-Street. This area is surprisingly hilly, at this point with burning, aching legs every single one of them was requiring a huge effort to climb.

I was having to play catchup on each descent and hang on, on the inclines. I was dropping back each time as I just couldn't turn my legs fast enough. We reached Chester-le-Street and we were all back together. After a few turns around the town centre we saw signs for Gateshead and Newcastle. Spirits were rising and the pace still relentless. The pains we were all feeling was fading away as we followed the long road up and down again. I have never been so glad to see the Tyne as I was then. We dropped down and crossed the river on a bridge that seemed to be at sea level. Just one or two more miles to run and it was all uphill.

Pushing hard now I was determined not to get dropped. I was devouring every last bit of my energy stomping away on my pedals. "Never give up! Never Surrender!" is what I kept on saying to myself. I was not going to get dropped at this stage in the game, but I certainly wasn't going to be last man in the lead group either! Hammering my heart out as we climbed the final hill the finish was in sight and before I knew it we were there!

So that was it. I had actually cycled 310 miles and completed the journey in 22 hours and 7 minutes

I was well and truly in bits. Tired and exhausted but what a  high I was feeling. 

Getting scanned through the line and being presented with a finishers medal. Hard earned and well kept. It was one of the hardest medals I have worked for since I started cycling. I will never forget the experience.

So tired I had forgotten to take off my head torch at the last stop. I didn't care though as I had finished. 

Just crossed the line and feeling dead, but still smiling :)

Must stop my Strava!!!

The lead peleton us happy few!
 The Results
  • 103 people started out from Clissold Park on the London 2 Newcastle 24 Challenge.
  • 85 riders crossed the finish line.
  • 45 riders completed the challenge within 24hrs.
  • The fastest time for the challenge was 22hrs 07mins, completed by the front peloton.
Back to give my girls a big cuddle

And pass out!
What do I do next?
I think I am going to get more into racing and from the lessons learnt over the past 18 months I know what I have to do training wise.

So after 70 blog posts. Thousands of miles of adventure on my bike. Thrills spills and oh so many punctures I think I may call it a day.

I certainly have been through hell on two wheels not just on this massive ride!
My love for cycling has grown over the past number of years and I hope that by reading this you have got some of that joy too.

Unless anyone comments with either suggestions for my next challenge or just wants me to carry on blogging then this is it.


Matt :)