Reflections on completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain

A week ago I got home after completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, having ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats, a distance of 982 miles in nine days.

The overwhelming feeling is a huge sense of achievement in completing the ride and remaining physically strong, subject to the crash injuries which didn’t stop me cycling but probably had an adverse effect towards the end of the ride.  No trips to the physios or any requirement for sports tape!  I’m sure my father would have been terribly proud of me – all my family have said they are slightly in awe at what I have done after following my daily blog and tracking my ride in “real time” on Strava.  Why am I supporting Dementia UK in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain ? John Evans (1934 – 2010) I had a succession of great messages on Whats App during the ride, most motivational and some asking what had happened to me on Day 5 (my second crash on the railway level crossing) as I seemed to be going at a snail’s pace to pit stop 1!  I had a lovely card from my colleagues at work today saying how well I had done – something I will get framed for the office wall!

The ride also showed me parts of Great Britain that I have never seen before – Shropshire, part of the Lake District between Preston and Penrith and my personal favourites the Cairngorms and Scottish Highlands on Days 7 and 8.  I would love to go back and retrace some of the Scottish legs and have a bit more time to take in the scenery and take a few more photos.

Threshold Sports had warned us before the event that Days 1 and 2 through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath would be the toughest.  In retrospect, I found the cumulative effect of Days 7 and 8 the hardest days of the ride, both long days at 114 and 119 miles respectively plus an awful lot of climbing (both steep hills and long energy sapping drags).

The question I am always being asked is “Would you do it again?”.  The answer is “No”.  Not because I didn’t enjoy it, I did enjoy the experience and I’ve mentioned the achievement and scenery.  However, it is a bucket list box “ticked”.  We were also incredibly lucky with the weather.  If you split the nine days into three sectors per day (making 27 in total) we had wet weather on no more than five sectors.  We also had strong tail winds for virtually the whole ride.  Day 9 would have been a completely different, horrible experience with a northerly headwind and rain.  I wouldn’t want to tempt fate and ruin the great memories by doing the ride again in bad weather. Things would have been so different if the ride had been a week later.

Is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain for you?

The short answer is “Yes” if you want to challenge yourself both physically and mentally and have the best possible support in completing a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride.  The Threshold Sports slogan is “More is in you”.  This was certainly true for a large number of riders.  I was pretty fit before I started training and then spent the best part of nine months training for the ride so that I am now as fit as I have been for over 20 years.  It meant that I my average “moving pace” over the whole ride was 15 mph so I was able to get into camp most days by 3.30 pm giving myself as much recovery time as possible.  I wouldn’t have coped with getting in each day just before the 7 pm cut off time.

My tips for a successful ride would be:

  • Train consistently and a lot for the ride.  I am looking forward to “getting my life back”.  Two Months To Go – Training Review  I have the greatest respect for the families of riders given the amount of training required.  I didn’t have anyone to “report to” or ask permission from when training.
  • Do not underestimate the relentless nature of riding over 100 miles a day for nine straight days and the impact it has on your body.  You cannot get away with just riding 40-50 mile training rides – the RAB “bubble” will not get you through to the end.  That said, nothing can prepare you for the ride itself!
  • Do train on hills, both long draggy hills and shorter steep hills.
  • Get a rear cassette with as high a gear as possible.  I had an 11-34 cassette and was grateful for every one of the 34 teeth when married up with a 50 34 compact front chain ring when going up The Lecht, Glenshee and Cothelstone Hill.  Do not be taken in by the cyclists who say that a semi-compact 53-39 front chain ring and an 11-28 rear cassette will be fine unless you are whippet thin and can climb like Chris Froome or Alberto Contador!
  • Have a professional bike fit for your bike well before the event and get used to riding the bike so that you do not get any niggles when riding.
  • If you don’t like camping, go for the Plus package – worth every penny for the long, hot showers, comfy beds and space to unpack all your kit each night.  You also get a 20 minute sports massage each day rather than 10 minutes every other day – trust me, it makes a difference!
  • Consider using a personal trainer experienced with training people for endurance events.  Threshold Sports do issue a training programme but I found it much easier to have my trainer, Lawrence Cronk (an Ironman coach) at Enduraprep, checking my progress and tailoring my programme to fit round sportives that I entered.  There was also the threat of a “kick up the backside” from someone if training slipped which can be useful with long periods of training.
  • Invest in decent wet weather gear and train when it is raining; you will then know if it keeps you dry and how you react to being cold and wet (badly in my case).  The suggest kit list from Threshold Sports is definitely useful – how some riders managed at the start of Day 8 without leg warmers and full gloves, I will not know – it was freezing!
  • I went to the Ride Across Britain training day in April which I found extremely useful, both to meet other riders, get some practical tips and to see how my training was going compared to other riders. RAB Training Ride
  • Chose a charity that resonates with you on a personal basis as it is then much easier to ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you.  It also gives you the added impetus to keep training and riding during the ride itself.
  • If you are a stronger rider, do slow down and be prepared to help or tow weaker riders, even if it just to the next pit stop or camp – remember, it is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain rather than the Race Across Britain!

I am working on a slide show “film” of my photos from the ride and will post a link to it when completed.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has sponsored me so far for the ride.  I have now raised just over £4,750 (plus Gift Aid) to support the work of Dementia UK  My Virgin Money Giving page is still open for donations and can be reached here.  To reach £5,000 would be absolutely amazing!

RAB Training Ride

Last Sunday saw 60 or so participants congregate fairly early in the morning in Princes Risborough, on the edge of the Chilterns, for a training ride organised by Threshold Sports who have the unenviable task of marshalling all the riders from Land’s End to John O’Groats in September.  For all of us who attended it was an opportunity to ask questions, meet fellow riders, hear some top tips from previous participants in the Ride Across Britain (or RAB for short) and have a small taste of what is to come.

If you haven’t seen it, here is a video on YouTube showing what the RAB could be like RAB video The video was recorded during the 2016 RAB because the Threshold Chaperones (riders from Threshold Sports who acted as guides out on the ride) told us that it rained for 8 out of 9 days in 2017 !  I really do hope summer lasts until 17 September in the UK this year….

Back to the morning, as expected a lot of the riders had travelled from in and around London – apparently the conductor on the Chiltern Railways train from Marylebone was not particularly happy with 12 bikes and riders on an early morning train from London.  At least it was early and not a Saturday when the train can be packed with shoppers heading to Bicester Village!  Everyone was friendly although a little apprehensive about what was in store for us during the day.

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Top tips session

I thought I had done well travelling from Cardiff (I bumped into Carl who had also come up from Cardiff) but I think the winner for distance travelled must have been Martin who travelled from Wigan.  I cheated a bit as I stayed with my Mother in Haddenham – I still cycled the six miles to and from the venue.

The best top tips top tips were:

  • Pack everything into a big bag with lots of spare space as kits seems to expand
  • Don’t believe the marketing blurb that your bag is waterproof; use lots of smaller plastic bags
  • Get organised and have a routine; pack your kit the night before and get the riding gear ready.  You don’t want to be the phaffer who keeps their friends waiting or even worse gets turfed out of their tent by the ground-staff packing up the camp site!
  • Bring ear plugs (plus some gloves and a hat for the Scottish nights)
  • Ride within your capacity in the first two days to avoid the Medical Tent (the two days up through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath are “the worst”).  By day five the tortoise will catch the hare who could be “in bits and held together by sports tape”
  • Don’t linger in the feed station pit stops.  However, one of our chaperones confessed to a three hour pit stop last year waiting for the rain to stop – it didn’t!
  • Respect other road users; no more than 10 in a group, be prepared to let car tailbacks pass, obey the Highway Code
  • Bring a spare rear derailleur hanger for your bike just in case
  • Keep the training going

We were split into groups of 10 for the rides based on average speed estimates.  Carl and I were chatting about going in the “fast medium” group of say 15 mph average rather than the fast 16-18 mph group – there were some fit looking cyclists at the event.  A shout went up for two more to join the fast group – Carl and I looked at each other and thought “Sod it” and volunteered.  It was the right choice as the route was fairly flat compared to what we are used to in the Vale of Glamorgan and South Wales and keeping up was not a problem (thank goodness).

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Simon and Clodagh doing all the work and leading the group

A few hills sorted us out on the first 40 mile loop, particularly Ladder Hill in Wheatley.  We dropped one team member who had over-estimated his average speed at the feed station and then the speed notched up to closer 20 mph on the flat stages in the second 20 mile loop.  I was quite happy to sit in the group and draft (saving energy).  Clodagh, our sole female rider, put all the men to shame by setting the pace at the front with Simon, one of the chaperones, on the first lap and nailing the Queen of the Mountain time on the end of route sprint.  It turns out that Clodagh does triathlons where you are not allowed to draft and she wanted the full benefits of the ride as a training session.

After 60 miles we finished the formal part of the ride.  A couple of us decided to do an extra “finisher” and do a short lap up Whiteleaf Hill.  This is one of the UK’s named 100 Climbs on Strava so on the bucket list of lots of riders.  It is only 1.3 km (just under a mile) in length but averages a 9.4% gradient and according to my Garmin GPS unit nearly touched 20% (or 1 in 5 at one point when I was “moving” at 2 kph) – in reality I think it is 16% in places but still seriously steep.  I was amazed at the Strava time when I got home (after an extra 6 mile ride trying the beat the rain) to see that I had still set my fastest time on the climb even after 60 miles of riding.

The event finished with some very tasty tomato and vegetable sauce with pasta.  If the food at the end and at the feed station is anything to go by we will not be going hungry during the ride in September.

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Post ride chat and refuelling
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Goodies at the feed station!

There was lots of checking the ride on Strava (I must update the data plan on my mobile) and swapping telephone numbers and email addresses.  I will definitely be catching up with Carl for some training rides from Cardiff.  A few others are taking part in the Dragon ride in early June – 223 km round the climbs of South Wales and the Brecon Beacons (three more UK 100 Climbs to tick off) and there was talk of some London based riders coming down to south Wales to take advantage of our “proper” long climbs!  All in all, a great event and I was pleasantly surprised how I managed to cope.  I just have to keep up the training and be prepared to cycle in wet weather  – fingers crossed for an “Indian Summer”.  Thanks to Threshold Sports and particularly for our chaperones, Simon and John, for telling us what it is really like on the RAB – bring on September!

As a reminder, I am raising money for Dementia UK, have a read of my About page for my reasons for supporting Dementia UK.  If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here