Yesterday was the second (annual?) Ride with Brad sportive out of Barnoldswick in Lancashire. Some of you will know that I volunteered at the first one last year while my leg was in external fixation after the rebreak, and it did occur to me at the time that if they ran it this year I might be able to take part. It was a good target.
I plumped for the 100km route option, mainly as a nod to common sense and realism that I probably wasn't ready yet for 100 miles with nearly 3000m of climbing. There were a lot of people on the ride again, and I would guess more on the 100km than on the 100 miles, so maybe word had got around from last year how hard this route is!
Rebecca and I camped at Lower Greenhill Camp site where I stayed last year, a lovely camp site with friendly people, recommended. On Saturday I picked Rebecca up from work in the hire car, and we arrived at Barnoldswick, OK Salterforth actually, just before 4pm. We pitched and then went to registration at Victory Park, the event centre. The queue for the 100km was only a few people, which is why I wanted to register on the Saturday, no queuing for ages on the Sunday morning! I was on my crutches of course, which brought a few comments, and required my usual explanation of "I know it seems very strange, but walking is much harder than riding at the moment!". Anyway I got my rider number and timing chip label - the numbers and labels have your name printed on them this year! I've never been to an event where that was so - a nice touch!
Next we went to The Craven Heifer in Kelbrook for a beer and some dinner. I had a massive gammon steak which pretty much covered the whole plate - not exactly carbo-loading but it filled me up anyway.
Back at the campsite I got everything ready for the ride, put the number on my bike and checked the pressure in the tyres etc. I had decided to take a non-standard pedal configuration, on account of my nerves at making it up some of the steepest gradients. I took off my SPD-SL pedals, and put a flat one on the right and an XTR SPD on the left. That way, I could wear my Shimano shoes which have the cleats flush with the soles. This served two purposes: first I could bail easily without having to unclip on a steep bit of road, and second, if I did bail I would be able to 'walk' - walking is nearly impossible for me in the riding shoes with the SL cleats on, well, without really hurting my foot anyway. I don't like this set up because it looks crazy on the bike, but in this case I think practicality has to take precedence.
It was an early start yesterday morning - I was up at about 0545 getting excited. Got everything together, had some breakfast - tuna pasta I brought with me, made Rebecca and I a coffee and Rebecca a bacon sandwich, then packed some stuff up and headed out. Got parked and bike out of the car about 0720. Now I was happy, I'm always a bit nervous about getting to the start line on time. The start for the 100km route was 0800-0830 so everything was good. When we got to Victory Park there was a massive queue for registration, like I remember from last year, but I already had my number so I could just line up. Had a quick toilet visit, then into the line. And a long wait! I don't know why they seemed to only be letting a few people go every couple of minutes. But more likely there was a lot of people in front of me. The 160km guys had all already gone, so all these people were doing the 100km.
While I was waiting Rebecca was alongside over the barrier taking pictures and chatting. Then there was some commotion up front and apparently Sir Bradley Wiggins was in attendance! He gave a typically verbose interview: "Are you looking forwards to it?" "Yeah, should be a good ride." Then he and the Wiggle-Honda girls were on the start line and after a half-hearted countdown, they were off. After that, they let the rest of us all go off quite quickly. That was the closest I came to Sir Brad all day!
The route, which I had studied on the map of course several times, starts off easy. About 15 miles of easy actually, until Waddington where the fun begins. Waddington Fell was the first proper climb of the day and it's quite long, and has a sharp pull near the top, but it was the first of the day so no real problem, legs quite fresh and all. I sent a tweet from the top, had a minute's rest and then started down the other side. Rain! No, wait, hail? Stinging the face anyway. I had set off with my Berghaus Paclite jacket on in anticipation of some rain and that helped I'm sure. It was quite an exciting descent on a wide fairly smooth road so no danger to worry about even in the wet. At the bottom of Waddington Fell at Newton there's the split point, 100km to the left. The 160km riders had gone off here for a 40 mile loop through the Trough of Bowland, which I've ridden some years ago and it's pretty spectacular. Then they rejoin us at Dunsop Bridge, so for them it's 40 miles but for us it's about 3 or so.
After that we're heading south, nice easy miles for a bit until a sharp pull up to the first Feed Station at Wildboar Forest. I stopped here at the junction for a rest and to take stock, but decided not to go into the feed stop and instead to push on. Mainly I was aware that the next climb was the one I was not looking forwards to the most, and I wanted it over. Longridge Fell, Jeffrey Hill. Now that's a ramp. It was here that I realised my pedal and shoe choice had been very wise indeed. I think I got about 5/6 of the way up the first really steep bit before I cracked. It's a shame because I knew that at the bend it eases off a bit, but there really wasn't enough strength in my thighs. It's not all about endurance - I've got loads of that (modesty) - I just need more strength for those really steep prolonged bits where I'm out of the saddle. Anyway, I wasn't the only one beaten by this short stretch of tarmac! So I walked around the bend and stopped for a little rest to compose myself. Then back on and OK until the top. But something was wrong! A strange feeling like the road got very bumpy all of a sudden. A rear-wheel puncture!
I have never had a puncture on this bike before. Most likely it was all the pot-holes - some of the roads had had quite bad surfaces already. Anyway I knew I could fix it it was just a surprise and very inconvenient on top of Longridge Fell in the rain! Took me a while to get the tyre off the rim, took me a while to get the new tube to inflate, especially after I bent the valve, oops. There was a point where I was worried it wouldn't go up, but a bit of care and fiddling around and I got enough pressure in it, I hoped. Because now I couldn't afford another one! Oh, how bad would it be to fail this ride because of a mechanical? Something I had never considered - always thinking about me and my body, never worried about the bike which had never given me any problem in the past? I guess I spend about 20 minutes fixing the puncture. I knew the second Feed Station wasn't that far away so I could get there and get some mechanical assistance if I needed it, I hoped.
After Longridge Fell I protected the rear wheel a lot on the descents, afraid of going over a pot-hole and puncturing again, but I tried to convince myself that I must have done about 2000 miles on this bike without a puncture so it wasn't likely to happen. There's a lot of downhill on the next section, down into the Ribble Valley. Time for a bit of recovery. The second feed stop, near Billington, was a must for me. I could already feel the tiredness in my legs and with still 20 miles and some climbs to go, I admit I was a bit worried. But the best I could do was stop, rest, and take on board some food and drink. I refilled my bottles, took a few gels in my pocket, ate my banana and had a chocolate cookie. There was really a lot of stuff, I could have had muffins or sandwiches or fruit. Well catered. I had a bit of a chat with some lads who had seen my leg and were curious. They were impressed, I think. That gave me a boost.
I knew the next climb was the Nick O' Pendle which is pretty nasty about 2/3 of the way up. At the base of it I finally took off my waterproof jacket and stuffed it in my jersey - instantly I felt better - it was like being released from a sweaty bin liner! That helped too. I got most of the way up in lowest gear until, again, about 3/4 of the way up the steepest bit I had to stop. This time I only walked probably 50m over a little lip before I could get back on and then was fine all the way to the top. This is telling me something about my level of fitness / strength. What? I'll have to think about that!
I paused at the summit to take a picture. The rest of the ride from here is undulating almost until the finish. I knew there was a couple more pulls that would probably cause me problems and the rest probably wouldn't. Descending into Sabden I thought I'd punctured again :( But at the bottom I stopped and no, it was just a strange sound coming from somewhere. The climb out of Sabden is nasty. Three single chevrons on the OS map over about 3/4 mile. I didn't walk at all on this one, but I did have to stop halfway for a rest, "to admire the view". I was now passing and being passed by a nice guy on a mountain bike so we were having a bit of a chat.
After Sabden there's a nice easy miles stretch then it goes down and up near Newchurch. Here, again, on the steepest bit, I had to walk. Coming up to a house where people were watching riders go past, a nice lady came down the hill a bit clearly concerned about me (probably saw my leg!). She asked if I was OK, "yes". She asked if I had any support riders, "no". She asked if I was going to continue, "yes". Did I need her to phone anyone? "no". It is nice when people care! But really, I explained to her and her family what I already knew - I just can't get up the steepest bits, probably because of the strength, or lack thereof, in my legs still. I knew there was 10 miles to go, there was no way now I wasn't finishing, major mechanical or body-bag notwithstanding. But her Dad told me I deserved a medal. That was enough to get me to the end.
In Barley I stopped to take a gel and eat my Go bar. Because I knew Barley Fell was a climb, but no chevrons so slow and steady should win the race! It did. After that, there's a descent and a right turn, then undulating until 3 miles from Barnoldswick. This section has some nasty pulls on it, but they're all quite short, so I didn't have a problem. As usual on these rides, the legs start to come back a bit as they sense the proximity of the finish! By the time I got to the main road, and knew it was all downhill for 3 miles to the finish, I felt like I could've done the 160km route. No wait, actually I know I probably couldn't have done that yesterday. But I will next year ;)
At the finish, in my dreams, Sir Brad was there to congratulate me, and there was an announcement by the commentator saying how great it was that I'd made it to here after 3 years of recovery. Of course, those things didn't happen. But it wasn't really about that was it? It was about my leg, my journey, my ride, my race, my life. I'm very happy I was able to set myself this goal a year ago and realise it. I would have liked to have done the 160km route, but that wasn't realistic. I would have preferred not to have had to walk 3 times on the steepest bits, but that gives me some information about where I am and some more space to improve into. I would like to have at least laid eyes on Sir Brad, but for the second year running, I didn't. Rebecca on the other hand met him at the finish line, exchanged a few words and got a picture! I think Rebecca was a bit bored while I was out riding, but I hope that experience made up for it a bit, and it was really good to have her there as support. I liked texting her a few times on the route. And I had a text from my friend Julia too saying that everyone at church was thinking about me. That meant a lot.
After the finish, there was the goody bag - nice T-shirt this year! - and some rider food, pasta. Then I went and found Sophie (and Leah) from Pennine Events, the organisers, who I'd been exchanging emails with in the run up to this event - to thank them and to say hi.
Then we were away, to pack up the camp and go and get a drink before heading home. I was already thinking about the next ride.