From Couch ‘tater to Bike Racer
Cycling and I have not always travelled along a smooth road, there has been many a pot hole to disrupt my progress. As a kid my adventures were cut short by having the same bike stolen twice (yes, twice!) and its replacement also stolen the first night I forgot to lock it up. After this, my parents gave up and gave me a football to save money! This may have been a blessing as the week before I missed a 90° bend coming downhill way too fast and had to be peeled off a wall by my friends and patched up by an older sister, maybe not a terrible experience for a 14 year old.
My next foray into the cycling world was commuting the five miles to Birkenhead a few times a week but even this had issues. I proudly went and bought one of JD Sports finest but by the end of the first week I had one cassette shear off and a frame snap in half. The latter resulting in me and my bike being delivered home in the back of a Hackney!
The start of my ‘serious’ cycling was in bed one night when I decided I needed a challenge and signed up for a Coast to Coast (C2C) bike ride from Morecombe to Bridlington called Way of the Roses (WOTR). Basically this decision was based on me getting fat and making strange ‘ooh’ noises putting my shoes on etc, after being active in many sports clubs kids (2 girls, so I now know all the Disney princesses!) and marriage had curtailed any of these activities. Somehow, I also managed to get my old school mates to join in this ride and one of them suggested we join Strava to help motivate each other through the training, thanks for creating that monster Trout!
The next day (30/11/14 – I checked Strava) I put on baggy board shorts, tracksuit top & my converse beach shoes and braved the back of the shed to dig out the Hybrid. I rode all the way to Upton (6.1 miles at 13.7mph) and back and survived. The next day Strava tells me I was ‘Getting Practice on Hills Now’, which included the Alpine Climb of Blackhorse Hill (10 miles at 14.5mph)! After a few months and many miles around the Wirral I decided I was ready for a proper ride and decided on the Horseshoe Pass as my destination, 88 miles door to door.
I was now armed with padded shorts worn under my baggies (Eternally grateful to my wife Rebekah for this present), a cycling top, helmet and a new cyclocross bike as we all know a road bike is made of paper and I wanted one to last with me. That was it, I set off at 6:00am and actually made it to the Ponderosa Café pretty much unscathed. Unfortunately, on the way back I found out why it is important to eat on a ride and I had my first ‘bonk’! I literally ended up crawling into the ice cream parlour at Parkgate and practically inhaled a litre of ice cream. This fuelled me home where I perfected my new found crawling technique into the house. Rebekah checked I was not going to die and then proceeded to call me an idiot and laugh quite a lot. Any pain I felt was forgotten when I proudly/smugly uploaded to Strava, you all know that feeling!
Somehow this did not put me off but did make me realise I needed to be better prepared and going out with one water bottle, £10 and a phone wasn’t wise. Luckily at this point I had never had a puncture otherwise it would have been a 40 mile walk back from the top of ‘The Shoe’! Safe to say I now carry the food, water and a mini cycling survival kit on any ride.
Next up was the actual WOTR that we all completed in 3 days and can honestly say was one of the best weekends I have ever had, 6 friends, 6 bikes completing 180 miles including ‘The Hill out of Settle!’ Anyone who has done the ride knows what I am talking about with its 20% gradient. As a starter challenge I would highly recommend a C2C as they are a stiff but not impossible challenge. You feel immense pride and satisfaction dipping your wheel in both seas and ‘that’ feeling uploading to Strava. The only downside is finishing at Bridlington or Sunderland but it can’t all be roses. After this, I followed up with my first century at the Manchester 100m (13/9/15), not too hard as it is mainly flat if you remember to eat. By this point, my confidence had soared and I purchased ‘100 Hardest Climbs’ by Simon Warren. If I could climb ‘The Hill out of Settle’ I could climb anything! With this in mind, I selected the Hellfire Pass (Bwlch-y-Groes) in Wales, rated 10/10 but no match for me and my CAADX!
How wrong was I? There are really no words to describe the pain this climb puts you through, it is simply horrendous and how my heart didn’t explode I will never know. What really hurt me though was I had to stop and put my foot down and then to rub it in I got a speeding ticket driving home. On the way home I was put through the torture of my ride partner proudly describing how he got up in one, not being smug as he was understandably proud but every descriptive word was like a stab in the eye. It was on this drive home I vowed ‘Never to Walk Again’ and cycling got serious.
The next day I threw away the baggy shorts, bought a new helmet (marginal gains and all), banned the lower gears and basically set about riding up any hills I could find in as high a gear as possible. This included completing the ‘Whole Hog’ sportive that was immense. Just short of 90 miles and 9000 feet of climbing. By now, I had a shiny new carbon road bike, a Giant TCR that is my pride and joy (turns out road bikes are not made of paper!) What I remember of this ride is that everyone set off like a train, I was riding through Glossop thinking how can I keep this up for 90 miles but it all calmed down and my training came through for me. Turns out, I am a pretty strong climber and the descent off Holme Moss in bright sunshine is something every cyclist has to experience.
After 8 months of hill training and charging around the Wirral as fast as I could I judged I was ready to settle my score. I plotted the route on Strava, found a willing victim to keep me company and set the date. Eight months after my initial failure all my training paid off and in 18 glorious minutes conquered Hellfire. It was still as hard but now I was mentally as well as physically armed to keep going and after 5 inglorious minutes recovering in the car park recovering we took some celebratory photos and set off home. If you ever collapse in a car park in the middle of nowhere do not expect help from the old couple eating a picnic in the car, from my experience checking on a lycra clad cyclist lying in sheep poo is not worth delaying the eating of a cheese sandwich!
The following 18 months has seen me cycle through wonderful parts of England and Wales including the Forest of Bowland, large parts of Yorkshire and Snowdonia. Bowland and the Electric Mountain outside of Llanberis are particular highlights. I also completed another C2C with my brothers this time and my eldest brother Simon is now a fully fledged convert as well. Him and the two Anthonys (also NWVCC members) have all been roped into my ‘adventure cycling’ rides that currently totals 29 of the 100 hardest climbs. Beware, more are coming fellas!
The end of 2017 has seen me join the North Wirral Velo Cycling Club and what is my newest challenge, RACING! My above training meant I was now decent on a bike but racing had never crossed my mind. I was certainly no slouch but as my youngest Thea would say I was no where near rocket speed! The first time Scott mentioned it I needed convincing but after a little research I found out he knew a little about it (his story to tell) and thought I would try. It was crazy, I had gone from the Alpine Climb of Blackhorse Hill to signing up to a hilly 14 mile TT in what felt no time at all.
At this stage it would be great to say I romped to victory on the 24/02/18 in true Hollywood style but the reality was I was overtaken after 5 mins by the fastest thing I have ever seen on a bike whilst I was travelling at 32mph! This just spurred me on however and Scott’s words came back to me about riding my race and don’t worry about anyone else. I did and completed the course in 36:55, 23.1mph average over the 14 miles. I am incredibly proud of this as my target was 40 mins and I had beaten it by over 3 mins. It did hurt but again that pain was forgotten by pressing ‘upload to Strava’! (I did mention earlier it was the start of a monster). The whole event had been brilliant and one I will not forget, everyone there was so supportive including the other riders and were happy to chat and offer encouragement. I have already signed up for another so that sums up my feelings, if in doubt give it a try!
My only cycling regret is not starting earlier. I am fitter, healthier and happier all through cycling (probably should mention Rebekah, Grace & Thea too). I have also met new friends and found the whole ‘cycling community’ to be a great set of people that will always help when needed, especially out on the road. I have seen many great things including a riderless horse and cart charging through north wales and hope to see many more. I implore all to set yourself a goal, work hard and reap the rewards cycling can give.