I have always relished a challenge. I did not, however, realistically expect to be accepted for an ultra endurance cycling event when I applied for All Points North. I am 64 and working full time and saw a link on Instagram (@katiekookaburra) which piqued my curiosity so I entered.
The acceptance email was a shock! I decided I had better justify my application so hired a coach and read great books by Mark Beaumont, Endurance – How to Cycle Further (the associated podcasts are great as well) and Ian Walker, Endless Perfect Circles : Lessons from the little-known world of ultradistance cycling. The coaching built my confidence and the books made me realise that you needed to reduce faff time and it was as much a mental as a physical effort.
Which meant I turned up to the start a bag of nerves, full of doubt and trepidation….
As a Rookie rider I got to start at noon on the Saturday. Quickly all the riders diverged The first control point (CP) was at Leeds Pals Memorial and it felt more of a slog than I thought it would be, maybe because the bike was fully loaded. Got there after dusk and started towards the CP at Malham Tarn. Hadn’t got my nutrition sorted (a perennial problem) and felt dreadful around 11.30pm so found a secluded spot behind a wall next to the road and bivvied.
I woke around 3am I think and was about to snuggle down in the sleeping bag again when I heard a free hub go by. The 8pm gang were going past which got me out of my bivvy and back on the road and feeling much better. Malham Tarn CP at dawn, Dent Station CP (highest station in England at the top of a slog of a hill…). Then a gorgeous ride to Silverdale and the West Coast CP. I was eating an ice cream before I realised I was in Windermere. Next CP was the Slate Mine on Honister Pass. By now I was resigned to pushing up sections of hills the course designer had put the CPs on. Definitely malevolent. The ride out of Honister to Penrith was a blast and I had booked a Premier Inn online earlier (only a few rooms left…panic entry on the phone!). When I arrived I asked if there was still time for dinner and could I have pasta. “We have run out of rigatoni pasta I am afraid. Would a double helping of spaghetti be ok?” The gods were smiling as it also rained in the night but I was recharging batteries indoors 🙂
Left Penrith before dawn with the roads glistening in the light from the rain overnight. Grassholme CP was the point at which I turned North in search of the CP at Coquetdale. As the firing ranges were in use I had a route round the easterly side. The CP was in a remote, wild spot, yet the tandem and another rider turned up whilst I was there. At least it was downhill from Coquetdale en route to Runswick Bay. The night sky was incredible and the nocturnal frogs, owls, moths and screeches kept me entertained until I could ride no further. I bivvied for about 3 hours under the Milky Way.
A big push to Runswick Bay over more steep hills and then a very steep descent to find the CP. Now I had been to the East coast and it was time to turn inland and head for Rivelaux Abbey. A lesson from today is to pay more attention to the detail in route planning. I used Komoot and it is so easy and reliable I got lazy and didn’t check if some of the climbs had alternative routes that might be a bit longer but take less time?
A section of ‘glorious’ rolling hills – well, glorious in a car…
It was wonderful country to ride through but hard work. I found a nice little shop in a lovely village called Rosedale and then, from the suppressed recesses of my mind the words Rosedale and Chimney started to bubble up. Ride it? I could hardly bloody walk up it.
It was dark when I eventually got to Rievaulx Abbey but still early in the evening.
There is a madness that I think can infect you when you imagine you can do more than you have ever done before. The first example of this was applying for APN21. the second case study was leaving Rievaulx and thinking ‘maybe’… I also blame a friend who sent me a WhatsApp suggesting that it wasn’t far to the finish…
It was when my head dropped and I lost focus and I almost crashed that I decide discretion (bivvying) was a better choice than valour (how on earth I let the idea of pushing on to the end infect my addled brain is beyond me…). I found a space between thistles, looked up at the Milky Way once more and in seconds was asleep.
Two hours after I had fallen asleep, to the sounds of the night, I woke up and thought “now you can do it”. I needed those two hours as my front light only had enough battery to see me through to dawn and for some reason my back up batteries had drained charging the phone, Garmin and rear light.
The road to Beverly and CP 10 was flatter – in fact some of the descents lasted as long as the climbs- joy!
Before dawn I arrived in Beverley and documented the last CP answer. All I had to do was get to Sheffield – a final 100km.
I had been so focussed on getting to Beverley that getting back on the bike and setting off for Sheffield suddenly seemed a very hard task. I was wobbly. I had very little food (some Jelly Babies) and a small amount of water. Well, you can worry or you can get going and see what happens.
Somewhere around 6am I saw a light on in a newsagents. There was a woman sorting the morning papers. I gingerly knocked on the door and asked if she was open. There was a micro-second of hesitation in her body language and then she said, “you might as well come in”. I didn’t know what I wanted. “We have iced coffee”she said when I asked. Then I saw it. I had heard of its reputation but never tried it. “Is Red Bull good?” “It might give you a rapid heart rate”, she answered. A packet of digestive biscuits and cream cheese triangles and two bottles of water completed my purchases. I sat outside and drank the Red Bull. It tasted awful. I made cream cheese digestive biscuit sandwiches. I ate. I filled my water bottles. Then the Red Bull hit – it lives up to its reputation!! Head down I started pushing. Places I was familiar with started to appear on the route. I got through Rotherham and the path closure. I was in Sheffield. I stopped and pulled on my cap. I felt I had to wear it into the finish. Friends had texted me to ask if I wanted a lift home. We arrived at the finish simultaneously. It was done.
Martin McShane (17) – 95 hours 22 minutes
Leeds Pal Sat 20:13 | Malham Tarn Sun 05:33 | Dent Sun 08:06 | Silverdale Sun 11:11 | Honister Sun 17:23 | Grassholme Mon 09:08 | Coquetdale Mon 19:35 | Runswick Bay Tue 14:34 | Beverley Wed 04:26 | Heeley Institute Wed 11:22
992.61km. 13,269m ascent. Two hot meals. Estimated 15hrs sleep.
Thanks to joesbikes.co.uk for advice, bike and new brakes before I started. Thanks to Emma from highnorth.co.uk/team for the coaching which got me physically and mentally well prepared for what has been one of the most stretching and satisfying challenges I have ever done. Finally thank you to the organisers, A Different Gear, for such an awesome event.
Even if I hadn’t finished I would have been proud of what I had achieved. Even if I hadn’t started I would have been proud of the work I did to try and put myself on the start line. I am still processing the fact I finished.