Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Wakefield Hospice: Dark Peak Challenge

The day had finally come for the Wakefield Hospice Dark Peak Challenge. Twenty years since I last took cycling seriously and a full 10 weeks after buying a road bike and beginning some serious training, it all came down to this one event.

I set off from home to ride the short 5 miles to the Nuffield Health & Fitness Centre for the start location to the event (notice how I cycled there? I'm hardcore me!). No sooner had I got on to the main road and headed downhill towards Wakefield I noticed that the morning fog was getting heavier all the way. By the time I arrived I had condensation settling on me and the bike.

I was amazed to see over 200 riders milling about. The different types of jersey being worn made for a rainbow of skin-tight colour wherever you looked.

I arrived in good time for the start, but I was one of the last riders to set off because of some technical issues to my front gears that I needed to resolve first. I also needed the toilet and I didn't fancy having to stop mid-ride anywhere!

When I did finally set off it was with a group of about another 10 riders. It was a super cold start - I had been stood around in one layer of Lycra with a heavy damp, fog around me. My teeth were chattering and there was condensation settling on me and the bike again!

I have never ridden in a Peloton before, so I didn't know the etiquette about over taking and leaving the group. The group was going at a steady if slow pace - sub 13 mph on roads that I had trained on whilst hitting 18+ mph. I think I stuck with them for too long. Some other riders I noticed were starting to overtake and leaving their groups so once I realised that it wasn't poor form to leave the pack, I was off.

The ride was very much as I remembered from my previous training ride covering the old route. The route had been changed recently as there were events in the middle of Holmfirth that meant that it was out of bounds. The organisers said that it was only an additional 7 miles, skirting around Holmfirth and going through Honley. They made it sound so blissfully serene.

I underestimated those additional 8 miles (that turned out to be 12 extra miles on the overall course in total) around Honley. It was a tough climb - tougher than I ever expected. The fog didn't help as you couldn't see 50 yards ahead let alone the end of any climb. Because of this the hills around Honley were painful and just seemed to be going on and on and on, with no end in sight. I climbed that far up that I eventually cleared the fog. I then saw the summit of Holme Moss a few miles in the distance. I could also see the descent back in to the fog that I would have to make before I even started tackle the ascent. That was a real psychological drain. 

But I just kept peddling...

I managed to get up Holme Moss with only a handful of other riders overtaking me (I managed to overtake some myself!). I could see that those who did overtake me had been cycling for years - unlike me with only 10 weeks in the saddle! The only sour point was one of these riders commenting that "..you need to be on the big ring for the photographs at the top." If I could have managed a "F- you" then I think I would have, instead I just focused on keeping those pedals turning and that breathing rhythm going. As it turned out there wasn't a photographer in sight! Muppet!

The Scrum at the Holme Moss Food Station


But there was a food station at the summit! I stopped for no more than about 10 minutes - enough time to refill my water bottles, scoff down a gorgeous muffin and woof a banana before I was off again. I was on a tight schedule as I knew the family would be waiting at the finish line. From this point on I knew for certain what lay ahead because of the training ride/recce of the old 50 mile route a few weeks before.

The Dark Peak Challenge had 2 rides running today and at the far side of Holme Moss, where it meets Woodhead Reservoir, the courses now split from each other. I turned left and whole bunch of riders went right. I was by myself for a very long time. After about 3 miles I eventually saw one rider on the horizon so I focused on catching up to him - and I did, only to be overtaken myself by another rider who obviously used me for target practice as well!

The last third of the route was a case of head down and get on with it - and to prepare for those sneaky little hills around the corners and that little 1 in 10 near to the very end. Fluid and foods were now being taken at every opportunity as a form of mental preparation. 

The point where I was getting worried about my finish time was about 200 yards from the end. A set of traffic lights held me up for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time. Just before they changed I was like a frantic meerkat, bobbing up and down, looking back to make sure that no one was going to sneak a placing off of me! 

I needn't have worried as I crossed the finish line, with the family stood there cheering me on, I was a solo cyclist! It was at this point I was told that I had finished third over the line! I was a bit shocked by this news - but that explained why the car park wasn't as full of as many cyclists as I had expected. I also thought I'd be way down the finish line - now if only I didn't have that mechanical issue at the start!



I was a bit disappointed about my overall time - I was hoping for around the 3:30hrs mark. This assessment was based on the original route of 50 miles before the recent increase to 57. In total I travelled 61 miles, so I suppose my time of 4:20 hrs isn't too shabby for my first ever Sportive outing. Finishing 3rd also explained why I only saw 2 other riders for the whole of the return leg - at first I thought that everyone, bar me, had turned right at Woodhead Reservoir for the Extreme Course! I spoke to some of the more "seasoned" riders after the event and they all commented on how tough the course was this year and that it was the fog and Honley that made the difference. Maybe I should stop beating myself up about the time and reflect on the achievement?

One the plus side, with the generosity my family, friends and acquaintances, I have raised nearly £1000 in sponsorship for the Wakefield Hospice. So I hope that all those who did sponsor me are pleased with the performance?

A couple of links, if anyone is interested in the route I took, and what I looked like!

Afterwards me and the family went to a local public house for a spot of lunch, then afterwards Mr Hardcore me cycled the now 6 miles back home!

So what's next? I think a few days rest first, then I am going to do some rides on the flatter side of West Yorkshire for the next few weeks. I have certainly caught this cycling bug and I am starting to like the new slimmed down version of me too!

Oh and if you still wish to donate to the great cause that is The Wakefield Hospice, then my Just Giving Page is here...