Sunday 31 July 2011

South Downs Way (100 mile off-road randonnee)

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Training for the PBP has gone well this week. Argh, only 3 weeks till the PBP kicks off! Such training has included running and cycling of course. No road bike cycling was completed (though I used my road bike on the rollers). However, the South Downs Way (SDW) randonnee was tackled. The SDW is known to many as the toughest off-road bike ride in the UK, and the BHF say 'the seriously challenging South Downs Way Randonnée is not to be missed in 2011!'

The first half of the week saw me run and cycle each day from Monday up until Wednesday. This meant I had ran for 5 consecutive days. The great weather helps with motivation and enhances the 'feel good factor'.

The first cycle of the week was awesome. I went out with SJ and her new bike. We took our bikes from Studley to the crematorium in Redditch via cycle lanes and Arrow Vale lake. SJ was very brave for a newbie and took her bike down a steep off-road descent (by the arboretum) and some off-road dips. At the half-way point, the crematorium, we visited the graves of my nan and my friend Louise who passed away only 8 months ago. The return leg was just as much fun and I was pleased to be out on a bike with 'my girl'. We still felt quite energetic following our cycle, so we took Cody out for a run. We ran a shortened version of the Stinky route. I forgot we called it the Stinky route, but after SJ reminded me, plus the noxious smells of the sewage works, I could remember why!

My next run was an extended version of the stinky route with Cody. Following this run, I cycled an indoor session on the rollers. My new wheel set appears fine, but I have yet to test them outside. Ron and I are planning to complete the Montgomery Madness 200k audax next week - that'll test my wheels for sure!

Talking of Ron, my next cycle was with him and Sarah M. I chose the route and took us through naughty woods to Alcester. At Alcester we passed through the Dovecote, past Karen's house, down hill to Coughton Ford and back to Studley via the bridleway in Middletown. Ron punctured once again during this trip. Once home I still felt I had energy, so I took Cody for a run. We ran the same distance as Monday but avoided the smelly sewage works and just stuck to fields in Studley.

Thursday and Friday were rest days.

The South Downs Way (SDW) 100 mile off-road randonnee started Friday night for me. Logistically, the SDW is a real pain in the butt. I drove from Studley to meet Chris in Windsor on the Friday night. Once at Chris's we readied our bikes and filled our camel-back's with much food. Such food included cereal bars, malt loaf, chocolate bars, flap jacks (made by Chris), tuna sarnies (thanks Em, Chris's wife) and lots of gels (if you were Chris), not to mention energy powders and such like .... From Chris's abode we packed our bikes into his car and drove to Tom's (a work mate of Chris's) parents domicile in Winchester. A big shout out to Tom and his folks for putting us up and thanks again to Tom for taking Chris and I out for drinks.

We awoke early Saturday morning (4.30 a.m) and cycled our bikes to the start of the SDW challenge, which was about 1.4 miles away from Tom's. It was dark and a wee bit chilly at this time in the morning. However, at 5.30 a.m - our start time, it was light and we were off! Chris and I were in a group of about 20 and were the first to pedal away.
It felt great to finally set off on this SDW challenge as we had been waiting for an age for this event to happen. The start was fine and there was plenty of off-road terrain to keep us occupied throughout the day. Before we reached the first checkpoint at Queen Elizabeth Country Park we had climbed at least 2 steep hills. As with most steep hills, this was followed by super zoomy descents. The whole route was like this - hills followed by descents. The terrain was great and included single track, open field, mud, chalk and clay. Scenery was awesome too, we could see for miles at at time were very high up and exposed. Rich (another work mate of Chris's) set off about 30 minutes after Chris and I but had caught us up prior to reaching the first checkpoint. As the 3 of us chatted, Si (a mate of Rich's) flew past on his 29er (a single speed mtb with rather large wheels and no suspension) without noticing any of us. We all got to the checkpoint together and all was well.
SDW route was tricky at times as some of the sign posts were missing or hard to spot. With that said however, we managed to reach the Cocking and Bury checkpoints with no problem. At often times along the route were unofficial stop points - these were water taps where we would stop and fill our bottles.
From Bury to the Steyning checkpoint was where I encountered my first problem. I punctured! This was no major menace really as it was easily fixed. I think this was my second problem in actual fact - the first was when I was pedaling up a steep hill and my glasses fell off, grr! Chris waited while I fixed said puncture but Rich and Si carried on.

Rich and Si had carried on to meet their support at the Steyning checkpoint. Their support became our support! Indeed, when Chris and I reached the checkpoint, Rich's wife made us both a cup of tea. Better yet, Rich's folks supplied us with bread, crisps, sausage roll and energy drinks. Bonus! After this surprise feast we encountered a hill straight away that had to be climbed on a full belly.
The next section to the Devils Dyke control was nice. We were joined by John (another mate of Chris's) for a spell. I remember lots of descents here with frequent little bumps where it was possible to take air - this was great fun. I bunny hopped Scotty that many times that I couldn't keep count. As we were nearing Brighton we could see the sea and that was so pretty. It was a little push to the control but we could see an ice cream van on the horizon which provided me with motivation. The ice cream van was a ploy, however we were treated with a banana and a bottle of water at this checkpoint.
Is funny that much devilment happened after the Devils Dyke control. Jon had to leave us and we were back down to a group of four. This group became a group of 2. Rich and Si didn't wait for Chris and I at a watering point (!). Sadly, Chris and I have the navigational skills of badgers and as usual had gotten lost. We teamed up with another 'lost soul' and after a while managed to regain the route we were supposed to be following. This mishap didn't add extra miles but it stole a significant amount of time. We soon caught up with a group and cycled to the next control with them (we had an extra stop to finish our tuna sarnies too) but Rich and Si were not seen again. This was probably the hardest slog of the day.
When we reached the Itford Farm checkpoint we were a little put out and so were the other cyclists with us. We had gotten to the checkpoint after the closing time and officials were telling us to abandon. The others we were with were defiant and were going to continue anyway. They were warned it was going to get dark soon, but they didn't care as they had lights. I so wanted to finish this ride. I asked the group if they had spare lights - they did! However, lighting was not the only issue - we had to reach the train station before last train at 9.20 p.m. Hmm. Abandoning was not an option for me. I wanted to finish, I wanted my t-shirt, I wanted my medal and I wanted to cycle a 100 miles on Scotty, my mountain bike! Then I came up with a cunning plan! I asked the officials how far it was by ride to the last control - it was 16 miles and we had done 84! All we had to do then was reach the checkpoint before closing time and job was done.

Without further questioning, Chris and I pumped our tyres to near maximum pressure and sped off like a bat out of hell. We took turns to lead and pull each other for the first so many miles and were cycling at relatively high speeds. I had lost a bottle somewhere (probably down a bumpy descent) but was remembering to drink plenty. This route had a little sting in the tail, namely a few climbs but just before the end we were rewarded with a descent. Bombing down the descent and we saw a red BHF flag, woo hoo, this was the end! My gps unit counted 99.97 miles! We reached the checkpoint in Eastbourne in time! Woo hoo! We were happy and received our medals and t-shirts (I got an extra one for SJ) and big claps. Fantastic!
We then had to race to the train station! This story had a happy ending. We completed the challenge and got our rewards. We reached the station at 9:20 p.m but the train didn't leave till 9:31 p.m (phew) and better yet, a girl gave us 2 free tickets (and saved us £60). Once off the train we had to cycle a few miles back to Chris's home. We got back tired but pleased with another epic adventure!

Weekly totals: Ran 8.1 miles; Cycled 156 miles.

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