This was my first step into proper ultra-racing and my god it was a baptism of fire. We set off at 8am Saturday morning with the late Mike Halls’ mother waving us off for the 600k and 8800+ vertical meters.
Saturday was a tough day, the first 150k over the southern end of the Dales was slow going. The recent rain made the tops boggy, I was wading through stuff knee deep at times. The aim was to get through York at 220k on day one. After the first 150k took 10 hours it seemed pretty unrealistic! Once I came down off the Dales, and I hit the flats on the run into York, I made good progress.
The bike lanes made a nice change and I managed to pick up the pace. The night drew in and I pressed on into York. A quick stop at McDonalds in the city centre worked wonders and I managed to make it to Stamford bridge, at 235k, in the early hours of the morning. I sorted myself out and got some sleep.
Sunday morning at 5am the alarm went off. I spent ages faffing around and didn’t set off until 6am. I don’t remember much from Sunday. It was a tough start and I didn’t end up getting to Scarborough until early afternoon. A quick meal deal in Tesco fuelled me up nicely for the tough part of the day up and over the moors. I wanted to get up and down before dark but the going was so tough I didn’t quite make it. I ended up riding most of that day with a dude called Andy, who took on GBDuro the first year on a FatBike. Coming down off the Moors in the dark was a bit intense. It was cold and technical. Having company definitely made it more enjoyable. We dived into a pub at 10:45 to refill bottles. They were great people and clearly felt sorry for us. They made us coffee and plated up all the left-overs from the day’s roasts. We eventually dragged ourselves out the pub and got on with a seriously cold night shift.
The alarm went Monday morning after a seriously cold night. I had just over 100k left to go on day 3. I thought it would be pretty straight forward. Up and over the Dales again then a nice run in back down to sea level in Arnside. There were some pretty tough sections on day 3 and plenty of walking. My lowest point of the event was in the last 10 miles, when I was trekking over a big boggy windmill farm, despite being in touching distance of the finish. After that it was pretty smooth going on the roll into Arnside.
Finishing an event like this is so underwhelming, there’s no line to cross, no spectators or officials stopping the clock. I just rolled onto the pier covered in mud, with my bike fully loaded with kit, while people looked at me bewildered. I ended up finishing with a time of 56h 47minutes Which was enough to get 4th place.
The kit: I rode a Cannondale Topstone for the event. I had 2x11 Shimano 105 on with 48/36 Absolute black oval rings on the front and an 11-34 on the back. 2x is an unpopular choice for these events but I love it. I ran Hunt X Mason wheels with 43mm Gravel King SKs.
The wrong bike performed perfectly. If I were to do it again, I’d definitely use a hard tail 29er. I had a mix of Pro Discover and Apidura bags for the event. Nutrition: Getting enough food on board for these events is a real challenge, I carried enough food for on the bike for 2.5 days meaning I didn’t need to worry about stopping at shops for top-ups but also to stop the risk of spreading COVID! I only had to worry about what I was going to eat on Saturday and Sunday evening. It saved me carrying a stove too. On the bike I had a mix of flapjacks, home-made energy bars, sweets and fruit and nut. I also had bag of UpShift SUSTAIN to keep topping up my bottles, this was vital as without it there was no way I could get enough carbs in each hour.
Two weeks on now I can look back and say it was easily the hardest thing I’ve done, both mentally and physically. I’m still feeling the effects of the event, I picked up an ankle injury and a bit of an illness off the back of it that have really knocked me. Despite this, there’s something about an ultra that is so enticing. I still don’t understand the world of ultra-racing and I have a lot to learn, I’m yet to find out what it’s like to hit rock bottom in one of these events and then pick yourself up from it. You go on a journey of self-discovery where you find out so much about yourself, how you deal with adversity, how far you can push yourself and where the limit is on your ability. I still don’t know the answers to these and I’m hungry for more.
A couple of people have asked why I did this when I could’ve enjoyed a summer off racing. I think the reason I did it was a mixture of two things. Firstly, I’ve always had an interest in these self- supported races. I’m quite a big “dot watcher” and following GBDuro last year and this year really gave me the nudge to get out and try something.
The other reason was after spending lockdown at home I needed something to put me out of my comfort zone, I hadn’t had that nervous feeling you get before a race or an event and I missed that! I was s***ting myself for a good two weeks leading up to the Dales and I just had no clue what to expect. The feeling of the unknown and the idea that it was going to be a tough weekend was exciting for me.
What's next? I honestly don’t know myself, I have a long list on my phone of events and rides I’d like to do. I guess it depends how next year pans out with racing but there’s certainly going to be more of this.