It seems like a long time since I did anything good on a bike. This year I decided to complete something that’s been in consideration for ages. Ever since I met an old-time TT racer named Terry Thomas back in 2009. He was a bit of a crazy guy (sadly he passed away in 2010) but he inspired me a lot to ride my bike, and in particular to get fit again and win several big mountain bike races in 2010. So I wanted to do something in memory of Terry, and it seemed fitting to look at the time trials of his day – the place-to-place time trials from that era of our UK racing history. I needed this ride for my own soul, and I wanted to do this for Terry, and the inspiration he shared, thanks old friend…
The roads are almost empty, and the sun is up, but the air is still cool to the skin. I’m zipping through the outskirts of Yeovil on fresh legs, enjoying the early start, when it hits me: I’m riding Around Somerset! Oh Boy! But it’s far too late to be nervous and there’s no time to stop, the clock was started and all I have now is the task ahead: to finish the course.
All of my prep had been sudden. Thorough, in the form of bike and kit, but left to the last moment by design. I’d bailed out of this ride once already, last year before I’d even pushed the first pedal, so this time around I hadn’t even given myself the chance to think about it. After 5 months, during which I’d been completely off the bike, I climbed back on in early December with just one goal: get riding.
Then gradually the miles built, and everything else steadily followed. By March I was back to riding 250 mile weeks, I’d lost a bit of weight, my legs felt OK, my legs had stopped burning on every climb, and I started to think that maybe I should resurrect my goal of riding Around Somerset against the clock?
So I started endurance mountain bike racing again! nothing like a little but of something else for taking your mind from the inevitable. And that’s what riding a long distance is for me, it’s all about blocking my mind from the fear, the unknown (or the known = it’ll hurt) and then focusing purely on the task. I left my request to go for the record until the last possible moment, whilst slowly prepping all my kit for something I told myself I probably wouldn’t do. I helped load the van, we drove to the start, Phil the timekeeper counted me down. Simple.
So I’m riding out of Yeovil with fresh legs, on a cool early breeze, thinking nothing of it. Keeping my head down and turning the pedals as smoothly and as powerfully as I can, without doing anything I think I may not be able to repeat for another 12 to 13 hours. I had no planned stops, no planned rests, very simple food hand-ups and no distractions other than the road.
My pacing strategy was simple: I’d be riding to feel with an average speed goal of 19mph for the first hundred miles, but only if my legs felt good enough to hold it. Then after that first hundred I know the real race starts, and I’d better not be done when I get that far, because I’m done for if I am! I always slow down, it’s inevitable when you don’t stop for breakfast, lunch, or tea, and bits of your body start to hurt from the effort, the pressure or from abrasion. It’s easy to tell yourself you’ll not stop at all and you’ll keep the hammer down, but when you’ve worn a few holes in yourself? Well, I can tell you that just sitting on the saddle becomes monumentally painful! So 19mph first half and then maybe 17mph for the second? I’d done the training so there was nothing left to do but put it to the test and find out.
The checkpoints came ahead of time and I kept my mind purely on the task. No doubts allowed, no creeping worry, just task: pedal, climb, descend, corner, drink, eat, think ahead to the next junction. I’d memorised the entire route so any distraction I may have had from a map or a GPS screen was removed from the equation. I still took my gps: I wanted the stats, but keeping my eyes on the road would allow for a safer and faster ride once I got tired and my brain began to lose the plot. I drank one 750ml bottle of energy drink per hour, and one gel per hour. The odd sandwich or bar was only by request if my stomach felt empty. The miles rolled by and it seemed pretty good, even the pain: left shoulder at 50 miles seems about right, lower back at 80, ball of left foot at 95…
And then I was there with that first one hundred miles in the bag in just a bit over five hours and now?… it all begins; this is where I make it, or it breaks me! This is where the other two thirds of the climbing begins, where all the steep gradients make their appearance, where hurt takes over, where mind either bends or breaks. But I’ve already decided: I’M NOT GOING TO CRACK TODAY, I’m going to just crack on, unrelenting, unstoppable, even if I slow: pedal, climb, descend, corner, drink, eat, think ahead to the next junction.
Every single section of the second half becomes a love-hate affair. If I’m tucked on the flat then I’m looking forward to the climb so I can get myself up off this saddle and straighten my back. If I’m on a climb I’m gritted teeth looking for the top and some flat for respite. I’m dodging cramp on every other pedal revolution for the final 50 miles, I’m turning inside out, I feel dizzy, sick, slightly spaced-out. BUT, I’ve been here before, I crack on.
Then suddenly I’m climbing up towards the Holy Tree, the sign says Stoke-sub-Hamdon, I flip the screen on my garmin: the ride time says “game on” and then nothing left to give, becomes no time to waste; I’m on the gas like I’m racing a ten! Flat out to town, I’m totally autopilot, racing mode, I’ve done this a thousand times before. I finish as fast as I can, and even when I cross the line and the clock stops my lungs keep going and cannot be stopped. I stand there, in a whirl of emotion, surrounded by friends and family, just marvelling at the rate my heart is beating in my chest.
I grip the bars to my helmet, my heart starts to slow and the past 10 hours and 48 minutes are now allowed to melt into my subconscious. I keep my eyes closed for just a few more moments, and savour the taste: I did it, I rode Around Somerset. I feel supremely strong, yet completely exhausted, all at the same time. WOW! it feels good, so good, one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever known: knowing you did what you set out to do, not knowing if you could.
Many thanks to my on-the-road support crew: Simon Beard and John Loasby, YCC Time Keeper: Phil Clements. Paul at Rock & Road for the loan of his van, Dave Notley, Dave Driver and Martin Wills from Yeovil CC for their behind-the-scenes support, my wife Jen for all her love and support that made this possible, and last, but not least, Terry Thomas for the inspiration, thanks.
The official time splits:
0:49:46 – Wincanton
1:38:06 – Frome
2:06:48 – Radstock
3:03:07 – Bristol Airport
3:31:31 – Clevedon
4:18:04 – Weston super Mare
5:06:32 – Bridgwater
6:32:27 – Dunster
7:33:31 – Dulverton
8:22:28 – Wiveliscombe
8:45:24 – Wellington
9:49:54 – Chard
10:48:15 – Yeovil (finish)
Distance: 193 miles
Elevation gain: 11,975 feet
Previous Record: 10:49:19 (Brian Rice, 1961)
Normalised: 205 watts
Max: 780 watts
Zone 1/Active Recovery: 3:26:12
Zone 2/Endurance: 4:15:55
Zone 3/Tempo: 2:11:41
Zone 4/Threshold: 38:56
Zone 5/Vo2Max: 9:13
Zone 6/Anaerobic: 4:59
Zone 7/Neuromuscular: 1:15