Yesterday, I dropped out of the Fred Whitton at the second feed station in Calder Bridge after 85 miles. I was frozen, soaked and demoralised. I felt like throwing my bike into the ditch and taking up plastic kit building again(a hobby from youth). 24 hours on and I’m still disappointed if a little more philosophical.
Right from the start I felt like the day was going to be difficult one. The first hill on the Fred is only one mile after the start and straightaway I was struggling. My breathing was all over the place and I felt as though I was close to hyperventilating, something I put down to anxiety at the thought of what was ahead. Kirkstone wasn’t quite so bad, but I was being passed by most riders on the ascent. Even on the flat past Ullswater every time I hooked onto a train of riders my heartbeat was redlining. On the A66 into Keswick I also got a nasty cramp in my right foot which necessitated a pull over and massage (luckily it didn’t recur). Things hadn’t got off to a great start and they were going to get worse.
The first really tough obstacle on the Fred is Honister Pass which has a long bottom section of 25% before a more reasonable finish. Actually, I rode this within myself and didn’t feel too bad although the wet and slippery descent was scary – there were a couple of fallers. At the Buttermere feed I caught up with Dan Stucke, my riding partner who was going much better than me. We were slightly behind 8 hour pace but the time was reasonable reinforcing my thoughts that all those zooming past me on Kirkstone were being a little ambitious. Newlands Pass was harder than I remember (I said that last time I rode it too), and enjoyed the descent to Braithwaite. Whinlatter was a real struggle though, bottom gear spinning up the relatively gentle gradient. Just over the top there was another faller with an ambulance hurrying up the hill – the slippery conditions were placing a premium on bike handling and I hope the guy was ok. Such sights did little for my motivation.
Now the rain started. I felt cold and very hungry, Dan left me for good on Fangs Brow and I was doubling up on gels to try and get some energy into my legs. As I approached Cold Fell I knew I needed a break so I found a marshal’s post and sat in the back of their van in an attempt to warm up. I was starting to shiver and knew that I needed to get some calories inside me in order to tackle the ten miles to Calder Bridge. It took a while to warm up again but as the ascent of Cold Fell began I was feeling the benefits of stopping and managed to keep a reasonable, if slow, rhythm over the exposed fellside. The Herdwick sheep looked on nonchalently munching their grass as if saying, “What do you expect in the Lake District in May?”The freezing rain was stinging my face; visibility dropped to around 75 metres as I climbed into the cloud and rivers ran across the road. My sagging morale was dealt a further cruel blow by a Lakeland tourist in his 4×4 driving too fast through a puddle drenching me from head to toe. By this time I knew I’d had enough. Unlike 2011 the weather was getting worse not better, my legs were tired, but most of all I was cold, really, really bone shakingly cold. I skeetered tentatively down the fellside to the coast, dropped my bike and hobbled as fast as I could for the shelter of the village hall.
Here I caught up with Dan who was about to set off for the Esk Valley and up Hardknott and he organised for his delightful and incredibly hospitable parents to take me back to the finish via a hot shower, dry clothes and cups of sweet tea at their picturesque cottage five miles down the road. Sweet heaven! I was expecting to have to sit around for an hour or two for a neutral service or sag wagon to take me back to the finish.
There ended my third and for the first time, unsuccessful, Fred Whitton. Dan went on to finish in 9:13 at his first attempt and as I was leaving Coniston at nearly 6pm riders were still streaming in to the finish. I’m sure Dan would have been well under 9 hours had he not waited for me at the top of numerous hills in the first half. Well done mate!
The stats for my ride are as follows: 137.2km, 2650 metres of ascent, over 4,000 calories burned at an average heartrate of 144bpm. On the face of it, not much different to the Wrynose or Bust sportive from a couple of weeks ago, although 40 kilometres shorter. That ride was in pretty grim weather too, so why should I have gone relatively well at that event and had such a struggle yesterday? That’s difficult to answer. My pre-ride routine was no different apart from the fact that I had 3 rest days before the Fred instead of 2 (one too many?), but yesterday I felt like I was running on empty all the time and was consuming gels like jelly babies. The steeper hills on the Fred make it a much harder ride for sure and it’s indicative of how hard I was finding it that 23% of the ride I spent in the red on the heartrate graph compared to only 8% on the Wrynose. I was also underdressed for the weather on Cold Fell. I needed full on winter clothing, not spring wear (even so, I had 5 layers on!) and it was the cold that finally put paid to my Fred Whitton Challenge in 2013. A bad day at the office, indeed.
I’ll finish by mentioning fellow COLT, Tom Phillips, who finished in an astonishing 6:32 (20th fastest overall) which on such an awful day is no mean feat.