Back in May 2015 I arrived in Grasmere, parked up the van and proceeded to registration. I was handed an envelope with everything I needed to meet Fred. I met him at 0500 the following morning and over the duration of the day, he proceeded to destroyed me. On returning to my hotel that night, I remember speaking to my wife and uttering the words from a beaten self, “never again!!!”
So guess what? I have submitted a lottery entry to met him again in May.
For those that have no idea of my initial ramblings, let me explain.
Fred Whitton was a popular member of the Lakes Road Club, he was club secretary and organised and attended many of the club activities. This charity event has been set up to honor the late Fred Whitton. The Fred Whitton Challenge is a 112 mile sportive around the Lake District, starting at Grasmere and taking in some climbs that Essex has none to compete with. Climbing Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes. They save the best till last and at 98 miles slap you with a 30% gradient climb. I think it’s just in case you thought the rest was easy!!!! In total you climb around 12000ft. You are not eased gently into the ride either, no real time to warm up because within the first few miles you start to climb and quite sharply. Starting at 250ft climbing to 1275ft, well that got the heart rate going, plus you pass a sign that says “The Struggle” that sets you up for the day.
This ride is intense and even though I had trained in and around Derby and Nottingham for a few days, nothing prepared me for this. When you’re out of the saddle, pushing hard, turning the pedals slowly and you can reach forward and kiss the front tyre, you know the climb is steep.
Through Twitter I have been lucky enough to meet a small group of friends, who share a common interest in cycling. There is always conversation, normal levels of abuse/motivation and advise when needed. Most of us have not met, but Ian Appleby (Twitter : @moses_dad) decided to join me and cycle the Fred Whitton Challenge……….for fun. I did question his sanity but this is his neck of the woods. It was a great pleasure to meet Ian and to be able to ride the wet twisting roads with someone.
This ride is the hardest I have completed so far, furtherest distance I have ever ridden and the biggest overall elevation I have climbed. The hills are relentless and when you can see Hardknott Pass a few miles away, it plays on your mind. I managed to cycle half way up Hardknott but had very little left in the legs. I was moving that slowly that unclipping was not an option. So I found a little piece of soft grass and moss at the side of the road and dismounted the bicycle by falling over. Once I’d stopped this caused another issue, how do I start again on an 18% inclined section? You have no choice but to walk until the gradient subsides. Ian mentioned he wanted to beat the pass and off he went and attacked the section and at one point had his water bottle in his mouth as he flew passed other cyclists. What a show off!!!! But a tip of the hat for that one.
If the climbing was painful, the descents offer another difficult challenge. I struggle with climbing, my power to weight ratio is not at its best. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it! What I love is descending but when you fly back down the other side, brakes on and you are still doing 26mph, it is time to clench and concentrate. One wrong move and it could be costly. Even though it was raining and rained all day, the views were fantastic.
I will admit I was glad to see the finish. Ian’s motivational words for the last few miles helped but then I did not have the energy to smack the beard off of him and pedal. I finished the ride in 8 hours 43 minutes so I will be looking for under 8 hours this time around and dryer, warmer weather.
I have entered the ballot for 2017 and will have to wait for the closing date, 22nd January. Hopefully a bit more prepared.