Fred Whitton Challenge 2017

So did Fred treat me nicely?  We were presented with a sunny warm day with little wind but it was not Fred I had to worry about.

You could not ask for better weather. A south westerly 8 mph wind with temperatures set to sore to 18º.  Not the case at 0515 in the morning when myself and Ian left the hotel for a short 7 mile warm up ride to the start.

Once Ian had completed his early morning registration we lined up on the start.  The earlier warmth slowly leaving our bodies and being replaced with the freshness that is 0600.

The start of Fred 2017

We finally crossed the start line at 0615 and I avoided the temptation to revel in the start and increase the pace to something that could not be maintained.  I had decided to pace myself, setting the Garmin’s virtual partner to the speed completed in 2015.  This was for two reasons, to stay ahead of my own target and stop me constantly looking down and counting down the miles.

We slowly started to warm up again as we headed through Ambleside, the marshals directing us off the main road and to the beginning of the first climb.  The pace soon reduced to single figures as pedals were turned with more effort.  Passing a sign stating the next section of the climb was at 116% and I was not sure if my 34/32 would cope with such steepness.  This was the start of the climb to Kirkstone Pass, a long but gradual climb that would take us to the highest point on the course.  I like this type of climb, it allows me to set a rhythm, a steady tempo on the pedals.  I would say the view was fantastic but as we passed ‘the struggle’ we ended in the cloud and it was cold, around 4º as we crossed the summit.  We were handed some Haribo by the support teams at the top and they tasted good. (The Haribo, not the support team).  These climbs are tough but they do provide one hell of a descent and I like descending.  Not because it means I can recover and no requirement to pedal but these descent are twisty, allowing the line of least resistance to be picked and then hold on.  I did not allow the bike to run away but when the brake pads are starting to smell through heavy braking, you need to give things a break.

The climb towards Kirkstone Pass

The ride continued well and slowly heading towards the 50 mile feed stop but there was still a testing climb to come, Honister Pass, 1.5 miles with a 10% average, slapping you with a short 15% section, just incase you thought it would be easy.  In 2015 I stopped and walked a small section, this year I did not put a foot down but did utilise the stone bridge half way up to compose and motivate myself for the last push.  Entering the slate mines it was then a 13% descent down the other side.  A small group formed and away we went, quickly catching two cars but our top speed was scrubbed.  With twisty tight roads there was no point in putting yourself or others in danger with a risky overtake.  That was not the decision of all and caused issues that affected everyone else.

I met Ian at the 50 miles feed stop in Buttermere and grabbed malt loaf, sandwiches and refilled my water bottles.  I did not want to stop for too long as the next climb, Newlands was less than a mile from the feed stop.  During this climb I noticed something was not right, I started to feel a twinge in my right knee.

I decided to ease up and not too push on the flats, hoping it was something I could ride out.  The next climb of Whinlatter, 1.8 miles at 7% average, I struggled.  The climb has a couple of kickers but in general a steady climb but I was finding it difficult to apply pressure through my right leg.

I continued but things were starting to get worse.  There were still two major climbs, Hardknott and Wrynose to come.  I decided I would get to the 83 mile feed stop, take on some food, obtain some medical advise and rest up for a bit.  Unfortunately this was not the case, a short and unassuming climb to Fangs Brow but at the top I knew I could not carry on.  I made a marshalling point and needed assistance from them.  At that moment it was that bad that I was unable to twist out of my cleat, a marshall had to undo my shoe so I could get off the bike.


Unfortunately this was the end of my race, there was no point in carrying on and being driven to the feed stop there was still some climbing to do.  I am absolutely gutted I did not complete the course but I made the right decision.  My time with Fred is done but I would still love to return to the area and complete the hills again, splitting them down into smaller chunks. 

I have not ridden the bike for over a week now and rested.  I did have a doctors appointment but due to the cyber attack, this had been cancelled.  A physio’s appointment has also been booked but need to wait another week for that.  I went out on a family ride yesterday for around 4 miles and everything felt good and the legs have been twitching to get back on the bike.  I am back into work tomorrow so will have a spin around Regent’s Park and see how I get on.


 Mr Whitton, we meet again

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.

Elevation for Fred Whitton


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.

Ian and I before the set off


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.

One of the many climbs


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.

The start of Hardknott Pass, heed the % warning