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Charity Challenge Event: London to Edinburgh Rat Race Cycle Challenge

Posted by Martin Keat

I decided to spend the May bank holiday weekend cycling from London to Edinburgh with Ratrace.com. I opted to do the event for the charity Bishop Simeon Trust (www.bstrust.org). My goal was to raise at least £1500. I had come across the charity as it sponsored the race against time (www.theraceagainsttime.com) a ride from Lands’ End to John O’Groats, 874 miles in less than a week, 145 miles a day average. But unfortunately the ride was cancelled for 2013, which was probably a blessing in disguise as I don’t think I was quite ready for it.

The aim of the Ratrace roadtrip was to cycle from Tower Bridge in London to Holy rood Park in Edinburgh a total distance of 440 miles, although I ended up doing around 456 miles due to a minor detour on day 2 (Long sad story).

I was asked to write this note with the view that it would be read by people who are cycling novices thinking of riding the ratrace road trip in 2014 on behalf of the Bishop Simeon trust. So with that in mind I wanted to set the background in regard my own fitness or lack thereof as well as how I trained leading up to the event.

Equipment:        Around 6 months prior to the event I purchased a £1,000 aluminium road bike from my local bike shop, this was not my first bike in recent times, I had been previously using my Boardman hybrid for commuting, and in 2012 rode it over around 80 miles on the ratrace coast to coast challenge between Nairn and Glencoe.  

I also bought a second-hand carbon road bike as at the time was told this would be much better over long distance. I have ridden both the aluminium Bianchi Impulso and the carbon Bianchi 928 and I can’t really spot any major difference.  I decided to take the cheaper aluminium bike on the road trip.  I am only mentioning this as when I first started it was very confusing as to what was the best way to get involved. Cyclist debated over what type of tyres and what pressures etc. On the road trip I saw people riding £400 bikes who were consistently quicker and more comfortable than people riding machines that must have cost in excess of £4,000. It simply all boils down to fitness and comfort.

The best advice is buy a bike within budget but make sure it is the correct size and get the local bike shop to fit you correctly, then work on your fitness and lose weight it costs nothing to lose weight but the lighter the bike the more expensive it will be, my advice is don’t get sucked into needing the lightest bike if you are not fit it will make no difference to your speed.

I decided  after a great deal of trial and error to go with Ultremo ZX 145 psi 23mm tyres and then found by switching to 25mm 115 psi tyres the ride over longer distance was much more comfortable. I use GP4 Seasons.

The Road Trip:

The trip sets off from a field next to Tower Bridge, on the Friday morning. I travelled down the day before catching the train from Glasgow to Kings Cross, East Coast trains do not charge extra for taking your bike. Once I arrived I jumped on a taxi and headed to my hotel next to tower bridge.    That evening I dropped my bike off at the secure area and registered for the event. I was taking the camping option, I figured it would be more fun?

 

 

Day 1: I arrived at the start line, dropped off my rucksack and tent (As ratrace take all your gear by van up to each stage), and prepared to set-off. I was a little nervous as I had not managed to get in anywhere near as much training as I had hoped. My longest ride in training was 40 miles, most of my rides were 20 miles but fast and hilly. It was basically too cold to be out any longer than an hour or so almost all the way up from November to the end of April my training consisted of indoor trainer cycling and short outdoor rides, with several layers of clothes on.

The weather in London on day was excellent, bright sunshine and warm. The challenge for day 1 was to cycle from London to Burghley House Stamford a total of 98 miles with a pit stop at 32 miles and 66 miles.

 

 

The initial cycle out of London was slow and steady and a little nerve racking at times as we had to deal with London rush hour traffic. I had a brief collision with a post trying to avoid a bin lorry that decided to reverse through a junction onto a footpath without looking! Luckily my chest and handle bar took the brunt and the bike suffered only minor damage. A French rider behind stopped helped me repair my back tyre and got me going in under 5 minutes. He stayed with me for some miles to ensure I was okay. The adrenaline from this took my mind off the distance that had to be covered that day and before I knew it I was at pit stop 1. At each checkpoint there are medics, bike mechanics and food and drinks etc. I reported to Carl one of the medics what had happened he checked me over made sure I was fine and off I went heading for Huntingdon and pit stop 2. It must be said but this is a very nice part of the country, the roads are quiet and the many villages and very picturesque. I enjoyed the cycling on day 1 and before I knew it I saw the sign for Burghley House and that was day 1 over.

I arrived quite fresh having enjoyed the day. Next challenge was pitching my tent and getting showered etc.

The facilities provided by ratrace are excellent, the showers and toilet facilities are great, they have hot food facilities and a bar, everything you need. Plus the weather was very nice.

  

Day 2: Burghley House to York Race course 121 miles.

The organiser said as we set off that after the first 43 miles the remainder of the day was quite flat and that this was the easiest day of ride. The first pit stop was 43 miles in at a place called Bassingham, 20 miles into the ride my rear cassette came loose and I had to have mechanical help. First one of the outriders came to help then the mobile bike mechanic but neither could assist.

I was then assisted by Chris who drove the bike rescue and support wagon, and he took me to a bike shop in Grantham were I got the cassette fixed and was soon back on my way. Although the episode had cost me 3 hours I still had plenty of time to make the cut offs. The event is designed as a ride and not a race, I set off at 7am each day but some riders would delay setting off until 8 or 9 am some even later. I felt I might need all the time available, and I’m glad I did as it meant no real time pressure  even with the 3 hour delay.  Once back on track and riding through Lincolnshire which yes was quite flat but very windy and the riding was tough, I missed a sign and went 1o miles up a dual carriageway the wrong way, adding 16 miles to my day as if it was not long enough? The route is well signposted it just so happened when I missed a sign the next junction was ten miles up the road.  Around 20 miles outside of York I teamed up with a couple of fellow scots, and we rode in together taking turns at the front, which made the ride into York slightly easier.

 

This is the three of us arriving at the York finish line:

The facilities at York were also very good, I was quite early to bed (8pm) needed my rest but was pleased to be halfway there.

Day 3:  This was 114 miles and the toughest of the trip as it had a lot of rather big hills, and became my first experience of what a 15% plus gradient was? But more of that later. I teamed up with Andy one of the Scots from the day before and a couple of South African lads, and together with a couple of others we rode together for the first 70 miles at quite a decent pace. I had basically had enough at the 70 mile mark the pace was a little too sharp and dropped off supported by Andy and we decided we would slow down a little in light of the number of serious climbs that lay ahead.

 

Some of the steep climbs went through villages, I am still not sure how they managed to build villages on such steep hills? On one of the hills which we had been climbing for over 30 minutes it felt like people were actually walking past us on the adjacent footpath which was a little depressing? I NEVER KNEW IT WAS POSSIBLE TO CYCLE BACKWARDS?  Arriving at the second pit stop at Lanchester 84 miles completed, we decide to take a decent break and get plenty of fluids and food, plus I topped up on the sun screen as it was very hot. We are told only two big climbs left then not too bad the rest of the way.  All I want to say is that I enjoyed this day of cycling, we climbed over 6,000 feet in total, I now appreciate what high gradients mean, and one of them which was 15%  came after we had already been climbing for about 40 minutes  up a 14% gradient was the highlight of my day. Being 92kg and 5ft 6 inches I am not exactly built for steep hills.  We arrive in Morpeth Castle a beautiful setting.

This is myself and Andy arriving at the end of day 3 Morpeth Castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The camp ground at Morpeth Castle was within the Castle walls and again we were blessed with excellent sunny weather.

 

I must admit I am slowly fading now, but managed to get myself together to go down into Morpeth for a beer with another fine Scotsman and his son, he was a dentist in Harley Street, and they always seemed to be having a great time.

Everybody I met on this trip was nice, from the experts down to the first timers we all had a great time.

 

Roll on day 4…

Day 4: Morpeth to Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, and elevation gain 6,290Ft.

The first pit stop on day 4 was only 25 miles at Alnwick, and passed quite quickly. Pit stop 2 as located at Cranshaw 51 miles later, which is basically the middle of nowhere?

It was a bit of a slog to pit stop 2, lots of ups and downs and we managed to stop for the crossing of the border photo:

 

 

 

 

 

Once out of pit stop 2, there is a wee nasty short steep climb leading onto a long slow climb using the B6353 which is one of the highest public roads in Scotland at 440m. I believe this climb had a name, but it escapes me now.

 To be honest I found the climbs the day before harder as they were steeper and there was lots of them.  I did not mind the long slow climb up this road as I knew once at the top it was turn right and head for Tranent which was downhill all the way, and then an easy run into Edinburgh and the long awaited finish line. It was strange having spent most of the day cycling across baron wasteland to suddenly find I was battling with bank holiday traffic and the Edinburgh buses. It took a lot of concentration to make it through those last few miles in one piece. 

Then finally we arrived at Holyrood Park both myself and Andy, we only met for the first time just outside of Selby on day two and we had been dragging  each other along ever since. I think he was glad to be finally rid of me and my constant whining about hills!

It was nice for this event to be over, and say “I have the T Shirt”. I am glad to have completed it and would say that anyone with a reasonable level of fitness could do this event. It is certainly not an elite event and the times they allow are easily achievable as long as you just keep going.

There was a group of ladies cycling for the Macmillan cancer charity, and a few of them had never cycled more than a few miles before and they managed to get round in one piece and have some fun along the way.

I am glad now that I did this event as it showed me that I was perhaps not quite ready for the challenge of the race against time, from Lands’ End to John O’Groats. I am not sure I could have completed another 4 days?

The ratrace roadtrip is an excellent event and I intend to do it all over again in 2014 this time my wife wants to come along, and hopefully we can raise some more funds for the Bishop Simeon Trust for the excellent work they do in Africa.   I used the ratrace.com platinum membership which cost £45 per month and allows me to enter any of their many events free of charge. It also gets me a £100 gift voucher at their store and a 15% of any products they sell including bikes. I have mentioned this as this puts the event in to an affordable bracket and if you do more than one of their events during the year very good value for money. Ratrace provide full support during the events, all the food and drinks you need at the pit stops, and full mechanical and medical support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A big part of our work here at the Bishop Simeon trust is committed to assuring that children and young adults in South Africa are able to challenge and conquer those obstacles in their lives that prevent them from accessing education and assuring that they can  make the most of the potential they possess to thrive and build a positive future.