The Race Against Time. Lands End to John O'Groats in only 6 days. Told by one of the riders

Posted by Martin Keat


 At the start line at Land’s End on Sunday 24 June 2012. At that point I was really nervous and just wanted to get going. It was cold and wet and it looked like the rain was set in for the day, but the sun came out in the afternoon and the day ended rather pleasantly. In fact, most of us had sunburn, mostly on our right hand sides as we were only facing the one way.

Day 1 was spent pretty much all on the A30 through Devon and Cornwall and was to prove to be the hilliest day of the six. Good to get it out of the way on the first day. I think the photo was taken around Bodmin on the morning of Day 1 as the weather is still rainy and grey. With big ascents there are always fast descents on the other side. I clocked my fastest speed of the whole ride on Day 1, at 44mph. Sam took the honours for the fastest speed for the whole group, at an impressive 53mph.

Me riding solo somewhere along the A30. I don’t know where the rest of the group were; I would like to think they were behind me but they were probably miles ahead. Seven very strong riders with good spirit. How people attempt this ride solo and unsupported is beyond me. I take my hat off to anyone who has done this.

One of the many stops we had along the route. The van was stocked with water, tea, coffee, cakes, bars, etc and we generally had a stop every 30-40 miles. The stops were the best bit – it’s the only time you can ever really eat anything you want and not have to worry about it. We probably burned around 7,000 calories each day and that is a lot of food to consume just to make up what we burned.

Day 2. Another stop and eating and drinking again! This bus stop was in the ‘best kept village of 1988’, a place called Quatt, between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth in Shropshire. The guy on the far left of the photo (Mike) is 67 years old and was cycling the race for the sixth consecutive year. The first year he completed the ride it was a 5-day race averaging 180 miles a day! Howard, the second guy on the left, is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the youngest person to have run 100 marathons and it was his fourth ride. Martin Hart was also doing his fourth ride whilst Neil Wood and Sam Thornton were on their second. It was mine, Eoin’s (on the right in the picture) and James Taylor’s first end-to-end, so we had plenty of experience to help us along.

Day 3. After having porridge and toast at 6am it was time for a 10.30 café stop for a full English! Lynn’s Raven café in Whitchurch is a well known truckers café and very popular. Full English for £5 – rude not to really. I was so looking forward to it I forgot to take my helmet and gloves off! Day 3 was the flattest day of the whole ride but there was a lot of urban riding and a lot of t

own centres to navigate, including Warrington, Wigan, Preston and Lancaster.  Day 3 lunch stop was at the Hope Academy in Newton-le-Willows. The ride stops there every year and we were welcomed by a class from the school. We had our lunch in the canteen and the school had recently been rebuilt and it was a very impressive building. The school children were very interested in what we were doing and it was a very pleasant lunch stop.  Getting ready to depart the Hope Academy after lunch. The teacher was taking our photo and it was going to be Tweeted round the school. Modern school using social media – how things have moved on from when I left school.  Nearing the end of Day 3 for the overnight stop in Kendal. The weather became miserable and it stayed that way for much of the following two days, mostly raining and grey with just odd bits of sunshine.

Day 4 started with a climb up Shap Fell. You can see from the picture that at the top you are in clouds – not fog! The bottom of Shap is at 159 feet above sea level with the top being 1350 feet over a distance of approximately 10 miles, which is no Tour de France mountain climb but was the biggest climb I had ever done. After about 90 miles that same day there was another tough climb named ‘The Devil’s Beeftub’ which is near Moffat in Scotland.The obligatory picture at the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign in Gretna, just before the lunch stop on Day 4. I remember we had covered about 65 miles to that point and after lunch when someone said “just another 86 miles to go this afternoon”, my heart sank a bit. I can honestly say that was the only real low point I felt on the ride. The good thing about riding as a group is that if you work together you can save energy and that’s what we did that afternoon and we made good progress up to Edinburgh.

Start of Day 5 – Edinburgh to Inverness. Probably the toughest day riding as the A9 in Scotland is a horrible ‘A’ road that is single carriageway for a lot of the way and it only widens to dual carriageway from time to time. There are big articulated lorries passing you and the rain was hammering downduring parts of the day which made it pretty dangerous. As we got to Inverness the sun finally came out and it was a nice end to a day that didn’t really offer any pleasant cycling at all. The A9 from Inverness into the Highlands towards John O’Groats. Stunning scenery, but the A9 was an awful road for cyclists as you can probably see from the photo. The A9 again, once the weather closed in. This was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon of Day 5.

Day 6 am. Leaving Inverness with 119 miles to go to get to John O’Groats. This was the shortest dayin terms of distance but there were two big climbs to look forward to in the afternoon.The A9 again! The weather on Day 6 was glorious and was welcome on the final day. The route to John O’Groats followed the coast so a wet and windy day would have been truly miserable. It was my first time in Scotland and the scenery was stunning in the Highlands. I would definitely return at some point but probably leave my bike at home!  As you can imagine, there are lots of people and/or groups doing ‘end-to-end in different forms of transport. Every year the group sees a convoy of ‘old’ minis make the trip. We first saw them in Gretna and they passed us on the A9 on the final day (picure). Martin Hart is in the picture – he was the Race Director and it was his fourth time doing The Race Against Time. Top of the first big climb of the afternoon of the final day – Helmsdale. I thought the worst of the hills would be over by Day 5 but this was a big shock, as you can probably see from the photo. We were in for another shock about five miles later.

The second shock of the afternoon – Berriedale! As can be seen from the photo, this climb has a number of hairpin bends. This, for me, was worse than Helmsdale probably because I was just more fatigued as it was late in the day. Once this was out of the way it was undulating all the way  to JohnO’Groats.  Top of Berriedale for a quick tea/rest stop, apply some sun cream and have a wee. The terrain in this picture was pretty much like that all the way to the finish. About a mile from the finish line, the sun was out and it was pretty much the perfect final day.

The obligatory photo at the John O’Groats sign 862 miles later. The ride was planned at 874 miles so I don’t know where we shaved off 12 miles. We took a couple of minor detours so that must be the reason for the difference.

And finally… I  haven’t got a photo of the all the riders and the support team together but we didn’t have to worry about anything but sleeping, riding and eating. The support team of Allan, Sarah, Rachael, Andy and Don sorted everything for us from washing our clothes, fixing mechanical bike problems, cooking etc. They were up every morning before the riders and we were up at 5.30am every morning, and they were still up after we went to bed. This was a busy 18hr day for them and they had volunteered their time. I honestly don’t think I have laughed so much in a week and I think that this made the long distances each day a little easier.


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