Like so many of us, I began 2016 with a cliché "New Year, New Me" positive outlook for the year ahead. While things haven't gone exactly to plan, I have managed to keep pedalling on.
Setting myself little tasks and mini goals keeps me focused and driven. Many of these ideas come from no where and I impulsively act upon them. One such oh so genius idea of mine was to buy, and restore a vintage 1960's Raleigh Wayferer without any idea how...
In addition to this up-cycle project, I also decided that I would creep out of the comfortable tree line, and Lycra up for some road riding. This decision was partly owing to the fact that I love riding bikes, and partly because skinny wheels scare me.
Who better to give me my first dabble on the tarmac than Olympian, Chris Boardman. Chris' advise was really helpful, and certainly alleviated some of the fears I had. You can read more about my first road experience with Chris here.
Since then, I cycled my road bike to clock up the miles and the confidence meter. Regardless of the "traitor" comments from my fellow mounties, I persevered with road cycling and began to feel the benefits show in on the trails.
I had only ridden my road bike for short stints of 10 - 25 miles at a time, and on a mountain bike it's usually the same region of distance. So where did the 100 mile idea come from?
All it took was a good weather forecast, a new bike for testing and sheer naivety for the 100 mile cycle idea to be born. Marin Bikes have totally overhauled their range for 2017 with some very exciting models adoring our bike stores. I've been fortunate enough to test out their new touring bike, the Marin Gestalt 3.
The Sustrans website is brilliant for finding cycle routes all over the UK, and with that in mind, I searched my local area for an ideal route. My search landed on the epic Route 5 which begins in Holyhead and stretches on through Chester and down to its final stop in Reading, but I was only looking to cover the first 100 mile stint: Holyhead to Chester.
Given my seriously limited road experience, I thought it best to not attempt this solo and so I dragged a very capable riding buddy along for the ride. I guess I never really considered how far 100 miles actually is, and I tend to always think: "Cross bridges if you come to them". All I knew is that I was going to do it.
I packed a variety of gels, oats, bananas, sweets and water along with other essentials. Being a Strongher ambassador and feeling like I would need all the strength I could muster, I chose to wear my Strongher cycling kit from head to toe.
With my Garmin fully charged and loaded with the course route, we were ready to roll. Fortunately the forecast was spot on - for once - and blue skies beckoned us into the ride.
The first rookie mistake occurred almost immediately: Forgot my gloves. Damnit.
Route 5 is absolutely stunning. Gorgeous rolling hills of North Wales, wonderful colours and textures to keep your eyes darting around just trying to take it all in. Crossing bridges, cycling the coastal ways and through undulating country roads, there was always something to appreciate on the way.
About 30 miles into the ride, I begin to feel myself shifting around in my saddle trying to get comfortable. The familiar dull ache on my sit bones and sensitive areas were getting worse, so I stopped to adjust both my chamois shorts and saddle.
With every free-wheel opportunity, I was up out of my saddle and giving my bum a wiggle to get the blood flowing. I figured that with 70 odd miles to go, I would need to shut up and put up. This was going to be a long ride.
Lot of little niggles began cropping up after the halfway point. Numb toes, so I loosened my shoes to promote blood flow. Sore neck, so I adjusted my bars. Hands hurt, but I had forgotten my bloody gloves, hadn't I?!
The beautiful weather had drawn the crowds, and as we dodged and weaved our way through the masses, all I was thinking was "oh god, I hope I don't have to unclip suddenly". Still being new to cleats, this was my first real ride with them!
The humid weather was tough to ride in, but we made frequent efforts to hydrate and nibble on some fuel foods throughout the ride.
We hit the 80 mile marker point which was significant because this is where the real climbing began, unfortunately. At this point I was surprised that my muscles weren't suffering, my breathing was fine and the only real discomfort I had was between my legs.
The roads began to ramp up as we climbed through country lanes and villages. Then disaster struck and my worst fear came true...
We approached an open junction at the crown of a hill. I rolled up to it slowly and with caution, but seeing and hearing nothing no cars, I decided to stay on the bike and carefully cross.
Until a white van hurtles around a corner causing me to slam the brakes. Unable to unclip fast enough, I went down on my side like a sack of bricks, taking the full impact on my hand and hip. Feeling angry at myself, I sat foolishly fighting back tears and staring down at my quickly swelling hand. The bike was fine though, thank goodness.
With an awkward grip on the bars, my speed plummeted and my mental power was drained. I found it hard to get back into any kind of rhythm after that. The best thing I could do was keep my head down and pedal on, looking forward to having a hot shower and cuddle with my cat.
The Final Miles
Dusk began to set in, and we reached more populated areas which gave me a little glimmer of hope that home wasn't far away, even though I didn't recognise anything.
It was cycling near Connah's Quay that Ellis [my ride buddy] calls out to me: "Jess, you just cycled 100 miles, we did it!". My aching and tired body wasn't much for celebration, I just grunted and got my head back down.
Street lights had come on, and the roads were looking more and more familiar. With every pedal stroke, my hand and undercarriage was screaming and as I rolled into the driveway, Gomez Thunderpaws was sat in the window waiting for me.
Completely ignoring the fact I just achieved the longest distance, the most time in the saddle and seen such wonderful sights, in that moment of getting home all I wanted to do was kick off my cleats, pop on the kettle and smother my cat with forced cuddles.
My bed called out to me and I collapsed into it knowing that the day after would be a killer, and it was.
Whoop whoop, I did it!
Now that my body and my mind has settled down and recovery is well under-way, I can look back and reflect with a clearer head space.
The ride was amazing. I'm so pleased I decided to do the journey and really get to know how far I can push my body. My muscle weren't exerted too much, so I haven't suffered with any strain or fatigue, but my war wounds and undercarriage are another story. Swelling, chaffing and aches have me sat in awkward positions with numerous pillows wedged here and there for additional support.
Completing a 100 mile cycle is certainly a huge achievement for me. Now that the aches and pains have settled, I don't think it'll be my last either although I will definitely train more for it.
Cycling is such a brilliant way to see the country, smell the fresh air and appreciate the beauty in nature. The uncensored and unedited account of my 100 miler can be read here.
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