In one sense it seemed a long time since I kicked off the year of challenges by cycling from Drighlington to Welton in the freezing cold of February, but in another sense the end of the year of challenges soon seems to have come around. In part that will be down to the fact that I’ve had a few to complete in the last couple of weeks with the illness and injury towards the end of 2015. Since the 29 December I’ve swum 5km, rowed the distance of the English Channel and now was getting ready for 100 miles on a bike. In between I’ve been hitting the gym in an attempt to get fitter which has made preparation for the events difficult.
After the rowing challenge I had been struggling a bit with my lower back as being seated for nearly 3 ½ hours in the same position and my advancing years have made it a painful experience. When I wasn’t having to put it under pressure it was fine but when I did it didn’t take long to become painful. All of that meant that I hadn’t had any time on my bike in the build up to the cycle which I would be the first to admit was not the best preparation, however, due to the position that you’re in when you cycle I knew that it was a toss-up between spending time on my bike preparing and running the risk of not being able to cycle if I made my back worse. As I couldn’t put off the last event with it being a year of challenges, I decided it was best to try and preserve my back and not take the risk but knew that would mean a painful time in the saddle as I wouldn’t be used to it.
As the day approached training had been going well and I had taken a bit of down time in the run up so that I was as fresh as I could be by the time I took my saddle on the Saturday. The night before when I was checking that everything was ready for the challenge, disaster struck as my gear cable snapped and I couldn’t then get it to fit as it was too short. That meant that unless I was able to get a replacement and fit it before the start time of 10am then I would be stuck in my highest gear for the whole attempt. It was a nervous night as I waited to see if I could get one from the local Halfords but I was straight down there as soon as it opened on the Saturday morning. In typical style of my challenges so far (as Elaine would point out mainly due to my lack of planning) I didn’t have time to get it fitted before I was due to get started.
After setting everything up at the Regen Centre, I was ready to go so I clipped into my pedals and set off, albeit slightly later than originally planned. The first half an hour soon seemed to pass and then the sight of Elaine and Julia setting everything up in the room provided some distraction. I had bought a DVD to watch during the challenge of the Selby to York Tour de Yorkshire stage but even though it was a good thing to watch it wasn’t distracting enough as I started to get uncomfortable. By the time that the first hour was up two things had become evident, not spending any time on your bike before trying to cycle 100 miles was not the best idea that I’ve ever had and that the speed/distance sensor was not playing ball. When I was pedalling at a constant rate my speed was oscillating wildly and that was having a knock on effect on my distance. It all meant that I couldn’t have any confidence over how far I had travelled and not long after that it gave up completely which meant I had no way of telling how far I had gone. As a result it seemed like the best thing to do was to make the challenge about time and based on being able to travel 20mph on a trainer then doing 5 hours seemed like a suitable replacement.
The longer the challenge went on, the more uncomfortable I was getting, my back was aching, I was struggling to stay comfortable on the saddle despite the best efforts of my cycling shorts and I didn’t feel like I had as much energy as I had for previous challenges. It seemed like all the efforts in the gym and the recent glut of challenges had taken its toll as I just wasn’t feeling it like I had previously and was finding it a struggle. Every hour I had decided that I would get off and stretch my back to try and preserve myself for as long as I could but when I started to feel it in my legs as well I knew it was going to be a long day! On the plus side as different people turned up to lend their support it was a welcome distraction from the pedalling. It was also nice to see people turning up to take part in what we were doing and join in with the raffle, the other competitions and enjoy the cake sale.
For each minute that ticked by, the more uncomfortable I got and the more it hurt. When I eventually reached the half way point I didn’t think I would make it to the end. It wasn’t helping being able to see the clock ticking in front of me on my bike computer as I had a constant reminder of how long I still had to go. I started counting down the time to the next point when I could have a stretch or to the next time I would have a drink, anything was a welcome distraction. I started to have some empathy with the pain that professional cyclists experience when they are cycling up mountains as I just couldn’t get away from the discomfort. I kept standing up on the pedals to try and relieve some of the strain on my back but that just seemed to make my legs ache more.
The three hour mark passed and as I counted my way down towards the 4 hour mark I was using everything I could as a distraction but it was becoming more and more difficult to keep going. When I got into the last hour I was still struggling to stay comfortable for more than 5 minutes but the fact that I could now see the finish seemed to have made a difference as it gave me a bit of a lift but I was never going to give up as I had come so far and I wasn’t going to let Dan down. The last half hour was like torture but I just had to see it out. As the countdown to the finish started I just had one thing in mind which was getting to the 5 hour mark. As soon as I did, I collapsed over the handlebars exhausted. I was completely spent, dripping in sweat but glad I had made it to the end. The challenge hadn’t gone entirely how I had planned but I had done 5 gruelling hours on the bike and had struggled my way to the end.
After the congratulations it was time to see who had won the competitions. Hannah Rolfe won the raffle for the hamper, Joan Thompson won the name the bear competition and Keith Dawson won the guess the number of celebrations competition. The day had been a success which was mainly down to all of the people that had helped it run to plan.
Huge thanks go to Elaine for all her organising and help with everything, to my mum for baking and helping keep the triplets occupied, to Julia Hawkhead and her daughters Lily and Pollyanna for all their help and baking, to Barry and Brenda Rhodes for their support when I wanted to get off the bike and to everyone who came along to support or bought tickets for the competitions. I couldn’t have done it without you all.
The year of challenges has come to an end but it definitely isn’t the end of me challenging myself or trying to raise awareness and money for mental health causes in Dan’s memory as despite all the progress that we have made, there is still a long way to go to break down the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.
Onwards and upwards