For a couple of years it feels like I've been battling with injury after injury. At times I've worried that they've prevented me from getting fit for the mountains. Fortunately, this hasn't been the case as I've managed to keep hold of my fitness with two forms of exercise that seem to continue despite all my gripes! The first is kettle bells, more of which in a future post. The second is road biking. No matter how much my joints scream during other forms of exercise, I still seem able to cycle. The majority of my cycling is based around commuting to work. A 34 mile round trip, twice a week, does wonders and when paired with a weekly "sprint" around the Hope Valley gives me enough fitness to try a "sportive" or two without embarrassing myself in the company of proper cyclists! Andy Hartley, a highly regarded local runner and triathlete recently wrote about his experience of completing the Fred Whitton Challenge whilst returning from injury. He has very kindly agreed for it to be reprinted here. If you're looking for an alternative form of exercise for staying fit in the hills try this...
The Fred Whitton Challenge is a charity cyclosportive event held annually in the Lake District. At 183 km long and with 3900m of vertical ascent it's arguably one of the toughest cycle events in the UK.
"The squeak started on Friday evening after work and developed in to a deep grating / grinding noise by the time I was parked up at home. Damn, the brakes need new pads. I took a look at the discs, yes they were scored, the pads must be really bad. The garage had 'fixed' my faulty brake indicators a few months ago which were flashing on and off. The fix must have disconnected them. Mmm ... my B&B tomorrow is the other side of Wrynose Pass. Going up will be fine, coming down in the morning won't be. The Langdale side is really steep, 1:3 in parts, one of the steepest roads in England and single track. The car weighs two and a half tonnes. I guess I could open the door and put my foot down to slow it a bit and put the windscreen wipers on to slow it a bit more, that should work.
I packed everything, you never know it might be freezing and snow, be windy and hail or be boiling and melt the tarmac. It pays to be prepared. I squeezed the bike in to the remaining space, just.
Registration was open on Saturday afternoon in Grasmere. What a setup, wow its such a slick well organised event. The sun is shining, its beautiful like only the Lakes can be, Elgar is in my head, then Wordsworth - "When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, ..."
I've got a strange knot in my stomach though that's getting worse as I gaze at all the folk wondering around. I recognise this familiar feeling. They are clearly much fitter and more able than me, why am I here - because I love it. I feed off the nerves, they motivate me to put the effort in. I'm just not sure whether I can complete it after a long layoff with injury. I tell myself I can always stop at either of the two cut-off points: Braithwaite and Calder Bridge.
The B&B is only 12 miles away from registration but it takes an hour, its a cosy National Trust stone flagged barn conversion across two grassy fields from the road. It’s so quiet and peaceful in a gorgeous setting. Booking.com has it rated 10 and that is how I rate it too. I was welcomed with a choice of tea, lemon cake, Bourbon biscuits and a bottle of chilled Rose. Two other guys arrived fully kitted out with tales of full Iron Man challenges they have done and numerous preparation rides over 100 miles including one of 160 miles. This was going to be a training ride for their next Iron Man in Wales. Oh.
Breakfast was at 5AM. The other guys had full English with all the trimmings. It looked incredibly. I was impressed as I nibbled my slice of toast, muesli and blue berries.
Hawkshead Hill, Kirkstone Pass, Matterdale End, Honister Pass, Newlands, Whinlatter Pass, Swarth Fell, Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass form the 9 climbs of the Fred Whitton Challenge.
The temperature outside was 3 degrees, it was a cloudless blue sky. I gave myself a stern talking to - don't over dress, its going to get warm. Following advice from years ago - the coldest you will be is at the start, if you get chilly just try harder. Then drove down Wrynose with some nice soothing thrash metal on full volume. If I cant hear the brakes, it won't be a problem. It worked, I was lucky. Later in the day two cyclist were airlifted from Wrynose after crashing badly when they went down the same road later in the day.
The starting field was in shade, it was freezing. I faffed until there was nothing left to do. Then put my car key under the car, pushed off to go then remembered my water bottles were still in the car. Good job Dave isn't here he would have rolled his eyes one final time then left me in disgust at that point. I left the field, the timing sensor bleeped. A guy shouted - have a good one. The road was damp under the trees, its chilly in the wind, we're off.
What a perfect day, no wind, blue sky, slightly chilly but sunny. One of the Iron Men wore a waterproof coat all day and regretted it as the temperature rose, he also told me he regretted the black pudding, sausages, bacon and fried eggs as he burped up the first hill.
There were hundreds of people cheering, clapping, ringing cow bells, offering sweets and encouragement, all the way round. Some sitting in deckchairs drinking tea, reading Sunday papers and watching. They were fabulously supportive, playing music and singing when the going was at its hardest. Children held banners and cried out when they saw them approaching- come on Daddy, we're really proud. I watched and cycled on.
The food stops were mayhem. I left the Iron Man guys because the queues were massive. It was a mistake!
Hardknott Pass - According to The Guardian, "The king of climbs and arguably the hardest road in the land, the legendary Hardknott Pass is an amazing sliver of tarmac ... To climb from the east, begin at the warning sign at Jubilee Bridge. It's very steep into a small woodland, over a cattle grid and then you will see the enormity of your task. Enter the first of two sets of brutal switchbacks and wrench body and bike through the 25% corners. What follows is a brief levelling out but you can't put off what lies ahead for long. The second set of switchbacks are steeper still, and these now 30% slopes will have you straining every sinew as your front wheel desperately searches for a kinder gradient and weaves all over the road fighting to stay upright. If you can ride this, you can ride anything. Just keep going, then head down the terrifying descent."
Last time we stopped numerous time as we approached Hardnott, abandoning water, food, taking off layers, taking photos, having a last leak- all to delay the inevitable.
This time I thought lets take it easy and sit, enjoy the view, just chill. But as I hit the hill I had to stand up almost immediately as my front wheel started to rise off the tarmac. More and more stopped to walk. One guy collapsed near the top. I respectfully cycling round him, sorry mate, I had helped a guy earlier in the day and found restarting uphill hard. My breath was soon rasping.
I bonked after Wrynose (maybe I should have stayed for food after all) and had nothing left for the final climb and 15 miles. Lots passed me but I didn't mind. The challenge was done.
115 miles, 11,650 feet. Official time was 8:56, although Strava was more optimistic!"
Andy's account of the 2018 Hathersage Hilly Triathlon can be found here.
The British Mountain Medicine Society (BMMS) are organising a Science Day in the Peak District on the 13th November 2019. Why not come along? Details can be found here.