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Riders View: A FIRST TIMER- THE ROAD TO SUNSET…

16 March 2024

We follow Martin, a solo-rider taking on Chase the Sun for the first time. Here he describes his thoughts and experiences preparing for the ride and along the route itself. Read here to find out how he got on…

‘What did you say you’re doing son?’.….. I repeated my description of Chase the Sun. ‘Rather you than me!’ he said laughing. He hopped on his bike and wished me ‘all the best lad’ as he pedalled off. His Northumberland / Geordie brogue gave his gesture an air of sincerity, but this was just another in a long line of incredulous, uninspiring comments which no doubt all ‘chase the sunners’ hear between January and June.

I compiled a list of most heard soundbites; ‘200 MILES!!!…In 1 day?’, ‘you must be mental’ and ‘why?’. These comments didn’t help. You see I don’t view myself as a cyclist, yes I’ve cycled Sa Colobra and done the coast to coast a few times, but I’m not a real cyclist. Real cyclists where the latest coloured Rapha top, talk about watts and lead the club ride every Sunday morning. I wear what fits and use SPD pedals for god’s sake.

I have however completed the greatest run on earth, the Great North Run a good half a dozen times, fought my way around triathlon courses (albeit twenty years ago) and completed the London Marathon in 2007. So I do know how to complete a challenge.

TRAINING TRIALS

Training started in full winter kit in February. I soon completed 65 miles and 80 miles with plenty left in the tank. A pretty good start I thought. But comments chipped away at my confidence, and my attempts to ‘get my head around it’ were further dented when I was accused of cheating on the Facebook page for having a support vehicle. Not helpful and doubly so given it was coming from a place I thought would be 100% supportive.

I stepped it up, longer 105 and 120mile rides were completed powered by flapjacks, scones and coke (the legal kind), and I received some good advice from the World Duathlon Champion who works in my local bike shop. Celebrate every victory. Punch the air when you reach 50 miles, get halfway or anything else you see as significant, celebrate it. It will help!

I used this and started to feel good about my training, until that is I realised 120 miles was only 60% of Chase the Sun. The body was saying yes, but the mind was saying no, and that’s a problem when the challenge is mostly a mental one. Not one pedal rev was enjoyable, it was just a means to a literal end, the end of the ride.

I finished training with 150 miles along the CTS route to Kielder and back which looked spectacular in the Spring sunshine, but I still hated it. It was still boring sat there for 10 hours. I then entered the best part of the prep…..tapering. Three weeks of it. Cycling in the warm sun at an easy pace twice a week was great. But my mind still played tricks. It felt like I was cheating and I was frustrated not being able to ride further as this period coincided with hot sunny weather. A rare pleasure in the northeast. I relented and beasted myself up 3 climbs, climbing 2,000 ft and covering 30 miles in 1hr31. Finally I felt ready.

PREPARATIONS AND PLANNING

My decision to have a support car was mainly down to the fact that my wife Dawn wanted to be part of the day. She wanted to cheer everybody on, offer refreshments, directions and if needed mechanical assistance. Well, at least hand somebody a track pump! And I was pleased to have her along, a friendly face, full water bottles and a night away together without the kids was appealing.

With my fuelling sorted out of the back of the car I faced my other problems; how to power my devices, navigate and how best to prep the bike. It was easy: tank bag on the top tube which held the power bank and cables running to my Garmin for stats (and Strava of course) and phone for Komoot navigation. It worked well.

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MIDSUMMER RIDE WEEKEND

The Friday evening before the ride came and I headed through to Whitley Bay to sign on early. Something I was able to do living 7 miles from the start line. I should have arrived later and joined the queue as this would have allowed for interaction with my fellow ‘Chase the Sunners’ and to perhaps scope out a group or friend. I chatted to a few people and found them anxious, friendly and excited in equal measure. I headed home, scoffed pasta and tried to get an early night, only to be foiled by a flat battery in my smoke alarm. It beeped no longer as I pulled the fuse out and my head hit the pillow.

The alarm went off at 3am and my excitement hid my lack of sleep. The bike was chucked in the boot of the car and I followed with a bowl of porridge in hand. This is bonkers I thought.

My fellow Chase the Sunners were assembling on the ‘prom’ as the sun made its appearance above the sea far away on the horizon. The obligatory photos taken, I moved towards the start line looking for a friend. Everybody seemed to be part of group, looked ‘fast’ or confident, or all three! I tried to clip my right foot in, missed the pedal and as my foot shot forward I felt like everybody was watching.

COMPANY ON THE ROAD…

After a short briefing my time came…..I was off, off along the Northumberland coast. A place I knew well so I played the part of the local lad. Afterall, nobody else was representing the region. I chatted to a few people, mainly about the route and local weather, both subjects which I knew well. A group was struggling to form, nobody was committing to riding with anybody, leaving gaps and no ability to share the work. I kept my own rhythm and patience. It was only 3 miles in, so no need to panic.

A girl pulled alongside and asked ‘Hi – how are you?’. I searched the CTS book of stock answers and used the most frequently used response, ‘I’m alright…for now!’ Ice broke we settled into the task in hand whilst chatting continually. Ten, twenty and thirty miles came and went and we needed to focus on keeping up with the wheels in front, not slavishly getting a slipstream, but doing enough to keep us moving forward with purpose.

I chatted to others as me and my new companion moved through various groups, before bidding her good luck and farewell as she made her first stop. I stopped myself some 5 miles later to enjoy a tuna sandwich, sharing the stop with a girl riding in baggy shorts and flats. Chuck in the fact her navigation was a note pad, you appreciate how strong a rider she was.

Suitably fuelled I joined a group for a few miles, then I made an error. The whole group, to a person stopped at Kielder (the routeguide designated breakfast stop). I didn’t. I plugged on alone for about 5 or 6 miles with no sign of another rider in front or behind. Somehow I found a headwind. The first pair who passed me rode me off their wheel despite chatting about what they were planting in their gardens when they got home.

Thankfully, four guys came into view and promptly caught me. I was dropped, caught up, dropped and caught up again. I fought my way to the front and stated my intention to ride by doing a turn at the front. I didn’t last long, but I was accepted by my new pals. The local volunteer-run Hermitage Village Hall at 77 miles welcomed us, and after a quick brew I was heading uphill again within a larger group. Summit crested we plummeted down into a valley on a sinuous B-road with lovely smooth tarmac. The faster riders grouped at the front, and we drove the group along and into Langholm where the lunch stop beckoned.

A smiling wife was waiting, keen to know how I was getting on. Pasta and chips scoffed I found my original companion clipping in outside. We set off together with 106 miles ahead of us. It was a partnership which would go to the finish. And I was pleased about that.

Mileage and time did not enter my head, something I had found hard to avoid in training. I only caught that the mileage was about to click over to 3 figures by accident, allowing me to punch the air in celebration. On that subject I must apologise to mile markers 110, 120, 130, 140 and even 150 as they did not receive the air punching recon’ they deserved.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD…

The route was picturesque, punctuated with small towns and twists and turns. Thornhill seemed a key point in the day as it marked 143 miles and was the gateway to another climb, over that without mutterings of ‘never again’ or ‘o god I wish this would end’ I remained totally positive, just checking every now and again that my companion was likewise (to find she was rock solid) and the pedals kept turning and the miles kept ticking off.  Even finding a candelabra in the car boot while searching for Soreen (other malt loaf is available) didn’t put me off. How did Dawn find a shop which sold such items?

At Carsphairn I started to believe, I mean really believe that this was in the bag. 167 miles done, a couple of bumps left and we had sunshine, warmth and generally a downhill run to the west coast. The last climb was tough but we crested that and dropped into Straiton. I allowed myself a change of jersey, into my Chase the Sun attire, confident that I’d earn it in the next hour so. It was 7pm, over 3 hours to sunset and only 15 miles to go. The last 15 miles were the best, you’d expect they could be the worst, but they were a joy. Mainly downhill, we chose to enjoy the experience, put smiles on our faces and savour the last few miles.

We pasted a sign which told us we’d entered Ayr, another opportunity to punch the air! The Garmin said 197 miles which caused anxiety. What happens if I cross the line with less than 200 miles on the board?? I will have failed. We turned left and the Irish sea came into view, another punch of the air. Right, left, then the moment we’d worked towards…200 miles on the Garmin and one corner left. We headed towards the sea and dually turned left onto the Esplanade and into sight of the finish line and our significant others. We finished to cry’s of ‘well done’ and the clapping of hands.

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FINISHING

I received my first ‘well done’ text before my foot touched ground. My pal had watched the last hour on the tracking system, willing me to finish before 8pm, which I did at 7:53pm. I’d done it, all the pre-event stress and worry was for nothing! You see, there weren’t many ‘real cyclists’ there, everybody was like me, focused on the challenge, enjoying the shared experience, and finishing the ride, not going fast and ignoring the scenery by staring at the cassette of the guy in front for 200 miles.

A thanked my companion for her positive attitude and great company and wished her well for her next adventure. I headed over to the hotel to service my wife’s need for wine and mine for a curry.

We returned to the finish line to clap others home for all I could until the cold got the better of me. Everybody crossed the line at a casual easy pace, nobody was pushing to finish as fast as they could. All with smiles on their faces, content to have made it.

I chatted to many people who I’d met along the way, exchanging stories on how they found it. Nobody moaned, nobody said it was overly tough, ‘I didn’t like this climb, that climb’, etc. Everybody alluded to the fact it was a great day out and they’d enjoyed every second. I saw the girl who rode in flats, her direction notes remained in her pocket until the end. She was the 8th female across the line, which I think is a special achievement for anybody, but given the fact she was in baggy shorts and flat pedals highlights her physical and mental strength.

REFLECTIONS

The next day meant a four-hour drive home in the rain. Dawn and I followed much of the route and compared stories about how it had felt the previous day. In fact, the whole 4 hours was taken up by our CTS experience. She had enjoyed it as much as me. Would I do it again? I’m not sure. It’s in a box marked ‘perfect ride’ and if I reach for it again, I run the risk of damaging the memory with poorer weather, punctures and mechanicals.

One thing not at risk would be the quality of the company. CTS will always attract a special kind of person. One who’s relaxed, comfortable with their effort and happy to just be riding their bike and chatting to likeminded folk.

If you are thinking of doing it, I’d say go for it if you enjoy riding your bike and enjoy a challenge. Don’t worry about what could go wrong, yes plan your ride, but don’t worry and stress about it. The mind is stronger than the body and if you get your thinking right, you’ll succeed.

In fact, ask yourself two questions;
1. Can you physically ride 200 miles? And,
2. Do you think you can ride 200 miles?
If the answer to the latter is yes, then the answer to the first question is irrelevant!

Have a go, and Good Luck..!


    

Martin Bewick / Chase the Sun rider 2023

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