Ten Circles of (My Own Personal) Hell - one added for luck
Now for some I appreciate this might be their idea of an idyllic day out but this is my little story about a day out on the bike.
It’s 6am, I’ve been up for about an hour. Finally arrived at the destination just a little after 10:30 on Friday evening. As usual, the daft rush to arrive for the Brathay 262 (10 laps of Windermere on a bike in 24 hours) was, indeed daft. Night shift completed at 7am Thursday morning, followed by 4-hour nap, pick bike up from Arthur Caygill's (brilliant service and advice), drive North, pick the children up from school, drive over to coast of Cumbria, drop children off at their Aunt’s, concluded with a final journey to Ambleside and ultimately Brathay Hall. After unpacking my bike from my little car, laying out my kit for the next day and then trying to fall asleep which eventually happened at about 1am, I’ve realised maybe this was a morsel too much. Before we’ve even started, I’m buggered. Mandatory briefing at 5:15am and then a dash to undertake the daily ablutions, rub a little vaseline where it might most be needed, consume food and get water bottles ready for the off. The plan is to complete 26.2 miles around Windermere, back to base, register the lap, maybe get a bite to eat then hop back in the saddle to do another lap, followed by a few more episodes of déjà vu albeit at different times of the day. Completing just ten laps over the course of the day.
So, we line up outside our accommodation ready for the start, there are seven of us; the ‘magnificent’ seven. If looks are anything to go by, I am the least likely looking cyclist in the bunch, none (very little) of the kit and certainly only a smattering of the experience of my compadres. When has that ever stopped me?
Tired, irritable and worried, add in the algebraic equation of not even enjoying cycling and the symptoms of anxiety are escalating. Pulling on a skin tight cycling bib, compression t-shirt and barely big enough cycling top and the image I’m only managing to construct is that of a mini Michelin-man who’s tried to go on a crash diet but only managed to let a little air out of his tyres. At Caygill’s I’d ask whether I should invest in a decent pair of cycling shorts or new saddle. Perhaps in a vain attempt to make up for my lack of miles in the saddle or adequate training regime. It’s not the cover of the book which makes the story, it’s the content within. Luckily, I was advised that there was no point spending good money on a backside that hadn’t been broken in, saddle-wise that is. So I saved money on buying a new seat for my bike but not to be deterred I did invest in one last minute purchase of a pair of Skins cycling bib shorts; I could have poured myself into them, like golden syrup into a Lyon’s tin. So it proved that at the end of the day they were worth every penny. After 24 hours in the saddle, my ass remained intact, no chafing and the additional petroleum jelly to protect my nether regions not required.
The question I beg of myself is, what simpleton signs up to spend a whole 24-hours on a bike, even if it is for charity and around my favourite marathon course (Windermere)? It’s a rhetorical question, I remind myself. This feat has been played and replayed in my head many times. Part of my training has been to cycle to and from work (about 25 miles away at the beginning and end of each night shift). I’ve managed to achieve about 25 miles in around 1 hour 20, the course around Windermere will be a little more challenging than my route to and from work, the rough estimate for each lap is 2 hours, I figure I can do this in 20 hours. Yeah right!
What I forgot to factor in is break times, the necessity to eat, the temperature at various points through the day, the light and dark and how it will feel cycling at these points, oh and of course that well known incompetent military leader General Tiredness. Think this is teed up nicely to be a complete failure and no time to ask for three and fourpence because we are going to a dance (or send reinforcements we’re going to advance).
The weather could not have been better, ‘twas a little chilly, misty over Esthwaite Water and on the first lap I tackled it with relish. This is 'easy' I thought, nailed this in a little over 1 hour 40, nine more of those and I can be tucked up nicely before midnight. Even walked up Devil’s Gallop. Lap two came and went, this is 'cool', said I, already 20% complete. The aim was to get three laps out the way by midday (6 hours in). Then another three laps before 6pm, another three before midnight and then just dig in for the last which if the worst came to the worst could be completed by 2am.
But, this is the but of every but that has ever been. A bigger but than the biggest waterbutt in Waterbutt World, or the biggest but in Butland, the smallest county in the country of But. But, I didn’t realise how much I would begin to wobble after 100 miles in. It was bloody boring. All I could think about was what a great time I’d had during the Brathay Ten in Ten, where was the excitement for this challenge we were undertaking? Where was the camaraderie? Don’t get me wrong as ever the support from Brathay is bloody brilliant, the personal efforts and time invested by Aly, Chris (Renton), Scott, Sonja (Farish) and a few others who through the ravages of time I’ve forgotten the names of but was really grateful for the support and help. However, there just wasn’t the same buzz as the Ten in Ten. When I was struggling during the Ten in Ten, I thought of my children and how cool it would be to see them once I’d succeeded, around every corner there was someone to cheer you on, this tortuous journey just did not yield the same response. Every time I tried to put a happy face on it, dig in and remember the kids, the result was a big fat nought. Dig in and be proud of yourself I thought, big fat nought. Remember your efforts are trying to raise awareness of Brathay and the valuable work they do for vulnerable young people, big fat nought. And so, each lap began to feel as futile as the last. I found it simply soulless. Almost three months later it still feels as though the emptiness of the day would never be filled. It was in short my idea of hell, like trying to fill a hole with dogged knee wobbling effort only to find the same amount of dirt behind you and still the large expanse of nothingness before you. Even doing the equations I like to do, you know after two laps I’d completed 20%, didn't help. When I’d got to 131 miles in, there was still 131 miles to go and it felt more massive than the previous journey travelled. Had Dante had the opportunity to mount a Penny Farthing or similar, I’m sure he would have painted an even more damning version of hell than he could have conjured up in his Inferno. But (there’s that word again), maybe it was my own but(ts) that seemed to get the better of me from midday to midnight and beyond.
What became even more soul destroying was, as the hours and miles wore on, I began to take longer and longer breaks to steel myself for the next lap and the next lap and the next lap. By midnight I had completed only seven laps. Falling asleep during laps 8 and 9 at base, only to be encouraged to literally get back on my bike by the well-meaning barks of Chris, I struggled on. The last lap was a relief. What I had failed to compute was that I had only left myself a little over 1 hour 40 minutes to complete my last lap and finish the 262 event within the allotted 24 hours. Despite achieving the ten laps, I now realise that I don’t qualify as an official ‘262 Finisher’ because my cumulative time was outside of the 24 hours by 22 minutes. My futility was complete, the nine circles of personal hell I had endured plus the extra thrown in for luck coloured my misery with black and grey strokes of emptiness.
Yet I’m proud I didn’t give in. Digging deep, through each tortuous lap, again and again despite the beauty of Windermere only leaves me with a desire to continue to prove myself, to myself. Just one week later I pitted myself against myself and the Lakeland Trails 100k, to face yet more demons, stare them down and succeed.
You've seen and read of my appetite and sweat and tears, perhaps if I manage to bleed for Brathay, you might be jabbed into feeling the desire to donate, please. My aim is to continue to help Brathay in its mission to inspire young people and families to make positive changes that will last a lifetime. I hope and expect that my efforts will in some way give someone the spark to help change their life.
Now I've decided to punish myself a little further by taking on a physically demanding challenge on 12th October 2019. Plus of course York and Snowdonia Marathons in the space of a week. Watch this space for more details...