It all started last year after finishing a multi-day ride from Loughborough to Monaco when a friend came out with the inevitable question "So, what shall we do next year?!"
I've worked with plenty of riders over the last few years who have taken on the Chase the Sun ride, which has now in it's 10th edition. The premise is simple; on the Saturday closest to the longest day of the year you start at sunrise on the east side of the country (England) and ride as far as you can to the west 'chasing the sun' before it sets. There are four different editions of this now famous ride - England North, England South, Ireland, and Italy. In each case the total ride distance is fairly similar, in my case it was going to be 330km (or 205 miles depending on your persuasion) to ride from Minster-on-Sea to Weston-Super-Mare.
I loved the idea of this ride but was slightly terrified by the distance and duration of time in the saddle it would require, so... I duly signed up with my friend who I had ridden to Monaco with. No backing out now!
I did what everyone does when they initially sign up to some monster challenge or event and forgot about it for a few months. Then as calendar turned to 2023 I realised that I would likely need to do some training for this event. Being a physio there's often a fair amount of "Do what I say, not what I do" so if any of you were looking for preparation / training tips then don't follow my example here!
I started the year training for a 10k running race, my first in about 7 years so this sort of distracted me from any sort of structured bike training. Once this was out of the day it was time to get serious. I had booked a trip to the Alps with some friends which seemed like the perfect way to build some good legs ahead of the ride. Only, the week before the weather was looking freezing cold and pretty treacherous on the roads. Sudden change of plan and we managed to re-book our trip to the sunny south of Spain, ideal...or so I thought.
The weather certainly delivered but unfortunately on the second day while coming around a corner on a descent I hit a patch of oil and in an insant I hit the deck hard and was sliding across the road into a verge. Luckily there no cars, walls or cliffs to complicate things further but I was pretty bashed up and my bike had taken a fair hit too. My riding buddies were there with me and a local who had cleary seen riders crash here before approached us with a lemon and some betadine (disinfectant). I was still quite dazed so wasn't really sure what to make of all this. But before I knew it he had cut the lemon in half and was using it as a disinfectant scrubber on my brand new wounds - OH MY GOD, the pain was intense. My friends supportively laughed at this hilarious sight and took pictures (obviously once we had established I had not been mortally injured in the crash). Next he doused me in betadine and got to work on straightening out my shifters and twisted saddle. His advice was 'carry on riding' to 'get into town'. So I duly re-mounted and gingerly descended the last 5k into Estapona.
Well that was the end of that. My plans of gaining fitness and building towards Chase the Sun (CtS) dashed. Now I was just left with open wounds around both hips, elbows, a sore shoulder and a whopping Morel-Lavelle lesion on my hip also (basically a big pocket of fluid - yep, that's my leg!). The advice? No bike riding for 3 weeks. I have to say this was all very disheartening but the help I received from the wound specialist nurses at my local minor injuries unit was just awesome - so a big thank you to them!
With no broken bones and wounds healing well, apart from the shoulder - that was going to need some physio - I was able to get back on the bike. Thankfully this went better than expected with a few rides on the turbo trainer to check things out. Next up was a ride outdoors, again all was well. So now there was just one big issue, ZERO FITNESS and three weeks until CtS. A longer ride built some confidence but then we decided we needed to do something closer to the planned distance to see where I was at. We set up a 205km loop dipping into the gorgeous Wye Valley and this went surprisingly well too. As long as we kept the pace in our Zone 2 the legs seemed to be coping.
I decided a taper would be important for the last week (LOL) so I took it nice and easy and then before I knew it we were packing up the car to drive over to the far side of the country. My riding buddy's wife had volunteered, under no coercion, to be our support driver for the event which was a massive help on the day. When we reached Minster on the Isle of Sheppey there was a hive of activity as cyclists descended from all corners to sign in and get the pre-ride briefing. The main themes I took away from the briefing were "Stay safe, have fun, keep riding' which all seemed pretty reasonable.
We had a short drive away to Faversham where were staying for the night. On arrival we found our lovely rooms and heard some music, quite a lot of music actually. A quick look out the window revealed we were 50 yards away from live bands which would be playing on stage to a private party until 11.30 at night, ideal!!! Needless to say we didn't manage all that much sleep before the very unwelcome 3am alarm call. We fumbled about in the dark to get ready, I had a one of the boiling water porridge pots and we were off. In the car I also ate a bircher muesli which would later prove to be a dire mistake (it was a rather warm night and the yoghurt in the bircher must have spoiled - more on that later).
We arrived and lined up along the sea front as the sun began to rise in the distance, it was a stunning morning to start a massive bike ride. I had one other apprehension, I was also riding my brand new custom 3D printed saddle for the longest ride I had every done - it had come through extremely well on the 205km test ride so I was pretty confident (again, more on this in another blog).
We set off in high spririts at a nice and relaxed pace and all was going well until about 35km in when my stomach started to protest, yep, that bircher was not sitting too well. I tried to ignore it and we carried on to our first planned bottle refill stop at 70km. Still in lots of discomfort I was also struggling to want to eat anthing (not a good idea on a super long ride).
Things got no better for the next 50km but we made it to our next refill stop. At this point I have to say I was struggling with the pain. Some Rennie and Paracetamol was the action plan and this buoyed my confidence though didn't change the cramps much. We made it to the lunch stop and then somehow, miraculously, as I got off the bike and walked around for a bit things started to feel better, so I immedately grabbed a sandwich to make up for missed calories.
Feeling about 1000% better after lunch we pushed and I was raring to go. Although the heat was starting to get up quite a bit I just didn't care as everything felt good compared to the stomach cramps. The next part of the ride was awesome as I bumped into not one but three bike fit clients that I had been helping in the lead up to CtS.
As we rolled through country lanes and villages the kilometers continued to tick by nicely while the temperatures and sun slowly began to drop.
Late afternoon was becoming early evening but the finish line was starting to feel like a tangible prospect. There was just one shocker of a climb which really hit the legs hard after a long day in the saddle before we descended through the stunning Cheddar Gorge. After this it felt like it was nearly downhill all the way as made our way towards the coast and the finish at Weston-Super-Mare. We broke out onto the sea front with the sun dangling above the horizon casting a golden light across the evening sky, then made our final left turn onto the boardwalk of the Grand Pier. Rolling down the boardwalk towards the finish line with the sun setting in front of us was a memory I will cherish for a long time.
It was a long day in the saddle but a really enjoyable one (perhaps with exception to the 90km of stomach cramps at the start) and ceratinly one that I didn't even think I'd be able to line up for having crashed only 6 weeks prior to it.