The atmosphere at breakfast this morning was more upbeat, an easier day was expected and needed by all. At the start our groups had gained a few members and lost a couple – the riders are still finding their feet and their pace and the groups are still changing from day to day while people find their personal preferable mix of chaperone, speed and mix of riders, some move for a change of scene and some just miss the group because they slept in – we’re so keen we leave at 715am prompt (um actually otherwise we wouldn’t be back before dark...)
We leave Bath, you guessed it, by a very steep hill which nearly kills us all so early in the morning while still digesting our breakfasts but soon thankfully the countryside opens out and before we know it, we are crossing the Severn Bridge and although it was a little grey and drizzly the views of the Severn and Wye rivers and the crossing to Wales were quite something. Today we are to tick 5 counties off our list and we have already ticked off Somerset and Gloucestershire all before the first pit stop at the bottom of Chepstow Castle. Apparently it’s the oldest stone castle in the UK – see, a few scenery details are creeping in, I’m actually beginning to look up from the tarmac - I think this is a good sign....
The pit stops, of which there are usually 2 in a day are at roughly the 35 mile mark and around the 75 mile mark. The first is more lunch styled with sandwiches, as even though the latest of us arrive around 1030am it already feels like lunchtime when you’ve been up since 530. Both pit stops have water tanks and Powerade if you want it and a selection of bananas, crisps, flapjacks, and various snack selections of Eccles cakes, sausage rolls, and literally tonnes of jelly babies and dairy milk. This is all served by the eternally bouncy Threshold crew with massive smiles on their faces. They are always a joy to see for so many reasons (not least because it must mean that your butt may be separated from its tormentor for approximately 15-20 minutes.
We eat, stock up for the next section and get back on our bikes. We do eat constantly throughout, I know you need to but I have to say now that I am home I am finding it incredibly hard to ditch the habit. Estimates of calorie consumption run at about 4000+ a day which is what, at least twice the usual? Perfect, because I’m definitely eating for two.
Yay, another steep climb but then we are rewarded by the most beautiful road alongside the River Wye (see picture), so peaceful and pretty and we are beginning to notice the rewards of climbing up these hills: the views are stunning. So we continue, ticking off Monmouthshire and Herefordshire and arriving in Shropshire and our now familiar looking and welcome camp at the race course at Ludlow.
Having completed a relatively ‘easy’ 99 miles today and with the benefit of a tail wind we arrive at the camp a little earlier and have a little more time to explore. There is a massage and stretch area at each of the camps. Each night a team of voluntary masseurs do a stellar job of bringing the tired and aching limbs of half the camp back to life with much manipulating and kneading. There is also a physiotherapist by the name of ‘Magic Sue’ for those with more serious injuries, she and they are loved by All. One of my new friends, Olivia, also introduces me to some rather innocuous looking rollers that are lying around. The idea is to lie with various muscles on top of the rollers and roll back and forth to ease your aches. OMG the pain inflicted by these small grey roller things is unbelievable, it literally makes you either want to vomit or cry or in my case both...erm, thank you Olivia? And yet there are at least 10 of us there squeaking and moaning and not stopping. The reason is that afterwards your muscles do feel completely different and there is definitely less of an overnight ache while trying to sleep. They feel fantastic....that is until of course at 7am the next morning you remind them that they are not quite done yet, not by a long shot.
Tonight’s briefing brings us 2 paralympic skiers - Tim Farr (going for it in Sochi 2014) and Sean Rose (Turin Paralympics 2006). These guys will be joining us tomorrow on hand bikes, which is no mean feat, far from it, in fact it’s pretty hellish, much respect to them. We are also joined by Olympian Rebecca Romero MBE (Silver Medal Rowing Athens 2004, Gold Medal Cycling Beijing 2008) who regaled us of the story of her attempt with James Cracknell to cycle from Lands End to John O Groats in under 50 hours, non-stop on a tandem. Yes, go on, re-read it, you did read it right the first time....unbelievable, but true. Sadly, when time-wise they were actually going incredibly well and were over halfway, the doctors made a decision that Rebecca’s knee injury was just too serious to continue and they had to stop. Claire Cunningham, a full-time Deloitte employee and top Para Triathlete, talked us though her day which starts at 430am with a training session before a mornings work, a short lunch time training session, afternoon of work and the day ends with yet another training session. We hope her sacrifices pay off when she reaches Rio in 2014 where Triathlon is to be included for the first time in the Paralympics. They all talk us through finding ways to keep going when the going gets tough and gave us confidence in ourselves that the Threshold mantra ‘More is in you’ will hold for everyone.
On that note we retire to our tents aware that although in so many ways what we are trying to do is hard work for us, has required some level of training and commitment and may be ‘reasonably’ difficult to achieve, when put in contexts such as these, our task certainly decreases in magnitude we can look at it in a slightly different perspective. Tomorrow, we might actually make it past the 400 mile mark....