In less than four weeks’ time, 800 or so riders will set off from Land’s End on their nine-day journey to John o’Groats, aiming to complete this year’s Deloitte Ride Across Britain. There’s probably a fair amount of nervousness among them: have they done enough training? have they sorted all their bike’s squeaks and rattles? have they packed enough ear plugs…?
That’s certainly how I was feeling this time last year, anyway. I just wanted it all to start, really, and once it did, those worries disappeared. Well, most of them. It was hard going – not helped by the horrendous weather – but at the same time an amazing experience.
We had to retire after day five, though (I was doing the ride with my hubby, Simon; you can read about our experience here), so this year we’ll be re-entering the RAB ‘bubble’ at Penrith, for the start of the Scottish leg. The Ride Across Scotland.
It’s a bit different ‘only’ doing four days. It’s much less daunting – even with the threat of ‘The Lecht’ in this year’s new route across the Cairngorms. Which is a bit weird, considering it’s still 449 miles. Our first day is 114 miles – 13 miles more than the longest ride we’ve done this year, which was back in May.
To be honest, it was the option of doing the journey in two stages over two years that originally got me interested in doing the RAB. (Next year’s options are a six-day England leg, and three-day Scotland – more details here.) I didn’t really fancy nine consecutive days of riding 100+ miles – that would call for some serious training…
But my competitive husband wouldn’t countenance that: ‘If we’re going to do it, we have to do the whole thing in one go!’
He was even considering starting again from Land’s End this year, so he could complete it all ‘properly’. Me, I just want to have cycled the whole route, whether in one go, or two, or…
Now that the start is almost upon us again, I think even he’s pleased we’re ‘just’ doing the four days – because not finding the idea of the ride so daunting plays havoc with your drive to put in the necessary training.
I haven’t written an update for a while because it’s quite hard to write a blog about your cycle training when you haven’t really been doing any cycling. ‘Rode six and a half miles to work. Rode seven and a half miles home.’ (Slightly longer on the return journey, avoiding the busy main road climb.) Repeat two or three times a week. I’d like to say five, but I’d be lying.
Back in May, we rode the Dulux Trade London Revolution – 300km in two days (101 miles one day, 86 the next) – and it made us think we should probably up our training to make this year’s RAB, even just the half we were doing, more enjoyable.
But after a two-day ride we obviously needed a bit of time to recover… And then the weekends got busy with birthdays, family visits, a holiday, gardening, camping… There are such a lot of things that get in the way of going out on a training ride. It was TOO HOT…
June passed by, then most of July, and we’d managed maybe a couple of 50-mile rides.
‘Shall we do the Longleat loop?’
‘We really ought to…’
‘Yeah, I know.’
‘How about we go out next weekend instead? I really need to [insert lame excuse here].’
Maybe I just don’t like cycling…
The thing is, I really do like cycling. It’s just that I’m not very good at the getting out there and doing it bit.
I doubt I’m alone in this – in fact I’ve read/subbed features on ‘how to get out on your bike’ in the past. If only I could remember what they said…
We were stuck in a rut. Even a very lovely 50-mile ride that takes you through the grounds of Longleat estate, with views of camels, can fail to excite. We needed to go places new…
And so we did. The only time I’d ever ridden up Bannerdown, north of Bath, a city where I’ve lived for nearly 40 years now, was on day three of last year’s RAB on that wet, wet, wet Monday morning. I thought perhaps we could try it again, in the sun. Simon wasn’t exactly enthusiastic but was willing to give it a go.
I don’t want to say we’re creatures of habit, but we had such a lovely ride – accompanied up Bannerdown and beyond by a fellow 2018 RAB rider, David, who was using the day three route as part of his training – that we did it all again the following week. Just to be riding on different roads, seeing different views, and experiencing quite different cycling – flatter and faster than the narrow winding lanes we tend to stick to – was really refreshing and fun.
It was training, but it felt like exploring – the sort of cycling I really like. Seeing new places, under our own steam.
And then I had the perfect opportunity to cycle to Southampton: Simon would already be there, playing golf with old school friends, so he could carry my luggage in the car and I could travel light – RAB-style! And be driven home.
It’s one of the legacies of training for and doing rides like the RAB – long distances are no longer daunting. Years ago, when I first got into road cycling, I had the chance to ride the London to Brighton and I was so nervous. Would I be able to ride 56 miles in a day, with 30,000 other riders?
Now, I couldn’t wait to ride 80 miles, on my own. I was really looking forward to it, particularly because it had a purpose – a proper journey, somewhere to get to, not just a loop out and back.
And again, it was great – our usual route to Longleat and then down the always-lovely Wylye valley to Wilton, with a quick stop-off for lunch at Cafe Darling (secure bike parking and delicious fish finger sandwiches), through Salisbury and off into pastures new…
Seven hours and 80 miles later, I arrived in time for a G&T and a shower. Did I fancy another 20-30 miles and a night in a tent rather than the comfy bed that awaited? Umm…
Because we’re not creatures of habit, at all, it’s a journey we’re intending to make again in a couple of weeks’ time – though we’re planning on cycling all the way home again too. And carrying stuff.
And then our bikes will be collected and transported to Penrith, ready for day six of the RAB. Will we have done enough training? I sincerely doubt it. But what training we have done we’ve been enjoying again – and that, I can’t help thinking, is what really matters.
• If you fancy cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats, you can enter next year’s Deloitte Ride Across Britain, 7-15th September 2019, here. Prices start at £449 for a charity entry; £1,599 self-funded.
Tass is our production pedant, who boldly goes hunting for split infinitives, rogue apostrophes and other things up with which she will not put. She's ridden off-road but much prefers on, hasn't done half the touring she'd like to, and loves paper maps.