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Interview: Leon Bond talks about riding ten Fred Whittons

Ten times up the Hardknott? Rather him than us, but it's all for charity.....

Anyone that's completed the Fred Whitton Challenge will know that it's a tough old cookie: 112 miles and six Lakeland passes, including the daddy of them all: Hardknott Pass, with its killer 30% sections. It's enough of a challenge to do it once, but ten times in a row? on ten consecutive days? That's the challenge Leon Bond set himself to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and he completed it too. We caught up with him last week to chat about the ride...

Anyone that's completed the Fred Whitton Challenge will know that it's a tough old cookie: 112 miles and six Lakeland passes, including the daddy of them all: Hardknott Pass, with its killer 30% sections. It's enough of a challenge to do it once, but ten times in a row? on ten consecutive days? That's the challenge Leon Bond set himself to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, and he completed it too. We caught up with him last week to chat about the ride... You originally planned the Ten Freds as a companion challenge to your wife's goal of ten marathons in ten days: how did that work out?

LB: We've both done the ten marathons challenge before but unfortunately this time round a whole lot of life got in the way and she lost a huge amount of training; it got to the point where it wasn't feasible for her to do the marathons. It started off as a way of us doing something that we could spend time together training for, but in the end it meant a lot of time apart. But she was 100% behind me doing it and that motivated me to continue. She'd seen the way I'd been training and she knew i was in good shape for giving this a really good go.

By the build up to the ride it had really gained a life of its own, and lots of people knew about it. There were two camps of people; those that thought the idea was fantastic and another group of people who were saying, "you're never going to do that" – not to my face obviously, but I've heard lots of reports from friends and quite a few people I met during the ride quite openly said that they didn't think I'd be able to do it. That's fair enough – it was quite an undertaking – but they did me a favour, because it absolutely fired me up to complete the rides. I wanted to prove them wrong.

If you've done ten marathons in ten days before, you're obviously fit: how much distance riding had you done before you came into this?

I'm a quite inexperienced cyclist really. I'm not a complete novice: I've had a bike for a long time, and 20 years ago me and my sister covered 3,500 miles on a tour round Europe. But I've not done anything recently so I had no real base cycling fitness or event history to draw on; I knew I was setting off at a bit of a disadvantage when it came to doing a fairly brutal endurance event. but the principles of training are very similar in terms of how you manage yourself in multi-day endurance events, and I knew how to do that. What I needed to work on was my cycling endurance, and the ability to climb on a bike, as much as i possibly could.

What was your training plan like?

When I trained to run ten marathons I basically did lots of running! I didn't do much fast running, just lots of it, and I worked on the same principle for the bike. I tried to get out a couple of times a day; my shortest ride was generally about 40 miles. I had a hill that I kept going back to, over in Church Stretton. The one that's in the 100 climbs book isn't actually the best one, there's another close by that's got a 25% stretch for about 300 metres. I did lots and lots of hill reps on that one just to get used to cycling on steep gradients. I knew I'd need specific training for that; the rest was just time on the bike. I knew I wasn't going to be fast, but I needed to be strong enough to keep going for the full ten laps.

You did a sportive in the Lakes beforehand just to try the climbs out, how did that go?

Yes, I did the Lakeland Loop specifically as part of my training. It was ideally timed for me to ride the section of the course I'd not done before, the Western section and the two passes at the end. I knew the section from Coniston through to Whinlatter really well but I'd never done the next bit. The Lakeland Loop is about two-thirds the Fred distance with plenty of climbing, so it was a good test of how I was getting on.

And how was your first experience of Hardknott and Wrynose?

I loved it! I absolutely loved it. As a runner I love the hills and I'm the same on the bike. I did a lot of mountain biking as part of my training for the ten Freds, partly for strength and climbing but also for bike handling: I knew that the descents off the back of Hardknott and Wrynose were pretty gnarly and I wanted to make sure I was prepared for that. The Wrynose descent especially is tough, because it can be very fast but you can get into a lot of trouble if you get it wrong. I found the descents harder work than the climbing, in a way; on the way up you can get your head down and grind but if you switch off for a second on the descent that could be the end of your ride. A moment's inattention and you can be off the bike, at speed. You can't afford to do that when you're riding the Fred Whitton once, let alone ten times.

What bike did you ride?

The bike is a very low spec Trek Pilot 1.2. I changed the wheels on it to some Easton EA50 SLs – bottom of the range, but a decent wheel – and I tried a bunch of different tyres but I went in the end for Schwalbe Ultremo DDs. That combination rolled really well and had decent grip in the wet; also the Schwalbes are really easy to get on and off the rims which is really welcome when you're trying to fix a puncture in a gale on the top of Wrynose!

I tried a range of different gearing options too; The bike came with a standard 52/42/30 triple and 12-26 cassette and I fiddled around with a wider cassette but I didn't get on with the bigger gaps between the gears. By the time the ride was imminent the whole drivetrain was worn out anyway, so I needed to change it, and while I was doing that I found a 50/34/30 compact triple that gave me a good spread of lower gears with a 12-26 on the back, so that's what I ran in the end. It meant I didn't have such a big top end, but I didn't really need it. For me it was much more important to have closer rations for climbing, and lower gears. After a couple of days I did wonder if I should have stuck with the 11-28, but in the end the 30/26 gear was perfect for me.

I bought myself a Selle Italia Flite Gel Flow saddle and that was brilliant, I had no problems at all on the ride, nothing. I had some Assos bib shorts too, which definitely helped, and I got through stacks of chammy cream...

Tell us about your experience of riding the ten Freds

I stayed in Bowness at the Oakdean B&B, which I can't recommend highly enough: They were absolutely brilliant, they made me feel like royalty. I really wanted to make it as official as I possibly could so I was using the four seasons timing stations. The system doesn't guarantee that you've done the full route and not taken a detour round the back of Buttermere, missing out Newlands and Whinlatter. But I also Went to Cyclewise every day and had my Garmin tracing my route too; I wanted it to be as above board as it could be.

There was the potential that I'd spend the whole ten days cycling on my own. I had put a call out, along the lines of "if you fancy coming along for a bit to ride or even just heckle me, please do", but I was overwhelmed by the amount of support I received along the way. Apart from the last Saturday I had someone riding with me every day for at least part of the route and I had company for the whole route for four days, I think. The rest of the days people would show up and ride a section with me, often unannounced, just local people who were joining me for part of their ride home. Little things like that, people clapping on the side of the road, it was an astonishing ten days for me, I was so touched. People took time to support me for as much as they could; it made it such an amazing experience. It made me smile so much I was like a stick of rock, the smile went all the way through!

As the days went on, did it get harder or easier?

The hardest day was definitely day three. I hit a pothole and had a double puncture on the top of Wrynose, in the rain, and that was quite scary. The rain was almost horizontal and I coulnd't find any shelter; I just got colder and colder. I needed to get out of the cold and off the mountain but I couldn't because I needed to fix the bike, and I was finding it really hard to do that. I still don't know how I managed to not dent either of my rims, had I done so I'd have been in even more trouble.

Day six was physically the worst. I actually rode a good time that day but I felt like I had absolutely nothing in the tank, at all. I was fine standing up on the climbs, fine on the flat, but any slight incline just seemed to bring me to a standstill. I was lucky that day; a guy called Stuart drove up from Preston to ride with me for the whole day, with my legs in bits, and then drove back home again. I was fairly certain that I'd have a day like that and then my legs would come back to me; after a while you get the evnt fitness kicking in and you know how to use the terrain and conditions to your advantage. I got better and better at managing to keep a decent pace but cutting down on the amount of work I was doing outside of the big climbs. Day seven, which was my quickest day, felt really strong; completely different to the day before.

Day seven was also the point, though, when my body started to complain about the hundreds of miles and thousands of metres of climbing. My right knee has been operated on in the past and it started to give me some trouble. I had a chat with a sports physio, Amy from Active Physio in Kendal, and she suggested a couple of tweaks to my riding position, including changing the cleat angle, and that allowed me to manage the pain through the rest of the ride. For the last three days I had to change the way that I cycled a bit: my knee was fine when I was standing up and comfortable with harder efforts but got really painful if I was spinning. So I had to push bigger gears and I was tending to get out of the saddle on even the smallest of rises. For days eight and nine I didn't really feel it until about 90 miles. Day ten it became properly painful again on the last ascent of Wrynose, but by then I knew I could bury myself and get to the finish!

And how has the fundraising gone?

We've done pretty well, we're up to over £3,000 now. The £11,200 target is ten pounds a mile; realistically I'm never going to make that and I knew that. But I wanted a target that I thought reflected the magnitude of the ride that would encourage people to think about what it was that I was doing and sponsor me a little bit more. I'm delighted with where we've got to, it'll be fantastic if we make more. One in three of us will be affected by cancer at some point, we may well need these people.

You can still sponsor Leon at

Read Leon's account of his ride at

Watch the last Hardknott ascent at

Dave is a founding father of, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.

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quimby | 13 years ago

Still in awe of your achievement.  13

mountainposture | 13 years ago

Absolute star. Hope the sense of achievement is really kicking is now you've had time to reflect.

Celeste08 | 13 years ago

Well done Leon. Great determination & very inspiring!

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