Wales in a day

Today’s blog comes from Ben, one of our coached athletes.

Back in 2019, I signed up to a massive sportive with 50+ members of my Tri Club. The ride entailed cycling from Cairnarvon to Chepstow in one day. That’s 300km and 4500M of climbing.

It was a pretty intimidating ask, and I was concerned I might not be up to it. However, I was convinced by members of my club that it’s “Not as bad as it sounds”, and that I should just “break it down into 6 short rides”. Like everything, the event was put on hold due to the COVID pandemic, and a few weeks ago we finally got to get started.

I’d done a decent amount of training. Every weekend over the winter, I was either doing focused sessions on the turbo, or heading out into the hills. I was feeling as ready as I could be in the weeks leading up to the ride, despite having a tough ride the week before where I was in a dark place after only 50km. I was struggling to work out what kit to take with me to handle any weather scenario, but as the event got closer, it became apparent that it was going to be a scorcher, which made packing a bit easier. I’m not generally great in the heat. I don’t eat or drink enough, and I was beginning to worry that this might make the event even harder for me. It didn’t help that I was getting texts from my Dad such as “I’ve just seen that the government has announced a Severe risk of death warning for Saturday. Good luck!”

We all travelled down by bus; our precious bikes being transported down in a van separately. When we arrived on Friday, it was a quick turn around before we all cycled down to registration together. Once that was out of the way, we all went to the pub for a bit of dutch courage, had an amazing carby tea, a team pep talk, and then a very early night.

I managed to sleep surprisingly well, but that didn’t make the 3:30AM alarm any easier. It was a shock to the system, but after some porridge and a coffee, I was itching to go.

The start line

A couple of groups had set off an hour earlier, and had started the event at 4AM, but the rest of us left the hostel at 4:30, arriving at the start line at 5. As we cycled down, we were passing cyclists already en route travelling the other way. We set off as a group of 6, and swiftly joined up with another group to become a strong train of 12. We started off super easy to make sure that we didn’t get tired in the first few hours. After about an hour and a half, we started climbing the first major hill of the day. We arrived at the top of Llanberis Pass just as the sun was coming over the top of the mountains, and dropped back down the other side. The views were stunning, and I’m definitely planning to go back and do some more riding in the area.

Snowdonia as the sun came up

Before we knew it, we were at the first checkpoint, where we were given a bacon sandwich, some pastries and a coffee. By this point it was 7 AM, and already starting to warm up. By the time we’d rolled into the second checkpoint at Bala we were taking the opportunity to hide in the shade. The heat was getting really intense, and we were getting through water at a hell of a rate. We decided to split up into 2 separate groups so that everybody could ride at a pace they were comfortable with.

From Bala we went straight up Hirnant Pass and around Lake Vrynwy (The flat was much appreciated!) Soon after, we saw the Tri Club support vehicle which gave us all a lift. We’d seen a few cyclists already struggling, and I’ve got no idea what we’d have done without the extra water supplied by our excellent support crew.

A few hours later, we rolled into the third checkpoint at Tregynon, which roughly marked the halfway point of the ride. There were lots of other KTC groups there having lunch, and it was great to catch up for a while. Amongst them was Lynda, smiling and chipper as ever, who had set off with the 4AM group.

Me and Lynda enjoying the shade

One of the volunteers at Tregynon was handing out ice lollies, and another was spraying cyclists with a hose. It’s hard to decide which of the two was nicer!

Starting again after a long lunch was mentally tough, but the route planners had been uncharacteristically kind to us. After an hour or so grinding uphill, we had an hour of very gradual descent where we could get some speed up and rest our legs a bit. By the time we got to 100 House (the fourth checkpoint), I was feeling like I’d got a second wind. Finding out that the checkpoint had run out of cans of coke nearly ended the high, but we’d recently passed the 200K mark which was a bit of a milestone, and spirits were up.

All day we’d been gearing ourselves up for the biggest climb of the day – Gospel Pass. It’s the highest paved road in Wales, and we were hitting it after 140 miles. However, nobody had warned us about the warm up event. Llanbedr Hill came out of nowhere and ramped up to 20%. After grinding up in granny gear, my heart sank as it carried on around the corner. I could hear some of my teammates losing their sense of humour at the steepness of it, and one of them nearly threw in the towel. However, by the time we’d come down the other side he was ready to press on and after a fishfinger sandwich from our great support staff, we headed out of Hay on Wye to Gospel Pass.

Gospel Pass

We hadn’t seen many riders for a while, but as we hit the bottom of Gospel Pass, it was a surreal sight. All along the road, riders were off their bikes, wheeling them along and carrying their shoes in the other hand. Everybody was looking broken. By the time we hit the summit, it was about 7:30 PM, and the sun was setting. The views were stunning, and more importantly, the temperature dropped a few degrees. We found ourselves with a few KTC groups, and sped down the other side of Gospel Pass into Abergavenny.

The final checkpoint felt like a bit of a party. The food was freshly made pizza and cups of flat coke. At the time it tasted like the best meal I’d ever eaten. As I was filling up my water bottle, the man next to me dropped his lid. He looked at it, looked at me and said “There’s no way I’m bending down to pick that up. I can get by without water for the last stretch”.

After waiting for all remaining KTC riders to roll into the checkpoint, me and the 5 riders I’d been riding with all day set off again. It was after 9 at this point, and we were losing light. We switched our lights on, and settled in for a bit of night riding. A couple of draggy hills later and we were rolling into Chepstow, finishing just after 11.

Me crossing the finish line

It was an amazing feeling to get through the day, and even better to finish with the great group I’d started the day with. It had been brilliant to share the experience with such a nice group of people. We all went back to the hotel and had some warm cans of San Miguel to celebrate. That was even better than the flat coke! At 3:30 we called it a night and went for a few hours of sleep.

I absolutely loved the event. I was on such a high all day, and a lot of that is down to the preparation. Thanks to Tri & Run I was physically and mentally ready for the ride, as well as having a strong plan for nutrition and fuelling.

Since the event, I’ve been desperate to find the next challenge. After discussions with Vicky, I’ve decided to take the plunge and sign up to Ironman Bolton next year! Already looking forward to getting stuck in, with the help of the brilliant Tri & Run coaches of course.

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