GBBR Day One: Lands End to Tavistock

Do you know what the Reveille sounds like? Everyone on the Lexus Great British Bike Ride knows it very well indeed. We were to hear it every morning at 5am, pumped in by the army via a PA system that would have woken the dead. I have the sound ringing in my ears still as I type up my notes now almost a week later. Google it, please, I want to share it with you:)

So this was the start of our every day. In a cold (very) and dark, dampish army tent, we would get blasted with this lovely sound. The first morning it came as a big shock, but at least it got us all out of bed. In fact it probably got the whole of Lands End out of bed too.

So after a big queue for a breakfast of porridge, eggs, beans, toast, bacon and lots of tea, it was into the cycling kit for the start of the ride. We started at precisely 7am, and rode down to the famous signpost showing the way to various far flung places. I think there were 141 of us the first morning, and we were set off in ceremonious style by Mr England in groups of 25 or so. Here are some of the folks getting ready for the off:

The famous signpost is there in the background.

The route we knew was going to be around 97 miles. What I don’t think anyone knew really was just how hard this would be, certainly not me. Not helped by the easterly wind (I will try not to keep mentioning this, honest, but we did end up cycling into it for all 344 miles), the hills were just horrible, in fact some of them were bad going down too.

The reason for the bad ones going down were that many were on very narrow country roads with grass growing down the middle, a 25% slope, and high hedges each side. This meant that the best you could do was to cling onto the brakes all the way down and hope that you didn’t fall off. This hurt your arms and hands a lot, and I just wasn’t used to it. The hills I am used to cycling down are wide open, and you can freewheel, let yourself go and feel the wind in your hair. Very few of these allowed that freedom at all.

Some of the hills going up were so steep that my lack of triple chainring was apparent immediately. I reckon that 90% of people on the ride had a triple, and all of the experienced guys certainly had them. I was stupid, just didn’t know, and paid for it. You cannot do 25% slopes on a double, or I can’t anyway. In fact if I hadn’t had the 11-28 cassette fitted to my bike the week before I went I would have been walking half of the hills in Cornwall, and would probably still be there. I am glad to say that this was my only regret of the whole trip, but it was a significant one certainly. By the first pit stop however at 25 miles or so, I was flying along, and loving it. I think I knew that I was ready for the whole thing, as I was psyched up and determined. The other thing is that you are certainly carried along by the momentum, of riding with 150 people or so – there was always someone behind you or in front of you to keep you spurred on. Here I was at the first pit stop – still smiling!

Time for a banana and a flapjack methinks

So the route took us through or past Penzance, Redruth, St Austell, Liskeard, Callington and then eventually to Tavistock in Devon. The majority of the route was via the side roads to keep us out of the way of traffic. I think I posted the route profile in another post, but here just as a taster is the section that we finished with:

Nasty, vicious finish to say the least

So that is the last 45 miles post lunch. Following a nice descent around Callington and towards Tavistock itself, the climbs following both were absolutely horrible. Just what you want when you are nearing the end of the first 100 mile cycle of your life, and after about 9 hours in the saddle. I think I reached Tavistock at about 4.30pm. The climb up to the club itself was horrible even. It was nice as we arrived though that all the army guys were there and plenty of people from the rugby club to clap us in. There was also a film crew there from BBC Cornwall, and I think I got filmed – it would be nice to see that someday and I must find out if it exists somewhere.

Having parked the bike up I found out that I had finished in about the first 30 riders. Whilst this is by no means a race or anything it was a huge boost to find that out for me. I went and got myself booked in for a massage, which hurt about as much as climbing the 1 in 4 hills did! It was a thorough sports ‘deep tissue’ massage, of the ‘no pain no gain’ variety. I think I probably felt the benefit the next day but at the time it was nothing short of agony!

Dinner in the clubhouse was a feast of pasta, chilli con carne and curry all piled high on the same plate, followed by a dessert of meringue and fruit. I was ravenous. I managed to avoid a beer, being the good, strong willed soul that I am:), and was tucked in bed by about 9.15. This was after the ubiquitous briefing telling us what lay ahead the next day (90 miles of Devon basically, and another 2,390 metres of climbing).

Sleep itself came very very easily (always does for me, I am lucky like that), although the night was to prove very cold indeed. We were camped at about 700 feet, looking at the edge of Dartmoor, and the wind was blowing a misty coldness through the camp. I hunkered down into my sleeping bag, not wanting to get up to pee in the middle of the night because of the cold, and awaited the sound of the bugle at 5am. The start of the next day we knew was going to be a total pig of a climb – the locals referred to the start of the route over Dartmoor as “Eight Mile Hill”, and we were about to find out that they were definitely not kidding.

Lands End Tomorrow…

I am in the final stages of packing, unpacking, and packing again. It is nuts. It shouldn’t be too hard really, but ultimately I just don’t know what to take. If this was summer it would so much easier, but I really don’t know if I am going to be hot or cold, wet or dry. My bag is however packed, and so it is going as is. I have about 200,000 energy bars and gel sachets, remembering vividly as I do that on Kilimanjaro I was woefully short on everything in that department.

I have also got my bike as ready as it is going to be. I cleaned it for starters, and I hate cleaning pretty much anything, so that was an effort I can tell you. I also have inner tubes, spare contact lenses, a pump, two bottle cages, gloves, a multi tool and various other things attached to it one way or another, and also it was serviced just last week, so hopefully it won’t let me down. What am I saying? My bike won’t let me down at all – there is only one part of ‘man and machine’ that is likely to fail, and it is not the mechanical one I assure you.

I have also just been reacquainting myself with the route – and so here is how my first day looks:

Leaving at 7.40 am, and call through or nearby:

Lands End / Penzance / Redruth / St Austell / Liskeard / Callington / Tavistock

Pit stops at –

27 miles:
St Aubyns Arms, Praze-an-Beeble, Camborne, Cornwall, TR14 0JR.

57 miles (Lunch):
Falmouth Arms, Ladock, Truro, Cornwall, TR2 4PG.

78 miles:
The Crown Inn, Lanlivery, near Bodmin, Cornwall, PL30 5BT.

Total distance is apparently 96 miles. Coupled with the forecast easterly wind, and some of those hills shown above (click on the map links to make them bigger by the way), it cannot possibly be anything other than horrible. And guess what the most horrible thing is? Yes, you did notice didn’t you? Every stop is a bloody pub!

And it gets worse (yes, every stop at every point on the way for the following three days is a pub as well). And also, just look, if you will at the profile of the first stage on day two, after we wake up with nasty horrible painful legs and sore heads:

Doesn’t it look just not very funny in the slightest? 1,500 feet I ask you!

But I cannot wait – I just want it all to start. Thank you to everyone for helping me with either good wishes, donations, or just in putting up me being a very much distracted basket case, for this past few weeks/months.

So tomorrow I will get up at 6am and be on my way to Lands End. My first time there, and hoping for an outstanding experience, which I am sure it will be one way or another.

I intend, and very much hope, as so may people have said to me, to ‘be safe’……..and I hope also to be able to update my blog briefly with progress on a daily basis too.

So, to Cornwall……and beyond!


So that is it. I am actually now officially tapering. For those who don’t know, and I was one of them until about 20 minutes ago, tapering is where you reduce your activities prior to a big event in order to optimise performance. The idea is that heavy activity depletes glycogen and muscle stores, and so you should refrain from it for a ‘period in time’ depending upon your event. Those nice people at the GBBR have suggested a week, and as there are nine days to go, then that sounds about good enough for me. You don’t stop altogether of course, as that would be counterproductive, and so I will be out every couple of days to do just 25 miles or so to keep the legs and muscles ticking over.

But no more endurance rides – hurrah! They are not just very hard work, but do take up so much time. Take this weekend for example. Yesterday I cycled about 75 miles, starting at 10am and finishing around 3. By the time I had prepped, recovered (slowly I might add), showered etc, the day was mostly over. There are surely better things to do on a Saturday than to pound the hills of Berkshire, Wiltshire and Hampshire than that. And what do you mean ‘there aren’t any hills in Hampshire’ – oh yes there are, I have the sore legs to prove it! Today I did 65, and I had had enough by about 6.5, and so goodness knows what it is going to be like in just nine days time when we face the hills of Cornwall.

In fact a thought came to me this morning as I was cycling along in Gloucestershire somewhere, trying to keep myself amused/awake etc., and that is the difference between how cycling is now and when I started this little adventure. That is, when I rode my bike for the very first time, some 3 months ago, I was knackered after about two miles, and wanted to turn round and go home. Today, when I went out, I was also knackered after about two miles and wanted to go home. The big difference is, that three months ago I did just that and went home. Today I carried on for another 65 miles, and whilst I would be lying if I said that I was feeling great all the way, I have certainly come a long long way. I am tired though, very very tired. Last night was a Saturday night, and I was in bed asleep by 9.40pm. Now that for me is both unheard of, and very sad. I intend to make up for it rather a bit when all this malarkey is over, I can tell you. Did I mention I was going to the Oktoberfest?:D

I have completed 172 miles this last week, and will cycle now every other day until Lands End for just 20 miles or so, and just ‘spin the legs’ as I have been advised to do. Hopefully it works, this is all unchartered territory for me. I mustn’t also lose sight of the fact that I did badly overall in my training schedule. I don’t know how well you can see this below, but here is my somewhat childlike wall chart that I have been keeping going for the last fifteen weeks or whatever it is. I think it shows, amongst other things, that I achieved my weekly target just three times out of fifteen:

A child of three did not create this I am afraid:)

Still, I have done over 1,000 miles since I started, and I cannot be too disappointed with that.

I have a feeling though that in about two weeks time a “Steve Redgrave” moment will be approaching. Not in the success stakes I hasten to add, but in a twist of his now infamous quote after he won his last Olympic medal. In my case therefore it will be something like: “If anyone sees me on a bike ever again, they have my permission to shoot me”.

So anyway, for now, let the tapering begin!

25 Days to Go!

I can hardly believe that there are just 25 days to go until I get to Lands End for the Great British Bike Ride. It seems rather surreal. I say this as someone who is filled with dread at the prospect of cycling 330 miles – I actually am very unsure as to whether I am physically capable of that at all. I have no idea what cycling more than 50 miles feels like currently, and time is rather running out.

I went out yesterday for my first cycle in almost a fortnight, and thankfully felt fine. I thought my holiday would rather have caught up with me (although I did do a few exercise bike sessions in the gym at the hotel, but it was hardly very much), but the legs apparently still work. I did 25 miles, at rather a good pace (averaging 20 mph, my best ever) and so all is back on track as such.

I got a call from Mike at the GBBR to ask if I wanted to go on their training weekend on the 13th August, but I have a big family party that weekend which I am hosting, so cannot do it. The weekend will be therefore rather a setback, as it will be no bike riding and probably a lot of vodka drinking (these things have to do be done sometimes :)). So much is happening now as far as the event is concerned, and I have a lot of organising to do. I still need quite a bit of kit, including some extra bib shorts as it is important to have a clean pair for each day, so I had better get the credit card out again. I have to sort out my transport down there too – I am hoping that I can get on the train with my bike, and then I have to work out how I get from Penzance to Lands End – I won’t be able to cycle as I will have too much kit to carry, so it could be interesting. Maybe they have big taxis down those parts….

Oh and another exciting piece of news that I picked up via Richard Hill’s twitter page ( – apparently Martin Johnson no less, will be riding day Three (Yeovil to Winchester) with us – how exciting is that?

So, with 25 days to go, that means I will be out probably only another 8 or so times in anger on the training front. The last week before the ride we have been told to take it very easy and get some rest before the event. I have only two weekends of riding therefore, and I need to make them count. Tomorrow therefore I am intending to do 80 miles, and then follow it with 60 on Sunday morning. There’ll be a few hills in there too. This will give me a taster of what is to come and how far I need to progress still. It is daunting, but very exciting too. It is interesting how you do progress with time, as the thought of 80 miles just four weeks ago would have terrified me, but now I am rather looking forward to it.

On Sunday after an early morning ride I am getting a visit from Darina and Paul, who are doing Kilimanjaro next month. They originally contacted me via this blog, and are coming to have a look at my pictures and stuff. I get to talk about Kilimanjaro all over again – yippee! Here is a link to their blog so you can see how they are getting on:

OK that’s all for now – off to work, and have just got my head together after an early morning swim in the Thames. Yes you read that right, I must be flipping nuts!

So what about the (and beyond?) then….

So having been rather quiet for a few days or so, whilst I reflect on life the universe and everything, I have been plotting adventures new. I shall tell you about those shortly.

Meantime I have been corresponding by email with a person whose son has been climbing Kili. He was doing the Pofu route (which I hadn’t heard of before, at least by name). This is the route that takes a longer route around and up the mountain, and then has you camping in the actual crater before summiting. That all sounds fairly hardcore, even to me.

So anyway, the person with whom I have been corresponding (I shan’t name them as I do not have their say so as of yet to do so) has obviously been nervously (big understatement there) waiting for updates from the son, and has happily been receiving them on a regular basis. It has made me think how I would feel if my daughter was doing it (it won’t be happening for my son I cannot imagine but you never know:)), and I totally understand what the emotions must be like.

Anyway I am absolutely delighted to tell you that he summited successfully yesterday. That is fantastic news, I am delighted for them both, proud parent and son alike. Apparently the only hiccups were a broken camera (thank goodness for mobile phone cameras then), and a bad case of sunburn from the summit itself.

I am hugely looking forward to hearing more of the adventures that he had, and if he is happy for me to do so then I will post them here in due course.

Meantime also I have been trying to figure out what to do next. And so I have:)

Well it couldn’t last too long could it? I mean the follow up?

For those people who know me well, then you will know that I occasionally suffer from a bout of impetuosity. In fact I am one of the most impulsive people I know:)

So for the last week or so I have been pondering the merits of renewing my gym membership as against buying a bike. The gym I have been to only a couple of times since I have been back, and as one of my other traits is getting bored (although I don’t have time for that these days), then it doesn’t have the appeal as much anymore. Whilst planning for the mountain I was very driven, surprising myself sometimes in fact, but now I need something to plan for. Something to drive me, motivate me, challenge me.

So I hit upon the idea of cycling to work. Now also for those of you who know me, and before you start guffawing away with howls of derisive laughter, I should tell you that I used to love riding bikes. OK so it was a long long time ago, but I used to do it a lot. Me and Col used to cycle through the pedestrian tunnel over to North Shields sometimes – it was probably about four miles or so! That was however when we were about 14.

So my office is about 7 miles away from my house, and I figured that on the days when it is not raining (so I could be actually very safe here) I could probably get there in about 40 minutes or so, hopefully. There are also about three different routes I could take, and so I started to decide which one to take. One of them involves a bit of off road, but is by far the most direct. The other two are quite different – the shorter one involves a fair few ups and downs, and might be a bit painful in places for a cycling novice like me. The other one probably adds a few miles on, but is almost entirely flat. The first bit is down fairly narrow lanes though and so if there are cars coming then it could be a bit hairy.

I narrow a number of choices down to a few bikes online without really knowing what I am looking for, but a Cannondale Bad Boy really takes my fancy, and is a snip at about £630. I then go to my local cycle shop and my head is spinning again. I could have  Trek for this money, and a Specialised for that money, or a Bianchi (wasn’t she in Eastenders?) something-or-other. Even if I had chosen a bike I could have chosen between about 30 different tyre types alone. I leave the shop none the wiser.

And so I buy myself a cycling magazine. Sorry if this is a long story by the way:)

So I still just cannot decide which bike to buy. There are (to follow:)) so many decisions to take about 53-39 chainsets, and doubles and triples, and Tiagra versus 105 and things that it will make your head spin. And that is after you decide between a hybrid, a sloping frame, aluminium or carbon and the like.

Anyway, I see an advert in the magazine as I am thumbing through, and it is for “the Great British Bike Ride”. I look at the website and it tells me that the ride is in September this year, and is 320 miles between Lands End and Twickenham in London, over 4 days. It is the first time it has been held in the UK, and it is for three different charities, all of whom I like a lot. So I think – why not, and go and immediately sign up!

I am so excited about this it is fantastic. I have a new adventure to plan!

Here are the details of the ride:

Looks like no hybrid then, but a road bike, and a serious one. More decisions to come then, and a rigorous new fitness regime. 320 miles – gulp!!