Chase the Sun (North)

I like a challenge, me. Don’t ask me why. I’m not after any Guinness World Records! But I do find such a sense of achievement out of doing something slightly bonkers. Past endeavours have included climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, cycling from Basel to Verona, and a 10km swim down the Jubilee river (just because). I also seem to gravitate towards events which have a USP – Alp d’Huez triathlon (3 mountain passes on the bike and a half marathon at altitude), Guernsey Marathon (a lap of the island), Tour of Wessex (the UK’s only multistage sportive). They’re just a bit more interesting than your bog standard branded stuff 🙂

Before COVID-19 was a “thing”, I agreed with a club mate to enter Chase the Sun 2020 – a 200 mile bike ride from the East to the West coast of the UK, the challenge being to start at sunrise and finish before sunset (the clue is in the name!). Due to living in the South, we opted for CTS (South) from the Isle of Sheppey to Burnham-on-Sea. Sadly, the pandemic put a stop on all events, and we put that one to bed.

Fast forward 13 months, and I started receiving emails 2 days after breaking up with my boyfriend, telling me that although CTS South was fully booked, there were still places available for CTS North. It didn’t take long to know that it was something I needed to do to make myself feel something other than heartache again. Sadly, my previous CTS South buddy declined to join, so knowing that no-one else I knew would be up for it, I threw caution to the wind and entered solo. What the heck!

I had been thinking about getting a cycling coach for a while, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try and train “properly” for my first very long distance event, so I contacted Tim from Catenary Cycle Coaching (https://catenarycoaching.com/) and he agreed to take me on for CTS and a couple of other cycling and multi-sport events I had my eye on. With just 10 weeks of training and having hardly ventured outdoors on two wheels for quite some considerable time, I followed the plan as closely as I could, factoring in work, depression, lack of turbo trainer and studies.

Event week arrived, and my friend Lynda and I made our way up to the Whitley Bay via Nottingham (to meet our friend Steph’s gorgeous new dog), Durham (to show Lynda the sites but unfortunately not see my family, who were isolating) and Newcastle (to meet up with my good friend Hayley for pre-ride dinner). I had to organise an emergency last minute massage in Nottingham as my lower back was in pieces after the Catenary trip to Yorkshire, which helped a bit.

Durham was lovely as always, but it wasn’t quite the same to not see my family. And Newcastle was as lovely as I remember, with lots of cool grafitti to photograph.

We got up to Whitley Bay with enough time for me to collect my legendary orange ribbon and complementary CTS jersey, but decided to dodge the free drink and Beefeater meal in favour of a can of G&T and some chocolate back in the B&B room. Cue accommodation cock-up #1: we ended up with a double, despite requesting a twin. Good job neither of us snore! I got as much ready as possible before bed, we agreed on some cafe stops to meet at, and the lights went out. 4 hours later, they were back on again and I was attempting to shovel down some Alpen and tea. Not easy at 3:30am! We managed to get out of the door and down to the sea front for 4:15am, and I spent a few minutes faffing with texting the secret word to the organiser to show I had started and taking a quick photo against the (rather cloudy) sunrise. Mary-Jane (my Ridley Jane XL) was suited and booted with a new Apidura Food Pouch to help me to remember to eat (10/10 worth the money) and a borrowed Alpkit Frame Bag (which *just* fit) for a pump, some spare tubes and sun cream.

The first 5-10 miles I tried to wake up and chat to a few people, and I managed to find some of my friend Gope’s club mates from the Cowley Condors – hard to miss them in their bright pink kit! I didn’t get the sense that many of them were hopeful about finishing before sunset, so I wished them well and started jumping from group to group, until I found myself on my own. One of my flaws is that I get a bit impatient on the hills…more with myself than other people. I just don’t see the point in dawdling up and prolonging the agony!! Unfortunately it means that in this situation I was only really with other people on the flat, and then on my own agenda on the climbs. There was one other girl who was giving it the beans on the climbs as well who I rode with a bit, but she didn’t seem interested in small chat, and I was glad when we parted ways.

The first stop was for breakfast in Kielder water at 56 miles. The weather was dry but fresh and I was very glad to have donned my new Castelli ROS jacket – thank you for the tip, Sean! Lynda met me in the car and got me a coffee and an egg bap, which was bloody delicious. I stayed there about 15-20 minutes and moved on when the midges started eating my face.

Not too long after breakfast came the English/Scottish border, and one of only a few quick snaps I took on the day. I had packed a Go-Pro style camera which would have been awesome (the scenery was beautiful, as predicted) but unfortunately my handlebars were too fat and I had to leave it off. The next 38 miles to the mandatory lunch stop at Langholm were a bit of a blur, I think I rode it mostly alone, taking in the sites and trying to remember to eat and drink. Lynda had driven ahead and cycled back to meet me, hoping to get some decent miles in. Amusingly I was going faster than anticipated and she seemed a bit aggrieved to only get to 5 miles before turning back around with me 🙂 I scoffed some savoury snacks (prawn crackers, Pringles) and refilled my bottle, text my secret word and had a quick coffee and a loo break.

Then it was back on it, no time to waste! I found and overtook the annoying girl, who looked like she was badly bonking up one of the hills, and then it was back to solo riding for a bit. A while later I found a couple of lads to ride with who were a similar in strength to me. They were a bit more crack than the misery guts girl, although one of them didn’t have a proper GPS unit and hadn’t downloaded the route (?!?!?). We did a fair stint as a 3-up and were making good progress until the heavens opened and we got soaked to the bone, forcing us to stop at the AE Bike Shop at mile 132. They hadn’t planned to stop originally (I was aiming to meet Lynda there), but we were a bit miserable and needed a hot drink for morale. They very kindly bought me a coffee and we had a bit more of a chat, before they decided to push on whilst I waited for Lynda to show up. A cup of the saltiest pea and ham soup and another bap later, and still no sign, so I got going again.

Sage advice in AE Bike Cafe.

It wasn’t long before I saw the yellow and black of Lynda’s BTS kit coming in the other direction, and once again she turned around to accompany me back to the car in Moniaive, at mile 152. There was a horrific temporary road surface gravel section for about 1-2 miles on a twisty descent, which was thoroughly unpleasant on skinny tyres – Lynda said it was bad enough going up it, and she wasn’t wrong! We made it to the car and this was where having Lynda as a support driver came into its own – fresh kit! I stripped off everything that was soggy – shoes, socks, bibs, bra..the lot, and boy what a lovely difference that made with dry stuff and 48 miles still to go. A quick pint of lemonade at a pub, and then Lynda set off for the finish, whilst I carried on solo.

Lemonade time 🙂

I kept smelling the air in the last 5 miles to see if smelt of saltwater, but all I could smell was cow pats 😀 Around the same time, annoying girl caught up with me – great. I thought I’d give her another chance, but the chat was still pretty poor. It felt like an absolute age before Ayr was in striking distance, and then it took until literally 1 mile to go before we caught sight of the sea! I had visions of rolling in with annoying girl whilst congratulating each other and getting a bit “totes emosh” having finished, such is the hopeless romantic in me. But no, she seemed absolutely hell bent on “getting there first”, and started skipping red lights and mounting the pavements like a crazed person. I don’t have any time for that nonsense whether there is time pressure or not, so I left her to ride like an idiot and tried not to let it spoil my finish. I rounded the corner and there was Lynda and a few other supporters… I’d done it! A quick mandatory text and it was done.

All in all it was an amazing experience – in the end I made it with 3.5 hours to spare, coming in at 6:50pm! We had the best tasting pint of larger at the finish, followed by accommodation cock-up #2 (may have forgotten to book somewhere…oops!). Thankfully Lynda found a B&B with a spare suite, and then we celebrated with lovely tapas and wine and swooning over Ryan Reynolds on YouTube…bliss 🙂 Sunday my knees were a little sore and my face swollen (bad idea to cycle 150+ miles without glasses) but we had an amazing brunch at the Secret Garden Cafe in Ayr, followed by a lovely beach dog walk with my friend Jen and her puppy Max.

Ride stats for the data geeks: 199.9 miles ridden (no, I did not want to do another 0.1 miles to round it up!!). 3629 meters ascended. 12h13 ride time, 14h36 elapsed time. Average speed 16.3 mph. Average cadence 95 rpm. Weighted average power 135 watts. Average heart rate 133 bpm. 5000 kcal burnt.

The Ride.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. I was mostly worried about nutrition and not under-eating, and although I probably ate conservatively, I didn’t bonk at any point and never felt “hungry”. The egg bap, salty soup, Deliciously Ella oat bar, mixed fruit and nuts, and Kellogs Rice Krispy Squares were my weapons of choice. I finished with a massive sense of achievement, stunning scenery etched into my brain, and thanks to the incredible generosity of my friends and family (and one or two “anon” donors), we raised £1565.00 for the 2 charities I chose to support (BEAT https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/ and Beder https://www.beder.org.uk/). From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

I plan to do the hat trick, with CTS South first and CTS Italy last (when COVID allows). It would be nice to do it with company next time, so please do shout if you’re interested in joining for the ride.

Chase the Sun? Completed it, mate 🙂

For anyone yet to donate who would like to: https://www.justgiving.com/team/KateLauraChaseTheSun