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Taming the Yorkshire Beast 2018
This journey began back early 2017 when a close friend took on a massive challenge of running 110km Ultra over the hills of Cumbria. At the time I thought he was mad and had taken on more than he could manage. Never the less I felt driven to push him along and encourage him with any advice or support I could give him. He did his training and suffered a few setbacks with injuries and niggles which made his goal even more challenging. I Felt the excitement for him on the days leading up to his event (the Lakeland trails ultra) and watched and had feedback on the day of the event on how he was doing. It turned out he came across a number of personal obstacles on the day and took hours longer than expected but he completed his challenge and gained masses of respect from myself and fellow middle aged amateur athletes.
From this I wanted that feeling of pushing myself past what seems impossible and going the extra mile (pardon the pun).
September 2017 I found a brand new Ultra event for cyclists called the Beast of Yorkshire which was a 200 mile (321km and 17,000 feet of ascent) climb over the Yorkshire Dales and Moors. The event was on May 27th 2018 which made things seem easier as it was many months away. In my head the end of May meant that I could get this out of the way early in the year and I could enjoy the rest of the summer in beer gardens and on family holidays. That was the plan anyway.
I used the time wisely between September and January and did the bare minimum with the aim to start training straight after New Year. I bought a fancy indoor trainer which was the Xbox live equivalent for cyclist (Zwift). This was to be the best thing I have ever bought as I could race people and train with people all over the world. One week on this and I pulled my back out. Sciatica laid me up for the rest of the month and I spent two weeks off work on very heavy drugs and physio which seemed to do nothing. Not the best start.
It was the last week of January when the physiotherapist gave me the all clear to cycle a little (which I took to mean I could so as much as I wanted). I was now more than 3 weeks behind and starting from scratch almost. The long hours began. I planned the months ahead by increasing my weekend cycle by 30 to 60 minutes week on week, little by little. Plus location wise, I planned the rides to take place in the North Wales hills.
During February the weather was awful and I spent most of my time in my garage freezing and pounding the turbo trainer living in a world of virtual reality! It was fun and kept me going. I was going a little square eyed though and became a character in a computer game. I had given up sugar for lent so no treats at all for 40 days. The weight dropped off me and I lost 6 kgs!
March came and the weather was still really poor. We even had snow! I booked on a 108 mile sportive called the Cheshire Cat which was to spring board my training in the real world.
This event took place on March 25th, three months before the main event. I would be attempting my first century of the year. In the past, I have had company but this year I was on my own. Due to the inclement weather most people were in the same boat and behind on training. 1800 people planned to take part in the event and only 30 took part in the 108 mile trek in the end. It was bloody freezing and foggy to start. Because of the hills and my lack of training on them I took it steady and paced myself. I aimed for the 78 mile stop feed station and didn’t stop beforehand as I did not want to break my rhythm. 70 miles came and I was seeing computer graphics in my vision as I was desperate for the feed station which was a very welcome cup of coffee and a few sausage rolls. I pushed on ready for the final section and completed it in just under 6.5 hours. I was really happy with that as I had spent majority of day on my own.
Next training target was to Mallorca on the 15th April. I have never been abroad on a cycling holiday before but always wanted to try it and this year was the perfect excuse. My friend Lee came with me who is a much better cyclist than me and climbs hills for fun. He also loves cycling as much as me and I knew he would not waste the opportunity to cycle. I am easily lead and could quite easily have found myself in a nice bar somewhere! So we had 4 days of solid cycling and climbing. It is such a beautiful country and the scenery was breath taking. Some of the climbs were out of this world and switch back city on some of them. Over the 4 days I completed 350 miles of riding and climbed over 35,000 feet. This was the most I have ever done in a week. My body had had enough by the last day and was telling me to give up. At least I was training hard.
The maximum mileage I have done in a day was 120 miles so still 80 miles shy of the Beast which is a long way after 120 miles!
I was glad of a few days’ rest. My weight was by now the lowest I have been since I can remember. I was starting to look ill and had been told that by most people. I didn’t like it. However I had 6 weeks to go and needed to try and keep the mileage up but difficult to manage with work and family life. Both were suffering as a result.
My weeks at this stage were averaging between a hard week of 250 miles and a lesser week of 180 miles, pretty much depending on the day in the week where I fit a long ride in. Stretching had become key as I was scared that my back pain would return. I felt like I should have spent more time on core exercises but never got time between everything else. I really suffer with right sided neck pain on long rides which was going to be my biggest issue I felt. I even tried a Bike fit session with no improvement, and also changed handlebars type and width but nothing changed. I even went looking for a back and neck massage but was scared they may trigger my sciatica. Time becomes a massive factor and everything I plan on a day to day is to try and squeeze a bike ride in. “Takes over” is an understatement and if I don’t train I become grouchy!
My Work colleague Steve had entered the event also. He is a multi marathon runner and completed a number of Ironman competitions so he knew what to expect on the pain side of things. It became useful knowing someone else doing it as we measured our weekly training against each other and became competitive on who did the highest hill or the longest distance.
By now it was the first Bank holiday in May and just 20 days to go. Britain was hit by heat wave (if only it could last till next bank holiday)(and it did!) . Training must go on. 115 miles fast on the Saturday and 80 miles of killer hills on the Monday. Past so many beer gardens full and surely that is a better way of spending a bank holiday in the sun. The Tour of Yorkshire was on tv and it goes over some of my route and the hills were crippling the Pro Cyclist so what chance did I have? (Park Rash). Hence why Monday was spent going up and down Moel Arthur in the sun. A lot less fun than Mollorca hill training. Onwards and upwards.
My last big ride before the event was a 122 miler with 8000 feet of climbing. Still a long way off the distance and climbing required on the day. A week before the B&B cancelled my room for the night before the challenge. The only option now was to camp!I have a very small uncomfortable looking pop up tent which I took and I borrowed an airbed for the height of luxury.
26/05/18 Day before
The weather was looking very promising for the whole weekend, breezy but no rain forecast. I drove down on the Saturday arriving for 4pm as I needed to register and set up the tent (which took just 3 minutes!)
There was a really good atmosphere in the campsite as everyone there was on the event. I could see people organising their bikes and kit for early start next day. Free spag bol and the European Championship final was on to watch before lights out.
27/05/18 Event day 474 entered 128 did not show
I woke up at 01.30 frozen in the tent. I watched the clock for the rest of the night till 03:30 when I had enough and got up. To be fair I did not feel too bad for such an early hour. There was a food van on site which served porridge and tea which is what I needed for a bit of heat. Checked the weather and decided what was needed to wear on the day. 10 degrees in the morning moving to 23 degrees in afternoon. I wore my rain cape first thing as don’t like being cold and it’s an easy pack away once warm.
I ate some more and filled pockets with supplies for the day. I had made up a list of feed stations and how many miles each were at, which proved to be a real help, although later in the day an irritation. I also printed out the course profile .Nothing like being prepared!
First Half 100 miles Yorkshire Moors
I made my way to the start line for 5am and set off at 5.15 in a small group. My Garmin started playing up and not recording speed almost as soon as I was on the road so I stopped to have a play with it and got it going somehow. I lost the group and began on the chase to find a comfortable group to keep good pace with. First 15 miles was fast (an average of 19mph) and I then hit the first serious climb, Boltby Bank, which was a very steep climb for just under a mile in length. People were already starting to walk up it which surprised me. Was this a bad sign for them as it was only the first real hill?. Did they know what they signed up for?
I managed it fine and the field was now spread out.
The first food station was 36 miles and a busy affair. I had a sausage roll and a toilet stop. I only stayed a couple of minutes before setting off again before I ceased up. Rolling hills were all I can remember at this point and another long steep one ahead which was leading up to Rosedale Chimney. This was an horrendous steep gradient and took real grit just to move. I successful completed it and felt the burn in the legs and the muscles starting to bubble on my thighs. I was praying that I wouldn’t get cramp so I drank an energy gel to put the cramps back to sleep.
The next feed station was pencilled in at 80 miles but actually at 82 miles. A little annoying as I was working precisely towards the 80 miles and the extra 2 more miles hurt! It was the same again at this stop – just a very quick stop and then off again. I was by now 2 hours 30 minutes ahead of the Beast so all was good. The sun was very warm now and I was worried I was going to burn as my sun lotion was sweating away!
Off again and making our way from the Moors to the dales (by now over 8000 feet of climbing done) and a nice flat section to the next feed station at 116 miles. I bombed it along there and had the wind behind me for a good stint of it. I made it to the 116 mile feed station before long and I was now feeling the distance! I hunted down a paramedic for some sun lotion. That was one less worry as I should avoid 3rd degree burns on my Irish Skin. 122 miles was my max previous and unsure what would happen when I passed this and entered the great unknown and the thought of the hills on the second half were even higher. I took a longer break as the feed stations were starting to grind on me as all that was available was very sugary energy drinks, sausage rolls, brownies and flatjacks which were all very welcome in the first few stations but now my stomach could not take them anymore. The previous station had cheese sandwiches which was the only one to offer something less sweet.
I knew I should be eating something but I was beginning to heave every time I put something in my mouth. I wanted to make myself be sick but was concerned that if I did I would have no food storage left and be finished so carried on.
Second Half The Yorkshire Dales
The next climb I feared was the Hill from the Tour of Yorkshire which even the pros struggle up. The wind was starting to pick up. I remember hitting the base of the climb with the wind in my face. Steve was in front of me and he fell with the steepness and a sudden gust of wind. I had to put my foot down and there was simply no starting off again. I had to walk it. I was not that bothered as I had already passed my record distance and the climb was horrendous. Plenty of others were managing it. If it was the first climb I would have managed it. Walking it was no easy feat either as a killer on the back pushing the bike plus the shoes are not ideal for hill walking. My stomach was churning now and not improving. I could only get comfortable with my head down towards my knees which was not very safe as I could not see road ahead. I was better leading as I could concentrate on moving forward but could not drift. I could not manage to concentrate on holding the wheel and began drifting back. Steve held back for me and we worked towards the next stop which was at 142 miles. By now I had tried not to think about the 200 mile point but each stop aimed for that. I just thought of the smaller sections to achieve the main goal – it was easier to break it down in my mind into little pieces. However it was soul destroying at this point and my mind was telling me to quit.
142 miles came and went and there was no sign of the next anticipated feed station. I started to get wound up and angry. Was there actually one coming? All I could see in front was more big hills. I got to the top of one and lay in the heather for a few minutes. I was considering staying for the night but will power carried me on to the 147 mile next stop. Whilst I was glad to see there was all the same food so I didn’t eat anything save for water and a banana. My mood was very low now. I knew the next stop was 177 miles and more climbing ahead. The only positive I was holding onto was that I was only double figures away from my goal now and not triple. Counting back from a hundred was much more positive.
The next climb was very slow and everything was telling me to stop. My Garmin died at 172 miles so I lost sight of how many miles I had done and what was left. I was also using my Garmin to see the profile ahead and it was very useful to see how much of the hill was left to climb. I was now blind. I was relying on Steve to keep me updated. 177 miles came and went and no sign of yet another feed station. Again I started to think we may have missed it or taken a wrong turn. Eventually we came to it at 180 miles I think. Nothing new to eat there though. Again I was thinking that I should now make myself vomit. I decided not to. I had some water and a bite of an energy bar. Off we went, one last climb and then the last 16 miles mostly downhill. The light was now in sight at the end of the tunnel of pain. I just needed to keep moving, with my head down where I could to keep the stomach comfortable. A few more people passed and asked if I was okay,( support by fellow riders had been excellent and there was a real sense of comradery) .
The sign for 10km appeared (just 6miles left and I can run that is what my head was thinking, probably not today though.) No Garmin was having me guessing and trying to work out how many miles I was doing. The route seemed to be taking us around in circles to make the distance. 200 miles achieved and still no sign of the finish, how cruel this was all becoming? Then there was the sign for 1km and I knew I could swim this if I had to. Through a hedge I could see the campsite! Praise the Lord the end was in sight.
202 miles, and 17300 feet climbing (according to Strava)! Wow, I have at last achieved what I set out to do. I received my medal to applause and felt a hero. I threw my shoes off and headed straight for a very well deserved pint. The world felt good again. I no longer had to worry about when and how many miles I would have to do each week. I could have my life back and relax.
Finish Position and Time
345 people took part on the day
96 people did not complete on the day
For me it was not about how fast I completed or how many Strava segments I could smash up hills, it was only ever about completing within the allowed time and achieving the double century. A very personal challenge for me and nothing else.
The atmosphere on the campsite that night was electric and a connection was felt between everyone that achieved the same as me and a respect by all. We all wore our medals with pride.
How long before I have the hunger for the next big challenge
Not long ………………..
Of all the body parts we train, none is more important than the mind
42 years of age and still pushing myself to the limit it feels good and keeps you young. Completing was worth all the effort and time I put in. Beats watching people on telly doing super achievements when you can do it yourself.
DON'T FORGET TO CHECK OUT THE NEW YORKSHIRE BEAT KIT FOR 2019!!!! link below: