Rewind a few months and I find myself in an email exchange with my good friend and fellow ElliptiGO rider Idai Makaya. Idai had just entered the Audax Mille Cymru – touted as the toughest long-distance cycling challenge in Britain. Mille Cymru is a 1020km (635 miles) circular tour of Wales with an advertised 16,000 metres of climbing (that’s one and a half Everest’s!) and a time limit of just 75 hours to do it in. It didn’t take me long to decide that I wanted in! J But there was one problem - the event was full with the limited 100 places all taken. Not deterred I signalled my intent to Race Director John Hamilton in case some places became available. A month later I was in and the realisation hits me that I need to get training. This isn’t just another one day 100 mile sportive that I’ve become accustomed to completing on my ElliptiGO. This would require me to complete close to 200 miles per day for three days straight!
My training went well consistently averaging over 200 miles per week throughout May riding every single day. I also run MK Marathon in 3:11 in that May plus the North Downs Way 50. In June I targeted some big rides – completing the London Cycle Sportive (106mi), Castle 100 (103mi – the day after the NDW50, Devil Dragon ride 300k in Wales (186mi), and completing the Chiltern 100 twice back to back (212mi). So the training was done as I approached and started to prepare the bike and mind for what awaited us. I say us – referring to Idai, Alan and I. Idai and Alan previously completed Audax LEL (London-Edinburgh-London) in 2013, covering over 900 miles in 5 days on their ElliptiGOs. Whilst Mille Cymru was shorter the time limit was a lot more severe requiring not only a much faster average speed but also considerably more total ascent. This was Wales after all!
Wiggle Dragon Devil ride
We had two meetings to discuss and agree our riding plan. Such a ride can’t be taken lightly and requires tremendous attention to detail to maximise ones chances of success. In short all three of us agreed a similar plan which would require us to complete each of the three main stages at an average moving pace of 11-12mph. This would allow us the luxury of just 2 hours sleep each day. But don’t hit the required pace and the opportunity to sleep is all but wiped out. Not a particularly comforting thought and if we needed reminding just how tough this event was going to be that was it.
Fast-forward to race morning and Idai and I awoke in the very comfortable and luxurious surroundings of our Travelodge. I’m not joking – in comparison with what was to come it really was 5* luxury. We went for breakfast at the adjoining Little Chef ordering a breakfast wrap which hit the spot. Drunk coffee (and another), and discussed the day(s) ahead including last night’s weather forecast which didn’t make for comfortable viewing. Apparently we were in for a soaking on Day 1 with heavy downpours, hail, thunder and lightening all expected mid-afternoon. This made kit choice easy - on with the waterproof socks, and my lightweight but extremely waterproof and breathable Haglofs jackets was stuffed in my pack for quick access. I’d also invested in a handlebar bag which would neatly house all the required mechanical kit, spares of everything, food, phone, route instructions etc. I hopefully wouldn’t need to rely too much of these though as I’d treated myself to a Garmin Etrex 30 which contain the entire 1020km route in 12 separate GPX tracks. Simple to use, you just loaded the relevant track and followed the pink line.
Breakfast done we made our way to the start in the small village of Upton Magna, Shrewsbury just up the road from where we were staying. All being well we would be back here in under 75 hours on this circular Tour De Wales.
1020k Audax Mille Cymru route (clockwise) and elevation profile
Audax – the UK long-distance cycling association organise very low key events. This wasn’t a big branded Cycle Sportive – there wasn’t a Wiggle or PowerBar banner in sight. Just the comfortable surroundings of the local village hall that put you at ease and almost defied what was to come. There was much interest being shown in the strange contraptions that stood aloft Idai’s car roof from the other cyclists. Audax folk are a great bunch and I very much felt welcomed and accepted right away despite our obvious difference in choice of transport.
Idai, Alan and I all smiles before the start at Upton Magna
It was time to stop posing for photographs and get organised with less than an hour to the start at 11am. Tyres were pumped, drop bags packed and repacked, spares checked and rechecked. More coffee drunk, rest room visited, and it was almost time. I was still fiddling with something when I noticed that the 85 or so starters (100 had registered) were lined up and ready to go. Less than 3 minutes to GO this was it. Idai, Alan and I manoeuvred into position and we were set on our way in the second wave of riders.
Day 1: Stage 1 – Upton Magna to Hay on Wye
- 58.5 miles
- Time 5:09:00
- Moving Time 4:38:58
- Elevation 4,823ft
- Avg Speed 12.6mi/h
- Max Speed 37.6mi/h
Day 1 was 166 miles in length with nearly 13,000ft of climbing including the Brecon Beacons but we wouldn’t have to wait until there for the big climbs to begin. Just 10 flat miles into Stage 1 and we started our first climb up Long Mynd (▲411m). It wasn’t steep but it was a long climb and a little taster of what was to come. The roads were smooth going but narrow with twists and turns and the occasional ill-placed lorry taking up the entire width of the road. Idai, Alan and I were already riding at our own pace. There was no other way to tackle a distance as huge as this. The ElliptiGO is a unique machine but to get the most from it you have to find a style and pace that is right for you, and this meant efficiency! What was efficient for me up the climbs in terms of pace and gearing wasn’t necessarily efficient for Alan or Idai. We all knew this so there was no attempt to ride together. We of course wanted each other to succeed but how we achieved this success was ultimately down to the individual. I think this epitomises cycling in general and especially long-distance cycling. Whilst you are all travelling in the same direction and have something in common you are ultimately alone. I really enjoy this feeling of individualistic endeavour whilst having the support of my fellow riders alongside me.
Day 1 - Stage 1 route & profile (58.5 miles with 4,823ft of climbing)
The previous night’s weather forecast was looking like it might remain true as some very dark clouds rolled in menacingly over the horizon. I held off putting on my jacket to pre-empt the rain willing the clouds to change course. 10 minutes later and the heavens opened and there was an almighty downpour. I dived for cover under a large tree on the side of the road. Jacket on and also took the opportunity to eat some food. A pork pie and cheese & onion roll hit the spot. No paleo food on this ride matey.
There was no major hurry but I couldn’t stand around and wait for it to past. I saw Alan approaching so rejoined and we rode together pretty much to the first rest stop at Knighton at 38 miles in. It was a van in a carpark run by Audax volunteers serving cake and tea. Perfect. My ride schedule allowed me 15 minutes at each stop so I made the most of this time. Alan’s wife Kim was also there. She would support Alan for the entire ride going between Controls and being on-hand to provide some great food. I took full advantage of Kim’s hospitality and great cooking and tucked into a bowl of stew. I had arrived right on my scheduled 12 mph moving pace so was buoyed by this and set off when my time was up. Alan’s scheduled allowed him 25 minutes at each stop so we departed ways. I only know now after talking to Idai that as I left this stop Idai was just arriving.
Its worth pointing out that the stages split up for the purpose of this blog relate to when my Garmin decided to start recording a new track. So they don’t necessarily always relate to the main Controls or split in sections devised by the race director. This is all academic however and makes no difference to what I experienced out there!
I arrived in Hay on Wye mid afternoon. A lovely town and one which I would have loved to have spent more time. Famous for bookshops I think based on how many I saw on the short ride through the town centre. I couldn’t stop however and pushed on towards an almighty climb up Gospel Pass (▲545m) which is the highest road pass in Wales at the head of the Vale of Ewyas in the Black Mountains. At the foot of climb however I spotted Drover Cycles just off the road.
I had decided to change tyres for the Mille Cymru to the more robust Marathon’s a few days prior but I didn’t have any spare inner tubes so I dived into Drover’s to see if they had any of the quite rare 20” presta tubes. They did - result! They were very interested in the ElliptiGO and one of the shop attendants was really keen to give it a go. He’s rode it around the car park briefly, as I explained to the others what the ride was I was doing. I also asked about the next climb. And yes they confirmed it was huge. No time to waste then as I set off.
Day 1: Stage 2 – Hay on Wye to Raglan
- 56.5 miles
- Time 5:18:55
- Moving Time 4:27:39
- Elevation 4,604ft
- Avg Speed 12.7mi/h
- Max Speed 37.8mi/h
Day 1 - Stage 2 route & profile (56.5 miles with 4,604ft of climbing)
Gospel Pass was certainly memorable! Just check out the elevation profile above which tells the full story. It wasn’t insanely steep however just very very long. It was the first time when I could really start getting into the groove of climbing “ultra-efficiently” whilst still maintaining a reasonable pace and not being reduced to an absolute crawl. So this meant getting the balance right and not overdoing it whilst also not going straight into the lowest gear possible. I have 8 gears on the ElliptiGO so would try and stay in 2nd or even 3rd gear if possible and only drop to 1st if it was absolutely necessary. With so many long climbs on the entire route your total average speed could be really affected if you simply went for the ‘granny gear’ every time.
Spectacular Gospel Pass looking back to Hay on Wye below
Near the top of Gospel Pass
With every big climb there is a big descent - an opportunity to claw back some time and increase the average moving pace whilst getting in some “active rest”. It was a long winding narrow descent down so not super quick but an enjoyable one. 6 hours of riding and I’d covered 71 miles and had reached Llanthony Control right on schedule. A coffee, ham and cheese rolls and big slice of cake and I was set for Stage 3. Upon leaving the Control there was Alan enjoying a bowl of noodles!
It was much flatter from here all the way to Monmouth which was a tricky town centre section that required going through a pedestrian area and then up a one way street the wrong way (following the route directions!). Across the River Wye and then following the river all the way along the East bank to Tintern. This was a wonderful section and marked the 100 mile mark on Day 1 (with still 66 miles to go).
'GO on Wye' at 100 miles
3 miles further and I met up with Kim at the Kingstone Brewery Control who was ready with hot beans and sausage. Glorious! This was also much more efficient time wise as this Control was a commercial café with a waiting time for food to be prepared and served. Something the cyclists could afford to do but on the ElliptiGO I was aware of every minute going no-where was seldom advantageous. I arrived and left this Control at exactly the time in my plan meaning my moving average was exactly 12mph.
Almost immediately after leaving Kingstone Brewery it was straight back into a long 500ft climb. By this stage I was fully in tune with the route and knew what to expect. The climbs were an integral part of the journey so I never grimaced or moaned. I actually enjoyed them and whilst far from being effortless there is a certain feeling of poetry in motion on the ElliptiGO as it floats up the mountainside.
Day 1: Stage 3 – Raglan to Llanwrtyd Wells (Rest stop)
- 53.8 miles
- Time 6:17:29
- Moving Time 4:43:41
- Elevation 3,230ft
- Avg Speed 11.4mi/h
- Max Speed 32.2mi/h
Day 1 - Stage 3 route & profile (53.8 miles with 3,230ft of climbing)
Stage 3 was a total blur in my head. The profile suggests it was flattish in the first half pepperpotted with some short sharp climbs and then came the Brecon Beacons National Park. It’s an area of outstanding beauty, but by this point it was getting dark, and the night air was cooling rapidly – which quickly made this the most challenging part of the ride so far. Riding in the dark changes your perspective and definitely (for me at least) makes the miles feel longer. Add the huge climbs into the pot and this made for slow going in the final 3 hours of the stage. And when you thought you had reached the top of the final climb it just kept on going. Eventually though I did find the top and started the very long and fast descent back down. I was on auto-pilot for the rest of the stage and as I rolled into the Rest Control at Llanwrtyd Wells (smallest Town in the UK) after 2am I was ready to stop.
The RnR plan was as follows: ½ hour to eat, 2 hours to sleep and ½ hour for prep and breakfast. It went like clockwork and the volunteers were great, with everything at hand that you could need. The sleeping quarters were in a separate hall up the road from where you ate, so this meant that after retrieving my drop bag, relaxing with food and coffee, sorting out phone and battery chargers etc I had to pack everything up again and head back outside to find a bed. I could have done without that but the hall was well managed, dark and relatively quiet. A bit of faffing to sort out bags, and gear and then it was in with the ear plugs, on with eye covers and a snooze. No 3G signal meant that I couldn’t waste valuable sleep time on Facebook. A blessing!
Day 1 Stats
- Distance 168.8 miles
- Time 16hrs 45mins
- Elevation 12,657ft
Day 2: Stage 4 – Llanwrtyd Wells to Newport
- 62.4 miles
- Time 8:09:20 (includes 3hrs at the rest control – about 2hrs sleep)
- Moving Time 4:56:17
- Elevation 4,429ft
- Avg Speed 12.6mi/h
- Max Speed 32.4mi/h
I was woken up for breakfast by a volunteer with a tap on the shoulder at the time I specified. One is never going to feel brilliant after that amount of sleep following a day of riding the toughest terrain ever encountered, however I was so focused on the task at hand and acutely aware of the need to stay on schedule and not waste time. After a quick breakfast – Eat Natural cereal and For Goodness Shakes recovery drink I was set.
Day 2 was a circular 190 mile route riding out West to the coast and St David’s (Smallest city in the UK) and then back East returning to Llanwrtyd Wells for a second night at the same Control. This was a glorious day with the clouds from the previous day all but gone leaving us to ride the longest of the three days (mileage wise) in the bright sunshine.
Day 2 - Stage 4 route & profile (62.4 miles with 4,429ft of climbing)
The morning of Day 2 was the most dramatic yet but not for the reasons I would have chosen. There was a (another) big climb to the top of Llanllwni Mountain (▲402m) 30 miles into the stage (see elevation profile above). I crested the summit at precisely 8:20am – I know this not because I have an amazing memory (the wife will tell you quite the contrary!!) but because this was the time that I took the following photo.
What are you looking at is a split rear wheel rim and my puncture repair kit wasn’t going to fix this one. The first I knew of what happened was a sudden clunking sound. I immediately stopped and checked around the bike to find the crack and large bulge in the rear rim with the brake block hitting it. Man this was serious…. but it could be resolved thanks to the spare rear wheels that Idai had with amazing foresight brought along. There was just one problem – they were in the back of Kim’s car and due to our frantic race start on Friday morning I hadn’t exchanged mobile numbers with Kim. So I was up the top of a mountain with a buckled split back wheel and no rear brake. Nice! I remained calmed and took the opportunity to ring Kriszti my wife. It was nice to hear her voice at my moment in need. Next I rung Idai – no luck there. Then Race Director John – surely he would have Kim’s number as Alan would have given it as the emergency contact… right? Wrong! Just a home number 200 miles away – what use is that to anyone in an emergency. Argh.
I had no choice but to continue onto the next control at Cilgerran 19 miles away and hope that Kim would be there waiting for Alan. The descent with just the front brake sounds worst than it was. I took it steady and the bike felt stable so I remained positive and pressed on. 7 miles out from Cilgerran and my prayers were answered. Kim came past me in the car (‘support vehicle’ ;-) and gave me a wave not suspecting that anything was untoward. I immediately responded with a flurry of hand gestures. I explained what happened and we pulled over in a nearby Vauxhall forecourt a little further on so I could grab a new wheel and hub. The wheel in question didn’t have any inner band, tyre, or hub fixings so I had to transfer everything from my wheel onto the spare. It went well but took well over 30 minutes to complete. But by 10am all was sorted and disaster was averted. Phew! I was on my way again, but before I did Kim and I exchanged mobile numbers.
New shiny wheel and hub fitted! We are GO!
Breakfast at the next Control was served up courtesy of two Audax volunteers who had opened up their lovely farm house and had been cooking for hungry riders all night. Two bowls of porridge and coffee really hit the spot. It was a lovely morning and I could have stayed much longer but having lost time on the wheel repair I couldn’t afford to hang around. It’s worth noting that at all Controls I visited there were always other cyclists there too. Before the race I fully expected to see the cyclists disappear into the distance never to be seen again. However the way at least half the field approached this type of long-distance ride is to take their time, sleep for longer than we (Alan, Idai and I) could, and generally just enjoy it. Thus my average pace was the same as theirs.
I pressed on to Newport which came and went, and headed for Fishguard and the city of St David’s.
Day 2: Stage 5 – Newport to Saundersfoot (via Fishguard and St David’s)
- 62.0 miles
- Time 6:02:06
- Moving Time 5:02:14
- Elevation 3,816ft
- Avg Speed 12.3mi/h
- Max Speed 36.2mi/h
Day 2 - Stage 5 route & profile (62.0 miles with 3,816ft of climbing)
The ride to St David’s was very pleasant indeed. The sun was shining, I was moving well and staying on pace. The route was best described as lumpy! The descent into Fishguard overlooking the harbour was awesome but this awesomeness was quickly replaced with sweat and toil as the climb back up the above side was mega steep and had me grind to almost a complete halt. It was 1st gear all the way out!
I arrived in St David’s City after midday. The sun was beating down and it was tourist central with much interest being shown in the ElliptiGO. Cyclists were stopped at various convenience stores and cafés. St David’s was a ‘free control’ which meant you had to buy something or get an ATM receipt as evidence of your passage through. I stopped at a deli on the high street and bought lunch. It was the first time where I gave myself time to really relax as I sat outside on the bench and watched life go by. Two chaps on a tandem were also here. I later found out that they decided to throw in the towel soon after St David’s. So despite having double pedal power the distance and terrain was obviously taking its toll.
From St David’s (256 miles complete) there was still 100 miles left to ride that day before I could rest back at Llanwrtyd Wells Control. It was already early afternoon so it was apparent that this was going to be a long day. However the hours were made easier by miles and miles of beautiful coast line and beaches.
Day 2: Stage 6 – Saundersfoot to Llanwrtyd Wells (Rest stop)
- 60.8 miles
- Time 5:45:34
- Moving Time 5:21:07
- Elevation 2,993ft
- Avg Speed 11.4mi/h
- Max Speed 34.7mi/h
Day 2 - Stage 6 route & profile (60.8 miles with 2,993ft of climbing)
The final 60 mile stage on Day 2 headed back inland along the A40 through the towns of Carmarthen, Llandello and Llandovery. It was the flattest most ridable section of the whole ride - not so beautiful perhaps but I’ve never been happier to ride an A Road in my life as the remaining miles would zip by. The highlight of this section was an amazing rainbow that stretched across the sky and remained there for an hour as I rode straight towards it to claim my pot of gold.
Typically there wasn’t any gold at the end of the A40 only a sodding great big hill after Llandovery which totally finished me and the day off. Nevertheless I still made good time and managed to arrive at the sleep control slightly earlier than I had anticipated. What this meant is that I could take an extra hour of much needed sleep. I had covered 356 miles in 37 hours up to this point and had just 2 hours sleep so I didn’t spend so much timing eating and chatting as the previous night. But I did have the small luxury of a quick shower to freshen up which definitely soothed body and soul before then the lights went out.
Day 2 Summary Stats
- 185.2 miles
- Total Time 19hrs 56mins
- Elevation 11,238ft
Day 3: Stage 7 – Llanwrtyd Wells to Pont-Rhyd-Y-Groes (Devil’s Staircase)
- 36.2 miles
- Time 7:54:52 (includes 4hrs at the rest control – about 3hrs sleep)
- Moving Time 3:36:04
- Elevation 3,828ft
- Avg Speed 10.0mi/h
- Max Speed 36.0mi/h
I had made it to Day 3 – aptly titled ‘Return of the Dragon’ but all along the ride I had also been trying to keep tabs on how Idai and Alan were doing as well. This wasn’t a ride for personal glory; our shared goal was for the three of us on ElliptiGO’s all to finish. But the news for Team GO wasn’t looking too promising. Idai and Alan’s moving pace was slightly slower meaning that they didn’t have the luxury of sleeping at the main Rest Control. What transpired was that both Idai and Alan had ridden for over 45 hours without sleep in an attempt to stay inside the cut-offs. I can’t comprehend the physical and mental effort required to do this, as I knew how I felt after 20 hours of continuous riding so to double this is a truly amazing feat of endurance.
I left Llanwrtyd Wells at 4:30am knowing pretty much that I was the sole survivor of Team GO (although Alan was ahead of Idai and on paper was still moving forward and not out of the race altogether). The ElliptiGO community is a fantastically supportive close knit group joined by Facebook across the world. Folk from across the pond especially were following our every move with Idai and I doing our best to keep everyone updated on our progress. I therefore now had the full weight of expectation resting on my shoulders to demonstrate that such a long-distance ride over this terrain and inside the time cut-offs was possible on the ElliptiGO. I set off knowing it would be close as I was only 2 hours within the cutoff and was taking on the biggest of the three days with 190 miles to cover and ascent of over 17,000ft.
Day 3 - Stage 7 route & profile (36.2 miles with 3,828ft of climbing)
The first 14 miles out of Llanwrtyd Wells were some of the most beautiful yet along the spine of the Cambrian Mountains. A few peaks and troughs but nothing could prepare you for the sheer brutality of what was to come. Unless of course you were fortunate, or unfortunate enough, depending on how you look at it to ride this same section 2 weeks prior. What was coming up was the Devil’s Staircase (▲475m) which is a 25% (1 in 4) climb that I encountered in the Wiggle Dragon Devils ride. I had conquered it then however my legs were much fresher than they were now. I lasted about 20 metres up this brut before it became clear that the effort to ride it was 10 fold - I got off and walked. Whilst it’s nice to say that you rode every climb the goal here was to complete the whole ride, which meant putting ego aside and taking the most intelligent efficient approach possible.
But who should be up the top of the climb – Marc the event photographer!! LOL. I’d ridden 370 miles to this point and this was the first time I’d walked. Marc encouraged me to get back on which I duly did as the steepest part was now behind me. We got the shot, and I pressed on.
Day 3: Stage 8 – Pont-Rhyd-Y-Groes (Devil’s Staircase) to Llanidloes
- 45.4 miles
- Time 5:01:06
- Moving Time 4:26:21
- Elevation 4,681ft
- Avg Speed 10.2mi/h
- Max Speed 34.9mi/h
Day 3 - Stage 8 route & profile (45.4 miles with 4,681ft of climbing)
The savage climbs now continued unabated one after the other – Gamallt (▲471m) and Cenglau (▲481m) to name but two. I rode every one of them and was still feeling strong. My average moving pace was taking a hammering with the constant climbs but this was just part of the course, and I still managed an average speed of over 10mph throughout Stage 8 which included a mental zapping out and back climb from the breakfast control situated at Aberffrwd. Another Audax volunteer had opened up their house and served up beans on toast, cornflakes and muffins. I ate continuously for the 20 minutes that I was there which gave me enough energy to continue in the bright blazing sun of this third day.
The scenery continued to be breathtaking as we rode through the Elan Valley and around 3 huge reservoirs and past Craig Goch dam which was a sight to behold. As well as the manned Control’s on route to prove your passage there were several ‘Information Controls’ which required you to answer a question about a local landmark. This one read: What is the height of Craig Goch? The answer was 37 metres!
Craig Goch Dam in Elan Valley
From here we then headed north and after a long a rapid descent I arrived at the town of Llanidloes for lunch. A couple of cyclists I rode down with recommended a deli whole food vegetarian café so we stopped there. It was a great call and the food served was first class. A huge slice of quiche and 3 salads washed down with an organic cola really hit the spot.
Day 3: Stage 9 – Llandiloes to Barmouth
- 46.9 miles
- Time 5:35:39
- Moving Time 4:42:10
- Elevation 3,915ft
- Avg Speed 10.0mi/h
- Max Speed 40.3mi/h
Day 3 - Stage 9 route & profile (46.9 miles with 3,915ft of climbing)
The highlight of stage 9 was an impromptu stop at Aberdovey for an ice-cream. This was the first time that the distance and lack of sleep was really starting to hit home. It was really hot and despite being out of the mountains and onto some flatter coastal sections the head wind was making it tougher than the profile suggests. I was still really concerned about the cut-offs despite still having a reasonable cushion. In short I just needed to stop and enjoy a moment of relaxation instead of continuing forward and feeling more negative. It worked! I ordered a double chocolate wafer cone with Crème Brule. It was sheer bliss as I sat on camping chair outside the shop and for the first time felt like I could actually relax. Despite not moving forward the pressure of the cut-offs actually lifted off my shoulders. I left Aberdovery seaside town feeling 10 times better than when I arrived.
From Aberdovery it was coastal road for another 20 or so miles. Nothing was easy now and my average speed was reducing but I focused less on this now and just started to enjoy myself again. The only other thing of not on stage 9 is that I broke the 40mph speed barrier on a great descent.
Day 3: Stage 10 – Barmouth to Betws y Coed (via Snowdonia National Park)
- 65 miles
- Time 9:52:05 (includes 1hr 45mins at the rest control – about 1hr sleep)
- Moving Time: 7:37.20
- Elevation 5,037ft
- Avg Speed 11.0mi/h
- Max Speed 33.6mi/h
The Control at Barmouth was the much loved AUK Van of Delights serving up more amazing cake… this time chocolate brownie with macadamias! It was only here that I also remembered I had some Cappuccino sachets in my handlebar bag. So I sat and ate and drunk in the company of at least 10 other cyclists and had a quick chat. But mainly I just ate and chilled out. This was an important stop because what followed was definitely the toughest stage of the whole ride. Not just because of the stage stats – 65 miles and over 5,000ft of climbing across Snowdonia but also because I already had 125 miles in my legs for that day, and wasn’t far off 500 miles for the ride so far. I’d being GOing for over 55 hours and had slept for less than 5 hours and was entering the night section. Could I find enough reserves to keep going strong and make through the third night and comfort of Betws y Coed.
Day 3 & 4 - Barmouth to Upton Magna
The elevation profile paints the picture of the stage. A calm and flattish first 10 miles followed by a series of constant peaks and troughs. Above factor that hasn’t been an issue up to now also bared its head – the cold mountain air. Snowdonia is not a warm place especially at night, and just a few degrees drop in the mountains is really noticeable. On a big climb out of Beddgelert I stopped to put on pretty much everything I had to wear. 3 layers and water/windproof jacket and full length trousers, plus two pairs of gloves. I continued up the climb after a bit of food and felt warmer and more protected from the harshness of the mountain environment.
It was now well after 11pm and I was feeling really drowsy. I was alone and longed for some support from other cyclists to keep me more alert. [And this is where we rewind and pick up the start of my blog]…
….It’s nearly midnight now and getting very cold. I’ve been riding for close to 20 hours and still have over 20 arduous miles to go through the heart of Snowdonia before I get to the warmth and comfort of the Control at Betws y Coed. I’m feeling weary, totally alone and struggling to stay awake as I press on. Physically I’m holding it together and the legs are still strong despite the hundreds of miles and thousands of metres already climbed up to this point. But the questions of self-doubt and why I’m here creep in and out of my vague consciousness. The very same questions that crop up in ultra-marathons - yet here I am again putting my body, mind and soul through the same struggles in search of that feeling of ultimate accomplishment through adversity and that next amazing high…
I used the next Info Control at Waunfawr to stop and look back and Shaun and Andy were coming up the hill whom I’d chatted to frequently throughout the ride. We wrote down the answer to the question about the name of the house opposite the War Memorial and I commented that I will do what I could to stay with them as I could do with the company. They were cool and said they were taking it easy anyway. So we rode together from there into Llanberis (the start and finish of the Snowdonia Marathon), and I did what I could to keep up with them but only just. On the flats cyclists are at least 5 mph faster without even trying, whereas my work rate was in over-drive just clinging on.
By the time we had reach the foot of the last big climb of the stage up Pen y Pass (▲359m) they were out of sight. The climb was never-ending and it felt 10 times harder than when I previous ascending it on the marathon last year. It was cold, and I was once again struggling to stay focused. Once I crested the top of the climb it was supposedly all downhill for 10 miles into Betws y Coed, but in my state it felt anything but download. My pace in these final miles had slowed considerably but at almost 550 miles now complete it would be stupid to think that I could sustain the same pace as if it were the first day.
Finally Betws y Coed came into sight after a long FREEZING COLD descent down the A5. I had never been more relieved to stop! I entered the rest control to hopefully find a warm bed and hot food. But there was very little if any room at the inn! The hall was absolutely rammed full of bodies laid everywhere. Volunteers were attentively serving the needs of hungry cold cyclists amongst the bodies. I had two plates full of corned beef hash and some pudding and called it a night. There was just one problem – where could I sleep. Phil Whitehurst who was in the event himself but pulled out early on through fatigue had very courageously taken on the roll as lead volunteer at Betws y Coed and was fantastic. He found me a spare blow up mattress and got me in the penthouse suite up on the balcony of the big hall in the aisle between rows of theatre style sitting. My head hit the pillow and I was out for the count!
Day 3 Summary Stats
- 193.5 miles
- Total Time 28hrs 23mins
- Elevation 17,000ft approx
Day 4: Stage 11 – Betws y Coed to Upton Magna
- 88 miles
- Time 8:31:10
- Elevation 5,000ft approx
I awoke just 1.5 hrs later at 4am fully kitted out as there was little point getting changed. Breakfast was a disappointment so I was out the door by 4:30am which gave me 9.5 hours to cover 88 miles to make the cut off before 2pm Monday afternoon. That was an average speed of just over 9mph which seemed well within my grasp.
There was still the matter of two huge climbs in the early sections of this final stage aptly named ‘Home to the Shire’. The first at just 7 miles into the stage – Cwm Hafodyredwydd (▲485m) was a 16% gradient climb, this was followed at the 30 mile mark by Bwlch y Groes (▲545m). Both were long steep climbs but the stunning scenery once again took away any ounce of displeasure from the brutality of the terrain. Knowing also that it was the final day and barring a major incident I couldn’t see how I wouldn’t complete the race broadened my smile.
Cwm Hafodyredwydd and Bwlch y Groes climbs
With the final big climbs done and dusted it was time to enjoy the final big descent from the top of Bwlch y Groes all the way down the valley to the final control point at Llanwddyn Community Centre. Now this was the breakfast I’d been waiting for – beans, mushrooms and eggs on toast. Fresh orange and coffee. Nice! Breakfast finished it was time to roll out for the final section of the final stage on the final day. I felt brilliant.
½ mile out of the control and there was a sharp climb and my phone started ringing. It was Idai! We hadn’t spoken since the first few miles when we parted ways on Friday . Idai confirmed his exit from the race and gave me lots of encouraging words on my effort. I was very grateful for his kind words and this spurred me to push on in the final 46 miles to the finish. The final miles were easy in comparison with what had come before with nice rolling B roads with the occasional short climb and lots of long sweeping downhill sections.
I was now just outside Shrewsbury and in stark contrast to the previous three days of quiet car free roads it was traffic central as I had to navigate many mini-roundabouts and queuing traffic weaving in and out to continue my journey. And then there were the signs for Upton Magna where I had started this ride 73.5 hours earlier. In that time I had covered 636 miles with over 43,000 ft of climbing and a little over 6 hours of sleep. What an adventure it had been, and as I reached the entrance to the Village Hall to be greeted by Idai it was all over. I’d completed the Mille Cymru!!! GET IN!!! :-D
I walked into the hall, shook John Hamilton (Race Director) hand and received my medal, mug and jersey. Job done.
At the finish sporting my new MC1K jersey
Official Results on Audax webiste here http://www.aukweb.net/results/detail/this/listevent/?Ride=14-1000
Total Ride Stats:
- Total Distance 636 miles
- Total Time: 73 hrs 33 mins
- Moving Time 57:11
- Rest (Stopped time) 16:22
- Elevation 43,352ft
- Moving average 11.1mi/h
- Max Speed 40.7 mph