Pan Celtic Race 2021 - RACE REPORT
This was the second edition of the Pan Celtic Race. I took part in the first edition in 2019 but didn't finish that one. So I was back for more and to put things right. I don't like unfinished business and I feel a certain amount of pressure (and pride) to demonstrate that the ElliptiGO stand by bike is capable of competing at these distances, in tough events and amongst the company of much faster lighter road bikes. But mainly I just had something to prove to myself. This was personal.
|All packed and ready to leave home (train to Plymouth via London, Paddington)|
The official race distance was 1240 miles (1995 km) with an elevation gain over 90,000 Feet (28,000 Metres). That's more than three Everests!
|PCR 2021 Race Route|
|My personalised PCR Brevet card|
Day 1 - 175KM (109 miles) Plymouth to Bishops Quay
[Accumulative miles = 109]
Start time 10:30AM / Midnight finish. 13.5 hours ride time
|Boarding the ferry for the short hop across from Plymouth, Devon to Cornwall|
|It might be grey but after spending the last 15 months couped up working from home and doing very little else just being outside in a totally different environment was a total assult on all the senses.|
|One of many seaside towns and harbours we would pass through|
|What goes down must come up!!|
In Cornwall riding down to sea level always meant extremely steep descents followed by punishing climbs. Days 1 & 2 were "punchy" to say the least with 20%+ grade climbs being a very common occurence
|Day 1 accommodation|
The end of Day 1 saw me find this perfect bus shelter at midnight to roll out the sleeping bag and get some well earned rest. There was even room for the ElliptiGO too :-)
Day 1 was of course very exciting and new and so everything about it was fun but that didn't mean it was easy. All the riders knew what to expect coming into this race regarding the elevation gain in Cornwall but nothing quite prepares you for the sight of a sheer wall of tarmac that looms large right infront of you and you somehow have to get up it!
One of the first questions I always get asked by cyclists about the ElliptiGO is "can it climb", and "how is it on descents". The ElliptiGO can climb for sure otherwise I wouldn't have even made it past mile 2! But you do have to know how, especially when the climbs come so thick and fast. My long stride ElliptiGO model has an 11 speed Shimano Alfine hub so it has a good gear range but you still need to know how to use them effectively. The technique required to climb extremely steep hills takes a lot of practice if you aren't going to be burnt out by the top of the very first one. The ElliptiGO climbs best by pointing it straight up the hill and dropping into your lowest gear. And then with good balance and good core and arm strength, stand tall and keeping the handlebars as straight as possible you slowly but surely "float" up the hill. Focusing on a very smooth stride motion. Minimal effort for maximum gain. None of this going from side to side business. That zaps energy and is inefficient on the ElliptiGO. And this is what I had to repeat regularly throughout Day 1 and the rest of the race. Some climbs were just five minutes long, some were 10 minutes whilst others were 30+ minutes of continuous steep up.
My loose plan for the race was to try and average 200KM per day. So 10 days in total to complete the 2,000KM race distance. But after my failure in 2019 to complete the race (where I massively over planned both my pacing strategy, and stops) I wasn't about to make the same mistake again. So whilst 200KM was a nice goal and gave me something to aim for each day I wasn't going to let it dominate things.
Day 1 didn't start until 10:30am so a late start and a tonne of climbing meant I was extremely pleased to record 175KM for the day, and turn in to bed by midnight in my first ever bus stop shelter experience! It wasn't cold and my new Marmot Hydrogen sleeping bag was very warm and comfortable. I also carried with me an inflatable half mattress, inflatable pillow and waterproof bivvy bag with me as well.
4 hours sleep total.
Day 2 - 170KM (105 miles) Bishops Quay to St Newlyn East
[Accumulative miles = 214]
Start time 5:30AM / 8:30PM finish. 15 hours ride time
|Hot porridge and coffee for breakfast using my new JetBoil! Brilliant!|
|Dawn breaking on Day 2|
What a way to start the day but don't let the tranquility of these scenes decieve. The relentless climbing comtinued!
|That's Land's End on the horizon or so I told myself just to keep the motivation levels high!|
On the approach to Land's End, Cornwall, England
|The last photo taken on Day 2 as the weather in the afternoon was about to take a big turn for the worst|
The morning of Day 2 was very enjoyable. It was still early in the race and the legs felt good. Despite all the climbing I was managing to ride every one. The weather from the previous day had also cleared up and progress was being made. But there was talk amongst the riders in the morning at the breakfast cafe that a big storm was coming in and would hit us hard by mid afternoon. You can't control these things so you just continue and do what you can as the situation unfolds and reveals itself. And oh boy did it reveal itself!! The rain came in hard and the wind also picked up. The climbing continued too and as we were on the coast it was very exposed. It was a perfect storm and it just didn't stop. Hour after hour all through the afternoon and into the evening. It was not very pleasant! I managed to find shelter in a large public restroom on the beachfront in one of many bays we visited. There were individual cubicals where I could take in the ElliptiGO too, and access all my gear in my bags without getting drenched. It was feeling quite sorry for myself at this point as it was absolutely horrid outside. I got into my full weather gear incluiding warmer long sleeve base layer, 3/4 length tights, waterproof trousers, winter waterproof gloves, warm hat etc. I was ready to do battle against the elements once more.
As day turned into evening the rain didn't stop and I was getting colder and colder. The waterproof trousers were far from waterproof as the incessant rain drove straight at me. I was soaked through to the core. The hours went by with the occassional suggestion of the rain stopping for it only to come back harder still. The thought of being in this for much longer and trying to find shelter outside for the night to sleep was a concern to me. And all I kept thinking was, it's only Day 2 I don't know how much more I can take of this. Weather changes everything on rides like this. It's one thing when its just a one day ride and you soon know that you will be back at home inside in the warm but your mindset totally changes when that security of warmth and shelter is taken away from you. It's quite daunting.
And then a miracle happened. And I do mean a true miracle. I ride past a church in the village of St Newlyn East and the thought occured that I should perhaps stop and take refuge in its doorway to get out the rain for a bit. As I'm thinking this I continue to ride and spot Oliver walking down the lane with a lady. I had ridden with Oliver briefly earlier in the day. Oli had taken refuge in the church doorway and the lady, Jo whom he was walking with, was at that minute leaving the Church and asked Oli what he was doing. He explained and she offered him a warm room for the night at her house. As I ride past them both and slow down to chat Oli explains this to me, and I just look at Jo and say, I don't suppose you have room for one more do you? Jo took both Oli and I into her house where we could dry off all our wet gear, have a shower, she cooked us beans on toast for supper, had a room to sleep for a whole night and got eggs on toast in the morning. This was honestly a game changer for me. Had I not passed them at that exact point who knows where my race would have gone. Several riders 'Scratched' on Day 2 meaning that they decided to stop. I wonder how close I would have gone to thinking the same.
As a Christian myself all I can say is a huge thank you to Jo and her husband Simon who demonstrated through their actions' Jesus love for us. I felt truly blessed to be in her home and what she had done for us and knew from my heart that this was God taking care of me. I regularly pray on my rides and ask God for help and he always delivers. He has never let me down. Roll on Day 3!
8hrs sleep!!! Magical.
Day 3 - 250KM (155 miles) St Newlyn East to Edington (via Boscastle Checkpoint 1)
[Accumulative miles = 369]
Start time 8:30AM / 3AM finish. 17.5 hour ride time
|Boscastle Checkpoint 1|
Arrival at Boscastle Checkpoint on Day 3 at 260 miles to get the all important stamp in my Brevet card
|Boscastle Checkpoint 1 - The wind was blowing!|
|Another Bay which inevitably meant another huge lung and leg busting descent and ascent|
Day 3 was a huge day of riding (250KM) and took loads out of me. Hitting the Quantock Hills AONB (Area of Natural Beauty) after midnight was not something I'd planned. I never look too far ahead of the route preferring instead to just stay in the moment and ride just what's infront of me. This way I can't worry about something further along if I don't know what's coming. But the Quantock Hills had some very big climbs and I was pretty exhausted by this point. Once I got through the Quantock Hills which by the way were pitch black so I couldn't tell you whether they were beautiful or not I rode on through the town of Bridgewater well after 1am. I stopped there at a 24hr petrol station and got a Costa Coffee and filled one of my water bottles with Redbull! Ate a packet of peanuts and continued.
Day 4 - 143KM (89 miles) Edington to Westbury
[Accumulative miles = 458]
Start time 6:30AM / 6PM finish. 11.5 hours ride time
|Breakfast of porridge and coffee jet powered to start the day|
|The Glastonbury Trail|
The Glastonbury Trail
Mally (RD) loves a bit of off-roading so you always have to be on your guard for when the route might go off-road and down a dirt track!
|Day 4 breakfast - Huevos rancheros|
An amazing mexican breakfast of Huevos rancheros in the town of Bruton. I was really ready for this and it was again perfectly timed.
I started to feel the effects of no sleep from the previous night my mid-afternoon which effected my mood and just led me to enjoying the riding a little less. I always found the late afternoon period into early evening the hardest mentally. Often only just over half the daily 200K distance had been completed by this point yet it felt like the day was closing in and time was always running out. It's at this point when I always started doing the maths to work out what time I would hit the magic 200K figure for the day. It was always somewhere between 10pm and midnight. But on Day 4 I really just felt like I had to cut it short. It was raining AGAIN now and that always effects my spirits. It wasn't even cold but since my feet played up after the soaking they got on Day 2 and then I rode threw the heat of the day on Day 3 the soles of my feet were very tender and I was constantly aware of the rubbing and the need to look after them. More rain and soaking wet shoes again was not going to help.
I took shelter from the rain in a bus shelter and jumped onto Booking.com and looked for a nearby place to stay. There was a last room available in a B+B in the next town of Westbury which was only 4 miles away and on the route. It also happened to be the Euro's semi-final between England and Denmark so I could shower, dry my clothes, eat, watch the game and get a good night's sleep. I could hardly keep my eyes open for the game however, but I just enjoyed laying there in the dry and not being out there in the rain.
Day 5 - 210KM (129 miles) Westbury to Tylorstown
[Accumulative miles = 587]
Start time 8AM / 11:30PM finish. 15.5 hours ride time
|Cheddar Gorge - Mendip Hills AONB|
Day 5 was a great day of riding including some nice fast smooth roads, rolling downhills (and of course plenty of ups!) through the Mendip Hills including the amazing Cheddar Gorge. Home to Chedder Cheese!!!
There were lots of cyclists in in this area tackling the climb up. We were going in the opposite direction at speed from the top to the very bottom. That was a lot of fun :-)
|Looking out over to Bristol|
A hilly city which included a long descent down into the city, before climbing back up again the other side
|Clifton Heights, Bristol |
Enjoying a well earned Mr Whippy ice cream. yum yum!
|Day 5 accommodation|
My home for the night (photo taken the following morning). After the short day (on Day 4) I knew I had to target at least 200+K each day if I was to stay near my 10 day target. So that's just what I did. Not all the miles came easy and as you ride deep into the evening and each night you do occassionally find yourself asking why am I out here doing this. But the answer is usually found on the open road, in raw beauty of nature, the sights and the sounds, the experiences of the day and the waking up to morning bird song. It's all worth it in the end and as long as I was making continuous forward progress I was feeling good about it.
Day 6 - 195KM (121 miles) Tylorstown to Newton
[Accumulative miles = 708]
Start time 6:30AM / 10:00PM finish. 15.5 hours ride time
|Super Cycle Ways!|
Day 6 included lots of really nice cycleways which were great to ride. This one was on an old disused railway line and here is "Silver Touring" waiting at the platform. I was right on time too !! :-)
There is one problem with the cycleways and the ElliptiGO though!
I had to lift the very heavy front end of my ElliptiGO high over about 10 of these width restrictions. It was a good arm workout that's for sure.
|Rare moments riding into the urban jungle|
|Great artwork with the slogan reading "Bee more Green"|
|Swansea, South Wales|
There were some really good cycle ways along South Wales including through and beyond Swansea. Really enjoyable riding that made the miles whizz by. I even met my first official dot watcher just outside Swansea! A university lecturer from Swansea, Angharad was waiting for me outside her house holding out a hot coffee flask. I slowed down and stopped. And she said "Stu here's your strong coffee you asked for"!! Absolutely amazing. A complete stranger who was tracking riders on the tracking website which included a personal profile of every rider including their favourite beverage and so she had brought mine. How kind is that!! Thanks Angharad!!
|Tenby, South Wales|
A lovely little seaside town. There were so many little hidden gems like this that we pass through. Such is the format of an event like this you so wish you could stop and spend more time at every place you place through to really soak it all in but that won't get you closer to the finish line or your daily target distance. So often its a just a quick snap, a memory logged and keep that forward momentum.
Day 7 - 219KM (136 miles) Newton to Tregaron (via St David's Checkpoint 2)
[Accumulative miles = 844]
Start time 7:00AM / 11:30PM finish. 15 hours ride time
|Day 7 South Coast Wales|
I think it was now that I was starting to feel the excitement about getting nearer to the finish. We were well into the second half of the ride but I was under no illusions that there was still a very long way to ride and possibly 4 + days still to go.
I tell myself that after today is done that's over two thirds of the days, distance and climbing complete. And that felt really good and spurred me on. The legs were still feeling good and I didn't have too much fatigue each day. I was getting enough sleep every night which was definitely making a huge difference to the enjoyment of the ride. I simply focused on the here and now. The next mile. The next climb. The next coffee stop. Just one step at a time.
|Day 7 accommodation|
This bus shelter turned up in the perfect place at the perfect time as I hit a daily distance of 220KM, and turned in before midnight. There were a few spiders in there to keep me company too. My daughter would not have liked that! But once again it was warm and comfortable and I slept well.
Day 8 - 214KM (133 miles) Tregaron to Welshpool
[Accumulative miles = 977]
Start time 6:00AM / 10:00PM finish. 16 hours ride time
|Elan Valley, Powys, Mid-Wales|
Day 8 was simply stunning and on reflection of the whole event route was definitely the stand out day. Arising from my slumber at 5am in a bus shelter I had my usual porridge and coffee and set off at 6am heading for the Elan Valley. I hope the photos do some justice to the epic scenery. The roads were smooth and cut straight through and aroud the hills. Simply stunning.
Elan Valley, Powys, Mid-Wales
|Elan Valley, Powys, Mid-Wales|
|After many hours riding through this vast wilderness I got to this high point|
|There were some very impressive reservoirs and dams in the Elan Valley|
|Highest point in mid-Wales|
After the Elan Valley it was then time to climb to the highest cycle point in Mid-wales. This cycle marker post at the very top was at 500 metres which I climbed from sea level.
|Confirmation plaque of the high point in Mid-Wales|
Looking out across Mid-Wales from this high point. The descent that followed was a lot of fun!! People often ask how the ElliptiGO descends? Well you point it down the hill and GO!! And just hang on!!! ;-) It's a wild ride for sure. Reducing wind resistance by getting into a forward tuck position helps too.
|Bwlch Y Groes also known as "Hellfire Pass"|
And the climbs just kept coming on Day 8. This is at the top of Bwlch Y Groes "Hellfire Pass". It's a 3.7KM climb that peaks at 550m. This photo is taken from the top having climbed up from the valley floor that you can see far below. It was definitely the toughest climb of the entire route because it just ramps up and sticks at 20% grade for what feels like forever! My ElliptiGO and me was at breaking point as I struggled to maintain any forward momentum on the impossibly steep ramp. It was wet too! I was so chuffed to ride the entire climb.
YEEEESSSSSS! GET IN!!!! Can you tell I was rather happy :-)
|Royal Oak Hotel, WelshPool - Day 8 was finished in style! |
After all the climbing and pushing hard for much of the day I arrived in Welshpool soaking wet after getting caught in a massive downpour that only Wales can do. The Euro2020 final was happening (extra time) as I arrived. The highstreet was empty cos everyone was watching the game. I poked my head into a pub to ask about accommodation. The town was much smaller than I had imagined and I feared the worst. But I was in luck once again. Booking.com to the rescue and I bagged a room at the Royal Oak for £60. The manager Chris was amazing and even gave me a free room upgrade. It was lush!! I'd ridden for 16 hours and clocked up 217KM (133 miles) for the day.
|I hand washed my gear and set up the cupboard as a drying room with the portable heater on full blast and a fan also pointing into the cupboard. It worked an absolute treat and all my stuff was dry in the morning including my trainers.|
|Even my ElliptiGO "Silver Touring" had her own room for the night! :-)|
Day 9 & 10 - 310KM (192 miles) Welshpool to Trearddur Bay, Anglesley
[Accumulative miles = 1,176]
Start time 8AM / 8AM finish. 24 hours ride time
|An EPIC vegan breakfast with my first ever vegan black pudding!! :-P|
Breakfast was served from 7AM so I made sure I was all packed and ready to grab breakfast and then head out on Day 9. Chris the hotel manager was ace and gave me the breakfast "on the house" in support of what I was doing when I told him about the race. People are so so kind :-) This really set me up for the day ahead which would turn out to be quite an eventful one! You really can't underestimate the importance of eating well on multiday events like this. In Scotland on PCR2019 I got it completely wrong. I was always hungry and there was never anything open. Thankfully this route had access to far more convenience stores but proper meals and a good breakfast was always the ticket to a good day of riding and keeping energy levels high. Oh and a good nights sleep too!
|Lake Vyrnwy looking so still and calm|
The route took us on a loop to Welshpool and back out again so this meant a very welcomed and enjoyable return visit to Lake Vyrnwy and another chance to ride alongside its shores this time on the calmest of a dry morning.
|On Lake Vyrnwy dam|
|Back to the top of Bwlch Y Groes where shortly after I hit 1,000 miles!|
After Lake Vyrnwy we had to climb back up to the top of Bwlch Y Groes but from the opposite direction this time which was thankfully a far shallower grade. The view over the other side was absolutely stunning and the descent was the best of the entire ride! Miles and miles of nicely graded smooth tarmac that returned us down to the valley bottom. In the far distance on this photo you can see the mountains of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales. I am so thankful that Mally decided NOT to route us through the heart of Snowdonia! That would have been epic but super tough on Day 9. Instead we now headed West back to the coast. Yes!!!
|Back on the coast - North West Wales|
The going was good and the weather was perfect. The roads were super ridable and despite the miles and the hills in the legs I was feeling great. I had decided quite early on during Day 9 that I was now looking to ride through the day and night and straight to the finish in Llunduno. No stopping to sleep, instead I would ride the full 425KM (264 miles) distance in one go. And the plan was looking great. Everything was ticking along very nicely. The main reason for wanting to finish on Day 10 was to make the Pan Celtic Race Clan finishers party!! And if I could just keep GOing then there was a very good chance that I would do just that. These were some of the most enjoyable hours in the race as I soaked up and recalled all the memories and moments from the past 9 days. Everything felt effortless.
|Dinner time - Jet Powered!|
I phoned my family and spoke to my wife and two children as I had a double portion of pasta and tomato mugshots over looking the ocean.
|Rhiw, North Wales over looking the bay of Porth Neigwl|
|Mynydd - The furthest westerly point of North Wales. |
Reaching this point required an out and back section up a continous climb on concrete slab roads. I should have stopped earlier to take a photo of the amazing sunset but I thought I could catch it here. But the mist descended really quickly as I climbed and wiped out everything in a blanket of white.
|Caernarfon Castle at 2AM on Day 10|
From Mynydd it was a very direct and swift route north for 40 miles to reach Caernarfon. This included a long stretch on the A499 main road. Because it was so late I had the whole road to myself and I blasted along with music to keep me company. A mix of Metallica, Mumford & Sons and Christian band Hillsong Worship. I stopped every now and then to eat and put of my warmer gloves. It's on one stop during the night that I first noticed my right knee and swelled right up and my calve too. There wasn't any pain and it didn't appear to be thwarting my progress so I continued on my way.
When I reached Caernarfon and the Castle the route took us over a swing bridge. Only the problem was that the swing bridge wasn't swinging!! It closed at 11PM, and it was now 2AM in the morning. Damn! I'd been following a pink line on my Garmin etrex for 9 days now and suddenly I couldn't go any further. There must of course be an alterative away around and looking on Google Maps what at first looked like a big detour actually only turned out to be about 15 minutes to go around. But just little things like this can seem so big in the moment and I was cursing my luck. Once back on track I headed through the very pretty and desserted streets of Caernarfon and along a great cycle path to the Menai Bridge that connects to Anglesley.
|Menai Bridge, Anglesley (not my photo as I arrived here after 3am!)|
There was a 24hr garage on the other side of the bridge in Anglesley which was a dream sight! I'd started at 8am the previous day and it was now after 3am so I'd be riding for 19 hours. My energy levels still felt good but I think I was now just riding on pure adrenaline at the thought of being so close to the finish and making such good time. I had a Costa Coffee and Pain au Chocolat and sought to tackle the Anglesley loop. It got much much cooler on Anglesley with a morning mist that layered the whole island.
|??!!WTF!! Show-stopper! Race Over!!???|
A little over 30 miles into the 80 mile loop of Anglesley with just 87 miles to go to the finish in Llanduno I took a real turn for the worst. My pace had already slowed on Anglesley pretty considerbly but I just put this down to the time I had been riding and natually with no sleep you don't expect to be able to keep up the same pace for over 24 hours. But that wasn't it.
Something else was wrong and I was starting to feel my body just go into total shut down mode. That's the best way I can describe it. All power from my legs had gone and I was struggling to maintain even the slowest of forward momentum. Suddenly my world became very very small indeed and even riding 100 metres felt like 10 miles. And on any incline I had to drop into my lowest gear just to get up it. This was not good. Not good at all. I tried to ignore what was happening but I knew it was time to stop and assess the situation.
My right leg was completely swollen to double its size full of fluid from the knee down the whole calve and the ankle. I had very little movement in it at all. I sat beside the road on a wall and wondered what I could do now. My concern was DVT and links to blood clots and retention preventing the proper flow of blood in my leg. I immediately messaged my support group (a brilliant group of very close ElliptiGO buddies) on Messenger telling them what had just happened. My friend Bill from California immediately video called me back and we had a good chat about my options. They were few and far between but getting anti-inflammatories like Ibuprofen to get the swelling down was the essential first step. I didn't have any with me and I'd seen nothing on Anglesley in the last 4 hours of riding but it was now approaching 8am and I was in luck. I was very near Trearddur Bay, Holyhead and there was a Spar shop just up the road. I managed to ride there and park up. Another good friend from the group Idai rung me at this point and also offered similar advice about getting the swelling down, taking Ibuprofen and getting the weight off my leg. So that's what I did buying up their stock of Ibuprofen and Paracetamol, as well as a coffee, huge vanilla slice (feel good food!) and a fresh pain au chocolat just out the oven. I chatted to the lovely lady who served me and told her my woes. She was a cyclist too and understood what I was going through and saying. I sat outside on the pavement with my legs stretched out and just lay there. There was nothing more I could do. What now?
|Looking suitably depressed in Bangor hospital A+E department|
|Icing the swollen leg! Not just any ice either but M&S ice!!!|
Day 11 - 125KM (78 miles) Trearddur Bay, Anglesley to Llanduno (The FINISH!!)
[Accumulative miles = 1,255]
Start time 10AM / 6PM finish. 8 hours ride time
Total ride time = 10 days, 7 hours, 5 minutes
|The rescue party!! Mum and dad and my ElliptiGO safe and sound!|
|Leaving Trearddur Bay, Holyhead, Anglesley|
|South Stack Lighthouse, Anglesley|
The ride around Anglesley with everything that had happened over the last 24 hours felt so damn good. My leg had recovered enough with the swelling down and full powered restored. The weather was perfect. The roads were good, and the scenery as stunning as the rest of the route.There were still some good climbs to go but knowing I was so close made each one feel that little bit easier. And this was actually my fastest day of riding.
|Llunduno - Riding around the Great Orme|
The last 5 miles of the Pan Celtic Race 2021 takes you through Llunduno and then around the Great Orme circular toll road with fantastic 360 degree views of the ocean. The two videos below reveal it in all its wonder. Stunning.
The Great Orme
The Great Orme
|Pan Celtic Race brevet card stamped!|
|Mally Ryan (PCR Race Director extraordinaire) brevet card presentation|
|Confirmation of the total distance - 2021KM. What I great number!|
My average moving pace was 15.6KPH. My pace actually increased throughout the event from Day 1 when it was 14.9KPH. That is largely due to the terrain and elevation. So I didn't get slower even if at times it felt like that. Ignore stopped time and overall average as I turned off the Garmin at night so those numbers are meaningless.
A MASSIVE THANK YOU TO EVERYONE THAT SUPPORTED ME ON SOCIAL MEDIA THROUGHOUT THIS RIDE. THE ELLIPTIGO COMMUNITY IS AWESOME AND THE ORGANISERS AND RIDERS OF THE PAN CELTIC RACE ARE THE VERY BEST IN THE BUSINESS.
ROLL ON 2022 ;-)