The Road to the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc: Rat Race Road Trip London to Edinburgh cycle

Gail Edmans

ATT83427 300x225 The Road to the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc: Rat Race Road Trip London to Edinburgh cycleWhen I signed up for the two-day Rat Race Road Trip, London to Edinburgh cycle ride, I thought, how hard can that be? I clearly didn’t think hard enough. This weekend, three months on from that decision, I found out.

And I can confirm that spending nearly 32 bum-in-saddle hours is unbelievably gruelling. The ride totalled 453 miles, and included 20,000 feet of climbing. It was frankly ridiculous. I ride a scooter and I’d never consider travelling such a distance with the help of an engine, so why did this appeal?

There were 130 or so of us who fell for the challenge. (There was a more leisurely four-day trip on offer, but I just didn’t want to be away that long). To be on the start line at Tower Bridge as dawn was breaking and know – or hope – that by the next night you’d be arriving in Edinburgh under your steam appealed to a sense of adventure. Point to points always deliver a sense of achievement and I couldn’t resist the chance to test myself over some spectacular landscape on wonderfully quiet roads.

As we headed out of east London at 5am, clubs and bars were emptying. A lycra-clad bunch of cyclists drew some good-natured banter as we paused at red traffic lights. I doubt those clubbers would have believed us if we’d told them where we were heading that night -York, the halfway and overnight camping point.

Day one was actually pretty okay. Not too many hills between London and York. We rode through Royston, Peterborough, Grantham and I treated it like a running buffet, scoffing flapjacks and cakes on offer at the brilliantly manned six or so pit stops. It felt like the first ride on which I was in danger of putting on weight.

I arrived in York at 9.20 – 15 hours and 19 minutes after setting off and easily the longest I have ever spent on the bike. Because 120 riders get spread out quite quickly, I rode most of it on my own, yet I still felt surprisingly fresh. At the camp site where most of us stayed (the organisers drove with people’s camping gear to York), we showered and had some supper and there was talk about what might lie in store the next day on this ride. But not for long. We were all too knackered. I managed five hours sleep, and needed every minute of it, because day two was much much tougher. The effects of the first day kicked in and the big hills suddenly appeared.

As we tackled the climbs of north Yorkshire, Northumberland and the Borders, it was very much a case of applying mental strength to the task. Although I was in uncharted territory on a bike, I had my Ironman triathlon experience to draw on, when long hours of toil are what it’s all about. It was after 9pm and nearly dark when I arrived in Edinburgh and as spectacular a city as it is, I really couldn’t have cared less where it was. After 17 hours, I was desperate to get off the bike, perhaps sell it and find the nearest hotel with a bath and a bar. But I was thrilled to have completed the ride, even more thrilled to learn that I was the first solo woman home (out of eight).

Well done to everyone who finished and particularly to Mel and Anja, the first female pair to cross the finishing line, who were kind enough to sit with me whist I ate some much needed casserole at the end.

What’s all this got to do with the UTMB I’ll be running in August? Well – ultra marathon running puts a lot of stress on the body so it’s good to mix it up with some cross training, and the bike hours I’ve put in of late will be a big help in building endurance. What ultimately got me to the finish line was not only reasonable strength and endurance but also a stubborn streak. I was damned if I was going to be picked up by the broom wagon.

Follow me on Twitter @Norsemouse

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  • Iain

    Congratulations – having done the TDS and attempted London to Paris in 24 hours (a bit over 25 in the end) I found long distance cycling less tough on my body, but mentally much more taxing. I’m not sure that helps!

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