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Achieving a first cycling century: two perspectives

Cressida Allwood
By Cressida Allwood and Roger Shearer
12 minute read

When a friend asked Cress Allwood to support him in achieving his goal of riding 200 miles from London to Paris, she was happy to help with the training. But with Roger's first 100-mile ride overdue, how would they both deal with the challenge.

Roger is tall and broad, with a cheery outlook and can-do drive. A new iron-rail green steed signalled his intent. I’ve learned many lessons over the years: journeys typically have ups and downs as well as taking us to new places.

Building to 60+ miles had been relatively straightforward, with lovely rides exploring quiet Lakeland lanes in lockdown. My concern that Roger had not yet achieved an interim goal of riding his first century reached tipping point. With two previous attempts suspended for legitimate reasons, time was running out. What would be the main challenges? Here, myself and Roger give our accounts of the day.

Roger (R): I signed up for London to Paris in 24 hours last year after deciding I needed a big, scary challenge. A mere 200 miles. Due to COVID, and a revised departure date of less than a month away, I could no longer put off this milestone.

Planning the route
Planning the route

Me: Inspiration had come from an unexpected present: a Cicerone guidebook, The Lancashire Cycleway. Excited, Roger rang me and described the circular route around Lancashire, do-able from his doorstep: a few hills to start with followed by flat quiet and picturesque countryside. The familiarity with certain sections triggered his sense of possibility. Ideal.

R: 'Let’s do this!'

Me: 'Sounds great!… (pause)… it’s 130 miles – is that not too big a leap from 60+?'

Scanning the maps we cut off a section; 115 miles. Hmm. Cue patience and focus. I call back the next day with a 100-mile variation. Phew! Perfect! We agree on the date and departure time. Game on!

Arriving promptly at 7am on 9 August, Roger was not yet dressed in cycling attire. Hmm: unusual. Is this procrastination? I’ve woken early and am itching to start. I hover, hoping my body language displays only positive vibes!

R: Awoke early at 6.15am after a fitful night’s sleep, apprehensive and nervous of the ride ahead. My first 100 miler. My longest ride to date was a 60 miler 10 weeks ago, pushing the limits of tapering. The planned 7.15am departure was stalled as I slowly got ready. Double-checking the map and guidebook. By 8am a look from my ride buddy indicated I could put it off no longer.

Me: I haven’t bothered downloading a gpx file onto Garmin and momentarily panic: navigation errors won’t go down well. A blind spot emerges – neither had taken responsibility for route finding: Eek! To my surprise, Roger has an ‘old school’ paper print out from Google, with directions listed. It weighs little: I hastily stick it under my saddle bag, using a bungee cord. Trust and optimism shine through: we’ll find our way. (Garmin next time!)

R: The gentle start on familiar, flat, quiet roads eased my nerves. The early morning calm, the absence of traffic with the warm sun breaking through, meant a sense of peace transcended as I settled into the journey.

Me: Roger’s looking happy, his head’s up and his legs are spinning fluently. Will he be OK if the weather turns? The absence of spare clothing bothers me as scenarios briefly run riot internally. Get a grip, Cress! Let it go. It’s a beautiful day, all’s well.

Onwards and upwards
Onwards and upwards

R: An hour in, I'm feeling relaxed and a chance conversation with a cheery horse rider kindly reminded us of the imminent climb. I suddenly registered I had only ever ridden down this hill (approaching from the other side.) A bit disappointed she wouldn’t swap her horse for my bike, though. Never mind, onwards and upwards. The first test awaited.

Really pleased by how well I felt on the climb; kept to my pace and focused on the task in hand. Especially pleased when a lady runner went past: I didn’t let it get to me, but I kept myself focused on turning the pedals at my own pace and, before you know it, the top is reached. So, what was the worrying about? We are stronger than we think.

Me: Riding slightly ahead hoping to set a steady pace, worries keep whirring: I haven’t seen Roger eat yet… is he drinking enough? He’s taken advice from a British Cycling nutritionist – I decide it’s his call, his learning. This has to be empowering. Sipping as I let him know how well he’s doing. Hard to stop caring…

R: With the moors approaching I noticed a sense of impatience looming as a pitstop to check the map took longer than expected. I was bursting with anticipation, wanting to smash the big climbs of the day.

Me: Stalling by a road sign, I’m feeling foolish: the route number and signage are eluding my brain. Colour coding on these signposts helps when you know them! It’s definitely a red rose for Lancashire, so a white one for… Yorkshire? Is this Route 6, 69 or 90? Memories of a very damp Way of the Roses, ridden years ago, come flooding back. I glance at Roger who’s indicating forwards and I check he’s enjoying himself – we’re getting the hard work out of the way and are going well. We’re approaching the Forest of Bowland, my favourite section: hills!

R: On the ascent up Loftshaw Moss, which I thought was the highest point, I felt good and strong on the climb only to realise this was not the top, so up we go again to Cross o’ Greet. For months I had avoided effective nutrition on the bike, due to an overriding fear of losing my balance when I take a hand off the handlebars to eat. A lack of energy made the last mile of the climb hellish. Climbing on vapour is not recommended.

While a quick snack provided a top-up, the ensuing steep descent offered no reprieve. I tense up on descents, fearful of falling, an accident 10 years ago seeing me rebuilt with metal. Keeping a close check on my speed through constantly applying the brakes was exhausting. The wandering sheep added to my levels of anxiety.

Me: Enjoying the open, undulating and deserted moorland, the stillness of it contrasts the heavier breathing and clicking of gears as I shift my weight, beginning another steady ascent. I imagine not being able to relax on descents – gripping handlebars, shoulders tense, being fearful: the stress! Descents are supposed to be fun after the uphill grind! No big smiles, whoops of glee, no legs jangling joyously off the pedals. Deeper levels of empathy surge: this is tough for Roger. We chat about ways to relax on the bike. In a place of great natural beauty, I observe the hunched frame anew.

R: It was a great relief to start climbing the shorter, sharper and easier climb through the trees to the top of Merrybent Hill. Consciously trying to relax on the gentler descent to Slaidburn for the planned stop.

Me: Reaching the popular café, I’m ready for a supersized portion and hope we don’t have to wait too long as socially distanced orders are taken and outside seating is being nabbed. The growing number of lycra-clad visitors is great to see, yet slightly alarming! I clock the frames, array of kit and different bike set ups. I’m such a nerd! Scoffing soft, scrambled eggs and beans on toast while praying I won’t have indigestion, I ponder: is Roger 1. cooling down and 2. eating enough? I have cycling sleeves and a gilet on to keep warm and am starting to feel a mild chill. We worked hard on the moors. He says he’s OK. Trust, Allwood.

R: A bacon butty, current slice and coffee. A few miles later I realised I had not replenished my fuel tank. (Nutrition on endurance events takes times to get right!)

Shock to the system after the fuel stop. The sign ‘16% incline,’ not what the doctor ordered. Still, it was only short; not sure what I was worrying about, especially as this turned out to be the last significant hill of the day.

The roads to Bilsborrow went through some pretty countryside with great views and the sun on one’s back a great way to spend a Sunday. I shout out to Cress for an unplanned stopped in Chipping for more calories. Truth is I was still not consuming enough for a ride of this distance. The roads were flat and it was baking hot, hydration was also lacking. The plan to sip every 10 minutes remained a good plan I failed to execute! My learning curve was as steep as the hills encountered.

Getting some fuel
Getting some fuel

Me: Another tea stop at Chipping. So soon, oh lordy! I keep quiet and hunt for a ladies, mindful of the clatter of cleats disturbing this peaceful, medieval village. I smile apologetically as an elderly lady looks askance. Colourful blooms, a picturesque setting and steaming cups of tea: Ribble valley seems very Radio 4!

R: Great Eccleston and a stop to eat again: a bag of crisps and salted nuts. Limited Sunday afternoon supplies. Starting to feel tired although a shorter stop made it easier getting back on the bike. It was also during this section that Cress noticed that my back wheel was not rolling true. Not spotting any obvious cause we continued. It was not until the next day that I noticed a split rim, so a lucky escape.

Me: A mile later, I realise a simple fact: we both need more fuel. Roger is struggling with cramp. Passing an M&S petrol outlet:

'Want anything?'

'No, you’re all right.' We cycle on.

'I don’t think we’ve eaten enough…'

'You’re probably right!'

Hmmm! Scanning for laybys I inform Roger that he needs to stop and eat.

R: Heading for home we deviated for a more direct route on faster A roads just long and boring with additional fuel stops being essential. At the first I was told to eat more; I did so but still not enough. A brief stop for an energy bar by the side of the river in Lancaster. Note to self, remember not to leave your glasses on the side, put them on your head as it adds yards – could have been miles.

Me: 'I’m buying you some food – what would you like?' Watching Roger munch a sandwich, I ease. Proper food! A hard-boiled egg I’d been carrying for such a moment – an addition of protein to my saddlebag supplies – goes down well. Such a fine balance between empowering someone and then resorting to the opposite tactic. Uuugh! I hate being forceful, yet don’t want Roger to suffer more cramps.

Psychological safety first. A host of psychological approaches flicker through my mind – we’ll select appropriate tools to address limiting fears later. Small steps forwards. Our work is cut out ensuring confidence and skills develop at appropriate rates, avoiding overload. London to Paris is a way off yet. Carry SIS tablets in future.

Levens
Arriving back in Levens

R: A final stop was necessary 10 miles from home. With the light fading I welcomed the warmth of my drink. Would you believe it, roadworks prevented taking the short route home?

Amazed at how easy the hill out of Milnthorpe was. I’ve always avoided coming home this way, well not anymore, who’d have thought after 90-plus miles I would have enjoyed that hill. A quick left turn and back along the flats to ensure I broke the 100. I noticed a change in state. Energised and feeling surprised by how much strength I had within. Just the little climb up back into Levens and home feeling elated and rather smug.

Me: With dusky orange hues settling, Roger’s posture speaks volumes, knowing he’s going to make it. The performance-enhancing to do list I’ve been accumulating will wait. Honouring success will be a pleasure: he’s earned it. My watch battery gives up: it lasted pretty well. Musing the power of inspiration from the guidebook, I reflect that my own big trip was inspired by exotic and gleaming blue mosques in a touring guide. Beaming: the bigger goal? Yup, Roger will succeed.

I take a celebratory photo and post it on social media before Roger can object. We toast with beer, which seems deliciously hedonistic stretching at the same time. Eyes meeting, we clink bottles. I head off, quietly delighted. Job done.

Whitbarrow
Towards Whitbarrow from home in Levens

R: Having completed my first century, Paris in 24 hours feels attainable. My broken bike is easy to fix. With my self-belief boosted perhaps now is the time to address the aspects I have been avoiding: bike handling while eating on the go.

Nine months ago, I lacked the belief that I would be able to ride the distance. This ride has shown me, a middle-aged former rugby player, new possibilities. I’m Investing in Myself. Finger’s crossed I can inspire others, too!

Total distance 101.12 miles

Elevation gain 9032ft

Moving time 10:23:15

Average speed 9.7m/h

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