Every year for the past three or so years, I've set my sights upon the #festive500, Rapha's annual cycling challenge to ride 500km between Christmas and New Year.
And every year so far, I've failed. I fell short, either due to the weather, my apprehension for getting on to the bike and also the time commitment. Why was this year going to be different?
Well, I had done my homework. I prepped my family. I planned some unrealistic routes and then made them more realistic. I ignored the weather. I did it with people.
Let's get this going.
Sunday 24th - Christmas Eve
On the Friday, our finance director Del mentioned that his crew were going for their usual Sunday ride and if I wanted to join them, I was also welcome. It was going to be at a social pace.
I was asked to meet them at a roundabout. Being the first to arrive, I checked my phone to find I was five minutes early. Another rider appeared and parked up the other side of the roundabout. After a few minutes, I scooted round to join him and said "Hi, are you with Del's group?" He said that he was and they usually meet this side of the roundabout.
After a couple more riders appeared and I was introduced, they did ask why I had brought "my cyclocross bike."
I shrugged off the comment and set off with them on their "social pace."
It was not a social pace.
There was about 6 of us in total and we all got on fine, through a bit of weather, but at a frantic pace.
A few km outside of our coffee stop, I bonked hard. I hadn't brought any snacks and understood now why every single ride had brought a banana.
Del was a gent and hung back to tow me into our cafe stop in Bishops Waltham, where a hot coffee and a slice of Christmas cake was a welcome sight.
A festive hip flash was passed around our table. When asked what was in it, one mentioned "sherry." It was very welcome.
I had planned to ride for a few hours Christmas Day, but decided against it. I needed to recover.
Tuesday 26th - Boxing Day
To ease myself in, I decided against doing anything new and opted for a route I had done a couple of times before - a pleasant ride into the South Downs and at just under 70km, would add some distance on my challenge.
Which was a good plan, had my phone not run out of battery and I could only track 45km.
It's a cracking route and may become my usual this year.
It's probably important to note that because I wanted things to run smoothly, I would clean the bike after every ride and due to not being the best at applying rim tape, I'd opted for tubes within my tubeless wheels. Luckily, they held - mostly.
I had to get some decent miles in, so decided on doing a variation of my usual Winchester loop. At 146km, it was quite a biggie, made longer due to the ice on the roads.
I also decided to help a guy out with his puncture, which may have cost me time, but scored kudos points.
It was starting to get colder and darker and my route was taking me on unknown roads. I thought about ending at Winchester and getting the train, but kept with it.
Mentally - this was the hardest day.
Time was running out - I only had two days. Luckily, I had a group ride planned for Sunday, but to abate my relentless escape on two wheels, I decided to go out early and do the Winchester Hill route once more. Looking at my plan, it would mean I could meet my target.
I started early in the dark and so glad that I did. Not only were the roads quiet and the weather bearable, but I received a nail through my tyre which I was able to fish out without too much fuss.
Upon going up Winchester Hill, the sun was coming up and make for some ace views.
Possibly my favourite ride of the whole challenge.
Sunday 31st - New Years Eve
It was 6am. There, lying in bed, I could hear the wind and rain on the window. Should I go out in it?
I've learnt through this that it almost certainly sounds worse than it is. Knowing that I was going out with a group and in the comfort of the New Forest, I summoned the courage and started to get ready.
Knowing I had over 100 miles to get done, my main focus today was eating more often. I had a few Nutri-grain bars and Rice Crispy Squares, two bottles of water and grabbed more in a local shop mid-ride.
Setting off in the dark, I made it to Eling to meet the group.
A few miles in, Hayley broke a spoke. It was game over for her and over the next few miles, we started losing riders. They just weren't feeling it.
We stopped in Lyndhurst for a hot chocolate. I was feeling fine, the weather was stabilising and felt that I was so close to the end, I'd stick with it.
We then proceeded to do a loop North and then move West towards Burley.
We thought about stopping for lunch earlier, but decided to do a bit more, leaving just the return journey to Southampton for after.
Then, the heavens decided to open.
We arrived into Burley completely soaked, but found a table near a fire and started to warm up. My tuna baguette was welcome and once we were ready to leave, the weather decided to calm down for our return journey.
It was around this time that I realised my knees were hurting pretty bad. I'm putting it down to bad cleat position, but also - long distance at a medium speed. So handy riding with someone else to keep the pace.
When we got back to familiar roads, it was only a case of another hour or so solid riding to finish. Mike called to me "we've done it mate, 100 miles!" and almost immediately I felt emotional from finishing something which, part way through I thought was impossible.
I did it
I can't quite believe it still. Nor could Steph:
This is the face of a man who cycled 110 miles today. For “fun”. And completed the Rapha #festive500. As much as I think he’s a lunatic, I have to give him props for his dedication to both his bike and his Lycra collection. Well done @rosschapman
I learnt a few things too:
- No matter how hard things appear, just stick with it
- Pain (while it doesn't feel like it) is temporary
- The feeling of completion is worth any sacrifice
- Make time for lunch. Eating snacks all day isn't enough
- Nobbly tyres was a good move
- Having a mix of riding solo and with a group added good variety
- Groups for longer rides near the end saved me
- Try riding with new people
- Be flexible with plans. Weather may dictate
My final distance completed was 523.8km. A few other stats:
- Punctures experienced: 1
- Biggest lows: cold feet and the anxiety of being in the middle of nowhere, hungry, with at least 3 more hours on the bike. Contemplating giving up
- Biggest highs: Stuffing my face with pastries in Winchester. The emotion of knowing I had completed the challenge. Steph congratulating me. Del pulling me home.Finishing a century with Mike. Sharing a flask of sherry with new friends.