I set off walking to work at 6am dressed in my cycling clothes, race number pinned to the left leg of my Lycra shorts and backpack containing water bladder and all the clothing and food I would need for the day. (The food was in addition to whatever I bought along the way – my appetite was rampant after Saturday's exercise and I needed to keep my weight up to 10 stones somehow.) Our team of 130+ was organised by my employer. We were called “NXP4C”, meaning NXP for the Christie. We and our bikes were transported to the start at the Manchester United football ground.
After our group photo and checking our bikes (some had punctures to repair already), we went to the start to join the throng of cyclists inching slowly to the start line. We were due to set off at 08:30. I thought we joined the mass too early, but by the time the staggered starts brought us to the front, the timing was just about perfect.
The route was crowded and I felt sorry for the car drivers, who either couldn't get out of the side roads or were trapped among the cyclists (and holding us up in the process, since they could only go as fast as the slowest cyclist). Some cyclists rode dangerously or selfishly, or adopted the herd technique and barged through when they shouldn't – through red lights, onto roundabouts with cars already on the roundabout who had right of way – just because the cyclists in front had already gone through or perhaps they felt their need was greater than everyone else's. I'm sure the Police will have something to say about it. I saw the aftermath of one collision between cyclist and car on a straight piece of road, just as the ambulance was arriving. He didn't look good; I hope he was OK.
The route was well signed with km markers and there were marshals at all important junctions to give instructions and order us to stop when we should do. It was a massive, impressive and well planned operation.
I was glad of my first rest stop at Haigh Hall. My legs felt a little wobbly when I got off my bike. Percy was pointed at the porcelain for some much needed bladder relief and a cereal bar was consumed to keep the wolf from the door. Within 10 minutes I was back on the bike for the long downhill ride along the narrow road in the Hall's grounds through the chicanes (placed there to slow us down and avoid accidents on the slimy road surface, although there were still some accidents), followed by the steep though mercifully short climb to the main road.
With 18 miles to go, my second food stop at Lea County School, Preston was well overdue. I had been ravenous and desperate for food for too long. I was greeted by a scene of scores of cyclists and bicycles sprawled all over the playing field in the warm sunshine. I refilled my water bladder, finished off the previous night's pizza lovingly transported in my backpack, ate a Mars Bar and purchased a cup of tea to wash it all down. Never before have I been able to eat so well while exercising. There's something to be said for cycling – it doesn't jiggle the stomach and upset the digestion. It seems almost sedentary compared to trail running. It certainly doesn't get the heart rate as high (average 134bpm compared with 169 on the White Peak Walk yesterday). Perhaps I wasn't trying hard enough.
After a 20-minute rest and with some high octane fuel in the tank I was off with renewed vigour, only now I was noticing my knees, which were getting more painful and feeling like they might explode every time I pushed down on the pedals. Added to that, an increasingly strong head wind as we approached the coast meant that my gearing and speed had to take a big drop and it was now my turn to be overtaken. We hit the coast at Lytham St Anne's and continued into the wind with the sand dunes and sea on our left. It was becoming a real struggle to pedal. I needed some anti inflammatory medication to calm my knees down. I stopped to get out a 200mg Ibuprofen, only to discover that the blister pack was empty. Oh well, just get on with it and enjoy the pain instead.
The finish came upon us quickly on a closed section of the promenade with the funfair and Blackpool Tower ahead in the distance. I passed the NXP support team on the right as I raced for the line to cross 4hrs 51mins after setting off.
NXP did us proud with their support as we in turn supported The Christie. There was a big gazebo between the two vans on the finishing straight with barbecue and drinks laid on to rehydrate and refresh us. The NXP riders slowly trickled in and the bikes built up around the vans. I wandered around the finishing field for a while, enjoyed a large Cappuccino purchased from one of the stalls and listened to Stockport Pantonic Steel Band for a while. It was an amazing spectacle, and boy was it loud, without any amplification.
We soaked up quite a bit of sun before our transport took us and our equipment back to our workplace. I sat on the top deck of the coach. That was a mistake. After our arrival I could hardly get down the near-vertical stairs. When it was time to cycle the 2-mile journey home, the simple fact is, I couldn't. I had no problem walking, but pedalling was a different matter. My knees said no, even on the flat. I had to walk my bike part of the way home.
During the following week I was back on the bike for the daily commute. By the end of the week I would not have known my knees had been sore. Good news. It must have been muscular trauma; muscles repair quickly. Now I'll be able to do next weekend's trail marathon :-)