Last October, a Sapper friend (Dave C) posted on FB about this crazy ride on the Summer Solstice. I mentioned the idea to some friends at home and as you know have been training ever since.
Chase the Sun is a ride (not a race) across the UK from dawn to dusk, 330 km in under 17 hrs. The idea was spawned by Ollie Moore in 2008 with two of his mates and it took him 3 yrs to beat the sun. Last year 23 people started but only 6 made it in time, however, this year, there was a huge interest with over 100 people registered to ride. There were two teams from Braintree; Rule #5 consisting of myself, James Crysell, Mark Coull (Coully), Matt Walker and Ben (my Son in support), and the other with Mark Wadford (Wads), Andy and Mark Irving (‘Mark’ (not Penfold) in support) from BRUFC together with Dave and Michael. We had ridden together a few times during training and so decided we would join forces for the race (sorry ride)
As you can see from the rest of the blog, we had done a fair bit of training, with some highs and personal lows. We had done a fair bit of training but the furthest I had ridden was 205km so there was a degree of nerves as we approached the date.
Our last ‘training session’ was a planning session at the Braintree Beer festival, which didn’t end so well but at least we had a plan (and were the poster children of the event). Ben and Mark would wait at a number of checkpoints so we could meet up and collect food and water without having to carry a day’s supplies. Coully and I showed our military heritage with a level of OCD that was beyond scary.
The Rule #5 support car was a fair rival for Team Sky with signage, collection tins, spare bikes, wheels, tubes, tyres, food and 40 bananas. It was quite an impressive sight as we headed down to Kent with Rule #25 well and truly covered !
Unfortunately James had to work on the Friday but the rest of us headed down early with all intents of having a warm up ride in the afternoon and to sort our kit out. Unfortunately, no plan survives contact with Chips and Cider and so when James called to see if we needed anything picking up; mischief ensued…
We met James at the hotel where he dished out the supplies we had ordered; more porridge, stodge and Red Cabbage! He was most intrigued by our new found knowledge that Red Cabbage was the new super food with miraculous properties for carb loading when made into a shake. We finally had to tell him we had made it up but by then ‘Le Tour de Chou Rouge’ was born!
We headed off to the pre-brief where we met Ollie and the rest of the teams for the first time! There was an expectant buzz as Ollie explained again it was a ride not a race and handed out our orange id tags. We calmed our nerves with 5% Apple juice and headed back to get some sleep
Start to CP2 White Hart – 20 miles 1hr 15 mins
We awoke around 3 am to get some breakfast after limited sleep due to the heat of the hotel, Matt’s snoring and sleep tourettes! James however, had his ‘best sleep for ages’ in his love nest over the road. We loaded the car and headed to the start for a Sunrise pic, met Wad’s team and set off around 04.45.
Matt’s garmin immediately decided to go kaput and mine invented some spurious directions so we ended up depending on Wads garmin and my laminated route cards (I did mention my OCD didn’t I J) to guide us on our way
It was a gorgeous morning and brought back varied memories for ex Sappers Andy and I as we headed through our old stomping grounds in Chatham. There were a few mechanical issues with us passing one poor sod whose seat clamp had snapped! (Somehow he managed to get it fixed and finished the race ahead of us!) Michael struggled with his chain and cleats before finally the bike jammed in the big cog
OCD Coully had planned for a 20 mile first RV in case we needed any early assistance. This proved vital as after a 25 minute attempt at repairing Michael’s bike we gave him one of the spare bikes and Ben and Mark headed off to get his repaired at Cadence.
CP2 – CP4 Cadence 48 miles 3hrs 20
Michael’s problems continued as the seat was too low on the spare bike but he struggled through the Kentish hills despite losing chains and cleats. We decided to roll through the first CTS Audax control at Bromley without stopping after 3 hrs (43miles) and pushed on up some decent climbs into Crystal Palace and our first planned C/P at Cadence cycling (48 miles) 3hrs 20. We had made up most of the time lost but spent longer than planned whilst folk had breakfast, changed clothes and took several comfort breaks (perhaps the midnight fish and chips weren’t the best plan J) Despite these delays, we still didn’t manage to get our Coffees which took a ridiculous amount of time!
CP4 – CP5 Somerfields Bagshot 82 miles 6hrs 20
We set off around 20 mins behind schedule with Michael back on his trusted steed and headed across London. This was the most painful part of the ride due to the stop / start traffic and London drivers. The heat was also starting to pick up. We headed across London and through Richmond Park with hundreds of cyclists riding round in circles before following the river through Kingston watching the rowers. The traffic picked up again in Chertsey where we had our first really impatient drivers and then eased off through the narrow cycle routes across Wimbledon Common and out to Chobham Common nature reserve. Despite the traffic we pulled into the Bagshot C/P just 5 mins off schedule. This was to be a recurring theme with good road pace but too long spent at stops
CP5 – CP6 Bramley in for Lunch 100miles 7hs 50
After an elevenses of tuna / sweetcorn pasta and Costco sausages we headed out of Bagshot on the A30, making good time on the fast road, despite the traffic and some small climbs. Having ticked off my previous homes in Chatham and Bagshot, we then passed The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in Camberley where I had trained as an Officer. Needless to say we didn’t dawdle there and were soon out in the country lanes around Blackwater.
The ride became much more scenic with country lanes, historic monuments and randomly a Blind Veterans UK van who was quite impressed with Coully’s and my jerseys.
After 7 hrs 50 mins in the saddle, we reached the lunch stop at Bramley inn where we registered, changed, powdered and drank. The forty bananas had been getting a pounding as had the gels, so it was good to get some decent food, although apparently the hotdog and chips weren’t a great choice.
CP6 – CP7 Pewsey 137 miles 11 hrs 36
Somehow, we assembled to leave dead on schedule but still left 5 or 10 mins late. The long break took its toll and Coully spent 4 miles fighting a bonk until the food reserves kicked in. It’s a huge tribute to his strength that no one noticed him suffering but he came back stronger than ever.
The route started to climb steadily to the highest point outside of the gorge and the midday heat and narrow gravelly lanes made going tough. I started to struggle with the hills a bit (fat guys can’t climb) and Coully held back a bit to lend morale support. There were some decent climbs and the guys waited for me to arrive before we sped down the descents. From the GPS tracks it seems the guys only waited around 15 mins for me in total. However, I’m sure it felt like more. The descents had their fun moments as well with me nearly burning out a tyre when I locked out my wheel avoiding a van and miraculously avoiding a wipe out after overcooking a corner and hitting a load of gravel (apparently creating chaos in my wake). Wads also came face to face with the largest tractor in NATO but somehow managed to avoid coming off.
The hills and heat started to take their toll and I had a bad 10 miles. It was certainly a bonk of sorts but more likely a featured some heat stroke as I was talking gibberish and just desperately wanted to go to sleep. Again Coully and James offered support and the moment soon passed.
As we headed down into Peswey the roads started to deteriorate and with 3 miles to push my tyre started to flat out. I managed 4 km gradually getting bumpier and more squirrely until the last 500m when I was on my rims. I ran to the checkpoint, after 11 hrs 36 in the saddle and swapped out the tyre and tube, grabbed a sausage and we headed off. This was not my best leg of the ride J
CP7 – CP8 Rising Sun Pub 162 miles – 13 hrs 33
As we left Pewsey we descended to the Plains, passing the Alton Barnes White Horse on the highest hill in Wiltshire (294 m). The lanes got narrower and the terrain flattened out for bit. We were making much better time and things turned a tad surreal, passing a windy miller lookalike on a ladder by a signpost directing passers by and nearly falling off our bikes when Matt got a steam engine to sound it’s horn. Everyone was in pretty good shape at this stage with Matt, Wads and Dave looking pretty bombproof! Michael continued to demonstrate why his nickname is ‘Chaos’ with his attempts to stretch off handsfree whilst on the move. He may not have had a crash but he’s seen several. It got a bit busier as we rode through Devizes but the roads were good. After a short but uneventful stage and 13 hrs 33 on the move we rolled into the Rising Sun Pub when Ben, Mark and Michaela (Wad’s wife) were waiting for us, with cakes and doughnuts from ‘The Blue Egg’. Unfortunately, as we rolled to a stop, Coully forgot to uncleat and fell on his broken back. He was fine but in a lot of pain.
CP8 – CP9 Chilcompton Coop – No Stop 178 miles 14hrs 53
As had become the norm, we left the Rising Sun about 15 mins off schedule due to comfort breaks, cakes and a ‘Doughnut’. The first part was flattish but then started the climb up towards the gorge. A couple of navigation challenges cost a bit of time and split the team up. We then started the serious climb with some seriously steep hills around Kilmarsden – up to 25 %. We were caught by a couple of guys as we approached Kilmarseden who were struggling with the heat so Ben supplied them water and the last of our sausages!
Kilmarsden Hill is the fabled Hill of the nursery Rhyme Jack and Jill and was bloody steep. Coully nearly came off descending a hill at 35 mph when his chain came off and James nearly parted company with his gel. By this stage we, and our steeds were covered in energy gels, sticky and very grimy.
Ben had decided to follow us along and was blasting us with tracks from ‘The Wanted‘ and providing water replens through the window (not at all required but yet again, it amused me). After my previous challenges, I felt fine but was slower on the hills so I told the racing snakes to head off and I would catch them at the Gorge. We had decided to ride through Chilcompton but I had to stop briefly to say hi to a colleague from work (David Maxwell) and his wife who had turned up with food and drinks. Unfortunately time was tight so we couldn’t stop for long so Thanks and Sorry David!
CP9 – End the Pier (Reeds Arms) Burnham on Sea 207 miles
The climb to the top of the gorge wasn’t too bad, it was long with some gravelly roads but only 5 – 8 % – no where near as bad as Kilmarsden. On the way up I caught up with James and Mark (who had waited for me) and we entered the gorge. The initial descent through the trees was tranquil and deceptive – James and I were expecting a dramatic drop off but realised the false flat was in fact the start of the gorge as we gathered speed. We then rounded the corner to the Cheddar Gorge proper – dramatic rock faces and fast switchback roads. As we descended the 16% hills we feathered the brakes but were still hitting 40 mph until we encountered the first goats on the road when we slowed some more. We caught up with Michael who had been left by the others and gathered him up for the descent to Cheddar. The descent made the whole ride and there was lots of fist pumping and hands in the air as we hit Cheddar. As we left Cheddar for the sprint home, Ben left us; unfortunately so did Michael but we eventually found him. We made a good pace for the final 15 miles or so, pushing around 20 – 25 mph for the last few miles until we reached the M5 and realised we still have 3 miles to go. As we rolled into Burnham on Sea, Garmin had a final blip and sent us off the wrong way until we met some other riders who set us straight. We pootled onto the Jetty, just as the Sunset was finishing, about 4 mins too late. However, we were delighted to have made it and had an emotional reunion with the rest of the team who had made Sunset with minutes to spare (and were featured in the local press!). The quickest teams had arrived some three hours earlier and teams continued to arrive after us. I finally switched off my GPS at 16hrs 59mins and 26 secs – so I beat 17 hrs – just!
After the ride
All the training sites recommend you have protein and carbs within 30 mins of finishing exercise and a proper meal in an hour… We had cider and beer! Ben had checked us in earlier so we stayed at the bar and chatted with the other teams and Ollie for a while before finally wandering off for a kebab and chips after midnight. We got the bikes back to the rooms and finally removed the filth of a day in the saddle and went to bed around 0130, almost 23 hrs after we had gotten up!
So all in all, I beat 17 hrs and had a superb day out! I did struggle with hills and heat on occasion but really enjoyed the company and the event. I would like to thank all the guys from Braintree that helped achieve this fantastic feat, Ben and Mark for providing such superb support, Michaela for the doughnuts and encouragement, Ollie for setting up the event, everyone who has donated and of course my family for the time!
Next year event is on the 20th June 2015 . . . I am considering booking my hotels now! Anyone interested?
So what of ‘Le Tour de Chou Rouge’ – Once again Ben excelled himself. Pretty much every shot he took featured the fabled Chou Rouge and alledgedly, some support teams found a little presence in their vehicles. I see a new name for Team Rule #5 in the future!
After After Note – It appears, Red Cabbage shakes are a thing!!!
Vive Le Chou Rouge
Chase the Sun is the first of two major cycling events I am undertaking this year to raise funds and awareness for Blind Veterans UK. I am now training for the next major Challenge, the ‘Unite and Bike for Heroes’ ride to Paris as part of the centenary memorial for the start of World War 1. This ride takes place from 4 – 8 Aug 2014. If you would like to donate, please follow the links:)
Thank You and Stay Safe