Ponteland Tri Ladies do Coast to Coast with Tri4u

Day 1, Saturday 7th May by Nikki Renton

I must make a mental note to oneself to stay off Facebook and not get carried away with the talk of what challenges is everyone going to do next. I was already into my 16-week training plan for the Edinburgh Marathon, when I was persuaded by a few of my ‘so called’ Facebook friends to give the C2C a go. It will be fun they said: us girls all together! I had 2 worries in the back of my head. Will it hinder my Marathon training and how was I going to fit in C2C training into my week as well as my Marathon training. So I emailed Barry from Tri 4U, who was organising the weekend with my worries, and his reply, was it wouldn’t hinder it, it would help and 3 weeks was enough recovery before the Marathon. Now the only thing left was how to fit in the extra training with my family, as my son, Daniel, had said to me a couple of days before when he saw me in my familiar daywear now of Lycra, “Your not going running again are you?”  A great idea came into my head. I would sign up my Husband, Johnny, to do it as well and then he couldn’t complain about me going out training, as he would have to do it too. Problem solved!

7th May arrived and it was the first day of the C2C. The weather was looking favourably, apart from the easterly wind, but at least it was a warm wind. The dreaded photos of the week before, that were shared with us by another group doing the C2C, showing snow, hailstones and freezing weather, were put to the back of our minds as the only thing we had to worry about now was whether we had enough summer cycle clothing. Last minute dash to the shops on Friday and the only worry I had was what day to wear my shorts and what day to wear my ¾’s.

Bags packed, with plenty of food to ensure we were stocked up with our carbohydrates for those hills, and ignoring the email plea from Tri 4U to ensure our kit bags were kept to the minimum, we made our way to the Leisure centre to catch the mini bus. As we were making our way over to Whitehaven, we were taking in the glorious views of the lake district, until Sue reminded us that we would be cycling through this and then we started to note how big the hills looked! Good job Sue had put in some hill training into our training rides. Going down the Ryals as fast as we, whilst shouting Wheeeee, counts don’t it?

We arrived at Whitehaven railway station and met up with the others doing the ride. There was only one thing on our mind as we were checking them out. Do they eat as much cake as we do? We got all our luggage loaded into the van and checked our bikes over for the last time. Then we were to ride our way over to the start of the C2C at the harbour for the obligatory photo. Photo done and we were off.

Our first stop was 3 miles in so we could adjust our layers of clothing. It was then that we were split into the fast group or the slow group. There was no question that I was joining the slow group. Barry had suggested this after my email to him, to save my legs. Especially when I heard the fast group would be going about 19mph. First thought into my head was we have 2 days to do and a lot of climbing. The speed of the slow group at 14mph sounded more inviting. Sue, Nicola and Tina decided to go in the fast group and myself, Kelly and Elaine decided we would join the slow group for now. This proved to be the best decision us 3 girls made. After deciding the slow group was too slow for us, we were allowed to make our own little medium group. This was a much better pace for us and we were guided by Judith in the van. This became a habit of having Judith either flagging us down to stop and wait for the others, or waiting at junctions to show us the way to go.

Then came the first hill. 3 miles up Whinlatter. It was steep and long. Elaine took the lead. I followed and got into a rhythm with my pedal stroke and breathing. When we got to the top, Elaine commented on how I managed my breathing. Think she was being polite as it was certainly loud. We had a good wait at the top for the rest of our group so we took advantage of the longer rest. Then we saw the fast group coming. Surely they should have been in front of us. Had they not been going that fast! Then we found out that Phil, their leader, had taken them on a complimentary 6 mile extra loop before the climb. Elaine, Kelly and myself gave each other the look. Yes, we had made the right decision to join the slow group. Then came the best bit, the descent! This was a chance for us to go as fast as we could on pot free tarmac road. I was keeping up with the fast group of lads and enjoying the speed and exhilaration, until I had a slight wobble going around a corner. I backed off slightly only to be overtaken by Sue who was on a mission to not let the lads have too much of a lead over us girls. Sue did us proud!

We stopped for lunch and took in the fact that we still had quite a long way to go for the day. We weren’t even half way and we still had the dreaded Hartside pass to climb. We fuelled up on carbohydrates to keep our energy levels high and we were off again. Phil had now joined our group and again was happy for Elaine, Kelly and myself to form our very well organised and strong medium group. Barry was now leading the fast group and he had been a little frustrated with the slow group in the morning, of being too slow. Therefore took advantage of being able to pick up his speed to the detriment of the fast group. When we stopped for our afternoon break, we found out that Barry had definitely put them through their paces. Our medium group commented on how we had taken in the sights, enjoyed our pace and a good chat along the way. Nichola’s comment was, ‘our group is not a relaxed group, its definitely serious. We are not here for fun.”

Barry then suggested, or rather told, our medium group that we were now to be in the fast group. Nichola’s comment was still at the forefront of our minds. Well I suppose we had got away with it for most of the day. By now the headwind had picked up and we found the going a bit tougher. One of the lads who was in the pack I was in, commented, “Surely we should be going faster along here. It’s a flat tarmac road. “ Yes we all thought, but it was that wind that was making us cycle backwards.

Then up ahead was the sign for the start of the Hartside ascent. I thought I would stay with the group I was in so we could help each other up, but they were going too slow for me. Surely that was a good sign that I could go faster. I plucked up the courage and decided to go out alone. I could see Sue up ahead of me and decided that I would focus on keeping her within my sights and even try to catch her. This proved to be probably the best decision I had made, as Hartside was long, very long and you need something else to focus on rather than the long winding road up ahead. 5 miles of uphill and straight into the headwind, that had now decided to really get going. Each corner we turned we either had a little rest from the wind or the wind was trying to blow us off. It was hard going but we were keeping a steady pace. I managed to catch Sue up and then lost her again. This was a reoccurring theme for me as I was going up.I managed to finally catch Sue and stay on her wheel. Finally a rest from the wind! But then I had to make the honourable suggestion of going up front to give Sue a rest. Thankfully, Sue said she was managing quite well with her pace and she was fine. Phew! At least I had made the offer, I thought. We were near the top when the wind, which we thought couldn’t get any worse, decided to get worse. It was stopping us in our tracks. Then I heard somebody behind us. We had been on our own all the way up the hill so it was good to have some company. Even better when we realised it was Phil from Tri4U. We said hello and we were quietly pleased with ourselves when he said that he had been trying to catch us up for some time and it had taken some going to finally get caught up with us.

Phil then look the lead and gave Sue some well deserved rest. [Sue: actually – it felt like no rest whatsoever!] We were nearly there. We could see the top. Last push up and we made it. Straight to the sign to get the photo taken to prove we had conquered Hartside. We then welcomed home the others who were not far behind.

Considering how hard the push had been up into that wind, everybody had big smiles on their faces. Or was it because after every ascent you always have a descent. And the descent at Hartside is just as long as the ascent. I tucked in behind 2 of the lads that I had formed a group with and enjoyed the whole 5 miles of not having to pedal much at all. [Sue: I wasn’t going to let the lads get away and made sure I kept up with the lead pack all the way to Alston. I had to do it for the girls. Girl Power!]

When we got into Alston, most of the group were staying at the youth hostel. Unfortunately this was fully booked when I had joined the trip so I had to book into the more luxurious B&B further along the road. King size bed and spa shower seemed a more sensible idea than sharing a dorm and deciding who was having the upper or lower bunk bed. Especially when you saw us all walking after spending nearly 6 hours in a saddle. The stairs proved difficult but after having a lovely warm shower and a few stretches I was now able to manage the dinner.

We all had eyes bigger than our bellies as we all struggled with the meal apart from Nichola who did the club proud and managed all of her courses. Although she did have to wait nearly 30 minutes for her food to come out and by then she had watched all of us eat ours. Early night was on the agenda and we all wobbled back to our beds to start again the next day.

Day 2, Sunday 8th May by Sue Heppell

Nikki definitely had the good option of staying in the hotel as a dorm full of bunk beds made sure that none of us had a good night’s sleep! I felt like I’d been awake the whole night long but the discussions around the breakfast table about who’d been up for the loo through the night made me realise that I had actually missed all this activity and must have actually slept more than I’d realised. This was good news!

Breakfast at Alston youth hostel was very impressive. A big bowl of porridge or cereal followed by full English or various other options. I decided that the full English was too much for me so I opted for the more manageable scrambled eggs on toast, or so I thought. When it came, it was the most massive plate of scrambled eggs on toast I’d ever seen; two huge slices of toast and what looked like at least 4 egg scrambled eggs. I did well to eat half of it!

Next the decision on what to wear, whether base layers were needed for C2C day 2. We popped outside to see how warm it was and were pleasantly surprised by how warm it was even at 9am in the morning, today was going to be very hot and there was still a substantial amount of climbing to do. Bags were packed, shorts and short sleeved/sleeveless cycle tops were worn and we were ready for the off. Most of the ladies decided that they were going for an easy day 2 and abandoned Nichola and me to the fast group which now only consisted of 6 people! We were both worried and considered going for the slow group too however, this didn’t seem right so we kept with the fast lads. Nichola looked increasingly worried as Phil told us about the sharp climb through Alston centre on Paris Roubaix cobbles 100m into the ride so no chance of a warm up! She hate’s off-road stuff! He wasn’t wrong, it was a really tough start to day 2 with the (supposedly) slow group leaving approx. 15mins ahead of us.

It was another prevailing easterly so the climb from Alston to Nenthead was hard work. We caught up the slow group to find that Elaine, Nikki, Tina and Kelly had been promoted to the medium group as another leader joined to help out making 3 groups in total. My legs were so sore and tired, tired, ever ascent was really hard work and I had to climb really slowly. It was a relief to get to the top of the ascent out of Nenthead and back into home territory “Northumberland” – hurray!

From here it was generally downhill all the way to Allenheads. It was a lovely fast descent and there we stopped for a drink as the temperatures were getting quite hot. We looked at our Garmin’s and found out that we’d only travelled 11 miles and were already stopping! We still had 59 miles to go! In all our training rides, we never stopped until the end of the ride so to stop so soon seemed madness. We were pleased to take on some water though and to sit and sun ourselves for a while whilst some of the fella’s topped up their full English with cake and coffee! I’m not sure where they found the room.

Phil took the front and we formed a fast pace line all the way to Allendale where we met up with the slow group who’d taken a shorter route. Phil kept on the front with me taking second wheel and we had lovely fast swooping roads all the way to Hexham. I’ll not mention the climb out of Catton which split us all up again. Judith was waiting for us at the top and luckily she had loads of water with her so we could keep topping up our water bottles. From Hexham it was a short ride along the flat to Corbridge where we stopped at Active Cycles for lunch. We managed to get outside seats and fuelled up with and a well-deserved lunch.

Barry cracked the whip again, one of the fellas deserted post-lunch and the fast group were down to 5. The other girls hiding in the medium group again! Only Nichola and I making sure the girls weren’t going to be out-done by the fellas! Barry led the 3 mile climb out of Corbridge at a cracking pace and we soon caught up and overtook the medium and slow groups. I’m not sure how I managed to hang on but somehow I did.

We caught up and re-grouped at the end of Limestone Lane. We re-fuelled on the last of the granola, brownies and haribo we’d taken with us in our kit bags with the last slog to the coast to go. Riding through Ponteland, I took the lead as neither Barry nor Phil knew where the public loo’s were in Pont and by this time, we’d consumed so much water we all needed to go. For us though this was the worst place to stop with most of us so close to home we had to get back on our bike’s and head away from home. By far the worst thing was having to cycle past Yolo’s and see everyone sitting on the terrace enjoying the sunshine and drinking a lovely long cocktail. I had to look away, I could have stopped and joined them so easily.

The cloud started the accumulate as we got nearer the coast and for the first time that day, we needed to put some extra layers on. That was the last stop before Tynemouth. Barry cracked the whip again and it was one long chain of riders all the way to the coast. It was such a relief to see the coast, I almost welled up with tears. As we headed down the coast to Tynemouth it got busier and busier. We had no idea there was a food festival on that weekend and there were cars and pedestrians everywhere! No chance of riding your bikes on the cycleways/pavements and the roads were so busy the group got split up lots and made cycling very hazardous. Not ideal at the end of 2 long days. Eventually we could see the priory and we were nearly there! I cycled straight past Chris without even noticing him. It was so busy and I was so focused on getting to the priory.

To say it was a relief to get to Tynemouth priory is an understatement. The happy faces in the photos were delirious faces but we had done it! One last thing had to be done. We had to get our bikes down onto the beach so the front wheels touched the sea on the east coast as the back wheel had to start the C2C in the sea at Whitehaven. Apparently, that’s a tradition.

We all had a fab time. The weather was great apart from the easterly but you can’t have everything. The organisation was brilliant and the use of the support vehicle invaluable.

One last thing to mention is my funniest memory of the weekend;  Nichola trying to walk upstairs at the end of the first day. She had to kind of crawl up the stairs on all fours. I wish I’d videoed it but unfortunately I was too busy laughing to think about that at the time. I thought my legs were stiff and sore (well they were) until I saw her attempt!

And if you want to know who was the least prepared out of the group, the girls were all fine but just ask Nikki how Jonny was afterwards 😉