In celebration of the Trust's 60th anniversary I decided to do a ride to help raise much needed funds to protect the wildlife and habitats across Essex. Essex is an area that I am lucky to be able to cycle in and enjoy on a daily basis and I felt it was time to give something back.
We started at Belfairs Woodland Centre with a plan of visiting all nine centres and ending back at Belfairs Woods to see the end of #ForwardMotionSouthEssex 2019 Tweed Ride and Cycling Festival. This meant that we needed to start at 3.30 am to make it back in time!
Despite the awful weather forecasts it was lovely at 3am and the perfect start to the day; warm and virtually no wind. A quick stop for a few pictures at the start and we were on our way. The roads were quiet and Mark and I were able enjoy a fair few traffic free miles. Occasionally the support van would pass us and then a few miles down the road we would pass them with a quick thumbs up to signal no help or supplies needed.
First stop was at Fingringhoe nature reserve at 38 miles and then it was straight on to The Naze. Due to the early start both centres were closed so it was just a quick stop for photos and back on the bikes. We were lucky to ride through the most beautiful sunrise and the roads were just perfect. There was still no sign of the rain and we were in high spirits. We saw several squirrels, a fox, a muntjac deer and some pheasants on route, a great reminder of the reason we were doing the challenge.
The third stop saw us at Abberton reservoir where all the staff and volunteers at the centre came out to give us a warm welcome. We were treated to a much needed cup of tea and were able to enjoy the lovely views of the reservoir and watch the wildlife - it really is very picturesque.
Back on the bikes we were off to stop number four at Hanningfield reservoir where again we received a very warm welcome and had a great time chatting to the staff and volunteers. We had had a little rain on the way but overall the weather was still very nice. It was at stop four that we were joined by The Velo and the three of us set off in the direction of the next stop, Thorndon Country park.
At Thorndon it was very busy and we were treated to a welcoming applause from visitors, staff and volunteers. Photos done there was time for a quick bite to eat and we were back on the bikes.
As we headed towards Bedfords Park the sky got darker and it was time to don the waterproofs. We had a very heavy downpour but it really didn't dampen our spirits, and luckily it remained quite warm.
Ingrebourne Nature Reserve was stop number seven and a chance for a much needed banana. A quick photo opportunity and we were back on the road with only 30 miles to go. Time wise we were bang on for the required finish time although we were a little concerned that we may be held up with traffic especially with the A13 being shut. As it happened the only place we really hit any traffic was cycling from Gallows Corner to the Squirrels Heath junction. Once through that it was on to TTNP in Stanford, our penultimate stop.
After another warm welcome we had a quick chat with the staff and it was time to leave and head towards Belfairs Woods. It was great to see Alison Velo along the route (many thanks for cheering us on) and before long we were cutting our way through Southend towards the woods. Velo gave the 'two miles left' call and we gave it one final push up the lane into the centre. We were welcomed back by the Tweed riders, Hadleigh Mountain bike club and the Belfairs Woodland Centre with a red ribbon, huge cheer and a chequered flag - we felt like celebrities!
I would like to say a massive thank you to Kate Waterfield for getting me involved, organizing and designing such a great route. Rob Greenall for driving the support van and being our mechanic on call. Rachel for all her hard work putting the cycling festival together, #GripsBikes who very kindly serviced my bikes ready for the challenge and supplied their van to be the support vehicle. All the wonderful staff and volunteers who staff the centers and everyone who cheered us on along the way and Forward Motion South Essex for my great goody bag Also a big thank you to Mark and Lee for keeping me company.
Last but not least a big thank you to everyone who kindly donated to my Just Giving page - it was a real pleasure to be able to raise funds for this great cause.
It isn't too late to donate:
Gina Cleere's #RideforWildlife is this Sunday! Gina is cycling 166 miles across the county in just one day to raise funds for wildlife conservation in Essex. Will you support her big challenge? http://bit.ly/2mlwvxz
Really delighted to announce that #GripsBikes will be supporting my #RideForWildlife challenge this weekend (Sunday 22nd) raising much needed funds for #EssexWildlifeTrust. Grips are very kindly supplying a support van and mechanic to ensure the challenge goes smoothly.
There is still plenty of time to support my challenge and help support a fabulous charity
To find out more and donate please go to
We were lucky to be able to enjoy a couple of days in Le Mans prior to the race. It was Mr C's first experience of foreign cycling and a delight to be able to ride on quiet French roads with drivers who are much friendlier than their English equivalents.
At 1030 Friday morning we headed to the official race campsite and were amazed to find ourselves queuing to get in. The site only opened at 10am but it was already packed out with teams and supporters. The French take their camping very seriously and some of the team areas were amazing, teams had bought their own refrigeration trailers and we saw several that even had their own catering vans!
The temperature on Friday hit 33 degrees with no breeze and I knew then it was going to be a tough race - we were sweating just moving around the campsite. We pottered out for a small ride after lunch (extra #strava heat map lines and all that ) and rode through some beautiful countryside and villages. It was early to bed Friday night although difficult to sleep as many competitors partied late into the night - fine if you are in a team but not so great if you're riding solo and potentially going to be awake for 30 hours plus ....
It was an early start Saturday, all of my kit had to be dropped into our garage and set up ready for a 3pm start. With 10 teams (soloists up to teams of 8 plus crew) sharing each garage you need to get your space sorted early. There are always limited power facilities so its essential to take extension leads and this race has the added complication of foreign plugs. Being that it was so hot I needed to run a fridge (on top of needing to charge equipment), to keep my water supply cold - nothing worse than drinking hot water! We were lucky to be sharing with some great people including an English team of four (Team Buffalo), who actually turned out to be only three (a drop out before the race) and sadly after a disasterous first lap and a broken clavical, went down to two.
Mid morning Mr C was able to get some laps in on the awesome track in the Matinale Le Maines Libre, an open track session. It was strange for me to be on the other side watching him and trying to take some pictures (badly)!! He was really pleased to have achieved the distance goal he set himself and put in a great effort.
Temperatures were rising all day and by the time they started the opening ceremony it had hit an all time high. The opening ceremony is quite a spectacle, all the competitors national anthems are played and the countries flags displayed but standing on the track for 40 minutes in the roasting sun was unbearable, I have learnt from previous occasions to take an extra bottle of water to drink whilst waiting. Once over, the countdown was on and soon I was waddling (all I can manage with road cleats) towards my bike in the Le Mans style start. I often get laughed at when I don't run at the start but over 24 hours a 10 meter run/walk makes no difference and a guy to my left fell and hit the deck before even getting on his bike!
The first couple of laps are always hairy, for some competitors it's the first time they have seen the track and it's also a time when the peletons form so starting at the back is an advantage. Soon after starting I picked up someone on my back wheel who stuck to me like glue. For the first 40 miles she was on my wheel, took the lines that I took and followed my every move. I couldn't really get a good look at her but it soon became apparent she was potentially my biggest rival. I really felt those first miles, my heart rate was much higher than it normally is and I couldn't quench my thirst, despite drinking more than a litre an hour! I was getting a tad cheesed off doing all the work so I slowed the pace a bit in the hope that my 'friend' would overtake me and do some of her own work but it was not to be! At one point I was doing just 4 mph and she still sat right behind me. It appeared she didn't speak any English, certainly not phrases I thought were universal .... ;)
Needing more water I pulled a crafty pit stop without much indication so she couldn't follow me. I'm normally more than happy to tow anyone on my wheel, if they take a turn on the front then great but if they can't then no worries either, but I knew this lady was more than capable of overtaking. It was clear she was conserving energy whilst I was tiring myself out, in essence I was towing her to victory !!
Back out on the track again with more water she quickly found my wheel again and there I was doing all the work, getting more and more annoyed. I sped up, she sped up; I slowed down, she slowed down! Mr C kept saying to get on her wheel but I couldn't out run her and she wasn't going to pass so I took evasive action and pulled over and stopped on track. Having no choice she found someone else to annoy although it wasn't the last time I saw her!!
I had to pit more frequently than I would have liked, even with four water bottles I was quickly running out. The heat was awful, I tried pouring water on my neck whilst cycling and it was like bath water. By 100 miles I was feeling quite fatigued, queasy and generally not great - I was well aware at this point my race was over it was just a matter of time... It was frustrating as I was two laps behind 1st place so more than catch-able but my body was suffering.
I plodded on through the night, putting on another 120 miles and although cooler, things with me weren't improving. My face was burning up but I was shivering and freezing cold. My muscles didn't want to work, I had pain just about everywhere and my heart rate (although dropped from the day) was still well above what it should have been. Normally sun rise is a high point in a 24 hour race but this time the sun and the soaring temperatures were what I was dreading. I possibly could have done a few more miles but it was never going to be enough to win and I didn't want to join the many others being carted off to hospital in the ambulance so I made the decision to retire.
Many thanks to everyone for their kind words and encouragement, its events like these that make me truly realize how lucky I am to have such amazing support ❤
A huge thank you also to #allfirstaidtraining, #towernutrition and #fityourbike without your continued support none of this could happen.
And also the long suffering Mr C who drove me there and home and crewed for me - without his continued support both at races and at home I couldn't achieve what I do..... Even if he has consistently reminded me at every possible opportunity that he 'Finished' his race!!!!!
The predicted rain held off but during both days it was very windy making certain legs of the course a misery. Always a great event though, made awesome by the spectators and the encouragement that they give. The first 12 hours went fairly quickly and I managed 197 miles which was slightly behind my target so I knew that the 400 wasn't going to happen. In the first half I was fuelled on Hammer nutrition Perpetuem, gels and Tower Nutrition Electrorights (kindly supplied by #towernutrition) The dreaded cramp stayed away and I was feeling good energy wise. Velo kindly got me a portion of chips in the night and I ate half of them and somewhere along the line a bag of wotsits and three small flapjack pieces. The rest of the ride was adlib Perpetuem and a couple more gels. Energy wise I felt good at all times and I didn't experience the normal low that I have around 3am.
Had a hairy moment in the night when my front light started going flat about a mile into a 20 mile ish lap. In hindsight I should have returned to the van and got a replacement (its an open road event so lights even more important) but with my foggy brain I decided not to waste the couple of miles. which wouldn't have counted. I pushed on desperately, hoping I would make it back safely - It was a tense 20 miles and I spent the whole time cursing my decision! Also I knew that I would be disqualified if I got caught with no lights so the race was on! Amazing how you can pull some extra energy/ speed out of the bag when the proverbial happens! Luckily I made it back just in time to get a spare, lesson learnt, I will carry a spare on my bike in future.
I accidentally sent Lee back to HQ whilst I did the finishing laps (different route this year from the previous year that I did it) so I was without water but a very kind gentleman (supporting another rider) topped up my bottle so a disaster was adverted. As always I was greatful to see the finish line but sad that it was over for another year....
Lee behaved impeccably and didn't do any previously threatened social media 'expose' - Ill ALLOW him to crew for me again ....
Seriously thought the crew are as much a part of the race as the rider. Its tougher to stay awake for 24 hours waiting for your rider to come in than it is cycling. He was spot on at every spot, providing me with the things I needed before I had even realised I needed them myself - so a huge thank you to the Velo.
Also a huge thank you to Tower Nutrition for providing me with great products that kept me fuelled and pain free throughout, All First Aid Training for getting me to these events and Fit Your Bike for ensuring my bikes are comfy and well fitted.
Without these guys none of this is possible!
Also a big thank you for all the well wishes, encouraging comments and supports through out the race, in the deepest, darkest hours these really keep me going