The Cheshire CAT. Certainly no napping here!
Turning 40 and not being quite as toned, buffed or as ripped as I once (never) was – I needed to get fit and find a new challenge. I had often heard of the countless benefits of cycling and although having not ridden for years, I spoilt myself and bought a gleaming new bike, outfit and was delighted to find a helmet big enough that nearly fitted.
I crammed my 19+ stone frame into an eye-catching snug lycra long john, and rather than choose the mundane all black I went with a startling day-glo fluorescent pink number. My wife thought I looked like “Big Daddy” – which was helpful. As the nights drew in, I pedalled out.
My first attempt saw me clipping my bike shoes on to the pedals – unluckily the lights changed at Adams Hill – I tried frantically and unsuccessfully to unclip myself for the first time. At 0 mph I fell sideways, sprawled across the tarmac – I hobbled back home with my knee bleeding, pushing my now scratched new bike. Ride 1 and I had ridden an unimpressive 300 metres.
Over the winter, I rode once or twice a week, with a small group of close friends. I was born, educated and dragged up in Knutsford but it was being perched on my bike, overlooking the hedgerows, that I fully appreciated how blessed we are to live in such a beautiful area. Tatton Park in frost, a winter sun lighting Arley Hall, New Years Day and an early ride up Alderley Edge under a canopy of frozen branches – sensational! To watch and listen to the wildlife, see the verdant countryside whizz past, to admire the changing of the seasons and to really get to know our surroundings was intoxicating. I found cycling more enjoyable than I imagined and the weight loss quicker than I expected – over 2 stone since Christmas!
I then heard about an cycling event starting in Knutsford called the “Kilo to Go” – with courses of either 37, 66 or 102 miles. Confident as ever, I opted for the latter – how hard could it be? – and joined 1,600 other cyclists at the High School for an early morning start. All shapes, ages and sizes turned up – the cycling clubs looked like they consisted of very keen riders, flat race jockeys or Oxbridge Coxes – at 6’ 5” I felt like Gulliver next to them. At 8.30 we set off in groups of 50 – I joined the large multicoloured “peloton” as we snaked out over the stunning Cheshire planes – lots of encouraging bonhomie and camaraderie amongst everyone. I had been advised to start off slowly and with only a meagre 99 miles to go, and pedalling furiously, I made my break for the win and joined a small professional looking breakaway group at the front consisting of “Ironman Gaz” and “Extreme Jim.” The first time check and fuel stop was at 36 miles – I had planned to ride at an average of 17 mph and to keep my heart rate under 130bpm. We reached this stop after only 82 minutes and my heart rate had averaged a lung-bursting 157bpm – Oops!!
Isotonic bottles were refilled and we had a choice of either bananas or bakewell cherry topped cakes. Two cakes later, I gingerly got back on my trusty steed and headed towards the Welsh border. I had a change of plan and “decided” to let the others power on ahead. The sun shone, there was great banter with other riders, the miles continued to pass by. After, 56 miles we had another fuel stop at the foot of the Mow Cop a 1 in 4 climb, known as the “Killer Mile.” Having devoured a brace of battenbergs I set off up the near vertical climb. A medal was awarded to anyone who reached the top without putting their foot down or pushing their bike, I was determined to beat this. In my lowest gear I agonisingly drove my pedals round, sweat cascaded down my grimaced face, giving more than everything that I had. Cheered on by the pint-drinking locals, I somehow made it to the top, exhausted.
I had done it – what a thrilling feeling!! Only 48 miles up and over the Peak District and I’ve finished it. The climb had taken a lot out of me and on the descent I somehow slowed myself down on a thorn hedge, by using my face. Spitting out blood, I hobbled over to my twisted bike – please don’t let a mechanical breakdown scupper my chance of finishing. Thankfully, if was fixable. The next section was completed on pure will power and the overwhelming desire not to fail and let my family and friends down. Countless climbs through gritted teeth and with aching limbs – everything hurt and ached – even my eyebrows had cramp! At Macclesfield, we had our final time check and fuel stop with 25 miles to go. Could I complete this? And could I finish the race within 8 hours? I was near to total exhaustion – I enjoyed a couple of tarts, which raised my spirits.
More strength sapping strenuous climbs up through the North Face of Macclesfield Forrest towards the Cat and Fiddle – one I had to give in and push my bike up – I was on the verge of uncontrollable sobbing– only the thought of failure drove me on.
The free wheel into Bollington was a huge relief – I had been in the saddle for over seven agonising hours – I now knew that I could finish – but could I break the 8 hour mark?
A ridiculous climb up the slippery cobbles of Swiss Hill, at Alderley Edge, nearly finished me off. It was now 4.35pm – could I get back before 5? I was running on empty, my emotions were all over the place, my body hurt in places I didn’t even know I had.
Giving absolutely everything that I had left – I must beat 5pm – I powered back into my home town. A beaming smile spread across my face as I turned up Adams Hill – only to be wiped off as I was overtaken by an asthmatic octogenarian, who was bizarrely texting at the same time! As my front wheel rolled over the start/finish line, so did the tears down my now, not so, chubby cheeks. Relief engulfed me – I sank into the warm embrace of my wife, a huge hug from my Mum, whilst my eldest daughter informed me that “lots of people finished before you did Daddy”. I was totally and utterly, completely exhausted but I had done it!! My official time for the 102 miles was 7 hours 59 minutes and 54 seconds (that 6 seconds makes all the difference, believe me)!!!! YIPPEEE!!!
The following day I had developed a unique technique in how to walk – by using my elbows. Googling “emergency bottom transplant” yielded no worthwhile results. Would I do it again – looking at the size of my grin and the reduction of my belly – absolutely! I can’t wait and I’ll look forward to seeing more Knutsfordians on the start line in 2010.
Guy “Rouge” Wolstencroft
Mow Cop Medal Winner 2009
- Kilotogo – race organisers & information about their other events
- Cheshire Cat Results table can be found here
- Main Gallery provided by Jonathan Farber Photography can be found here