Monday 5 August 2013

The South Downs Triple - Now in Paperback

The appeal of the South Downs Way is one of the Must-Do mountain biker’s rides.  To complete the full 100 mile length is one thing but to achieve it 3 times in succession is in a league of its own.  The book “Stay Away from the Buttercups” describes the journey of the Triple ride, which dips into several technical areas that may help you achieve your next cycling quest.
Stay Away from the Buttercups
Paperback Book

"Once the altitude was gained at Butser Hill, near the A3, the general trend is downhill towards Winchester.  For a moment I thought ahead 24 hours when I would be coming into Winchester for the second time.  Will I still be ecstatic to be riding my bike or would I be itching to get to the finish? 
Again my speed increased as I lapped up the miles.  I say miles, I wasn’t actually counting the miles.  I knew where I had to go, so just got on with it.  If at this point I considered that I’d covered 85miles and had 215miles to go, my energy and enthusiasm would drain quickly.  I enjoyed the moment and just focused on the trail 5 to 10 miles ahead of me."

24 hours later having ridden 290 miles, it was a very different story.

"I tried to focus.  For the first time I couldn’t think what was coming up next on the trail.  I knew there was a farm, a road and a field but I couldn’t put them in order.   A sense of panic filled my mind, then I realised that this was wasting valuable energy.  I just had to work on the moment and get myself through each bit at a time.  This was mentally the toughest part of the ride, my mind was fading fast and I knew it.  All my mental techniques were exhausted.  What’s more, I could feel my shoulders rocking, a classic sign of my weakened core.  I could feel my body giving up on me again but I wouldn’t let it.  Having got so close, failure was not an option. I was going to get to Winchester."


"This is an amazing read of a epic hard core ride."

"Useful tips for achieving long term goals as well as tips on mountain biking in general."

"Well worth reading ...even if you don't ride a bike!"

"I have ridden on the South Downs Way and know how tough it can be so can't quite get my head around anybody riding it there and back, three times in one go......what a truly awesome achievement!"

"I thought he was nuts to attempt it then. Now, having read the book I know he is bonkers."

"Richard joins the ranks of the Great British Nutcase. A new classic cycling book."

"This book describes how a positive mental attitude, a lot of hard work, and the support of the right people, an everyday enthusiast can not only emulate the top athletes, but take it to the next level."

"This mission tested him to the limits of his physical and mental strengths. His story includes memorable highs and lows of 37 hours of enjoyment and torture. Not an adventure to be taken lightly, Stay Away From The Buttercups, describes in detail the pressures of the challenge and offers a glimpse behind an intensely private person and what makes him tick."

Friday 12 July 2013

Riding the South Downs Way

The South Downs Way is a lovely 100 mile bridleway between Winchester and Eastbourne as it undulates across the top of the South Downs.  Between the hills are the valleys, so you are usually going up or going down, and it gets rather lumpy as you approach Eastbourne.
SDW Acorn
Picture by Anne Dickins

Most discerning mountain bikers have the South Downs Way somewhere on their 'Must Do' list.  It certainly is a classic ride that can be tackled in a variety of ways.  Two or three days is a sensible option if you are not used to riding more than 50 miles at a time.  Admiring the views and stopping at one of the numerous B&B's along the way enables you to take in more of the South Downs.

More experienced riders challenge themselves to the 100 mile trail in a single day.  Don't be lured into the false sense of security of  the relatively non technical double tracks and the apparent flatness of the South East of England.  The South Downs Way is a cunning animal that will devour anyone who is not prepared.

Here are some tips from someone who has ridden the South Downs Way a few times in the past.

SDW Route map
Know the Route - Although there are markers along the way, some can be missed if you are not specifically looking out for them.  A wrong or missed turn can lead you down a long descent, only to find that you need to climb back up again.  Study the route on a map paying particular attention to the turnings and cunning forks when crossing wide open fields.

Break the route down into sections - When you have ridden 20 miles, it makes it harder if you think about the 80 miles to go.  Focus on the 10-15 miles in front of you to reach the next check point.  Later it will be tempting to look back and congratulate yourself on achieving 80 miles.  Your body will say "I must be knackered after riding all that way" then will really struggle for the next 20 miles.  Look back only when you get to the finish.

Check Points - There are loads of places for supportive friends to meet you along the way.  Listed below are the popular places with some helpful information.  If you are taking part in the BHF Randonnee ride, it may be worth avoiding some of their check points due to limited parking.  

View South Downs Way in a larger map

Distance from Winchester (approx)
Some parking (chargeable) next to King Alfred's statue.
Parking at the cricket ground used for the BHF ride, toilets on site.
Lane End
Mulburys Pub
The Mulburys Pub just before Wynd Farm can be used but it's a bit close to Winchester. 
Old Winchester Hill
There is space for a few cars by the gate leading to the field to Whitewool Farm.
On the way to QECP there is a small layby at Wether Down.
Queen Elisabeth Country Park (QECP) A3
Easy parking (chargeable)
Coffee/snacks for supporters, proper toilets.
Good location which is used by the BHF.
Follow the bridleway going left at Telegraph House (don't go through the gate)
After the climb at Devil's Jumps turn left at the crossing of the bridleways towards Cocking.
Free parking
Tap 200 metres up the track East of the road.
Good location which is used by the BHF.
Very limited road side parking
Used by the BHF
High Titten Road
Tap on the right between the bridge over the river and the bridge over the railway line.
High Titten Road is quiet and good for parking.
Don't stop for too long as the steep climb of Amberley Rise is waiting
Car parks
The car park South West of Storrington is set just off the SDW behind a gate
The SDW goes across the car park South of Storrington
Washington A24
Free parking - just before a gritty climb
Good secluded location with some shade.
Steyning Bowl
Two large gated entrances on top of the hill provide an alternative to the small car park on the A238 at Botolphs, however these are more difficult to access by car.
Steyning / Botolphs
Some parking (watch out for the vehicle height barrier)
Tap between the car park and the bridge. Used by the BHF.
Truleigh YHA
Tap on the left by the main entrance to the Hostel
Devil's Dyke
Used by the BHF.  Very limited parking next to the SDW however there is parking by the pub for a small charge. Saddlescombe is a better location. 
Free parking in natural lay by for a few cars.  Good location with some shade.
There is a tap the other side of the farm houses.
A23 crossing
Limited roadside parking by the bridge crossing over the A23.
Easy for the support crew to reach
Ditchling Beacon
Easy parking
There is often an ice ream van in the car park.
Housedean Farm
Some parking, popular location.
Tap on the wall
Tap by the church, near the entrance to the graveyard
Itford Farm
A26 crossing
Tap by the farm house near the road.
Limited parking.  Used by the BHF.
Easy parking (watch out for vehicle height barrier in main car park)
Good motivational check point near the top of the hill.
BoPeep Farm
Easy parking about a mile off the A27.
The SDW forks left 300 metres after the car park. If you get to a gate without the SDW acorn, you may have gone the wrong way.
There is a car park as the SDW enters Alfriston which could be used as a check point.
It is difficult to park by the river where the BHF have their check point.
There is a small layby on the East side of the river
There is also a small car park part way up Windover Hill
Once over Windover Hill, go through the gate and turn left heading down into the woods.  Take the subtle fork to the right leading to the church. This can easily be missed.
In 2012 the end of the SDW was moved from Paradise Drive to King Edward's Parade.
There is limited parking In King Edward's Parade near the small café.

It's tempting to stop for a rest at each of your chosen check points.  Have in your mind exactly what you need before you arrive at the check point, grab it then go.  Keep an eye on your progress and try not to let the stops be more than 5 or 10 minutes.  Lots of stops can very quickly add up which could easily equate to an extra 1 or 2 hours. 

Hills - Most of the hills are rideable, but if you're moving slower than walking pace it's time to get off your bike and use different leg muscles.  This will give your cycling muscles a rest and it’s a good time to grab something to eat if you can't eat whilst riding.  When climbing a long hill get into a comfortable rhythm and have something solid to think about, look just a few metres ahead and you'll soon find yourself at, or very nearly at the top.

The South Downs Way has very approximately 100 feet of climbing per mile.  Incorporate hills into your training rides so your legs are not so surprised when they see the South Downs.

To complement your training on the bike, invest in some core stability exercises such as Pilates, sit-ups, planks, swimming etc.  Having a strong core will give your legs something solid to push against.  Someone with a weak core, whose shoulders and hips rock when pedalling, is like a mountain bike with very soft suspension absorbing all the power from the pedals.

Try to eat on the go, there are a few short road sections where it is easier to down a gel on the move. Have some food accessible in a pouch by the stem to nibble as you ride.  Consider your diet carefully; too many sweet things may make you feel sick, not enough food and you'll run out of energy.  Pack a variety of foods with spare supplies in the support vehicle.

A lot of time can be wasted in negotiating the 100 gates.  Work with a friend so only one person needs to stop to open and close the gate.  If you are on your own and feeling confident you can try negotiating the gate whilst keeping your feet clipped in to the pedals.  Always check the gate is properly closed if there is livestock in the field.

BHF SDWPedalling hard to gain a few extra mph on the descents really won't save you a lot of time.  It is much better to recover on the downhill sections so you are fresh to climb the next hill.  Increasing your speed by a few mph up a hill will save you much more time in the log run.

Although it sounds pretty obvious, do have your bike thoroughly checked before the ride and carry the appropriate spares.  I'm amazed at stories of experienced riders taking the wrong size of tube or forgetting a pump.  I share a tip on how to avoid this in my book.

If you are finding it really tough, focus on the rear wheel of the rider in front and do your best to keep up with them.  The last part is all in the mind, using your mental strength and positive thoughts to persuade your body to keep going. Think of the money you are raising for charity and how it can help those in need.

Completing the South Downs Way is a fantastic achievement. Congratulate yourself.

You can get a National Trust certificate here

Friday 24 May 2013

Creation of the eBook

Journey of the South Downs Triple
eBook on Kindle
Picture by Anne Dickins
I like crazy goals; they are challenging, inspiring, engaging and demanding.  Physically exhausted from my South Downs Triple, another epic ride was simply not practical.  I'd never written a book before, I had no clue about creating a manuscript or how to get it into print, but that's what I decided to do.

During the winter months the words slowly came together with the help and advice from some friends.  On reflection that was the easy bit, making it available for others to read was a whole new ball game.

Finally the 'Save and Publish' button was clicked on Kindle and the following day the ebook 'Stay Away from the Buttercups' was born.

It is not intended to be another 'self help' book on achieving goals, but it does describe some of the methods used to accomplish an outrageous task.  I thought I would be riding the South Downs Triple alone under the careful eye of the support crew.  However social media came into force where 100's of people watched me on line and at least 30 people specifically came out to see me.  To show my gratitude, these extra supporters are incorporated into the book.

It was a wonderful ride and a fantastic challenge, if you are thinking about taking on a crazy goal I hope the book gives you an insight on how to make it a reality.

Friday 5 April 2013

Stay Away from the Buttercups - The Book

Photo by Anne Dickins
It felt so wrong; laid out in a car park with my body shivering and wrapped in blankets.  Caring words came from those close to me whilst a sense of urgency and concern could be heard in the voices of those directing others.  I had to get up but my body wouldn’t move.  Why wasn’t I riding my bike?  I had to get to Winchester.

If you are a cyclist, the appeal of the South Downs Way in the South of England is one of the Must Do mountain biker’s rides.  To complete the full 100 mile length is one thing but to achieve it 3 times in succession is in a league of its own.  The book describes the journey of the Triple ride, which dips into several technical areas that may help you achieve your next cycling quest.

For those who have a dream or a crazy goal, the book takes you on the journey how my crazy goal was conceived, established, planned and conquered.  Even when my body was giving up on me for the second time, the deep rooted focus and determination gave me the strength to see it through to the finish.

The book is just not about me setting out to achieve a personal goal.  Along the way many other people joined in with the journey by being part of the support crew, riding with me along the route, following my progress on-line, commenting on the Singletrack World forum, or joining in with the Twitter conversations.  It is the contribution by all the onlookers and supporters that has made the journey so memorable and worthwhile.  I want to thank everyone for volunteering to play their part and helping me to make a piece of history.

After the ride I was physically and mentally broken.  Putting my experience into print has helped me through the recovery process.  I also want to share my journey with you to inspire and assist you to achieve more than you think is possible.

Saturday 9 February 2013

And the Winner is …

“There is only one clear winner for this award where many of us would struggle even to complete a third of what he has done.” announced the chairman, Adrian Webb, to Redhill Cycling Club.

The awards ceremony had gone up a notch from an informal gathering to a smart dinner with a World Class Mountain Bike racer and potential Paralympic athlete presenting the prizes. 

The award of “Peter’s Golden Bicycle” relates back to when Peter King was part of the Redhill Cycling Club.  Peter went on to become the Chief Executive of British Cycling who was at the helm for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  His achievement was rewarded with a CBE in 2009.
Peters Golden Bicycle
Peter's Golden Bicycle

Each year Peter’s Golden Bicycle is awarded to the club member who has excelled themselves on an endurance event.

“The winner of this award” continued Adrian “is someone who managed to cycle 300 miles and climb 36,000 feet in a time of 37 hours.”

I felt slightly embarrassed being talked about in such a prestigious way surrounded by 80 club athletes.

“For achieving the South Downs Triple, the Winner is … Richard Sterry”

Receiving Peter's Golden Bicycle from Anne Dickins
Photo thanks to Frank Grainger
Making my way up to the front of the room amongst a hearty applause I received the prize from good friend Anne Dickins.  Anne played a major part in the support for my ride and has since been selected for the Paralympic squad for Rio 2016.  It was very fitting that Anne was able to present me with this award.

Friday 21 December 2012

What Happened in 2012?

Kicking off 2012 saw the arrival of a new bike for a very specific purpose. The Scott Scale 29er cruises effortlessly along the bridleways of the North and South Downs.

Completing the South Downs Triple was the major achievement of the year, being the only person insane enough to take on the 300 mile challenge. Backed by a fantastic support crew I arrived in Winchester for the second time, 37 hours after originally setting out from Eastbourne.

Prior to the Triple in June I enjoyed an enlightening coaching week in Portugal with AQR Coaching. Packing the oversized bike to take on the plane was an interesting process.

Most of the second half of the year was spent off the bike recovering from the extreme ride in June. Helping out at Bog Dog near Brighton was a very rewarding experience enabling others to enjoy the trails and the thrill of the race.

Watching live athletics for the first time in the Paralympics was awesome. We shouted loudly as Jonny Peacock won his 100m Gold on the Thrilling Thursday. At the Olympic Museum it was interesting seeing my Great Grandmother’s sporting achievements as she was the first woman to win a Gold medal in 1904.

Surprising my wife for her birthday, we saw further sporting achievements in the form of Europe’s Strongest Man, it made us feel rather skinny.

What a year 2012 has been. Riding the South Downs Triple was such a lifetime experience I’m preparing a detailed account of the ride for a short book.

If 2012 was this good, how much better can we make 2013?

Saturday 22 September 2012

Triple Recovery

If you want to know how it feels to have the stuffing completely knocked out of you, ride the South Downs Triple.  It was an immense 300 mile ride, yet an awesome experience.

Simon Catmur's 50th Birthday ride on the South Downs
Pic by  Tim Burden
The nerve damage to my left hand kept me off the bike for a frustrating 3 months.  I’m now back out riding and loving every minute.  It is so refreshing to ride with no agenda or stringent training schedule.   There’s no requirement to get up at 5:30am to train before work, or pack my evenings with further training and event preparation.  My goal at present is to focus on the enjoyment of riding and see what takes my fancy for next year.

The journey of the Triple lasted about a year, from when I first had that crazy idea.  The friendships formed along the way and the adventure of riding the Triple was an amazing lifetime experience.  When it was all over and I’d recovered from the sleep deprivation and exhaustion, a huge chasm remained.  Compiling my thoughts, I began to write about the adventure.  The more I wrote, the more I realized what and adventure it had all been.  At present it’s around 16k words and could later be turned into a book.

After climbing a mountain, there can be a tricky descent.  I’m pleased to have safely descended the mountain and look forward to exploring the new land.

Monday 6 August 2012

Dog Handling at the Big Dog

The heavily laden van stood alone in the field surrounded by the damp grass of the early morning.  The air was quiet but filled with a sense of expectancy.  In a few hours time over 500 riders would be racing around Stanmer Park fighting it out to be the Big Dog of 2012.

Wandering over, two figures could be seen in the form of Rory Hitchens and Simon Catmur.  As we set to work we were soon joined by others and the big inflatable Start/Finish arch was erected.  Following the photocopied plans, posts linked with the Big Dog tape dictated the course route while I was marking out the car parking areas.  Without thinking I found myself ensuring the posts were colour coordinated, equally spaced and perfectly aligned.

Giant pegs were hammered into the ground for the two marquees while various vehicles arrived with gazebos for the trade stands.  The once empty field was now buzzing with a harmony to get the Big Dog in motion.

Cars with bikes, vans with bikes, and people on bikes all started appearing.  Excited participants and some rather confused locals wanting a quiet morning were arriving in mass.  Sometimes it was not obvious as to who should be directed where.  Identifying some of the soloists, I did try to point them a place near the track as this is so important for them.

Filling up the field with vehicles, we opened up the next part of the park for the overflow parking.  The cars just kept on coming.  One rather smart car arrived with just a few characters on its number plate.  Establishing they were here for the Big Dog and directing them to the gate, I received the response “You mean you want me to park in a field?!”

Big Dog start
The hustle and bustle in the centre of the arena increased as the race prepared to start.  Setting off with squeals of delight to the thumping PA system, it was a complete contrast to the docile field just 6 hours earlier.

The main part of my work was done, time now to drink tea, eat cake and catch up with friends.  This process was repeated many times during the afternoon.  My daughter had kindly made some cakes for the occasion and I later found myself handing out endless refills of tea for the thirsty riders and spectators.

Lorna's cakes
The atmosphere of the Big Dog is one of the best in the racing calendar.  Still not able to ride from my South Downs Triple, I needed an excuse to get to the Big Dog.  Having received so much from others on my Triple ride, giving something back here seemed most appropriate.  It was also a nice opportunity to see and thank all those who came out to meet me when I was on my ride.

As the race was drawing to an end and the tea urn was running out of water, the focus turned to the prize giving.  With so many categories and some prizes going down to 5th place, the numerous boxes of goodies were overwhelming.  The challenge was to get the right prizes to the right people.  Working together we found a process that ran smoothly.  

With the Big Dog raced and won and with everything said and done, the crowds dispersed.  Marquees came down, the big arch was deflated, rubbish bags filled up and everything was stuffed into the cars and vans.

Leaving the empty field little remained of the excitement and fun of the Big Dog, except for the lasting memories and the will to come back again next year.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Triple Recovery - 1 Month On

'Put on these 3 T shirts and this hoodie' said Dan in a very authoritative manner as he filled the bath with cold water.  I was in no position to argue with my son, as thinking for myself was just not possible.  I carefully eased myself into the chilling water where Dan proceeded to open 2 large bags of ice that he pored in around my legs.  There was no energy left in me to scream, I just sat and shivered in a dazed state.

To read about the South Downs Triple ride click here

Riding the South Downs Triple was a huge undertaking, the 300 miles with 34,700 feet of hill climbing in 37 hours was a mighty long ride.  My body struggled just after the 200 mile turnaround at Eastbourne, then it completely collapsed 40 miles later.  Somehow Dr Jerry Hill and Anne Dickens got me back on the bike after ensuring I was not in any immediate medical danger, then I cycled another 60 miles to Winchester.  So determined was I to complete the Triple, only a major medical complication would have stopped me.

Reaching Winchester and completing the South Downs Triple was a mighty achievement, but I simply didn't have the energy to get excited.  I was pleased that I had achieved my goal, but I couldn't find the strength to show any emotion.

The support crew were brilliant, they continued to look after me once I'd finished the ride.  They even sorted out all my kit and cleaned my bike.  This was such a luxury compared to my usual solo-solo rides.

My legs were surprisingly not too bad.  They hurt a couple of days later and are still weak from muscle damage a month later.  My hands were in a worse state, gripping the handlebars for 37 hours took its toll.  Despite extra padding inserted into my gloves, I damaged the nerves causing numbness and pins & needles in my left arm and both hands.  There was also a lot of muscle damage in my left arm, leaving it very weak.  Many Physio sessions and rest are helping them to improve.

The tiredness was immense.  Previously after a 24 hour event it took about a week to catch up on sleep. This time with 8 to 10 hours sleep a night and an afternoon kip, it took 2 to 3 weeks to get to some form of normality.  I was so tired that I couldn't think straight, but I wasn't tired enough to sleep.  The longer it dragged on, the more frustrated I got.  I sill get tired very quickly and need to be careful not to over do it.

KatePotter, my training coach, had prescribed a cocktail of vitamins to boost my immune system before the ride.  Catching a cold just before an event can be disastrous.   After the ride my immune system was shot to bits, making the risk of getting an infection very high.  Keeping away from public places and continuing with the vitamins enabled me to survive without catching a cold.

Getting back on the bike is out of the question at the moment, my body is still too weak to ride or do any other form of exercise.  In my mind I want to ride because I know that it is something I enjoy, but physically it is just not possible.

Post Event Depression (PED) is very real and the bigger the event, the bigger the possibility of a huge downturn.  I suffered from this big time after my South Downs Double where the lowest point was lying in a hospital bed waiting for an operation.  You can read about this in my post Into theDark Valley

Racing during the rest of the season is out of the question.  Instead I will turn up to Big Dog and Torq12:12 to provide pit support.  This should enable me to soak up the atmosphere of the races without the physical exertion of doing the pedalling.

To hear about the South Downs Triple from a different perspective, Anne Dickens has written about the moment I first told her of my idea to ride 300 miles.  Also Judy (BeerBabe) who stepped in at the last minute to provide fantastic support for the ride has written up her memoirs.

There were many lessons learned in preparing and riding the South Downs Triple where I'm very happy to use the experience to help others achieve their goals.  Recovery is going to take a long time, several months.  I will be back next summer, but I won't be taking on another mighty challenge for a while.

I'd like to say a really big thank you to everyone who has posted comments and tweets about my ride.  The enormity of the Triple has not yet sunk in and I appreciate the huge support  from so many people.  Thanks.

It would be great if two charities can benefit from my efforts, the St Marys ReigateCommunity Building Project and the BHF.  Please make a donation if you are able.  Thank you.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

The South Downs Triple – There and back again, and then there once more!

“You do realise that the best weather window starts tomorrow…”
Support Crew T Shirts

Tomorrow?!!!  We were due to start our 36 hour “journey” on Sunday and it was now Thursday morning. But I’m not ready, how can we possibly reorganise all the logistics and support crew at this short notice?  We had talked about needing to be flexible, but is it possible to bring it forward by 2 days at this late notice?

“Have a think about it and let me know” said the calm voice of Simon Usher, who was managing the support.  “We can sort out the logistics if you are mentally ready to ride”

I paused for a moment. This was going to be the ride of my life, where I only had one chance to do the South Downs Triple.  I noted all the important things that needed to be done in the next few hours before the ride, then made my decision.

He was right and I was ready - PANIC!

South Downs Way Route
Everything was a whir, there was so much to do and I had to scrounge an extra day and a half off work.  Getting home with my mind in a spin I ran about pulling everything together.  Looking at the weather forecast and the wind direction – strong easterlies expected on Saturday – we also made the decision to switch the start from Winchester to Eastbourne.  This added significantly to the logistical challenge.  The whole of my spreadsheet prep and the logistics had been planned based on a WEWE (Winchester-Eastbourne-Winchester-Eastbourne) and now we were going to need to re-plan for EWEW.

The Black Pig with all the gear
Kate Potter, from AQR Coaching, had been brilliant with my training and her final prep instructions included a complete rest and a good night sleep before the big day.  Sorry Kate, I got no rest and only about 4 hours sleep…

6am, Friday morning, heading down to Eastbourne in Simon’s van (the Black Pig) with Judy “Beer Babe”, who had dropped everything to help out with the Friday switch, we altered the comprehensive check point schedule with all my requirements for certain times.  I like to be organised well in advance - all these changes were not helping me to relax!


South Downs Way Start at Eastbourne
The new SDW start/finish at Eastbourne
We reached Eastbourne in good time.  I got myself ready while the minutes ticked forward to 8am - what was I was letting myself in for?  Then it happened. Judy counted down, the camera clicked and the pedals started turning – This was it – 15 months in the making - there was no going back now – “look forward and go for it”, I told myself.

The new bridleway start for the South Downs Way at Eastbourne is now aligned with the footpath route.  It extends the route by a mile, which was to be an extra 3 miles for me.  Added to this, the first half mile is a 300 foot climb. With 34,000 feet of climbing to complete it doesn’t sound much, but from a standing start it was hard.

Just as I reached the top of the climb I heard a fateful hiss from the rear tyre.  A puncture within the first mile, this wasn’t going well!  Particularly as this time while changing the tube, the tyre had one of those moments where you needed 6 hands to fit it back on to the rim.  Back on the bike I felt I had to try to make up the lost time.  My mind was all over the place and I couldn’t get my heart rate down.

Climbing up to Bury
Firle was the first check point where Simon and Judy gave me a new spare tube, checked I was OK and sent me on my way.  It was then that I started to enjoy myself – Why do the South Downs Way three times? Well actually I love the views from the South Downs Way, especially those overlooking Lewes, you can see for miles. In enduro races you spend all that time going round the same course – and mainly in trees.  Out here you can see for miles and miles.

It took a while for me to properly calm myself and it probably wasn’t until Bury, 58 miles in, where I really felt settled into the ride.  The trails were dry and fast – one of the reasons to pull the ride ahead of the storm - and with the bonus of very few people around I made good progress.  As I reached the QE2 Country Park, my average speed was steadily increasing.

Support Crew resting at QE2 Country Park
The support crew were amazing, Anne Dickins and Roy (Beer Biker) had now joined the team – so now I had both the AQR endurance team and the Dark Star Brewery endurance team supporting me!

On such a long ride I only monitor a few things. I set my Garmin to display my heart rate, the overall average speed and my average speed since the last checkpoint.  Most of the effort for completing such a challenge is mental and I really didn’t want to be reminded how far in I was.  Using this simple information I could pace myself without thinking about how many miles I had covered and how many were left to go.  I only focused ahead to the next checkpoint, taking each section at a time.  For the first leg to Winchester I needed an overall average speed of 9.2mph – so that’s what I focused on and that’s what kept me going.

Turn point in Winchester
A quick leg massage
The descent into Winchester felt great.  I was riding fast and my legs were feeling strong.  I have blogged previously about the dynamic core work I had done with Anne Dickins and the coaching from Kate Potter.  I had ridden this faster, but never felt this strong.  Outside one house stood a family who asked my name then cheered me on.  They had been following my progress on the Endomondo live GPS trail and came out to greet me.  This was such a nice surprise!

I was carrying a Samsung Galaxy Ace phone running the Endomondo App where anyone could see my progress.  I had also fitted an external battery charging pack but I actually hadn’t intended it to go this public – it was mainly for my support crew and close friends – so I was initially unaware of the impact of my ride; people were apparently glued to the blue line slowly moving across their screen. With someone even checking up on me during a meeting at work.  My crew reported some of the comments on the Singletrack forum, which eventually ran into 8 pages as the word spread.  This virtual support was amazing and uplifting.

And back again

Turning around in Winchester at 18:08 was just 20 minutes slower than my personal best for the South Downs Way.  One leg down, let’s go back to Eastbourne!

Exposure Lights
As the daylight disappeared I flicked on my Exposure 6 PackUSE had kindly loaned me 6 Pack and JoyStick lights for the event – one of many kind gestures, but when the mist came down and the trail was indistinct, it became invaluable.  I have no idea how I would have coped without their brightest product - it was almost like riding in daylight.

Setting off from Bury around midnight, there were a couple of bike lights twinkling down the trail.  It was a pleasure to see Rory Hitchens and Frazer Clifford who had come out to find me.  We rode for a while then JP also joined us.  Long solo rides have their challenges and it was nice to have some company.  In true tradition, though, they left me to set the pace and open all the gates.

They peeled off around 2am and still feeling strong, I powered into the night, cresting more hills and clocking up miles.  That core stability training was clearly paying off.  I was starting to have a few pains – particularly in my hands – but my legs just kept going.

The batteries on my iPod packed up and my spare for some reason was not working.  The wildlife had to put up with my terrible singing as I sped past disturbing the tranquillity of their sleep.

It wasn’t long before the silhouettes of the trees could be seen and the dawn chorus filled the air.  Had I really been riding all night?

Finished the Double
Climbing the long ascent after the A27, thick fog appeared.  Visibility dropped to just 20 metres, flicking the 6 Pack onto full beam extended my vision to an essential 50 metres.  Navigation in these open areas is very difficult in thick fog.  During the last minute panic I had forgotten to load the SDW route into my GPS.  Resorting to memory and looking carefully at the grass, I stayed on the trail.  I discovered that the yellow buttercups don’t grow on the trial, therefore staying away from the buttercups kept me on track.

Time was ticking on and I needed to be in Eastbourne.  With a sub 23 hour South Downs Double in mind, I pushed on hard.  Remembering to go to the new start/end point, I raced down the hill to the SDW marker.

22:55 hours for a South Downs Double.  This was fantastic; it put me 3rd on the leader board for the fastest supported Double.  I was elated! And that could have been where it all ended… but I was going to get back on the bike and ride all the way back to Winchester.  I had no idea just how hard that was going to be…

And there once more

Setting off back to Winchester is where a new chapter of the history book starts.  No one had ever tried going beyond the Double.  For my safety, the support crew insisted someone was with me on this last leg back to Winchester.  Riding beyond 24 hours is a bit unknown, so extra precautions were taken.  Jerry Hill, an experienced sports doctor, also joined us at Eastbourne and gave me a medical check up before letting me back on the bike. 

I climbed the tough hill out of Eastbourne for the final time – it was torture.  My stomach was all over the place. I felt drained and my sanity fought with my determination.  Firle seemed a million miles away and I needed to see the support crew sooner.  Simon Usher, now in riding gear, was to be my first support rider and called ahead to made the necessary arrangements.

Finding a bench at Jevlington, I lay down for a rest.  I had pushed to get that sub 23 hour double and it was clearly taking its toll.  Turning back was already playing with my mind.  Jerry was brilliant and confirmation that I was medically OK was what I needed and soon I was back on the bike.

After Firle I was curious to see someone taking photos of me.  It turned out to be Simon Catmur – a local who had also been tracking my progress on Endomondo and the Singletrack forum.  The crew had invited friends to join in and keep an eye on me.  He kindly rode with us for a while, which helped from the safety point of view. Steve Golding also appeared from nowhere, taking photos.  There seemed to be a big interest in what I was doing… which I must admit baffled me… I still consider myself as a bit of a novice on the bike and had previously only ridden two 24 hour events. You will know if you have read my other blogs that only 5 years ago a long ride for me was 30 miles. I knew little about heart rates and training regimes. I set the South Downs Triple challenge not just to see if it was possible, but to see if an ordinary bloke can do it. 

Meeting Josh while Anne tapes up my knee
My hands were really suffering so extra padding was put in my gloves.  My left knee also started to twinge and Anne decided to tape it early, just to be on the safe side. Otherwise my legs were still strong and kept moving.

Roy “BeerBiker” was incredible.  Using his knowledge of the South Downs he guided the support crew to the check points and found time to pop up in odd places to meet me.  When passing him at Ditchling, he kindly handed me a 99 ice cream, it was just what I needed on the hot day.  Thanks Roy.

Reaching Saddlescombe, it was a real pleasure to meet Josh Ibbett, the South Downs Double record holder.  He kindly produced some much needed Torq Energy drink – I had discovered I no longer liked my normal favourite and decided that the only one I could stomach was vanilla Torq! 

More surprises came in the form of Mark Raffield from Redhill CC popping up to say hello, then Jo Burt and friends rode with me for a while.  Jim Russell also rode with me at some point.  It was so uplifting to see these people want to help me on my journey.

Descending down to Steyning, I felt completely knackered.  I had covered 240 miles with 60 more to go.  At this point it was clear the 36 hour target was more than unlikely.  My fuelling wasn’t going well and I was getting wobbly on the bike.  I decided to take a ten minute rest. Lying down at the checkpoint, my body temperature quickly dropped and dark thoughts were trying to enter my mind.  Jerry and Anne were superb.  I can’t remember what they did, but hot tea, cake, space blankets and the combined expertise of two professionals and I was soon back on the bike.

Dave, Ant & Rachel join in to help
Setting short goals, I made it to Bury where Dave Brothers was waiting to ride with me to the finish.  Also Ant Jordan and Rachel Sokal (the rest of the AQR endurance team) arrived to provide fresh energy for the support crew.

What happened next is a bit of a blur.  My legs kept going round, I followed the trail and I opened gates, but my mental capacity was dwindling. Somewhere along the way Lydia Gould joined us, which was another surprise, but it was only when I reached the QE2 Country Park I knew that a Winchester finish would be possible. 

Just before Winchester I received an amazing surprise.  My family had come down to see me at the last check point.  This was lovely as normally they are rather sceptical of my cycling adventures ;-)  It was also arranged that my son Dan would ride the last mile with me into Winchester, which was wonderful.

Cheers Alfred
It's official, I've finished
Downing a For Goodness Shake at the final checkpoint, my recovery process started early – it was so good to taste something normal! Then with emotions running high I set off.  The last 3 miles dragged on and on and on.  The heavy rain that had prompted the rushed start had finally arrived.  I wanted to push it, but I kept hearing Ant saying, “Be careful, don’t over do it!” I was so close, but I had to take his advice.

Reaching the King Alfred Statue in Winchester was fantastic. 300 miles, 34,700 feet of climbing and 37:04 hours from when I first left Eastbourne was an amazing experience.  The whole support crew and my family were there to welcome me in and the South Downs Triple had been conquered.  Yes - the Triple is possible.  Yes – even for an ordinary bloke.

The end

But that’s not quite true.  It is only possible for an ordinary bloke when he is blessed with an incredibly strong support crew.  They had a mighty challenge just to get to all the check points throughout the 37 hours, let alone to keep me going.  All the additional riders and supporters where also a real boost, and the huge interest from virtual onlookers was overwhelming.

It would be great for a couple of charities to benefit from my efforts;
The BritishHeart Foundation who inspired me to ride the SDW in a day, back in 2007.
St MarysChurch, who are building a new Community Centre in Reigate.

A massive thanks to everyone involved.  I am sure this won’t be the last South Downs Triple. The bar has been set at 37 hours and 4 minutes – go for it!

The Team

Thanks to Anne Dickins, Roy McNeill and Steve Golding for the photos.