My First Century

My First Century

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My First Century

Eddie Allen relives his first ever century ride - an epic sportive ride in the Peak District. Up until then, his best effort was 80 miles in a day. However, the physical and mental effect of cracking the magic ton is something that lives long in the memory.

The ride began with a flat few miles out of Woodford to the delightfully named Pott Shrigley, before the first climb of the day named after the old Brickworks, leading up to Kettleshulme. Brickworks is a long, gentle drag, which really warms up the legs.

The climb from Kettleshulme to Windgather Rocks followed Brickworks' long drag, and the steeper sections towards the top saw Nick romp away on lighter road bike. We regrouped at the top, took on some energy drinks, took a few photos that savoured the delights of the quick, snaking drop into the glorious Goyt Valley. We passed the reservoir on the left before the gentle climb up the uncommonly beautiful Derbyshire Bridge, with the stream babbling in the gulley to our left, mini waterfalls gushing down the hillside amid bracken and purple heather.

Derbyshire Bridge exits on the famous Cat and Fiddle Road, which was duly crossed. There followed a screamer of a descent to the bottom of the long climb to Flash, England's highest village, 463 feet above sea level and with a chequered history for cock fighting and counterfeiting.

Following on from Flash came a long fast sweeping descent, before an ultra steep, switchback climb at Crowdecote and the first feed stop. A bottle refill and two energy bars were quickly tucked away, then Nick (my ride buddy) and I continue the half mile or so the crossroads where the 54 mile and 100 mile routes split. My legs were beginning to feel the pinch a little and I took a long hard look at the 54 miler before bracing myself and choosing to turn right at the crossroads, leaving Nick to complete the 54 miler alone.

At about 4 hours in the legs began to lose power, as if somewhere in my body, there was a loose connection between my brain and my muscles. I'd brought a Camelbak and two water bottles and was conscious that I needed to keep eating and drinking if I was to get some much needed oomph back into the legs. The riding was on a relentlessly ascending B road into a full-on headwind, forcing me to stop in the village of Onecote, where I managed to get two flapjacks and a bottle of Lucozade Sport down my neck before carrying on into the stiffening headwind.

The ride headed south now, into the wind and down toward the lower, but no less flatter reaches of the Peak District. Following the excellent Polka Dot signage, the B road ceased and the route mercifully turned onto unclassified country lanes, with a three-quarter tailwind, running parallel with the main A523 Leek road. The route then left passed through a farm gate and meandered through the Tissington estate. I paused at the impressive mass of Wibben Hill where I took on more food, the sky intermittently blue, white and grey as the keen wind changed the scenery every few minutes or so. I pushed on through the estate with its immaculately preserved village before leaving Tissington across a wooden footbridge, adjacent to a wide, deep ford.

From there I followed the B road up toward the climb of Longcliffe, a narrow gap between the hills. Here and there I observed the immaculate and startling Tissington Trail, an almost pan flat former railway line running as far north as Buxton, and linking the High Peak Trail further north. I kept glimpsing the Tissington Trail, running beneath our route, from railway bridges, down in valleys. At one point, I considered choosing the soft option and hitting the Trail for a flat speedy run back north, but quickly dismissed the whisperings of that fatigue induced devil on my shoulder.

I soldiered on across countless dry stone walled vistas through the village of Over Haddon, passing the now closed feed station, finding myself, bemused and tired, completely surrounded by a herd of Friesian cows being led from field to field! Eventually, I passed through the village of Monyash and returned, with no small dose of irony, to the crossroads where the long and short routes parted, hours before.

I knew the rest of the route from here on in, having completed the 54 mile route twice before in 2004 and 2005. Axe Edge, Cat and Fiddle, Lamaload Reservoir and home. In the past, it had felt like the home stretch. However, the incessant, 5 mile climb of Axe Edge, through the steep sided u-shaped valley, past the remote Buxton Speedway and across Axe Edge moor was a climb to test the mettle of any rider. After passing countless incredulous sheep, I reached the Cat and Fiddle road, and the famous summit pub sat temptingly on the horizon.

At this point I made a decision which will no doubt draw shocked gasps from the sportive cognoscenti. Knowing the remainder of the route quite well, and considering that I was starting to lose daylight, I decided to cut out the last two climbs past the Lamaload Reservoir and instead, take the dramatic plunge down the spellbinding Cat and Fiddle road into Macclesfield and then on to the end at Woodford.

The descent of the Cat and Fiddle was electrifying, carving into turns, hard on the brakes, laying the bike low into corners like a Moto GP rider. The abiding memory of that early evening plunge out of Derbyshire into Cheshire was the sun turning the heather and bracken orange as it hit the rounded peaks of the roof of England. Looking further into the distance beyond the Peaks, the Cheshire Plain, flat and forgiving, lay beneath an evening haze.

Within minutes I hit Macclesfield, turned north and with newfound energy, no doubt a product of my continual carb top-ups and the adrenaline of being so near to the end, I raced, flat out along the undulating lane towards Wilmslow and picked up once more the Polka Dot arrows that had been my guardian angels for the entire route.

I arrived back at event HQ, with the moon rising in the sky and headed towards the sanctuary of the car (the last left in the car park). I looked at my watch and 11 hours had passed since I left the event HQ in the morning. The fatigue that I had felt mid ride had been a mental and physical test that I thought I couldn't handle. Almost instantly, that feeling was replaced by a deep satisfaction, the knowledge that I'd tested body and bike to the maximum. I'd finished. True enough, I was dead last on the route, but I cared not a jot. My first century ride was under my belt and the afterglow of that knowledge hasn't left me yet.

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