We arrived at the Sports Centre at 6:30am, where there were big banners for the event and a table lined with bananas and bowls of jelly beans. We still had another 30 minutes to wait before we could register, so we took the opportunity to do some stretching and have a good wander around - soaking in the atmosphere is always a good way to prepare, I find. We were the first there but cyclists continued to arrive after us, and the demographic wasn't especially varied: middle-aged men with racing bikes and obscenely large calf muscles. I later found out that, out of the 319 cyclists taking part, only 40 were women! Still, everyone was so friendly; the atmosphere began to grow into something quite exciting, and we started to feel pretty psyched up for the day ahead.
The start was split into groups of 20 cyclists at a time to avoid a mass collision, and since we ride slower bikes and were aiming to complete the ride in a rather lengthy 10 hours, we got ourselves into the first group so we'd have the maximum 12 hours should we need it. Even starting in a relatively small group was scary, and I had a wobbly moment where I thought I might end up crashing to the floor even before we'd crossed the line! But then we were off! I was shaking like a leaf but my queasy tummy had turned into excited butterflies as we head off under a cloudy but bright sky. The day promised reasonable weather, the route looked amazing, and we were about to fulfill a goal which had been building for a year.
We weren't long into the route before the next group started to overtake, and I soon realized that we'd have to get used to this and not take it personally. I can't stress enough how enormous some of the other cyclists' legs were! It was clear that there were some really experienced riders out with us - the majority were wearing club jerseys at the very least - and so I decided to see it as a priviliedge rather than a weakness on our part.
The first hill was upon us quite quickly, and unfortunately Daniel's chain fell off half way up it! I was worried that this would be a bad omen for the rest of the day, but it was soon fixed and we were back on our way. Not long after leaving Murton we were into unknown territory, which became more and more scenic as we rode. The land around us began to rise up as we hit the Yorkshire Wolds, and more often than not we had to follow it upwards as it went. We were flying, but the cycling was tough; pushed on by adrenaline and a quick snack stop, we were making fantastic time and covering some very long inclines. The hardest came at 20 miles, just outside Leavening. From the elevation map we knew that this was the day's Killer Hill (we'd heard that some people had to push up it last year), but we conquered it with dignity thanks to our regular ascents of Bulmer Bank!
From here we were in the heart of the Wolds. I can't begin to put into words how beautiful this area is; sharp ridges sweep into deep valleys, and it feels almost like another world. We were cycling through one of these valleys for a good few miles, and it was the most delightful and awe-inspiring part of any ride I've done so far. This was the moment when I realized that we were doing it: we were actually out, loving every minute of the challenge! Amazing!
We arrived at a quaint thatched village to find our first 'feed zone' - stations set up by the organizers with drinks, snacks and toilet facilities so we could attend to all necessaries before heading back on the road. There was such a great atmosphere here that we couldn't help but have a sit down, a drink and a flapjack and soak it all in. No one appeared to be hurrying off to get the fastest time, or snubbing anyone else because they were older or slower or had a lower-quality bike: the main difference that struck me between this event and all the running events I've done is the team spirit, the camaraderie and the genuine pleasure for the whole event. This continued throughout the day - if we stopped at the roadside to check something, another cyclist would ask if everything was ok; if a car was coming up behind us, a cyclist would shout "CAR!" to those ahead; if one cyclist spotted a pot-hole he (as was always the case here) would signal to those behind to watch out - everyone was looking out for everyone else, and this was, for me, the best part of the whole day.
At mile 50 we had another stop for lunch. Here there was a range of sandwiches and pasta as well as the fruit, cereal bars and jelly beans seen earlier. The organization was just fantastic. We had a goot sit-down here and a decent amount of food, ready for another 50 miles of road. It would be fair to say that we aced the first 50 miles. We were way ahead of our intended time, we'd conquered the most difficult ascents of the day already and taken in some fantastic countryside. And then it started to go downhill (not literally, sadly).
Slightly bloated and a bit too well-rested we headed back out from the lunch stop. From here the road looked flat, but was actually one of those painful invisible inclines that goes on and on and on, causing intense burning right through the legs. On top of this, a wind had picked up and we were cycling straight into it; the going was tough, and suddenly very slow. Only 55 miles in and I wasn't sure I had much left in me. We decided to take it in 10-mile doses, with a quick pep talk after every 10 to determine how we were doing and how we'd do the next dose. This worked well. We stopped off at one point and just stretched; not only was this quite fun, but it felt great! We'd been doing the same repetetive action for over 6 hours, so a bit of roadside yoga was very much welcome! At this point the wind died down and the roads got flatter; our enery was coming back along with our enthusiasm.
Soon the roadsigns read places which we recognised or even knew, as we approached our 'home territory'. We got to Malton and knew we really were on the home straights, with only 35 miles to go and, surprisingly, quite a lot of power still in the legs! We've done the York-Malton ride many a time, but this ride took the route backwards, which was completely new to us. The long descents that we usually enjoy were painful hills, and, of course, vice versa! My parents were waiting for us at the top of the hill before Castle Howard - a welcome sight after miles of non-stop cycling! They had fresh water, melon, yoghurts and energy drinks in a cool box, so we had a stop with them and enjoyed a much-needed energy boost. The melon was perfect!
The final 20 miles were hard. Daniel ate a whole pack of energy beans in one go, and hit the sky within seconds (of course, he plummeted not long after this!). The roads were familar, and we knew we were edging closer and closer to home, though home didn't seem to be getting any closer!
Finally we got to Heslington - 101 miles later. 102.25 miles and 10 hours later we crossed the finish line together, though I can't say I remember it all that clearly! Getting off the bike was tough, walking to greet my parents was tough, realizing that it was over was the toughest part of the whole day. We got a full sports massage which was incredibly painful, but somehow enabled us to get back on the bikes and cycle home again, to a huge tea and some blackberry and apple crumble!