Sunday, 12 June 2011

Now it's Starting to get Serious: Bylands Abbey Circular

This week, for the first time since we started regular training, I didn't feel particularly excited about going out on the bikes, and would happily have stayed in bed a few hours longer. I'd felt ill all week following a migraine on Monday, and even on Friday I was convinced that I wouldn't be up for much physical exertion this weekend. But, when the alarm went off at 6am I was feeling better than I had in ages, and there was no real reason to curl back up under the duvet and ignore the day's plan.

It was going to be a tough day. We've got a few busy weekends coming up, as well as a holiday at the end of June, so we won't be able to get out properly until mid-July. The fact is that we need to get some really long rides in sooner rather than later, and then build up on elevation and speed from there. We also need to know that we can actually do it, and increasing our confidence as well as our endurance can only be a good thing.

So the plan was to cover 80 miles, with hills. I'd spotted a nice-looking route on the map, following Route 65 all the way up to Bylands Abbey in the North York Moors - a well sign-posted route with good views and a great spot for some lunch: perfect!

The weather was pretty good for a change; the skies were blue as we set out, and most importanly there was no wind! We packed a good amount of food, some Lucozade for energy and our waterproofs and head out in a northwesterly direction, apprehensive about how far 80 miles really was, and whether we could actually do it!

It was plain sailing for the first 20 miles until Easingwold, when, as the name suggests, the landscape started to get hillier. From here we covered a very undulating path through the Hambleton hills, which took us up farm roads and muddy tracks. It was actually hot, and the hills were even more challenging in the heat of the morning sun. When we reached the top of one hill there was always another to climb; relentless hills upon hills upon hills, with the landscape opening out and becoming more and more stunning with every ascent!

Check out that elevation - OUCH!

We could see the White Horse of Kilburn in the distance, which lies just above Bylands Abbey, providing us with a good idea of how far we still had to go.

The White Horse sitting on Sutton Bank
We arrived at Bylands Abbey up a long, steep hill. I was surprised at how matter-of-fact it was, just sitting humbly by the roadside without any sort of pomp or circumstance. You did have to pay to get in though, so instead we sat on a bench by the roadside and admired the ruin from afar while munching on peanut butter sandwiches.

Unfortunately the distance to the Abbey wasn't as far as planned: 30 miles, not 40, so we decided to head East towards Malton in a long loop of North Yorkshire, taking in a handful of stunning villages on the way as well as many, many more hills! At Malton we had only just covered 50 miles, yet my legs were killing me with every pedal, and I had no idea how I'd manage another 30 miles. We kept stopping for water and food, but nothing seemed to be helping; I was getting persistenly more tired, more achey and more cranky, and I knew it was almost time to hit the hard stuff. 

We stopped in a lay-by on a particularly hilly and painful road just outside Malton, where I gulped the sticky-sweet nectar that is Lucozade (raspberry flavour, urgh!) as if it were liquid gold. I then had a few squares of chocolate, just to help the process along. Five minutes later we were back on the bikes, and powering along like we'd only done 20 miles, not 50 - I was amazed at how quickly and thoroughly the Lucozade had set in! I can't really put into words how hard it had been before I'd decided to take the plunge into the isotonics; all I can say is that I was doubting everything we've put our names down for and much more. From here we stopped every now and then to top up on energy, as well as to put or waterproofs on when the heavens suddenly opened on the road to Sand Hutton. The towns and villages passed by rather nicely, and though my legs were burning and my knees were really really sore, the whole ride felt possible; the whole challenge felt possible, even!

Our 80-mile route, which just touches the outer-edges of the North York Moors

We got home and stretched to our hearts' content, then ate soup and a couple of bowls of cereal before cleaning up the bikes. The day had been an eye-opener like no other, and I realize now the power of fuel, which has always been my downfall. In all I ate:

- 1 slice of toast at Easingwold (20 miles)
- Half a peanut butter sandwich and an apple at Bylands Abbey (30 miles)
- Half a peanut butter sandwich and a packet of crisps at Malton (50 miles)
- Half a bottle of Lucozade and 2 squares of chocolate just outside Malton (60 miles)

That really isn't enough; to get through 100 miles I don't only need to be fitter, but I also need to ignore the fact that I'm not hungry/don't fancy another cereal bar and just EAT. This is the real challenge for me - getting enough sustenance to be able to keep myself going for upto 12 hours. We burned more than 3,300 calories on this ride, and I consumed just over 1,000 including breakfast. It reduces eating to the most boring, purpose-driven activity - I hate it!
Anyway, to make up for the lack of food-joy in the day, we headed to our favourite restaurant for tea that night. Since I had a few thousand calories to replace, I thought I'd better have the sticky toffee pudding - I really have to look after my body if I expect it to do all that hard work! ;-)