The Shakespeare 100 (2009)

It was an early start today. I was up at 05:45, and ate a big bowl of muesli and a banana to fuel me for what was to come. As part of my ongoing campaign to forget as many things as possible this week, I'd added my container of Maltodextrin (complex carbohydrate) powder to the list. I'd carted it down from Hebden Bridge to Coventry, and left it there yesterday when I rode down to Towcester! This was going to be my first century ride on just water, OJ and food. It made me feel somewhat nervous, given that the reason I started using carbo-powder in the first place was some horrible experiences of the hunger knock, bonking or hitting the wall

It was set to be a lovely morning. After sunrise there were fine blue skies and not much wind. It was still pretty chilly, but a few hours of sunshine would sort that out.

Eventually, my sister surfaced, snatched a quick breakfast and then we set off for Stratford-upon-Avon. We spent too much time talking and missed our turn for the M40, eventually joining it further south than intended. It made us a bit late getting to the event HQ at a big Park-and-Ride on the northern fringes of Stratford. The first riders were already being sent off in small groups when I went to sign in. I was probably one of the last 100 mile riders to set off.

It was a bit nippy for the first few miles, but soon temperatures rose to the point where I felt comfortable.

Blue sky in Warwickshire
Blue sky in Warwickshire

I rode most of the first part of the ride by myself, though a couple of times I got in with groups of other riders only for them to go off-route. I had the route details programmed into my trusty Garmin Etrex GPS but those riders thought they knew better and ignored my warnings! Some of them would have gone significantly over distance, and others accidentally took big shortcuts. One group of riders took the direct road from Little Alne to the first checkpoint/feed station at Great Alne village hall instead of doing the intended loop round through Shelfield. That cut over 3 miles from the route.

I was making sure that I ate more than usual and drank plenty, to make up for the lack of carbs in my drinks so I had a large piece of chocolate cake and a can of Coke at Great Alne.

As I rode away from the village hall, I encountered riders coming the other way wearing the different-coloured numbers of those doing the 100 km ride. They had obviously made a huge navigational error because they should have been doing the same route as me until we hit the Cotswolds, only an hour behind me. I'd ridden about 27 miles, but they told me that they'd only done 8 miles from Stratford! I told them that they had gone astray, but I didn't know where until I checked the map later. It seems that they had missed a right turn at Aston Cantlow, only a mile down the road. I wonder if they went back and did the extra loop if the organisers at the village hall explained their error to them?

I rode on another mile or so by myself, and then came up behind two other riders who were trying to work out where to go next. I got chatting to them and explained about using my Etrex for navigation, and we decided to ride along together for a while. They were a Welsh father-and-son team from Clwb Rasio Mona based in Anglesey. Father Huw is a keen cyclist and very fit. Son Hywel is a more occasional cyclist; his longest ride to-date was an 80-miler last week. They had signed up for the 100 km event but were enjoying themselves so much that they decided to stick with me at Mickleton where their route diverged from mine!

Shortly after Mickleton we came to Saintbury and a ‘proper' hill. It climbed nearly 620 ft in about 1.25 miles (190 m in 2 km) – an average of 9.5%, with a short, steep ramp in the middle section. Huw romped up that ahead of Hywel, with me grinding my way up in 3rd place. I had my excuses lined up – I couldn't play the ‘age' card because Huw is at least 10 years older than me, so I was counting on blaming my height and weight for my lack of climbing prowess but at that moment a giant of a man overtook me! He must have been about 6′ 6″ tall, was very sturdily built and dropped me so comprehensively that I couldn't even see him in the distance when I finally crested the hill! Okay, I own up – I'm just not riding enough to get faster. 😳

I rejoined my Welsh companions and we rode on together to the second feed station at Barton-on-the-Heath. We were served food and drinks there by some rather well-orf ladies; they were very nice, but they didn't half have posh aristocratic accents!

We took our time, since none of us were trying to break any speed records. I had another piece of cake and a cheese and pickle sandwich. To be honest, I wasn't really missing my carbo drinks but I think that it would have been different if the pace (or the hills!) had been higher.

Now, we'd been told to expect another stiff climb but we didn't notice that it came straight after the stop at Barton. Later on, we realised that we hadn't encountered anything particularly challenging, definitely nothing like that 9.5% climb earlier. It seemed more of a long drag. Actually, I've just checked the map – it was two climbs with a valley in between – 0.9 miles (1.4 km) at 6.3% (with one little steep section), a short descent, then 1.5 miles (2.4 km) at 5.1%. We kept waiting for it to come, but it didn't.

As we started to come round to a more northerly direction, we noticed that the weather was deteriorating. The skies had clouded over, the temperature had fallen and a headwind had picked up. I felt a few spots of drizzle and wondered whether we would get back before the rain started.

Grey sky in Warwickshire
Grey sky in Warwickshire

The distance and the headwind were starting to tell on Hywel so Huw and I had to slow down a bit to let him conserve his energy. Then I began to realise that something wasn't right… I spotted a sign saying “Stratford 6 miles” when my GPS showed that we'd already ridden 99 miles. I hadn't gone off route anywhere, so this was definitely going to be the longest century ride that I'd ever done. We finally limped in after 105.7 miles. Hywel had completed his first century only a week after doing his first 80 mile ride.

We signed in at the end and told the organiser, Rob, that we'd had a great day out, oh – and thanks for the 5.7 mile bonus! 😉

My sister was waiting to pick me up so I handed her my camera and asked her to take a photograph of me with Huw and Hywel. She was looking at the controls as she stepped forward and collided with a tall, late-finishing cyclist who had just dismounted and was heading for the finish line. It turned out to be a man who used to work in her office 12 years ago. They hadn't seen each other since, and were both about 30 miles from home – small world!

Shakespeare 100 finishers
Shakespeare 100 finishers (L-R Huw, Colin, Hywel)

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