As a proud Cumbrian, and a road cyclist, it was inevitable that one day I would set my sights on the Fred Whitton.
This beast of a sportive follows a circuitous 112 mile route around the North and West Lake District, taking in some of the most fearsome mountain passes our fair island has to offer.
When I posted a photo of the route profile on Twitter after securing a place in the ballot, one of my friends quipped – “it looks more like a hospital print out for a person having a heart attack!” He wasn’t wrong:
I turned to road cycling after a nasty mountain biking accident 3½ years ago and have steadily built up my capabilities and stamina.
A year after my accident I rode from London to Brighton (54 miles) and was hooked.
I’ve undertaken various challenges and endurance rides since, but nothing comparable to the fearsome Fred.
I often say half of a challenge is psychological. If you have the mental stamina then you’ll get around.
I know in my mind I have the fitness to ride 112 miles but do I have the power in my legs to get up Kirkstone, Matterdale, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Cold Fell, Hardknott and Wrynose?
Living in the South-East it’s not easy to train. I had the same problem training for mountain marathons before my accident when I used to run up and down Primrose Hill in North London 20 times, equivalent to 1 ascent of Helvellyn.
A barrister friend gave me hilly GPS route around Kent (loosely based on the Kentish Killer sportive). I’ve ridden this twice; once in pouring rain, once in baking heat. We could have either or both on the Fred.
Two trips to Cumbria to recce some of the passes have been thwarted by biblical rain storms. Last month I struggled up Newlands with a river pouring down the road as if to flush me off the mountain. As I arrived at the top, two cars had stopped to honk and cheer me on. The first psychological barrier overcome.
Last weekend was my most successful training weekend to date. My very patient brother-in-law-to-be, a Fred completer, took me out to ride up some of the passes I hadn’t been up before. We followed the Fred route from Lorton past Loweswater, Ennerdale, over Cold Fell, through Gosforth and Eskdale to Hardknott Pass. It takes a lot to phase me but I was actually quite nervous. With the Fred only a month away, I knew I needed to get up here for the psychological peace of mind.
“You must be mad” shouted some tourists as we set off.
Maybe I’ll take up paragliding I thought as I tried to distract myself watching some graceful wings gliding through the clear blue skies.
I puffed and panted and heaved myself up the pass. It was bad, but not as bad as I had feared, and I managed to summit without stopping, falling off or throwing up. Success!
Wrynose felt like a walk in the park in comparison, although I’m sure I won’t be saying that on the day with over 100 miles already in my legs.
Four weeks’ to go. Wish me luck!