I love the Festive 500 and look forward to it every year, the idea of riding my bike and getting in some great winter training whilst everyone else is sitting on the sofa watching repeats on tv and stuffing their faces with mince pies really appeals to me. It also signals the beginning of winter training, and this year that was especially important as my main race of the season is not that far away on the 20th of May. This year I opened my account with a gentle 60Km with two friends, we set off in the dark and were treated to a stunning sunrise, what a start!
Day two was another early start and once again we set off in the dark for our eight 'o clock rendezvous outside the Zoo at Regents Park to meet some fellow CCL club mates. This morning we were not meeting for a whole bunch of chat laps before work but for a jaunt around deserted Central London on our bikes. We got there a little early so had to do two laps of the Park just for good measure! Twelve of us managed to get away from friends and family for a quick trip around some of our capitals finest sites, which we had almost entirely to ourselves. It was a balmy 12˚C which made the whole experience that much more fun. We headed west through Maida Vale, Notting Hill Gate, through Kensington Gardens and into Hyde Park stopping at The Serpentine for a few pictures and to watch the "crazy" Christmas Day Swimmers. Then we headed up to Marble Arch and made our way along Oxford Street. Oxford Street without a soul to be seen, we resisted the urge to go for the "Strava Segments" and instead cruised along taking selfies and enjoying the moment. Next came an empty Regent Street and on to an eerily quiet Piccadilly Circus, after which we road five or six abreast along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Westminster, Southbank, Waterloo back over the river along the Embankment and up to the Tower of London. We all then went our separate ways home for Christmas with our families, what a fantastic experience on Christmas Day. Another easy 70km added to the total.
On Boxing Day the forecast held true and I was treated to a glorious morning, albeit with a brisk Westerly wind, and yes, I was heading west. We were having a family gathering at my sister in law's place in High Wycombe and my wife had agreed to drive there on condition that I would drive home. She could have a couple of glasses of wine and I could get some valuable miles under my belt, win win! I had planned a route out through St Albans and into the Chilterns via the Dunstable Downs where I had to stop and take a few pictures in spite of the fresh breeze that was whipping up over the top of the Downs. I then headed for Ivinghoe Beacon which again offered some stunning views, then on towards Tring. From Tring, I rode towards Wendover, then onto the Missenden Road towards my final destination. I made a small navigational error and missed a turn so ended up having to do another 10km and an additional hill (no big surprise in an area as lumpy as the Chilterns), before having to conquer the 8% hill up to their house that I had been dreading all the way there. The extra distance was soon forgotten when I tucked into a huge "Boxing Day Buffet". 3 days in and anther 110Km taking my tally up to 240km almost half way in only 3 days, looking good...
Day 4 and we were again treated to another gorgeous day. The wind had eased off. I had agreed to meet Frank and Mick for a slightly more civilised 10:30 start. We all agreed that the legs were a tad heavy and that we should go in search of some quiet roads, (Frank hates busy roads) and just have a gentle spin. We headed out through Potters Bar and on to Welwyn Garden City and then on to Codicote. From Codicote we had wonderfully quiet roads all the way out to Kimpton. The light was beautiful and the newly planted fields looked stunning. I just had to stop and take some photographs. We then headed up to Ayot St Lawrence and Shaw's Corner where George Bernard Shaw used to live. I love the ruins of the old Norman church and of course had to photograph it in the golden winter light. By now we were all sufficiently warmed up and Frank had to get home for a set time, so we put the hammer down and rode all the way home at a fairly brisk pace. 95Km in the can and the total now up to 336km, loving it !!
In all honesty we had been thoroughly spoiled with the weather so far this year, and we were due for a bit of pain, Day 5 didn't let us down, I woke up to a complete whiteout, and was greeted with a puncture when I got down to the bike shed, a quick call to Frank to rearrange the meeting point and I set about sorting out my back tyre. Why is it always the back wheel?? It was very cold and foggy as we rolled along Kentish Lane in silence. We were both feeling pretty lethargic and the cold wasn't helping. The descent down Essendon Hill onto the Hertford Road woke us up and we rode into a winter wonderland. It was definitely a few degrees colder out there but the scenery was worth it. It was the hardest frost I have seen for a long time and the way the ice crystallized on the fence posts and bushes was breathtaking. We had ice all over the leading edges of our bikes, bidons started to freeze up, my spokes had ice along every one. This was all to beautiful not to shoot, however keeping a glove off for too long wasn't much fun and my phone started to play up because of the cold, not to mention my companion who was about to catch his death. Brickendon Hill just about got us warm enough, but there was no way of forcing Frank to stay out any longer so we opted for the shorter but hillier route home in an effort to stay warm. We only managed 53km but they were some of the most memorable kilometers I've ridden all year. If I hadn't stopped for so long to document the beautiful scenes we probably would have ridden further and faster. Total now up to 390Km only 110km to go!!
After yesterday it was agreed that we'd wait for things to thaw out a bit before setting off for Day 6. In previous years I had gone pretty much solo for most of the Festive 500 and had gone for longer rides and had taken the odd rest day, this year I was riding every day and although not epic big rides we were still racking up the miles. I was also participating in another Strava challenge, yes I know, proper cyclists don't run unless we're being chased, and then only far and fast enough just to avoid capture, but I had set about to run 50km during the same period as the Festive 500. I met Frank and Mick at 12:00 and we cruised out and did a staple loop we often ride when nobody can choose a route, Frank was still suffering from a bit of fatigue so the pace was nice and gentle. The loop ends in Potters Bar and at the end he informed us he was starting to feel a bit better. He had turned a corner and was riding into a bit of fitness so we decided to extend the ride slightly and he finished strongly. Another 70km logged on another glorious day, we really were being smiled upon by the weather Gods. Total now 460km with two days to go!!
Day 7 was probably the low point of the Festive 500, it was very misty damp and miserable. I think the weather and possibly the accumulated fatigue got to both of us. As another one of my friends said, "well it wouldn't be much of a challenge if it was sunny everyday". We did our best to indulge Frank's desire to avoid busy roads, but not even that could not really lift our spirits. The damp cold seemed to reach right into our bones and we were both happy to get home having done 57kms. That was enough to get me over the line with 518kms done and Frank needed to do 30 on his last day. I was happy to head out on my final 9km run to finish the running challenge, becuase I knew that it would warm me up!!
The final day had dawned, I had mixed emotions as I set off at 07:25 to meet some CCL club mates for the annual New Year's Eve ride out to the Blue Egg Cafe in Essex. Glad because I knew that the challenge was already completed and that the next day I was going to get a much deserved lie in, sad though because it would soon be over and that I wouldn't be with Frank as he completed his first Festive 500. I was also slightly apprehensive about the prospect of a hundred mile ride on top of what I had already done both on and off the bike over the past seven days. I needn't have worried, the pace was fairly steady and I sat on a wheel most of the way out. A puncture half way gave us a break and a chance to get a bit of nutrition on board. Why does a puncture on a group ride always take an age to repair. It seems the pressure of the group watching on, and all the "useful" advice seem to slow the whole process down?! I told the group that if I punctured I would walk away from them and fix it on my own... We had cooled down during the puncture repair, so injected a bit of pace to warm up and that helped the miles tick away till we reached the cafe. A huge bacon and brie panini with a strong black Americano, and we were ready for the return journey. I felt really strong on the way home and sat on the front for most of the way. With 10km to go I punctured!! The group kindly watched on respected my wishes and offered no" helpful advice" and we were on our way again in less than ten minutes. What a perfect end to a great year of riding. 162km banked taking my final total up to 680Km, (and 50km of running). The past eight days had been a fantastic experience, I'd never ridden for eight consecutive days and this was the closest I'd ever get to being a full time athlete. I could not have done all of this without the super support (and delicious food) of my lovely wife Jo. Frank was a great riding partner for a big chunk of the journey. Well done on your first Festive 500, Mick was also excellent company for a few rides. Thank you Rapha for the "best gift this holiday season". Until next year Festive 500...
Happy New Year everyone!!