The mind is both your strongest ally and your worst enemy.
Day 1 of my 3 day solo charity cycle ride from the West Coast of Wales to the East Coast of England was a true test. Of both body and mind.
After a night in Aberystwyth, I was up at 5am to prepare to cycle around 100 miles back to my home in Worcester.
I had already mentally prepared for the first part of the day. Hills. Mountains. Climbs. Sharp and steep, long and seemingly endless. But while you can visualise the climbs and anticipate how you may feel, it is nothing to the real experience.
As soon as I left the seafront at Aberystwyth I was climbing. The road rose steeply out of the town and continued a long climb towards Devil’s Bridge. The top of the climb coincided with sunrise, a gorgeous fiery orange streak sandwich between distant mountain tops and a layer of morning cloud.
From Devil’s Bridge the climb up towards Cwmystwyth started with a long drag pitching up to 15%. It softened to a manageable, but draining 8 or 9%. And went on. And on.
By the top at the Jubilee Arch, my legs were jelly. But the views were incredible. Stretching in front the Elan Valley awaited. A rapid descent through Cwmystwyth and I found myself on deserted valley roads, rolling with steep kicks and short descents. The valley was silent, save for the occasional baa-ing of the hundreds of sheep that lined the road watching as I slowly trundled past.
By the time I had sped down into Rayader after almost 30 miles, I had gone from sea level to 1,500ft and climbed 4 huge climbs and numerous others.
Rayader to Leominster was a relentless drag of continual hills. I pulled over at the side of the road before another long climb. My mind was giving in, partner in crime with my protesting legs. Neither wishes to carry on. I had never climbed so much and for so long. I am not a climber, too heavy and I was struggling.
But a quick check of messages gave me renewed impetus and I resolved to carry on. This hill proved the last major hill before a long, enjoyable descent towards Leominster where after 70 miles I rested up and refilled with lunch.
40 miles to go. Or so I thought. A mile or so out of Leominster a road sign announced Worcester 23. I felt a surge of adrenaline and pushed on, but 23 miles when you are already exhausted is a long way. The hills were less severe, but still plentiful.
By the time I reached Worcester I felt empty, despite eating energy bars and gels and bananas and a baked potato.
The legs still hurt, the mind still played games…A voice saying ‘Another hill. Why don’t you just stop? Give up?’
But another voice countering ‘It is not too far. Remember why you are doing this. Remember Milla.’
And after exactly 100 miles, 6,772 feet climbed, 3,500 calories burned and 7 and a half hours in the saddle, I reached home. And a lovely welcome from my wife Rini and daughter Louisa.
The messages kept me focussed and lots of donations to the fundraising page, some from people I don’t know, saw the total hit £840. Incredible.
So on to tomorrow.
120 miles to Peterborough. And a few less hills. My mind and legs will be happy.