It’s been a year since I first posted about my intention to do the Saints Foundation Bike Big Challenge so this blog is for anyone considering joining the challenge and may be pondering….
I decided to pay back the Foundation by raising funds following on my attendance on the SFIT (now Saints Goal) fitness course. I lost a lot of weight and it gave me the momentum to reach levels of fitness that I hadn’t reached for several years.
Once I decided to do the challenge I signed up at one of the information evenings. There I met the stalwarts of the challenge, Amy, Lydia, Tina and not forgetting Jazz. From there I joined the organised training rides, typically leaving St Mary’s Stadium on a Sunday every two weeks. The rides were led by Mark Traves (more about him later), who is part of British Cycling, which is sponsored by HSBC. The rides steadily grew in length. We started at the 30 mile mark and finally hit the 80 mile mark in the weeks leading up to the big ride.
As an HSBC British Cycling ride leader, Mark had the responsibility of planning the routes, ensuring that we got to where we needed to be and the welfare of the riders. We cycled off the main roads and I saw so many parts of the Hampshire countryside I didn’t even know existed. It was great having a point of view that was totally different from the one I get whizzing past in a car. The Foundation also treated the riders to a night at Calshot’s velodrome which was great fun!
The final week before the challenge we were given our cycling kit, which was sponsored by Wessex Cancer Trust. The design of the kit was based upon that season’s home kit. That weekend I joined up with fellow Saints Foundation riders and we rode the Randonnee, a circular ride around the very lumpy Isle of Wight.
The Big Bike Challenge
We left St Mary’s on the Thursday before the final game of the season. Fortunately for me I was given a day off especially as I was making a difference for charity so I only needed one day’s holiday allowance. We had a group photo by Ted Bates and got on the coach. We got to Manchester early evening and, following a group brief about the Day 1’s activities, we popped out for a couple of pints of Manchester’s finest beers.
The rides start early so we were up and about around 6am. The bikes were kept locked up in the Foundation’s lorry which was parked up in a secure location near Manchester City’s ground overnight, so we collected them from that in a car park opposite the hotel and set off to The Etihad. The groups were split into 3, mainly down to the average speed. I was in the middle group which was led by Mark.
A quick group photo outside the stadium and we were off. It took a while to get out of the greater Manchester area but finally we hit the quiet roads of Cheshire. The route of Day 1 took us through Stockport, Macclesfield, Leek, Uttoxeter and then Tamworth. There were some hills (very very steep) and more hills (very very long) but there were also some great laughs. We were ready for a coffee when we got to the first stop, about 25 miles into the ride. Jazz, along with his twin brother, takes on responsibility of Chief Morale Officer and his infectious sense of humour helps spur you on.
One by-product of the Big Bike Challenge is the friendship and bonds that you make. Aside from Mark, my group included David Cotton, Paul Pinchbeck, Barry Gore, Richard Dooler, Paul Webb, Phil Dunn, Martin Ratclife, Simon Williams and Paul Vine. Given that you’re on the saddle next to each other for 3 days solid you end up sharing stories and motivating each other, especially when you hit the steep climbs.
The next day we were up early again and left Tamworth, heading towards Swindon through Stratford and the Cotswolds. The scenery was just amazing; the fields were a bright yellow. We’d stop every 25-30 miles in a village hall. Jazz, Amy, Lydia and Tina would be there, waiting for us with a fresh coffee and loads of high energy food such as flapjacks, etc but more importantly, with a smile and to get you motivated. One highlight was an unexpected but infamous detour in the middle of the Cotswolds.
We left the Holiday Inn at Swindon and within a mile or two we had our first steep climb, which was a killer. All of us managed to stay on our bikes which was amazing given how difficult it was. In between Swindon and Southampton were two major hills near Marlborough to tackle but after that it was all downhill and familiar territory as we joined routes that we’d cycled during the training.
The arrival at St Mary’s was special and really helped the sense of achievement. Everyone from the Foundation were to greet us as we cycled through the arch covered in balloons. We were given a voucher for food and then met up just prior to the game were given a BBC T shirt and medal before we walked the pitch at half time. It’s a great memory to have, walking around the pitch with Saints having reached league safety and the Premier League champions on the pitch.
So, if you’re considering doing the Big Bike Challenge then I say do it. You’ll have the opportunity for lots of training, building the mileage gradually. You’ll have the ability to do the ride knowing that accommodation, getting your bike to the start, scheduled food stops and your welfare is all covered by the lovely Foundation staff. You’ll make friendships and you’ll have achieved something special. You’ll have raised money for a fantastic charity which fulfils potentials and changes lives.
The next information evening is on 7th February, see the link below.
This year I won’t be raising funds for the ride but hope to play a part in different ways. I decided against getting a season ticket this year as I needed the cash to buy a higher quality bike for my next challenge and therefore time at St Mary’s has been limited. Twelve months on from getting on a bike for the first time in several years I’ve got the bug and have decided to raise money for Scotty’s Little Soldiers, the charity that looks after the bereaved children of our military personnel. I’ll be cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats with Mark Traves. Our fundraising for that has just started and my aim is to raise £5000 through sponsorship and other activities such as quiz nights and cake sales. If you’d like to contribute then please do so using the link below; likewise, if you’d like to contribute in a different way such as provide a prize for the quizzes or cake sales then please give me a shout.