26th October, 2016
It has taken me over three weeks to really process the amazing weekend that was the Fitbit Fifty!
People have been asking how it went and I have proudly informed them how far I personally ran and cycled when asked (around 54Km and 450km!), but each time I have found myself saying how actually that wasn't the part of the challenge that will be forever etched in memory, instead I will always remember it as the time I made 11 new friends.
I love solo challenges and relying on just my own ability to power me to the finish, but this was a new experience.
Throwing 12 strangers (meet the team here) together from completely different backgrounds and abilities, then giving them 6 weeks to train to run and cycle from London to Edinburgh AND back could have been disastrous for Fitbit and Coach Magazine. With the lack of sleep, confined space and physical exhaustion the potential was there for short tempers or worse.....
We met many of the team for the first time at the team briefing on Thursday evening. The original plan was for two teams of six to 'race' the 54.5Km of running and 13,009km / 10,257m of cycling (route details here) but conversation soon turned to us working together and, with everyone in agreement, we planned to race the clock instead of each other as a team of 12. This meant all 12 participants would run together and then 4 riders at a time would cycle while 8 changed, refuelled, rested etc. on the support bus. Four riders will always be faster than 2 allowing the workload to be spread; this also meant more company out on the road, more lights for the night stages and more support for the slightly less confident riders.
The phone alarm rang after a restless night and for the first time of many I sleepily pulled on the Fitbit Fifty kit. A small bowl of muesli sat uneasily on the butterflies in my stomach as we walked to The Mall to start the first run at 6am. This run took in the London sights as the city woke and saw our lead bike verbally abused by an intoxicated single speeder who took exception to an expensive bike leading a 'bunch of joggers' through the city! Our first four riders ran ahead ready to change for the first bike leg starting at Velopark while the rest of us jogged steadily at the pace of the slowest runner.
My first bike leg was not until after midday, so I had plenty of time to change, organise and lay out all my kit, eat breakfast and chat with the team on the bus before jumping on the bike at Norman Cross (somewhere south of Peterborough). We had agreed on a 50km effort and already slightly behind schedule we buried ourselves averaging 30kph on the undulating route. However at about 40km the support van, impressed with our efforts, pulled alongside and suggested we stay out for an extra 15-20km, we readily agreed, enjoying the autumn sunshine and stuffed in an extra energy bar. Some discussion must have occurred back on the buses and we soon came to a junction to find the support vehicle with extra food and water and a decision that we would ride onto 105km, over double the original plan!
Wrapped up warm, with head torches lighting the way, we ran together along a disused railway track from Riccal to Bishopsworth. Despite being slightly behind schedule spirits were high with singing and chatting on the spooky run.
My second bike leg was Thirsk to West Auckland, 2.5hrs of dark, cold riding. The bike computer recorded a bitter 2.7 degrees Celsius. Luckily I am fairly confident in the dark and have some excellent lights so was happy to lead the way and navigate when some of the other lights in our group failed and we survived the unlit, eerily quiet roads.
After a bit of a snooze I woke to find the sun rising on the stunning Scottish Border crossing in Kielder Forest Park. Wrapped up warm we rode an incredible 18km of almost continuous descent to Jedburgh, hitting speeds well over 60kph in the morning sun. A super-fast 45km later we were back on the bus at Galashiels demolishing muesli and coffee and prepping for the next run.
Behind schedule, this run was slowed significantly by weaving our way through the Edinburgh tourists who probably would not have been up had we been running at the planned 6.30am! A stunning, but slow, run into the city centre to the spectacular castle and back out to the bus.
Unfortunately my cycling team were rostered for the reverse leg of our previous ride; knowing what was coming didn't help as we climbed the 45Km back to the England border. It took us 18 minutes longer to cover the distance, but the incredible views made the relentless hairpins to the border worthwhile.
With some extra layers we tackled another 3 hours of darkness from Stamfordham to West Auckland. The leg contained 6 major climbs, a couple of which were nearly 6km in length, all averaging 6%+ and several ramps of 12-15% gradient. The freezing cold, darkness, tired legs and lack of sleep at this point was enough to reduce one team member to tears. A few Mars bars later, we finally found the bus to be told we had just ridden the toughest section of the entire journey!
Back on the disused railway track we ran another 10km. This time we were well spread out along the path; the steadier runners having set off while the returning cyclists changed. I found myself alone after a brief call of nature and without light as my head torch batteries died. I remember thinking this is exactly the sort of thing I would not want my mum to know I am doing - running on my own, in the middle of nowhere, in the pitch black, surrounded by woodland at 2am in the morning. And yet it was a slightly surreal, magical experience and I felt lucky to be alive as the path was lit by starlight every time I came out from under the trees.
Hoping this was the last bike leg we dragged ourselves out into the dark once more and having been told it was flat (haha!) we put our heads down and once again pulled off a 30kph average from Finningly south to Collingham.
Back on the bike again our final ride of 60km brought us back to just north of the M25. Unfortunately the buses were hidden in a Tesco car park and no one from the support team had come on to the road to flag us down so we continued to follow our GPS for another 6.5km past the changeover before being chased down by a support van. Unfortunately most of the extra distance was uphill and had it not been such a beautiful sunny day, I think my sense of humour might have failed.
Finally back at Velopark after what seemed like a lifetime, we ran back through the streets of London to The Mall. 12 abreast on the closed road we ran towards Buckingham Palace as one; one team, 12 friends.
The adventure would not have been possible without the belief and enthusiasm of Coach Magazine, Fitbit UK and the amazing support team from Andy Cook Cycling and Human Race. The training plans were written by George Anderson (running coach), James McCallum (DS at One Pro Cycling) and Professor Greg Whyte OBE (the coach behind the amazing Sports Relief challenges).
From the application stage to post race recovery, Coach Magazine have covered the event here along with loads of useful articles and training plans for a variety of challenges.
I must finish by saying a special thank you to my amazing cycling buddies. Somehow we became known as 'Holly's Bitches' - Magic Mike Jones, the fastest, smoothest and loveliest wheel to follow ever; Mr Will 'Legend' Lockwood, a true Ironman both physically and mentally and the lovely Nicola Noble who proved you definitely do not have to be big to be tough.
12 amazing teammates
6 support crew
4 camera men and journalists
54.5Km of running
13,009Km of cycling with 10,257m of ascent
Not a lot of sleep!