Now that the dust has settled on my whirlwind spin round Yorkshire, it’s time to look at the bigger picture. I’ve said a few times now: this is just the start of it. A warmup. Testing the water. Finding out a bit about myself. It’s all a bit like when I took my first steps as a runner in back in 2007; starting small, then building up. My first ever race was a three-mile fun run around central Manchester, which I still to this day believe I won because I am an idiot and took the whole thing too seriously (there were literally people going round the course pushing prams). Shortly after, I had my first 10k under my belt. A couple more of those, suddenly I was doing a half marathon in the North East and before I knew it I was a full-on marathon wanker. It makes sense; no one in their right mind would go all in for a marathon as their first race, although by definition us marathoners are a bit unhinged so no doubt there are people out there that went all in straight from the off. Me though, I prefer to start slow and then move onto the next challenge. Something bigger than last time around. Onwards and upwards.
It’s the same now with the bike. A few weekend spins in the bank, a smallish event done and dusted. I feel I’m finally back at roughly the same place as I was back in summer 2013 before my trusty steed was stolen and I was left with only my feet again, and with that comes a recurrence of the next challenge on the cycling ladder, a long-held ambition of mine: a century on two wheels. The difference this time around though is that I actually have something in the diary. And rather worryingly, it’s just over three weeks away.
The Dunwich Dynamo, or Dun Run, is something I’ve long had an interest in taking part in, so on Saturday 4th July 2015, me and my weekend cycling chum will be aiming to do just that. Why, I’m not actually sure. You basically have to ride 112 miles (more if you get lost), all the way from London to Dunwich out on the Suffolk coast. Overnight. And there’s no official support if you break down or crash. And it’s the day after I’m at a wedding.
Something about the “spirit” of the event has attracted me though. It’s free to enter, in fact there isn’t even an entry process. You just turn up at London Fields in Hackney and off you go. It’s totally non-competitive. Everyone is in it together. It’s not about the fastest time, the most expensive bike, saving milligrams here and there or wearing your best full-team lycra clobber. It’s not about racing, smashing Strava segments or steaming along in a 40-strong peloton.
It’s a grand adventure, an epic quest. A challenge to enjoy and savour, rather than bludgeon into a bloody submission. The assortment of bikes ranges far beyond what you would see at your average sportive; Bromptons can be common, a couple of tandems maybe. Last year someone got there on a BMX and it’s been done on a Boris Bike before. In 2009 someone even got there on a Penny Farthing for crying out loud. I’m taking Claudette, my beloved 25-year old steel racer instead of the mighty, but clinical, beast that is The Red Arrow, just because it feels right to. And it won’t be anywhere near the most leftfield choice out there, of that I am sure.
There’s no start time. No target finish time. No broom wagon to mop up the stragglers. Rest stops are common, with enterprising locals on the route selling vital bits of sustenance (bacon is popular, I’m told). Pubs stay open. Just get to the finish when you can basically, enjoy the sunrise on the way, or on the coast if you started early enough. There’s no medal, T-shirt or jersey at the end, just an enormous sense of achievement and a full English with a pint or two, sat on the beach after a quick dip in the freezing sea.
It sounds fantastically brilliant and absolutely awful all at the same time. I guess if I’m gonna finally do a century though, why not do something a bit “different” to your average sportive? Thousands of others who’ve done it over the years since can’t be wrong after all. The camaraderie sounds great and will make a nice change from being elbowed aside by pro-peloton wannabes on super-expensive bikes, or having idiots suck your wheel for miles and not even bothering to say hello.
BUT. It’s 112 miles. In the dark. In a (generally) single direction, so if it’s a headwind all the way it’s gonna be grim. How will I see potholes in the road? How will I see a sharp bend when I’m descending? How bad will it be if it rains for the entire eight or so hours I’m expecting it to take me? What happens if (when) I get lost? How am I going to repair punctures in the dark? What if my vintage bike falls to pieces in the middle of nowhere? What the fuck am I doing?
It’s all a bit frightening, and as someone whose biggest single ride to date is around 50-odd miles (and this was two years ago) the distance alone is giving me The Fear. I’ve got just two weekends available to improve so that I can ride more than double that, and that’s pretty terrifying. I finally made the decision to ride this thing back in February after a third successive knockback from RideLondon, when both my bikes were still in pieces, and I honestly cannot believe how quickly all the time has gone. My furthest training ride to date is literally about a third of the total distance of the entire bloody thing.
It’s a big challenge, but one I am relishing. For a start, there’s no rush to actually finish it, whereas I tend to hammer my training rides a bit as I know they are shorter. It’s a pretty flat route. There’ll be a good few stops, plenty to eat, and perhaps I’ll even have a couple of pints along the way. There’ll be loads of other nutters along the way to chat to. And come on, if someone can do it on a bloody penny farthing I’m sure I can do it on a racing bike, no matter how old she is.
Apart from the fact I haven’t actually worked out how I am getting down there for the start of the ride, it’s all looking rather good. I’ll need a bit of luck on the weather and Claudette’s reliability, and I definitely need to get a couple of 50+ milers in before the big day. But I’m getting there, and then once it’s all done that’ll be another of my life’s ambitions ticked off. For Liverpool Marathon 2011, read Dun Run 2015. For 26.2 miles by feet, read 100 en vélo. Game on.