On the 30th April I did a big bike ride - the Tour de Manc 'Mad Manc'. I finished in 8:50:28 (moving time). 9:51:30 (elapsed time). But times don't really matter - it wasn't a race, and it was really more about the distance - 200km with >10,000ft of climbing.
I did the 100km in 2022 and impulsively signed up to do this on the basis of my doing a full distance Triathlon at the end of June and wanting to see if I can actually.. ya know.. do the distance.
I'd previously gone out with Luke to recce the route. I'd struggled because my rubbish Decathlon bike was/is a little bit borked (no small ring on the front - suboptimal). We did just over 100km. In keeping with the 'if you are going to do something, do it properly' adage I figured I'd upgrade the steed. Got a cracking deal, and it is by far and away my best luxury purchase of recent times.
I met up with Luke and Rachel for the ride. We started off together but relatively quickly got split up. Both Luke and Rachel have insane leg strength and they were pushing a pace that I couldn't keep (even with my shiny new bike) from about 20 miles in.
I bumped into another guy (who randomly happened to be a Chorlton Runner) who I cycled with for a while who very politely informed me "your friends are leaving you behind". Yeh, I know.
When we got to Werneth Low (a decent climb, a Strava segment, and the location of the events KOM/QOM) I was with Rachel. At some point (traffic lights?) I had caught her and so we embarked on the first (of many.. many..) somewhat significant climbs. About halfway up I heard Rachel quietly asking me for help. It took me a second to clock but I quickly discerned that you don't ask for help mid steep climb unless you really need it. I jumped off my bike, threw it in a bush, and caught Rachel as she toppled over - she'd had an unclipping issue ):
There was a rest stop at the top where I continued my nutrition plan which was essentially.. eat everything.. and anything.. all of the time. I was carrying gels and oat bars (in hindsight they were too crumbly), and had acidic concentration SIS energy drink in my bottle. At rest stops I topped up on bananas, coffee, and soreen. One of the stops had pasties, another sandwiches, and another had brownies and scones (that stop was great).
Luke is clearly the physically strongest cyclist so he disappeared into the distance. At some point Rachel dropped behind me. I met a few fun people along the way, but as soon as I got to the first turn off only for people doing the 'Mad Manc'.. it got a little lonely. Lonely enough that when there were large gaps between the direction signs I found myself getting more than a little worried that I'd gone off course. I recall at one point hitting close to 40mph on a descent and thinking to myself "if this isn't the right way, I'm not going back".
More hills. Ridiculous hills. Honestly it was kinda stupid. And doing it on your own. Persuading yourself not to walk it even when no-one is there watching. Its mentally tough. But thats kinda what I need - to continue to train the old mind to keep on going. Its events like this that make me realise that when I'm not fatigued my physical endurance mental game is absolutely on point.
At each of the rest stops I'd bump into Luke and for the most part we left them together. Luke checked in on Rachel via text but because the cutoff timings were so tight we had to keep going to have any chance of completing the event.
60 miles in Luke asked me how I was feeling, and similar to the marathon I just knew I was going to complete it. I knew that physically I had it. I was able to compare how I'd felt relative to our mini recce and knew that I was in a much better place physically. All the way round we were cutting the timings tight (with there being cutoffs) but.. well.. I wasn't too bothered about being an official finisher - I just wanted to get around. I would have finished on my own, in the dark if I'd had to.
I recall at one point getting to a hill that had a fucking hand rail. If a hill needs a hand rail.. just.. no. The best bit was that after going up it and doing a random loop you just joined back up with the course for the other distances. The organisers had just put it in for fun. Absolute joke.
Then it started raining. I got the rain jacket on at the perfect time and it stayed on for the rest of the event. It was windy, dark, dreary, and stoopid wet. Character building at its finest.
At one point (around 70 miles?) we passed a point where we went off for a large loop that was only for 'Mad Manc' participants - it was the metaphorical point of no return if you were considering switching to a shorter route. I recall him saying "we've got x hours to do 80km" and thinking "you're not even joking are you". These mega endurance events are weird - it hits differently when you do a really long ride.. and then have to do another.
At some point Luke got a flat. I caught up with him and 'offered to help' (note the inverted commas). Luke said he didn't need help unless I was an absolute wizz at changing tyres. I'm not even sure I can change a tyre. I am certainly no wizz. As mentioned previously.. the timings were super tight so I opted to continue on. And on.. and on. We had discussed these kinds of situations earlier.. so it's not quite as unreasonable as it sounds.
My back hurt, my feet hurt, and were now really wet (and cold). I did at one point consider changing socks (I had bought spares - I was over prepared) but opted not to premised on the thinking that if I stopped and took my socks off I'd never get the new ones on and I'd never start again. There was no-one else around (everyone I assume had sensibly opted for the shorter distances and was now sitting in front of a fire at home) but I kept on trudging on.
Eventually I got to a 5 miles to go sign. I knew I had time to do 5 miles under the cut off so I pushed on. Sadly it was 5 miles to go for ever route except the Mad Manc XD and when I got to the point where I recall turning off for the finish last year there was a sign that pointed me to continue on for 4 more miles of fun. Psychologically it was all good though. That 5 miles to go sign had got me through those 5 miles regardless of the reality of the additional 4. I knew I still had time and I carried on finishing 15 minutes under the cut off.
The finish line was a little less vibrant than I recall last year but that was likely on account of.. it raining.. and it being 5:30pm. There was a beer for finishers but annoyingly they had run out of the coffee. Boo !
Jumped in the car.. slowly.. ate some jelly babies.. drove home.. job done.
All in all a great day in the office. It's a super well organised event and everyone is really friendly. The roads are super well marked and the course is.. "sporting". I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. In fact.. I did. I mentioned to my friends Jamie and Liv that they should sign up and take part, and they did. They did the 50km and as I understand also loved it :) I think.. because they were done before it started raining.
That said doing events like this in these kinds of conditions makes me realise that rain and generally sporting conditions are the environment in which I thrive. As long as I'm out the door before it starts (or oblivious to it when I leave), I always seem to have great experiences. I think it's because humans are waterproof - there is something very cathartic and relaxing about knowing that you can't get more wet.
The event is all for charity which is super cool, and is very competitively priced. They also had lots of photographers on the course, and they have offered those photos out for free on Flickr.
Unfortunately there are 5,500 of them and they are not searchable :/ Fortunately I was reminded why I get paid the big bucks and quickly (it took me ~5 hours - almost certainly less time than it would have taken to scroll through all the photos) built a photo importer for Flickr as part of my Double Negative event photography product, and boom.. search by selfie and number functionality for all. I used the product to find the photos for this post. It continues to impress me how good it is.
If you or anyone else who did Tour de Manc want to find your photos more easily, check out the album: Tour de Manc 2023 photos.