The 2016 Bike Tour of Pembrokeshire, by Martin McCarthy

Once the pre-event nerves are out the way, we are off to the registration tent at the Crug Glas country house to collect our timing chip to stick to the bike helmet and our entry number (my is 1098) to strap to the handle bars.

We check our water bottles are full and that we have a few energy bars stuffed in our jersey pockets along with inner tubes, a few tools (just in case) and the very important mobile phone.  One last thing to check is the Garmin ride recording device so we can see how we got on at the end and keep a tally of the miles covered, heart rate, speed etc.

There are 1,600 riders all at different stages of readiness – many of the riders had not done an event before. People’s abilities range from novice to athlete but we all join in chatting, comparing bikes and wishing each other good luck. Finding out that you have travelled 250 miles to do the ride and find another group riders, who live just 15 miles from you in Oxfordshire, makes you feel that you are doing the right thing. There’s a great atmosphere which enthuses us to try our very best on the ride.

The pedaling starts for me at 7:40am on this bright sunny but chilly morning. We head through the start line where the marshal scans my timing chip and we’re off to a steady pace to get warmed up and taking in the scenery. As the quicker riders pass by they say “hi”. Most are not out to race – it’s all about your own goals. When you decide to pass by the slower riders you say “hi” or if you find someone at the same pace as you (and you can talk while on the flat) then it’s great to have a quick chat.

Up the hills is not so easy… breathing takes over as the priority. You find people that you previously passed might overtake you as they may be lighter and more able to climb faster. You’ll catch them up again on the flat or overtake on the downhill – weight wins always downhill! Downhill is always great fun – the reward for the hard work climbing.

After a long climb, a downhill stretch then an even longer climb across the Pembrokeshire countryside into the moors, we reach the first feed station. After 25 miles it is a welcome site and you do look forward to them. They give you a chance to fill your face full of the local produce, some foods are not ideal but it’s all part of the atmosphere.  All the food is free and there is plenty available including; veggie pasties, welsh cakes, jam sandwiches, faggots, bananas (cut in half to make it easy to squeeze out into the mouth if you’re in a hurry) and my favourite on this ride… hot boiled new potatoes, just awesome!  It’s also a great opportunity to have a chat with other riders to see how they are getting on as well as take a few pictures. Importantly you can re-fill your water bottles and then it’s off on the next leg of the ride.

We start off again knowing that it’s only 15 miles to the next feed station – a fact which seems a bit daft to me at the time.  It’s a nice ride up high above the rolling rugged countryside, taking it all in and loving the ride down a nice long hill into the valley. I’m touching 40 mph at this point and using the brakes for the bends.  Then it becomes clear why the feed station is only 15 miles up the road… we are at the bottom of a wall with whites lines down the middle.  Actually it’s a VERY STEEP road!

Many riders jumped off the bike and pushed but it’s at this point that I remember what Martin King tells me… “don’t give up so soon”. It’s amazing what you can do when you really put your mind to it. So the bike is in the lowest gear and I simply push the pedals one turn at a time. I found that focusing on my front wheel and watching it turn round and round helped rather than watching the rider in front. The locals were standing at the roadside cheering us on or in their gardens waving to help you up the hill.

The last two stages of the ride, were just as difficult yet the fantastic scenery and great atmosphere continued. There was even a band playing at the last feed station. When you see the finish gate ahead it give you a real boost. There were plenty of people lining the final approach – most of them supporting their family members and friends who were riding however every person who crosses the finish line was clapped.

I jump of the bike and grab my finisher’s medal and free drink. A quick change into shorts and t.shirt before the hunger kicks in.  Next it’s off to the food tent to use the food token which was part of the entry ticket. Waiting in the short queue means more time to chat with other riders and find out what they thought about the ride.  Then a hot pork and stuffing roll with apple sauce and a cuppa… just the ticket before the journey home.

The ride was 72.5 miles with 7,300ft of climbing up various gradients ranging from flat to 25% (1:4). It is a big social event which I would highly recommend.  This was a training ride for me as I am going to do the Coast to Coast in late June – covering 150 miles and 11000ft in one day.  Much more training is on the agenda for that ride. That’ll be for charity The Parasol Project Oxford.

Fitness is not about being better than someone else…  IT IS ABOUT BEING BETTER THAN YOU USED TO BE.
— Martin King, Personal Trainer