14 September 2015, St Albans Cathedral. Or Abbey, if you insist.
People keep asking if I’m fully recovered from my ride.
Yes. Yes, I am.
Sponsorship page is still open though, so if you were planning to donate, here’s that all-important link again:
I did it.
It was hard work.
I still ache.
I feel elated to have succeeded .
But I don’t fancy sitting on anything resembling a saddle for a while.
Having done most of the route on two wheels just before setting off on my unicycle, I was seriously daunted and genuinely doubtful as to whether I manage this. I’d not exactly trained much. Sure enough, it took a good while before I felt I was in the swing of it, and within just the first mile or so my thighs started burning (a rare sensation for me, being so unfamiliar with sustained physical exercise). There were couple of sections that were Really Hard Work.
The last section, after our lunch/picnic stop, was genuinely difficult as one of my shins was giving me pain on top of the thigh burn that I’d managed to get used to, but I was elated to finish cross the finish line after nearly three hours with an average riding speed of 5.5mph.
Well, that was an experience. A good one, but boy was it hard going. Did I overestimate what I could achieve? Did I underestimate how much training and practice I needed. Maybe.
The day started with a 12.6 mile ride on my bicycle, accompanying those plucky children who’d opted for the full marathon distance. All the way round I was eyeing up the terrain and thinking about what it would be like next time round when I was due to be on one wheel. I’d forgotten just how much of the Greenway was slightly gravelly bridle path – a dry, dusty surface coated with fine grit, and in places rutted. My road bike, with its thin, hard tyres, was utterly inappropriate and constantly felt like it was going to skid out from under me, which I guess didn’t give me the best confidence for what was ahead. But that leg of the journey, four children and three adults, generally sticking together was a nice way to warm up.
And then to the main event…
Switching from one ride to another
There were 19 children doing the Greenway Challenge, together with adults to accompany them, so we were quite a crowd setting off. Knowing where to place myself among the group proved was a bit awkward, when the first part of the route is a fairly narrow pavement alongside a busy road. That didn’t make for a confident start, but once the group started to spread out, and the paths got broader I began to settle in to the rhythm. Soon enough, the pavements gave way to beautiful bridal paths in glorious countryside, and it was a delight to be out there. I was able to stay with the slowest ‘pack’ of riders comfortable for a while, we had a brief stop for water at about the two mile mark.
Admiring the views at my first water stop.
I set off first from here, and much to my surprise the trailing pack didn’t catch up (they did have the youngest riders with them) so for long chunks of the route I was pretty much on my own, which is actually rather nice. As for the terrain, my unicycle was actually much, much better suited than my bike. I have a mountain-bike sized wheel, with a fairly chunky tyre, and you don’t have unicycle tyres inflated nearly so hight pressure as a bike, so I gripped the gravel paths with aplomb and actually felt much safer than I had on two wheels.
Reaching the first official refreshment stop ahead of that trailing group was a confidence boost, and I set off on my second section beginning to be a little more confident I could perhaps actually do this thing.
First official refreshments stop! And I wasn’t last to arrive!
Once again I was mostly on my own, and it was here that I began to feel just how much my thighs were beginning to ache. I’ve described it as ‘burning’, and people familiar with exercise tells me that’s the lactic acid building up in the muscles. Or something. It really is very, very, unusual for me to work my muscles for any length of time with no respite, so it’s a feeling I’m entirely unfamiliar with. There were other areas that were being to feel the pressure, too. I’ll not mention where, but I think it’s safe to say they’re probably just where you’d expect them to be. For a while I began to take more frequent stops for water, but started to worry about how slow I was going to be, and how long I could keep this up. To take my mind off the pain I began going over the lines and songs for the show I was performing in that very evening. (Yes, really.)
I also whipped out my phone and recorded this, just to prove that I really was doing it.
Thankfully, I did kept it up. Once again I wasn’t last to arrive at the second refreshment stop, but the short route between there and the lunch stop was the part that felt the longest. Riding completely alone once again, I kept thinking the next stop was just round the next corner, but no, there always seemed to be another stretch, and another corner. Finally coming to the point where I could see the children playing in the park was a welcome site, and riding all the way across the field to the picnic area felt a bit like a triumphant entry. The assembled adults were amazed to see that I wasn’t last. I was also amazed.
Another little rest for a drink. At this point, I noticed I’d forgotten to restart my GPS tracker after a refreshment stop.
The lunch stop was little longer than the others, so getting back on the unicycle for the final four-mile stretch was a real pain in the… um.. well, I said I wasn’t gong to mention that bit. A new problem presented itself here, too: about half way round I’d had a minor tumble (despite having told everyone that you ‘always’ land on your feet when you bail out of a difficult moment, I managed once to land on my hands and a knee, and grazed my knee). It hadn’t given me any bother till now, but setting off on that final leg I realised I had some new pain right down into my shin, and I know realise I must have twisted my knee a little in that bump. Above all else, that made the last section feel long and difficult, and I seriously doubted whether I’d make it. And then, to cap it all, I took a wrong turn, which meant that having been just behind the leading group for the last section, by the time I back-tracked and found my place again, I was right back with the last ones. For the last mile and a half, it was nice to have some company, and when I rounded the final corner they let me go on to pass the finish line.
Yes, I actually did it. (Photo: Charles Hartshorne.)
It was finished.
I was seriously aching, and limping a bit. But I had done it. And I was delighted.
Now for the stats:. Officially the Garden City Greenway is 13.6 miles. And I rode it from start to finish. So that’s what I’m claiming: 13.6 miles, mostly off-road, on a unicycle.
I had a GPS tracker attached to my frame which tells a slightly different story. My GPS actually recorded 12.09 miles. BUT, I did forget to turn it back on after one of the refreshment stops. Do’h! Mind you, it did also record my detour, which I’d have thought might make it back up to the right distance. Who knows. Damn technology. I rode 13.6 miles, okay! Plus a detour!
The GPS log. Note (a) the straight line top right, where I forgot to turn it back on so the software has just joined up the gap and (b) the little sticky-out bit top right, where I missed a turn. Idiot!
The all-unimportant stats.
I can’t leave this report without mentioned the children though. Yes, I may have claimed the limelight somewhat with getting some press coverage for us, and I may have done something a bit quirky and different, but don’t forget this ride is really for children, and there were 19 young children, some as young as five, who rode this 13.6 mile route, and four of them, aged just nine and ten, who rode a whole marathon distance of 26.2 miles.
They deserve some sponsorship, too.
…will have to wait. Drafted something earlier, but have been out all evening performing with a local village drama society and am just home.
I know you’re all dying to hear how it all went. You’ll have to wait.
This far. On one wheel.
I’ll try to post updates as I progress. (Via instagram, so they won’t appear here. Find me there or on twitter.)
Sponsorship here: https://www.justgiving.com/ainsworth2016