At 4am on the 21st June, 126 hardy cyclists quietly assembled in Castle Square, Caernafon for the Chain Reaction Cycles Etape Xtrem. The start was a muted affair; greetings murmured in the pre-dawn light, a quick race briefing and off we headed. The task was simple…. to ride all 3 of the Always Aim High Etape Eyri routes in 18 hours; a total of 226miles and 3878m.
For me, the event was a crucial benchmark in my preparation for the Race Around Ireland in August; a long day in the saddle approaching the daily distance I’ll need to ride in Ireland across similar terrain and with the similar weather (i.e. windy with rain likely!)
A string of rear lights made for a pretty picture as we headed alongside the Menai Straits and into Snowdonia, off to deal with the first climb of the day – Drws y Coed – which was to feature on each of the routes. Hard enough to stretch the legs and with a cheeky kick at the top, it then dropped down a very technical descent before levelling off for a fast ride to the Beddgelert. Luckily, my climbing legs had made the trip and I felt that I climbed well all day, even as the fatigue set in. At Capel Curig we faced our second big test – a long slog to LLanberis up Pen-y-Pass into a headwind that sapped average speed as well as both physical and mental strength. It was just a case of gutting it out, knowing that it would eventually end (and blocking out the fact that we had to go up it 3 times!)
The remaining miles passed by quickly with one last steep climb before we returned to Castle Square and headed out for the Mawr loop. As we crested the summit of Drws Y Coed for the second time, we were greeted by the unwelcome sight of an assortment of ambulances and police as sadly a rider had hit a car on the descent. With slightly heavy hearts, we did a bit of cyclocross – climbing a fence, walking across a field and along a track to remount a few hundred meters further down the road. I hope the cyclist concerned is recovering; it can be a dangerous sport and was a reminder for us all to take care.
After the climb out of Beddgelert to Ffestiniog, the Mawr took us out to Pentrefoelas. Whilst not mountainous, this section was undulating and into an unforgiving headwind. My legs were still feeling strong at this point but I was starting to get stomach cramps, due I think to eating too late the evening before such an early start. The tone was set for the rest of the day and my average speed dropped as the number of loo stops increased! Thankfully the sun came out as I headed up Pen-y-Pass for the second time which made it a little less bleak and I made it back to the Castle well inside the cut-off time.
With a decidedly unhappy digestive system, I headed out for an uncomfortable trip around the Bach loop. All hopes of a decent time gone, I settled into a rhythm to just get the job done. As I headed up Pen-y-Pass for the last time, I received word that I was now the only female in the Xtrem. Determined to do one for the ladies, I plugged on with lots of encouragement from the marshalls. I was caught up by the last male rider and we kept each other company for the closing miles. The sun had come out, the wind had dropped and on the longest day of the year it was a beautiful evening as we crossed the finish line. The marshalls and spectators were lovely and armed with a Finishers T-shirt that actually fits, a cup of hot sweet tea and a restorative chocolate digestive, I took a moment to savour being the only woman to finish, and one of only 78 finishers overall. It was a long, hard day but a great event and as expected, I learnt some useful lessons for Ireland (less broccoli the night before being one of them!) but also came away confident that I’m heading in the right direction.
A huge thank you to my parents for coming all the way to Snowdonia to support me and sort my drinks and nutrition out. Thanks to AAH for putting on such a fantastic event with such a friendly bunch of marshalls and in such a stunning setting. Last but not least, a big thank you to Torq for their sponsorship.