The South Downs Way (SDW) is a 100 mile/160 km long-distance off road National Trail which runs the entire length of the South Downs National Park. It can be ridden on a mountain bike along its entire length running between Winchester, the Saxon capital of England, and the white cliffs of Eastbourne.
With a total of 3,800 metres, or 12,600ft of ascent, it normally takes 2–4 days to ride.
So...Marc, the beast that he is, decided to have a crack at cycling the entire route in just one day! Crazy, right? Here's how he got on.
Marc has done a few centuries in his time, and even one double century, but he had never cycled further than 30 miles on a mountain bike before. This ride required a little planning.
A day in September affords you about 12 hours of sunlight, rising at just after 7am and setting just after 7pm. The earliest train he could get got him to Winchester at 7.30am and he'd have 11.5 to chase the sun before it set. Take away an hour for lunch (even machines need a rest) and other stops and that meant riding at an average of 15km/h. He thought that he should be able to do that!
Marc started with 3 litres of water but ran out after 90km, there are water taps along the way but they can be hard to find.
All praise Soreen! Remember to take lots of food with you. Marc took pistachios, bananas, Tribe bars, Soreen and three wraps and he still ran out of food.
Starting in the Saxon capital of England , Winchester, Beeline led him past the statue of King Alfred and straight on to the cycle path leading to the official start of the SDW.
Arriving while most Wintonians were probably still enjoying a good Saturday lie-in, Marc found a very quiet city, but the wildlife was up and about! Cycling through the city, Marc passed a heron standing stock-still beside a small stream looking for breakfast, and some bats heading home after a night's work. A short hop over an empty M3 and he had hit the trail.
Leaving Winchester also marked the start of the first gradual ascent of the day. As Marc climbed he began to realise the gravity (or insanity) of the challenge he’d set himself - the gradient was steep and this was one of the easiest climbs! At the top he stopped worrying and took in the view. The sun was rising, illuminating the surrounding countryside, and there was not a soul in sight. Just Marc and his bike...how bad could it be? Mind over matter.
Up and down, winding along the path, Marc intrigued deer and dodged pheasants over the undulating terrain. Cresting each hill gifted him with a view that gave him the motivation to keep going and tackle the next one.
Marc took an early lunch just before QECP. At 40km in, the park marks a quarter of the way and a good milestone. Marc was feeling good and confident that he could make it to Eastbourne for 7pm.
Marc has spend many hours blazing the mountain bike trails at QECP and the thought of turning off the trail for a lap around the park crossed his mind. He was feeling fresh and was ahead of schedule. Why not nip around? Fortunately that idea was fleeting, sanity prevailed, and Marc remembered just how many miles still lay ahead of him. He forged onwards.
The trail wasn't overly busy, save some curious cows, good number of butterflies, an owl, and walkers...long story short, Marc would take a bell if he does the route again!
Each hill ground into his legs, but Marc found a good rhythm and was motivated by the fact he’d be able to race down the descent on the other side. He thought he’d try and take a picture down one gradual descent, taking his hands of the bars he hit a rock and toppled over hitting the ground hard.
Luckily he only had a few cuts and no injuries, but he lay on the floor for a while realising if he’d seriously hurt himself it’d be a long time before help would arrive. Fortunately he didn't hurt himself too badly - and still had the presence of mind for a post-crash selfie! He is unflappable.
Remember to ride safe.
Shortly after seeing the wind turbines off the Brighton coast, Marc merged with the British Heart Foundation’s London to Brighton event. They were nearly finished and he was jealous! He started chatting to a guy who’d done the SDW over 2 days and he gave Marc encouragement to make it to Eastbourne. Could Marc get it done?
Climbing up to Ditchling Beacon really hurt, until this point he hadn’t needed to stop on any of the hills but now his legs were screaming and his heart was pounding. His arm was hurting from where he’d crashed and he’d fallen behind schedule. He’d kept a 15.5km/h average but he’d stopped more than he had planned. He had 40km (25 miles) to go and 3 hours to do it before daylight was gone.
He’d also depleted most of his food and the thought of eating fish 'n' chips in Brighton crept into his mind. The wandering thought became a waterfall, temptation overtook him, and Marc sat on the hill for a while and texted Chet - our CTO who has recently moved down to Brighton. Does he continue and suffer, or ride down to Brighton and finish on a high?
A younger Marc would have continued on, suffering to the end just to say he’d done it, but the older, wiser, Marc knows that’s not the reason to do these things. It’s about enjoying it, and by continuing he risked ruining what had been a great day.
To Brighton it was, and Marc met with Chet to triumphantly guzzle down a well earned fish 'n' chips...and plan the next (2-day) attempt at the South Downs Way. Watch this space...