When December arrives, it's not the Coca Cola advert cyclists are eagerly waiting for. It's the Festive500 challenge finally appearing on Strava. Every year since 2010, Rapha has challenged cyclists all over the world to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
Along with 70,000 other riders, I signed up.
Riding 500km provides a novel amount of headspace, so during the six days I documented thoughts from the roads.
Below are those diary extracts.
24th: The wind and the wirrals
1. Wind is like the mind. It cannot be seen, but it can be powerful or ultimately destructive.
2. Riding by yourself is good meditation at xmas. Giving you the headspace to make you a better person when you are back with loved ones.
3. Dog walkers who hold their dogs as you ride past are unsung heroes.
Lows: Cross winds are shit. Knees are aching. Arms are sore from the tight grip to avoid being blown into the road.
Highs: The power of a collective effort. Other people taking part in F500 accelerates the possibility of achieving. Breaking the 400km is good for the head. Roads I’ve never ridden before - looking at things with new eyes, just like children do.
25th: The santa dash
1. Every ride has a start, a middle and an end. Whether that’s 30km or 110km, that emotional journey is the same.
2. Don’t rush a bike ride. Just like anything in life - it never works. You miss the enjoyment.
3. Get out on xmas morning. It expands your world view before, quite rightly, focusing on your precious few.
Lows: Knees. Head wind. Hunger from the day before setting in - soon to be sorted with Christmas roast.
Highs: Driving past houses seeing the excitement and energy of xmas morning. The value added from progression - seeing the km’s clock down is incredibly fulfilling.
26th: The four seasons
1. When you ride a km, you’ve done it. It can’t be taken away. That’s why it feels so fulfilling and simple. Every km is an achievement which can’t be undone.
2. The importance of post ride routine. The thought of my jumper, birkenstocks and food is enough to keep me going.
3. Riding solo means you have to constantly find ways to change your emotions. Riding past sheep and shouting ‘oh hey gurl’ at them was one success story.
Lows: Riding against cross winds is scary. At 5km in, I was tempted to turn around and go home.
Highs: Seeing the sunrise. Walking over to the sheep and seeing them staring at me as if they were interested in what I was up to. Still managing 70km even though the weather was horrific. The chocolate avocado.
27th: The Wirral tour with Helen
1. People say it takes 21 days to form a pattern. After four, I’ve created one. Getting up, preparing and riding is now a routine I’ll be sad to say bye to.
2. The power of people. Today was the first ride with another human - 108km is much more enjoyable whilst listening to Helen’s stories and being energised by each others energy. You’re not only lifting km’s, you’re lifting spirits.
3. I learnt that Helen rode Rapha Manchester to London whilst breast feeding at every food stop. What an incredible woman.
Lows: The wind had turned to cold. Lost all feeling in left hand. Our favourite cafe being closed.
Highs: The flat white. Sharing our experiences from Rapha Manchester to London. Enjoying home made flapjacks together.
28th: Liverpool to Manchester off-road
1. Explore your city at different times of the day - you'll be surprised what you learn. After five days, I feel like I know more about the world.
2. The sunrise. We’ve seen it many times in our lifetime but it never loses its magic. Riding reminds us to appreciate the small pleasures.
3. The energy from other people. A small nod, wave and eye contact from other riders reminds me of the energy we generate between each other. Together stronger, even when complete strangers.
Lows: Didn’t sleep well. Ice. All off-road. 70km of being scared and going 17km average. Hated 90% of it. Emotionally drained. It was like a cyclocross race that never seemed to end. The moment you are not even half way through and you’re already cooked. Too cold to drink, eat or stop for coffee.
Highs: The red sunrise. Finish line meeting my sister and mum. Getting through my fears and sitting down with a celebratory halloumi omelette. Showering and putting on my birkenstocks.
29th: The Windsor winner
1. This too shall pass. Whether you’re having a great ride or a tough one, it will finish. Pain doesn’t last forever, nor do climbs or solo miles. Push through. You’ll get to the other side eventually and be a better person for it.
2. The pendulum rhythm of pedalling teaches us a lot. It reminds me to be considered and consistent. Whether that’s riding, talking or working, be considered and consistent.
3. I should have chosen the cinnamon toast not the brown toast.
Lows: Losing feeling in hands and feet. Sorting Plum’s puncture for over 30 minutes - thinking we wouldn’t have time to ride back.
Highs: Seeing Richmond frosted over. Enjoying a hot cup of tea and toast at the half way point. Picking up a rhythm and pace on the way back. Feeling warmth as the sun came out. Exchanging stories about our travels. Knowing I’d finished 500kms.