The North Race - 4th May 2024

The North Race - 4th May 2024

What’s more foolish, attempting to ride a bike as far north as possible in 24 hours, or trying to write an engaging blog post about it? I know which scares me more! When the guys at Restrap asked if I could put some words to the feelings I experienced during The North Race, I said “sure, I could give that a go”. I work full time as an Engineer, creative writing isn’t part of my skillset, meticulous planning is though, which is a nice segue into where this challenge really began for me, the prep.

With the aim to reach as far north as possible by latitude, I knew 350 was the number to beat. 350km due north of Restrap, Leeds, set as a benchmark by Josh Reid a month earlier. The route I had planned took me across the Dales, though Cumbria, the Scottish Borders, skirting Edinburgh and into the Cairngorms. It would take approximately 470km of riding to hit the required latitude and with more elevation gain than some route options, I would have to keep the chain tight on the hills if I were to stand a chance of setting a new record. I planned to stop for supplies twice, max. Three gruelling 8 hour stints. No faffing, no respite.

As I left my budget hotel on a damp but relatively mild spring Saturday morning, the realisation of the distance I would have to cover that day dawned on me. I’d had a predictably restless sleep, replaying countless scenarios and ‘what ifs’ in my head. I was quietly confident though, uncharacteristically optimistic. I’d checked the weather as soon as I woke up, a cross-taily for the majority of the ride, albeit a weak one so not much in the way of wind assist. The rain didn’t look too bad either considering what had previously been forecast. I knew that if everything went to plan I could do it, I should do it.

From one industrial estate in a south east corner of central Leeds, to another in the north west, I set off from the Restrap factory with only a moments pause to take a picture of my bike under the Restrap sign, and most importantly to restart the Wahoo. We were underway, and the traffic lights were seemingly on my side! Before I knew it I was descending the Chevin into Otley – a gatehouse to the Dales and the start of the drizzle.

After a short section of headwind-mizzle combo, for which I was glad of rewaxing my Perfetto jacket the day before, I began the ascent of a foggy Fleet Moss – Yorkshire’s highest paved through road. As I topped it’s peak, emerging from the mist was a scattering of struggling sportive riders oblivious to the feat I was undertaking. I smiled, more to myself than to them. Ploughing on through Hawes, Kirby Stephen, and Penrith, the weather cleared, things were looking up. I had made it to Carlisle with only 8 minutes of paused time, leaving it with 20 dead. 12 minutes spent scranning a Co-op sandwich and filling my bottles.

Ahead of schedule, I continued in the flatlands. Immediately on crossing the border at Gretna the deluge started, and it didn’t let up. Welcome to Scotland. It was climbing ‘Devils Beef Tub’ from Moffat I started questioning my life choices. Over 10 hours in I could no longer hold my 200 Watt average. I was going at a snails’ pace, I couldn’t see for more than ten meters in front of me, and my feet were soaked. Something I hadn’t learnt from finishing The Transcontinental Race last summer – why hadn’t I packed overshoes!
Upon summiting, my only aim was to get down the other side as quickly as possible without freezing to death. With a gap in the intensity of downpour, I pulled onto the side of the road to attempt to change my saturated base layer for a dry one – easier said than done with hands frozen like claws. 20 minutes of paused time gone right there, I told myself it was ok, I had time in the bank.

With the light fading I reached the suburbs of Edinburgh. I just had to negotiate the Saturday night taxi traffic before I could cross the Forth Bridge. Stopping at a service station for my second resupply, the guy serving me must have questioned what on earth I was doing buying 5 litres of water and half a kilo of Haribo at midnight. I was used to the strange looks by now. Kinross, Perth, Blairgowrie and Rattray (?), I was in new territory and the Cairngorms were looming. Had I underestimated them?

Yes. With less than 90 minutes paused and pacing ahead of schedule, I still had 9 hours of the 24 remaining. I was confident I could get to Braemar, the minimum latitude I required, but what state would I be in when I got there? I resisted the urge to take a nap in a bus shelter, instead taking more frequent shorter stops to ease the pain coming from my knees and my neck. The night was dark (obviously), my lights were powerful (they are Exposure); shining my headtorch into adjacent fields, the eyes of deer and sheep reflecting the light back at me as if they were watching and judging my waning speed. My average had dropped from 26.5kph to below 25 and I still had the climb up to Glenshee to go – the highest road pass in the UK – I winced at the thought of wrestling my battered body up it’s steep slopes.

After what felt like an eternity, I reached Glenshee Ski Centre. With the sky starting to get light and a long descent into Braemar before me, all was good in the world. Except it wasn’t, I had three hours left of the challenge and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball. Time to push the record out as far as I could, time to see what I was really made of. With the first sight of clear blue sky and with the added motivation of knowing I had smashed Josh’s benchmark, I stomped up the next couple of climbs, any previous thoughts of cruising down the valley east to Aberdeen dissipated.
The last hour of rolling terrain was beyond torture, watching my timer creep up agonisingly slowly, I was convinced it would never tick over to 24h. But it eventually did, the total ride distance clocking in at 546km (394km due north of Leeds). A job well done, I unclipped and collapsed onto the nearest inviting grass verge, completely spent.

As I crawled a final 11km to the nearest train station, I reminded myself that this had only supposed to be a training ride. With All Points North and The Pan Celtic Race later on in the year, I had big targets still to come. For now, my reward, an ASDA café full Scottish breakfast… and £500 to spend on whatever I like from Restrap ain't too bad either I suppose!


Words and photos by Dan Vipond
Read more about The North Race