It seemed a good idea at the time... - by David Steele

Monday 16th May 2011
Entries close tomorrow. Can I find the courage to post my form off?  Or, with two of my mates already entered, can I find the courage not to?

The Anfield ‘100’ is the oldest cycle race in the country, and possibly in the world.  Promoted each year on the roads of Cheshire and Shropshire it was first held in 1889.  At my age will I have any more opportunities?  I gather my resolve, complete the entry form, pop it in an envelope with a cheque for £10 and drop it into the post box at the end of the road.

Tuesday 24th May 2011
My start sheet arrives. I scan down the list of riders. I’m there…David Steele, Lyme Racing Club, Age 71, Start time 6.13am. Displayed on the front cover is a grainy photograph of a Ben Orrell, on the start line of the 1930 event. He wears what looks like a casual jacket, while the timekeeper is smartly dressed with collar and tie. I recall my father clad in similar attire when tending to our front garden.  Times have changed.

Apprehensively I check that John and Kenny’s names are on the list. They are. John is off 15 minutes behind me at 6.28am and Kenny at 7.08am. So they have kept their word and both entered, which in some ways is a relief. At least now we shall be able to share accounts of our sufferings after the event.

Spring Bank Holiday Monday 30th May 2011
At 3.45am the alarm clock jolts me out of my peace. I ease myself out of bed, part the curtains and survey the heavens. Even in the limited light of early dawn the clouds look threatening. A quick glance at the thermometer shows 43F, uncomfortably cold for the time of year.  Everything had been prepared the previous evening. A bowl of porridge followed by toast and a mug of tea soon disappear. A bag containing spare clothes and towel, together with bananas, squeegee packs of energy-gel to carry in my racing vest pockets and bottles of Lucozade were placed by the front door so my vital requirements wouldn’t be left behind.

John has promised to collect me at 4.45am for the drive out to Shawbury. My cat’s ears twitch as she detects the crunching of grit on the driveway. I knew John wouldn’t let me down as he has prepared well for the event and this could be his moment of glory. We make good time to the race H.Q. but the blobs of rain on the windscreen become larger and closer, but fail to prepare us for what lies ahead. 

We step out of the warmth of John’s plush vehicle, gather our bikes from the rear and enter the H.Q.  The place is awash with activity. I sign the declaration form, and a pretty lady gives me my 13 race number. Someone mentions that riders off number 13 are allowed to pin their number on upside down.  I’d never heard of that before so I don’t bother. A quick cup of tea, an even quicker visit to the toilet, then I shake hands with John and Kenny, wish them good luck, and set off on the three mile ride to the start.

In the pouring rain it seems a long three miles. But eventually I see a cluster of people in a lay-by. A few of them are riders due off before me, together with the timekeeper, other officials of the Anfield Bicycle Club and a gentleman holding a large black umbrella dutifully sheltering each rider as he or she is held up on the start line. Rider number 12 is sent on his way. The timekeeper studies his watch. I ‘scoot’ to the start-line where a gentleman grips my bike to hold me upright. I ‘click’ my racing shoe cleats into the pedals.  One minute…thirty seconds… fifteen seconds…ten seconds…five seconds…I start my computer… four…three…two…one… go…best of luck. And I’m off.

The route is quite straightforward. A 32 mile stretch to Whitchurch roundabout and return to Shawbury. Then four 17 mile circuits through Crudgington and Hodnet, back to Shawbury to complete the 100 miles. I reach the turn at Whitchurch and glance at my watch. John started 15 minutes after me, so if I ride back for 7 minutes and 30 seconds before we ‘cross’ we shall be level on race time. At precisely that time John rides past going in the opposite direction.  He shouts across to me, he looks good, appears cheerful and more worryingly, sounds confident.  John is a successful businessman and devoted husband, father and grandfather. To catch me in a time trial is perhaps his last remaining ambition. He will have prepared beforehand what to shout when he catches me.  And it looks as if the opportunity might have arrived.

The rain and cold continue. I reach Shawbury, and, managing to resist the lure of the H.Q., turn left, to start the first of the four laps. My clothes are now becoming sodden, the cold creeping into my bones. I fumble around in one of my vest pockets, and somehow, with fingers resembling icicles, manage to grasp a banana, strip off the skin with my teeth and quickly swallow the contents before they break off and provide a meal for hungry ravens. Then follows an energy-gel rinsed down with gulps of Lucozade. Food provides calories. Calories provide warmth. I continue in slightly better spirits and eventually complete the first lap. 

I repeat the food and drink regime on my second lap, but the rain continues and the roads are becoming flooded. And I feel that my efforts to keep warm are slowly being eroded.

The third of the 17 mile laps has arrived. Within a few miles I begin to feel that my entire being is succumbing to the cold. My mind is becoming rather disorientated and I begin to fear the onset of hypothermia. I wonder whether I could stop at one of the isolated farmhouses and ask if the owner would offer warmth. Then I recall that a race marshal is situated at the junction at Crudgington just a mile or so further down the road. I reach him and ask if he could somehow take a flimsy lightweight jacket from one of my vest pockets. My clothes are clinging together, but he manages to extract it in one piece. He opens it out, threads my shaking arms through the sleeves, and zips it closed, and helps me back on my bike. I thank him, but not as warmly as I should. My legs still feel quite strong and in a few miles I detect some semblance of warmth. The jacket has now obscured my race number, I must shout it out to any marshal that I see.

My fourth and final lap has arrived. It gives comfort to know that each yard that I cover is for the last time. The rain still falls, the floods are deeper and more frequent, but neither John nor Kenny have caught me and without mechanical problems I feel more confident that I can finish.

Approaching Shawbury I see the chequered flag in the distance. I shout my number out to the timekeeper and press the ‘stop’ button on my computer. I wipe away the raindrops, and it indicates 101 miles. Obviously I must not have calibrated it quite correctly beforehand.

Just a few hundred yards and I am back in the warmth of the H.Q. And guess who meet me at the doorway?  John and Kenny had both failed to finish, calling it a day, numb with cold at the end of the first lap. They congratulate me, help me to a chair, where John kindly wraps a woollen shawl round me and Kenny fetches cups of hot sweet tea.

We stay and watch the prize presentation. The winner, Andy Bason had covered the hundred miles in 3 hours, 41 minutes, 7 seconds and there is generous applause as he receives the £200 prize. No awards for me, I have to be content with the knowledge that I managed to finish when so many others had failed.

But then a few days later a lovely surprise. I receive a letter in the post enclosing the result brochure and a cheque for £30 for being the faster rider in the event for riders over 70 years of age. I’m sure John and Kenny will be absolutely delighted when I let them know!

David Steele 

Lyme Racing Club