In May 2015 twenty five Fitmums & Friends set off on The Hull to Oxford Ride (THOR). It was a 240 mile journey over 3 days to raise funds for the Brain Tumour Charity. The Brain Tumour Charity is the UK’s largest dedicated brain tumour charity, committed to fighting brain tumours on all fronts and was the chosen charity by Fitmums members for this particular challenge.
Here follows the THOR Blog
THOR - Day 1
Lincoln Sam's friend Jayne - who took group past Cathedral & Castle in Lincoln. (and a proper toilet)
It all started around 8:30am when the 25 cyclists started to gather at Cottingham Sports Centre. The Joy of Coffee (mobile Barista) supplied refreshments as many gathered to see the official start to the three day cycle and culmination of the winters training come to fruition. With the supplies and bags plus spare bike parts all loaded into the two support vans, the Fitmums & Friends THOR team were ready for off.
The group started together before splitting into three groups from the Humber Bridge to allow those with different cycling experience and ability to feel comfortable with the pace. However, without even getting to the Humber Bridge, Dave Sunman had a puncture. On the south bank of the Bridge the support team - Debbie, Katy & Lucas, were waiting with cameras to capture the infamous backdrop associated with Kingston upon Hull and the surrounding area. They then followed the cyclists, who took the National cycle routes for most of the day across Lincolnshire to Nottinghamshire. Sustran, who maintain these routes, are to be praised with the signposting and enjoyment of the route -which featured some forests and tracks and not too many hills. Stuart, who plotted the routes, was pleased with the result - although it didn't stop any wrong turns occurring.
As the route headed towards Humberside Airport, an encouraging sign of support had appeared mysteriously on one of the lanes. The first stop was at Great Limbar, where a handy field served as a toilet and refreshments were enjoyed from the support vans. Dave also needed another inner tube having suffered a second puncture on an off road section. Refuelled, the groups head off in 5-10 minute intervals, with lunch to look forward to.
The route remained scenic down through small villages and lanes to the Walesby Forest, just outside Market Rasen. On route, Nicky was unfortunate to have a fall, but was unperturbed with apparently more concern at Lucas being on top of one of the vans taking pictures as the groups went down into a dip and then ascended up the other side.
Lunch was enjoyed in Walesby Forest before heading through Market Rasen and on to Lincoln. The second group took a wrong turn and the support team lost track of them (and actually though the first group were missing!). In Lincoln, Jayne, a friend of Sam's, gave a brief cycling tour of Lincoln's major sites - the Cathedral & Castle - as well as offering proper toilet facilities. Elsewhere on route, Vicky stopped traffic as it seemed she was being chatted up (an enquiry about what they were up to) - believed to be her award winning "rear of the year" drawing attention.
From Lincoln, the groups headed towards Skellingthorpe, where Dave's misfortune continued with a third puncture - this time to his tyre. The support team had already made it to Collingham so a delay ensued as one of the van's drove back - slowed by juggernauts taking the back lanes due to the A46 being closed. Once the new tyre was fitted, Team THOR continued on - though with a few near misses as they too battered the diverted traffic. Having rejoined as a big group, it was realised the smaller groups served many purposes, one being to help the flow of vehicles trying to pass 25 cyclists on narrow roads. That said, many drivers were very courteous and supportive.
Not everyone begrudged Dave's unplanned extra stops, with Judi appreciating them as she was battling injury and the extra stops enabled her to cycle the whole day. The weather remained bright, but could get a bit cold at times and despite it being May, it could become cold if stopped too long. The dilemmas of group support and cycling as a team alongside keeping everyone motivated, comfortable and safe. No one ever said it would be an easy challenge and day one certainly through up a few. But the THOR team made it to Newark, 82 miles covered - which for many of the group was more than they'd ever cycled before. Mark succinctly summed the day up "It's been good" - further enlightened with "Delightful" summarising the evening meal at the restaurant in Newark.
Donations had been made long the day and "it's never too late to donate" to quote Wayne. Pledges in aid of the Brain Tumour Charity can be made at: https://www.justgiving.com/Fitmums-THOR This is, after all, the reason why 25 of us are completing this challenge. But, just as extra encouragement, think of being shoeless in Newark. Poor Vernon felt unable to leave his room after showering when he discovered he had no shoes in his room (only his cycle ones). However, support team's Katy came to the rescue when she retrieved his missing footwear from the van - thus enabling him to join everyone for evening food.
Day one complete - what will day two bring? Tune in tomorrow to find out!
A THORN in THOR's tyres - Day 2
After a good night's sleep and a full hearty breakfast, team THOR were ready for off on day 2 of the cycle. With a few adjustments to bikes and muscles stretched the three groups set off in 5 minute intervals from Newark on Trent, bound towards Northampton using much of the Sustran cycle network routes again. This took them onto an old railway line early on and gave them a good quick start. The support vans made it to near Elson for pictures as a steady pace continued with the renewed vigour of the team.
That said, punctures of mechanical issues began to creep in before the first stop, despite all the checks made. Nicky had battle with gearing issues since her fall the previous day and by Bottesford called on the support team in order to get the bike taken for repair. This occurred just before the first break point, in Woolsthorpe, where you had a great view of Belvoir Castle. But from here the hills began with a climb out of the village to start the team working for dinner. Nicky and Lucas (support team) headed direct to Melton Mowbray, the nearest town, and located a cycle shop to fix Nicky's gearing system. In the meantime, another puncture occurred in group 2.
With puncture delays, dinner was extended with group 1 heading off much as group 2 arrived and Mark announcing that he "Thinks he likes cycling" - just as well when that's all he's doing for three days! As the last group began to depart, a thorn was discovered in one of Vicky's wheels and operation Thorn removal commenced. Armed with tweezers, support team's Katy (show her scouting skills!) joined the team effort to remove the offending item. In the meantime, others from the team headed to a local supermarket for facilities and, being in Melton Mowbray (home of the Pork Pie), purchased some local pies.
Out of Melton Mowbray and group 3 had closed in on group 1. As the support passed them both near Somerby, calls came in as Danielle requiring the van. A knee injury resulted in her needing to drop out for the rest of the day as the pressure from pedalling was causing increased pain issues. Disappointed to have to join the van, Danielle transferred to support duties for the rest of the day whilst icing her knee. In the meantime everyone seemed to be getting a bit lost as both the support team and group 1 took wrong turns around Somerby and then Owston. To add to the fun, two gates on the route near Owston caused confusion and resulted in group 3 overtaking the support vans! Dave was commended for his ability to get the group back on track after they'd gone astray. Maybe Chris being distracted by buttress on churches or Pete's bird spotting had taken people's minds away from navigation. Or they could have just been enjoying the splendid Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire scenery.
The hills continued, enabling the support vans to finally pass the front group and stop for picture opportunities of them all climbing a hill before crossing the A47. But with the gaps widening, the support teams separated to ensure the first group got refreshments at the next stop in Cranoe. (although Martyn was disappointed that no bread rolls were available as they were on the van still at the A47 crossing). This hill presented issues for Nicky (as had most hills due her gears still causing problems and she acquired the new name of Nicky Clunk. Jo had also had chain and gear issues, having once fallen into the hedge when her chain came off with a gear change.
By the time the second support reached Cranoe, Group 3 had left again (and Martyn scarified the bread roll) and the other two groups weren't far behind. With hot water supplies low and proper toilets needed, Lucas gained the kindness of a villager, Margaret, who generously allowed four of the girls to use her toilet whilst also refilling both urn's with boiling water. Her kindness was greatly appreciated. Judi also added how she had never been so pleased to see two vans - knowing there was tea and cakes . Debbie's coffee making was also gaining a reputation as she was deemed to be giving Costa a run for their money. Sam & Mike's two children, Emmie and Ollie, also joined the support team having arrived thanks to their Uncle. It was great to see the joy in the family being together.
The good news from here was the hills abated - much to Vernon's dismay, as he had taken to walking up one to admire the scenery (or was it cramp?). The route joined an old railway line for several miles from Market Harborough to Northampton. As the three groups had gained some distance between each other, the support vans then found they were chasing the front group. Unable to follow the cyclists exact path, they gained the upperhand heading down the main road. In the meantime, the cycle path included two tunnels - which Clare enjoyed as she could do her train impersonations "choo chooing" through them. Maxine enjoyed them, even though the water in places resulted in wet feet due to its depth.
The support team managed to make the final break stop of the day, at Chapel Brampton, ahead of group three - but not by much. After a hilly day before that point, the almost flat cycle path had enabled some speed to build up. Martyn finally got his bread roll too. The stop was next to an old locomotive on a privately owned short steam railway., making a pleasant backdrop. Thanks to Stuart for his route planning - a challenge in itself and with Stuart even finding following the best laid plans isn't always as easy as hoped, everyone had gone on a detour somewhere during the day, despite Clare's frequent checks of "is this the right way"?
The puncture's didn't end though, as Thorngate 2 struck shortly after the final stop as Wayne got hit with a thorn in his tyre. The result was group one passed group three as they headed into Northampton. And whilst the hills were pretty much over, the challenge of urban navigation commenced. The route was planned to avoid major arteries and follow cycle routes were possible. This took a more convoluted route through Northampton to the Travelodge in Wootton, on the south side. The support team's headed straight to the hotel, to unload and welcome the cyclists in. For nearly all of them, this was the furthest they had ever cycled in one day, let alone having done over 80 miles the previous day. When group two arrived, at the rear, they'd accumulated 91 miles in total. Mike, who had not been well the previous week, had done brilliantly to make it to the end of the day, and had been determined not to give up.
The THOR team had done themselves proud. Without exception, they all had found it a hilly day. Carole was glad to be in one piece and it was deemed to have been hard as well. Mark was the self proclaimed king of the hills - whilst debates over evening meal ensued about the maximum speed hit and the merits and downfalls of having worn back breaks (James) and wobbly wheels (Dave). 50mph was the highest bid for top speed. But what's the highest bid - or pledge - made so far and can you out pledge it? To be honest, we don't mind how much you bid or pledge to support the 25 cyclists in their endeavours. They have proven they're up to the challenge and committed to the Brain Tumour Charity in their quest to reach Oxford on Sunday. Please show your support at https://www.justgiving.com/Fitmums-THOR
THOR Day 2 photos can be viewed here.
The final day and just 65 miles stood between THOR and the finish (or 69 for those also running the 4 miles in Oxford). It was a less welcome weather system to start the day as the rain was very much present for the start. Fuelled up on breakfast and vans loaded, 24 headed off in 3 groups from Northampton, with Daniele joining the support team for the first part of the day to avoid risking her knee injury too soon. Various adjustments were made to bikes to ready themselves for the final fling.
It was a reasonably flat route as country roads and the cycle route were followed towards Milton Keynes. The rain eased off over the next couple of hours to a lighter drizzle as they wound around the north side of Milton Keynes through Wolverton and Stony Stratford. No wrong turns, apart from the support vans. Whaddon was the first stop of the day, where a pub car park was utilised. Sadly the landlord's weren't the most charitable resulting in the field at the back fulfilling the call of nature.
Judi had done fantastically to have cycled every mile this far against health issues in the run up to the challenge but the rain had proven a step too far and Judi joined the support van for the next section. Gemma and Pip had also found the rain a real challenge and the vans had been a welcome sight. More puncture repairs for group 3 before they all carried on and the sun made an appearance.
The route continued through Buckinghamshire and the small town of Winslow, where a small off road section took them into the town. On the other side, the increased support team parked up and got some good photo opportunities - as well as some as they passed the cyclists on the road and Danielle wound down the window as they drove alongside the intrepid cyclists.
Bicester was the lunch stop, where Sam's friend's, Celine and Dave, plus Mike & Sam's children, Emmie & Ollie welcomed the group for lunch - marking the last few miles with red balloons. However, back up the road near Poundon, Ian had tied his coat round his waist with the improved weather, but as he headed down the hill, his coat caught in the brakes and wheel and he ended up skidding for over 40 metres (and left proof on the tarmac) before coming to a halt - only falling off having not unclipped first. Lucas drove one of the support vans back to the scene to collect Ian and bike before rejoining everyone for lunch and changing the tyre . Elsewhere, everyone was changing their socks - Carole didn't see the logic of having wet feet when you had the chance to be drier.
Celine & Dave did an excellent job of hosting, leaving Katy feeling redundant of her usual lunch duties, but giving her a chance to get some great pictures instead. It had also come to light that support team's Deb had done a photography degree - and had swiftly been given another camera for improved pictures! (Although she claimed to prefer talking about photography than the taking of pictures).
From Bicester Danielle and Judi rejoined the groups - determined to cover the remaining 20 miles to the finish. The route carried on along quiet Oxfordshire country lanes, with a final good photo opportunity as they neared Bletchingdon, where Gemma's friend, Mike, had travelled up from Enfield and joined the support entourage. The groups then met on the south side of Kidlington, just as the rain started again. From here on they would aim to remain as one group to reach the finish on the south side of Oxford. At the finish line on Abingdon Road, a group of family and friends had gathered to welcome them in. The support vans came through first, reassuring them that the cyclsists weren't far behind. But it was a race for the end as a storm loomed over the Four Pillars Hotel entrance and everyone waited expectantly. It was more tense than waiting for the recdnt announcement of the Royal birth! (just less press!). At around 4:45 the first pink and black appeared - followed by a further 24 similar dressed people and as the heavens opened, THOR completed their 232 mile cycle from Hull (or Cottingham) to Oxford to cheers and applause (as well as heavy rain!). They'd done it!! But, although the cycling was over, there was the small matter of a 4 mile run for those able to.
As the rain subsided and footwear was chained, some of the welcoming committee joined the THOR cycle squad for their gentle paced jog around Oxford. This included a lap of the track where Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile in Iffley and having to get wet(ter) feet where there had been flash flooding due to the torrential downpour. Spirits were not dampened (but plenty were downed later in the evening) as the final piece of the challenge was completed and THOR could be declared completed. The 25 - Maxine, Mike, Pete, Carole, Sam, Stuart, Clare, Vicky, Chris, Mark, Ian, Gemma, Danielle, Judi, Martyn, Nicky, Dave, James L, James, Claire, Wayne, Pip, Carol, Jo and Vernon had brought together months of training through the cold winter months to achieve their challenge and in the meantime raise a fantastic amount of money for The Brian Tumour Charity - with over £2,600 pledged online alone by the end of Sunday.
To commemorate the success Jackie had baked a special cake to celebrate the team's success. This was alongside a few celebratory drinks and meal, where various thank yous were expressed. Particularly to Stuart who had not only plotted the route for THOR but also numerous training rides the previous 5 months. Clare for all the co-ordinating (everyone's email inboxes will be lighter now) - someone had to collect money and Clare did a great job. The support team were massively appreciated - Deb, Katy & Lucas being welcome sights at stops and along the way to cheer them along as well as appearing on demand for breakdowns and getting a few pictures in between. And to Sam, who's mad idea it was in the first place! She has promised Mike, who did an amazing job to cycle the entire route given his recent health battle, that she won't have any more hair brained ideas. However, even her children, Ollie & Emmie, are expecting something else soon and London to Paris and Land's End John O Groat's were mouthed by the group during the weekend. (Now everyone if equipped and fully trained there is no excuse!). But without Sam's inspirational ideas, none of this would have happened. Instead the group can be proud of what they've achieved and the fantastic amount of money raised in the process.