Manchester to Blackpool

Last year I was rather overweight, and the performances of British cyclists inspired me to get my bike out again. A first ride was into the local town – a little over a mile and I could barely stand when I got there. I carried on, got a road bike and started to think about a target for myself. The Manchester to Blackpool fit the bill as it was a challenging but not scary challenging 60 miles, was a reasonable time off (about eight months at the time) and the clincher – it was for the Christie Hospital where Susanne had her Chemo and Radiotherapy.

I decided to book early and go public to make changing my mind more difficult.

Then followed rides, slowly increasing the distance I was covering but miles dropped over the winter, and it was March before I managed to start getting out on the roads again. In that last few weeks before the MtoB I was looking at longer rides, with the longest being 58 miles to Southport and back.

On the last few days before the ride there were two things that were worrying me a little. The first was the weather. We have been having some rather sunny weather – it made the Southport run hard work he week before. The second was sheer numbers. Apparently attendance on the MtoB is around 8,000 riders. I had visions of it being one long procession…

The day before was prep time, getting as much ready as possible beforehand. The boys were sleeping at my mum’s to help the early start. The planned early start meant I didn’t want to have too much to think about in the morning., so the bike was checked over, gears adjusted, tyres checked, drive chain lubed and a couple of loose spokes tightened. Malt loaf buttered and in a bag, bananas ready. My helmet and shoes put near the door and a bag with a change of clothes and a few other bits by the door.

I had been planning a 7 am start to beat the main rush, so a little working backwards from that led to an 05:30 alarm. On a Sunday.

I got a poor sleep – a combination of temperature and anticipation combining.

On the alarm I was up, Brew made for Susanne, pan of porridge simmering on the hob and rubbing sunscreen in. Everything into the car and we set off to Old Trafford.

A quick banana on arrival at Old Trafford, and we went to to the start point. I had registered early so didn’t need to check in on the day, just turn up at the start line, hand in my entry card and collect a route map. I asked for a spare for Susanne, so she could see what the route was to better judge my progress to meet me in Blackpool.

The plan was Susanne would go home later dropping me off, my parents would drop the boys home at 9 am, they would head up to the cheering point at a pub 44 miles along the route and Susanne would head toBlackpool with the boys. The intention was that the boys would get a play on the beach then they would wait at the finish for me.

The weather at this point (much to my relief) was bright but cool.

Just after 7 the tape in front of me was lowered. And I was off. That put Old Trafford exactly where it should be – behind me! It took a couple of minutes to realise I hadn’t pressed the start button on the computer. The Trafford area of Manchester is rather industrial, so the first few miles were never going to be pretty. They were also a little harder than I expected, as there were quite a few slower riders. I’m no Bradley Wiggins, but some were making me wonder how they could ride so slowly without falling off. It was particularly inconvenient when they were riding four abreast.

We headed east away from Manchester and close to the Trafford centre. From there through Worsley Towards Leigh. I had a rough idea of the shape of the route, as the feed points were published beforehand, but I didn’t know details. That rough shape meant that the start of the route was slowly working uphill.

I started to get a little concerned about my average speed – I normally average a little over 13 mph on a ride. I was up at 16. I still had a long way to go.

Once we got to Leigh we were into roads I knew. I was well prepared food and drink wise, and was just nicely warmed up so I passed the first feed point at Howe Bridge. I do worry about riders tat need a feed point so early. It was also an opportunity to neatly pass a lot of the slower riders who would have been highly represented in the users of the feed point. At this point I was passing far more than I was being passed so I was feeling good, despite my worry about setting off too quickly. Just along here I also found how unpleasant it can be being passed by a cycle club not prepared to drop to single file to overtake.

All along the route were small groups of people – I don’t know if they were looking for particular riders or just watching all the bikes ride past, but the encouragement from them felt fabulous.

From there the route went through Westhoughton, passing about ¾ mile from home, and headed up to the A6. Just before the A6 I spotted the first familiar face – one of Susanne’s baby gang friends. She looked a little surprised to see me so early.

Most of the day’s planning had revolved around me averaging a little over 13 mph. I was wondering if I might beat Susanne to Blackpool.

While heading up the A6 a little I ate my second banana. We went as far as Dicconson lane where we headed towards Aspull. This particular route choice is a bit of an indication of the friendliness of the route. We were reasonably close to Rivington so that could have been a cruel addition, or just going one stop further up the A6 would have put in a short but steep climb. Along Bolton road I spotted my auntie and uncle. They were just out for a walk rather than waiting for me.

Before long we were on our way to Haigh Hall – the second stop on the route, and the highest point of the ride. It was rather nice knowing that overall it was downhill from here. Being roads I knew the climb was not a problem. From Haigh we headed towards Standish. Along this stretch I saw one rider drafting a flatbed truck. Brave man.

I was also appreciative of how well signed the route was – OK I knew the roads and where we were likely to be going, but that added to confidence later. It was also a weird feeling having ridden so far and not been out of sight of several other bikes.

Once at Standish we turned in the direction of Chorley and Preston along the A49, heading through Heath Charnock.

I think it was along this bit that I saw signs along the road hinting at water available to cyclists. My first though was the some enterprising person may have set up a stall selling bottled water. When I found it it was actually someone who had just got their hosepipe outand left it at the end of their drive for cyclists to top up bottles.

It was here that I had the low point Heading downhill and with a bit of speed up I was just about to pass another bike when she just went down. I didn’t see anything on the road to cause it. I can only guess she may have become aware of speed (> 30 mph) and braked too much. The first thing on my mind was avoiding both her and her bike. Once safely past I thought about stopping, but the guy in front of me started looking round for her and turned back. So she was going to be looked after.

Past feed point three – by this time I was nibbling away on my malt loaf. Ace fuel for a bike ride.

After Heath Charnock we went west a little over the top of the M6 to avoid the industry-heavy south end of Preston, then went North again towards Preston. On the approach to Preston at one set of lights there must have been around 30 of us waiting at a red light. As the lights changes the sound of all the riders clipping back in to their pedals was amusing.

We skirted the south west of Preston, going through Penwortham.

Around Penwortham there were a lot of us waiting at a red light, when three riders (part of the ride) rode up the outside and turned right ignoring the lights. They got quite a lot of abuse hurled their way. As that marked the 40 mile point, I stopped to let Susanne & my parents know my progress as I was still quite a bit ahead of the plan. From the 40 mile point we were getting countdown distance markers.

We then crossed the River Ribble and passed the Marina. For some reason Strava thinks the exit from the Marina area was a cat 4 climb. I think it was mistaken. Shortly after here I saw the only junction on the route that didn’t have a sign. There was only myself and one other rider in view – a most unusual situation on the ride. We discussed it for a moment and made a call, following he road we were on through a 90-degree right. We rode together for a few mins until we got the reassurance of another sign. Another feed station was passed – I was not using as much water as planned and still had plenty of food left.

Leaving Preston we then did a little “hump” north in the route to take the distance up to 60 miles, neatly avoiding too much of the main road from Preston to Blackpool. This was really a rather pleasant little detour. It took us past the cheering point where my parents were waiting to cheer me on.

From here I took a couple of stops to try to make sure Susanne knew how far ahead I was.

This little loop took us through Kirkham. At one point I looked up at the road ahead, and literally mean looking up! I tried to drop down to the small ring at the front to handle what I saw only to realise I was already on the smaller ring. Needless to say my speed dropped a little! I passed a girl on the way up – I was surprised that anyone was going slower than I was! The marshals at this junction were telling us the traffic situation on the road so we didn’t have to stop is if was clear. I took the first opportunity to stop after that to get my breath back. I also had the one and only gel of the ride at that point to get something back quickly. The girl I passed also stopped and we exchanged a few words along the lines of “that wouldn’t have been too bad 30 miles ago” and then went on our way. Later checks suggest some bits were 16%.

Around here I started to notice just how many discarded gel pouches my fellow cyclists were littering the road with.

From Kirkham we dropped down towards Freckleton and Warton where the ride levelled out, no more climbs or descents. I have often grumbled that there’s nothing level near home. We are always going up or down. The flat I found to be a different challenge. There was no place to hide. Stop pedalling and you’ll stop moving.

Again I passed the refreshment stop – I was doing OK, even if feeling it in my thighs a little, and just wanted toget to the finish where Susanne and the boys were hopefully waiting for me.

Remember I mentioned the distance markers? I was thinking the 5 miles mark must be here soon. I spotted a marker – 8 miles to go!

Around here we started with the headwind near the coast, and the route took us along Lytham prom, where we were alongside a run – a half marathon I think, which meant two confusing distance markers. I spotted one that was clearly ours – 4 miles to go – and tried to phone Susanne to check where she was and let her know whento expect me. Instead I had to send a text.

After the prom a little kink put us back on the main road for the final stretch.

I carried on and was struggling a little with the headwind, and looking up to see if I could see the glitterball yet. As I approached the airport I saw a light aircraft taking off. I also noticed someone drafting me. I didn’t mind too much as I had taken a little (and given a little) along the way. It took a few moments before I realised that my text stop had let hill girl catch up, and it was her. The head wind was causing me more of a problem and I was slowing down a little. That led to hill girl discovering one of the indicators of the benefit of a draft. I had slowed down a little, and she decided to come past, only to find she couldn’t manage even the lower speed out of the shelter and I ended up passing her again.

Then I saw the glitter ball, and the finish line, As I got to the line I saw Susanne and the boys there on the left a wave and I was across the line, just as I heard the announcer tell everyone my name. A few minutes for hellos and a picture or two and we headed off for lunch. The bike went into the back of the car, I put more conventional clothing on and fish chips and mushy peas went down very well. A lovely day in Blackpool meant time for the boys to play on the beach. The intention had been they got to play to kill time before I arrived, but I was a little quick on the ride up.

I was rather pleased with the treatment by car drivers along the way – I could understand how it could have been frustrating for drivers going the same way but I don’t recall any real issues with them along the way.

I was a little disappointed with some of my fellow riders. The attitude to red lights, the riding four abreast and the clubs insisting on coming past en masse, and the littering!

I liked the route. Trying to have a route that heads up out of Manchester through Leigh, through part of Bolton, past Chorley, past Preston and onto Blackpool that is easy to navigate and enjoyable to ride, without spending too much time on busy main roads is a challenge they met rather well.

I liked the support long the route – wehether it be people watching for a friend or relative, or just watching the bike pass on a nice day.

It was well signed – I think even my dad could have followed the route!

No punctures, no mechanical issues, no need for extended stops along the way to recover and I am happy with the ride up. I expected around 13 mph, but averaged 15 mph on the bike computer on arrival (14.9 mph online afterwards).

I did a recorded 61.6 miles (probably 62 – remember the delayed start of the computer) in a total of 4 hrs 26 mins, a moving time of 4:08 and a moving average of 14.9 mph. I got a couple of PBs on some stretches I ride occasionally. According to Garmin I also knocked 11 mins off my previous personal best for 40 KM (25 miles or so)