Land’s End to John O Groat’s – A riders thoughts

Land’s End to John O Groat’s – A riders thoughts

Martin gives his thoughts on taking on LEJOG with Cycle Retreats.

LEJOG is one of those big cycling adventures you hear of people doing, but don’t really think of doing yourself.

I cycled as a teenager and student, just to get around. In my thirties, I started Brompton commuting. I started serious cycling five years ago when I was given an entry into a 100-mile sportive as a present by my family. After this event I began social Sunday morning 100km rides with an informal group. With this group I learnt to keep on riding whatever the weather, no matter how tired my legs felt, and in spite of long or steep climbs; essential preparation for the LEJOG.

In September 2021, I did the Etape Caledonia and Dragon Ride Gran Fondo on successive weekends. So, when the call went out from the Royal Collage of Pathologists to do the LEJOG to celebrate its 60th Anniversary, I thought it was the next challenge for me, even though I was 62y old.

In the buildup to the ride, Mark and Zoe had regular video conferences to help preparation. Part of this was a training schedule. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow this due to months taking months off my bike resulting from broken ribs in January and getting COVID in July.  I like to think I am reasonably fit for my age, but my preparation was not the best. I would recommend Mark’s training plan and suggestions if you don’t cycle much: getting used to riding every day and especially the day after a hard ride, even if your legs hurt; looking after your contact points with the bike (hands, feet, backside) are essential.

The LEJOG route did keep us off main roads as much as possible, and sometimes we would therefore have to do extra climbing. But for every climb there is a descent to enjoy, even for a more cautious descender like me. So, we were able to enjoy some beautiful countryside from quiet country lanes, that you would probably never otherwise discover. On a couple of days, some late detours from the planned route were necessary. Mark and the Crew discovered these by driving ahead each day, letting us know in real time by WhatsApp and marking the detours.

The first two days in Cornwall and Devon were hard: lots of climbing, rain and headwinds (surely, we should have had tailwinds!), so less time to enjoy the views. It was during the first few days that groups that rode together started to form spontaneously. These groups stayed pretty stable for the rest of the ride, with riders becoming friends that ate, socialized, and rode together. I found the camaraderie, physical and mental support of the group that I rode with (the Headwind Crew) really helped me complete this tough challenge. Mark, Zoe, Ian, Craig and ‘Coops’ also joined various groups along the way to ride with them. In Scotland, the climbs might have greater elevation, but were of lower gradients, and the country roads were often very rough with a lot of rolling resistance. Some scenic highlights for me: the view of Morecambe Bay, Blackpool and the Cumbrian mountains from the top of a climb in the Forest of Bowland; the beautifully bleak mountains and valley above Crieff and those from the climb and C road heading inland from the A9 at Crakaig in Scotland. The final special view was catching sight of the sea as we approached the ‘top’ of Scotland on our penultimate day.

Food. I knew how important this was, but hadn’t appreciated how my needs, wants and what I could tolerate would change through the ride. I found I couldn’t tolerate gels, I wanted less sweet food as the ride progressed, and I didn’t feel like a really big breakfast before the day’s ride. Everyone is different, and you need to find what suits you best during LEJOG. Fortunately, Zoe had organised food at the overnight stays, and at the morning, lunch an afternoon stops, that met our varied needs in terms of quantity and variety. The Crew always made sure that the stops were well provisioned.   Sleep is also vital. Our hotels were basic but quiet, clean and comfortable. Bikes were stored with us in our rooms, or in secure communal space. 

Mechanical support was provided principally by Mark, but also volunteers, en route and at lunch and night stops. We were expected to deal with some basic problems, but it was good to know that many things could be fixed quickly. My bent mech hanger (from a fall) was as good as new after Mark’s lunchtime service.  You will certainly have to know how to deal with punctures – not surprisingly there were a good number of these. I am a fan of tubeless tyres and my only noticeable puncture self-sealed. I was able to ride on it with some extra air for another 500 miles.

LEJOG is a tough challenge for anyone.

I have been lucky to ride with some great cyclists, and to be superbly supported. So my thanks are due to the Cycle Retreats family of Mark and Zoe, Ian, Craig and ‘Coops’ (Lewis) who looked after all of us.  I also cannot be more grateful to the Headwind Crew of fellow riders (Betsy, Jock, Eric and Neil) for their company and help during the ride.