Updated: May 13
All Points North is a self-supported race across the North Of England. You plan your own route to take in all of the checkpoints (from the west coast to the east coast and up to the Scottish border and seemingly every hill in between), carry all your own kit, and after cycling for over 1000km and 12,000m of climbing, you hope to end up back in Sheffield, for an amazing curry.
The fastest do it in 60 hours or less, the ambitious try and make it back for the very loose cut off of 8pm Sunday, and others come in over the next day or so ... or scratch.
I’d come in 3rd female last year, this year I was meant to be racing with my partner, Hector. Whilst we do loads of training together, it was our first race together, and were both curious to see how it went. Our hunch was that although it’s definitely more fun having someone to talk to, we would ultimately be slower, as you’ll always have to go at the speed of the slowest (or the faffiest/ sleepiest).
Day 1 – Sheffield – Nick o’Pendle – Skyreholme - Semer Water – Ulpha – (Alston)
405km, 4700m, 19.12 ride time, 24.40 total time. Strava link
After 10 lovely kilometres riding together, Hector’s bike started complaining indignantly. And after stopping every few km to try and fix it, just 30k into the ride his freehub finally gave up and he had no option but to scratch. I was completely gutted, for him, and for our plans of riding together. But I’d done too much work on the route planning and training to pull out now. So I set off into the night alone, not quite as planned but better make the best of it.
The first checkpoint was a memorial “on the footpath just off the road”. Yeah right, try finding that in the dark. Much cursing and going up and down the hill, trying to get my phone to load the route, only for it to get upset and turn itself off. Eventually I found it, and off I went.
The rain started about midnight, and kept going, and going for almost 12 hours. I've got good gear but it was no match for this onslaught as it seeped inside from all angles. My shoes turned into swimming pools, every few hours I'd stop to wring out gloves and socks. I wanted quick kip in some of the delux 'Audax hotels' (bus shelters) on route but I was too cold and wet to stop moving. I definitely considered scratching at many points that night. A few times I dropped my chain or my bike made an unusual creak and my first thought was ‘thank god, the bike’s broken, I’ll have to stop’ before disappointingly I pedalled the chain back on again. In my head I’d keep going to Sedbergh, and then reassess.
Luckily, by the time I got to Sedbergh the rain was just light drizzle, and things were looking better. Racers outside told me they had a hot counter, I didn’t fancy any hot food but it was great to just stand by and warm up. 3 pots of rice pudding and a coffee down and I was back on the road. The rain stopped, the sun was coming out, my shoes were still soaking but I was back to enjoying life.
The roads out to Ulpha were beautiful, I felt so privileged to be out here beyond where the tourists would normally go. I chatted with some other racers in Ambleside. Everyone was feeling tired and making plans for where to sleep that evening. I’d been really worried about the roads in the Lake District but they weren’t too busy. The Struggle was well deserving of it’s name though! I looked longingly at the Travelodge in Penrith as I passed, it was where I had hoped to stop, but was fully booked.
But actually I’m really glad I continued on over Hartside that evening. I’ve climbed it plenty of times before but always accompanied by the roar of motorbikes and boy racers testing their limits on its switchbacks. Tonight it was just me, my bike, the sheep and some beautiful views. Towards the top black clouds were brewing ominously and as I came down the other side I'm sure I was working harder into the headwind than on the way up. I’d wondered if I could make it out to the next control point that night but it would be another 44k and after 24 hours of riding I decided sleep was the priority. So just a quick Coop stop to stock up on food for the evening and morning (and very excitedly spotting a hedgehog, a real one that moves rather than squished) and then onto the guest house and a bemused host! Beds and showers are such amazing things.
Day 2 – Cow Green – Bewcastle – [Scotland] – Bamburgh Castle – [Durham]
338km, 3700m, 15.45 ride time, 19.43 total time Strava link
I was up and out as dawn was breaking, that's one of the many good things about the North, it does a lot of daylight! I’d hung everything out to try the night before, but the North is less good at warmth, and my clothes were still damp and shoes soaking from yesterday but otherwise I was feeling good. Quick(ish) out and back to the first checkpoint, it was freezing on the descents, so I layered up! The Spa leaving town was open earlier than I’d thought, bonus coffee, and more rice puddings.
My brain cant comprehend how I am mostly descending to get to Scotland, it feels wrong, but I put that aside after seeing a red squirrel, the best start to the morning! Up to Bewcastle, stunning deserted roads, over the border, gently rolling hills, me, bike, sheep, some motorbikes and camper vans, and sun. Yesterdays (or was the day before?) rain far behind me. Even the non-stop headwind can be forgiven. Only downside was missing Hector, he’d love this.
I passed by all the lovely cafes in Jedburgh, opting for a quicker Coop stop (except it never is), and tried to book a room for the night. But everywhere I’d hoped to stay was fully booked. Who goes on holiday to Sedgefield?! (Sorry Sedgefield, I'm sure you're lovely). I found room in Durham, not too far off my route, boom! Now to get there! But Bamburgh Castle first.
The headwind was getting a bit boring now, I'm not even noticing the hills, just the wind. Quick few km down the A1, not the most pleasant riding but a respite from the wind.
Eventually I’m at the castle. Quick hi's to other riders just setting off (it's funny, you spend all day alone, wondering if anyone else is still racing, and then bump into them all at the CPs and realise how close together you all are. It reminds me of looking down on an ant run, all moving purposefully along towards the same goal).
Heading South now. Lots of A roads, but they’re pretty deserted. Hello Newcastle, you're quite big and bright, and apparently you have an urban motorway I nearly find myself on, the adrenaline shot helps wake me up. Hello Angel of the North, I get reverse vertigo looking across rather than up at her (or maybe it’s called tiredness). Hello Travelodge Chester le Street, right here on my route, why didn't I book you?
Hello Durham, you're quite drunk! I wait ages for food in a takeaway (mistaken for a Deliveroo driver waiting to pick up) and then feast in my room. I’m getting messages from friends saying I'm in first place (pairs), I hadn't even thought about the competition, I wasn't even sure if I was part of the race, was I a pair or solo rider? Oh well, doesn't matter now, I've had fun on my bike. Time to sleep.
Day 3 - Byland Abbey - Goathland Station – Hornsea Mere – [Beverley]
252 km, 2,400m, 11.46 ride time, 14.35 total time, Strava link
The receptionist in hotel tells me I can't leave, there's a drunk man they've evicted trying to get back in. Part of me wants to hug her, say thank you and go back to bed. But boring, rational brain asks if there isn't a back exit, there is, I am off. But not before we discuss who is more psychotic, me or psycho outside, I think we both think it might be me.
The Google Maps lady directs me along the river to rejoin my route. I'm always nervous about cycle paths, they're usually faffy but this was lovely, I wish I could be bothered to get up and ride at dawn more often, the world so often looks at its best, just the ducks, flowers, me and my bike.
At the Coop (no coffee machine??!) I happily ditch the final peanut butter roll I've carried since Sheffield in exchange for bag of brioche rolls. More deserted roads. I can see hills in the distance, Yorkshire here I come! Byland Abbey, tick. I try and ignore the fact I'm about 30k from home, and onto Goathland, the next control point. We'd ridden up here on first ride when we moved to York, I remembered a beautiful road over the Moor and been looking forward to it.
Apparently that's not what I'd plotted though. I cursed myself for a last-minute route change onto a horrible A road to save a few km. But I’d gone too far to turn back now. Close passing cars were speeding past, I was between them and their bank holiday plans and they weren't going to wait for a gap in the traffic to get past. And of course, there was that bloody head wind again. Increasingly I questioned whether I wanted to keep going.
I treated myself to an actual sit down, indoor meal in Goathland and tried to gather myself. Since day one I'd been wondering what I was doing here. I always tell clients struggling with training or racing they need to know 'their Why', why they're doing what they're doing, their deep-down reason that will keep them going through the hard bits. My Why had been to do my first race with Hector. I'd lost that 30k into a 1000+k ride. I wasn't even sure if I was still in the race - I wasn't a pair and I wasn't a solo rider so even though I knew I was doing well I wasn't racing. And I love the North and I love hills, but I'd done most of the route now. I had some reasons why not to abandon (not wanting to quit or disrespect the race) but no real reason to keep going. Except that's where my route went, and when nothing else make sense you just have to follow the pink line on the map. So off I went.
As I came down from the Moors and into the Yorkshire Wolds I felt transported into a Hockney painting and had a whole new appreciation for the area, but the rain quickly put an end to that. I layered up and pressed on, and on, and on. The road seemed never ending. I was grateful for the hills to punctuate the boredom and for a chance to get out of the saddle and rest my bum, but the downhills got less rewarding as the visibility got worse and the roads more covered in washed out grit.
As I got closer to the sea there were more and more places selling holiday homes, I couldn’t think of anywhere more miserable to be on holiday right now. Finally Hornsea Mere. I'd been expecting a lake, instead there was a carpark with a gate blocking the route down to the Mere (apparently they shut it for lockdown and it never reopened). I'd hoped to bump into Katie Butler who I'd been just behind all day, but there was no one out in the rain except the idiot who had nearly driven into me on the way into town shouting out the window to “get out the way next time”.
I'd had enough. I'd been over and over in my head why I should finish (number one was that I was finally going to get a tail wind!). But none of the reasons were convincing enough. I'd done all the checkpoints and had already cycled exactly the route I’d planned next to finish the race last year. And the wetter it got, the worse the drivers got, they seemed to be in more of rush and taking more risks rather than being more careful as visibility got worse. I tried to hold my lane, but I kept feeling that someone was going to drive right into me. I could try replotting my route along the millions of canals back but I thought I was more likely to end up in one of them. And I knew there was a train back from Beverley to Sheffield I could get if I got a move on.
So that's how it ended. Not quite the race I'd planned, but that had been off the cards 30k into the ride. Still a brilliant race, with some amazing highlights, and a good share of lowlights (funnily enough, both strongly correlated to whether it was raining or sunny!). It was definitely a tough edition this year. Of the 81 riders who started, only 33 finished, compared to 2/3 finishing the previous year. Last year 19 riders made the 72 hour cut off (I was the 20th, 40 mins over!), this year only 10 did.
Overall I'm happy with how I did, I felt pretty strong all the way, although of course that’s easy to say when you haven’t finished the race. Of course I have regrets about not finishing, but probably not enough that I would change my mind. So now to find another race me and Hector can do together and both finish! But before that I need to coax by body into doing an Ironman in a few weeks.
Post script: I was just behind Katie Butler, or Katie Kookaburra as she is better known, the whole way. We chose the same route and crossed at lots of the check points, so her video diary of the event pretty closely captures my ride, especially the 'joy' of riding in the rain and lack of sleep (except she clearly perked up on the final leg whereas I didnt. Note to self, when things get bad, reach for the Marigolds!).