Don’t let my leg cramp stop you entering the SkegVegas 100 miles ride


Lying on my back, trying to bend my leg to avoid the excruciating pain that accompanied it being forced ram-rod straight, it was the moment I realised the SkegVegas 100 miles charity ride hadn’t gone the way I wanted.

But don’t let that put you off taking part, because it was my fault entirely.

By that time, I was 60 miles into the ride and had been cut off from the group I had been riding with. I’d missed the second stop so had not refuelled. And refuelling, when you’re cycling, is important.

As is not setting off too quickly (guilty), and, while cycling with the quick group, not fooling yourself as you sweep in formation along country roads and lanes that this 100 mile cycling thing is a breeze.

Penguin PR director Simon Burch at journey's end after completing the SkegVegas 100 miles charity bike ride in aid of Derbyshire Children's Holiday Centre and Derby Kids Camp.

And so, as I toppled off my bike (still clipped into my pedals) onto a grass verge before trying to twist my leg in order to release my foot, I had a crash course in a double dose of thigh cramp, before eventually bending my leg and putting myself into the recovery position, halfway up a gently slope to a village called Martin, near Woodhall Spa.

Thankfully, there was no one there to see my ungraceful demounting, although a man in a van did stop and ask if I was OK.

Being a bloke, I said all was fine, and politely sent him on his way. Which was literally a few yards up the hill where he lived and could watch me peel myself off the ground, remount my bike and wobble up the road, wincing and preparing to dig deep in order to complete the 40 remaining miles.

I have no doubt that, in amongst the dozens of other cyclists who took part in the SkegVegas 100 miles event, there are very many more personal stories of people needing to dig in. There were quite a few punctures and one rider, Lee Jepson, owner of Derby firm L.E.A.D. IT, who, realising he hadn’t trained enough, bought an electric bike only for the motor to give, leaving them to pedal, manually and old-skool, almost the entire route.

There were also potholes, muddy roads, a couple of showers and, judging by the chatter on the minibus back to Derby a few hours later, there would have been more than one whose heart sank when they saw, on the 90-mile mark, the biggest hill on the otherwise fairly flat route.                                                                                                                                                                 

A real sickener, with Skegness virtually within touching distance.

But, once everyone arrived safely at the Derbyshire Children’s Holiday Centre and were congratulating themselves, there was a huge sense of achievement and the camaraderie you can only get from experiencing and coming through a trial together.

I’d taken on the ride because, with Penguin PR helping with the promotion, I decided I need to know what it was all about. This year, 76 cyclists took on the SkegVegas 100 miles challenge to raise money for the Derbyshire Children’s Holiday Centre and Derby Kids Camp, which both give holidays to under-privileged kids living in Derby and the county.

Joining us on the ride was Derby cyclist Leigh Timmins, staff members from Cosy – as well as Cosy boss Peter Ellse, members of the local business community and members of a couple of cycling clubs, including Mickleover Cycling Club, for whom jumping on a bike and riding virtually the distance between Derby and London is their idea of fun.

The day had started early, with everyone setting off from Derby Arena, following a few speeches and rounds of applause, we left in small groups of 20, making our way down the riverside path into Alvaston Park and then out towards Elvaston Castle.

From there the route took us on roads that few people probably know exist. Most people, when they head for Skegness by car, will head for the A52 through Grantham and then Boston. By contrast, we headed through Sawley Marina through to Kegworth and then a tour of north-west Leicestershire through villages such as Wyneswold, Long Clawson and Harby.

We’re privileged living in Derbyshire: we know we have some of the best scenery in the country, but passing through the Vale of Belvoir you appreciate that the East Midlands has plenty more beautiful places that don’t get quite the same recognition.

Our first stop was 40 miles in, in Bottesford, inside St Mary’s Church, where a team of volunteers had set up a trestle table bearing flapjacks and bananas, while the WI handed out cakes, coffee and tea. Twenty minutes or so later, it was back on our bikes, heading north-east to Long Bennington, Straggleford and Welbourn.

My Garmin tells me that everything went wrong just south of Navenby, when I lacked the energy and heart to get up the hill into the town. There was a stop there that would have refuelled me, but the group I had been riding with missed it too, so we headed out, east.

And then the cramp went and, as they streaked off into the distance, I got slower and slower as the lactic acid built up into my thighs and it got painful to straighten out my leg.

Within minutes I’d abandoned my bike in a layby in order to get myself right. I took a gel and a couple of energy jellies and felt fine. A few miles later, on the slope up to Martin, with no-one around me, I was face down in the grass, in agony.

In for a penny, in for a pound. There was no way I was going to give up, and, eventually, I reached journey’s end about three hours or so later. They say what your mind believes, your body achieves, and I never had any doubt that I could complete the ride, it’s just that it wouldn’t be as pain-free as I’d hoped.

But eventually, with the sun now shining, Skegness was looking particularly fine as I painfully pedalled into town and arrived at the holiday centre, where a cup of coffee and a sandwich helped me recover so that I could greet the other cyclists as they started to arrive.

Established in 1891, the holiday centre has been accommodating generations of children from Derby who otherwise would not get to enjoy a break away from home. As a result, they’ve perfected the art of giving people a good welcome and you could see the relief on everyone’s faces as they arrived and got their food and drink.

Within minutes many had stashed their bikes and headed the few minutes walk – wobbling and waking stiffly due to saddle-sores – down to the sea front to enjoy some well-deserved fish and chips and reflect on what they’d achieved.

A couple of riders, including Cosy chief executive Dave Hook, set off to scoop up the stragglers and give them an escort to journey’s end while others went to check in to their hotels, where they’d be staying to soak up the seaside vibes.

There was an exception – Leigh Timmis, who at some point around teatime, cheerily swung his leg back over his bike and, incredibly, rode back the way we’d all come, through the 107miles of countryside and back to Derby.

Please feel free to make a donation to the SkegVegas 100 miles cycle race – you can visit its Just Giving page here.

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