Extreme Lake District Cycling: The Fred Whitton Challenge

In July 2014 Mark Fishwick suffered a serious cycling accident which required surgery and careful rehabilitation at Low Wood Club before he was back out on the open roads. Incredibly in May 2015, he competed in the Fred Whitton Challenge, 112 miles long with 3,950 metres of climb!

After the race we caught up with Mark…

The Challenge

The Fred Whitton Race started in 1999 by a group of friends who wanted to commemorate the life of their friend and cycling companion, Fred, who had died the previous year from cancer. The competition has grown to one of the most popular cyclosportive events on the annual calendar, now attracting over 2,000 riders.

I’d wanted to test myself against the Fred Whitton Challenge for several years and had applied previously but not got through the draw. When I was eventually successful I was still pretty weak from my accident but it helped give a focus for my recovery and added to my determination to get back to full fitness both on the bike and at the gym at Low Wood Club.

On the Day …

The weather on 10th May 2015 was cold, wet and windy. I was nervous but had slept well and eaten all the recommended types of food, starting on the day with a good plate of porridge followed by scrambled egg.

Over the previous few months I had put in lots of hours on the road covering over 140 miles each week. I’ve got to confess on some of the later training sessions when the going was tough. I did question my sanity! But at 6am on the day of the race,  adrenalin was doing its stuff and, together with three mates, I was ready to face the 8 summits and 112 miles ahead!

The Route

The Route Map ( Credit: Fred Whitton Challenge)
The Route Map ( Credit: Fred Whitton Challenge)

I was Number 483 and setting off from Grasmere, the electronic tag on my helmet dictated my start time. The first leg is Grasmere to Keswick which takes in the first big climb up and over Kirkstone Pass and a height of 454 metres. This, of course, is where I had my accident less than one year previously, but there was no looking back and no time for nostalgia.

The route is not closed to traffic during the race and the roads were busy at times, particularly at some points on the main A66. The narrow Keswick to Ennerdale stretch leads on to the ultra steep and narrow Honister Pass at 356 metres. It is important to have your brakes on as soon as you start the extremely steep descent as it is easy to get caught out and lose control.

Hats off to the 200 marshalls and volunteers who kept us on track, hydrated and fed. The first food station was at Buttermere and a welcome butty and banana!

‘Big Daddy’ Hardknott

Whinlater Pass is wider and slightly easier going,  down to Loweswater and Ennerdale Valley. Cold Fell certainly lived up to its name and was almost blown off my bike by a particularly vicious gust of wind. Calder Bridge gives the riders their second opportunity to stock up on food and liquids knowing that the ‘Big Daddy’ Hardknott Pass is just 10 miles ahead, an extremely steep and relentless ascent to 393 metres. I was pleased to stay on my bike and was very cautious on the way down as the road surface is not great – make a mistake at this point and it’s a long tumble down the hillside and almost certainly another ambulance rescue. Wrynose Pass, another 393 metre climb, is not quite as steep but has some tight turns on the descent.orig_23722_12454344505550650d882fb

Home Straight!

The beautiful valley of Little Langdale signals the closing stages of the race and, barring any last hitches, on to the finishing line in Grasmere where I had started 7 hours, 25 minutes previously! Exhausted but exhilarated I crossed the line knowing that the year of rehabilitation and the months of training had all been worth it.


Would you do it again?

This is the million dollar question that my family, friends and colleagues seem to want answered. You will have watch this space … but, having raised over £900 for Great North Air Ambulance giving me an automatic pass into the 2016 race … perhaps!

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