Preparing for the End to End

By Andrew Cornwell
5 June 2010

The Land's End to John O'Groats journey is one of the iconic cycle rides - whether for time triallers looking to set sub-two day records or touring riders taking a fortnight to raise funds for charity.

Rachel and I have been preparing for the last five months for our ride which starts next week. We'll be cycling 'unsupported', covering high daily distances overwhelmingly on A and B roads.

The Challenge
We will be riding our 'End to End' under the rules of Audax UK, the country's leading long-distance cycling association. That means 7 daily stages of over 200 km (125 miles), each to be completed within 14 hours including all stops ('randonneur' pace). We'll have two rest days to keep within the additional overall time limit of ten days.

'Proof of passage' means we'll be collecting receipts and stamps along the way at 'control' towns agreed in advance with the Audax UK organiser.

The Stages
Tuesday 8 June: Land's End to Crediton
We ride the length of Cornwall passing Penzance, Truro, St Austell and Liskeard. At Tavistock we head north over Dartmoor to Okehampton, before turning east onto lanes to Crediton. With over 3100 metres of climbing, this is the hilliest stage and on paper our toughest day.

Wednesday 9 June: Crediton to Monmouth
We cross the river Exe on quiet lanes to reach Wellington, then hit the A38 to Taunton. Next we cross the Somerset levels to Wells and the day's main climb to Midsomer Norton. We skirt Bristol to the north-east via Chipping Sodbury to take the cycle track over the Severn Bridge. From Chepstow we ascend the Wye Valley to Monmouth.

Thursday 10 June: Rest day

Friday 11 June: Monmouth to Lymm
A day on rolling roads that parallel the A49 via Hereford, Leominster, Ludlow and Shrewsbury before hitting the Cheshire plains. The main climbing of the day comes as we skirt Wenlock Edge. Lymm near Warrington is our stop for the night.

Saturday 12 June: Lymm to Annan
The longest day's distance at just over 240 km. We pick our way through the industrial north-west avoiding extensive main road networks. After Preston we use the A6 to Lancaster and Kendal, before the 15 km climb up Shap summit. Descending to Penrith and Carlisle, we then enter Scotland at Gretna. Annan is half an hour further on.

Sunday 13 June: Annan to Perth
We use the now-deserted former A74 road to Beattock and Moffat, before climbing up the steep Devil's Beef Tub. A long descent to Peebles follows, then we cross the last ranges to Edinburgh. After a city centre control, we take the Forth Road Bridge into Fife, reaching Perth on rolling roads.

Monday 14 June: Rest day

Tuesday 15 June: Perth to Inverness
Perth is the gateway to the Highlands and we are quickly in classic touring country. We use small roads and cycle tracks parallel to the main A9, visiting historic Pitlochry and Blair Atholl. Drumochter pass at 460 metres is the highest point on the entire End to End route. After visiting Aviemore and Grantown-on-Spey a second ascent takes us over Slocht summit before the drop to Inverness.

Wednesday 16 June: Inverness to John O'Groats
Our final leg follows a simple coastal route along the A9 and A99. We divert into Invergordon and Dornoch for control towns before the long haul to Wick and John O'Groats. There won't be much time to celebrate as we head off to Thurso, 32 km (20 miles) away, to reach our hotel.

Although this is not primarily a charity ride, Rachel is raising money for The Alzheimer's Society. Nearly £1,700 has already been pledged in sponsorship: use the link on the right to our Just Giving page if you would like to support the ride.

Training and preparation
After getting in some miles in Spain over Christmas, we've been in serious training since January. Mainly that has meant 200 km audax rides: Rachel has racked up eight in 2010, Andrew nine. In total Rachel has ridden over 3,400 km (2,250 miles), and Andrew over 3,800 km. We both hope that will be sufficient 'miles in the legs'.

Our bikes
We'll both be riding Condor Fratello audax bikes - road machines configured for long rides with a more relaxed geometry than race bikes. Kit consists of Campagnolo Centaur groupsets (some Veloce for Rachel), Mavic Open Pro wheels and Fizik saddles. For comfort we use 28 section tyres, Continental Gatorskins. We'll be carrying minimum luggage - a rack top bag for Rachel, and two rear panniers for Andrew.

Why the End to End?
Well, why not? Because it's there?

Andrew and Rachel at the finish of the Chaucer Challenge charity ride from London to Canterbury, 13 September 2009.

Andrew and Rachel at the finish of the 'Chaucer Challenge' charity ride from London to Canterbury, September 2009