Cheaper Than Therapy:
Luke Kennard takes on SDW Double
A ride that had been on our radar for 4 years. We had ridden the 1 way back in 2019 and then the Winchester and Eastbourne legs back to home in 2020 when the pandemic saw racing restrictions and beautiful weather.
So what is the South Downs Way Double? It is exactly what it says on the tin. To traverse the south downs way two times totalling 200 miles, 22,000ft of climbing and opening 200 gates in sub 24 hours which would land you on the “hall of fame” and a recognised, respected ride.
2021 saw us close to arranging it but due to some racing and other commitments it fell by the wayside. With me soon to be a dad, we felt that this year it was on and training began. With Connor being a sport scientist and renowned coach, he was very much about the detail and was heading out for 8-10 hour rides on the South downs getting used to the route and as he says “ticking the box”.
For me the approach was a little more relaxed in that sense and opted to miss the SDW recons and get involved in some racing to sharpen up my fitness off the back of 200 mile commute weeks.
June the 24th. The date was set and this felt like a huge commitment as we had never previously set a date and the countdown began! With a goal in mind of finishing somewhere around 18 hours we decided to start at 2am so that we could finish at 10pm and there would be minimal time with the lights needed. I headed home after a day's work at The rider firm, had my pizza and headed to bed in order to catch as much sleep as possible before the big day. Truth be told I was absolutely buzzing and even woke up early, ready to go.
We arrived at the start at 1:55am at the bottom of Beeding Hill on the South Downs Way, waited for the countdown until 2am and then headed off. After the first climb I had a feeling today would be a good day, as we romped over to Eastbourne moving at approx 10.1mph average. The feeling was very good as we slickly negotiated each gate along the way.
Eastbourne came pretty quickly and we headed down to the official turn-around point, took 2 minutes to compose and headed straight back off. As we headed further west back to where we started we were still moving very well and on for a first leg of around 7hrs 45. Waiting back where we started were family and friends where we had a quick re-fuel, filled the pockets back up and headed off. We were now just above Worthing where we live and although I thought this would be hard with the temptation to call it a day we sailed through without a thought of quitting.
Mile by mile we were gaining good ground, around Amberley I felt some knee niggles coming on, something I was aware could happen but had hoped it wouldn’t. It was manageable and I opted to walk some climbs and stretch my legs out, approaching Cadence at Upwaltham and they were getting progressively worse. I went silent for a fair amount of time, which was when Connor knew I was hurting and there was a possibility I wouldn't be able to continue. I felt such a deep disappointment as I knew this was something that would be taken completely out of my hands and thought that this ride just wasn’t meant to be completed by me.
As we arrived at Cadence my parents were there and I felt like I couldn’t go out this way. This is when I looked at Connor’s expression… the thought he may have to head out solo. I had a stretch, took some anti inflammatories and said I would keep going until I couldn’t.
I’m not sure if it was just the tablets or my inner voice, but as I got back on the bike and we began climbing again, I felt good and the knee pain had pretty much subsided. We were back at a good pace and the power on the climbs had returned.
We were again gaining good ground and it was looking likely that we were still on for the ride we had anticipated. We bumped into Rider firm colleague Tom Foot en-route, who had actually got lost trying to link up some bridleways but managed to find himself back on the SDW, just as we were sailing through. It is so good to see a familiar face when you are on a long ride as it allows you to stop thinking about the ride for a while and receive some external support along the way. Tom peeled off just before QECP so he could get home for his dinner, something we wouldn’t have the delight of today, haha!
Rolling down towards QECP we saw our original cycling club VC Jubilee out on a Winchester-Shoreham ride, in which my cousin Will was riding. As we got closer I saw an ambulance with the coaches and said to Connor “This doesn’t look good!” as the young kids looked on towards the ambulance. I joked with the coach and said “That isn’t for Will is it?!” Unfortunately it was. He had taken a tumble on a descent and had some concussion and abrasions to his head. I rode up the climb to offer a familiar face and re-assurance as he received medical support. Luckily Will was talking, albeit a bit of nonsense, but good to see he was ok. Once the ambulance arrived and I knew my uncle wasn’t far, we pressed on in search of Winchester.
By now we are approx 115 miles into the ride and noticed Connor wasn’t eating or drinking and he was struggling. Fuelling on these rides is paramount. Without fuel, your body can’t release energy and the heat played its part in this. Approaching what we thought must have surely been the finish, we were greeted with a 10 miles to go sign. This was a big mental blow. Another hour guaranteed, still heading away from home, Connor let out a big sigh and a few choice words before laying down on the floor, head in hands asking why we were doing this… I had thought the same at this point. The mental fatigue was taking its toll!
I managed to stay motivated and get him back on the bike before we eventually hit the king Alfred statue. This felt like such a relief but there was still 65 miles to go! Which at the pace we were able to keep was 7 hours at best. The worst bit was we only had 8 hours until the 24 hour cut off so we really had to knuckle down, minimize stops and stay consistent.
Amongst all of this Connor’s girlfriend Megan was at every stop so we were able to re-fuel regularly. It is worth noting at Winchester I had 2 sausage rolls, a cornish pasty, 3 cheese and onion rolls and red bull tropical, to keep me going and remain calorie efficient! (I have never had a problem eating)
As the miles ticked off and we were edging closer and closer, I could hear connor hurling as he was trying to intake food and gels to keep going. I will be honest, I really thought he wasn’t going to make it but the boy doesn’t quit and he kept tapping away over the duration of 65 miles home. We were around Harting before we had to turn the lights back on, something we hadn’t planned on doing this far out from home. I had 3 hours left on my Exposure and Connor had 1hr 30 on the lowest setting. We rode just using my light for a while and were reliant on this forma while. I kept pressing a little too hard forgetting that if I dropped Connor he was riding in pitch black!
Cadence at Upwaltham was the next stop, a pivotal stop for us. 100 miles ago!! I was shocked to see my parents and girlfriend Sam there again. Thankfully, my dad had brought a spare light, which would enable us to finish the ride and was crucial at this point in the ride.
Mile by mile we were getting closer, Whiteways passed, Amberley mount passed and before we knew it we had one climb left. The infamous “Heart Attack” just up from the A24. As we sailed over the top there was a sense of relief that all the climbs were done. By now we are 22 hours and some in. I stupidly looked at Connor and joked that sub 23 hours was doable. Before I knew it, we found ourselves sprinting past Chanctonbury ring, past the pigs in Steyning and all the way down towards the finish.
We could hear the girls shouting as we acknowledged to each other that we had just finished the South Downs Way Double. It was such a surreal moment, I felt like I needed to let a tear of joy out but was so tired I couldn’t haha!
23 Hours and 4 minutes elapsed time.
20 Hours 44 minutes moving.
22,000ft of climbing.
Bike: Scott Spark 900 RC Team Issue
Wheelset: HUNT Race XC Wide