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Forever Battling Headwinds With Chris Hall

5 Nov 2020
Randall Cooper
Ultra-distance challenge specialist Chris Hall is no stranger to pushing himself to the limit on the bike. He’s cycled across the Nullarbor Plain of Australia, over the Silk Road mountain passes of Kyrgyzstan, and conquered the mountains of Romania on the saddle. But when the 107th edition of the Tour de France came around this year, Chris wanted to honour the personal significance of that number by pushing himself further than ever before.

Chris embarked on what he called the #107TDF project, with the aim to raise money and awareness for the Pace Centre, a special-needs school which provides specialist education and therapy to 107 children with motor neurone diseases such as cerebral palsy.

His task? To ride the width and the length of the UK for the duration of the Tour de France - three weeks - riding 107 miles each day. Read below for the full account of Chris’ incredible story. 

 

My Story

This year, I wanted to do something special. I’m a cycling lover and something of a challenge specialist - essentially meaning that I enjoy punishing myself on the bike by riding crazy distances in crazy places in crazy conditions.

I haven’t always been this way. I was never a sporty kid and I actually used to be very overweight at 120 kilos. At that point the only reason I would get on a bike was to get myself from point A to point B in my student days.

That all changed when I came across the Pace Centre. Two of my close friends have children there, so I have seen first-hand the lifechanging work the Centre does. It’s very close to my heart. As a result, when someone at Pace decided to organise a road-biking expedition across Romania in honour of its sister-school there, I decided to get on board.

I realised that I had quite the task on my hands to get myself in shape for the challenge, so I hit the saddle hard, getting myself down to 100kgs in the process.

From that moment I was hooked.

After completing the Romania challenge, I realised then and there that this was something I wanted to do more of. I wanted to keep pushing myself further and further on the bike and see how much awareness and fundraising I could bring for the Pace Centre in the process.

For me, these challenges are also about inspiring other people and getting them to do things they never thought possible of themselves; to get onto a bike and do something that’s out of their comfort zone. As long as people keep being inspired, I’ll keep doing them.

 

 

#TDF107 Project

With the 107th edition of the Tour de France rolling around this year, I wanted to honour the significance of that number by doing my hardest challenge ever.

One hundred and seven is the number of kids who are currently in the Pace Centre’s care, so I have a penchant for doing ultra-distance challenges themed around that number. A few years ago, for example, I rode 107 kilometres every day for 107 days.

This year, my initial plan was to ride the course of the Tour de France non-stop, start-to-finish, but that plan was scuppered by COVID-19.

Instead, I decided to bring the Tour de France to the UK.

The plan was simple: I’d ride 107 miles every day across the UK for the duration of the Tour de France, producing an itinerary which would take me from London to the very precipice of the UK’s rugged extremities.

Every day, I’d ride one mile for each child at the Pace Centre. I set up a live GPS tracker of my location and a donation page for the Centre, hoping to inspire people to donate what they can.

The plan was to go from my starting point in London to the southernmost tip of the UK at Land’s End in the South West, then ride up the spine of the entire island through to the very northernmost tip of Scotland at John O’ Groats, ride all the way back down to the UK’s eastern most point at Lowestoft, and then come full circle finishing where it all started, at my flat in London.

I knew how much this was going to punish me, so I gave myself three rest days, which is the same the Tour pros have (if you include the Time Trial day, which many treat like a rest day).

 

The Ride

It was brutal. Absolutely brutal.

In riding to Land’s End first I deliberately made it so I’d be doing the hardest part of the course first, and I certainly got what I bargained for. The UK’s south west is notorious for its sharp, steep hills which punish you on the saddle. The climbs down that way would very often be above 20% gradient, which all had to be done on a fully-loaded bike.

In those first 5 days, not only did I ride the same elevation as I did across my entire ride of Australia, I registered a total TSS (training stress score) of 2129, which is the equivalent of doing 3x 1 hour maximum effort time trials per day for a week.

I further compounded my misery by deliberately choosing a harder, more scenic route rather than the standard one which is popular as a charity ride in the UK. This again was because I wanted to make the challenge as hard as possible for myself. I wanted people to see how hard the going was and to see how much I was suffering, thinking that this would provide the extra motivation needed to donate their money in the midst of a global pandemic- and it worked!

 

 

I then went about riding up through the UK’s spine, passing through more incredibly challenging but beautiful regions like the Peak and Lake Districts.

As I got further north the weather predictably became more of a challenge, and by the time I’d crossed the Scottish border I was being treated to Scotland’s finest hospitality, which alternated between rain, hail and sleet.  

In the 5 days I spent in Scotland I cut through the country’s East, riding through Edinburgh, Inverness and the Cairngorm Mountains in what can only be classified as ridiculous weather conditions. A 40-mile per hour tail-wind that helped push me to the very top of Scotland at John O’ Groats soon presented a double-edged sword as it turned into a vicious head-wind on my way back down, combining with sections of muddy gravel trails that were best described as riding in tar.

At the end of each day of riding I was close to a physically broken man, crashing into my motel bed with increasing vigour.

 

 

Light at The End of The Tunnel

As I edged closer and closer to the finish line, I was getting more and more emotional.

While I had anticipated how much the challenge would physically test me, I had not expected how much it would challenge me mentally. Although I never really doubted that I could do it, I found the unrelenting pressure to complete the 107 miles each day to be really anxiety-inducing, particularly as someone who has struggled with poor mental health in the past.

This combined with the physical and mental exhaustion truly made me emotional.

The very last days were particularly overwhelming as I began to ride on roads I recognised and see people I knew, and especially as my phone went off with notifications from people donating to my cause. I have been so deeply moved by the generosity on display – even more so in such an uncertain year with so much financial and emotional hardship.

On the final day, I broke down in tears a total 5 times.

Near my flat in London is an ice-cream truck and as I passed it, I decided to stop, sit down and have an ice-cream, and I just sat down with it and cried, such was my state of emotion.

I couldn’t believe that I had done- it’s honestly still sinking in.

It was easily the hardest thing I have ever done, but I am so proud to have done it.

 

 

The Numbers

The final end-of-ride stats are truly insane. In the end, I rode a total distance of 2242 miles – 86 miles further than the Tour de France, at an average distance of 175 kilometres a day, summitting a total elevation six times higher than Everest.

I spent an average of 7.5 hours per day on the bike with a total of 145 hours over the 20 days, which is more riding in three weeks than most people would ride in their lifetime commute to work. 

But the most important number of all is not how many miles I rode or in how much time, but the amount of money raised for the Pace Centre through this challenge. This, I am proud to say, is now over £12.4k, which is a vital contribution to Pace in a time when charities and particularly smaller charities like Pace are doing it exceptionally tough.

I am so proud to have raised the money and awareness I have for a charity like the Pace Centre through my challenges, knowing that it’s giving my friends’ children and the other 105 kids there a future.

You can find the link to the donation page here: click here.

 

 

How Premax Helped

As someone who has struggled with saddle sores, I am happy to say that I had no issues this challenge, which I can put down to two things- the quality of my saddle and of the Premax Chamois Cream. I don’t generally need to use chamois cream unless I am riding multi-day events, so Premax’s Chamois Cream was perfectly suited to this, and it did the job as always.

This challenge was also the moment I fell in love with the Warm Up Cream- that stuff is brilliant! I would wake up so incredibly tired and sore every morning and the Warm Up Cream quickly became a morning ritual in getting me back up and ready to go. I’d rub it all over my legs before breakfast and by the time I’d finished I could really feel that my legs felt looser. The tube also lasted me the entire challenge, which was perfect. I squeezed the last of it out on the last day of riding, so I thought that it was pretty spot on!




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