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Hero Ride

One of our most inspiring supported athletes, Craig Preece, has just completed the awesome Hero Ride aboard his Planet X Mondo. Here's his ride report.

After being injured in Afghanistan in August 2010 and subsequently having my leg amputated a year later, Help for Heroes have been a constant support for me. I have always been a keen supporter of this charity even before I was injured and now that I’m competing at a good level with help from H4H, I have been keen to give something back.  As soon as I heard about the Hero Ride 2013 I wanted to do it.  I had been on the team from  the launch date when myself and a few other injured soldiers along with Peta Todd and Lorraine Kelly, both long time supporters of the forces launched this to the world at horse guards parade.  Now the time had finally come to take part.  As I talked to my coach about the event just after one of the local race meets he said “Its your easy week next so keep below  zone 2  “Hmmmm 445 miles over the next 6 days staying in zone 2 that’s going to be interesting.

As I met the full team at Catterick there was 14 injured guys and 10 support riders. 6 of the injured guys were on hand bikes.  One of these lads was a triple amputee,  Craig wood from Doncaster.  Chatting away it soon dawned on me who had been training and who was trying to cuff it but after having a kit check and a few briefs we jumped in the vans and headed up to Scotland.  Team strategic lions were our support crew and they actively fundraise for Hep for Heroes.

The atmosphere driving up to Edinburgh our start point was very relaxed with Army banter in full flow and a lot of piss taking.  When we arrived at the Castle which was to be our home for that evening the logistic nightmare began.  Our accommodation was on the 6th floor, the top floor!  We had 14 injured guys with the majority missing limbs or with spinal injuries.  The only way up was walk or be carried.  It was hilarious as we made our way up these spiral staircases trying not to fall.  Even funnier was some of the faces of people donning Lycra for the first time.  Some of them was a sheer look of disgust realising this was their kit for the next 6 days.  

Day 1 Edinburgh castle to Bellingham

With a quick photo shoot outside the castle and a piper wishing us farewell.  We set off on our first stint approx 80 miles all downhill apparently( It was north to south after all)  Day 1 turned out to be very very hilly.  The hand bikes struggled on the steep gradients.  The team adopted the tactic of having a lead to pull the hand bikes up the hills and the rest of us helped push from behind.  My zone 2 tactic went out the window as we crossed the border as I was pushing for about four miles.  A quick photo shoot at the border and some savage posing and we were on the road again. That night after over 3000 metres of climbing and some amazing team work we arrived in Bellingham. That night I think it dawned on some of the riders how hard this challenge was going to be.

Day 2 BELLINGHAM to Catterick

With tired arms legs and bums we set off on our next 86 miles.  By now the news of 24 injured crazy cyclists was spreading.  People were coming out of their houses and cheering. Cars were beeping their  horns and the support we were receiving was amazing.  It really made a difference and provided some much needed morale.  This was the hardest day mentally for me as I couldn’t get warm as my heart rate was below 60%.  I finished the day with 6 layers  on looking suspiciously like the Michelin man.  Despite the Hilly terrain the team did amazingly well  and managed to average just under 15mph.  For anyone who hasn’t been on a hand bike that is an impressive average over that terrain.

Over the next 3 days we covered 90+ miles each day.  With the terrain levelling off after we passed through Ripon.   The team was by now very slick with all riding techniques and the constant call of “POTHOLE” and “MARKER COMING THROUGH” It was said that frequently I was hearing it in my sleep.  As we were finding there were less hills the Hand bikes really started to enjoy the riding.  The hand bikes had turned into torpedoes over night and were scarily fast downhill.

Over the last couple of days we gained a couple of part timers on to the ride.  This came in the form of Chris Last(Planet X) , my wife Allison Preece and my brother Daniel Preece.  Although Chris was fresh he still needed a one legged man to help him push and pull the hand bikes up the hills!! Which I constantly reminded him about.  Although to be fair he gave as good as he got in terms of banter.  By now it had become a standard joke that Mikey, one of the hand cyclists, wasn’t working on the hills as Chris was struggling to pull him up.  He was it was just good banter and something we laughed and joked about.  He took it all in good faith and was saying he was learning Mandarin Chinese and playing travel scrabble on the hills to pass the time.  This resulted in him being presented with a crossword for the next day’s ride.

The Last day saw us travel from Harlow to Blackheath to meet up with all the other Hero riders which had also travelled from all over the country including the ride that began in Paris.  The Journey to Blackheath provided us with  our biggest logistical nightmare as we arrived at the Woolwich ferry to find it shut.  The only way over was to go down a huge spiral staircase and through the tunnel under the Thames.  With no prosthetic limbs in site the double amputees had to be carried down.  Not only this but all the hand bikes and bikes had to be humped down and carted through the tunnel.  

We thought as went through Woolwich it would be a fitting tribute to have a minutes silence at the scene of the previous weeks  tragic events which resulted in the death of drummer lee Rigby.  The extent of the floral tributes at the scene was truly an indication of the public support and grief.  This had made the ride even more poignant.

As we neared Blackheath people had come out in the thousands to cheer us all on.  When we arrived we were allocated yellow t-shirts to represent the gold medal of the Help For Heroes logo.  Non injured cyclists were given either red, navy blue and sky blue to represent the three armed services.

The team were ecstatic at achieving getting to Blackheath and now only ten miles of cycling stood in our way.  This was nothing as we had already covered 435 miles.  While we were waiting for cyclists to get in to formation I did several media interviews.  For me it was all about the hand cyclists and their epic achievement.  

We then set off for our last ten miles riding together.  By now there was 1500 riders in the pack and it made an amazing spectacle as we rode through London on closed roads.  The atmosphere was electric with people singing and cheering through every tunnel.. The support was amazing and people came out in thousands to support all the riders and acknowledge there fantastic achievement.  As we rounded the corner at Buckingham we got into our final formation to create the Help For Heroes medal.  We then very slowly moved down the mall so the awaiting cameras could capture this iconic moment.  As I travelled down it gave me shivers down my spine to be part something so massive and made very thankful to be alive after what happened;  The ride finished on Horse Guards parade where I had launched it all those months before.  I had come full circle.  

To be part of this challenge was amazing and humbling seeing people with far worse injuries than mine work together as a team to achieve something amazing and raise a substantial amount of money to aid injured soldiers both serving and veterans like myself.  To have my family there to support me made it even more special.

Craig rides a Planet X Mondo Bike. Buy yours here.

   

14 June 2013

Mondo Bikes and CT45 Wheels