The Eiger Race 2010

The Eiger has a reputation second to none for not only its great beauty but also its fearsome reputation. The North Face of the Eiger was first climbed in 1938 and since that time more than 64 climbers have met their deaths attempting to conquer it.  So it was  with disbelief that early in 2010 I listened to my friend Shpend Gerguri trying to persuade me that we should enter the Eiger Challenge – a mountain bike race up ‘Murder Mountain’.

Shpend and I had done many races and events together and we were always looking for the next big challenge, one that none of our friends had done.  But the Eiger? surely this was going a bit far I thought.  Eventually we talked each other into it and gradually we realised that normal training was not going to be enough.  I put myself through hell for the six months leading up to the race including 3 x 80 -100 mile rides, and a 142km Enduro, Shpend did the same, but each night when I went to sleep I would lie awake wondering if this would be enough?

The race was in early August so the weather promised to be good.   We both took a week off work and made our way down to Dover where we caught the ferry across, then taking it in turns to drive, we made our way through Belgium, Germany and finally into Switzerland, it was a 12 hour trip and exhausting.  We had booked ourselves into a small hotel on the outskirts of Grindelwald (a small town at the foot of the Eiger), we awoke the morning after our journey to the most spectacular views and couldn’t wait to assemble our bikes and ride off toward the town to familiarise ourselves.

As we came into Grindelwald we got our first sight of the Eiger.  It was silent, beautiful and intimidating, I couldn’t help as I gazed at the snow capped peak to think about all the men who had died trying to climb it. The Graveyard in the town bore witness to the violent history of the mountain with rows and rows of graves dedicated to the brave men who had risked their lives for glory, it bought a lump to my throat.

The time came for us to register for the race at the local Sports Centre, there were 3 distances available 22k, 55k and 88k, naturally we went for the 88k, we couldn’t seriously come all the way here and not do the toughest race available could we?  At this point we were both quite confident, until one of the German officials gave us a look of disbelief that we were doing the 88k, he asked us if we were good at carrying zee bikes with a sarcastic smile on his face.  I remember thinking, he doesn’t know me, or what I’ve done, and no mountain is going to get the better of me!!

The next morning we woke early about 6 am I think, to see that outside it was dark, cold, windy and pouring with rain.  Somehow this didn’t really fit with my vision of riding through beautiful alpine fields with the sun on my back, but we kept telling ourselves it would brighten up, and made our way to the start at the bottom of the mountain.

We were both nervous but trying not to show it, the 88k course wasn’t just up the Eiger, it was round it, down it, up the next mountain, and the next and included a total of 13500 ft of climbing (off road).  Soon after we left the start I lost sight of Shpend who was out in front of me, I stopped worrying about whether I was going to beat him and focused on climbing the mountain.  I knew it was going to be a long hard ride and tried to conserve my energy as much as possible.  As we wound our way up the mountain through the little villages, many of the locals had come out to cheer us on,  and rattle their cow bells, this I found helped me in my battle against gravity.  Whilst training in England I had rarely if ever got out of the middle ring on climbs and certainly hardly ever went into the ‘Granny’, I was convinced I would be able to ride the Eiger without going into the ‘Granny’.

How wrong I was! After an hour of climbing I was already in the smallest gear I had.  My legs were hurting, my back was hurting, it was pouring with rain and we’d only just started.  I could see above me riders going up and up and up, after another hour of climbing with no break and with the summit still nowhere to be seen, many riders around me were walking, I resisted as long as I could but there comes a point when you are moving so slowly because of the gradient that you lose your balance.

So after 2 hrs of climbing I found myself alone in the mist, with just my thoughts to keep me company.  Just a few years earlier I had suffered from a Spontaneous Pneumothorax (Collapsed lung), I knew that there was a chance that it could collapse again especially at altitude, but had chosen to take that risk.  My lungs felt like they were burning and the pain got more and more intense, I wondered if the lung was collapsing, what would I do? there was no medical support where I was, I could die!  What would happen if I died here?  What would people think of me? Would my Girlfriend and the people I loved  ever come to this place? I sat down and cried.

Psychologically the Eiger had beaten me, I was in the lowest place mentally I had ever been in my life, I had been climbing for 2 hrs and yet still I could see no end to the ascent.  I began to think of all the brave ancestors I had and how they would be ashamed if they could see me feeling sorry for myself on this mountain.

I got up and continued my climb on foot,  the pain in my chest was still there and I wondered if maybe I was having a heart attack (I was 42).  I watched my heart rate monitor and tried to keep it to under 160 bpm which seemed to help.

Finally I could see riders coming down the ski slope in front of me, the top must be near!  After 2 1/2 hrs of climbing I finally reached the top and carefully made my way down.  The race was far from over with more peaks to climb and sketchy descents to be made.  After 5 1/2 hrs in the saddle I was coming back into Grindalwald knowing that I still had another massive mountain to climb before the finish.  It was with relief that I was stopped from making this ascent as I’d exceeded the time limit.  I rode into the finish to a sea of cheering faces, but not with happiness, with relief that the race for me was over.

My friend Shpend Gerguri beat the time limit and continued to the final summit, finishing his ride of 88km in about 9 hrs.  Shpend told me he’d had the same feelings and also found himself in tears and thinking about his unborn child and wife back home in England.

Nearing the top of that mountain in such self doubt and pain was a humbling experience and one which has taught me a lot about myself and made me not only a stronger rider but a stronger person.  It was an experience I will never forget and any riders out there who want to test themselves you won’t get much more of a test than the Eiger Challenge,  I look forward to reading your story.

This 6 minute video of one of the other competitors gives you an idea of the determination required


Guidance on the use of Gyms by Children

Whilst in my capacity as Business Development Manager at IMSPA in mid 2011 (now CIMSPA)  I was receiving more and more enquiries from Gym operators asking if there was any Industry Guidance  relating to the admission of children into their Gyms. I knew that ISRM (Institute of Sport and Recreation Management) had previously released information notes relating to this, but this was some time ago and  much had changed in terms of appropriate qualifications and safety considerations such as CRB checks that I thought it was time to update this information.

With the support of IMSPA I set up a working group of experts.  The group included representatives from the FIA (Fitness Industry Association now UK Active), REPS (Register of Exercise Professionals), Operators (SLM), Prof Paul Gatley (Leeds Met), SkillsActive and ShoKK a specialist in the provision of Children’s exercise equipment.

In Nov 2011 I chaired a lengthy conference call, and a follow up meeting at the FIA offices in London.  This resulted in a tome of email correspondence, researching, checking and political negotiating.   I am pleased to say that the Guidance was finally published by the FIA in early March 2012.

This is something I am very proud to have been involved with and would like to compliment Pete Wells from the FIA specifically for sticking with it and not being distracted from the task by the explosive political wranglings taking place at the time.

NB The guidance also covers exercise classes and sport specific training within a club environment.

You can view the guidance here

Charlie Wakefield Wins Ryston Race !

Two weeks ago I was torn between doing the Cannock MTB race or a Duathlon in Thetford Forest, but in the end I decided to go and see my nephews Charlie (9) and Harry (6) do their last race of the season at their local club.  It was Mothers Day too so another good reason!

Neither Charlie or Harry knew that I was coming to watch them, so when I stood on the start line and bellowed their names, they looked round with a slightly embarrassed grin that their ‘Mad’ uncle Ian had come to watch. Which made me smile too.

I ran off down to the first corner to cheer them on, where my brother (their father) had already positioned himself strategically at the bottom of a big hill.

Their Mum was at the top of the hill ready to give encouragement too!  Not that we Wakefields are competitive at all!!

Bang ! the starters gun goes off and a sea of children come sprinting towards us, and believe me for under 9’s they are sprinting! 2:48 mins for 800 m is sub 6 minute miles, and I remember how painful 6 minute miles were.

Charlie came round the corner in second place and looked comfortable, the boy in front had beaten him before but not in the current season.  Not far behind was little Harry in about 5 th  place (12 secs faster than Charlie at the same age), a real talent for future years.

The next time I saw them, Charlie was coming into the finishing straight and had a clear lead.   I was so proud  and shouted to him to try for the course record (He’d only missed it by 3 secs in the last race).  He ran strongly and finished a comfortable winner, but I couldn’t help wonder if he’s got the record?

Not far behind him (about 30 secs) came little brother Harry, whose style is currently a mixture between stumbling and running which does make me smile but probably it’s probably because he’s going so fast. A great result for both boys.

I was pleased to find that Charlie had gained the Club Record for the run at 2:48 mins 2 secs quicker than the previous record which had stood for over 10 years.  He was only 1 sec outside the all comers record of 2:47 mins.  Now he is at the end of his age group so no more chances for the record, guess he will have to leave it for little brother Harry.

Can’t help thinking how well they’re doing and how I never won a race in my life but am still trying at 44!  Will they still be going at my age? Or will they have given up and discovered drugs, rock n roll and fast cars? Who knows but I hope they have the habit of exercise for life.

Later whilst at the prize giving I met two people who had and did inspire me, the first was a 75-year-old lady called Mary Holmes who was still competing at Cross Country, and looked very sprightly too, I wished her well and hoped I would be still going at 75.

The second was an athlete who will forever have his name etched into my memory. In my teenage years whilst competing for various clubs, one boy called Darren Mead from Thetford   had dominated all the local races.  He had gone on to represent Great Britain at the World Junior Cross Country Championships in Switzerland (1986) and gained a No 1 ranking for 10 miles for U 17’s (1987).   I had often wondered what had become of this talented boy?  Well here he was at the prize giving with his son, who had obviously inherited some of his talent.  My sister-in-law introduced me and we reminisced about how long ago it was we used to compete, and although he said he was still fit he appeared not to have competed for some time, hope maybe we’ll see him run again next year.

Well done to my Sister in Law Caroline Wakefield who was second Senior Lady in the series and Charlie Wakefield who won the Under 9’s series, not forgetting little Charlie who will surely win many events in years to come, and even if he doesn’t his ‘Mad’ uncle Ian will be proud as long as he does his best.

Whilst there I thought it would be great to have a go in the mens race, and was pleased with my 29 mins over 6.5 km considering the lack of running I do these days.

Video of Charlie and Harry 2 years ago in the same race!

Update – on 26 March 2012 Charlie became County Champion for under 9’s at the County Showground!


Winning the U15 Ryston Grand Prix aged 12 on 11th October 2015

Thetford Winter Series – Round 4 2012

Round 4

Sunday 26 th February 2012 saw the final round of the Thetford Winter Series.  The week before the race I’d had a really busy time, getting organised for the Nottinghamshire School Games as part of my job (A bit like the Olympics only smaller :-)), so with a few 12 hour days and 250 mile round trip to Thetford, I really thought I had wrecked my chances of a good race.

This coupled with no training since the previous weekends 50 mile ride up and down the canals of Erewash (Lovely!),  wasn’t filling me with confidence, in fact I was even thinking of not racing at all after pre-riding the course with my brother and a friend on the Saturday, and barely being able to keep up with them in places.

Still Sunday morning came and I got myself motivated, went through all the usual routines of making up drinks bottles, preparing a food belt and picking out my kit.

The weather was warm and many of the 600 riders were in short sleeves, the gun went off and I was soon pedaling like mad, and trying to stay far enough away from the guy in front and to the side, behind to make sure I didn’t cause an accident.  I knew I was going to have to average a 30 minute lap to beat the bar, and I knew this was going to be tough going with the preparation I’d had (Not!),  so I tried to maintain a good pace but also to reserve some energy at the same time, this seemed to work with the first 6 mile lap coming in at 27.45 mins about 4 mins behind the leaders, subsequent laps were 28, 29 and 30 mins, I was about 4 minutes under the 2 hr cut off which was a result in itself.  I was determined to put in a good last lap a pushed as hard as I could although every joint, muscle and breath were painful.

Coming into the finish I knew a rider in my category had clawed his way back to me and was going to do his best to ‘Drop me’ in the last 1/2 mile so I cranked up the gears, got into a time trial position and pushed as hard as I could.  I never looked round (A sign of weakness right!) but I could hear him panting, puffing and swearing, I managed to hold him off through the line, whereupon which both congratulated each other and collapsed on the floor.

The satisfaction of having finished all 4 rounds successfully and with consistent positions, the last one being my best (46th) felt good.  Looking forward to Mud, Sweat and Gears in May!!

The moral of the story being “You may feel at your worst, but if you apply yourself that’s when you’re at your best”.