The Festive 500 and the Cycling and Running Year Just Gone

The Festive 500 and the Cycling and Running Year Just Gone

In recent years, the Festive 500 seems to have become a little divisive.

Sponsored by cycle clothing company Rapha, the Festive 500 is a challenge, largely undertaken using Strava, for cyclists to complete a total of 500km of riding between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. That’s eight days to ride an average of 62.5km a day.

Cycling Weekly news editor Andy Beckett wrote a piece for their email publication, The Leadout, explaining why he won’t be doing it either this year or ever.

He writes:

I understand that people like pushing themselves, and having this once a year target must help do that, but it is too much, even if most people are off. Not everyone has some kind of Hollywood-perfect family Christmas, but a lot of people do spend it with their loved ones, and the idea of using that special time, in potentially the worst conditions of the year, to cycle a lot, seems mad to me.

And of course, in many respects he’s right. Most people have time off, but not all. Many spend the Christmas and New Year’s period with loved ones, but not all. And the weather conditions in the northern hemisphere aren’t their best, but then it wasn’t actually that bad in the UK this year (it was colder a month or so ago), and not everyone lives in northern Europe or northern parts of the US or Canada.

Meanwhile Francis and Jimmy over on Francis Cade’s YouTube channel see it as “overrated”. The general view there seems to be that it encourages people to do 500km which they might not be capable of.

To which I would say, you really shouldn’t do it if 500km is a lot for you. Of course it’d be much more sensible to attempt that distance at a hotter, more clement time of the year. But for many people, it’s not such a big deal.

For many people 62.5km is a couple of hours riding or so – and it’s easier if you do it with others. Many folk have to spend a couple of hours a day just walking their dog, or traveling to work.

Not everyone has young kids, or indeed families constantly around them. For many, getting out on the bike can be a blessed relief from other things going on in their lives.

But as with the Festive 500, you could put just about any cycling or athletic “challenge” into the same boat. You shouldn’t attempt RideLondon or a “century” without some training. You shouldn’t be doing L’Etape du Tour without doing a lot of training. You should’t ride an End-to-End without training. You certainly shouldn’t run a marathon without sufficient training, and if you’ve never run before, you shouldn’t even run a Parkrun without doing something like the Couch-to-5K to get you there.

The Festive 500 isn’t for everyone. If you’re travelling a lot over Christmas, have a young family, a big family, have to work, are susceptible in bad weather, or indeed are otherwise unwell or injured, you probably should think twice before attempting it.

But I’m not going to tell anyone what’s a good idea and what’s not. There are people cycling around the world, running the length of Africa or running a marathon every day for various reasons. I couldn’t do those things, but that doesn’t mean others can’t.

With that out of my system, I have this year completed the Festive 500 for the third time, and indeed managed it whilst visiting my family.

Ride One: North Norfolk to Holkham
Christmas Eve
Distance: 79.9km

If there was one thing about the weather over Christmas and New Year this year, it was the wind. It was never all that cold, but there were strong gusts across much of the UK. This round trip made clear to me that this would not be an easy challenge.

Ride Two: Norwich and the Norfolk Coast
Boxing Day
Distance: 120.08km

This would be my longest ride, heading from my parents’ home in the pre-dawn of Boxing Day (I only went for a run on Christmas Day), and heading towards Norwich before looping out to the coast and back north-west to my start point. Along the way, I saw a number of people going for Boxing Day swims in the North Sea – so I’m certainly not alone in the foolish stakes!

Ride Three: Morston and Back
27 December
Distance: 42.78km

Not the longest of rides, but it was wet, and I am fortunate to have a decent GoreTex rain jacket for such purposes. I managed to time my ride just as one of the steam trains running along the North Norfolk line from Sheringham to Holt, passed across a bridge in front of me.

Ride Four: Cambridge North to Huntingdon
28 December
Distance: 30.65km

I’d been for a run earlier, and now on my return home, I had the challenge of the Rail Replacement Bus Service. National Rail regularly schedules lots of track upgrades over the Christmas period theoretically because fewer people are travelling. Except lots of people are travelling including many who use the train much less frequently at other times. They’re visiting friends and family, and it’s those people who’s journeys are elongated by this kind of work. Many think that scheduling track closures during January or August would actually be less disruptive. Yes, it’d affect some commuting, but our rail journeys are already shifting away from being quite as work focused and more leisure focused.

Anyway, there are two ways to London from Norwich – the mainline into Liverpool Street which had a bus replacement service from Witham, and the route via Cambridge, which had a bus replacement service between Cambridge North and Royston. Theoretically, there was the potential or a route via Peterborough, but that’s not actually a ticketed route of the rail system.

Rail Replacement Bus Services do not take full-size bikes. So the only option open to me was to ride a stretch of the route, with my 15kg backpack of clothes and gifts, to another station. I could have ridden to Royston, but preferred the route to Huntingdon which for two thirds of it, to St Ives, runs along a bike track parallel to the Guided Busway. In other words, it’s traffic free. Now it should be mentioned that a stretch of the route was actually closed due to flooding, which I didn’t know until I reached it. The Guided Busway was running, so I just walked my bike through the mud for a 400m stretch until I could mount it again (riding in the mud was something I tried, but didn’t really work with road tyres). From St Ives it was on roads to Huntingdon and the train from there back towards London.

Ride Five: London to Cambridge
Ride Six: Cambridge to Royston
29 December
Distance: 82.33km and 24.89km

I wanted to return to Cambridge to do a little book browsing and visit the Raspberry Pi store, so it was a ride back to Cambridge the following day – this time without a big rucksack (although I did have a smaller backpack with a lock and room for purchases). The good news was that the wind was behind me much of the way, although it was against me for my shorter return to Royston where I was able to once again pick up a train. It also started raining by the time I reached Cambridge. To be honest, I was now feeling it a bit.

Ride Seven: North London to Wateringbury
30 December
Distance: 79.18km

I was visiting my brother’s family, and I was carrying gifts. In retrospect, a large breadboard was not the best thing to carry on your back all the way. Adding to the fun was the fairly constant rain throughout my ride, and the fact that I was riding into a headwind pretty much the entire way. That totally made up for the tailwind I’d had the previous day.

This was also not the nicest of rides. It was mostly quite urban, starting in the northern-most part of London and crossing it entirely before staying in urban areas down towards Dartford. Only for the last few tens of kilometres did you feel you were actually riding in the countryside. Hilly too, crossing the North Downs.

Ride Eight: Hertfordshire Loop
31 December
Distance: 37.41km

With only 35km or so left to ride to hit the 500km, I planned a route that just about had the minimum number of kilometres I needed to ride. My weather apps told me that it wasn’t going to be wet, so I gave my GoreTex jacket a day off and, well, of course it started raining within a couple of minutes of leaving home.

Distance: 503.1km
Moving Time: 20hrs 22mins
Elapsed Time: 21hrs 30mins
Elevation Gain: 3,692m
Calories: 15,514

The headwind made this year’s riding hard. As I say, it wasn’t cold, but it was windy, and at times, it was wet. I think the things that made the difference for me on the bike were my Rapha Brevet GoreTex Rain Jacket which was invaluable, and my Northwave Celsius XC Arctic Gore-Tex Winter Boots bought recently on sale at Wiggle. They keep you feet both warm and very dry. Expensive outside of sales, but worth it if you ride through the winter.

All told, those extra kilometres meant that 2023 was my biggest ever cycling year. I cycled 12,222km (compared with 11,982 in 2022 and 10,927 in 2021) and climbed a combined 124,000 metres – or about 14x the height of Everest. That included my second Etape du Tour which helped.

Next year should see much more running, although 2023 was surprisingly not my biggest running year with 735km run (compared with 580km in 2022 and 887km in 2021). But I did do my longest run, just topping 25km. In 2024, that should jump to 42km 🙂