Racing Firsts

I have wanted to ride Battle on the Beach for a few years, but unsuitable dates and inappropriate bikes have meant that this is the first year I have managed to enter.  The race is Britain’s only beach race, and the course is designed to be rideable on Fat, Mountain and Cross bikes with sections being unsuitable for each bike, it’s a real melting pot of cycling cultures.

IMG_0666

Battle in the Dark:

There were a whole host of firsts ticked off in 10km on a bike: first time trial, first race on the beach and first ride off-road in the dark – what could possibly go wrong?

Riders are set off at 10 second intervals; I start middle to back of the 100 plus riders.  I set off, but I’m off again after 200m to run the 150m of soft dry sand at the top of the beach.  I IMG_0661lose a big chunk of time to riders on fat bikes and fattish mountain bikes, but once on the wet sand I’m back on the bike and off.  I put down the power in an attempt to get some time back.  I settle into what feels like a sustainable effort, looking down I am pleased to notice I’m sitting at over 32kph.  I pass the people that had me while I was running, two of whom are treating it as a two-up TT, and also my 10 second man.  I keep the power on until I notice a rock groin across my path.  I slam on my brakes, dismount and shoulder the bike – in my mind this is one fluid elegant motion but in reality I expect to looked like a drunk giraffe ice skating.  I pick my way past the first line of rocks over the soft sand centre and back out the other side of rocks.  Back on the bike and back on the rivet – again.

The end of the beach leg is marked by a series of stakes with red lights on the top, off again to run up a steep, deep ‘v’ section cut between the dunes and back onto the bike about 55m later.  Here the more technical section of the route begins, and where the night aspect of IMG_0668the race begins to change the dynamic.  On one level being in the dark is a hindrance, not having an idea of what to expect much more than 50m away – making gear selection and speed into corners a bit of creative guesswork.  On a more positive note, not being able to see too far ahead meant that I was less likely to bottle it on the more technical sections (I’m not an awful off road rider – but by no means great – but I tend to run out of bravery before ability).  The first half of the technical section is quite close to the beach, so there are a number of areas where the path gives way to sand pits, being on a cross bike I try to skirt around the edges of these keeping on the grassy peripherals where at all possible.  Where I can’t do this I keep pedalling and try not to fight the handlebars and let the bike find a route.  One section in this area is particularly tricky, for a man of my abilities, it involves a short but sharp decent on soft sand into a tight right hander.  I don’t notice it until the last moment – as I overtake another rider – but manage to use the side of the sand pit as a berm missing most of the sand on the descent.  Rather lucky, but duly noted for tomorrow’s race.  Then it’s into the forest, with a series of diggy little climbs and steep rutted descents. Not long into this section I am either caught by or catch another rider on a mountain bike, and I try to keep up with him using him as a route finder for the best lines in this unfamiliar territory.  Before I know it, I have come out of the pine forest and out onto the grassy lawns of the country park.  I decide it would be bad form to dive past my pilot now, and follow him around the final corner and roll over the line.  It’s at this point I realise there is a third rider behind me.

I finish in one piece; pleased that I have put in a reasonable effort without ruining my legs for the main event the following day.  I finish 66th out of 124 riders – I’ll take that.

https://www.strava.com/activities/917608840/embed/f6d2970ce2e02ec7950eafd970a2822952069b86

IMG_0665

Battle on the Beach

IMG_0659Having registered the night before, it’s a rather relaxed morning for a race.  No early alarm, no mad dash to get everyone in the car to get to register hours before it closes, only to faff with a last minute ‘something’ and get to the start line moments before the race is due to begin – or even after its begun on one occasion.

 

Lap 1:

I make my way to the start line about 20 minutes before the race is due to start, which is IMG_0657probably 20 minutes too late, as I am so far back I can’t even see the beach – never mind the start line.  We start to walk forward; I assume we have been called forward to the start line.  As the beach comes into view I can see people cycling and running across the beach.  I then realise the race has started, but there is nothing I can do until the 100 or so ahead of me can get going so we just shuffle forward until we can really start to race.

Like the previous night’s time trial I had to run the bike across the soft sand before I could start racing.  Once on the bike all I could see in front of me was a mass of cyclist snaking its way all the way to the horizon.  I make my way to the left hand side of the mass of cyclist (the sea-side – that may even be a deliberate pun) and try to give myself a bit of room to react/avoid other people.  I see the aftermath of a collision, I didn’t think it looked too serious but I hope all involved are OK.  As I get a bit more confident, I move closer to the pack to get a bit of shelter.  As I come towards the end of the 6km beach straight, I move to the right hand side of the mass of fellow racers so I can assess the route off the beach without being squeezed.

Off the bike, to cross the soft sand, and back on again.  The next section of the route starts with a stretch of sandy, grassy dual track.  It’s not especially technical, good surface with the odd smallish sand pit.  It is reminiscent of a BMX or pump track with lots of little rollers – which will burn the thighs if you have gone too hard on the beach.  Along this section I notice how quiet everyone is, usually you get a bit of banter between riders, but for whatever reason whether it was back of pack nerves or just concentrating on the shifting sands of the racing surface chatter is a miss.  This long straight continues for a while before a few gravel fire tracks before we hit the first single track.  The group I’m in file down and we tick over in single file until someone ahead either falls off or stalls as we grind to a holt and have to resort to walking for a bit until we get past a steep sandy bank.  We are now on the bit of the route that is covered by the shorter night route.  The pattern for the rest of the lap follows this template, single file and flowy but likely to find a bottle neck at the more technical sections or steep climbs.

 

Lap 2:

Back onto the beach, and back on the throttle.  By now I have realised that I can get a bit of recovery over some of the single track so I can continue to give it some on the beach – also making the most of where the CX bike is at its best.  As on the first lap I continue to pass riders along the beach section, trying to pick up a bit of a draft as I approach groups before swinging out to pass them.  This is one of those rare occasions where you feel like you are in fast forward when everyone else is playing at normal speed – probably a bonus effect of starting too far back. Again I drift to the right as we approach the exit from the beach.

Off, run and remount.  By now the riders have thinned right out, so I pick off and chase down solo and small groups of riders across the rollers and the gravel roads and join a IMG_0646small group as we hit the single track.  I’m at the back of the group and we rattle along, as we approach the sandy climb that I had to walk in the first lap I hear the clanking of gears – we are going to have a go at getting up this and I change gear accordingly.  We get two thirds of the way up and a rider in front has an issue and stops.  I brake, but seeing a gap I go again.

I don’t go again.  After a nasty noise, no more drive.  I look down – expecting to have dropped my chain. No such luck.   I’ve only gone and broke my bloody chain.  At this point I don’t feel angry, or upset, or anything for that matter. Just empty.  And here’s the rub – as I had forgotten my pump I decided not to take my saddlebag as ‘I would just be carrying an inner tube for the sake of it’ with not a second thought to the multi tool which is the inner tube’s bed fellow. Fuck!

So I embark on the long walk back.  I have no idea how long the walk took, but it felt like a while.  As I walked and began to get bored I had two songs, or lines from songs, going around in my head: Inspiral Carpets (This is how it feels to be lonely, this is how it feels to be small…) and upon seeing a photographer or GoPro Newton Faulkner (Don’t take my photograph, cos I don’t want to know how it looks to feel like this).  This was occasionally broken when passing riders offered their condolences.  This makes me feel better for a moment, but only a moment.  As I approach the start/finish line I cut through a gap in the hedge and cut across the camping field to get to my car before the lap is over – I can’t face crossing the finish line.

 

Lap 3:

There was no lap 3.

https://www.strava.com/activities/917608894/embed/6f3f65dd227d184341045074f067f614d5d1fdc9

 

After I put the bike on the car, it’s off to find the family. Once I find them I go to give my timing chip back with the kids.  The chip box is right next to the IMG_0630marshal giving out the finisher’s medals.  That stung a little.  After chatting to him for a minute, I go to leave and as I do he very generously gives my kids a medal each.  They both put them on as we head over to some space to have our picnic.  It is at this point that my son (who is 6) misinterprets my disappointment about the afternoon’s proceedings as being disappointed about not getting a medal and after giving me a hug tries to put his medal on me.  Then comes the awkward moment trying to tell him that his wonderfully thoughtful gesture just makes me feel worse.

I did however find one of the 25 missing rubber ducks, meaning I got a spot prize of a Lezyne rear light, a pair of Surly socks and a Surly hanky.

Despite its premature end, I really enjoyed my day out at the Battle on the Beach.  The mixture of packed wet sand, dry sandy tracks and forest single track offers something to challenge whatever you’re riding.  I found the wet beach sand the perfect environment for the CX bike, just get low and get pedalling.  The sandy single and double track was great too, trying to pick a route so that you don’t lose too much momentum in the sand pits and the BMX style rollers.  But where I struggled was the rutty sections within the forest.  I wasn’t brave enough to really attack it, and struggled with some of the descents where I wanted to be on the drops for the extra braking power but on the hoods too to get my weight over the back of the bike. It wasn’t so hideous to make it feel unbearable, but certainly a challenge.

I will be back. Hopefully better. Hopefully finishing.

Mud, sweat and gears.

Picture the scene, if you will.  It’s a cold November evening, the fire is on and I have a cup of tea in one hand and the British Cycling website on the laptop.  The enter button is clicked, and I will be racing ‘cross this season.  Fast forward a number of weeks and I’m stood in a cold, damp field in Gloucestershire about the give cyclocross racing a go at Lovecrossed, set in the grounds of Chavenage House near Tetbury.

The course

As I am about to set off for a test run around the course I over hear – actually I am down right eves dropping- a marshal and an elite looking racer talking and the phase “definitely not a course for novices”, which is great as novice is exactly where I am at.

So off I go, up the main straight over the finishing line and is followed by a drop and climb into the woods.  This section is tight, twisty and technical. It’s also narrow and occasionally rooty. To get out of the wooded section there is a steep drop – with a rut at the bottom – followed by an equally steep climb and a tight left hander before the first un-rideable section – a steep, muddy off camber drop – right hander – steep muddy climb combo.

Once back on the bike and into the open grassland, a couple of left handers a hairpinimg_0363 around a tree and then on to the hurdles.  After that, a spaghetti bowl of lefts and rights leading to the second steep down and out before a long off camber out and back with a huge, steep – and quite frankly horrible –  terraced decent with a few off-camber corners and a bloody steep run back up the get back to the off-camber return.  After that the long drag of a climb back to the start line.

By the time I finish my practice lap the Women’s’ and Veterans’ race is about to start, so I grab a coffee and enjoy the action.

The Race

After the Women’s and Vets are done there is just enough time to attempt a warm up in
the in field.  Once onto the course,20170129_130902 the gridded riders are called forward, then the rest are called forward.  I hang back and take up a position right at the back – much at the annoyance of my two kids.

The klaxon goes – I think it was a klaxon, but it may have been a whistle, or even just some fella yelling “go” – and we are off to the soundtrack of shoes clipping in and crunching fullsizerendergears.  As the back of the field finally moves on, a gap opens in front of me, and instinctively I go through it.  Within the first 200 metres I had already noticed how much the surface had deteriorated. It feels like I continue to pick up places as we drop down and then climb up into the woods.  It’s all going well until a moment of inexperience.  The rider in front of me has a wobble and I instinctively grab a handful of front brake, as I do it washes out the front wheel and I just about manage unclip and catch it before I fully spill it.  Having chatted to another racer on my recon mission earlier in the day, I had been advised to consider running down the technical hills if its crowded.  That wasn’t img_5652necessary for the down and out at the end of the wooded section, but it was a very definite case of holding my line and hoping for the best. Once out of the trench it was a case of following wheels and trying to keep out of trouble.  Once past the traction free, gravity multiplying off camber slime bowl, it is a hard push to the hurdles and then on to the first technical decent, which is now stupendously muddy.  I’m still in a crowd, but again I try to ride it having got past it on the practice lap.  Once again my inexperience is plain to see and after seeing 20170129_132236-1riders in front slide about I hanker onto the brakes and away I slide. Again I don’t completely fall, but I do feel the warm embrace of the nettles at the edge of the course.  I run back up again, remounting without losing too much time.  Once out past the off camber out section I have finally given up hope of effortlessly descending so dismount for the final decent of the lap.  Once I’m down the hill that grip forgot, it’s a run back up before the steady climb all the way to the finish line.  This section of the course seems to suit me as I drop the rider on my wheel.

And on to another lap.  As the field spreads out it gets easier to pick lines and find areas where there is more traction.  It would seem the couple of weeks’ panic watching YouTube
screenshot_20170131-181325videos has given me at least some idea of what to do.  One thing remained a constant for the remainder of the race is that I ran the two steep technical descents.  If truth be told I may have run them even if it was backed dry and had a modicum of traction, but with it quickly becoming the land that friction forgot there is no way I was going to ride them.  I was, however, lucky enough to be lapped at the point I reached the last of these descents.  Watching this guy just glide down a hill I could barely walk down was unbelievably impressive.  I can’t believe I just wrote that I am lucky to have been lapped. That really stings the ego I like to pretend I don’t have.  The point being these guys have a grace on a bike that I can only dream of.

screenshot_20170131-181417As the laps tick by a pattern emerges where I pick up places or close gaps while I’m on my bike, particularly the long drag up to the finish line.  But I am losing them on the technical descents, which tells a story of where some work is needed.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day out at lovecrossed, and I am totally hooked on the sport.  When the results came out I was a little disappointed – 39th out of 49.  On reflection it gives me something to work with, and having started flat last that’s a gain of 10 places.  I just need to work on my bike handling, running with the bike and do more intervals work and I could be a contender – well maybe not a contender but certainly quicker.

 

 

Mojo? Mojo? Where for art thou Mojo?

I dare say it happens to all amateur athletes at some point, probably around this time of year. Possibly even every year.

This year however, it feels far more acute. This, I think, is mostly down to having a plan laid out to follow. I’ve been working with Laura at Fryfit for 12 weeks, and I am, genuinely enjoying the increase in focus and img_0038structure. That is once I get myself out the door and actually doing it.
I get my weeks plan on a Thursday or Friday, and I will quickly make a mental plan of how it will fit it – usually swimming on Tuesday and Thursday, run at lunchtime and evening turbo on a Wednesday and weekend run and ride. I feel that this gives me a good blend of family time and training time. The problem is come Tuesday evening – usually quite late after getting the kids to bed after my daughter gets home from Brownies – I just can’t be arsed. I will just sit on the sofa having an internal battle and then re-jig the week in an attempt to justify having the evening ‘off’. I just seem unable to get myself going until I really have no option other than to either do it or drop sessions.

Typically, this coincides with another loss of discipline – eating. It goes something like “Im too tired/it’s too late/I can’t be arsed to go swimming tonight… I may as well have some biscuits with that cup of tea” or “Ooh, fish and chips for dinner?” (Laura, if you are reading this, I am NOT eating biscuits – or fish and chips – while writing this). I definitely find that this is a secondary issue, and once I sort out my training mojo the eating habits always come into line fairly quickly. But that doesn’t help now.

But, and this is the crux of it, how do I rediscover that mojo – that spark. img_0140Initially I have given myself a break – if I’m not feeling it I’m just not feeling it. I just need to deal with the training guilt in a way that doesn’t include custard creams. There is little to be gained from forcing myself out in December if I’m still resenting training come April. But I can’t live in this training hiatus for too long – see previous custard cream statement.

Fear not, for I have a plan – he tells himself. Usually I would just enter one – or a few – cross country races. It isn’t quite that easy at the moment, I’m having a few issues with a knee niggle which has been hampering the time and millage I can committee to running at the moment. This leaves one option, the bike. And one bike in particular.

At this time of year, for road cyclists, it’s all about cyclo-cross. My plan is to enter one pure out and out ‘cross race, the Lovecrossed in img_0048Gloucestershire. What awaits is an hour of mud based threshold suffering (in the best possible way) in the grounds of the country house in Poldark, with the added bonus – and potential argument fodder – of a couple’s race. The second race I’m eying up to kick start my training hunger is the Battle on the Beach held in Pembrey Country Park. It differs from a standard cyclo-cross format in a few ways, primarily the time spent racing. This is far more of an endurance event, comprising of around 45km of racing over sand, single and double track. The idea of the event is that whichever bike you choose (mountain, cross or fat) there will be sections where your bike is perfect, others where it is img_0243less appropriate. I have read a race report from a previous year where a guy on a fat bike barrelled into a puddle in the single track section of the course. The puddle however was far deeper than he anticipated – about a foot deep. The extra air in his tyres caused the bike to stop abruptly ejecting the poor rider into near orbit.

So, with a couple of races I mind, I really hope that I reignite my fire. Before the custard creams and fish and chips have irreversible negative effects on not only my fitness, but also before my clothes shrink too much more. And if my knee sorts its shit out I may be able to race a bit of cross country too. What? A man can dream.

Happy Christmas all, I hope you get all you hoped for, be that presents, family time, lots of food or your mojo back.img_0292

We could be (super) heroes, just for one day

Some people are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them; and finally there are those who dress up as the great (super) heroes of our time.

Last weekend I had the unparalleled privilege of doing a charity ride in aid of Dreams and Wishes with my wife (and I got to dress up as Deadpool as a little bonus).  Dreams and wishes started in 2011 with the aim of fulfilling the dreams of seriously ill children, from games consoles and iPads to help while away the many hours spent in hospital, to family trips and meeting their sporting heroes to help make lifelong positive memories.  Alongside this they also aim to provide support to for both children and their families.

I’ve had myself lined up to do this for a while, but my wife Sian (who, by her own admission, isn’t a cyclist) only gave in to increasing peer pressure 2 weeks before hand, giving her no time to prepare.  She had been keen to do it but was concerned about a few of the hills and also riding on the roads.  We go out cycling as a family, but we use designated traffic free routes, so contending with traffic isn’t something she has to do.

If we are all super heroes, the villain of the piece is potentially the weather.  I am woken up by the sound of rain – lots of rain – pounding against the window.  More of a concern is the tree bending, phone line troubling gusty wind.  By the time we have sorted ourselves out and made our way to the start at Pontardulais Rugby Club the rain had ceased and the wind had begun to lull.

FB_IMG_1468346243936

At 11 a band of 30 plus super heroes and the odd super villain set off on a journey for IMG_20160709_211231justice, otherwise known as a charity ride.  As a road cyclist I spend a bit of time riding a bike on the road, and I can honestly say that if you want cars to give you more room get your mates to tag along and dress up as something.  I can honestly only remember one bad pass, and they were towing a caravan – no more explanation required.

FB_IMG_1468346274182

FB_IMG_1468346319488The planed route was a circular affair with three main stop points for refreshments, to regroup for photos and most importantly for Jaffa cakes.  The three stops were the Parc y Scarlets (home of the Scarlets rugby union team) in Llanelli, The Wave radio station, and the Liberty Stadium (Home of Swansea City Football Club) in Swansea.  There was then one final regroup/pint stop at a pub on the edge of Pontardulais before we all returned to the Rugby club in one group.

FB_IMG_1468346451372

I’m not sure I can overstate how proud I am of Sian.  Despite the complete lack of preparation she did incredibly well.  I should probably admit to almost sabotaging her ride too.  I had done a little bit of last minute adjustments to her gears – in an attempt to get the gears shifting a little smoother.  Drive chain cleaned, adjusted and clean lube reapplied, but importantly I didn’t test it under load.  All worked fine on the work stand, but in the real world as soon as she tied to drop onto the little ring it threw the chain off.  Mechanic fired.  This meant that she was left with the choice of having to stop on or just before the hill or taking on the climbs in a bigger gear.  By the last two climbs this was really taking its toll, but with a little help she made it.

From despair to where?

So, if the silver lining is two personal bests in a few weeks (5km and half marathon) and a few seconds away from a 10km best. The cloud has been the heel injury I picked up just before, and exasperated by, the Plymouth half.

For a week after the race walking drew a wince, and sometimes an expletive muttering. This slowly improved, but hasn’t healed. The walking pain has gone, other than maybe the first few steps out of bed in the morning. Running however IMG_20160516_202229is still off the menu. Even trying to run across the road angers it. Initially I blamed my running shoes. I haven’t really gotten on with them, with blistering and numb toes being an issue – a bit of creative lacing sorted out the toes but not the blisters. A trip to my local running shop and I am the proud owner of some new running kicks, opting for the new incarnation of the trainers I ran the Eden Marathon in. I loved the Nike Zoom Elite 7s and I just hope that my relationship with the 8s is as happy.

The heel however has meant that I haven’t been able to test out the new runners. As my frustration grows, I began to research ‘running heel injuries’ and the dreaded Plantar Fasciitis comes up. I’ll admit now that up to this point I had no idea what it was, I’d just heard horror stories of long periods on the side-lines – to the point where it seemed to be the Voldemort of the running world. I have a look at the symptoms and feel my dread levels increase as I tick of the symptoms that I am showing. One article I see advices rest and some stretching and a visit to the GP if the symptoms continue for three weeks. This gives me a week to see a miraculous recovery.

That week passes with little-to-no noticeable improvement, walking is fine and no morning pain now but running is still a long way away. All too long. GP appointment made, and I manage to see a doctor the next day. Nervously I wait and I am slightly relieved when I am called in and I notice the doctor is wearing running shoes. I settle down, and explain the symptoms I am suffering. After a bit of pointing, poking and tip-toeing I get her prognosis. It’s confirmed, although I was already fairly sure, I have Plantar Fasciitis.

The confirmation doesn’t really sink in until later that evening. I don’t think it’s the being injured that really hit me. It’s frustrating yes, but it’s something that happens to anyone that partakes in sports. What I’m really struggling with is the lack of a time frame, that’s the darkest part of the cloud. A slight muscle pull – a few weeks; a broken bone – 6-8 weeks; Voldemort – who knows, potentially up to a couple of years. Man V Horse has been scrubbed from the calendar and other races later in the year that have been pencilled in will remain that way.

One thing the doctor said to me that has resonated however was ‘see this as an opportunity to try something new’. Initially I raced triathlons, but recently I have got my racing kicks from running because of its simplicity. No need for running clubs or race licences. Just enter, train, pin on number, race, and repeat. I like that. I like that because, basically, I am lazy.

If I have a free afternoon to train and given a choice of going for a run or a ride, I IMG_20160426_161800will invariably go for a ride (if I don’t have other race commitments to aim for). But I don’t race on my bike. This is mostly due to the need for a licence to enter road or circuit races, or membership of an affiliated club to enter local time trials. These aren’t huge obstacles, just a bit of bureaucracy and a bit of a financial outlay. They have however been enough to put me off bike racing. This is beginning to change.

I have entered the Plymouth Gran Fondo, which runs on the 18th of September, IMG_20160427_083153and I aim to enter a few of the local time trials over the summer months. Once the time trial season is over the Cyclocross will be about to start. Longer term I hope to use ‘cross racing to increase my confidence of cycling and racing in a group. By the start of the following road season all being well I should feel ready to give a road or circuit race a go.

Time to view this injury as a diversion, not a road block.

Do you even gym, Bro?

I was recently asked by a friend what gets me out in the winter, and I’m often met with derisory comments from work colleagues for leaving the house at 6am to run to work in inclement weather.  Essentially wouldn’t it be saner to join the gym? This got me thinking, why would I join a gym? The obvious reason is that they are relatively expensive for something that I don’t really enjoy, but there are more nuances to it than that.

I can see the advantages to the gym, I can, and this is in no way an attack on people who use them.  They are warm, dry and have a myriad of different bits of kit for me to embarrass myself on, and there’s the crux of it. They are warm and dry because they are indoors and I like to be outside.

IMG_20160115_175824Running outside offers me so much more than just a cardiovascular workout. IMG_20151122_183914 During the week I tend to run on the road and watch the world going about its business as I go about mine.  I love the visual impact as the sun goes down and the lights come on.  At the weekend I try to get out the city landscape and hit the trails.  This doesn’t always mean leaving the city, I’m lucky living where I do that I have a number of nature reserves and wooded areas within a couple of miles of my front door.  These little pockets of ‘wild’ offer the trail running experience without having to drive all the way out to Dartmoor.  Dartmoor is an incredible, beautiful place which offers amazing running options and is worth the drive but it isn’t always a viable option.

When running on a treadmill with nothing to look at but a magnolia wall – or IMG_20150926_102349worse a mirror – I feel I’m missing something.  Early morning runs offer so much visual stimulation, from the changing tones of the sky to the chance of a – brief – sighting of the cities shyer inhabitants, most notable for me a fox darting across a graveyard and one summer I had the privilege of seeing an adder basking in the mid-morning sun (admittedly the adder was some way out of Plymouth).

The only indoor training I do is cycling on the turbo trainer.  I don’t particularly enjoy the turbo but if definitely has a place within the winter training arsenal.  I IMG_20160211_214838have blogged about using a turbo trainer before (which can be found here: http://wp.me/p4NbsO-1g) and won’t go into that again.  What I find with the turbo is I can get two hours’ worth of real riding into an hour on the turbo.  Having said all that given a choice of a two hour ride out in the cold (or even the rain) and an hour on the turbo I would take the two hours on the road.  I actually rather enjoy cycling in poor weather for a couple of reasons; one of them is that I genuinely feel it makes me a better bike handler.  There is also a feel good factor from getting back from a ride in bad conditions.  Provided to can keep yourself warm and dry these rides have a true feel good factor. The feeling that a lot of people will have had a look out the window and gone back to bed.  To quote Sean Kelly “To know if the weather is too bad for training, get your kit on and go train, you’ll know when you get back”.  I particularly enjoy riding in crisp cold conditions.  The type of day where it’s so bright you have to wear sunglasses but so cold you wouldn’t even consider leaving the house without having your ears covered.

Other than the physical and technical benefits to cycling and running outdoors, it also gives me a chance to de-frag.  I think I am a better person as a result of the time I spend outdoors.  I have more patience and generally I think I’m more fun to be around.  In fact when I’m being a bit snappy with my wife she’ll ask me if I need to go out for a run!

Bike-mas

‘Twas the night before bike-mas and all through the house no-one was stirring not even… well actually I was quite excited.

I arrived in work on bike-mas very excited about the impending delivery, I can make no excuses, I am like a child when it comes to getting new bike stuff and getting a bumper delivery is almost too much for me to handle.  I spent the day looking out the window waiting, hoping, longing for a courier to turn up.  I had hoped it would arrive before I left for home, but unfortunately I headed home empty handed.
20150304_160523I get into work the next day to find a bumper parcel from the good people at Endura hidden under my desk.  Result, it was here. Before I could stop myself I had torn my way into the box to take a look at the kit I’d be wearing for #bontride.  This is the first time I’ve ever had so much brand new kit in one go, and I won’t lie I felt like a pro, just fatter, slower and with less new kit.  Somehow I managed to keep the kit all bagged and boxed ready for its first test ride rather than sullying it riding to work.

The test ride was a 50km ride across the beautifully corrugated patchwork landscape that is the South Hams, from Plymouth to a friend’s farm near Dartmouth.  There is always a niggle of doubt, for me anyway, the first time you ride in new kit. It’s the point of no return, literally. That seam that you didn’t even notice trying them on in the shop after an hour of riding is like a burning volcanic archipelago.

http://www.strava.com/activities/265379328/embed/e55701d86c0e8f6920c824b610da1303ba7a335e

I had no need to fret on this occasion, all the new kit performed impeccably.  I have made a conscious decision to try and use kit which is as versatile as possible for this, with the ride taking place at the end of March the weather could either be like a balmy spring afternoon or a highland blizzard.  For this reason I have gone for a jersey with windproof front panels, which worked remarkably well, paired with arm warmers and bibshorts and leg warmers.  This way, I’m hoping I can alter what I am wearing to suit the majority or the weather I am likely to face. I also plan to take a packable jacket and gilet to increase options and also added insulation of both layers should I need it.

Having gone this far, it seems like an ideal time to do a #bontride kit list:

Bike Setup:

Peugeot Pro-team steel frame
Pro-lite Garda wheels20150310_191438
Continental Gatorhardshell tyres (23mm)
SKS P50 full lengthmudguards
Garmin Edge 800 (with OSM) for navigation
Lezyne saddle bag for spares (Spares: tubes x2, glueless repair kit, Lezyne Rap13 multi tool, tyre levers, spare chain links, cleat bolt and plate, and gear & brake cables)
Topeak ‘bento box’
Veho Pebble USB portable charger
Tacx saddle mounted bottle mount and cages (3x 750ml bottles in total)
Electron Terra2 front lights
Lezyne Femto rear light
Exposure Spark (spare front light)
Topeak Racerocket HPX pump
100 decibel alarmed cable lock

Kit:
Endura FS260-Pro Jetstream Jersey20150310_181756
Endura FS260-Pro Bibshorts II
Endura FS260-Pro Adreneline Race Gilet
Castelli Sottile Duo Jacket
Endura Windchill Arm Warmers
Endura Windchill Leg Warmers
Endura Dexter Gloves
Endura BaaBaa Merino Socks
Specialized Comp Road Shoes
Castelli Diluvio Shoecovers
MET Estro helmet
Look Mum No Hands Race Cap
BBB Skull Cap
Merino Buff

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

It’s ALL about the bike

Decisions, decisions. The choice of steed for a ride of this length can be a delicate matter. Not, however, in this case. I do have more than 1 bike to choose from (3 in fact, but one is a mountain bike and has no chance of being the chosen one) but one holds a special place in my heart. I’ll try to stop there before this goes a bit 50 shades of grey.

image

It’s not the bike I’ve owned the longest, nor is it the most expensive but it has quickly become my favourite, just don’t tell the others.  It is a steel frame (Mangalloy HLE, to be precise) Peugeot PRO-Team bought for me by my dad for fifty quid from a house clearance shop, of all places, so we could do the inaugural L’Eroica Britannia.

image

A fair bit of TLC (and a new saddle) later and it was ready for L’Eroica, which is a vintage sportive run for the first time in the UK this Year.  All bikes that enter must for fill certain criteria, including age, materials used and cable routing amongst many.

image

The plan for this bike had been to use it for L’Eroica and then go from there.  As the miles began to pile up, I began to realise how much this bike suited me and it’s life plan went from winter hack/commuter bike to my go to bike for all my riding pleasures, so much so that my other road bike now resides in the attic.

IMG_20150221_181324

The down tube shifters have now gone, replaced by 9 speed Shimano Ultegra STIs, and as a concession to this ride I’ll be fitting my lightest wheels (a pair of Mavic Kysrium Equipes) in the hope it will help with those late night hills.

*Edit* There are some issues with this choice, the main one is that it only has one bottle cage, limiting the amount of fluids I can carry. It is also running 52/38 chainrings, which are fine in the most part, but I may be thankful for some lighter gears after 200+ miles. I still want to use the Peugeot, but I’m becoming less adamant it’s the best choice. The other option, a Specialized Secteur elite, is lighter, has a lower gear ratio, can take two bottle cages and it has mudguards fitted. But I really want to ride the Peugeot. Suddenly not so sure which to ride.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

A brief sporting history

Committed and dependable, rather than inspirational or a maverick, pretty much sums me up in a sporting context. I’ve always been into sports without being that “sporty”. I played Saturday and Sunday league football on and off until the first year a university, where I began Saturday and Sunday league drinking, and played school team rugby up until the age of 14 or so, when I changed schools and school rugby was no more.  In both football and (to a lesser extent) rugby I got games based on being a willing runner and fairly adaptable, by which I mean doing as I’m told without question.

20150202_192159Cycling hadn’t started as a competitive sport, or even really a sport for that matter. It was a means of getting to football training, or in to town to see mates.  It was also a holiday, going off with my dad cycle touring, during those golden years of never ending summer holidays, think the last year we did that was the summer I took my GCSEs. It later became a mode of transport when, living in rural Suffolk, public transport would not support shift work. It was also fun too.

20150202_192223

Cycling also took a hiatus during university, as did all sports after a short lived gym bunny fad died off two thirds of the way through the first year. I would still chase the odd ball around a green patch with some mates occasionally, but booze, fags and inactivity took its toll as my waist line ballooned and my weigh exploded.

20150202_192440This activity hibernation lasted for years, wasting my sporting peak down the boozer, until the birth of my first child.  With only one car, and a new born, I decided that I couldn’t really hijack the car five days a week, so I dusted off the old road bike.  It started off as a few times a week when my wife had plans, and then most days, then every day, then I began to look for extra hills to add on to the ride home. Slowly I became a cyclist, again.

It still wasn’t a sport, well not a competitive one anyway. That changed when I started running with a view to doing a triathlon.  This is when it, I, became more competitive.  This was in 2011, I had entered two triathlons, an early year sprint and an Olympic distance in September, and then a half marathon, under duress, in October. They all went well, in varied ways. I didn’t drown in the Sprint triathlon, in the Olympic distance triathlon (which was turned into a duathlon, run-bike-run, due to safety concerns) I lost out to a much fitter colleague by 2 poxy seconds, and bested my training partners in the half. The following year I returned to the sprint triathlon, finishing 52nd out of 281 starters.

In 2013, Laura and I entered the London Olympic triathlon, and I set myself a target of finishing in sub 2 hours 30 mins. This was my only triathlon of the year, and everything was building up to this. I ran a local 10km (target time of 45 minutes, finished in 45:07), I also ran two of the three relay legs of Man V Horse, a trail (near) marathon in the Brecon Beacons. I didn’t set any targets for this other than a) don’t get trampled by the cavalry, and b) actually there was no ‘b’. By the time the triathlon came round, I was in pretty good nick and ready to give the target time a good go. When I got out of the 1.5km swim and into T1 before Laura (who is a far better swimmer than me) I knew I had gone well in the water. Out on the bike I just got my head down and pushed hard, knowing it’s my strongest discipline. The run was a three lap affair with spectators most the way round, so nowhere to hide away and slacked off. I finished in 2hrs 26 minutes. Having told a fair few people my target, I was rather relieved my fitness could cash the cheques my ego was writing.

20140622_160036This year has been a little less competitive, doing races just to do them rather than hit a target. Well except Plymouth half marathon where I set myself a sub 1 hour 45 minute. I also entered an off-road duathlon which was dirty fun, as were the couple of mixed terrain run races I entered. Hilly, muddy and bloody hard work. But a good laugh. My most recent event was L’eroica Britannia, a 100 mile vintage bike ride up in the Peak District. I did this with my dad, bit of father-son bonding and reminiscing. And an excellent excuse for another bike.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!

Going longer

It has become a tradition that my dad and I both get a ‘day pass’ for a bit of Father-Son bonding over the festive period.  Dependent on the weather conditions this either means a day of winter mountaineering, or a day out on the bikes.

This year the weather was perfect for a day in the saddle, but with no snow on the hills it was always likely to be a bike day – unless it was icy.  It was cold, bloody cold, but the sky was clear and there wasn’t much wind.  The initial chatter had been for a trip out to tackle Gospel Pass, but with family leaving and good byes to be done it was decided we didn’t really have (or want to make) the time for the 120 mile round trip.  After a quick reassessment a new plan was devised.

IMG_20141227_070903

We headed out into the cold, crisp festive air and made our way across Gloucester towards the Forest of Dean, with Symonds Yat firmly in the cross-hairs.  Symonds Yat has been on my hit list since I first spotted it flicking through the ‘100 greatest climbs’ books and dog earing the ones that could be attacked from various family hubs.

Segment Details for Another 100 Greatest Climbs Symonds Yat – VeloViewer.

Once the Sun rose the dark inky sky burst into true azure blue.  It was winter cycling conditions at its finest.  I however didn’t feel at my finest.  I would love to say that the early miles just rolled effortlessly by, but for some reason I just felt a bit blunted.  I had hoped that I would sharpen up as the legs got going but I never felt that sparkle when you’re feeling good.  The early climbs went ok, but just ok.  I got to the foot of Symonds Yat knowing that it I wouldn’t be troubling the Strava leader board.  Climbing the lower ramps I was comparing it to other climbs, giving it my own rating. I then turned the last corner and hit the final ramp under the bridge to the top.  For the first time on the climb I felt a bit over geared, even on the 38/28, and had to tack a little to get the momentum back up. There was no ‘is this harder than…?’ now, it was just keeping the pedals going and my lungs on the inside where they should be.   Once over the steepest parts, we continued to climb gradually for a while before dropping into Monmouth, but by now I was beginning to feel a bit ropey.  We rolled through Monmouth, over the river and climbed up towards Trellech.  Here I really suffered, it’s not steep (at about 6% average) but I just couldn’t get my groove going.  We stopped off at Tintern Abbey to replenish water bottles, and grab a quick flapjack, and made our merry way to Chepstow, past the manic activity of the race course and on to the Severn cycle path.

Once back onto the English side of the river the horror show really began.  As we were pushed for time we headed back to Gloucester on the A38.  This was a pin your ears back and put the power down type affair, but there was nothing there, nothing. Nothing. In a chain gang of 2, I probably took my turn once in three. The Irony of getting the book ‘Lanterne Rouge’ for Christmas wasn’t lost on me.  Ironically when on the front I felt a bit better for being able to dance to my own beat, but putting in the effort to get around onto the front was too much to stomach.  This whole stretch of road I was (not so) secretly hoping that I was coming down with the virus type plague that had beset my household for the last few weeks, just to justify my piss poor contribution to the A38 push and fairly poor showing overall. Despite the suffering, we clattered along at a decent pace.  We turned off the main drag just before Gloucester, and took quieter roads back to the house.

http://www.strava.com/activities/235537673/embed/fbff28dbe851277b37fb785976dac0063696a0ec

Once back, showered, fed and re-caffeinated I felt a mildly crap, but not fully plague bound.  The next day, legs handled the stairs effortlessly, with no pain in the quadriceps.  But the cold that I thought I was on the brink of being felled by, vaguely materialised. I did feel rough but nowhere near as rough as my wife and kids were, or my mum was and felt much better much quicker.

So just a bonk?  Possibly, probably just don’t tell my dad.

JustGiving - Sponsor me now!