The alarm buzzes annoyingly. Its 6am, it’s a Sunday, and its race day. Like any other race day, I get up feeling a bit nervy; wake up the rest of the family. Then flap about, eat porridge, drink coffee and leave the house about 20 minutes later than I had hoped to. Except this isn’t like any other race day, I’m not racing, my 8-year-old daughter is. It’s her first race without me, and the nerves are just as strong if not worse than if it was me racing. But as I tell her ‘if you’re nervous it means you care about it’. And, I certainly care about it.
We arrive at The Hoe with a few minutes to spare, and find her classmates. I think this is the point it sinks in that she is running without me and begins to get some doubts. Luckily this doesn’t last long, and the excitement takes over. Photos are taken and she is taken with her group into a massive holding pen. Part of me remains relieved that I wasn’t asked to help with the schools’ challenge; the noise coming out of the pen – containing something like 300 excitable 6-10 year olds – was unbelievable. Must have been like trying to herd cats on amphetamine at a rock concert – but less fun.
Once they are in the pen we scamper over to past the start finish line for a good view as she comes past. All the runners have been given the same red top, so picking out individual children is nigh on impossible – in fact I know people who didn’t see their kids at all. I resort to trying to spot her teachers, then who is running with them. It works; I see her teacher from last year and there she was running next to her chatting away. We cheer, take lots of photos and then try to get across to the other side of the route for a second shot. This time we are less successful as we can’t get very close and don’t want to miss her crossing the finish line. Missing the second photo opportunity we dash back across the finishing straight. As she comes into view she is still with the same teacher – beaming from ear to ear even if she is chatting a little less.
She crosses the line and disappears into the hoards past the finish line. After a few minutes, we find her school’s spot in the pen, sat with her mates – medals around their necks rummaging through the goody bags. I can confirm that goody bags at kids’ races are also full of crap that no one wants. After what feels like an age, the schools begin to file out. We head around to the drop off point to scoop up my running champion. Once the crowds disperse we find a patch of grass with a few of the other parents. The kids run around for a while enjoying the late morning sun.
As our parking runs low, we head off and go for a celebratory brunch. It feels right to make a big deal of her accomplishment and she is overjoyed when the waitress takes an interest in her medal and how she got it.
My grasp of the English language fails me when I try to describe how proud of her I am. It’s not that she ran the mile. Its far more than that. Running isn’t something she finds easy or that comes natural, but she persists at it and works hard. She has a stubborn streak in her – not always in a good way – and a stoic determination that even if she has to walk she will get to the top of the hill.
My 8 year old daughter has recently signed up to run a half marathon – of sorts. She will be running the schools’ half marathon challenge in Plymouth and will be running a mile a week with the final mile taking place on the half marathon weekend on the Hoe (where the main event starts and finished). This has really caught her imagination, and has reignited her desire to come running with me – which I am obviously overjoyed about.
Despite the looming threat of ‘Storm Doris’, an after school family run was all but demanded. So after school, we pop home to get our running kit on and head over to Saltram House (a local National Trust property), however not all of us are quite so keen to go for a run in the Plymouth mizzle. So the two of us head to Saltram for a run around the grounds and down to the river. Despite the threat from meteorologists it’s a lovely night for a run, a bit cool but not too cold or windy and the trees protect us from the worst of the rain.
She is noticably excited as we set off – she skips, bounces and grins like a cheshire cat. I try to calm her down a bit – without wanting to piss on her parade – and we jog around the grounds while we chat and generally just be silly. Running as it should be, fun.
We make it as far as the river, before having to turn back for failing light. It’s been a while since we last ran together, and I honestly can’t believe how much more resiliant she has become, she is able to run much further and was able to push herself much harder, wanting to get to pointmarkers despite obviously working hard.
Famous Danish beers don’t make running buddies, but if they did she would be it.
This spring has been quite busy for me. For someone who usually enters 2-3 races a year having two in spring felt rather congested. The two races, The Forest of Dean Spring Half Marathon and Plymouth’s Half, had very different objectives.
First up was the Forest of Dean. This is a mostly trail half making use of the old mining train lines making most, not all, the gradients steady with the added bonus of a beautiful forest backdrop. The objective for this race had been to run with my youngest sister and my dad, but unfortunately my sister was unable to get the time off work so it became just me and my dad. This seemed to concern him. I say seemed, he was quite vocal about it. Having not run consistently for about 5 years, he was planning on running until my sister had to walk, and then walk with her. That plan was now redundant. The new plan: run, and when you can’t run then walk.
From a personal point of view my training for this race has gone ok. I am using this as a dial up for the Plymouth half a few weeks later so I haven’t got all the speed endurance in my legs but I am building towards it, including a new course PB at my local parkrun a few weeks before.
In typical fashion, we turn up with a bit of time to spare, but leave it too late before joining the pre-race toilet queue. As a result we manage to miss the start of the race by a few minutes. We are not the only ones; we were by no means at the back of the line.
Don’t panic, DON’T PANIC. No mad dash, just go at our pace and we begin to pick up the back of the pack. We do just that, and then try to pass people as and when we can, but as we hit the trails for the first time about 1 km in this becomes a little trickier. The first 5 km or so are all either flat or down hill, giving us a chance to warm up before the proper work starts – did I mention we missed the start, thus no warm up? After being gently eased into proceedings, the climbing begins. We gradually climb for about 7 km, topping out at the highest point of the race. We then drop down before climbing again for another kilometre or so. It is at this point that stage two of Dad’s strategy comes into place, the walk. So I do what any good son would do, I continue to run and leave him to walk alone. If I am honest, I can’t believe he lasted 13 km running once, maybe twice, every 5 years. Obviously good genes, or poor decision making.
Once on my own I try to push the pace a little, and try to run the remaining 8km at around threshold. It has to be said, there is something uplifting about waiting until half way through a race before really opening the taps and being able to give it a big push as others begin to feel it bite. By the time I finish I am the beetroot red, sweaty mess that I usually finish a race in. Garmin paused, and medal collected I go find the family for the obligatory ‘just finished a race’ pictures, and then go for a little cool down run to get the distance up.
By the time I’ve done that and gone to collect my bag I find that my dad has made it back, and not moving too freely. Feeling guilty, I give him a hug and make sure he is ok. Thankfully he’s ok, just a bit disappointed that he couldn’t finish the race.
After a couple of days off I get back to focusing on the Plymouth half. The aim is to be as consistent as possible; double run day early in the week (2 x 10km), speed work on a Thursday, longer run on the weekend. This continues with the exception of a couple of away day Parkruns (both at Swansea Bay, both PBs). Two weeks before the half I set a new half marathon personal best. It was only 1 minute faster, but all is looking good. A week later I set the second new 5km personal best of 19.09 at Swansea Bay Parkrun, which is another 27 seconds quicker than the time I set there a few weeks earlier. All is pointing towards a new personal best at Plymouth half, I just had to try to manage my expectations.
In the final week before the half, all the preparation appears to be going well with the exception of a slight niggle in my left heel. It doesn’t appear to be anything that will prevent me racing, just something I need to be mindful of.
Race morning comes around, and the niggle in my heel is still there but it shouldn’t give me too much trouble. I walk down to the ‘race village’ with Steve, a mate who is also running the half. He has only been running for 6 months to a year and is annoyingly quicker than me, so I feel the 15 minute walk may be the only time I see him. We get to the start with a decent amount of time to get ourselves sorted and find where we need to be in the starting pen, no running late this time.
Once the ridiculous warm up is done – how can you do jumping jacks in a crowded starting pen? – We are off. Over a minute passes before we cross line. The first km or so is very crowded as 6000 people make their way through the closed roads of the Plymouth waterfront. Steve and I go our separate ways shortly after, I see him about 10 people ahead, but make the conscious decision to let him go. My plan is to try to keep it as steady as possible to start with, and open the taps towards the end. As the roads widen there is more room the run at my own pace. The early kilometres tick over nicely as I consciously try to run at an ok pace without over cooking it.
After around 6km the first of two climbs starts. It’s a long gradual drag, rather than a steep hill. I consciously aimed to just try to hold my pace, and not let my average pace drop by more than a few seconds per km. I try to relax and make the most of the free speed on the other side of the hill, and then repeat the process on the second climb which comes straight after the first. The decent from the second climb is a long and gradual affair through the beautiful grounds of Saltram House. Once out of the grounds the race recounts its steps, with one exception. Just before the route heads back to the waterfront it takes in an out-and-back. This takes us along the river for a kilometre each way, which, in direct contradiction to all topography rules, felt uphill both ways. On the way out I see Steve coming back to other way – quickly I try to look comfortable. I make a mental note of where I am and by the time I reach the turnaround point I guestimate he is about 1 km, maybe a bit more, ahead of me. I conclude that I won’t be catching him and concentrate on my own race. As much as I would like to beat him, I don’t want to ruin my race chasing after him.
There are now 5 km to go, 4 of which are predominantly flat with a climb for the final kilometre. My plan was to push on at this point, but when that message was sent down stairs to the engine room there wasn’t much of a response. I try to keep my pace up as much as possible, saving something for that final climb.
The lower cobbled section of the climb is tough going, but as I hit the tarmac and I round onto the sea views I begin to feel a little better. As the climb continues the crowds get bigger, and louder. I push again, giving it as much as I can. The final two corners approach and the crowd is 10 deep, or my vision is beginning to blur. It feels like nothing I have raced before, I genuinely don’t think I have seen so many people at a mass participation event. I dig in for the final ramp and push for the line.
I had hoped for a new PB, and had told people I wanted to get as close to 1 hour 40 as possible. Internally I was hoping for something close to 1 hour 35. I glance down at my Garmin and I have managed to get a personal best, finishing in 1:37:38 (course) and a half marathon PB of 1:36:45, an improvement of 6m 34s. Just outside my internal target, but if I’m honest I don’t think I had much more to give. There isn’t anywhere that I can look back and think if I had done X or Y here or there I could have saved a little time. What I am pleased with is my pacing. I had planned to pace it as uniformly as possible, before pushing on. I didn’t quite manage the push but the pacing was pretty much uniform for the whole race, something I have never managed before.
In the week since the Plymouth half I have been unable to run, as the sore heel has felt pretty tender. Usually post-race this isn’t too much of a concern, but I have entered another race.
After running part of Man Verse Horse as a relay a couple of years ago, I have had an itch to run the full race. This year I have entered it, using the training I have been doing for the halves as the base miles to build up to 23 fell miles. It was always going to be tight getting my endurance up. However the longer I have to rest my foot the more anxious I get about it.
Forgive me reader(s) for I have procrastinated. It has been a very long time since I had anything even remotely interesting enough to warrant writing a post – and arguably I still don’t.
I think the biggest development has been an increase in little runners in the family (note: same number of children, just both come running). My 5 year old son had become more and more vocal in his annoyance that going for a run was either a solo or a dad/daughter affair. I had come to the point that I had run out of reasons, proper reasons, why he shouldn’t. My main reason was that this is the only bit of one-on-one I manage to consistently get with my daughter. He is fascinated with bikes and riding them and has happily helped me build him a bike. We started off buying a cheap kids bike on eBay – which was a bit too big for him. We stripped, re-painted, upgraded and renamed it – giving it that personal touch. Then once he was just about big enough he was riding it. My daughter on the other hand isn’t so keen on the bicycle. She is learning – and is doing well – but she just isn’t that into it, nor is she so keen on falling off. With this in mind, I had pigeon-holed running as ‘daddy/daughter’ and cycling as ‘daddy/son’ one-on-one time. So, once it was clear that a) he wasn’t going to let this go, and b) she was happy to include him it was a done deal.
Off we went around the block – the same route as the first daddy/daughter run. It was incredible how well they cooperated, listen to instructions and most importantly both enjoyed the running – and my daughter genuinely seemed to enjoy having her brother join in too.
Since that wonderful, sunny winters morning we haven’t all been out for a run together. This is due to a couple of reasons. One of those reasons is I am trying to get them cycling as often as possible, but also I am waiting for them to ask me again. I am conscious that I want it to be something that they want to do, so I don’t ask them if they want to go for a run , it has to come from them – I don’t want them to feel at all pressured to do it. The weather may have played a part. It has been a little wet recently, and I think this has put a little dampener on their running ambition. But the interest is still there it seems.
Since the Santa Run in December I have been looking for another race which is suitable for the kids to run too, and then it came to me. I had been half looking at a 9km night run organised by the National Trust. Now a 9km run is definitely out of their range, but there is also a 2.6km option. Perfect. A little bit of digging and kids are welcome. Family entry booked, a proper race experience for the whole family.
The day of the race arrives, and there are equal measures of excitement and trepidation. The latest storm has hit, and – luckily for the Lake District – Plymouth appears to be at its epicentre this time. In the morning I am emailed with the warning that a decision on the race will be made by 2 pm. Finally the email arrives, and the final decision has been made – the race is off. To be fair to the organisers it is probably the right decision, with trees being blown over and heavy rain over the moor.
We inform the kids that the race has been postponed – and subsequently cancelled. Their disappointment is obvious, and I make an effort to lessen the blow by promising to look for more races we can do together.
The following morning the weather has calmed down significantly, the wind has dropped and there is even a hint of sun. First out the door is me and the boy, who declares he wants to go for a long run. A longer run it is then, a hilly two km later as we turn for home he still isn’t satisfied and wants to keep going, I – joking – suggest we throw in some hill reps on the way back “YEAH!… what are hill reps?” you’ll see my boy, you’ll see. The prospect of running up two steep, but fairly short hills didn’t deter him, and the grin was smeared across his face as he plummeted back down them again. He’ll be a fell runner by his 6th birthday.
Upon our return, I swap son for daughter and head out on the same route – minus the hill reps. The improvement in her running is amazing, and it isn’t that she is getting quicker. It’s the increase in confidence. Knowing she can get to the top of the hill before having a little walk or running up to the road because she knows we’ll have to stop there anyway and have a breather. The most pleasing improvement however, is that she is now confident enough to tell me to slow down. Confidence has always been an issue for her, never really willing to back herself, so I love that she now has the confidence to tell me we are going too quick. I couldn’t be prouder.
On a personal level, the running has begun again in earnest. I have entered two ‘spring’ half marathons four weeks apart, the Forest of Dean spring half in mid-March and Plymouth’s half in mid-April. I am really looking forward to both for very different reasons. The Forest of Dean will be my youngest sister’s first race and being able to run it with her is going to be a real joy. Plymouth on the other hand is all about the time. I set my personal best there a couple of years ago and running it again should be a good indication of where I am at. Up to this point I have been concentrating on base training and some hill work, but it’s getting close to the point where some speed work will be required. This is not my favourite aspect of training; I generally like to just lace up and run but needs must and if I want to get a time that I am happy with now is the time to put in the hard work.
There are many childhood milestones that all parents should get to share with their children; first steps, first words, first day at school. This weekend I got to add another to my list – first daddy and daughter race.
After our first run – maybe our second – my daughter began to express an interest in doing a race together. At first I thought this may be something we would have to wait until spring to do. Then I thought of maybe a junior parkrun. Then I had a brain wave. Every year the local Rotary Club runs a Santa Run in the city centre. All the basics of a race are covered – lots of people, race numbers and race finisher’s bling. Also being a fun run the pace of the other ‘competitors’ shouldn’t be too high and there are other kids running it too. After speaking to Rhiannon about it I excitedly entered us both, and then went about telling anyone who would listen what we had planned.
The morning of the big race arrived and we got our selves sorted and made our way to the city centre, Rhiannon getting noticeably more excited with every passing Santa. Once parked, we don our suits and make our way down to the shopping centre. We pose for a few customary pictures and then make our way out of the shopping centre toward the start line.
The only possible downside, which I didn’t anticipate until lining up to start, was with everyone dressed as Santa keeping tabs on a 7 year old Santa in a sea of Santas may prove tricky. We started in a little pocket with a number of other people with kids, hoping that we would be behind any over excited starters. Once the race starts I try to manoeuvre us to the right hand side to keep us out of the way a little. I won’t lie I was a bit anxious for the first few 100m that she might get knocked over or put off by being crowded out. To her credit she just took it in her stride, happily going round people who were slowing in front of her. As the horde of Santas thins out (I’m not entirely sure what the collective noun for a group of Santas would be) I begin to relax and we run side by side chatting away. One thing I couldn’t help but notice was the pace she went off at, much quicker than the pace she runs when it is just the two of us. She also manages to keep this going for the best part of a kilometre before having to ease up for a breather. We ease up a bit as we climb back up to the start, walk through the shopping centre and then run back down the hill to the finish.
We cross the line and the look on her face makes my heart melt, she has the biggest grin I have ever seen on such a little face. The sense of pride I felt watching her cross the line was indescribable, much bigger than any personal accomplishment.
I won’t lie, I loved this race. I just need to find another fun run so we can do it again soon.
I don’t know if it’s just me – but I doubt it is – I always feel under prepared for a race. Or in this case a stupidly long ride. I have done more training miles than ever before for this time of year. I had targeted 1000km – on top of commuting to work – by the week before the ride, of which I came about 13km short. In previous years it has taken until mid-to-late May to get up to this kind of pure training millage. I think the training is working, to a point. The last two slightly longer rides, each about 50km and 789m and 874m of climbing, have been noticeably quicker than rides of that length have been in the past. Not quick, but quicker. I also set some personal bests and personal top 3 times on some of the longer climbs within these rides. It’s just whether short and sharp can now be translated into pure endurance, I guess only time will tell now. To be honest this is what worries me. I know this kind of training works, and works well, for 100 miles but will it work for nearly two and a half times that?
Just to add to the pre ride anxiety, on what ended up being my last longer burst before to big one, I broke my back wheel. Coming up a bit of a power climb, i.e. no gear change just get out the saddle and hammer it, I heard the tell-tale ping of a broken spoke and the wibble wobble of a wheel out of true. This wouldn’t normally be too much of a concern, just a trip to the bike shop. This wheel though, had only just been re-trued three weeks ago and is only 4 months old. So a return to the boys at the local bike shop and a quick chat, and the wheel is off for a warranty return and repair. As time ticked by I became more anxious about the wheels and their progress. I called up about them a good few times to check what was going on. The anxiety reached fever pitch when on the Thursday before the ride, I still had neither news nor wheels. I called up again, and with only a surname given, I was told cheerily that ‘they are being dispatched today, and will be with you tomorrow’. I have also had to contend with front derailleur issues. I’ve also to change the chain set for a smaller ‘granny-ring’, going for an unconventional 52-34. A seized limit screw has made this more difficult, but after changing the derailleur for another one and a bit of an adjustment, done. With my wheels on their merry way back to me and my shifting woes apparently sorted the relief was palpable. Now I could get back to being neurotic about my training, you know the important stuff.
After hours fettling around with the bikes in the morning – fitting mud guards, brakes checked etc. – we finally ride down to Plymouth Hoe to get started. As we approach we notice there is a fun fare on the promenade, luckily with the weather as glum as it was there were only about seven people there.
La Petite Départ
As we got up onto the promenade I notice some friends and their children have braved the elements to see us off, complete with banner! After a few photos we set off into the pea soup, just a pair of red lights blinking off, enveloped in the gloom.
After a few wrong turns, as I try to get us onto a cycle path I rarely use we make our way across, and then out, of Plymouth on the ever popular Plym Valley Cycle path up to Yelverton – on the edge of Dartmoor. Once out onto the moorland roads the high winds really become noticeable, in the good way. With the fateful hand of a tailwind at our backs we motor towards Exeter merrily chatting away as we go. All is good with the world, but too good?
About 80km in, PING! That tell-tale sound again, a spoke had gone on the ‘freshly rebuilt’ rear wheel. We stop in a lay-by on the other side of the road to assess the situation. My mood has hit rock bottom, and the language would make a miner blush. We are in the middle of nowhere, on an unlit minor road, so we have no option but to carry on – at least to the next sign of civilisation. Once we are moving again, the wheel seems to behave itself, some slight rubbing on the mudguards but nothing too outlandish. So we push on, tentatively at first, but slowly my confidence in the wheel, and my mood, increase.
As we approach Taunton our peace and tranquillity is broken by the chittering of drinkers and the screech of boy racers’ tyres. Our first food stop was scheduled for Taunton, but we feel ok, the wind is at our backs and we’re making good progress, so we decide upon a bit of on the wheel navigation and take the A38 straight up to Bridgewater and stop there for food – I may be glossing over some discourse in the ranks over navigation on back roads.
We arrive at the services in Bridgewater ready for some food, but with an improvement in moral. With limited options for food, we make do with a panini, an instant porridge and a disgustingly fatty tasting latte – I don’t normally do milk in coffee. We replenish our drinks bottles and on board snacks at the ubiquitous newsagents and head back out into the night to begin working the redeye.
By now it’s about 2am (our, non british summer time, time – 3am now to the rest of the population) and we have the shortest and flattest leg across Somerset to Aust ahead of us. Having gone off route along the A38 to reach Bridgewater, we have to continue our navigation-as-we-go approach. We continued to head north along the A38, before swinging off towards Cheddar, at which point the promised rain finally reaches us. My word does it reach us. My waterproof kit holds up admirably well, and I am thankful of the time spent pissing about fitting the mudguards before leaving. After an hour or so of non-stop heavy rain I’m wet right through, which is no criticism of the kit, you’d need a dam to keep this amount of water out. When we reach Cheddar we join the Strawberry Line, a traffic free route all the way to Yatton. When initially routing the ride I had had reservations about using the Strawberry Line, opting for a more urban, and direct, route to Clevedon, but as dawn broke the rain stopped and with the dawn chorus in full effect I wouldn’t have wanted to be cycling anywhere else. We reached Yatton as the sun’s glow was beginning to show. I would love to say how inspiring and beautiful the sun rise was, but I really didn’t notice it.
As the sun rose and the sky began to show signs of clearing the conversation began to flow again. Certain parts of the Strawberry Line are a bit too narrow to cycle two abreast, especially in the dark, so with the early morning light giving everything a golden hue we happily chat away. Our thoughts turn to Chepstow. The plan was to meet a friend, Kash, in Chepstow at 9 and then ride across Wales as a trio. It was now about 6, or 5 disregarding the clocks changing. A quick calculation and we figured we would have time for a spot of brekkie in Aust before crossing into Wales and be in Chepstow for 9. The going had been good.
Then, all the good progress was thrown out the window. We were somewhere between Nailsea and Clevedon, while the mood was good and the chatter was light, that ping again. More swearing. Two more spokes had gone and the remaining spokes where either so slack they may as well not be there, or as taught as a piano wire. The mental low I was expecting at about 4am had hit, and hit hard, at just gone six. We cycled on, slowly in near silence to Gordano services. My dad did his best to keep it chirpy and raise my spirits, but my heart was broken. It was like riding a clown’s bike; I could feel it going up/down/left/right with every revolution. It had done incredibly well to get this far, but that was scant comfort. Finally we arrived at Gordano.
‘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. I 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.
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:
Peugeot Pro-team steel frame
Pro-lite Garda wheels
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
Endura FS260-Pro Jetstream Jersey
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cycling 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.
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.
This 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.
This 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.