Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dedication isn't a word

Dedication implies a certain forced enjoyment.  When people tell me I must be dedicated, I find it hard to agree.  I don't need to be dedicated, I just love riding my bike - sometimes I also love swimming and running.

I watched the video of the Transatlantic Way last weekend.  There's Roland Guillon (a Frenchman) who is featured.  He is the deputy Mayor of Brest.  "Many people will know Brest from the Paris-Brest-Paris" (bike ride).  I find him the most fascinating featured rider.  He is riding with a rack and bag atop it as well as an Apidura.  He is there to "see Ireland".  Riding his bike is just a mode of transport.

He loves cycling because, like life, sometimes bad things happen and then you will find that something good comes along soon after.

13 days 8 hours (Vimeo pic courtesy of Adrian O'Sullivan)

I have thought about this a lot recently.  Particularly on my way home through the darkness on Friday night, right after I had a full-on argument with a senior manager who was mansplaining my job to me - the one I've been doing for 20 years.

I heard something on my tyre scraping against my mudguard through Attercliffe.  Instead of ignoring it and riding on - as I was tempted to do in a dark and seedy end of Sheffield, I stopped and investigated properly.  I pulled a sharp piece of metal about the size of a large paper clip out of my tyre.  Potentially, the tyre may have gone flat then and there - or it might stay up.  One thing is for sure, if I'd continued to ride on it, it would definitely have gone flat.  In between the wrecked cars awaiting scrappage, salvage or repair, the puddles of oil and the rubbish-stoked fires burning to generate heat in the taxi garage workshops of Attercliffe, I let out a little sigh of relief as the tyre stayed up... at least it seemed stable enough to ride on.

I peered in the Garages - still with doors open at 7pm in case more customers come - I like to nosey and see what's what.  There's often Asian men huddled around the fires.  Smoking, drinking, talking, warming themselves, passing the time, keeping away from their women and children, talking shit - or important shit.  This evening, I noseyed in on two guys reaching forwards together into a loving, generous embrace.  Not a bear-hug, a full on brotherly, caring, loving hug.   In my relief for an inflated tyre, my heart glowed warmer than the fires and I rode all the way home without stopping.

Having failed to do any longer rides this week, I wanted to get out today andput at least 80 miles under my belt.  I'm riding 120 miles in December - my first Audax since 2009.  I figure that if I ride 80 miles in OCTober, 90 miles in NOVember, I should be able to hit 120 mile in December - especially since it's a flat one.

My colleague yesterday reminded me about the storm approaching, saying they were only doing a short ride but he planted the idea in my head to ride South and then get pushed home.  Cue last night plotting an 80 mile route that not only took me South then North, it also kept me down out of the windy moors of the Peak District.

TSK and I rarely venture South of Sheffield except on very long rides.  There's nice places South of here but generally, the space around Chesterfield, Alfreton, Derby and Mansfield is pretty urban and sprawling.  The inter-connecting roads tend to be long, straight 60 limit roads (even the minor ones) and full of boy racers in hot-hatches.  They also tend to be largely devoid of cafe's & coffee shops.  Unless you want a pub or an old-lady tea room, "barren" is the word.

I set my alarm for 6am, intending to do as much South (headwind) riding as possible before the Storm arrived.  I left around 7:30 and was in Baslow by 9:00am.  I stopped for a second breakfast since I was feeling hungry but the cafe there wasn't open, despite me wasting time at the toilets faffing with my saddle.

Around Chatsworth, I headed up a hill I normally descend with Norton Wheelers.  At the top I turned right (South) onto new territory and followed this road at height for 10 miles before turning towards Wessington and the edge of Alfreton.  Basically I left the quiet and lonesome high road for something that feels like an extension of Derby.  Then as I pulled off the A615 into town, the familiar feel of a flat tyre.

My stay in Alfreton was a little harrowing.  At first, I struggled to remove my wheel because my hands were colder than I realised and I had no grip.  Thankfully though, the effort of trying to make them work warmed them sufficiently to make them work...

An old man kept walking past me.  He seemed to be trying to find his home.  Clearly he'd been into town to get a paper but didn't seem able to remember where he lived.   I tried to help as best I could but he didn't know his phone number, kept talking about "her" but I couldn't figure out if that was his wife, daughter or carer.  He didn't have a drivers license or pension book with his address on and I really couldn't think of anything else to say.  I didn't want to be patronising enough to offer to take him to the police station.  Eventually he watched me repair my inner tube and then shuffled into town to figure out what to do next.  I didn't see him again.

Alfreton offered me no cafes and I very nearly ended up at KFC or McD's again but resisted and went to the Co-op for a sandwich and banana and stocked up on cake and flapjack.  I made haste to continue my route, worried that I'd struggle to get to Newstead Abbey before the storm arrived and would be battered before I turned to ride with the wind.  I thought 80 miles would be a push today.

Faster than I realised it though, I went from dodgy bike path through reclaimed pit land to Newstead Abbey grounds and suddenly I was on a closed road with no company but pedestrians, taking a picture of the lake and watching the waterfall and finally there was coffee... right up until the point where the wind blew my gloves and sunglasses across the table and onto the stones and I was so busy holding on to my coffee I let them go.

I panicked and drank the coffee and then left, wishing my mountain biking companion fare winds home and leaving him to finish his cake and updating his twitter.

Sadly, eventually I had to leave the park and continue on to Kirkby and Sutton in Ashfield - weaving my way on B-roads through tenuous industrial and housing estates, the B6039 through Tibshelf and into Chesterfield.

On the back lanes of Chesterfield, a car driver passed WAY TOO CLOSE for comfort.  Lord knows what he was doing as he continued to drive in the gutter until finally pulling out into a normal position in the road.  After my first outburst of "WOAH!", I was pleased to catch him up and ask loudly if my fluoro ORANGE coat was not "fucking bright enough?".

There was no way I was going to fuck up this roundabout with his eyes on me so, I bossed it and randomly selected an exit Right - as far away from his left turn as possible.  It was the wrong way but would eventually meet up with my route further along.

Then there it was, part way up a random street  MY OLD VANU!  I could not believe it!.  I was so excited, words can't describe.  I'm no way upset to have sold it - it was a liability I couldn't deal with and have had 3 happy years of not owning my own car (company car doesn't count) but I have always hoped that it lived on and wasn't just taken / sold for parts.  I tried to understand why it meant so much to me to see it (it's just a car after all - even if it is one that we have so many happy memories of) and I believe it's this: even though I'm not enjoying it, I'm really pleased someone else is.  I put so much effort and expense into doing the conversion that the thought of that being torn apart and binned filled me with regret.  But there he was, the Vanu.  He has blue stripes now and I think the partially faded cat curtains are gone but my woodwork remains in situ and in tact.  The same old dents and scratches are still there and it's much much cleaner.

I was so excited I had to phone TSK and then photograph it.

Out of Chesterfield, my tummy started to rumble again.  I had a carrot cake that I bought at lunch burning a hole in my back pocket so all I needed was a good bush shelter to get out of the drizzle and howling wind.  My Garmin came to my aid, showing a + for a Church in Barlow and sure enough, a lovely stone Lych Gate for a person and a bike to shelter in to eat cake amongst the confetti.

It wasn't far to go but that was just enough to see me through to Sheffield again and up the hill from Dore to Eccleshall Road and then on up to Crookes to walk through the door 8 hours and 77 miles later (80 - give or take the occasional failure to press the button on my Garmin).

SO there we go, from Friday foolishness to three days of bad things happening then something great coming along.

Life, I love but cycling is best.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Oh running. I have missed you but I knew you would hurt me.

It's been 2 months to the day, almost, since I did running in a world championships race. I have hardly run since, short of a little slogging a 'cross bike over rocks in the 3 Peaks cyclocross  and mountain bike pushing in the Alps. It's like I knew it was going to hurt.

I took my running kit to Scotland. The optimist was going to get there early and drive to loch Lomond so I could run Ben Lomond. The realist was going to run the path next to the river near Glasgow airport where my hotel was.

In reality I left the office at 18:30 after a 10 hour day and arrived in Scotland at 00:45. Needless to say I had a lie in.

Still, I escaped my meeting by 2pm and by 3.30 it was time for some me time... aka I was bored of driving.

I stopped in a remote layby on the A66 with a clearly sign-posted bridlepath on the horizon.  I dug out my Garmin - which wasn't where it should have been and recalled it was *exactly* where it shouldn't have been - still plugged into the wall at home.  So an out-and-back run then.

I got up the hill OK through two sets of gates and finally onto the open trail.  It felt GREAT to be out there.  Windy, cold but I'd warm up right?

Had to dive into the grass for a pee, no more than 40 feet from the A66 but all traffic was on the other side of the bluffs of grass and no-one could see.  I was warm, tucked away and spied a gun turret on the other side of the valley.  The grass tickled my nose and I had to drag myself away from my quiet spot.

At first I enjoyed my first bit of picking my way through bog, then I was reduced to walking so as not to turn an ankle out there on my own.  I tried to focus on the positives of being out in the fresh air - getting back to running.  Of course it was going to be slow and hurty but it was just about doing it right?

I decided that getting back to running is harder than giving up smoking.  When you're giving up smoking, every second you're not smoking is success.  I have to wait up to 2 days to be successful at this again - to be running again.

But it was better than driving and it was better than just running around the same old places.  To give myself something to go for I picked the top of the nearest hill but just as I started to off-route my way there, I stumbled across a track that I had not realised existed.  It wasn't as much fun but would give me a bit more scope for running.  Besides, the direct route was looking a bit less stable with a gully and fencing around a quarry in my way - I didn't want to fall down a hole out there on my own!

 So I joined the track and to my great surprise and joy, it skirted around the top of the gully's drainage and set off up the hill towards the top I had planned to visit.  Now I was motoring... actually, I was managing good form but was soooo frickin' slow.  Still, I ran as much as I could and walked the rest then arrived at the end of the track.  I picked my way across the summit bog until I finally reached my target.

I had to take my jumper off to take the brown vest top photo.

I turned straight around and headed back down.  Out of the wind, my panic levels dropped and I was able to enjoy the descent for a while.  I stopped at some mountain huts and had a nosey inside and they looked like good bivi huts - if ever I should find myself there.

Through more gates and retracing my steps.  Tired now, struggling to run.  Picking my way back across the bogs and I went up to my ankles in rusty brown mud.  Nowhere between here and the car to wash it off as all the puddles are black.  So I get back to the car and pour an old bottle of water over my shoe to wash it.  The neighbouring trucker looks in horror as I appear to wash a litre of congealed blood out of my shoe.  

Hard as nails me.

I change into civvy clothes and drive home for 90 minutes.  I fall into the house tired and cold and chase a shower.  It's so good to be warm.  So good to dry my feet.  I feel so free.  Like I've ridden my bike but different, harder... much harder.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Transition Phase Over

Transition phase - the technical term for downtime between two seasons.

See, nowadays the Three Peaks Cyclo-cross marks the end of the adventure riding season for me - where I pack away my long distance mountain biking and get out cyclo-cross with its skinny bike and short Sunday bursts.  With such a great, long adventure season of biking this year, I really needed a transition season more than ever.  In past years I've not bothered.  I've just struggled out of the 3 Peaks and into doing my local 'cross race, occasionally a National Trophy (although I can never get excited about Derby).

This year I allowed myself two weeks of doing whatever the devil I liked.  Fortunately I have liked doing some 50-60 miles rides.  Although they don't necessarily count as epic effort, they have been enough to link one season seamlessly to the next with a bit of a break to massage my brain and enough effort to keep the legs alive.

My peak fitness dropped off towards the end of the distance season as the fatigue drained in and the effort drained out... but that's fine, that's what transition periods are for.

We agreed on a 60 mile averagely hilly ride today as a compromise to the (Alpe d'Huez) training monster I was advocating.  Due to dampness and rain and TSK forgetting that its autumn so not bringing appropriate clothing, we cut it a little shorter than we'd planned although ended up winding around some lovely lanes to get home.  That clocked us in at 61.25 mile and a respectable 1500m of climbing.  It was the same length ride we had in our heads anyway (though with half the Up of the AdH route).

We both agreed that this was the limit of our current fitness as we limped our way home.  This gives us an excellent baseline to work on and fortunately just happens to match my training plan.

We talked about our plans for next years events.  I've seen other people get burned and bomb out of big events like this in their first year.  I've been worried about burning out too soon until TSK asked if I wanted to do the Solstice ride again (December 16th ish).  He pointed out that if I do burn out by December I have plenty of time to recover and turn it around in time for the event.  I  realised, all of a sudden, we used to do Audaxes all the time - December, June, March, that's just what life was until Triathlon started to get in the way.  Y'know what? Life can be that way again.

I only took one photo when I got back to the village.  It was a kind of ridey day.  It was also kind of windy which makes me glad I've put narrower bars on my new bike and there won't be a Carradice when I'm in Ireland.  It proves I need to go places, ride more interesting routes, take some pictures of new people.  Rides aren't just about going faster and higher and further.  They're about going further afield - both physically and mentally and I can't wait.

It was a waiting for dinner to be bought photo.  An, "I regret not getting my camera out earlier" kind of photo and also an "insignificance of social media" photo... because the less I twittle the more I ride and that can only be a good thing.  I'm keeping a diary in addition (supplement) to the blog as sometimes it's nicer to write on paper with a fountain pen.  Flylillypad encouraged me to sketch in it too... or doodle - whichever.  It's a great idea that I love.

For the record though, here's what today looked like.

TSK has taken to the bath.  I have a to-do list that looks like this:

  • Pay credit card bill
  • Package ride up into palletable chunks
  • Plan audax season
  • Tidy loft for yoga
  • Clear spare room for Beckster training weekend.
It's the kind of to do list I can totally get achieve... given a week

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Bike build phase 2

Today hasn't all been domestic bliss, cats (on knees) and tea. Oh no there has been some serious bike building going on.

I have already written about this once but not here, kind of as a therapy to make me feel more sound about things. It doesn't need to be in my blog as it wasn't a thoroughly pleasing experience and eventually I dropped the bike into the shop to do some more rigorous installation than I was prepared to tackle myself. As soon as I did, I felt better and picked up the bike on Wednesday, leaving me 2 whole days to recover before tackling stage 2.

Here's the highlights though: whilst most people save for their retirement, I have just bougt mine.  I don't just mean that in some whimsical kind of, "this is a comfy bike that, as mid life crises go, will last me forever" kind of bike I also mean that as in, "at least if I still haven't paid my mortgage I can still ride off into the sunset with a tent" kind of way.  I hope that gives you an idea how precious it therefore is.

I also think that, whilst you get to 'know' a bike by building it, you don't get to love it yet. This is difficult because during a build you can still go through some traumatic times together - especially if you're trying something new.  You have to exercise patience and faith and hope you don't break anything.

Love comes after miles and miles of shared and hopefully comfortable experiences.  All I have for now is a reassuring knowledge that I totally nailed internal cable routing for the first time. I am still waiting for bits for my brakes but my gears are now spinning and hopefully I have mastered the comfortable part.

I have balanced in a doorway and rolled forwards out of control (damn those brakes) and now I will, very sensibly, put it away for another day before I mess something up.

His name might be Dignity (yes as in the Deacon Blue song) and for some reason, yes this bike is a bloke.

This adventure is the beginning of something beautiful (and I didn't even swallow any small parts).

Monday, October 02, 2017


Trying to balance frustration at not finishing my new bike with the to do list in my head so I can get some sleep.

I had to abandon to revert to tinkering with old bikes so I can at least have a decent ride tomorrow... though the more I sit awake, the less likely I am to achieve that too.  It seems there's nothing more unhealthy than a To Do list and an empty bank account.

I have one more half day holiday to fix this thing... possibly before I go nuts.

Wailing... I just want to riiiiiiiiiide.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Convalescence Ride

I'm not sure who we were trying to make feel better but dad definitely appreciated us riding over to Manchester to say hello.

Thornhill, Mam Nick, Rushup, Chapel, Whaley Bridge, Potteries, Wilmslow (how busy?) Manchester Airport.

Despite fancying a ride home, we took the train.  It was late, we were already soggy, I'd had 2 recurring punctures from a folded rim tape and Andrew's headset was clunking. 

We rode back from the station via Chinese food.

A lovely day was had by all and it ticked the "keep riding further" box without wearing us out completely. 

It also reminded me that when going out on a slightly dodgy autumnal day, a few more items of (dry) clothing may be wise.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

3 Peaks Cyclo-cross 2017

The 3 Peaks this year passed by in a blur of: thinking I was doing better, not knowing how I was doing, puncturing, being average, ending with a time gain of 5 minutes over last year.

It was satisfying but a little disappointing, confounded by my dad not finishing due to a frustrating mechanical.  The official refused continuation 12 minutes outside cut off on a glorious sunny day. He worked really hard this year to get back to fitness after illness... not easy when you're 67.

Another one under my belt but no daddy daughter prize this year and no sub-5 hour for me proving that I will have to train specifically for it instead of pricking about with triathlon and mountain biking.  The legs felt slushy this morning. There's no other reason than I am knackered!

It was a beautiful sunny day. My friend Sue fed me flapjack on Whernside and I had great fun throwing stuff into people's cars (with their permission).

I wore old shoes which messed up my downhill running confidence and anyway I haven't done nearly enough of that recently anyway. Sub 5 hours is definitely possible but dedicating August to fine tuning may be required.

With my head in my next project already, it doesn't bother me too much that I didn't break any of my old records today. It matters more what I do tomorrow... or perhaps on Wednesday.
(c) Sue Thackray