Monday, June 18, 2018

Oh dear me

Today has been the hardest yet. My ankles, knees, thighs, glutes, cushions, head all hurt when I started riding.  Rather than spending time with cafes in the village I ate the emergency breakfast and had coffee using the kettle in the campsite kitchen. Bliss.

The Climbers' Inn was  next on  the route but they only do toasties and it didn't even occur to me to order 2. It was 3pm before I reached a delightful place selling pancakes. I had soup too and hot chocolate. It was a 3 course meal. I am just not sure which.

Shortly after leaving I had to put rain pants and a second coat on to stay warm.   The scenery erroded to nothing by the omnipresent grey.

I cycled through Kenmare, completely aware that I  needed to get more supplies but totally reticent to do so. I placed fate in the hands of the gods.

Despite the earlier food stop, the pain and incessant rain eroded my mood to the point of tears. The robin perched on my handlebars, a swallow dive bombing to catch water boatmen and a pine martin sighting didn't help either.  I was momentarily lifted by the sight of sunshine on the bay which has  improved the weather to a tolerable level.

The legs still aren't working though. I have chucked them at a few short climbs but they stop soon after. I am mostly walking the long steeps.

My mantra for the day is, "the dark days will pass". This belief is the only thing keeping me going.

At 7pm I just fell into a pub. I have had my first Guinness of the race and already, the reminder that I am on holiday (not at my desk) is sinking in.

I wanted to finish my stage 6 of the race today - since I made 25 miles inroads into it last night and it is a short 119mile stage. Sadly I  have only done 54 miles as 1017m of climbing have happened and clearly, yesterday I made too much hay whist the legs were feeling good and the (night) skies were clear.

Instead I will fall into the next available campsite which is not, in theory, that far away.

I will hope for a better day tomorrow that indeed, the bad days will pass.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pre-Transatlantic Way - The woes, the wobbles (litterally) and the Way.

In 10 days we embark on the Transatlanticway – a 1400 (ish) mile race over ¾ of the way around the Irish Coastline.  It’s known to be a bit of a gueller. 
  1. a)      It’s a long way.
  2. b)      It’s into the prevailing wind for a large proportion of its distance
  3. c)       It pisses it down a lot on the west coast of Ireland
  4. d)      It’s still a long way

People have asked the Adventure Syndicate (a group of female adventurers who spend their lives adventurising and through doing so aim to encourage people – mainly women and girls – to take on new adventures… or as we called it in the 80’s – turn off your TV set and go and do something more interesting)… anyway, people have asked them, “are there any normal people out there, doing this stuff, y’know, people with jobs and normal lives?”

I give you, me.  And, to be fair, plenty of others – teachers, nurses and yes, engineers, IT professionals, scientists, accountants, researchers, authors – who ride by morning and evening and spend 8 hours or more 5 days or more a week at someone else’s disposal before hurtling around like lunatics the rest of the time, trying to squeeze into some kind of major event or another every so often along with all of the training required to even get you onto the start line, never mind over it and around to the finish.  Our only major contribution to the encouragement of others to take on adventurising?  We turn up and watch the events, the presentations, the videos, buy into the rhetoric then purchase all our own kit (or eachothers' off-casts) to keep the industry that supports the real winners afloat.

In the meantime we try our best to perpetuate the myth in our personal theatres, offices, factory floors and board rooms but inevitably at the end of the day, still manage to come across as some kind of unearthly super-human to your average desk touting, machine operating, scalpel weilding, hospital gown folding, board-rubber hurling podgy average human being (there are intentionally lots of averages in there).

The inevitable response to “I’m just an average human being” is to gaffaw in wonder.  Occasionally we draw one in and they go on to complete multiple ironmans – but its rare.

I have done precisely 41% of the volume of training I wanted to do for this race.  Trust me, I have a spreadsheet that shows it because if there's one thing engineering professionals can do well, it's write spreadsheets. 

Almost as soon as I’d finished my last long ride (during which I entered this one) I drew up a plan to get me from the measly volume of riding I had been doing to where I wanted to be (right now, as I sit here typing this). 

The plan involved multiple long rides during the week combined with long efforts at the weekend, responsibly interspersed with rest days in between.  The gains in distance across time were unfathomable so I did a stupid thing and took out some of the rest days to smooth the leaps.  In retrospect it was always set to fail but also, as happens with every day Joes (and Janes) the job took over. 

I’m a senior engineer for a gases company but I have no control over anything.  Senior managers retain all that –and I’m talking really senior.  So getting a project and delivering it are two very different things.  I won’t labour the point in my blog but my beloved career (and I do love it) has taken over this year as I try to do the career of two people.  If I was a real engineer, this wouldn’t be a problem.  I’d spend my weekends working or building trains for fun and my week days and nights working for the love of it but fortunately I’m also afflicted with the joy of cycling.  I could have improved my fitness through strength training exercises but fortunately, I enjoy riding my bike so much more than lifting weights or squatting on a mat so I tend to ride my bike instead of hitting the gym.  Such is life.

So here I am – a REAL person – trying to do something unreal - Race a bicycle around Ireland in 7-15 days (accepting that I’m going to be slow here) clocking up 100 miles a day and surviving on a minimal amount of sleep where it can be grasped – B&Bs, campsites, hotels, hostels, benches, beaches or bus stops.

I made one more mistake – which I’m prone to do with these things, but that’s the fun part of it – the learning.  Instead of just sticking to my training plan and doing what I’d told myself, I decided to resume Audax UK riding.  

Audaxes are long distance rides (usually over 200km – though shorter ones exist) which are published routes undertaken solo or as part of a group ride on a given date.  The organisers publish the route file, feed you at the start, monitor your progress as you collect receipts or stamps from establishments along the route to prove your passage.  You then get a pass or fail mark for completing within a set time frame which is based on a 15 to 30km/hr speed (so quite generous really for the average cyclist). 

It sounds like an excellent way to start getting more miles into the legs no?  It is and I got hooked in a way.  I decided I wanted to get my first RRtY badge.  Audax isn’t competitive (pass/fail result) and so to replace this, cloth badges are given in exchange for targets.  I have several 200 badges but felt the need to extend my collection to a ride-round-the-year badge – at least one 200km ride every month for 12 months.  I added a few 300km rides to the suite to buck the distances.

The traditional way to do this is to start in the winter months to get the worst over with and thereby increase your chances of completions as time goes by and you get more tired – but the rides get easier.  I started training in October and was blessed with weather then did my first ride in December, January, February – all in excellent conditions for the season.  Then I upped my game to a 300, nearly died of snow, timed out and so set off on a campaign of 2 weekly-audaxes to make sure I hit my RRtY target.  

Within 10 weeeks I’d done a out-of-time 300, a 200 to replace it, another 300 to nail the distance before shit got real with Ireland and then my scheduled 200 in May.  That was two weeks ago.  This has all led to a lurcher effect, lurching from one ride and recovery to the next without actually managing to squeeze in any real training rides or weightlifting.

It all sounds productive “riding your bike” training but audaxes – though completed on more comfy bikes than an average road race - are generally much lighter than long distance independent race machines – particularly how I prefer to travel.  I’ve done a lot of long rides which have been towards that 15 kph scale and not particularly heavily laden (although I did take a 1kg lock on a few for good measure).  Unfortunately I haven’t done many 50 – 90 mile rides carrying the full weight of my race rig.

The valid fact is, without the audaxes to keep me going, there's a very significant chance I wouldn't have riden nearly as far as I have this year.  Without the set dates to aim for, the work excuses come into the fray.  The days off to prepare for a ride don't get booked and a late night Friday and an early start Monday all begin to eat into riding time.  In balance, I feel it's been the best training I could have done, even if not the most relevant.

Yesterday we went for our first weighted ride since January AND IT WAS TOUGH.  What was it about this one that made it tougher than January of all times?  Well, straight forwards: In January, we travelled together as a pair – we shared a tent, a stove, a fuel bottle, a lighter.  In January, it was only for 1 night – we didn’t pack any spare clothing on the basis that the next day would see us warm, dry and moderately clean again. In January, we did all of our packing the day before, drove down to a hotel and started fresh in the morning.

Yesterday, for the authentic experience and to minimise the amount of time we spent on the bike eating into our precious recovery… yesterday, we got up at 6am, spent a sizeable portion of the morning doing pre-race planning like plotting an audax route to be integral to the race, ordering club kit before we go, planning some overnight stops (ha! Planning).  We then went for lunch before spending a sizeable portion of the afternoon and early evening digging out all of our kit and loading it on the bikes.  This time, a tent each, stove each (because reasons*), cups, “cutlery”, pegs, food supplies & coffee – race quantities (at least day 1) measured out into containers and packed.  We then ate our dinner and finally set out for a ride at about 8:30pm.

As a baptism of fire (and to stay in the evening sun) we rode up the hill, not down.  As music blared from neighbours' houses and passing cars we realised it was an exceptional evening to leave the city.
The Sunset over Stanage Edge was impossible to capture fully on a phone
but I did have to try.
We rode a familiar route - down Frogatt (much scarier with a suddenly laden bike and brakes that you're putting off servicing until the last minute), across Calver crossroads and joined the Monsal Trail at Hassop station.  

We dipped in and out of tunnels with chilly subterranean air and pottered about looking for somewhere to bivi for the night.  In our search we found glow worms and then a perfect pitch.  Tents were up in no time.  I was too cold not to get in my sleeping bag and feeling a bit exposed - in more ways than one.  a) we'd only ridden 20 miles and I was knackered b) I pitched my tent straight into the wind and a chilly breeze was blowing straight over me.  

I admit, I didn't clean my teeth and fell almost straight to sleep.  It didn't last long though and I woke shivering in the breeze with a tail off my tent guys tapping the canvas right above my head.  My ear plugs were still in a bag on my bike.

There was no point waiting it out - I got up, undid all the guys, span the tent 180 degrees, span my sleep mat back 180 degrees and got my ear plugs out of the bag.  I got in the tent and it was baggy and on the piss so I had to get out and fix it all up again. It was approximately 1:30am. It all worked and I got back in and slept straight through to the alarm at 5am.  It's all about the practice right?

We were fed and caffeinated by 7 but then delayed our departure because unexplained reasons.  It was 8:30 when we arrived back at Calver to treat ourselves to more coffee and teacakes at the caf.  I checked and was impressed by my friend's Ironman time - another great normal person with a normal life doing brilliant stuff.  More and better.

We resumed our ride, back over Froggatt.  The climb was long but I still had a gear left and crested the hill without any bother.  We descended to town and to be honest, the urge to keep going on somewhere else was overwhelming but I stayed en route to home, promising myself that when I got in I'd sort some stuff out.  I don't need to over-do it now.

I worked through into the mid day sun, working on TSK's bike a little then eating in the garden.  Eventually I wilted indoors before flopping into bed and sleeping solidly for 2 hours.

When the alarm went off at 3pm to make sure I can sleep tonight, I felt like hell.  I snoozed for a bit longer, convinced that by the time I woke up it would be 6pm and TSK would be coming home.  It was, thankfully, only 3:30 and I at least felt like writing and eating toast - yes toast, I was SO hungry.  

How am I going to ride 1400 miles? I am wondering.  I can't even manage 40 without collapsing into bed!  So I've come to my blog to find answers.  Stories of all the times I've tried to do too much up to two weeks after an audax.  Stories of how I feel amazing just 3 weeks after an audax.  Of how that's the perfect time to recover.  To remind myself of the progression: In February - no rides after an audax, March - 40 miles after an audax, April - 60 miles + 2 x 25s + 2 audaxes, May - a 60 mile + 2 x 40 miles with all the extra gear on board, not to mention 2 x 60 mile Norton rides.  Yeah, I think I did OK.  Yeah, I think that finally, my recovery is justified.

Today's ride (and yesterday's) unnerved me a bit.  I wish I'd done more on a loaded bike but weather, commitments, audaxing, life aside, could I have done it?  Yeah - if I'd wanted to.  If I'd put audaxing to one side.  Would I have done it?  Probably not.

The heat probably also contributed to how I felt today.  I didn't really notice it riding but I was clearly dehydrated and cooked myself in the garden a bit when I got home.  Reasons to be relieved if it rains in Ireland.  Reasons to stare the wind in the face and say, "So?".

The fact is, I'm now here, 10 days from the start.  I have 10 days to get used to riding with weights or 10 days to recover my muscles.  It will likely be a combination of both so I've left the bike packed as there's every chance he's going to come to work with me for a few days so I can adjust fully, get the hips in check and take a few steps closer to getting the brain in check.

For on the 7th, we ride!

*If you can't believe I'm carrying a stove, reasons is this: I like to be self-sufficient and I also like to eat.  Running my body on empty is not really an option.  Yeah yeah, we can all do it - for a limited period only - but I am female, 5'11'' and skinny as fuck (well, 65kg so not completely skinny).  Yes, I have some body fat but I like it and it's normal.  My normal weight without effort is not very fat though.  So if I get into a hole I will suffer for days.  My brain goes to goo and I can't achieve anything.  I'd rather carry a bag of desiccated food and finish a day in good shape with a meal than face a sleepless rest feeling hungry and miserable.  It also means I can make myself a coffee when I'm feeling washed out which will be the difference between making it to a cafe in an hour rather than 2 hours if I'm falling asleep on my feet - which has been know to happen - literally.  Besides this, for me, independent racing is as much about the camping as it is about the cycling.  If I had the fitness to win this thing then yes, I might only take 7 days off work and ride through and eat shit in petrol stations but as it is, despite it being a race, I am in it to enjoy my holidays and, quite frankly, the number of times I have mulled over leaving behind my trusty stove behind has been far outweighed by the number of times its presence has both brought me joy and saved my bacon.  It is the freedom to eat where I choose and experience some amazing sunsets as a result.   I have a lightweight titanium stove and meths stash which I anticipate will last me at least half of the race.

(final) lessons learned - regular matches and a stove cap are required.  My tent can not be pitched with the door into a cool breeze! My synthetic jacket is the best hat I have. My eye mask and ear plugs need to live in the sleeping bag.

The rest will soon be history.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Position, Plain Peaks and Troughs 200km Audax

On 8th April I wrote this.

For some reason I didn't post it.  It was just before Skeggy which was way more interesting.  In retrospect, this post is more interesting to me than the Skegness ride so I have now published it.

On 30th April my faith was wavering.  The more I have ridden recently, the worse I have felt.  My bike position never feels good.  I haven't left the saddle alone - forward, back, tilted, up, down.  My left heel wants to turn in.  My right heel wants to turn out.  I slide my cleats forward and back, in and out.  What feels great one ride, feels horrific the next day.  On top of that, my shoulder pain (like none I've ever had on a bike) has persisted for months with only occasional ease coming from Marcus massaging the living daylights out of my Psoas on a monthly basis.

Someone suggested I get a bike fit but I wasn't paying £100 for someone to do what I've been doing myself for 30 years, only to find that a day later it all feels wrong.

For a day, I changed my saddle back to the ones I ride on all my other bikes.  It put me in completely the wrong place so I put the ISM one back again and rode to Skegness on it and everything was fine.  Then the day after Skegness I felt awful, my bike felt awful.

I hoped that the move from my winter boots to summer shoes would ease things - better cleat position.  Sadly, the fidgety feet still happened, my left foot feeling like it is hunting for something.  Not wanting to be straight, not wanting to be crooked, wobbling around with every pedal stroke.

Whilst all this was happening, my faith in my training was wavering.  I did so many great events and whilst I am able to ride 300km or 200 hilly ones, I seem to be doing it more and more slowly.  I recover better, I feel better after one, I am back on the bike but still I feel wrong.  My resting heart rate (if my watch is to be believed) is hovering around 55 - 60 with occasional peaks up to 70.  How can I sleep all night with a resting heart rate of 70??  Back in March when training was just getting going, my hear rate hit 42!  I am, on paper, getting less fit.

Finally, on my way home from work on 30th April, I admitted that the problem might still be the ISM saddle.  Hip issues are caused by a saddle that's too narrow and whilst this one is only slightly narrower than my normal saddle, I guessed that might be the problem. 

This time I was careful to measure its position and, last Thursday, I put it in exactly the same place as the ISM saddle sits.

As soon as I rode it to work the next day it felt perfect.

I did a few miles on it during the week and then, sensibly (my god!) decided not to ride it down to Shropshire for May bank holiday weekend but instead take the bike down in the van and enjoy a more comfortable easing in of the "new" old saddle over 2 x 60 mile days with my club mates.  I wasn't too worried about the suitability of the saddle (I've been riding them for years including the 500 Canadian miles this summer) but didn't particularly want to cause myself too much chaffing, having been riding a saddle with no nose for 6 months now. 

The saddle performed. From the moment I set out from the bunk house with my mates, I felt comfortable.  We rode up hill and down dale for hours and I felt like I was on my cyclo-cross bike - but comfier.  The shoes still felt a little odd but I knew that I'd left the right foot in a traditional position with the left foot slightly wide because that knee tends to figure-of-eight around if the foot is not planted  just right - leading to chronic wear on my knee.  The only other thing that was wrong was my gears.  After weeks of diminished riding due to pain / fatigue / lack of faith / flat 300s I was feeling it a lot on the hills.  Of course it didn't help that I was out with Norton Wheelers who regularly ride the Peaks and the Alps and are used to shorter, yet more violently climby rides.  I struggled at the back unless I got a good run out front on a descent to whoosh me up the other side.

 The chaffing was not too bad - though did happen - unlike the ISM saddle which, despite its narrow, has always been chaffe-free.  It was looking like the problem was solved.  There remained one last test - 200kms... but before that, a lovely parcel arrived from Sigma Sport, including a 34 tooth block for the back end.

With a light-as-you dare bag packed, including an omitted lock, we set out yesterday on the Dore-based Plains, Peaks and Troughs Audax.

A lovely morning for a ride to the start
I've rarely done such a local Audax so it was a novelty to ride to the start and I only had to be up at 6am to do so.

We had more toast and crammed down some coffee before heading off with 20 or so others into the hills.  The front group quickly dispatched with me, one woman on the road ahead.  I retained my second place until the bottom of Sheldon hill climb at which point I was passed by number 2. 

At the top though, they were waiting for another girl and I stayed ahead until we arrived in Longnor, being swept up at the top of the climb but then sitting on the front down the descent.

It was too early for a stop for me so I packaged cake into my frame bag and set off, snapping a pic of the majority of other female riders as they came in and went out.
Longnor Control
From Longnor it was a long haul over the Roaches to Congleton.  I'm disappointed that I didn't stop to take a photo here.  Descending past Hen Cloud was amazing.  So many little roads away from the major ones that I didn't know existed.  I knew the climbs into Congleton would come as I've fell raced on Congleton Cloud.  I didn't remember how steep they were. 

As soon as I dropped out into Cheshire, I was passed by a ferrari, a porsche and a Range Rover, like a border patrol. 

There were a number of info controls sto get me over to The Spinney Caravan shop Cafe.  The staff were grumpy, the hob stopped working and my mushrooms on toast (although cheap) were both insubstantial and time-consuming.  Still, at least I had caught up TSK who rode with me through Cheshire to a mixture of Crewe-based motorist insults, singing and turns on the front into the headwind until we circuited Cheshire's second city and set off back East with our tail wind in tow

By 5pm we were in Leek.  We collected an info control then headed into Costa for an un-scheduled stop.  TSK was in need of a sit down and I was in need of more sustenance than mushrooms fried on to white Mothers' Pride bread.

He ordered me a bucket of coffee so I added tiffin to the bean wrap I had scoffed and then we hit the hills again. 

The man was suffering but still surged ahead.  I climbed more steadily on my new gear, zigzagging on the steep climbs but still smiling my way up.  We re-grouped at the top to put on jackets and then descended back onto our side of the Peak.  TSK pulled ahead on the hill climb again and I continued to breeze up, enjoying riding in short sleeve jersey and snacking my way through large quantities of food.  As I pulled into Youlegreave, TSK was just finishing the pint he'd been promising himself all day.

I ordered a baked potato and wolfed it down, greeting the next person in as I vacated the table.  "foof", he said, "This is hard!".  I knew it was hard but really wasn't feeling so bad.  I kept my mouth shut.

I put on my windproof to cope with the setting sun and headed for Bakewell and Baslow.  Rain started to fall properly as I began the climb to Owler Bar.  The sleeves of my windproof started to wet-out as it got heavier but I was also pumping out a fair heat and un-zipped everything, only taking the rain on my back.  What a wonderfully warm evening.  Only a moderate niggle from my right calf gave some hint that it is milimetres away from being aligned with my left and that I need to stop twisting it about.

Thankfully I did have my waterproof jacket and rain legs with me and stopped at the top of the Bar to get comfortable for the ride in to Control.  A few minor navigational issues in the late evening and parts of town I do not know but I was soon back, arriving just as the other girls were heading home and eating yet more food. 

We waited for the last finisher to come in - just because I knew he wasn't far behind me.  We welcomed him in then headed home. 

What I had been dreading - the long climb up the hill to home.  From Eccleshall Road to Broomhill.  We then dropped down to the Uni, through past the Octagon, under the underpass, dodging the drunken students and then up through Walkley.  I hit the lights at a roll and sprinted up the hill to our junction.  Satisfying.  I had some left.

Taking stock today and according to data, this was one of the climbiest rides I have done.  It turns out that data is not always what it's cracked up to be when it comes to the logging system I have been using for the past 10 years but hey, I need my confidence bolstering.  The organiser bills it as a 3100m day and that is what I got on my results on the Garmin.  Adding in the 135 m and 166 m of sheffield riding and it's quite an impressive number.  The likes of which have only been repeated in TNR. 

As I listened to Lee Craigie on Thursday advise that it's the day in / day out base that's most important with long distance riding, I hope that I've done enough base, even if it hasn't particularly been of the day in / day out nature.

I had every intention of going for a ride today but things got the better of me and in the end, it pays to be in control of fatigue going into the working week.  Maybe not totally in control but vaguely on top of it.

Elevation aside, I am mostly happy that I am now moderately comfortable on the bike as this will be key to all - feet, backside and cadence sorted.  I've tweaked cleats to get them to match and hope, that this week, I can finally - once and for all - put my demons and insecurities to rest.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Everybody Rides to Skeggy 2018. 300km Audax

I'm struggling to write about Skeggy.  What to say about a perfectly executed ride which does exactly what it said on the tin, in perfect conditions that's over much quicker than expected?

So much.

Everybody did, I think, ride to Skeggy. Not everyone returned.

4:30am is a particularly unsociable time to get up on a Saturday morning - even more so when TSK has been at work till 11pm and then comes home and fidgets but then I didn't even notice him get up and go to sleep in the spare room at 1:30am to give me some quiet time.

We were too dozy to speak on the way to Alfreton.  We missed the group start, still faffing in the car park.  I left my heart rate monitor behind and soon realised I'd left my brevet card behind.  For a short time I was annoyed at myself but then everything would be fine, no one would care and I would just collect receipts along the way.

A group of three riders passed us.  Two, in red, said, "Mornin'" as they passed. "Mornin'" I said back to the first guy... which kind of passed to the second... then as the third guy in Grey/blue came past, I said, "Mornin'".  He stared at me... and rode off.  OK then.

I only had one info-control which TSK conveniently read from his card and I watched the miles tick down on the screen on the Garmin.  I dislike info controls.  I'm always paranoid I'll miss them.  This one was, "The name of the house after the level crossing".  The road approached a level crossing but did not cross it.  I looked around apprehensively as TSK said, "Not this one" and then the road ran alongside the railway before crossing the next level crossing.  I need not have worried about missing it.  A busy crowd of people were scribbling, "Station house" (predictably) onto their Brevet Cards.  We decided we could remember that and kept on going.

The first control was in a lovely cafe in Newark.  I'm used to riding all day to get to Newark from Sheffield but this time we were there by 9am with enough appetite for cake and coffee.  I met a guy who was doing his first 300k and we set off just behind them, catching them up through Sherwood forest.  We mused about how much sunshine we were to get that day, under the grey skies.  Then looking in my new dynamo light which, I had just noticed, acts as a little mirror on the world behind me, I noticed a large patch of bright blue sky spreading across my vista.

Somebody asked me about my bike forks - they're rather special - I did my best to answer with some authority.  They seemed satisfied and continued on, better informed.

After this point, TSK decided to go on alone.  I advised him that I would be plodding out my own pace and he was welcome to join me or leave at any point he chose.  After a short ride up a hill together, we parted company and I bounced between my new first-timer friend and riding lonesome.

I accidentally made an extra checkpoint stop at Navenby just because.  It had a cafe which was decorated exactly the same way as one I had seen in my reccee on the internet on Friday.  I went to the cash machine to get a receipt and the machine said it was all-out... even more confirmation for my brain that this was a checkpoint so I went and bought an apple in the McCalls.  Then restarted my Garmin and noticed that I was still 15 miles short of the next checkpoint.

Oh well, there were miles of Fenland riding to do next and I seemed to need the apple and chowed down on it heartily, discarding the core at the actual checkpoint 15 miles later.

The Timberland Fen was enchanting, Timberland village even more so.

I didn't plan to stop in Woodall Spa unless it was lunchtime.  I arrived there at 11:30 and given that I'd just eaten an apple, I didn't need to stop.  I could use the opportunity to gain some time.  It almost felt like cheating as I rode past hoards of cyclists holed up in sweaty and steamy caf├ęs.  I locked my bike to a road sign, popped into the Co-op and bought a cereal bar and a chocolate bar for later and rode away again.

I religiously followed the Garmin for a couple of turns, enjoying the woodland and then the countryside and then became suddenly confused as it redirected me to make another turn towards Woodall Spa 2 miles away.  I furiously zoomed out.  The blasted thing had sent me on a 4 mile loop completely off-course - all because I turned the wrong way up the high street in the village.  As I rode past a couple of riders going the other way, I realised it had then over-shot the route, leading me into Woodall - presumably to pick up from where I left off!  I u-turned, caught the other riders up as they stopped at the toilets and then, when they caught me up later, oh how we laughed about my 4 mile detour.

Now I had to remember to add 4 miles to all my distances on my directions!

As I turned in Miningsby, I was caught up by a genteel man who pointed to the road sign and said, "Mavis Enderby what a wonderful place name.  I'm so excited that we get to ride through Mavis Enderby". He was good enough to point out that after the next climb was a long descent whose "surface degrades rapidly".  I exercised suitable caution but it looked like it had been somewhat repaired since he last saw it and the clear skies meant it was free of any slipperiness.  I left him somewhat behind as I took the next series of turns but then at Old Bollingbrooke he left me behind as I followed my route into a little lane, only to find that I was off course.  Whoever plotted this route either took a wrong turn or popped into the pub in Old Bollingbrooke for a pint before continuing as the route did a U-turn outside the pub before continuing on the main road through the village.  I caught up my friend a few moments later who had reached the bottom of a steep climb and been wondering just exactly how I got so far ahead of him already. To be honest, we didn't get to notice Mavis Enderby as we were engaged in some lengthy discussions about audaxes we had done and places we had ridden and his hillarious story about a drunken person throwing a freshly bought kebab at him in the middle of one of his longer audaxes.

After Mavis, there was Spilsby Hill to enjoy.  A long miandering climb that was almost a relief after the flat fens.  Coming down the other side was fun and then the descent clearly continued gradually for many miles as I suddenly felt like I was on absolute top form - or had a tail wind.  My genteel friend passed me again, warning not to do this road the other way for its deceptive gradual uphill.  I did not see him again.

I passed another couple on the next climb.  She was obvious by her billowing green and yellow jacket and green and yellow rugby socks to match and she was pushing far too high a gear.  He rode steadily along in a red, white and blue knitted jersey.

After I passed with a "hello, are you doing OK?" they caught me up at the next set of traffic lights.  "Is your mudguard bamboo?" she asked.  "Yes," I explained.  "I decided Titanium was a natural material so I aimed to build my bike with all natural materials" and pulled a comedic face.  She was amused that titanium was about as natural as any material.

The next control was "Skegness" although not actually Skegness, but a cafe just outside called "Poppies".  We were sent "around the back" so as not to get "in the way" and appointed three tables by the back door which strangers had to share so that the "other customers" could use the remaining tables.  It sounded unfriendly but in fact was outstandingly efficient as orders were taken in bulk across groups and delivered upon, payments taken on an honesty basis and riders dispatched all checked in and fed.  It was very welcome as by 1:30pm, I was well over-due my lunch.

In the new compact community of sharing tables with strangers, I ate my baked potato and we exchanged war stories of Audaxes and holidays gone by and discussed the gpx file of the route.  The couple I had passed earlier were from Sheffield too.  I shared a pot of tea with three people I'd never met.  We all empathised with the guy who had lost his bank cards and money somewhere between a cafe in Woodhall and a bench on the fens and had used the last of his mobile phone charge making the call to his bank to cancel his card.  Another rider had lent him a £20 to get through the day.  He had added 20 miles to his journey, retracing to search the wooden bench and surrounding area for his cash.  Suddenly my 4 miles didn't seem so bad.

The officials took one of my receipts from an earlier control and stamped it instead of my brevet card then text'd the organiser to let him know.

As I left Poppies, the two guys who had witnessed my Woodhall error were just departing, "Right, let's see if I can find my way out of this one", I said and they laughed at me as it was a simple right turn onto the main road.

We crossed the "Welcome to Skegness" sign and then, avoiding the mele and carnival that was the funfare, out-of-season caravan sites and drinking alley that is Skegvegas, turned North to wind our way through lanes and streets around Ingoldmells, Chapel St Leonards and finally into Sutton on Sea.

The guys in red asked me about my forks then rode on, fully informed.

All the time hearing but not seeing the sea was kind of disconcerting for a swimmer but after 105 miles of riding, the trip over the massive sand bank that protects the villages from the weather and the waves seemed frivolous and all of the villages I've just mentioned are not the kinds of places you want to leave a bike locked up out of sight to avoid getting it sandy whilst you go for a paddle.

To match the area, the little road that ran along the non-sea-front was pitted and potholed.  The guy ahead of me was doing a lot of standing on the pedals, proceeding quite slowly.  I pulled up alongside with the familiar, "how you doing?" greeting that becomes appropriate at this point.  "I'm just admiring your forks," he said.  "I bet, you look like you're doing a lot of standing up on this surface".  I span out the same platitudinal schpeil, hopefully leaving the enquirer feeling like they were better informed.

Thankfully Sutton on Sea was a little more tempting and I arrived on the high street, immediately noticing my mistake in Navenby.

"The Coast Cafe" had identical decor to "The Corner Cafe" in Navenby and the village almost identical layout.  Turn left and continue to the village square where you can park your bike opposite the McCall newsagent.

A couple of other riders were eyeing my bike.  To detract from any further questions about my forks, I reversed to the cash machine, took out £30 and a receipt, remounted and started riding, cracking into my nose-bag to find my date and nut mix and started chomping.

Sooner or later, the guys caught me up.  "We were just admiring your forks".  I'd seen these two before - one in white was wearing a "H Middleton" jersey and speaking with a Wirral accent.  The other, a demure gentleman wearing yellow and with an ankle which had obviously been horribly smashed some time ago.  We talked briefly before they surged ahead.

The next checkpoint was Horncastle.  By now I was starving.  Whilst my Poppies baked potato was substantial, I could have eaten it twice but didn't fancy the apple crumble and custard many of my compatriots had scoffed as I feared the sugar slump that would come after it.

Thanks to my Friday research whilst I had been on holiday, I knew exactly where the chip shop was in Horncastle and there was a square outside where I could lock up my bike.  My progress was lightly hampered by stopping for a kiss with my husband, just on his way out. A multitude of riders were stopped outside the co-op but I had my eye on real food, big food and the team inside the chip shop were encouraging riders to come in for a water bottle top up and giving away free chocolate to audaxers.

The weather was so beautiful, I sat on the steps of the war memorial to eat my chips whilst observing my fellow riders engaging in conversation with the local gentleman of challenged intelligence / alcoholic tendency who also clearly was/had been a keen cyclist before he had, one assumes, taken a severe blow to the head.

I heard his incredulity with the first pair of riders he talked to as he proclaimed, "but that's a 69 inch gear!".  If you're a non-cyclist reading this, be reassured, whilst I know what he's talking about, I don't actually understand the gear inch system either, it's kind of like someone telling you that they're driving at 24 furlongs per minute.  You recognise it as a unit but have no idea whether it's fast or slow.  You have to be a keen keen cyclist to get it (and usually born in the 1950s).

As he talked to the second pair of cyclists, further incredulity spread, "Alfreton, you're riding all the way to Alfreton?"  He was beffuddled, they left and he came to talk to me.

I tried to focus on what I was doing, anxious to be away.  I listened carefully as he told me everything he'd just learned.  He admired my bike, my light, my Garmin and told me that he nearly won the Isle of Man tt races once.  Thank GOD he didn't ask about the forks.  I made my excuses and left.  I was against the clock after all, although by now, 2 hours ahead of my planned schedule.  "Those guys are going ALL THE WAY TO ALFRETON" he said, "I know" I answered, "I'm on the same ride".  He looked at me like I'd stolen his innocence and wandered away, muttering, "All the way to Alfreton..." and shaking his head.

On the way to Lincoln, I caught up with H Middleton and the chap in yellow.  "Chips are working" I said.  They were impressed by my recovery.  Me and H Middleton took turns on the front but we kept dropping the guy in yellow.  Every time we slowed up to wait for him, we got carried away chatting, rode faster and dropped yellow again.  H Middleton decided to wait for Yellow as they'd been riding together all day and I admitted I was riding outside myself by accident so we all reigned it in and rode together all the way to Lincoln.  I talked with H Middleton whilst I was on the front and then dropped to the back to talk to Yellow.  I found out that H Middleton was the name of a club in Ormskirk and wondered if it had anything to do with firends from back in the Northwest.  Before I knew it we were in Lincoln, the final checkpoint.

Yellow and H headed straight into town and I continued to follow the route - a rather pleasant bike route along back roads and over pedestrian flyovers and riverside paths that avoided the worst of city streets.

As I back-tracked having found myself on the wrong side of a river, I saw the blue grey jersey of the chap who had stared at me in the morning.  Keen on one-up-manship and setting first impressions to bed, I waited for him to make sure he didn't miss the turn that I had missed.  He was thankful but then sat silently on my wheel the rest of the way through town.  At the retail park where I'd spied my bike-accessible McDonalds, we rode through the carpark together then went our separate ways.  Again, it was nice enough at 8pm that I could site outside without my jacket on.

I'd been dreaming of a chocolate milkshake but the machine was broken.  I didn't fancy any more food so settled for a smoothie, having been upsold by a teenager who thought I wanted a cold drink (because it's so hot outside) instead of a protein rich sugar fest.  Sadly the smoothie was light on protein and high on cold and I left most of it.  Thankfully I'd ordered a double-espresso to keep my cafeine levels up though.  With a plethora of other riders to keep my bike safe, I was happy to use the toilets before setting back off up the road behind pink stripe riders.

The route out of Lincoln was up for debate.  There was the route that I usually take - a pleasant one along the river which is initially surfaced and then not - or the official route.  The two are inter-changeable up to a certain point and apparently the route used to use my riverside path.  I opted for the official route as I fancied something different.  I also got myself on the cycle superhighway (give or take side road interruptions).  It was here I passed the pink stripe riders looking at the map.  In a moment of uncertainty I wondered if I'd made the right choice but, remembering I felt like something different, I ploughed on.

After a short distance I really started to doubt the route as I joined the A57 and 60 mph vans passing and saw a sign that said Sheffield was 20 miles away - actually closer than the finish point of the ride at this point!  Thankfully though, I turned off onto minor roads but I was still lacking in company.  Surely the pink stripes should have passed me by now.

Some time later I turned my lights on as the sun started to set and settled onto the tri bars to batter out some lonely miles.  All of a sudden there was a flurry of activity as pink stripes passed, followed by yellow and H Middleton then the two red riders and blue/grey jacket and I let out a whoop of "Full team!" as red shouted, "jump on!".

I jumped in behind grey/blue jacket who dropped back - to talk to me this time! "Is your mudguard bamboo?" he said.  "Erm yes".

Conversation over.

We forged ahead in a massive pack until finally me, yellow and H all blew off the back and resumed our group of three all the way to the Dodworth Toll bridge where we admired the red sun setting into the Lincolnshire wolds like a Japanese painting.

"How are you doing?" asked Yellow.  "Well, my backside is aching I said, "but I'm about 90 minutes ahead of my planned schedule so I'm happy with that.  I thought we'd be back at midnight."

"What time do you think we'll be back?" he asked.

I did the math.  "About 10 - 10:30.  Depends if I stop on the way back".

"Are you planning to stop?".

"Not really, I could stop at Ollerton but I think I'll just keep going, I've got plenty of food on board".

I did a few turns on the front and then eventually it was H leading out with me and yellow struggling for mid supremacy on the hills.  It was nice to have people to ride behind, rather than me towing the stragglers in.  Finally, I decided that H's pace was too high and dangled off the back then got separated just short of Ollerton.

I toyed with the idea of stopping but locking up and going inside was only going to make me reluctant to come out again.  I fancied salty food and realised that I had a protein bar which was packed with salty peanuts and that would do.  I ate the picnic bar that I'd bought in the morning and through Sherwood forest treated myself to a packet of loveheart sweets that I'd bought in the sale after valentines day.  They cheered me up immensely and the concentration of eating them from the soggy plastic packet without dropping any litter kept my mind off my sore backside.

As the rolling hills picked up the more we approached Derbyshire, I made some adjustments to my front light fitting, tilting it up to give me better advance notice of potholes.  I was trying to make sure it didn't dazzle oncoming motorists and to be honest, it's best angle on the road for me, didn't look good for oncoming traffic but I left it there tentatively to see if anyone flashed me or tried to dazzle me back.  Thankfully they didn't and I spent the rest of the ride very happily enjoying the reassuring glow and a sound feeling of being in a warm goldfish bowl as I was surrounded by a perfectly round pool of light.

Beyond Mansfield Wood house I could not remember what came next.  I got excited as I drew into a town but that turned out to be Sutton in Ashfield instead of Alfreton.  I enjoyed immensely the bike route alongside the A38 which took me on the other side of the fencing from a dual carriageway with fast-moving cars.  I got excited about the town at the end of the A38 but that was South Normanton instead.  I finally remembered to eat the salty peanut bar and felt better.

Finally I was onto a descent that I recognised and I remembered that Alfreton is at the top of a bloody long hill.  It took all of my effort to mash up that and then I was there, back.

I threw my bike in the van and grabbed my kit whilst the guys in red welcomed me back.  Then I headed inside to check in.  TSK was waiting for me.  He'd only been back 30 minutes (though I suspect longer).  Pink stripes were already back.  I'd got my tea by the time Yellow and H Middleton walked in, closely followed by blue/grey jacket who had all been sucked in by the golden arches in Ollerton.

A few I'd not even seen all day came in after us.  I saw nothing more of the guy who lost his wallet and a couple called in to say they were still in Lincoln at 10:30pm with little chance of making it in on time.  I guess this was the lady from Sheffield and her partner.

I shoved tea and malt loaf in my mouth like there was no tomorrow then bundled myself into the van to be driven home.

My official finish time was 16h:24m, 4.5 hours faster than The Dean but a completely incomparable ride with only 1000m climbing and impeccable weather.  By the time I finished I had 3.5 hours float, mostly due to me taking very limited rest stops and having done an incredible prep job on this particular route, knowing exactly where to get food at each stop, planning what I wanted and when and what the options were for achieving it if things went well or if things went badly.

Again, and unbelievably, I enjoyed every single moment.  Met some lovely people.  Was humbled and charmed by their friendliness, both quiet and chatty.  The audax community is a sweet one.

Next up? May: to be decided, based on recovery from this.  Possibly I'm going to defer a 400 till after TAW and revert to 200 as a bit of a taper.  Before that though is the Norton Weekend which is going to see me doing a ride out to Shropshire for camping fun.  Now that's going to be a weather gods type of weekend.

Get your praying boots on.

Friday, April 13, 2018


I got  a new Garmin last week and took it out for a ride on Saturday.  A little ride as I was still recovering from Newport 200k but a hilly ride nevertheless and I threw some speed at it to make it count... and because I had a massage appointment to make in the afternoon and didn't want to turn up all sweaty.

I watched my heart rate, mostly because I am interested in increasing the length of time I can ride over zone 3 in any particular day. 

On this particular day though, I sat royally above zone 3 most of the ride.  Which was odd.  Even on a 23 hour ride, I only managed 90 minutes above zone 3 and though my wrist monitor was not picking up most of the peaks, I didn't expect them to have been that numerous or long in duration to make much of a difference... and they'd still be caught by the zone 3 radar.

Back home I've checked the new zone settings onthe new Garmin - in theory they should be those of an average 45 year old hag.
And my own person settings on my Sports Track Ap...

Of course, now that I have properly syncd the computer, it's not quite right, they match. Cue one average hack.

Which led me to check what they should be:

On simple percentage theory.
So at the low end I'm giving myself more HRs to play with but when I hit the zones I've been trying to improve, I'm setting my limits a little too low.

I've gone back to basics and using last weekend's ride to calc LTH (It wasn't really a hard enough ride but hey ho, at least it has reliable recent data) we get LTH = 175.6.  At least, that's what I was blowing going up the steepest section of Mam Nick, in control and sustained for 5:41 with a bloke dangling off my back wheel who eventually couldn't hang on.  So I'm average.  Which is actually slightly fitter than my settings on my ST software.

I studiously recorded the date that I set these - 16th March 2016 - when I was taking qualifying rather seriously, overcookked myself and left little motivation available for racing with, if I'm honest. I used to set these based on Cyclo-cross performance when I'm doing all my racing but actually, I'm probably not as fit as I am when I'm in the middle of a triathlon season or late summer mountain biking - and those heart rates were set before I discovered Alps and bike packing and rediscovered long distance riding and Oh so much water has gone under the bridge!

Before that, my heart rate settings were also depressingly low... those of a 49 year old, though in the year I was recovering from a PE, not surprising.

So there you go.  For some reason I down graded my max HR to 169 and gave myself a HR age of 51.  Not that there's anything wrong with 51 year olds but I'm not one.  So today I'll change the clock again.  Recalibrate myself... and find out just how much time I can spend in a new zone.

The thing is, now my head is spinning.  Am I fitter than I thought I was, or not? I'm fitter than I'd claimed but just average but I'm happy with average, if average is fit...  I mean most average people don't give a shit what their heart rate zones are right?  Which means I'm average for a fit person and as someone who's generally presumed myself to be below average, that's in improvement.  My endurance at higher zones is less than I thought it was... but all that time I was in a higher zone on the flat, I wasn't really.

Changing numbers doesn't make me fitter.  In fact, it proves I've been training less hard! I'm not going to recover any quicker, even though my predicted recovery times will probably now be lower.

When I do set out train hard though, it will at least mean something - not nothing. 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Having a little faith

I have to have a little faith here.

That things happen for a reason.

That I'm tired because I'm training hard.

That I have trained hard, despite how it feels.

That I have more in me to give in the next 2 months.

That I will recover in time.

That if I save weight on equipment and money on lower gears, I'll still be able to ride up hills.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Newport 200k Audax - a last minute dash in the RRtY challenge.

The Newport Audax is a "permanent" ride which means it can be entered on line and done at a time of the rider's choosing.  The organiser is very... well... organised and as soon as we entered had emailed us our route sheets and gpx files and stuck the cards in the post so on Saturday morning we were set to go.

I took my carradice off my bike and put it in the ginnel thinking, I'd better not forget to pick that up - won't that be annoying.

I loaded my bike in the van, \TSK arrived with his and we struggled to get that one in then loaded the kit bags and set off up the hill.

As I drove up the road in the driving rain, I thought, "Shit, I forgot to pack my waterproof trousers".  Still, I wasn't going to turn us back now, I'd just struggle through the day in my rain legs.  The rain legs serve to keep the wet off thighs - the important bits and the bits that get the wettest in the rain.  They do not keep the rain off the shins when riding through puddles, but I'd cope.

After 25 minutes of driving, I suddenly realised I had left my Carradice in the ginnel - as I predicted.  It contained my rain legs, waterproof coat and my wallet and phone - not only everything I needed but also everything I did not want to leave in the alley way for the day, right next to the pavement.  Without hesitation but with a lot of swearing, I turned back.

"Is this rain going to last all day?" I asked, using my error as a reason to seek my waterproof trousers whilst also trying to convince myself that more time driving in the rain now would equal less time riding in the rain later.

All I got in reply was "Yes," then a hopeful, "Do you want to sack this off?".

I thought about the four rides I've done so far, how lucky I have been with winter weather (The Dean excepted), the prospect of starting again and the prospect of finishing next winter.  No, absolutely not.

Waterproof trousers and Carradice acquired, we headed back into the driving rain turning to sleet and then snow the further we went over the Snake pass.  Happily at least we wouldn't be riding in that down in Cheshire!

We drove a lap of Handforth to park the car and as we did the rain came to a dignified stop.  We dressed then headed over to the petrol station to start our ride from its designated start point.

To compliment my food stash I bought the obligatory salty crisp-based snack, opting for "Fish n Chips" as a small package to stuff in my bag for later.  No point in double-bagging my receipts and buying my emergency mars bar here - I could use that particular token later.  We both used the facilities and TSK got his receipt in the form of flapjacks.

As an excellent start, I was almost reversed into by a car as I fiddled with my Garmin then, Garmin still loading, proceeded to turn completely the wrong way.

We finally started our ride around 5 minutes after the clock on account of it suddenly being rush hour in Dean Row.

30 miles of fairly main roads went next - Cheshire main roads though.  This part of the route is designed to get riders to a destination far away early in the day when the traffic is light so that they can conclude the day milling around on pleasant country lanes to get home.  On any other weekend, we may not have been so lucky with our late start but with a lot of people away on holiday, even Saturday late morning traffic was not at all bad, plus we had a tasty tail wind.

Our first control was at the Hall Farm Cafe in Radway Green near Alsager.

Had we started at the normal time, this would have been a quick cup of tea and a scone and away but with our delayed start, we arrived in time for lunch and with oatcakes on the menu, who was I to argue?

Unfortunately the oat-cakes, though delicious and packed with fresh, tangy cheddar and mushrooms, were under-sized and under-accompanied by any further sustenance.  We had more cake to bolster the experience and though our receipts put us in time, we left a little behind time.

Although for now we didn't realise it and rode lightly.  We sniggered through Woore (arguing it should be forever twinned with Ware) and Ireland's Cross (gross political understatement) and Pipe Gate (parliamentary scandal involving underground services).

Through the crossover of our figure of 8 at Mucklestone and down through the lanes to Wales at last with our Newport stop 20 miles later, still a little hungry and needing a sit down from the romping pace the tail wind had pushed us to.  We locked our bikes up and whilst I got out cash to furnish my receipt, TSK went in to purchase fruity cereal / yoghurt affairs and more coffee for his receipt.

We munched on, looked at our watches and, after a customer toilet stop, set off on our way again, confused as to why we were riding the line of the cut-offs, despite some roaring tail winds.  To be honest, we'd not been trying too hard so damn that "morning" cafe lunch stop

We put down the hammer a bit now.

The hills were coming, the floods (run off from earlier rain) were growing and our long coffee stop in the morning had us struggling for time - and we were now riding into the head wind.

Floods are inevitably at the bottom of roaring descents right before turning back up hill.  In the interests of dry feet, we stopped to almost nothing to minimise splashing and make sure no motorists were approaching to try and drown us in spray.  Mostly it worked although TSK did have to face-off an Audi driver who wasn't going to relent with a quick swerve right into his path to stop him approaching any closer.

What it didn't do was help with the hill climb effort in the slightest and every climb was started from around 3 mph.

In Wheaton Aston it was time to deploy my emergency Mars Bar purchase then wait for TSK to do the rounds of the shop making decisions.  I still ate some of the banana he procured though didn't I?  I must've needed it because it didn't come back to talk to me again.

We'd made up a little bit of time but the struggle continued as I became determined to make enough time to cover a puncture or any other mechanical mishap that might put an end to my game.  It was 35 miles to Wrenbury and finally the lanes improved.  They were drier, less flooded and less covered in mud and gravel.

Whilst my inner cyclo-cross rider had loved it, TSK was struggling on his skinny carbon fibre bike.  Even I had a minor breakdown when one particular pothole did for my stash of dried fruit and nuts and left the majority of the packet strewn across the road in the mud whilst I scrambled to dump the remaining contents of the muddy packet into my bike bag without spilling any or pouring in any drips of muddy puddle.

TSK went quiet at the back so we broke things up with a water stop in Audlem and then I single-handedly neglected to drink the water, instead opting to carry it over all the hills.

There was celebration as we passed the highest point on the ride (not very high) and then we rolled into the village of Wrenbury.  A voice behind me said, "There's a beast in Wrenbury if you fancy a brew".  He said Bistro but the Beast of Wrenbury stuck.

There were coffee tables and chairs outside the Spar / Post office so we went in there instead to pick up our receipt from the dedicated stop point.  There was a coffee machine and hot sausage rolls which we consumed standing up indoors to warm up whilst chatting to the shopkeeper who had a quiet day due to everyone being out at the Jazz festival in Nantwich.  At 7:30pm our hot sausage roll went some way to persuading my body I'd had dinner.

We were back on the bikes with good time in the bag now - almost an hour as I recall.  It was a good job because on the first hill I suddenly realised my hill climbing legs were over for the day.  The best I could do now was limp home and draft TSK for a while.  I checked the route elevation to realise that I was at the bottom of a generally trending upward curve towards Wilmslow.  Bollocks, this was going to be tough.

Of course, a ride in Cheshire is never as steep as it looks on a Garmin file and with the lights on in the fading background light, I hardly noticed most of the easy climbing as it was concentrated in a beam of silver/grey light and I spent most of the ride concentrated on a massive shadow of my ass / Carradice, projected by TSKs infinitely more powerful and aptly named Moon light.

Middlewich came and went in close company but without incident.  Then back onto back-lanes through Church Minshul - routes we have done before and TSK knows quite well but me, not so much.

Most of this section of the ride was taken up by the intense concentration of attempting to eat my "Fish n Chips" crisps from my bike bag with gloves on - a feat I mostly accomplished including regularly sucking the salty grains off my gloved fingers not really trying to think too hard about where those gloves had been.

We got close enough to the finish for me to know that we'd done 120 miles (somewhere near) but I didn't have the logic to work out how far that was and look out for potholes at the same time so I relied instead on the ever-present glow of Manchester and the presence of low-flying aircraft which cheered me up a little and distracted me from my backside - now painfully suffering from a flat day of sitting down a lot and my toes, punched to pieces by regular pothole-related impact with shoes.  Now how far was it from Ollerton to Wilmslow?

We passed through Alderley edge and onto the back-lanes to Wilmslow which I do not know as, when I lived in Manchester, the main road between Alderley Edge and Wilmslow was pleasant and traffic-free enough to still be able to enjoy and feel safe on a bike - oh how times have changed for that road is now full of four-by-four wielding clueless rich people who see cyclists as impoverished targets who need to be put out of their misery - if they notice them at all.

I wish I'd ridden those back lanes more in my youth as I would have known where I was instead of being spit out unceremoniously at the roundabout on the edge of Wilmslow right adjacent to the petrol station in a mixed jubilation of "We've finished!" and "I always wondered where that came out".

We hopped off our bikes and bought out various treats for the drive home - mostly involving chocolate milk and more salt-based snacks.  As the local police parked up to pop inside for their evening feed, TSK and I packed our haul into Carradices for the short ride back to the Mercu where shelter from the wind and dry clothing awaited.

All eyes were on us as we set off down the road.  Whether it was that age-old suspicion of cyclists or the awe that we were still out, riding at 9:23 pm... I hopped on my bike and promptly tried to shove my foot in my moving front wheel - much to the audible hilarity of the entire shop.  "Jesus Christ", said TSK, "Don't get us arrested now!".

Further offences may have included public indecency as I replaced all clothing items for the drive home.  Not to mention a lack of care and attention as I snaked us back to Sheffield full of the joys of spring and gobsmacked that, except for the odd drop of drizzle we had remained dry and happy all day.  The only thing I can be dismayed about is the effort spent in taking all my waterproofs out for a lovely ride around Cheshire, Shropshire and Wales but then, can you imagine the consequences if I hadn't?

Lessons learned:

  • saving the TT bars for the headwinds - I ran out of shoulders later in the day.
  • Whilst spinning up hills is efficient, I still need to balance it with some standing to avoid 120 mile bum.

Split analysis:

  1. 23.16 mile 13.5 mph HR 132
  2. 1 hour cafe break!
  3. 27.76 mile 14.2 mph HR 140 Lots of smaller hills to be blown up
  4. 32 mins Waitrose
  5. 8.9 mile 13.7 mph HR 143
  6. 7 mins shop stop
  7. 27.7 miles 12.3 mph into a headwind now & the big hill HR 146
  8. Audlem water stop 7:56
  9. 6 miles 11.5 mph HR 141
  10. Wrenbury post office 19 minutes of warming up
  11. 34.8 miles 12.1 mph HR 135
Total time: 11:58.  Riding time: 10:03 ish