Sunday, November 29, 2015

Ipswich National Trophy

Perhaps a hard ride on a Friday night is not the best prep for cross. Too close to recover. Saturday should be a gentle warm up after a rest day Friday. Thursdays can be hard but not Friday.

So I learned a few things today. That. Also I despise East Anglia and the region appears to be using the old 2008 timing chips so I have a bruise and a blister to remember my day with. There is little rubber left to that neoprene.

Still, who cares about the National Trophy anyway? Would I have any more points today if I had done it all right? I doubt it. It wasn't my kind of day. All lungs and no skills required. I missed out on one, maybe 2 places but I doubt I could have held either. Bring on Bradford. Better than Alpe d'Huez.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Black Friday nights

Tonight's ride started too late, caught the worst of the weather and although I tried to make it shorter, I only succeeded in making it a little flatter, more exposed, into a head wind, more off-road, downhill in the worst place (the tail wind, ergo - colder) and 10% longer.

It was bloody brilliant.

I explored new lanes, found posh houses I didn't know existed.  Rode to Wentworth Castle, looked down on the hundreds of red and white lights on the M1. I avoided 90% of traffic on black Friday, despite only leaving work at 6 and as the rain lashed torrentially I was in the middle of a field on the Trans-Pennine trail, approaching Wortley, laughing at puddles.

By Oughtibridge my rain leggings started to leak which is just where I started to get blown along at 30 mph, the rain flying straight up into my eyes, soaking my gloves and chilling my already wet toes.  I toyed with the idea of riding over the hill to avoid Hillsborough on a Friday night but I was *that* tired and cold I decided to face the main road.  So I pedalled downhill as fast as I could for 8 miles before the lovely warming uphill to my house.

I thought I would be sad to retire Phoenix as a race bike but with adventures like these, I am proud that we're growing old disgracefully together.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

TSK's new bike ride

He's a kind man, my husband.  He bought a new bike so that we would have to go for a mountain bike ride together on the first beautiful winter Saturday of the arse end of 2015.  Here's how it went:

We woke to some snow and the last of the wedding rose


I brought Andrew up all the bumpy trails so he could try out his new suspension and 29er combination.

The Rivelin valley's looking beautiful in the sunshine with the snow on the fields and enough bracken still bringing colour through the whiteness.

Hairy bridge.
Whilst waiting for TSK to adjust his saddle, I discover I am now flexible enough to do a standing backbend over my saddle and repose.  Unfortunately my rucsac strap got latched around my saddle and I almost fell over when I tried to stand up.

Not laughing.

At Stanage Pole, the view was epic.

And the people were there.  Stanage Pole, conspicuous in its absence.

Looking towards Stanedge Lodge

And the way down

And a cold tiger

The scenery at the base of Stanage was stunning and we were glad to be riding the roads on fat tyres on ice.

Can't believe my glove invaded this shot but then my hands were losing it (circulation)

The stop at the Norfolk Arms was very welcome. Their mulled wine is really rather good.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Bah Humbug Routes

A while ago, a truck driver pissed me off. He made eye contact with me just before deciding that was an invitation for him to cross my path. It forced me to come to a juddering hault and wait until he got out of the way before I could continue on my way to work. I had right of way.

I haven't ridden that way to work since, choosing to ride the riverside path all the way from town to MeadowHell instead. It's longer but I have been enjoying riding and there's fewer dickheads.

Today I simply forgot and was wearing the wrong gloves so time was of the essence. I rode along the busy road. Past the intersection where the curious incident with the truck occurred and approached Forgemasters for the first time in weeks. It's after the steel mills that I noticed the new bridlepath being built to supplement or perhaps replace the section of 5 wiers walk that is currently closed on my commute. I thought they were refurbishing the path but hadn't realised they were replacing or supplementing it.

It will make a good new route and I will look forward to it opening.

On to the path around MeadowHell where my dismay at having to weave round double buggies in the bike lane (because people are too ignorant not to walk in single file through a gap) was outweighed by the joy of finding the Christmas Experience at MeadowHell has not spilled over into the bike lane this year, causing an over abundance of tragically patronising signage.

My day has only been improved by the inevitable arrival of true winter, convincing most people it is time to start Christmas shopping and improve my cycling experience with the warm wintry glow of the smugness I experience while riding past queues of traffic.

Season greetings every one.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Even on a day like today...

Abigail is here.  The first UK low pressure disturbance to be named by the Met Office.  The weather over the last two days has varied between ambiguous and weird.  On Thursday night we sat in the office and listened to the wind turn the air conditioning backwards and the rain lash against the windows.

This morning dawned fine.

I set off for a run up one valley and back down the other.  This is usually a 16 mile run for me when I am doing Ironman training but today I knew it wouldn't be that far.  I hoped it would be that far but I know I am not running that well yet and I am saving myself mostly for the Yorkshire cyclo-cross tomorrow.

I had a beautiful run along the Loxley valley, feeling more motivated than usual and happy to be treading new steps.  One small altercation with some fishermen at the pond (if you don't want people to step over your stupid expensive carbon fibre pole then don't leave it across the footpath) put me in a bit of a grumpy mood but I carried on and was soon focused back on the autumn leaves, wildlife and saying hello to joggers and dog walkers coming the other way.

This Cow was wearing a timing chip.  I assume she is in some kind of eating race.

I was getting a little tired by the time I reached the water works but I had set myself a target of getting to Damflask Reservoir and I gave myself a break and walked up the climb to the road.

From there I had to make up a new way home.  The Garmin was showing just under 5 miles and my last run was a push at 7 so I had to start getting home.  I thought I'd had 10 in my legs by now.

Even on a day like today, I am happy I can run from my front door into this.

The problem is I hate running on roads so I spent quite some time zig zagging in and out of the Loxley valley on footpaths.  Sure a map would have made this easier but I wasn't in the mood for easy... until such time as I ran out of the enthusiasm to falter on paths and then I just gave up and stuck to the roads as a good navigational tool for getting out of the valley.

The roads spat me out in a part of Stannington I did not recognise until I was tempted by the greengrocers shop.  No, best keep going, get warm.  As the rain soaked through my gloves I had to pump my fingers to keep my hands warm.  It was a useful trick from yoga, moving and breathing that distracted me from the cold and the rain and the nutters in boy-racer cars.

Finally down the Rivelin Valley road and into Valley number 2.  A nice round 10 miles and one very wet hippo.

This week in training

I won't beat about the bush.  This week has been a bugger for work.  Not particularly unpleasant because I now have a small team of two (me and AN Other) but just busy, wanting to do the best we can.  It's been... long.

After a tough trophy race in Durham I took the day off on Monday and took the car to work.  I needed it.  The legs were definitely on go-slow.  When people hold the door for me and I make them wait...

Tuesday I felt like I needed to make up for it and because it's Polo night for TSK, I don't have to rush home - or feel like I have to rush home.  It is effectively home alone night.

I took the bike in to work via the gym and a yoga session with Chris who was incredibly apologetic for missing his class last week.  After yoga I was still riding slowly to let the legs loosen up but made it in time for the working day to start well.

We worked until 7, getting costs into a spreadsheet and calculating pipeline losses.  Transferring knowledge to the next generation of engineers is way more interesting than doing the same old same old on repeat.  Still, by 7pm I was feeling invigorated and had been snacking on pistachios and goji berries all afternoon so I set out for a ride.  Typing this whilst gales and rain rage outside is weird but on Tuesday night the weather was sublime.  Within 20 minutes of riding I had to take my waterproof jacket off and unzip my fleece to the waist to cool off.

I was still loosening off really so the pace was steady along the bridlepath.  As I negotiated my way around the Penistone Road, the pistachios started to wear off so I decided to cut my usual route ever so slightly shorter and tackle the route to the (minor) Woodhead Road slightly differently.  I took one of those lanes that you always look at and think, "I wonder where that goes" and came out at the other end at a junction that I looked at last time and thought, "I wonder where that goes".  So result all round.

Less looking at the map this time, more clean riding so the route passed much quicker, which meant the climbs passed much quicker.  I was getting pushed up the hill by the early stages of Abigail's arrival so I can't claim all the benefit.

Before I could really feel the hill I was over the top, ripping down the dark woodland road and into Grenoside and the long climb over to Oughtibridge.  The pistachios were well and truly spent.

I whipped down Jawbone hill, carefully negotiating gaps in hedgerows where the wind swept me sideways.  I was trying to hold my line but it was increasingly difficult with an ambulance sweeping past me.  Clearly the wind was affecting my ability to descend this hill faster than the vehicles usually do.

At the bottom I was out of patience and sneaked up the footpath to avoid the one way section and put myself on the last climb out of Oughtibridge and down to Wortley and Stannington where my journey ends.  I walked in the door 5 minutes ahead of TSK.

On Wednesday I had definitely got into it.  I packed my running kit, full of the intention to get away on time and go out with Dark Peak this time - something I have been intending to do for weeks and still not quite made it.  

Wednesday was our review meeting and we were all beevering away to get the proposal into some kind of shape whilst all the concerned people were in the room together.  Conversations were ongoing till late in the afternoon and the reviewer was phoning his wife at 4pm to let her know he was going to be late.  Bollocks.  The group was on a roll and I wasn't going to be the one to spoil the party.

We didn't finish particularly late for a working day - the normal 5:30 - but it's just late enough to know that you're not going to make it to running... but just early enough to think that you might.

I tried to be clever, to take a different route into the city and a different route out to catch the traffic just right.  It had the opposite effect and by the time I had to call it on running, I was already out of the way of the house.  After my elongated drive home, I wasn't in the mood for discovering I'd left my keys in my other jacket in the office.

At least I still had my running kit with me and could, therefore, get changed and go for a run.  In an attempt to stem hunger pangs I had already consumed every half-eaten energy bar that was kicking about in my car and the bottom of my rucsac. I proceeded to get changed in between every passing commuter walking down the street (not that many by 6:45) and set off for my run.

I saw no-one out there except a large crocodile of (school / scouts) children clothed in hi vis and equipped with head torches which they kept shining in my face.  I almost hip-checked one into the river but otherwise we passed without incident.

After 28 minutes I was spent.  Not incapable of running but starving hungry and starting to get wobbly.  There was no point in me going straight home, I'd still be locked out.  I sat on the bench, turned my headtorch off and thought for a while about the coming weeks.  The passage of the 'cross season, weather, impending snows, christmas celebrations, projects, running, swimming, travel.

When I started to get cool, I made the decision to keep going.  Then I still felt wobbly so I made the decision to turn around again.  Then I realised I was almost at the end of the trail so I might as well run back on a different path.

Up to Rails Road and along the A57 for a short jog where I actually thought of running back the easiest way - along the road - instead of up the bridlepath it was so quiet.  Fortunately before the path began, 8 or more cars passed and persuaded me it wasn't so quiet after all and I set off up the rocky slope.  Running was by now out of the question so I continued walking, still thinking, musing, dreaming and generally enjoying my own company.  In spirit, I sometimes still walk with my dog.

It always impresses me that sometimes students make it out here.  I know runners and cyclists pass this way in the dark quite frequently but it's always nice to see the occasional group of drunken students in "civvy" clothing - just out for a walk.  They sit on the crag and drink beer.  It gives me hope for the future.

I dropped off the quarry path and set off down the trails which lead around the edge of Crookes, travelling slowly on my feet allowed me to carefully figure out the best way to Bolehills BMX track without getting too hung up on roads filled with angry and stupid motorists.  Although I had a headtorch with red and white flashy lights, I had no hi vis.  I managed the whole return journey with no more than 50m on an un-footpathed road.  Managing a run down hill but walking all of the rest.

In a timely manner, I jogged down our hill, just as TSK was texting me to say he was in.  It's a long time since I have been so close to chewing off my own arm to stay alive.  We ate dinner very late for the second night in a row and my brain chewed through both food and the complexities of my bid at work.

Everyone knew Thursday was going to be a long day so I at least made it to Yoga in the morning to give my brain a bit of time off.  I gave my grad the project to deliver himself and he decided to be out of the office on Friday so we had to get his bid ready on Thursday.  There were no excuses to be had.  I was prepared to work late Thursday, my body had nothing left to give so I might as well use my brain. After a difficult night's sleep my spine was twisted and contorted and I wondered if I'd actually be able to lie on a mat on a hard floor, never mind sit cross-legged and upright.  I managed it though and there was just the right level of twisting in the yoga practice to gradually tease out the stress and frustrations of the previous day.

I arrived at the office with a scrawled list of things that were left to do, all written between midnight and 4am.  We progressed slowly through the day then sat down to review and tick off the last items into the evening.  We printed, formatted, reprinted, picked through, calculated, almost cried, then fixed things again.  We ended the day with a quality document and all the boxes ticked.

That's it for Thursday really.  My brain was ready for reset button overnight.  I finally slept well, knowing that the proposal was in someone else's hands on Friday but Friday, as far as training is concerned was a write-off.

I headed to the loft with my laptop to do my timesheet.  Another 42 hours done by Thursday evening.  I kept the day to minimal input and broke off at 11 for a yoga session in the loft.  After lunch some minor details were taken care of but I was too tired to think and I packed my stuff away at 3pm.

Monday will be welcome as the first day in months without a fixed deadline at work.  The weekend will be even more welcome.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Cyclo-cross Strategy Win

We arrived at Durham National Trophy in the dry but went to sign on in a rainstorm.  It wasn't an unexpected rainstorm but the outside facilities for Ladies' toilets was a surprise I hadn't counted for so I went back to the car to get changed whilst my bikes were assembled outside by my trusty coach, pit crew and husband.

Wriggling into a skin suit in a car isn't easy.

I managed 4/5 of a lap of the course before realising I still didn't have any pins for my numbers so, rode back to the car, cursing British Cycling all the way.  I hate the pre-race stress of Trophy races, I really do.

At 10-to start time I was chatting to the commissaire about how to get my number pinned on and about chip timing.  Of course, my pit crew was on hand to pin on my number and my coach sent me off to ride laps of the field to stay warm.  I wasn't feeling it, but did as I was told.

They started calling up the grid.  Most people were ahead of me, including Nicki Hartle who I sent forward with a slap on the ass, calling her fancy pants for being ahead on me.  Two of us ended up on the second row.  I know my place and positioned myself somewhere between and behind Alison Kinloch and Maddie Smith.  The gun went and I got the best leadout from both Yorkshire ladies.  Even the lady who has (her words) "a very slow start" shot off the line.  I tried to stay calm but when you're third off the line, it's difficult.  Everyone who should pass me did but I found myself catching up Janet Marsden from WPCC on the first technical section of running up stairs, a fell-runners descent and then a short kicker which no-one else seemed to be riding except me and "Dirty Beast", the newly appointed name for my bike.

We ripped past the pits, Andrew screaming at me to get after Nicola Davies.

Nicola Davies didn't bother me though, as I knew Janet would be back the second we were out of the technical sections and into flat out riding.  I just managed to hold her off long enough to hear Matt, the commentator, say, "It's Rodgers in fifth!".

Sure enough, after that, Janet came back past me and I almost stopped trying but, you have to.  Especially when most of Yorkshire is screaming in your ear.  Big thanks to Sue Thackaray and Rachel Mellor, I gulped in air where I could and made up a little ground on the hurdles.  At this end of the field though, hurdles don't pose much of a barrier to experienced racers and I had to dig deep to stay with Janet.  Up the climb, someone was ringing a bell at us and I used the rhythm and the studs in my toes to propel myself forwards.  Back past the pits again and the muddy, contorted corners.  I held on.

On lap 2, I heard the commentator call 3 laps to go for Amira Mellor, the leader. My lungs were completely spent from trying to make myself and my bike somehow levitate over the sticky goo.  When levitation gave out, I resorted to pounding the pedals until I had no more strength left.  Then it was a run up to the stairs - which were then only walkable.  Bike on shoulder, I held onto the fence post to turn the corner. I could hardly see, the pink mist was clouding the corner of my eyes or was it sweat?

I ran down the deep muddy descent.  Telling myself my long legs were an advantage as they stretched out to the mud ahead.  Each foot sank 4 inches deep into the mud and I had to pull it free at the end before it moved onto the next step.  Back on the bike to ride the kicker then fired past the marshals on the crossing point who were screaming clich├ęs at me like, "pound it out" and "stamp on it".  They were all helpful and I pulled faces at them, hoping in some way to express the gratitude that I could not voice.

We approached the pits.  Janet was just ahead of me.  We were winding a very different track through the corners - she took the racing line, I took the safe option and rode it wide, maximising my time on good ground.  I heard Amira shout, "rider up" behind us, indicating that she was lapping us and needed to get through smoothly.

I went wide to leave Amira enough room to come through.  Just at that moment, Janet slid over and landed on her side.  I was glad to be wide of her so I didn't hit her and just hoped Amira had managed to get through.  There was nothing else to do.  Janet was near the pits so had help if she needed it.  I stamped on it to maximise any gain I could from her misfortune and waited and waited for Amira to pass.  I doubted I could hold Janet off till the end of the race so I needed to make the most of whatever opportunity came my way.  Amira eventually slid past me.

For a while I turned myself inside out.  Around the descent, sliding sideways, controlling both wheels of the bike in a skid then handing my destiny over to the slide and pulling msyelf out of it with as much grace as possible.  We were down on to the flat and winding part of the course so I could look back easily to see where Janet was.  The last time I saw her she was placing her chain back on a chain ring.

I relaxed a little - but you can never relax much in cross and I focused on staying ahead.

I couldn't remember how many laps we'd done.  On the last major difficulty of the day I was slightly inconvenienced by the junior lady winner who crashed into a fencepost as I let her lap me.  The rest was a blur of tongue-out, slidey sideways goo.

I crossed the line screaming for glee and found the first huggable person I could - Sue, followed my pit crew coach husband Andrew, who didn't really want a snotty kiss.

Back at the car, I got changed in the car company of Joanna Rycroft from cxmag and as we're both poor and lacking in campervans, we just walked down to the river Wear for a wash.  Hannah Saville passed by the car and we acknowledged eachothers achievements with the best kind of engineer embrace - a brief nod of acknowledgement.

I was exhausted but felt like strength and vitality had made a mark on my day and for once "experience" was a bonus, not a millstone. Plus, it's always nice to get prize money.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Cyclo-cross National strategy fail.

It's Durham's National Trophy tomorrow.

I should be excited but, with a start list of only 11 vet women, I can't say I am enthralled with the prospect of the competition.  Fighting not to get lapped by Hannah who will have a 2 minute start on me is where I am setting my targets.

There's a shiny new bike in the loft with my name on it (although I haven't ordered a name sticker yet) and it will get its first muddy run tomorrow.  It's been throwing it down more or less all day so there's no spoiler alerts on the weather conditions.

I've had a tough week training.  Something in me needs to justify the new bike.  As christmas shopping picks up pace and the weather stayed foul all week, I couldn't actually face driving my car to work all week and gave myself quite a basting, doing interval training in the rain... oh and an out-of-the-blue rollers session on Monday night.

I did nothing on Wednesday and felt bad.  I had a recovery ride on Friday though that was interrupted by a sprint to tell a corsa driver he nearly killed me.  I also unpolitely advised him he might want to consider turning his hands free phone off too.

Rather than resting today, I got a load of to do list out of the way.  Purely indulgent.  Shopping.  It was "a good walk", though I let the bus take the strain on the hard bit - the uphill home.

In terms of race fitness, I feel like tomorrow is a 'B' race.  I'm training tired and haven't taken enough time to recover.  It makes sense since I've already missed two national trophies and don't intend to race at Ipswich either but it is a race and it will keep the creative juices flowing in standby for next weekend - a local Yorkshire race whereby I will be defending the FV40 category.  Something I can get my teeth into.

So peaks  for this season?

The national championships, of course.
Sheffield's cyclo-cross at Whitely Woods in two weeks time
The North of England Champs on my old stomping grounds of Heaton Park in Manchester
and of course...
Bradford - not because National Trophy but because Bradford.

Bring on the mud.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Bonfire night Sheffield.

We went to a free fireworks display last night.
From a gaggling throng of chatting adults, playing kids, merry go rounds and fire-huddlers, a single rocket said, "foomf", soared into the air and exploded, "BANG!" into a shower of golden stars. Everyone screamed. What a start.
The rest of the show continued as one would expect a pretty decent fireworks display to go on with only one other highlight. What's the best bit of every children's nativity play? The bit where it goes wrong.
As the show increased in height and intensity towards its inevitable big finish, rockets again soared up into the warm November air - 50m? 70m? 100m? Squee, boom. Squee, boom, stars, "ooooh" said the crowd.
Then Squeeeeee! The feint blaze of a high-altitude rocket skewed sideways. What was wrong with it? Projected like a damp squid, its tail dying out like a spent comet. Did someone set it off through the wet nettles? Did the box get rained on earlier. Squeeeelch. Nothing.
"ahhh" said the crowd.
The rocket only made it 20m off the ground and no one really thought it was viable then, "BOOM!"
Screaming. Laughing. As pink and golden stars bounced off the ground. Everyone was deaf. Everyone was happy.
What a night out Sheffield. Thank you.