Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Impromptu Weekend Away

I cheated on cyclo-cross this weekend.

For some reason (an over-stuffed triathlon season which ended not long before the Three Peaks) I didn't fancy riding around a race-track in Derby for 40 minutes.  Instead, we packed the tipi in the Golf on Friday morning and by 8pm were setting up camp in Hawkshead for the weekend.

The grass was damp and made the tipi floor a tad cool but the climate was so mild we didn't even bother to get the stove out and just used sheepskin rugs to keep our toes warm.

We knew it was going to rain all morning on Saturday so we went into Kendal to seek new ski toys for TSK to enjoy winter a little bit more.

By the time we returned to camp in the afternoon, the rain had ceased and we set off to run up Carron Crag above Grizedale.
Just enough to see the approaching showers

and just enough to watch the receeding sun

For our entertainment. there were sculptures.

We reached the forest at 4pm and town at 5 as the sun turned the fading leaves and bracken a bright brown.  

We were just in time to get a shower in daylight then head to the  pub for dinner to avoid the yoof, away for their half term break. 

On Sunday, we drove for 30 minutes just to find a car park that wouldn't cost us £8 for the day.  Layby established we rode through Little Langdale over Wrynose pass where I had to stop 2/3 of the way up the climb to manually place my bike in its bottom gear - the derailleur having picked a suitably inconvenient spot to stop working.  

Over the summit, two motorbikers wished us luck for the downhill and we turned away from the option of Hardknott pass, opting instead to ride along the back side of Old Man of Coniston, with one stiff 30% climb over to Torver itself before ending the weekend away back at the car.

We got home in one go.  Almost surprised that we'd been away, done so much, lasted so long and yet was over so quick and we were home in one piece, undamaged and un-delayed.

I missed everyone but I am so glad I didn't spend the weekend in a muddy playing field in Derby.

(I have signed up for Durham).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Yoga Every Damn Day - Sometimes Twice

The great thing about running last night was I got to start my day with yoga today - as I do every Tuesday.  This morning, though, I was away from home and after a night of waking up in a hotel room in a panic because my husband wasn't breathing (he wasn't there), I hit the snooze button several times, limiting my yoga practice to 30 minutes before breakfast.  (I'd better not keep the minion waiting again).

Before I went away, I gave the aforementioned husband free reign to stay out with his friends tonight so I am home alone until he crawls in from the pub to reheat his own dinner.

I am indulging in loft time, lotus position and a good hour of space in my head.

It's quite a cluttered space at the moment and I hope a good hour of clarity and peace might just do me some filing for tomorrow.


Last night I spent the night in a little hotel on the North West side of Newcastle, before I site visit this morning.

I plotted a run route on my Garmin before leaving but a slight mix up with location meant I had a short run over to the route from my hotel.  It wasn't quite dark so I had the (pleasure?) of seeing the long straight road I had to run along before getting on to the footpaths but I did see the sign for the Cheese factory called, "Make me Rich".

The only traffic I saw was a single cyclist whose road tyre noise combined with the honking of geese in a nearby field completely confused me for an alarming moment.  There were a few doggers in cars but otherwise, the world was as nature intended it.  I counted off the hundreds of feet by counting the running steps between telephone poles (how did I ever do urban running - oh yeah, I never), there was really little else to do on a road in the fading light but count.

I had consumed all my interest levels by realising I'd forgot my mobile phone with which to alert my colleague to any lateness for dinner or unfortunate mishaps and I had resolved the problem of having forgotten my gloves by first, removing a buff from my head and one from my neck to wear as mittens and second, running fast enough that I didn't care.

Finally I found the footpath at the edge of a wood.  I was so glad I had the Garmin because it would've been a long run had I navigated it all by map and compass (not to mention that I didn't have a paper map).  The first path disintegrated into nothing where I couldn't find a hedgerow crossing.  Instead I crossed by a fence then retraced my steps to the actual path.  This then struck out across the tussocky grass for a half mile before running up to a river.  The head torch picked out little else of the river but its steep, cliff edges.  Only about 10ft high but worryingly crumbly.

As I looked at the Garmap and thought, there's supposed to be a bridge here, I did at least discover the bridge in response to the self-posed question, "What do we do here then?".  Wholesome and good although a little mossy, possibly the only place I might've broken any bones.  The contrast between the green mossy bridge, captured in my head torch and the warm glow of Newcastle City beyond the horizon were the best scenery of the run and my one pause for a photo op.

In the next field I navigated through a series of non-paths and along side an ox-bow lake (also crumbly along the edges) where great swathes of path had, at some time, been eroded into the lake.  I avoided mishap although startled a few sheepy stampedes as I couldn't help but dazzle them as they stared at my torch.  I continued to the edge of the field and the next building which was completely empty.

On the other side of the property, the sheepyness continued in the form of two large rams.  I was a little more concerned as there seemed to be about 9 stone of sheep and a rather thick skull to do business with but I had no other route to take.  I calmly chatted to the sheep and asked his permission to cross through his field.  His approach was either with the intention of doing me in or in the hope of being fed.  Either way, I didn't turn my back and kept negotiating my passage for a good period of time before walking away calmly.  I didn't start running again until I was on the other side of the gate to his field.

From there the path descended to another bridge but to my dismay, this one involved a scramble down a slope to a set of well moulded concrete stepping stones and up the other side onto someone's well sculpted terraces.

Forgive me but building gardens on footpaths isn't a good idea if you don't want people to walk on "your land".  Signage might have been useful.  The security lights which followed me around their house served only to alarm and dazzle me and it took some time to negotiate my way around their property.  Having left one gate, I found that I needed to enter the front vehicle gate, pass the campervan, run over the front lawn and through a second vehicle gate before (finally) finding the footpath that probably one day went straight through their living room.

I always get lost in the most urban of places.

The next few fields were not a living hell but with a head torch and a time frame to meet for dinner, were tough work.  Mounting levels of mud attached itself to the bottom of my feet so instead I ran in the long grass which had been trodden by horses and was ankle-turning stuff.

I had 30 minutes to make it back for dinner.  I could forgo a shower.

The path reverted to a nice open bridle path for about 2 miles but then became a ploughed field again and I rambled far and wide, following nothing more than a little dotted line on the garmin screen and a hedgerow on my right.  Would I have enjoyed it any more by navigating with a paper map? I very much doubt it and I suspect I would have retreated long ago or someone would have dispatched a search party.

I finally exited the track opposite the Cheese Farm and the sudden realisation that I had a short road run to go was very welcome.  I checked my watch, I was 15 minutes late for dinner.  In one final throe of excitement, I had to jump into the hedgerow to avoid a well-lit, road-wide digger approaching in the opposite direction.  To his credit, he noticed me and gave me room.

As the rain started to pour down I wondered if I should put on my raincoat that I was carrying but it seemed such a shame to interrupt the constant silver fountain of rain drops falling through the light of my head torch.  It was a good 10 minutes before I remembered that by putting my coat on, I wasn't going to stop the rain, just stop me from getting wet.  Sometimes I wonder how I got that degree.

I waved my thanks, dodged puddles on the main road (car drivers did not notice me) and ran past reception, signalling my return to the concerned staff who had been consoling my minion that realised he had no way of getting hold of his absent semi-manageress.

My day was complete.  Caeasar salad and a glass of Riocca fixed whatever was left of it.

Friday, October 09, 2015


I am staring at the wall. It's 2 hours since we went to bed, tired. I feel quite alone which is insane because the person who loves me most is right next to me.  I have the neighbours' music to keep me company, drifts of notes that penetrate the wall and my ear plugs and the gentle breath of my husband. Often I can't distinguish between the two.

There's no worries in my mind. The occasional thought floats past but they don't keep me awake. This should be a perfect meditation except I am not filled with positive feelings or places or awareness. I am carefully balanced between asleep and not, aware and unconscious and I am not happy. Mostly I sense this is because I am not asleep.

I may not be asleep because I have reached saturation point with recovery and now I am restless. I gave myself a taste of the satisfaction of having done something on my mountain bike yesterday and it felt good. I would like to blame today's inactivity but I sense that something darker is at work. Neural connections are not being made or perhaps it's just drinking at lunch time on a Friday instead of going for a run.

The combination of the three and fourth, the list of work the last few bike rides has given me to do.

There are so many words to write yet so few to describe such emptiness. An emptiness so pointless it really is indescribable and after such a poor night's sleep, will be inescapable tomorrow. This is just about the time I should tell myself to go to bed because it will all be better in the morning but I just came from that place and it wasn't working.

I tried to think positive thoughts about things to write but it span in my head and drifted in and out of focus but still that wall was there so I came here to write that sometimes not everything is okay. It caves in and wavers. Sometimes there is nothing you can do with it. Sometimes blessings are your ultimate weakness.


Thursday, October 08, 2015

Surprises Part 4

I got home from work desperate for a ride but not really into it.

Opened the sock drawer and pulled out the green socks that go with my mountain bike.  Instantly knew I wanted to ride my mountain bike.

First surprise - the front brakes don't work after 8 months of being damaged and left to wilt in front of the radiator.

Second surprise - I forgot my way around Rivelin Valley paths and did some silly loops

Third surprise - having most of the valley to myself on an evening like this.

Fourth - finding a stranded cyclo-cross rider fixing a puncture in the darkness.  I pinned his number on his jersey on Sunday.

Fifth - riding down a bridlepath (on one brake) and ducking to avoid the owl reeling overhead.

Sixth - how long you can ride when you didn't expect to enjoy it but you are and how good the shower feels afterwards.

Surprises - Part 1 (September 8th)

The first surprise came 2 days after Bala triathlon.

I took phoenix out for a cyclo-cross ride. 

I carefully devised a plan which involved just popping off the map to mysteriously reappear farther along the page, where I wanted to be.  I would find this mysterious route using my Garmin.

I rode through Bala and just as I'd got too far out to do a U-turn I realised I was actually quite hungry and not carrying any lunch.  Fortunately a random tourist attraction was just open for the day and served me Bara Brith with butter and a packet of mangoes for emergency if I didn't find any lunch.

The trail I was looking for was across the road from the driveway and I set off up three different routes before Garmin showed me which one the path actually was.  

Initially it led through a steep sheep field then turned into an old walled "road" with trees growing overhead.  Finally, it opened out into a bouldered field again and I really enjoyed myself. Unfortunately I then forgot the plan.  I got so excited by having found the path in the first place, bouncing around in the field with some confused looking sheep, I just kept riding and riding.  By the time I stopped to enjoy the view and look at the map I had forgotten what the plan was and where I was.  

A half hour ensued of me trying to remember what the plan was both with a 1 inch screen and the full paper map.

Turns out I was flipping miles away from where I wanted to be so I devised a new plan. It took me 20 minutes!  There was no point in riding down the road so I sneaked a footpath.  Initially I felt a little bit bad about it but soon that feeling disappeared with the disappearance of footpath signs and stile maintenance.  Most of it was rideable except a small  ex-sheep pen which was filled with stone sheep - ie. boulders.  Still, the Garmin came into its own and I followed the approximate route of the path across the landscape using the little blue arrow on the screen.

I approached a stream-crossing with mud everywhere and that really nasty brown water that looks like cow poo dissolved in cow pee and you know smells completely gross.  There were 5 stepping stones around the downstream edge but they just led me to more mud.  There were 3 stepping stones at spacing of a bit of a leap across the upstream edge that I thought I'd go for.  On closer inspection they turned out to be a pebble, a sheep's scull and a cowpat.  On second thoughts, I'd get muddy.

Finally, back on course, I found myself another bridlepath or two before the road leading to the big one - the one that streaked out across the Bala map like a highway cutting its way through the forest. 

There was a long descent to the village of Parc which had less cafes than it sounded like it should, before things turned upwards again and I climbed 250m up, starting to think, this path better be bloody open.  All the more fuelled by the Garmin which appeared to suffer a misprint and wasn't actually showing the bridlepath going all the way to the road but instead stopped somewhere deep in the forest.
All was well and that demanded some celebration (mango).

 An hour had passed.

The path started out as a hike through a bog. Not promising but when you've gone to that much effort to get somewhere, you hope it will improve.  It did - on and off, with some rideable bits.  I could see a forest clearing ahead not a natural one but a fire-path - and they are not good news.  They usually contain various tree stumps at various stages of decomposition making for tough-going.  

Before that though, I had to cross a serious bog.  Without mud this one, but mostly water.  I could tell it was a bog by the plants growing on it and pretty much knew I was going to get wet feet but the question was, would I drown?  Not normally a question I'd worry about but when I stood on a tussock and all of the neighbouring ground around me momentarily sank and then gently bobbed up and down, I got a little worried that I would at least lose my bike to the depths.

I got wet feet but I wasn't wrong about the fire path.

Still, I was out for a hard ride (hike-a-bike) as 3 Peaks training and so it was just what I needed.

I stuck to the side of the fire path where I at least had a clear pine-needle surface to walk on.  The blessing of a rubbish path is you get to walk it alone and there was no-one in sight.  Several creatures were disturbed by my passing but to be honest I was too busy walking over tussocks to notice them.  I kept walking, sweating and drinking.

The path finally topped out into more bouldery open fields before following what was probably a drovers trail but now a ditch between two walls.  Few had brought bikes this way but plenty had brought horses - or there had been cows.  I couldn't really get any traction to ride because we bounced from foot print to footprint.  Off the bike, I was still picking my way around the worst of the mud.  We rode what we could - usually with a lot of effort for not much speed but after hiking the bike up the hill, any riding felt easier than none and was probably faster than walking.  

For a while I gave up and then some downhill started to happen.  We left the edge of the forest behind and we were on the high moors with hills rocketing up to our right.  I ate some food, sent a text and looked at Phoenix.  How can I get rid of that bike I wondered?

Another hour had passed.

Fed up with pushing and carrying I bounced over rocks and cow prints as far as I could.   Each pedal stroke brought me treacherously close to falling off and eventually I did.  The bike went one way, I went the other and as I put my foot out to catch me, there was nothing there.  I kept moving through space until finally, my over-extended knee engaged with something hard and, before anything snapped, my knee bent the right way and I rolled out of it, landing back kneeling on the ground.  I stayed there for a while and waited for the pain to go away.  My mind already deciding what to do if I was injured.

But I was OK.  Once I lifted my head from my knees, I managed to stand and then limped on for a while.  The knee was weak though and I had to be very careful now not to over-extend it again.  Every little leap onto rocky ground thrust it back on itself.  I spent the rest of the day walking with my knees bent.

Over the lip of the edge where I fell, the path crossed a marshy bog.  From my earlier experience, I didn't really want to cross it but it was a long way to go around it so I set about carefully carrying my bike over.  A few tentative steps warned me that I had read that bit of grass wrong and I tried another approach.  That was also deep in water.  I tried again and the tussock that I stepped onto with my third step completely gave way and sank me up to my knees in water.  

I looked up at the sky and shouted, "Arghhhh! Fuck off!"

I looked around just to make sure that there wasn't anyone around for me to apologise to.  A flock of sheep had gathered at the top of the edge and were staring at me.  It looked like they had come to watch the shambles that I was making of myself, to see if I would also drown half way across and be eaten by a fox.  Even I felt like I was going to be eaten by a fox.

"And you lot can fuck off too!" I shouted, partly in anger, partly embarrassment and mostly because it made me feel better and I knew no-one else was listening.

I got across the bog.  I still had wet feet but I wasn't going to wade across the river and have completely sodden feet.  There was no easy crossing point.  The river ran discretely 3 feet across and 2 feet deep.  The stones were slippery.  I'm not surprised it was a small river - most of the water was in the bog.  I took my shoes and socks off and waded across then reinstated shoes and socks on the other side.  I had to hike the bike beyond the up-side of the small valley.  From there, finally I saw the road.  I've never been so happy to see a road.
It didn't take me long to get fed up with the road.  I rode down it for around 10 minutes max before reaching the next bridlepath that I had the option of taking.  

Would it be just as much of a nightmare?  (Potentially). 

Was I tired? (exhausted). 

Did I want to give it a go (absolutely).

It started well, an old lane running  along side the Afan Lilw.  So well I decided to send my parents a, "this is where I am and I am still alive" text and have some more food... in fact, I think the last of the emergency supplies.  A dog bounded over to say hello and I had a chat with the owner of the house I had just passed before turning off.  In retrospect I could have asked her about the trail but I didn't. 

After a couple of bridge crossings, the trail set out across fields again.  There was a quad bike track and a bridlepath (marked on the map) which seem to have grown into mutually exclusive things.  The fence crossings no longer existed on what was the path so I took to following the quad bike trail across the field with occasional forays up to the bridlepath because I felt bad.  Finally, the quad bike trail turned up hill to meet the footpath around a farmyard from where I dropped down the hillside past the cutest shack.  The field became like a grassy cliff face that I had to dismount to cautiously pick my way down.  That put paid to recommending the path to my parents who don't really do steep ups any more.  It took me half an hour to get down off the mountain.

Once on the forest logging road, things became a bit dismal.  There was a brief forested descent before I was spit out into a caravan park.  From there, I had a short trek to the south end of Bala lake and a pleasant yet roadie ride around the lake shore to get back to the campsite.  Except for the surprise of blatting along the A road home at 18 miles per hour up hill, the ride home was unremarkable.  

I was back at the campsite before anyone else so I lay down in the sun by the car, leant my feet against the vertical surface and ate a magnum icecream in the hot sunlight.

That was my surprising day out in Wales.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Living in the moment

I was going to take a picture of my outstretched legs complete with comfy cat to show everyone my yoga pose for today,  to show me,  living in the moment,  at peace with the world, just me and my girl.  See how unhurried I am about training or going to work. I love rest days.

But by the time I got my phone to log into my accounts here,  there, wherever,  the cat had gone.

This is why my new laptop will have to last as long as my house. I don't want to pack boxes or change my passwords ever again.

In the time it took for me to write this she is back and now I can't move!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

3 Peaks cyclo-cross 2015 - The Coming Back Year

It all started for me when we arrived at Helwith Bridge on Saturday. Having a chat with Mick at the campsite and setting up the tent whilst team support went off for a run up Pen-Y-Ghent and I caught up with team mates in the Norton Wheelers corral.  I didn't stay too long because I didn't want to infect them with the cold I picked up at work the week before.

We tried out our new stove and it worked!  While we would like to think that everyone was jealous at the camp site we were pretty damn warm all evening and I had to keep drinking to make sure I kept hydrated,  since most of my fluids were leaking out through my face and now, sitting next to a glowing steel wood burner, through my pores.

In the morning there was a thick layer of frost on the ground as I made my way to registration we got the stove going but were quickly outdone by the Hope balloon burning liquid hydrogen.

No need to worry about proving my kit at registration as I was registered by Alison Kinloch and we spoke at length of broken thumbs and wired joints and turbo training.  Back outside the tent the Hope balloon started to make it's mark on the frosty field much to the glee of spectators and riders.

I caught up with everyone before the start except my dad who I eventually found on the start line. As we chatted in the morning sunlight,  a heron flew over the head of the course.  The first sense of nature's blessing for what was to become my most enjoyable 3 Peaks experience ever.  I gave my husband a kiss then said see ya later to dad and wasn't to see again for some hours.

For the first time since I remember, I didn't struggle up that first hill out of the lane.  I found myself a strong lady wheel to sit on and stayed there past a few groups until I let her go to do the last few climbs at my own pace.

Off the road I remembered to close my mouth for the farmyard then started picking my way through slower riders and the obligatory bloke on his side at the first sign of limestone paving. I also heard the first mumblings of "oh god,  we're not going up that are we?" A beautiful line of colourful riders snaked up the vivid hillside and for once there was no need to avoid-wet-feet-as-long-as-possible because there were hardly any bogs and to be honest, feet were about to get pretty sweaty. I was also really excited to be able to see what looked like the start of the race, not only because the sky was clear but also because I was doing much better than usual.

It took me a while to get to the steepest part of Simon Fell but that's because by the time I noticed it, I was already half way up it. I tried stopping for a rest when I needed it but just started to peel backwards off the hill so I kept ploughing forwards,  zig zagging across the fell,  avoiding those stopping at the fence for a breather. I was happy to see Fitz at the stile helping with the bike haul over the wall.

I decided not to follow my team mate, Owen Hendrickson over a drop off as I know he's a demon bike handler but settled instead for taking the mick out of team mate, Jo Jebb for crashing in the bog on the long open meander across the flat. And then I noticed the temperature inversion,  filling the valley and Morecambe Bay with silver-white cloud in the morning sunlight. To the right was Whernside,  our next destination, beyond: the Howgills and  straight ahead, the Lakeland fells. I have never seen a day like it on the 3 Peaks. Not the warmest but, that cloud! Owen tried to distract me by saying, "ooh look at that view", but I was having none of it.

I left him to taking his moment and set off for the summit finale (pt 1). For once plenty of riders were around me as I dibbed and started force feeding myself descent-food (yes, that's "descent", not "decent").

I did manage not to drop my bike on my head on the way off the summit this time and also had a good run at the descent. I am sure I heard someone being advised to go slower to avoid falling off as much.  Good advice which seemed to work for them. For me unfortunately,  the tool bag I had hoped to get one more 3 Peaks out of spewed it's contents all over the trail. Thankfully I heard it go and scrabbled to recover as much as I could including compulsory emergency bivi. Unfortunately not including an inner tube which escaped from my attention.  I was relieved to have packed my camelback this year for the first time ever and stuffed everything in there, not my pockets.

5 minutes later I was with Andrew picking up food and drink and getting rid of warm clothes and the buff which I put on at 6am.

Again,  an easier-than-usual road section to Cold Coates. Water refused to flow from my camelback but I could sort it out on the hill.

I waved my annual hello to Ian Small,  cyclocross racing veteran of North West 70's fame and long-standing 3 Peaks rider of days gone by.  He waits in the same layby every year and I look forwards to seeing him on the long and lonely stretch of road.

 I avoided the farm which is now a tea shop (always wanted to stop there). When I was small and so was the 3 Peaks (with around 40 entrants) mum and I would park then walk to the farm to wait for dad. Sometimes I would sit on the wall and cheer.  Sometimes I would huddle in the arched carriage-sized doorway and watch the raindrops drip off the hood of my coat and wish I had normal parents.

Nowadays the race is so big, race support is not permitted in cars and only a few hardy pedestrians walk this way to cheer which makes the drinks station all the more welcome.

I was overjoyed to find team VCUK in residence and be served by Nicki Hartle, Sinead Burke and Neil Hendry. There was talk of jam butties and cake but they were keeping those under wraps.

For the first time ever I was vaguely tempted to ride the next section.  I know the rules so didn't but it gave me a massive confidence boost to know that I couldda.

The bloke next to me complained it was awful. I tried to explain to him that he was experiencing a 1 in 100 year weather event and he should be thankful but he wanted to know how many times I had done this. While he was calling me mad, I decided it was like a bad joke,  if you have to explain it it's not really beautiful anymore... but it was -very beautiful - so I suppose it was like a good joke.

The steps of Whernside,  in contrast to the road,  still hurt and as always,  left me wishing I had done more step aerobics (or just hill reps in general). At least my camelback started flowing again though with a high proportion of air entrained too. The summit path however - joy of joys- had a tailwind.  I was getting blown along so quick I hardly had time to look over the wall. That is an overstatement. I think I was concentrating as I constantly checked if I was in my lowest gear (like I'd be anywhere else).

Chats were limited to a brief interaction at the kissing gate / bike lift and the summit dibbers, their clothing giving away that it still wasn't the warmest day ever, although a female hiker in a vest said, "I can't believe WOMEN are doing this". Though she found it perfectly reasonable when I pointed out our lack of more sensitive areas to be beaten against rocks and an uncomfortable saddle.

The descent started with a warning from a rescuer that a rider was down, just the same place where my friend Beate had dislocated her shoulder 2 years ago. This rider was in the care of mountain rescue and wrapped in a sleeping bag.  I hope he is recovering well. My descent was initially easy going. My cautious approach to the limestone slabs a norm. Enjoying running on the grass where I could. I ran over the rocks at the start of the path where things suddenly stop being steep then started to let my hair down. As I picked up speed and my heart soared at my legs whipping through the reeds still feeling fresh,  I started to sing my usual downhill songs.

Clearly I angered the gods or forgot I was on my cross bike and just as it was too late to remember, I suffered a snakebite puncture for my sins. After 5 minutes of trying to cram my pump onto a stupid short valve stem I tried to repair the puncture but found my glue on its last legs, the hole on top of an existing patch and me on the wrong side of an adrenaline rush.

A friend of a friend offered me help  as did a few others including Jo who had suffered a similar fate, also enjoying herself too much on the downhill. I did help her pump her tyre up though my adrenaline stopped me doing too good a job and actually I should had left her the pump until she caught me up on my long slow hobble down the hill, running the steep and rocky bits and riding on a flat tube on the grass at the edge of the path where I could.

Some rambler ladies who saw me were very impressed and gave me a big cheer which went a long way to cheering me up. Then disaster struck and my cranks locked solid. I could freewheel but I couldn't propel myself.  It was just getting worse.  I found out later that my derailleur had taken a beating and the chain was locking between top gear and the frame but at the time I couldn't see it through all the adrenaline. I didn't have time to calm down!

I was so disappointed.  Things has been going so well and this path is part of the fun of the day.  Fast and dangerous in the dry - choking with dust or skittery and exciting in the wet. Its rollers and river crossings bringing misery or joy depending on your condition and its condition.

Just as I was recalling how far it is to my spare bike, a gentleman in tweed trousers and cotton shirt asked if I needed anything.  His halo appeared in the form of a rubber tube with a 60mm valve stem and he saved me and saved my day. We changed the tube,  he kept mine in exchange ( for what it was worth) and I gave him a kiss,  leaving him to offer flap jack and water to the remaining riders.
Jo had done her bit and Andrew was prepped at the check point with bike pump and tube.

Thankfully the wheel coming out of the frame had put the cranks back in order and I decided to risk sticking with my light bike on the way to Pen Y Ghent. A top up of energy drink and feed and I set off along the penultimate road section.

At this point last year I was walking. The blood thinners caused my body to rush through fuel like I was being chased across the moorland by a cheetah. By the time I reached the viaduct I had been ravenous and suffering incomparable cramps... or comparable only to 1995 when I dnf'd due to eating a bad pastie on my way to a cyclo cross race in Kent 1 week before the race.  Back then, 6 months living in Cambridge trying to establish my career probably didn't help either.

The difference last year was Ironman training which had given me two things: a reserve of endurance which seemed to out-last my illness and the knowledge that it takes a little time for that hastily eaten banana and Cliff bar to make it into the blood stream and while you're waiting you may as well walk.

No such trouble this year as I got going well with a small group of 2 ladies and 2 men. I sat on for a while then,  feeling good for all the places I had lost, did a turn on the front. They all passed me back on the first hill of course but I caught them as we were stopped by the police for recovery of a motorcycle which had crashed on the railway bridge. I apologised to my fellow competitors for getting them embroiled in my unlucky 13th race. They were forgiving since we were only stopped for a few minutes.

One of the men seemed to be doing all of the pacing on the front and checking we were still there. I asked if they knew him or if he was just a really nice man. Turns out he was just leading his wife around but we had a discussion about dads, and upgrading mine as a lead out man. By the time we reached Horton in Ribblesdale I left them to their domestic bliss to get the clear line through the railway bridges descent. Mum was cheering from the roadside as I was trying to persuade the bloke next to me to try the next peak and not just retire at 2. He was adamant though so I left him to his personal misery. You can't coach everyone.

For the first time since it has been of interest to me I passed through the Pen Y Ghent checkpoint with 20 minutes to spare.

The noise was amazing as usual. More so for me being earlier. The second person I saw coming back down the other way was my ex-team mate (now riding for CXMag) and wedding photographer,  Hannah Saville. Shortly followed by my nemesis and only woman to have done more 3 Peaks than me,  Ruth Gamwell. How was she an ENTIRE MOUNTAIN ahead of me? ? It was a brilliant ride. I cheered on Ted from CX Mag and the SheffRec rider I started with 4 hours earlier.  Phil Hinchcliffe passed, all on their way back down to the finish and then ran out of familiar faces and reverted to carefully picking my way over rocks,  finding my usual lines and soaking in the encouragements of spectators while bleating my own few words to strangers passing the other way,
"great ride, well done,  rip it up". As ever,  Norton Wheelers corner was like Dutch corner on Alpe d'Huez just without the beer but with all the Orange and the cheering.  For once I didn't stop to hoover up more food. I seem to have done a great job with food this year.

I finally had a short walk at the steepest rock band on the approach road. I have ridden 7 races faster than this year but have never paced myself so well to arrive at Pen Y Ghent so have never ridden that far up.

I was greeted by Alison Kinloch again, waving and offering me gels, water and anything else I could stomach - well, the gel was a struggle but once I'd got over the shock that it was cappuchino flavoured, not fruity, it did what it was supposed to and got me over that first lump.  From there, I rode through the gate past Chips Chippendale and Beate to enthusiastic shouts, applause and onto the slopes of Pen Y Ghent climb, which shoots upwards abruptly and you're back to walking, but not before I'd put the last of my riding legs into the first steep slope.

There were more descending riders to keep my mind off the plod up the hillside.  It felt slow but not as slow as years gone by.  It also felt progressive and in between wide-eyed people bouncing the other way on their bikes, I was still passing riders who had rolled past me whilst fixing the puncture on Whernside,.

A short-cut up the zig zag path and no need for the sneaky chat that I usually have to have with my legs when they start to cramp up here.  We stepped onto the path, me and Phoenix and had a little ride before the jagged rocks reduced us to walking once again.  That fence at the top of the footpath came too soon for my brain which was having a bloody nice time but it was too slow in coming for my legs who were looking forwards to the downhill rest.

Over the crest of the fence and you can see the top.  The plateau.  It still demands a walk for mere mortals.  Normally I put my coat on here, regardless of conditions, to keep me warm for the descent ahead.  This year, I didn't even have a coat with me.  I did a 180 and started heading back the way I had come, almost.  This time, riding out across the peaty hillsides, bog hopping from time to time but otherwise riding. until you fall off the hillside and onto the path and the rocks reduce you to one last walk before the bottom.  Off the hill, through the zig zags and onto the descent path where you get on as soon as you dare.  Given the steepness and anyone's ability to jump high enough to even reach the saddle above your bum at this point, that can take a while.

I spent most of the descent looking out for my dad on his way up, calling out encouragement to anyone else who would listen and, having found dad and exchanged shouts of "chuffing YES!!!" and "made it!" and other such pleasantries, I just concentrated on getting Phoenix off the hill without another flat tyre.

As I neared the bottom I made a decision to switch to Red, my spare bike, for the finish line just to make sure that Phoenix didn't do anything stupid like fall apart.  Andrew had however left Red in the back of the car and although he was in running distance (yes I made him), I then decided that I didn't want to wait for the wheel to be put in the frame so I just made a dash for it.

As soon as I left the mountain my legs started complaining about having to pedal again.  I can't get through this road stretch without cramp - don't think I ever have.  One woman zipped past me shouting, "At last, time for some real cycling!"  I laughed at her and said, "How did you get in with an attitude like that?"  Thankfully she saw the funny side without being able to see my smiling face as I watched her backside disappear down the road in front of me.

Two roadies pottered past me.  One seemed to be a competitor actually, the other was riding along side him.  I draughted them for a bit but then they dropped me on the first climb as the legs cramped for the first time and I started having a word which ended in something like, "Come the hell on it's only a little bit of road!"

By the second climb it had reduced to a primal scream which really wasn't any good for the cold I was harbouring and resulted in a rather sore throat some hours later but did the trick at getting another few pedal revs over the top of the hill and from there it's pretty much downhill all the way to the finish.

I swept into the finish with no great fanfare.  That feeling of, "you've got this" had been ever present.  I even had time to joke with the finish line marshals (Can I cut your dibber off? Will it hurt?).  I was hoping to go sub-6 hours this year and knew I would be overjoyed with 5:40, without even looking at my historical results.

5:32 hit me with a yelp of joy. Without even stopping to recover my composure (wipe my face) I set off back to the last corner to wait for my dad to come in.

It was a bit of a long wait.  We all knew he was coming, I'd seen him going up and after that point I knew I'd see him down again and over the line - with no more cut off points to meet.  There is generally a rush for the Pen Y Ghent cut off line followed by a group of people on the other side of the marshals drinking pop and eating sandwiches before they embark on the last mountain.  Well there is at our end of the field anyway.

I had the company of Richard Fenn to while away an hour of waiting.  Some of the North West riders stopped in for a chat.  I congratulated Ruth Gamwell on her excellent ride, looking classy with a can of post-race Stella and her children in tow.  Quite frankly, she deserves the comeback award.

John Dowell came in to the finish hand in hand with Liz Orr, his FV50 daughter.  Yes, John Dowell is 80 years old and was riding the race one last time in order to create a new age group record. He finished to respectful applause from the crowd, now assembled for the prize presentation.  But he's only done it 26 times (that's twice as many as me).

Then dad finally graced us with his presence.  After I had a few words with the commentator, dad also finished to respectful applause both from the assembled masses and me as well as a few friends who happened to be passing at the time.

We were dispatched directly to the prize presentation to await prizes that were imminent.  They weren't imminent and having waited for an hour in sweaty clothes, I was looking decidedly dishevelled and dad just wanted to sit down and get the weight off his sore feet (the only bit of his body actually hurting after six and a half hours of racing!).  Neither of us realised it but we had managed to snaffle the second place in the father and daughter prizes and there was much excitement about finally standing on a podium.  (last time we won it we stood in the field).  So that was that, half our entry fee back, just for being related.

There was a real glow to the end of the day.  It took us a good while to empty the tipi and disassemble it - largely because Andrew had to do it on his own as I kept getting distracted by Beate passing and my folks as dad wandered over to swap back the last of our kit and for dad to get his winnings.

The sun was setting on a perfect day when we left.  The farmer was happy because he found £20 in the field. I drove home.  All the way.  I didn't fall asleep at the wheel and even made it out of the car in Settle to get the chips I had been looking forwards to eating for about 3 months.

Next year's target?  Sub 5 hours? Better that my 7th fastest might seem more appropriate.  By then I'll be 42 and if I can improve on a race I've been doing since 21 by half then that would be satisfying.

One thing's for sure, it's time for a new tool bag.