Monday, November 27, 2017

First 100 - a proud and exhausting day

So, on Saturday I finished my first 100 mile training ride.  How do I feel? Crushed.

Proud of myself, but crushed.

I sat on the sofa all day Sunday.  I did manage to work and in retrospect, it wasn't the best thing to do with my body but I needed to physically do nothing (got shit loads done at work but that's nothing to be proud of on a Sunday).  

Today it's left me wondering, if that's how I feel after 100 miles, how the fuck am I going to ride that over and over again for up to 16 days in Ireland... on hills.

I just have to believe I'll get the hang of this, I'll get stronger.

We drove to Harthill and left the car in the carpark and set off in freezing cold air.  My hands were icy for a good while before I suddenly realised, on a random country lane that they weren't any more.  We pulled into Rufford Park at 11am, scurried inside the cafe and had an early lunch of pastie and cake.  It was very necessary, more than I realised.

Fully fed, we rode across the footbridge past the ford - didn't fancy wet feet today - and continued our route.

I noticed TSK stripping off his liner gloves and riding fingerless.  Although I wondered how the hell he could manage it in the cold, I suddenly realised my hands were kind of hot - in sealskins + liners and stripped back my own glovage. 

We passed through a mix of open countryside, woodland, forests, crossed the A1 at Sleaford - a roundabout I used to fly across in the 90 degrees direction in the car on the way to Norwich - and then rolled into Lincoln, suddenly dodging cars.  I loaded an excellent spring on a wing mirror of a car that mistook a bike lane with double-yellows for a parking space, not realising there was someone inside.  The sense of satisfaction as I rode away from an angry beeping driver was immense. 

The high street was nice enough - busy enough to make us push our bikes.  We didn't get any further towards Lincoln cathederal than that.  

The steady throng of people coming down the hill were shoulder to shoulder so we rode out along the riverside to the entertainment zone and had a "posh" bike second lunch in the Handmade Burger Co. at 2:30pm.

When I planned the route I imagined all of this and sure enough, as we left Lincoln and joined the bike lane I'd scouted on Garmin Maps, we rode side by side into the setting sun for mile after mile.  Just as we thought the disused railway line was about to run out, it started up again, passing under road bridges almost all the way to Tuxford.

About 5 minutes from its end we eventually had to concede to put our lights on and then we joined the road again.

As I began to slip behind, TSK offered me a banana to eat.  I knew I needed to eat but couldn't be bothered to get the cake stashed in the bag on my top tube.  Silly, really.  Eventually we stopped in Clumber Park on the  bridge over the river - familiar from duathlons, not from riding into the night.

It went some way to making me feel better but as the country lanes and head wind hit again, I started to just feel very sleepy (it was still only about 7:30pm).  This time I did root around and found myself an energy bar.  It gave me enough of a boost to keep up with TSK a little bit more but I let him navigate back to the car, not complaining that we were cutting a corner off my route because we'd added some in earlier in place of taking a short cut through a field.  
The silliness was earlier!

We finally found a sign-post to Harthill at the second to last turn of the day with around 1.5 miles to go.  Harsh.  Really harsh.  We argued over whether we would go to the pub for beer first or sit on the swings for a bit but we did neither and both flopped into the car, cranked the heating up high and drove home to get dinner delivered to our door by a nice man carrying a thermal bag.

In retrospect, I'd usually eat more on your average audax (an extra 1.5 to 2 hours longer) so it's hardly surprising I was so tired.  Note to self: carry more food.

100 miles
8.5 hours
653m elevation

Friday, November 24, 2017

Friday review

The Friday review of the week is filling a gap and giving me the impetus to do the weekend right.  Anything I find I didn't do in the week I can at least have a pop at squeezing into 2 days at the weekend.

So this weekend I can be excited because:

  • I'm ready to ride after illness earlier in the week
  • My bike should be working
  • Out of a planned 185 miles I've managed 18 on Friday...  but have saved myself 156 to catch up on
  • This weekend it's that 'cross that I've never been too but sounds such a faff walking 5 minutes to get to the course.
Whilst it's not on my tick list, I can give myself extra credits for 3 strength sessions (if rock climbing after a 9 year relapse counts).

For now, I'm telling myself it doesn't matter that I under-achieve targets as they were ambitious when set.  For now, I'm telling myself that just riding through the winter is more credit for what I usually get up to.  

For now, I am going to bed and pretending the week did not turn out the way it did.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Post rest week

Coming out of rest weeks is hard.  Especially when you come out of them into a difficult work week, when riding to work isn't really an option and the week passes by in a blur of office-based effort, the occasional training session strung together out of mashed-up evenings and too much alcohol and too many late nights because you feel the need to celebrate in the conjoined effort of a job hard faught but well done.

On Tuesday I did a 10km run along Morecambe sea front and much as it was wonderful, refreshing, made me proud, it left me fucked for the rest of the week.  I struggled through a Wednesday ride but spent the rest of the week recovering, wondering why my body was aching.  Still, I know I can still run and it won't be too difficult to start gently now.  Maybe a few less k's.

Wednesday, I went for a blowy and dark ride up on Quernmore and though I didn't see much, it was warm, different and the roads rushing by under my wheels were kind, dry and my bike left me feeling happy, right up until the last hill which I crawled up. 

We (a colleague went for a fell run) rushed back to town for a shower before rolling in only 10 minutes late for dinner.

I didn't ride again until Saturday when TSK and I hit my 90 mile route South and East but then cut short the return trip in favour of a direct route through Chesterfield to clock 70 miles.  It was the right thing to do but I missed my quiet meander through the lanes, instead doing battle with dickhead Saturday night drivers.  With 13 miles to go I decided my saddle position had been too cocked forward and set it right.  It felt like the best thing I'd done all day.

Sunday's  cyclo-cross was highly anticipated but from the moment the gun went, disappointing.  It felt like the first race of the season where I dawdle around at the back then spend the entire race picking people off and the only two questions are: "how many I can pick off by the time I get to the end?" and "When is it done?"

I got home, rested, ate, then decided to do something about it and sorted out Dignity so that he will sit on the rollers - distance counter installed, kitchen re-organised for the space, phone and headphones on, change of clothes.  It took longer than it should but I bashed out 20 minutes of tunes and really enjoyed it.  I wanted to do some weights too.  I should've started last week but didn't so, despite enjoying myself on the rollers, I packed up, headed upstairs and did 3 x 10 squats with some upper body exercises in between.  A little bit of stretching then time for dinner.

The thing is, the weights, the rollers made me feel absolutely euphoric.  Like something that's been on the list for a few weeks now was finally ticked off.  Like I was taking back some kind of control of my success - from work, from the weather and from myself.

I crawled into bed tired but absolutely satisfied.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Full on faff riding

It's been a rest week this week - possibly the only true rest week in my entire training schedule between now and June.  For some reason I planned only one ride to work this week.  So already I have exceeded my expectations as when I wrote the plan, I mustn't have been able to conceive completing the last three weeks without wanting a complete break this week.

It was a tough rest week.
The last clutches of summer outside the yoga studio
I cycled to Yoga on Tuesday and then reverted to the car on Wednesday to head out to Worksop in the evening for a massage.  That got moved to Thursday and to be honest, I was tired enough to relish in the opportunity to take two days driving to work on my much-needed rest week.

It all went to shit on Wednesday evening as I ate my tea, I didn't really feel too good and I felt even worse afterwards.  I tried to read to make myself feel better but it wasn't helping.  I went to bed late and disturbed with several trips to the loo before settling.  At 2:30 am I went to the loo again, moved myself to the spare room and spent the next 2 hours moving between the bathroom and the spare room culminating in me puking up all that lovely dinner.

At least that allowed me to get to sleep for 3 hours before TSK came to check if I was OK.  He brought me my work phone so I could call in sick and headed out for his day.

Although I rang in sick, I didn't feel so bad so I moved my meeting to Friday and then back again when a key team member announced that he couldn't make Friday and so at 11:30 I hauled ass in to work.  I didn't feel ill any more but it wasn't pleasant trying to eat my body-weight in simple food (crackers) and drink 20 litres of water to rehydrate whilst conducting a technical review meeting.  I'd been looking forwards to my massage and had at least managed to pack my kit so I went and enjoyed that before crashing out at home and then trying to make some sense out of Friday as a working day.  Still in the car due to the overwhelming fatigue associated with losing all of Wednesday night's nutrition.

Thankfully this morning I had more motivation to get out.  I didn't have anything in my plan but I thought a nice little 50 miler in full daylight would help keep the legs moving and get me ready for cyclo-cross tomorrow.

Something was bugging me about my new bike though.  Last weekend I jumped on my 'cross bike on Sunday and it felt so good - so comfy, so familiar.  It didn't sit well with me.  My new bike was supposed to be my new comfy bike - my new familiar.  FFS, I've done over 360 miles in it in three weeks.  On Tuesday evening I realised the saddle had become too low so I'd lifted it.  That felt much better but as I went out the door this morning, I noticed it was still low.

I lifted it back up but as I tightened the bolt, the head started to round.  Shit.  I couldn't be arsed with this now.  I did it up as tight as I could get it and set off to the bank to get cash.

At the top of the hill I realised I didn't have my lid on but rather than head home to get it, having to repeat the hill, opted to get cash then return home to get my helmet and start from the bottom of the hill.  Step 2.  Finally made it out of the house with enough money to get through a day and enough head protection to survive dickishness.

Nothing felt right on the bike.  My cleats were in the wrong place and I stopped three or four times on the way up the Rivelin valley to move them.  I kept seeing the same ginger haired runner in a yellow coat and every time I stopped, she stopped to stretch and when I looked up from my faff she was gone like an apparition - a very colourful apparition.

By the time I got on to Rod Side, my saddle had slipped down again.  It has "Thompson" printed on it and as the "H" disappeared and half of the "O" disappeared, I knew that the post had slipped at least 1.5cm.  No wonder my hips and knees were starting to hurt - I wasn't just being shit.

I tentatively pulled the saddle up and set off again but then it wasn't straight and then it came down again.  I decided to go to Hope and beg at 18er bikes to see if they had a seat post clamp to sell me.

With the saddle in the right place for a short time, I moved my cleats some more.  My feet gradually moving further and further forward on the pedals, affecting the angle I felt I needed and eventually my feet came into alignment with my direction of travel.  In the end, they almost felt like they were in the same position (by that I mean, left the same as right) which they haven't done in a long time.

I can't help think that everything changes when I have a massage - like my entire body uncoils and suddenly what used to feel aligned is nowhere near.

By the time I reached 18er bikes, the O in Thompson had disappeared completely.

The guys in the shop were great and found me an old off-cast seat post clamp from a frame that was unused.  They stuck it on for free and put some C-fibre grease on the post and then noticed my derailleur was on the piss from my epic mistakes with chains 2 weeks ago in Denby Dale.  They straightened that out so my gears changed smoothly and all slack was abolished from the chain.

I can't describe how happy this made me except to say that I'd been disappointed with some very expensive blingy kit that I bought for my bike thinking that the manufacturer's had only designed it for whippet roadies who ride sensible light bikes on the flat and not for thunder-thighed middle aged women who want to ride silly bikes in bizarre places.  I can happily say that after only 4 hours this afternoon, that opinion has been shattered and my thundering thighs, my chain and my bike are extremely happy and snappy now.

I shot out the shop, promising to pop by and actually buy something next time.

Off to Edale for lunch.  Still the cleats weren't good and I stopped at a gate to fix them.  I'd long given up actually removing the shoe to do the job when I nearly pulled a back muscle this morning.  Instead I cocked my leg sideways, leaned the foot on the bar gate and hung my chin over the top bar - half throttling myself but at least I could lean and see what I was doing at the same time.  I thought I'd garrote myself if someone stopped to ask if I was OK.

I got into the cafe and sat and listened to an uncomfortable first date unfolding and chowed down on cheese / beans on toast.  I have to remind myself that the food on offer there is so uninspiring.  Still, at least it got me up the hill - after I had adjusted my cleats one more time in the warm of the shop.

At  the top, I couldn't face the business of Winnats pass with all the breaking motorists so I headed for the Sustrans route across the valley bottoms to Peak forest and set off on a bit of a loop combined with a wild goose chase of off-road on limestone rocks covered in greasy mud.

I did quite a lot of bike pushing but it was beautiful and satisfying.  I understood a little of why Jill enjoys snow bike pushing so much.  Cathartic.

At the other end, finally on the road again I dropped into Bradwell and was pleased to see TSK riding the other way on his day out.  I did a U-Turn and we set off to loop home together.  I was secretly pleased that this would push me over my arbitrary target of 50 miles as I felt almost like I was cheating, thinking about stopping riding whilst it was still daylight.

In hindsight, it was a blessing in disguise as the temperatures truly started to hit mid-November numbers whilst we made our way, still in daylight, across the moors to the Norfolk Arms.

We locked our bikes up on the railings and made our way through wedding guests to the bar for a quick hot chocolate before the final descent and ascent to home.  TSK navigated me through Fulwood and Halamshire suburbia as I still don't have a clue and then the bliss of our newly (6 months ago) resurfaced road home.

Walking through the door at 5pm just as the light disappeared I was happy to have learnt that boots, longs, extra layers, hats and buffs are now the order of things.  Maybe even fluffy gloves.

It's been a hard rest week but in spite of it, the enthusiasm for long rides is still burning strong and next week I have a trip to the Lakes - just to hone some more fun out of it.

53 miles
6 hours
1550m elevation

Sunday, November 05, 2017

90 miles of Derbyshire Lanes

Almost the perfect Audax ride, this Saturday's route took me out into the hills then onto flatter terrain for a pointless loop or two before heading back into Sheffield up some final hills to get home.

The first satisfying thing is; I plotted this route in the morning before I left using some prior knowledge from the ride I did 2 weeks ago and some intelligence of where I didn't want to be riding on a dark November evening in Derbyshire.

After 2 failed plots which turned out around 130 miles (saved those for later), I finally had a reasonably satisfying route to near Newark that could see me through a more conservative 90 miles.  After I trimmed down my aero bars to make them less ungainly and transferred all the appropriate stuff into a small lightweight bag, I headed out of the house at 11am, stopping at the cafe in Baslow - open this time - for lunch at 12:30.  It was already nice to step inside into the warm.

I was happy to leave well before the three riders who walked through the door with me.  I felt like an elite whippet on a mission - I was.  To get around 90 miles without getting home too fucking late.

The main road section from Chatsworth to Rowsley was hard going.  Although the aero bars helped with the wind, nothing could deter from the constant stream of traffic.  I was so thankful to turn off at Alport and wiggle on backlanes to Elton and Grangemill to Cromford Mills.  Sadly it was then back on the A6 which is, at least, wide enough.  The rain started pouring down here and just as I was thinking I needed to adjust my right cleat and might put my water proof on, I could just do with a nice bus shelter.  Better than that, a cafe appeared.

I'd forgotten to get cash out so had to calculate whether to order scone or tea or if I could eat enough food to justify £10 on a card.  I begrudgingly ordered tea only, thinking I'd sneak my own cake but that was in a bag outside in the rain so I just guzzled 3 cups of tea and sat in a couch with my shoulders back and my head upright and closed my eyes for 5 minutes.  By the time I'd done it wasn't raining any more.  I adjusted my shoe cleats and headed out.

At Whitsandwell I managed to turn off and head up a steep climb to a memorial which could be seen for miles.  They were just closing up and the groundsman was shutting the gate with the assistance of his two beautiful sheepdogs.  As the sun set, the rain played with me again so I took off my gillet, put my water proof on and enjoyed the high level North road with the sun on one side and the moon rising on the other.

Once the sun was gone, I didn't really know where I was or where I was going.  The map was zoomed in so I could see each turn ahead but not really know where I was in relation to the rest of my route.  The place names meant nothing to me or came and went without me realising where I was - mostly because I wasn't looking up.

I was mainly eating the cake in my bag and looking out for turns, then tapping the Garmin screen to check whether I should take them or not.  Littlemoor and Wooley Moor came and went and I started to watch distant bonfires and fireworks from the ridge above many towns and villages around me.  In a way I didn't mind that I didn't know where I was and it was kind of liberating.  I was just focused on finishing the ride and progress didn't matter.  I could check my watch to see what distance I had left, where it took me wasn't an issue.

At Tibshelf I stopped for "dinner" in an open Co-op.  It was a surprise to me it was open as it seemed late on a Saturday night but in actual fact it was around 6:15 so not so late at all.  I ate my food outside as I packed up my bag with peanuts (for in case) and some tic tacs which just happened to catch my attention.  They went in the bag up front, along side the left-over cake.  I checked my phone and had a message from my cousin asking what time I was going to the bonfire tonight.  Shit, I thought it was Sunday and cursed because I'd miss it.  I do love a good bonfire and it would have been nice to catch up with them and my "nephew" Brandon.  "Sorry", I said, "Can't make it, still in Tibshelf on my bike".  I had around two and a half hours riding to do if I was going to complete my 90 mile ride and strongly suspected the 7pm firework display would be over by the time I got there.

At one point I materialised in a village having an open event and had to wind my way through the cars - people scrabbling to find the last available spots to park, meanwhile passing motorists on their way to somewhere else roared their engines in frustration.

In the thick of it I discovered that one (of my three) rear lights had run out of battery.  The next village I came across had an open Co-op so (this ride sponsored by Co-op) I went in to buy some AAA batteries.  The lovely lady on the till had 55 minutes to work before terminating her employment with the company.  A man was bringing a large black parcel filled with cigarettes to stock up the kiosk with fags and I asked, "Is that your leaving present?"

She was leaving because they wouldn't give her the working hours she needed.  She was really pleasant so I said it was their loss and she genuinely thanked me.  I felt happy as changed my batteries at the next till and joked with the motorcyclist in line next to me about it not being a night for poor rear-end visibility.

At Stainsby I had a slight navigational error around Haddon Hall.  Whilst I could have attempted to sneak stealth through their grounds in the darkness, bypassing a no-entry sign, it probably would have ruined by evening had I been discovered or got to the other end to find myself locked-in, having to retrace my pedal strokes even further - what if I'd then been locked in at both gates?!!  I checked my map and the route around was much longer than riding back the way I had come so that is what I did.

Back on the route, a detour I had planned (to get the 90 miles in) was discounted on the basis of the extra mileage I'd just acquired in going off course.  When I reached it, it was the exit from the Hall and it was locked so instead of being angry at choosing to retrace my pedal strokes, I was glad of it.

From Glapwell, the view only got finer.  I navigated by the light of the full moon, bronzed in the smoke and keeping me on track with the Garmin directions so saving battery and watched the fireworks in Clay Cross and other villages, the piece de resistance being the big finish of the display at Bolsover Castle where people pay £10 for entry.

Despite knowing this place is so close directly to Eckington on the edge of Sheffield, my route continued to wibble around the flat-ish countryside with only minor discretions into stream beds at the bottom of steep-cut stream valleys.  They were wet and caused me to splatter water up my shins and onto my face and I cursed the weird forks which had given me such a comfy day's ride so far.  I pondered actually making some shims to enable them to take mud guards.

Middle Handley, Aperknowle, all passed.  I knew I was nearing home but not sure how near.  All I knew was how many miles I had to do.  25 became 14.  I reached Marsh Lane which I knew was a little bit close to home and then finally I was in Eckington and I started to worry, I needed the end of this trip to have 10 miles in it to make the 90.

After a number of 80 miles rides have come in at 77, I wanted this one to work.  I knew I had cut out that loop through Haddon Hall.*

I checked the garmin, only to find out that I was off course.  A back lane from Marsh Lane to Eckington had been missed.  It didn't matter.  I knew my way back from Eckington and this extra distance would probably bump me nicely up to 90.

I textd Andrew to say I was nearly home and he set about hunting pie and chips for tea.  I enjoyed the bike lanes up to White Lane accompanied by the big finish fireworks at the display I should have been at with my Cousin.

I warped through town, still quite strong on the hill climbs considering - or was it just because I put a big block on the back and now had two more teeth to play with?  Was it just the fact it had started a blistering rain storm in the breeze and I was getting colder by the pedal stroke?  As I rode up the last steep hill to Walkley, the big finish was just happening at the university sports ground and I even paused by the side of the road to watch the last few massive fireworks that had looked so small from my elevated position on a ridge ride earlier.

It was a good night for big finishes.

Final stats
Distance: 90.93 miles (*though I missed a section after Tibshelf when I forgot to start my watch).
Elevation: 2042m elevation (not so flat then)
Riding time: 8:09:59
Time out: 9h:40m

Lessons learned:

  • I was knackered after this ride. Because I knew I would be back late and didn't want to get too cold or to keep everyone waiting (I lost focus and felt guilty when I realised I had messed my cousin around). I started to rush home. In the end I was warm enough, still had layers with me and TSK didn't mind waiting for dinner at 8.30. While it was no great drama this time, I need to be more relaxed about night time riding and stick to my earlier pace instead of rushing back. This tactic will vary if it's pissing with rain and blowing a gale.
  • Don't buy tic tacs, they make too much noise.
  • Stop forgetting to leave the spare light on the other bag.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

First difficulties

Last week's riding was wonderful but it was straight back to work on Monday morning and a week which was filled with office drama.  I tried to keep out of it as much as I could but got dragged into meetings when I could have been doing something more productive and had threats that my most successful and exciting project in years could be killed on the whim of some bureaucrat economist in Munich.

Mostly though, I raised above it, got on with my work and managed to ride three times and yoga twice and oh my! how those yoga sessions were needed.

My rides have been on the new bike (good) but not long (bad).  On Wednesday I felt like riding to Buxton to see the Adventure Syndicate but in the end we took the car and ate dinner out in a relaxed fashion and then got home near to midnight buzzing with excitement so resting wasn't great anyway.

There was a lot of talk of the dark places we go when we're riding long distances and through the night and how badly we may behave and how we're all sharing it.  Having the mental strength to deal with it.  I know everyone suffers it and it's how we deal with it that counts but I've never heard it so openly spoken about - and so individually too.

I think I've got better at managing melt downs.  Still I have the occasional moment when I plough on regardless and make things worse but increasingly I'm finding the will to step back, consider, stop and let things go before trying to proceed with more caution.

I still don't fail very often.  I'm too stubborn and maybe I just don't push myself far enough so I stay in my comfort zone or at least wobbling along the thin line on the edge of it.  I think TAW will challenge that for sure.  If not the race itself then some of the events leading up to it.

After listening to Lee Craigie and Emily Chappel on Wednesday I feel slightly more confident that I can complete but mainly, far less concerned if I don't.  While I have every intention of finishing, the start of my journey - plotting new routes around my same old backyard has already taken me down lanes I've never ridden on before and at times of day I wouldn't normally ride and I've had chats and conversations with people that have been more satisfying and more uplifting than anything I have ever experienced before.

After Wednesday's motivation, of course I rode to work both Thursday and Friday, taking the hilly ride home both days because it felt right and the hilly route in on Friday because I had to go to the post office.  The post man brought me my new tent which was so excitingly light, I spent the day at work picking it up out of my bag to appreciate its lightness.

I finished the week exhausted, staring down the barrel of 122 miles of riding to make up the week's miles (I won't make that) and bursting for more, as well as a rest week.  I reminded myself I get a rest week starting on Monday and got on with planning my Saturday ride.