Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Stats & Pics

I usually stat in November but this year I didn't, I was so taken with completing RRtY.  So here's how my, very different, 2018 went.

Swimming - one swim - Harthill - about 200m in skins. (2017 -  50km)
Cycling - Too many to count - 12375 km (7734 miles), 165,313m elevation, 891 hours (2017 - 8,900km)
Running - about 23 sessions - 145km, 9000m elevation, 21 hours. (2017 - 20,000km)

January - had its daylight rides but a lot of them ended up like this.
February - some amazing sunny days and a few trails to break in the new bike.
My long distance journey really started in March but I couldn't omit a selfie with one of my heroes, Emily Chappel. I bumped into her in Rapha in London when I should have been working.
The redeye of my first 300k Audax including 10 hours of snow.  Bite me, I'm entered for 2019.  We have business to settle.
April found me on a successful 300k ride, credit to the glorious weather and flatlands of Lincolnshire and chips at 160km.
In May we loaded the bikes and headed out for a practice ride.  It was the first of many sunset shots which I promised myself every day on the Transatlantic way
June: Which picture to choose? This isn't a great photo but the peace of this place on the Ring of Kerry after my epic battles with Storm Hector had my heart in my mouth.

Well, I can't ignore this one. This was the day I knew I was going to finish.

In July - no really, it was

In August I carried on the roll with a 400 in which these two lovely chaps were my saviours in humour, company and snapping me out of the snoozles at 4am.

The Pistyl Packin' Momma was a lucky charm of weather in September.

I shouldn't be surprised by a wet day out in Wales in October but storm Callum made the Clwydian extra specially windy and wet with floods up to my hubs.  But at least there was somewhere for a seaside brew.


In November, leave was due so me and TSK set off on a mission to Blackpool.  I got up the courage to enter the Highland Trail.

I tried to give myself December off but once I knew the HT was on, and increasing number of evening sunsets were seen.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sneaky Running Training

Awareness of time and space and one's own place in it

The test of seafarers.  I left the house today without any navigation tools for I know this valley like my own hands and yet I had forgotten I do not run downhill in daylight - not in general - I just don't go downhill from my house during daylight hours on a nice day.  Every pathway was filled from edge to edge with identical people.  Bald and hatted short fat men with matching wives and daughters with bleached blonde long hair and parka anoraks with furred hoods.  The 2010s shabby chique - every one of them looking like they're waiting to catch the school bus to 1982 but that bus has sailed so now they're starting their new years resolution to lose some weight by coming for a walk in MY valley on MY paths.

I have to say, this is in preference to them going to a sweaty gym with other sweaty germy people but I forget how much I hate this fitness surge between Christmas and New Year excess. 

The reason why I'm running?  I have grown tired of not using my fell running membership.  I love running in the fells and have missed the longer races that I started to do.  I suspect it will only enhance my ability on the mountain bike (particularly the foot-based bit) so I have committed to a couple of fell races and today was my day that I start a mini-commitment to make sure I do OK there too.

I stomped through the bog on the other side of the river avoiding a family of 2 kids plus the 0.4 (labrador) and excitedly scaled the 50 degree slope of the valley side, heart racing, feet sliding from underneath me urging me higher until I am away from it and can perch on a rock to eat lunch part 1 - a banana.  A badly timed run. I think there's a path up here or I'm going to look like a knob! (there is).

I drop back down to the river and the herd of blondes have made it that far so I stay on the road for a while, now seeing the answer to my long-standing question of why on earth people run on that stretch of road when there's a perfectly beautiful path by the river.  I join at the next junction, keen to avoid traffic now and the normals have thinned out the further we get from town. 

I munch a rice crispie square to kill the time in traffic at the final road section before turning off into the Fox Hagg Nature reserve.  I always dutifully turn left at the footpath sign but today I notice a worn path to the right.  It's obvious that it runs along the road (if on the other side of the valley and 40m higher up) so I follow it.  I don't see a soul but have an, "Ahhh, that's where that comes out" moment when I reach the car park at the other end. 

No need for map part 2.

This is the runners equivalent of riding out to the start of an Audax.  I have been hankering after the run up Wyming Brook every day since I've started off-road riding and here I am, at Wyming Brook and I didn't even touch the car. 

I love the steepness of the Brook, its waterfalls and treacherous scrambles over the rocks (not really that scary) and the deafening noise of the bounding stream.  The walkers here are more adventurous and bounce out of my way with good day cheer.  At the top, a feisty old lady refuses to have anyone offering to hold her hand over the stepping stones.  I waver over the idea of running through to Stanage Pole or Headstone but instead decide to retreat to home and save my legs for a ride tomorrow.  I'm pushing my distance as it is.

I follow a pair of mountain bikers for a while and keep them on their toes as they have to keep stopping for walkers as I just skip by, running at pace with a biker doing the occasional push. 

The posh people on the other side of the wall are playing golf whilst I stick some gloves on to protect my hands from the biting wind, otherwise wearing only a pair of leggings and long tee against the breeze in comparison to their body warmers and thick leather gloves and flat wool weave caps.

I toy with the idea of a teashop lunch at the garden centre but push on for home.  My legs have been sore since 10k and I don't like the idea of stopping and trying to get moving again.  I'm having the occasional walk and then feel better so run the last of the route home.  A couple of near-misses - a trip and then a rolled ankle remind me I am not invincible and still a little wobbly. 

A little walk through the stables - so as not to frighten the horses - of course - then I run it home. 

A run after a rest day is exactly what the physio allows.  Now let's see if I can back it up with a ride tomorrow!

Friday, December 28, 2018

HT7 - Not the Festive 500 and carrying a mountain bike

Boundaries of the old ways
On 1st March I pushed my reasonably underused, yet moderately aged mountain bike into the snow to commute to work.  What miles we have done together have been hard - 1200kms and 42,000m of climbing in the Alps and 1500km of riding and racing off road duathlons - a run-exhausted athlete at the bars. 

As I made my way home from work that day, I decided to see if I can carry my bike the way the people in the picutres do.

I'm an expert at bike-carrying - 30 years of cyclo-cross will testify but Mountain bikes are different - the frame is too small for it to be comfortably "worn" over a shoulder so nowadays, bike hikers have taken to carrying their steeds across their backs, one hand holding the front forks, the other the frame, like a modern day milkmaid returning from the fields.

I had taken a "shortcut" through the park with the intention of doing a few slalom turns in the deep snow.  Once bored of this, I set off straight up the hill to attain the road ride home but first I had to hike out of there.  Somehow I hoofed my semi-loaded, snow-logged bike onto my shoulders and wham! The heavy Jones Bars swiveled around and smacked me squarely in the helmet.  Thanks to the thick polystyrene shell I was uninjured but it hurt like hell.  I dropped the bike then and there and pushed it to the top then rode it home the steep way (like a boss by the way).

I promptly parked the poor thing in front of the radiator for 9 months to rot.

The state that bike was in when I took it to the shop for repair was embarrassing but when all is said and done, I'm OK at off-roading.  Or shall we say, I enjoy it a lot - even more than roading.  So this year, I have decided to dip more than a toe (thank you Braunton) into the off-road pond and signed up for a race which has had me captivated and tempted with gradual tidbits for a number of years - since I first heard about it in 2014.

This Christmas period has all been about training for that.

I had a notion that I would attempt to ride the Festive 500 off-road but it was only a notion.  In this "new" world of mountain biking, EmVee and I are rediscovering eachother and our limits together and pushing them further.  Much to her dismay, I am hitting obstacles full on, relearning what will go and what will not and trying anyway to bring both me and the bike up to some sort of speed and fitness and to improve our skills.  Whilst this holiday period has been about distance and long days in the saddle, it has mainly been about Highland Trail training and so its lines have taken few prisoners.  It has been uppy and I have pushed my bike more than I would have like and won a QoM (Queen of the Mountains) for passing 300m in 10 minutes, simply because no other woman has been daft enough to take a bike up a hill that steep so no, my festive 500 (to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve) will not be completed (it hasn't even been registered).

The last long ride which might have set me back on a track to complete (leaving me 71km to do per day up to new years eve) was cut short due to lack of electronic devices.  I did get home, didn't die but did fall asleep on the sofa straight after dinner so it's probably a good thing that I didn't try and push through the last 30km.

The HT7 long ride was also cut a little short by my own parents making last minute plans to drop by, ergo placing a deadline on my time out.  I tried not to be grumpy about this and instead set off to have a hard but shorter ride and to get out early.  So unusually I was out of the house by 9:20 am and as the ride progressed well against my deadline I started to adjust its route into the unknown.  I mean I had a map and I knew where stuff came out but I did not know the terrain or the condition of the surface in between although these were paths I had chosen to ease some of the worst climbs - like the one up to Hagg Farm on the A57.  I made a decision to follow that route, held the gate for some approaching riders and as they dropped down to the Hagg Farm road, I ploughed on up the hill, eventually pushing EmVee over the rocks and thinking, "This will end soon".

Actually, I stopped first to contemplate life over a cereal bar, staring into the forest and ignoring some other bikers as they pushed on past me, chatting.  At least I wasn't the only one.  It might have been worth me trying to carry my bike again here but I didn't, instead, strengthening my legs and upper body by pushing (god I feel woefully weak right now).

The elevation gained was much higher than my alternative route and the surface just as bad and it did not ease off enough to make it worth while, still, as I have been saying all week, "Good training for Scotland".

Finally onto the descent to Rowlee Farm.  I struggled to ride down it but damn I did my best.  I didn't have much choice.  A group of 4x4 drivers at the top were ignorant of me as I passed so damn I rode it as far as was safe to and more.  I felt their eyes burning into the back of my head, willing me to fall off - or maybe that was my ego talking.  Eventually when the boulders became so loose that both me and the bike bounced and skidded 90 degrees to the direction we were supposed to be travelling, I had a little walk, eventually setting off rolling again once a side-path emerged to avoid the 45 degree slopes of sodden gritstone. 

That one, up there on the right.

The side path was cruisable and deposited us at the bottom in one piece and so began the alternate climb up to and from the A57 - solidly cat AAA climbing up at 60% (yes you heard) at the A57 briefly before steadying out to 30% on each of the switchbacks higher up.  It is at least tarmac but I yearned for the short sharp hike a bike and interaction of the climb to Hagg Farm.  I say interaction because in the opposite direction it is a sweet and renowned Downhill Route for those of a bouncy persuasion.

After my long hill climb I was finally rewarded with a summit ridge ride I have never done before until arriving at the Hagg Farm junction.  For the third time I almost fell as I attempted to ride over one rock step too many, ran out of momentum and instead, executing a quick dismount.  It was only ever my feet sliding away in the mud that brought me down, my boots designed a little more for North American tundra than Yorkshire Gritstone but still... I was getting a bit fed up of courtseying in front of hikers.

I decided I'd struggled enough and deserved an easy descent so I waved good bye to Hagg Farm and continued along the ridge of Hagg side and Bridge End Pasture  to drop down to the reservoir via Crookhill Farm track.  It was 3pm and yet, I held open the gate for an approaching rider, thankful to see me as a guide past the farm.  I hoped he'd have a nice ride and not get lost and thundered down to the A57 again.

My planned valiant attempt to ride up the bridleway next to the Ladybower Inn was ruined by the food delivery vehicle parked across the entry to the path leaving me blind to any lines - there aren't many to choose from and they change every day as more riders move or dislodge rocks.  There's bits of this track that are rideable, once the steep bit is over and it has been finely reworked by trail builders to make it wonderfully useable.  The end however, is only rideable by the Steve Peats and Danny Macaskills of the world but clearly I had forgotten how bad it was, for it was now that the thought dawned on me that I could have another go at carrying my bike like the people in the pictures do.

My bike was in the perfect position for picking up - around 2 ft above my feet at this stage, as I had already begun my heady descent off the rocks.

I grabbed my forks, grabbed a handfull of frame and lifted with all my strength.  The bike pivotted around my lower back in my grip, peeled backward, eventually bent me over so far backward I had no choice but to go with it and just for good measure, it stabbed me in the back with my chin ring.  At least now that I'm on a single ring, the damage was minimal as we both lay in the heather - me like a beetle on its back until I remembered to let go of the bike and sit up on my own.

Not to be deterred - it was going OK until the toppling part - I had another go.  I mean, I didn't learn to pick my 'cross bike up all those years ago in one race did I?

This time the top tube sat snugly across the top of my shoulders, the whole thing padded by my Camelbak (separate story / question) and I felt really comfy, "I could spend time like this!" (there's a fair bit of hike-a-bike in Scotland and some that requires carrying so it will do me the world of good to nail comfort in this position).

Once I'd got there, I moved towards the edge of the boulder I had been standing on, ready to start my descent.  Chuff me! That's a big jump.  There are literally no steps.  There's no way I am jumping down there with this on my back.

Unceremoniously (yet without toppling), I lowered the bike back down to the ground, onto the path below, its saddle sitting well below my feet.  Putting all thoughts of American cowboy movies or Indiana Jones out of my head, I jumped off the boulder NEXT To my bike and led my beast down the path to hike it back out onto the A57.  There had been enough strain for one day.

Back at home after a shower, a cup of tea and exchanging gifts with the old people, I climbed into bed with a distinct twinge in my back.  Rolling around in the heather with a spiky lump of metal was possibly the most exciting thing I've done this holiday and it left its mark on my physique.

So there will be no Festive 500 in this house for once you've started it offroad, you can't really then go out and do 300kms on a road bike and call yourself happy with it.  If I'm going to spend 20 hours on a bike I'd rather do it on the mountain bike and get 200k done.  But I can't, cos I'm going out and besides which, by the end of today, it's definitely time for a rest day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

HTs 5 & 6 In which I am consumed by the Christmas/New Year time/space continuum

HT 5 - no lunch with the Queen

A flatish Surrey ride which avoided major climbs but still allowed me to ride 45km in the mud, remembering to pack sandwiches to prevent Christmas Day café fails.  Didn't see any cafés.

On the first climb up to the Hog's Back, I went to take a gulp of water from my Camelbak, only to find myself drawing on thin air.  Where the hell was I going to find water on Christmas day!?  Without my camelbak bladder, I couldn't even knock on a door and ask for a top up!

I plodded on, optimistic that the garage would be open and stopped to take my coat off to minimise sweating in case I didn't find any water.  Swung my camelbak off and lo! the bladder was full, lolling out of the side zip, hose unattached.  I clipped it together, bunged it in and was refreshed.

I thought I'd plotted a route past Hampton Court so when I started seeing Surrey Police Surveillance signs, assumed that's where I was (totally wasn't). 

45kms went quickly enough to be home in time for a quick bath before heading over to the Sissy-in-laws to consume turkey and play at shooting foam balls into a plastic crocodile.

HT6 - Attack on a big Surrey ride cut short

In this ride, I attempted to combine the best of rides 4 & 5 into one big loop adding some different inflections in the MTB areas of Surrey.  I left with a full compliment of sandwiches again but in contrast to HT5, also found a shop next door to an Inn serving coffee.

Two wild pees and a deer sighting kept my wilderness brain happy.  Plenty of re-runs of favourite climbs from the last two days plus a sprinkling of new ones.  All ready for route-tweaking.

The "really steep" climb from HT4 was replaced with a much more bike-friendly one in which I resumed my customary 9th place on the leaderboard, instead of QoM, "No other woman has been stupid enough to bring a bike up this".

Also the memorable climb that I decided to "have a go" at and just as I was about to bail noticed I was being watched by a man and his dog so had to belt out the whole thing to the top.  Trep:1 Wobbly rocks:0.

All day I had been concerned about the Garmin running out of battery but decided it was OK as I always had my phone to get me back.

All day I had been concerned about leaving home without my phone but decided it was OK as I could always borrow a phone off one of the millions of people out for a boxing day walk to ring home.

It was only when I missed a turn in Godalming so ended up heading back towards the house at 6:30pm that I realised the two were incompatible and decided I'd better head home so I didn't run out of mapping in a strange area in the dark without my phone to help... let's not even think about the chances of the light going dead!

Home in time for a bath and boxing day curry.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

HT4 Always a surprising recluse

From the busting streets and aggressive drivers of Guildford on to the rat runs around posh housing estates of Victorian replica detached houses with Audis parked in the driveway, thinning to country lanes with a blend of stone-fronted mansions and Grand Designs boxes with saunas and Ferraris parked in the driveway, I passed a couple running and, like me, she couldn't resist peering into every gateway for a glimpse of how the other half lived.  I wonder if these people have enough time and friends to spend sitting at their cedar and glass-topped dining table on the deck overlooking Guildford city then turned off on to a bridleway offering just enough traction to trace a wobbly line across the North Downs to Newlands Corner.  That was better.

I crossed the A25 twice, the busiest road on the route, but otherwise had no clue where I was as I followed a pink line on the map, up hill and down dale.  I stopped to adjust my saddle once and consume a banana.

I've just moved to single chain ring gear on my bike so I have a 32 tooth chain ring and a 11 x 46 block on the back wheel.  Testament to how suitable this range is (I'm rather pleased with my selection), I never once reached for the left hand shifter and where a climb demanded I shift into the bottom gear, it went in cleanly and when the climbing was over, the next gear up was just perfect for what I wanted to do without frantic shifting up. 

With the suspension fixed and a new set of brakes, I was riding like I did 5 years ago when the bike was new because whilst I might be older, less fit and stiffer, the bike is now 300g lighter.

As I rode through ancient woodlands though, I couldn't help but wonder where all the people on bikes were.  The obvious answer to this is from my friend Simon who always tells me, "but Trep, you do weird shit cross-country stuff.  That's old school.  No-one is riding that anymore".

As I push up yet another roaring downhill, I'm glad no other riders are on it and a hawk sweeps through the trees and settles on a branch to eye me from above.

Finally I recognise that I am in Peaslake.  A semi-muscular, semi-flabby mountain biker is standing by his car in baggy shorts and no shirt, getting ready to go home after his morning ride.  Steam is rising off his back.  Down in the village I think I'll look for a shop but before I reach it I find 20-ish similarly steaming men (and one woman) hanging around the bus shelter outside the Peaslake store and pull the breaks on and lock my bike to the railings.  I haven't got any mates to look after my bike whilst I'm in the shop.

I leave the bike in the company of three teenage boys playing in the leet and fetch myself a sandwich and fresh percolated coffee. I join a couple of walkers, huddled in the bus shelter with their dog.  Asking if there's room for a skinny muddy one (there is), he glowers at me so I sit down and start up a conversation with the mountainbiker on the other side from Buckingham.

When he goes, I revert to the couple with their dog who, rather than being grumpy, are a bit overawed and think that we're all super-fit and riding "hundreds of miles".  I try to make us sound more normal and point out that we do have mechanical assistance.

I use my fingernails to help some riders retrieve a drawing pin from the notice board for one rider to reset his Garmin that his freaked out on him.  They're worried about me "breaking my nails before Christmas" till I ask, "have you seen me?", covered as I am with muddy spreckles from head to toe.

I leave the boys to their up-and-down routes and pedal across towards Holmbury St Mary, over increasingly wide motor-way paths which cross ditches and other motor-way paths at 90 degress to my direction of travel.  I repeatedly try out the suspension by rocketing down them super fast to get back up the other side still on the bike.  Finally, my route takes me down one of the classic descents that came from the Surrey Moutain biking website.  I am lost to trees and sweeping burms and occasionally worry that my Jones Bars are going to get snagged between two saplings. 

I drop out in a carpark and ashamedly pick my way down some narrow steps, having no idea if it's a footpath or what as I seem to have become lost in myself and gone off route.  I cross the road then a short time later flip off it again over to Abinger common to photograph a well. 

Some more classic trails - I'm being spoilt here before the slog up to Leith Tower.  A tiny child says hello to me then her sister - about 5 starts to tell me about her bike - which is just like mine.  She's only allowed to ride it with her daddy at the moment but when I say, "one day you will ride it on your own" she deftly says, "yes".

With their eyes on me I made a valiant effort to ride as far up the very steep, rocky, tree-rooted trail as I can and make it to the third tree root step before sliding off sideways and pushing to the summit.  There's a cafe in the tower so a teenager makes me a tea whilst keeping his eye on his friend to make sure she doesn't cheat at chess behind his back.  Teens these days!

Whilst most people sit and look at the view towards the south Downs in the distance, I move around the North side of the tower towards London and St Albans distant to get out of the stiff breeze. I can drink by tea without putting a coat on.

On the descent from Leith Tower I see the only other weirdo doing cross-country, say hello then disappear down an uncomfortably steep muddy horse bridlepath and onto a road.

My next turn off is towards Holmbury Hill viewpoint but I miss the turn so decide to take the mountain bike path around the corner instead.  At the bottom is the UCL institute of space and climate studies then I am rocketed up a steep path.  Oncoming walkers shout hello as I throw myself and my bike up the slope, hopping off quickly because it all gets too sudden and rocky. 

There's a sign in front of me about 80cms wide which says,

Caution, Extremely STEEP"

Yes, they went to the effort of using red paint.  

After a few metres, the couple have joined the path and he's striding up, shouting, "Hi there, hi, just to warn you, this path is extremely steep".  

"Hi" I say, panting.

He's jogging now, "Hello, hi, just to let you know, it's really steep up here".

"Yes, thanks, I know", 

"Oh, do you know it here?".

"No, but I can see it's really steep and I've seen it on the map".

"It's just that it's really steep".


Eventually I give up, "Good training for Scotland then".  

"We do a bit of mountain biking, what are you doing in Scotland?" by this point his wife is behind him, hiding her face and thinking, "We don't really do any mountain biking".  

"550 miles this summer" 

Him:"I'm doing an enduro race, moto cross for 6 days", I've got him now.  "Ah, that's cheating I say", 

"I don't think so, it's 'ENDURANCE'".  

"How far is endurance?" I ask.

Proudly, "About 100 miles a day".  

"Cool, that's about what I'll be doing."

"Yeah, but it's, like, up and down waterfalls and stuff".

They leave me alone whilst I push my bike up the 30% mud grade.  The track is worn to a narrow wedge section.  There's only just enough space for my tyre at the bottom and any attempt to walk on the side-walls of the vee results in my feet sliding sideways and either me or the bike lolling on our side and falling over.  I'd pick it up but I'd have to carry it on my back, touch it and when I was near the bottom I noticed I'd rolled through something Orange and sticky. It could have been earth but it could also have been dog poo.

Thankfully the wedge was narrow enough that I could just about push the bike dead ahead of me, the front wheel bouncing from side to side against the walls of the track to keep it upright so I could concentrate on putting my head down, choosing my foot placements and pushing with all my might.  I have to perfect a technique for carrying my mountain bike but today, in front of him, wasn't the place. 

Thankfully they didn't have time to wait at the top of Holmbury Hill to admire the view as they would have seen me toying with the idea of descending the wrong way (almost back the way I came) before choosing the right path in completely the opposite direction.  Something about the altitude had done my head in.

I skirted around the edge of Hurtwood on a mixture of bridleways and lanes, looking forward to getting away from the carparks and downhill routes and back on to cross country trails that roll on and on.  Just as \I thought I was going to make it, I passed some walkkers, assuming that was a footpath but ended up at a farm gate, obvously not a through route.  

As I retraced my steps a posh but friendly female voice called out, "Where are you trying to get to?"

A difficult question to answer when you're following a pink line on a screen.

I explained that my map said to veer to the right but it was obviously not a through route.  In fact one of the "walkers" was on the other side of the gate and the lady explained that I had been heading into "Duncan's property".  I complimented Duncan on his beautiful home.

We realised that my straight line had missed the sweep around Duncan's house and they guided me "up towards that castle" although then said I would be suicidal to ride up it - people come down it, they don't go up it.  Given my last encounter I was getting a bit fed up with people from Surrey telling me what I could and couldn't do.

"You should see the stuff I've been up - and down - today".

She squinted at me, "but you're... a girl, and you're covered in mud!"

Someone from the Adventure Syndicate probably has a really good retort to this statement but I was damned if I could find one after 45km hard riding so I just shrugged but she carried on

"Where is your car parked?" "I'm going back to my in-law's house in Guildford".

"But it's 4pm and Guildford is 9 miles... That way" (gesturing straight up the hill in the direction I was going).  Then she had an even more outrageous thought, "So you are married then? And what is your husband doing?"

"He's gone out for a ride on the road". 

Not understanding she reverted to the time of day, "It's going to be dark in an hour".

Me: "This light is very bright". 

"And do you have a horn on your bike".  I dinged my bell - thankfully for once, it rang out crystal clear instead of a pathetic "dunk" noise that it sometimes makes when caked in mud.

"... but you're on your own".

"I don't have to worry about anyone else then do I?" suddenly we were on common ground.  If she knew the phrase, "I hear you sista" she would have used it.  Instead, her face used it.

Conversations reverted to the normal ones around dogs and houses and where are you from?  Taking her point about the time of day I took my leave and set off to climb towards the castle except on attaining the castle driveway I was met by high fences surrounded by snarling Rott Weillers and a big sign saying, "no riders private road" so I hopped back on the bike (I'd been pushing some time) and descended to the trail turn-off that I had missed.

I really was on my own now.  I didn't see another walker the rest of my ride except on crossing the canal at Bramley, a major dog-walking area.  A highway bridlepath along the A281 brought me much joy as I sped along in my biggest gear separated from the traffic by a house and a a garden at least, all the way along its length.  The busy shoppers being oblivious to my existence and my wonderful day out. 

Through Chilworth I embarked on one more crossing of the North Downs, curving through trees.  It was now starting to rain so I checked the map to make sure I was nearly home and texted TSK to let him now I was making the last pedal revolutions back into town.  There was one more push to avoid a precipitous bridlepath drop onto a main road. I took it, extending my link to nature by about 5 minutes before joining the most expensive lane of edge-of-town property.  I stopped part way down to take a photo of Guildford Cathedral at night, startling a woman walking into town for a night out.

The great joy of spending time here is knowing how to get out of Guildford without dying now.  For some reason the Sound of Music had been in my head for some time and I wobbled my mountain bike over the "NO Cycles" railway bridge over the A33, singing, "Doe a deer, a female deer, Ray a drop of golden sun," My range ran out at "Tea a drink with jam and bread" and I rapped it as I waited patiently behind a walker, finishing "that will bring us back to doe" as I cycled down the ramp when he turned off to take the stairs. 

Even the residents of Park Barn were accepting of my appearance as I wiggled through the council properties to spit out on the "other" side of town.

In order of preference I jet washed the bike, my saddlebag and rucksac, my boots and then, my leggings whilst still wearing them.  I rinsed everything in the kitchen sink then put it straight in the washing machine, all whilst trying to appear socially acceptable.  With the help of TSK and a towel, I think I managed it although I spent the rest of the evening surreptitiously clearing up muddy puddles in the conservatory. 

On Christmas eve I will be dedicating the day to somewhat catching up on Christmas... before I do it all again.

Photos to follow

Sunday, December 16, 2018

HT 3 - Better weather still got soaked.

Finally, I did a bigger ride!  I did a bigger ride!

Got very excited.  Once I'd achieved my target of riding to stanage I didn't know what to do with myself so I headed to the reservoirs and rode around 1.5 of them including a little trip over Hagg Farm in the dark.

There was quite a lot of walking involved.

By the time I was getting to the final route-call I was getting tired so I headed back to the road but took the Bridlepath to Cutthroat bridge and avoided a lot of traffic.  Cue more walking as I decided to do without the traffic so walked the footpath to Moscar top before rejoining bridleway all the way over to Rails Road and finally rode down the Rivelin Valley on Rodside Road.

With 20 minutes to go the heavens opened but I just about managed to stay warm enough by riding up Hagg Hill (2/3 of the way) at which point I bonked so rode back along the bridlepath instead to save my legs a few metres of 1:3 climb. 

I got home 5 minutes later, dripping wet and in desperate need of tea.

What a brilliant day.

HT Ride 2

I went to bed late last night because I was working through my planning for the HT.  Still, I woke at 7am this morning, eager to go out for a ride.  I fed the cats and ate my own breakfast but made the mistake of sitting down with the computer, the HT route and resting a hamstring that's been giving me pain and stress.  Before I know it I was hungry and it was 11:30.  We walked for lunch on my suggestion and I though my hamstring was going OK so I decided to go for a ride.

If nothing else, I'd test my bike out and keep moving.  By the time I was ready to go I was enthursed for a long ride.  It started raining but I smiled up and set off into the valley.

The first few ups and down were fine.  I rode with confidence.  Then I started to feel my back wwheel skitting about - shortly before the whole bike went sideways across the road.  I headed for the right hand side away from the most oary cold wind and set my square section tyres flat on the road.  I managed to ride square to th ground for 30m to the top of the hill then, rather than the tempting longer route I decided the most sensible thing to do with this day was my own thing - keep it short, enjoyable but mostly safe.

I turned off onto the trail to take the same route I rode last week.  It became obvious where the ice came from, despite it raining not snowing.  A vicious Northerly / Westerly.

On the descent from the Farm a woodpecker rewarded my intention to continue on.

Within 2 minutes of setting off up Wyming Brook I had to stop and put the air back in my tyres.  Suddenly in the shade of the trees I got some momentum back and every rock I bounced off punched at my rear wheel  and threatened a pinch puncture.

I finally realised why my pump is leaking – it’s amazing what a bit of jeopardy will do for the logical reasoning.

A few moments of believing I was the only person to be out there on my own, I came across a couple and few dog walkers, mostly oblivious to my existence until I was past them.

Despite my tyre-stop waving goodbye to any hillclimb records, I pushed on over the rocks and leaves to the carpark, distinctly quieter than last time I was out.  I climbed the wet bike over the styal.

Back on the road over Lodge Moor, a bloke coming out of the pub asked, “How have you not crashed your bike?” I assured him I had tried.  I braked between the rivulets of water and the half-frozen slush and got off and into the field to join the bridleway along the top of the Rivelin Ridge.  It was enjoyable, except for the occasional slide. 

The worst part is the descent down to the road – around half way up the valley side.  I’m not sure I’m going to be able to ride it today but I’m damned if I’m going to walk it.  The bike humms royally, the brakes full on and the back wheel skids away as the front wheel thankfully holds us upright. 

At the end of the trail, the rain falling and running off the road had been scoured into an ice slick.  Now I was all for walking.  I hoped the council had been out and gritted the road that I had to descend around 100m to the next bridlepath.  So long as I was on rocks and leaves, I was happy.

There were no cars thankfully and I sketchily made my way across the road.  I walked over the steps then rocketed down the leaf-filled rock gully that I accidentally descended too fast last week. 

Better this week – not surprisingly – I was more gingerly.  The final drop offs were still worked.  There’s only so much I can do with skinny tyres.  I pushed onto the up-path that avoids the final climb of the A57 into Sheffield and pitied the freezing ponies

I saw my final climb and my final dog walker ahead.  By now I’d been riding for around and hour and 45 minutes.  “Mind the ice out there”.  I couldn’t find anything else to say except, “I KNOW!”.  It wasn't the ice on the hill I was worried about, more the road beyond.  Thankfully it was still raining hard, not snowing.  The worry was the salt would be washed off the road as I realised it had stealthily started lashing it down.  On the main road I went to turn my light on but really struggled.  The light was frozen so solid into a block of ice that I couldn't get the soft button to press under the hard caisson of ice around it.  The light flickered into life, the Garmin screen in a similar state.  I held my breath and hoped that the freezing rain wouldn't bring me down before I got home.  

The ride back was a mixture of local main roads until I realised there was no grit left, back roads - still covered in snow, and parkland.  I couldn't resist taking the park.  It drops me out by my house and is a nice traverse, even if I do have to walk it on the skinny tyres.

It took 10 desperate minutes at home to rewarm the hands.  As a training ride it was character-building. I don't think it was particularly muscle-building though.  Some more HT training may happen on the turbo going forward.

Thursday, November 29, 2018


I woke up to TSK's alarm this morning. He went to the bathroom then two minutes later my own alarm went off. I waited my turn with my eyes shut. Somehow I resisted the urge to go back to sleep. I sat on the edge of the bed. Rain lashed against the window.
What was the point again? It really felt like there wasn't one except I was up in time to go to yoga. But what was the point in that? It was clearly time to enter another event.

I kissed my husband good morning and blearily remembered my Highland trail entry.  Not much chance of that with all the road rides I have been doing.

I  ate my breakfast reading Twitter. The world is turning into a useless place apart from all the brilliant people there - all ruthlessly selected by me.

I  was strict with myself. While I still didn't feel like riding to work in the rain after this weekend, I did feel like a new start and a return to yoga after a long break seemed like just the thing to justify my underused gym membership. I made it just in time in the van.

Helena's class was perfect. Enough effort to wake me up and make me feel strong and enough relaxation and stretching to re-balance my body and love of exercise for exercise sake.  I left feeling much much healthier than a 1 hour session would normally suggest.
I arrived at work only slightly worse off for dealing with idiot motorists whilst being kind to all the cyclists I encountered on my commute.

My day went well. My morning meeting was useful, pointed  it jolted a thought from last night's back-of-my-mind and I took action and people listened.

Before I left to meet a boiler man about a valve I decided to enter that race on the random off-chance I got in with the "Pretender" going around and around in my head. I did think, "wel, that'll never fly" but I booked EmVee in for an all-important service at Bike Rehab (wondering if it is the bike that needs rehab, not me). Then I went home, cleaned my bike, got stood up, called into my evening meeting and continued the day's zen until 8.30 when I started to drift off to sleep

To drag the day out ahead and cut myself some slack I thought I would just check that email before I see what other events I can enter.

Much to my joy, Alan had emailed me with my entry confirmation. I had not realised how much I wanted this until I got it. Since oooh, 2014 when I first heard of it on my way back from a Scotland holiday reccying Celtman.

So now I have it. This year's dream. Thiz year's goal. This year's thing to make me scared and I am over the moon. I will sleep well tonight.

Monday, November 26, 2018

A minibreak

We had some holiday to take.  We couldn't decide what to do with it.  We didn't really want to drive so we loaded paniers on to a bike and decided to ride to Blackpool to see the lights.  Then my mum advised me that lights probably wouldn't be on so we decided to go anyway.  We cycled over to Manchester to visit some friends' new house which involved kittens, beer and a take away, a hot shower and a snuggly bedroom.  On Saturday, the Garmin took us some wonderful routes around the major connurbations of Manchester, Preston, Wigan.  We rode along rivers, canals and disused railway lines though there were a lot of gates that got in the way and slowed us right down.  Not too bad for a 5 mile commute but really annoying for more than 10km. 

We rolled into Blackpool as it was turning dark and headed for the Travelodge (full) before resorting (no pun intended) to the Premier Inn where we payed over the odds (though not too bad) for the last room in the house.  The desk clerk took pity on us and supported us with two free breakfasts for the morning.  Another hot shower and out to Harry Ramsdens after a walk down the sea front and a chilly stroll back along the prom. 

On Sunday we headed back homeward.  Initially towards Howarth but then later towards Great Howarth (closer to Rochdale) to a second Premier Inn.  Since this was an unplanned stop, we rerouted away from Rochdale and followed the Garmin randomly for 6.43kms to Milnrow where a much more reasonable price was quoted for possibly the largest hotel room I've ever seen.

The staff continued to offer to help us carry our bikes upstairs!

Day 4 was tough getting out, partly knowing that we had two major hillclimbs to go - first into Dunford Bridge over Saddleworth Moor and second over Holmfirth to get back to Sheffield.  Changes I made to my cleats the night before were just wrong and had to be reverted although all in all, new shoe wedges I had inserted worked a treat in supporting my feet and my legs have been in much better state than I thought they would be.

Four days (and a few hours) after we left, we were back home to hungry cats.  Not a single car journey the whole weekend (except a lift to the takeaway with Glyn to buy the food). 

We saw the full moon many times and found new routes around towns that I never would have dreamed existed.  We saw the tower ball room (from the outside) and got evicted from the Winter Gardens (closed for a private function).  We played on the beach on our bikes (or the breakwater anyway) and spotted wildlife along the country lanes.  Coffee, tea and cake was consumed by the bucketload - all from local producers - except for Harry Ramsden's because it was too cold (and out of season) for real fish and chips. 

We dropped off the transpennine trail and I got a puncture but that was the only downside to an otherwise wonderful weekend.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Eureka! 200k

(c) all pics by Ella Wredenfors

It was two nights before the Eureka ride that I remembered I had a twitter friend in the event.  I was briefly excited and then forgot all about it in quick succession, in a mixture of work life and late night work life.

Still, I tried to look after myself the week leading up to the event, getting more and more early nights and working a little less and then going in late if I'd been up all the night thinking about work.

I finally called a stop to it, said something had to be done then gleefully set out for my parents house on Saturday afternoon, having done little prep my bike, for ride 12 of (more than) 12.

I had dinner with the parents - not the best pre-race prep of pizza and potato cakes but it seemed to do the job.  In the evening I sat in bed to try and keep warm in the draughty old farmhouse that is my family's ancestral home.  My dad stuck his head around the door to say good night and that mum would be up to let me out at 7am.  They were heading out to the pub, just as I was getting near the end of a rather depressing book that I'd been reading.  They were going out to the pub and there was me, exhausted, alone and reading a depressing book.  They left and I started to cry.  I went downstairs to be with the dog and lay on the dog-scented floor and cried and cried.  I bawled hard and the dog, despite being stroked, just stared at me like a tiny man faced with a crying woman.

Eventually I collected my thoughts, went back to bed and slept.

I was awake at 3am but went downstairs, got a glass for water and went back to bed with biscuits.  I'd put on several layers, added a blanket and turned on an electric radiator (my parents would have been horrified if they'd realised I was sleeping with the radiator on).  I'd got quite warm and sweaty and I'd actually gotten quite dehydrated, what with the crying and all.

6am came too soon of course but it was OK cos I was going out riding and I'd probably not got that far back into sleep anyway.  I realised I'd left my porridge in the car then had a momentary panic as I thought I was locked into the house.  As well as being as cold as a prison, the Farmhouse is locked up like one at night.  There was no mother to release me.  Thankfully, they had seen fit to leave the door accessible and I was able to get my porridge and nutella to see me through the morning.  Sadly I'd forgotten my coffee and had to cope with instant.

Just as I was finishing up, dad came to wish me a good ride in his PJs... awakened by the call.  It's rare I see him so early.

I was careful to make sure I had everything with me in case they weren't in when I returned home and so I didn't have to wake anyone to fetch any stuff from inside.  I tossed my keys in the back of the car and started to lift my bike up.  Toss, it was locked and my keys were in the house.  Panic set in as I realised I'd have to wake the parents up.  WHATEVER YOU DO DON'T WAKE THE PARENTS UP!!!

Memories of stealing home from night clubs at 3am came flooding back.

It didn't take me long to realise the keys were in the car but my heart was already racing.

I took my time over getting everything else ready to go, carefully removing tracky bottoms to put on cycling shoes, jersey on before helmet.  Finally I was ready to go.  Quick squirt of oil on the chain and away to ride through Whythenshawe and over to Cheadle.

I replaced my original plan to ride to the airport then follow the route backwards to the start in favour of the most direct line.  It did put me thorough Whythenshawe but there was little traffic at 7am on a Sunday morning.  Even the drunks were in bed by then.  Soon Whythenshawe morphed into Gatley then Cheadle village where cyclists started to converge on the village hall.

I immediately recognised Ella from her photos although her hair was less pink than I was expecting.  Instead of saying hi straight away, I went to get my brevet card to avoid the embarrassment of forgetting it then went to say hi with a hug and a chat.

We were interrupted by one of the Halifax riders from the Clwydian who wanted to congratulate me on finishing and give me kudos for getting over the moor.  By chance we were also standing next to the other rider (Brum) who empathised with the effort involved.  Again we were to see him on and off throughout the course of the day as well as one of the guys who  had been on Yorkshire via Essex.  It was a pack of familiar faces.

Ella and I set off together, chatting away, having already established that we both had a reasonable idea of what we were doing.  I hovered uncomfortably between the setting off too fast pace and sitting in behind slower riders.  They weren't actually slower, it's just I'm not used to milking the benefits of drafting so I suddenly got pulled back into the pack on the first short climb.

Us girls inevitably peeled off on our own and waved furiously at the photographer as we passed.  We talked about *everything*.  I don't usually do Audax talking but for once it was brilliant just to have a really good natter.  My initial pace boiled off but Ella pedalled light, waited on hills and occasionally rode on ahead, only to wait at the next junction.  We arrived at the Eureka cafe and both checked in then decided that, on account of her hacking cough and a tiny, sweaty space filled with other riders and a big queue, we'd take advantage of the buffer of time and push on for Bangor to get our lunch.  It was, after all, only 11am.

We did shifts at the shitter then set back out on our bikes, snacking our way over into Wales to cover the distance effectively.  I particularly enjoyed sharing the ginger flavoured oatcakes which Ella had brought.  I hmmm'd about the prospect of going all the way to Bangor, "it's probably about two hours" then we did some maths and concluded that it was a bit hit and miss but we went for it.

It was a little miserable climbing over the hills of Frodsham on account of it being quite main roadsy but once we were off and back onto lanes, turning into Welsh lanes, we rode side by side again on and off.

In Bangor, we tried the pub but they were quoting 45 hours wait for food (yes you heard), particularly it seems to anyone wearing a cycling helmet and offering to sit outside.  So we went back to the info control (the shop) to grab sandwiches, I bought fudge and a drink then sat on the doorstep of the neighbouring florist as a shower moved over us.  Somewhere there was a rainbow as the sun glinted off the opposite building.  Derby Mercury arrived and I was pretty chuffed to be going well, ahead of "The Mercury" as they referred to themselves.  Let's skim over the fact that they'd already had a cafe stop.

We continued on our way into the flood of rainbow, bright, vibrant and complete.  From there the weather only improved and I found myself removing hat and buff and changing into thinner gloves for the rest of the day.

Another two hours on from Bangor was the ice cream cafe.  I hadn't planned to stop there but then I had planned to stop near Eureka and not scoff a sandwich in a doorway.  Still, I was enjoying the avid conversation, even if I did need to up my pace a bit to always hear what Ella was saying.  Her hacking cough made her talk softly so I had to ride a close pace to hear.  Sometimes I just had to give up and drop back a bit.  I got my own back on a climb by saying I was having "a wee stop to fix something" and found her crashing through the undergrowth a few metres ahead, having stopped for a wee, thinking I was doing the same.

At the icecream cafe neither or us knew where we were going, locked our bikes to the first bit of railing opposite people sitting on sofas inside then headed into the building / compound.

Ella has never done an audax here.  I have just never been in because the place is a children's play park and too many little people make me nervous.

Small persons squealed and stumbled and crawled all over things and we rushed into the nearest building to warm our thighs and start the cafe hunt.  Just as I thought we'd made it back to our bikes (but on the other side of the glass this time), we were cordoned off with rope so I booked a table (with a helmet and sweaty coat) and Ella went to order soup and coffee / tea whilst I went outside to move the bikes into view at the *actual* bike racks next to the *actual* cyclists's entrance.

I happily wheeled one big and one not-so-big happy bikes around the corner and locked them back up.  By the time I was back at the table, coffee was placed and soup was arriving.  Abject bliss.

My thoughts of cake were diverted to the fact that I had a lot of junk food to get through on the bike on the way back.  I'd only consumed one piece of fudge and had Haribo and the leftover zombie chocolate left over from Halloween to get through yet.  Somewhere in my handlebar bag, a Frankenstein was having a fight with a gummy-bear and I might be called upon to invigilate.

"How are you doing?" my pal asked me.  "OK, bit tired", I confessed.  Off the lanes, she towed me along a straight carriageway.  I was grateful for the wheel to get me out of a headwind and away from traffic as soon as possible.  Wjilst she describes herself as "Manchester's premier fat female cyclist", on twitter, she really isn't and is fucking strong to drag me around like a rag doll like that.

Back on the lanes we rode side by side and continued our conversation.  Occasionally, when I had to let a car past, I had to sprint back on because I was enjoying the story of how she met Spandelles so much.  As night caught us up and the lights went on, the conversations calmed down and each of us did turns on the front, if only because we both like leading.  I probably got a bit annoying but it's only that I'm used to tri training so much, putting myself on the front when I'm out with TSK, getting used to being face to the wind.

Finally, as we entered back into Cheshire known-territory around Minshull Vernon, disaster struck and I experienced the familiar flaccid feeling of a snapped gear cable in a lever-housing.  Absolutely zero response from my derailleur whatsoever, I was stuck in a big gear.

We took to a driveway and I threaded the new cable through but couldn't find the end of the old cable somewhere inside the lever.  Looking under the lever, there was a hatch that I had never investigated before.  Although every single screw and adjuster nut on the dura-ace groupset has a hex-wrench head for Allen keys, this one that I needed had a cross screwdriver head.  I could've screamed!

Finally, after about 45 minutes of dicking-about, chatting, laughing, talking to the homeowner whose driveway we were using, I conceded to ride single speed to the next bit of civilisation.

At first it was a challenge, then a chore, then I started doing the maths on how long I had to keep going for and really concluded I couldn't keep it up for 3 more hours.  It was already dark and I was just sore.

A fellow audaxer passed and I managed to catch him up and ask if he had a screwdriver.  He didn't but he recommended I talk to his dad, a little further back who would definitely have one.  I realised I had seen his dad riding in the hills around Sheffield before..  What a pleasure.

We carried on, knowing the next info control was a garage.  Eventually I had the bright idea to adjust my temporary cable arrangement to a different gear since I wasn't using my big ring at all on the flat and I was getting sick of getting off to walk up any hill steeper than 7%.

I cranked the derailleur across and re-tightened the screw.  Much better.  I could definitely consider riding another 3 hours like *that*.  For some time I span out on the flats at 18-21 kph before dropping into the little ring and getting as far up all the hills as I could - actually I was making most of them but after my earlier exertions, the spinning out on the flat was really starting to grate and average speed was suffering as a result.  At the petrol station I resolved to try and fix the lever but failing that, to stick myself in a slightly higher gear.

The petrol station attendee was great.  She found me the only screwdriver they had and let me exchange cans of coke when I actually (horror of horrors) bought low sugar coke.  I don't drink the stuff often enough so had no idea what I was doing.  That Ella girl was a bad (great) influence.  It was exactly what I needed.  The crisps I bought were also exactly what we both needed so I repayed the ginger oatcake favour from the morning whilst working on my rear derailleur.

We hauled out of the petrol station and onto what felt like some of the biggest climbs in Cheshire.  Well, they were on single speed anyway.  On the third one I felt the cable slip in its housing and crunch crunch I jumped up two gears.  Time for another little walk.

Finally we spilled back into Alderley Edge and a team effort started to get us back to the finish in one piece.  Through Wilmslow we were passed unceremoniously by an Asda delivery vehicle who insisted on passing us then slowed down for every junction thereafter, including the one at the bottom of a big descent.  I swore at him, I swore at my legs, I let out a primal scream to get me up the hill then instantly felt guilty about waking up half of Wilmslow - before realising it was only 8pm... no, my point stands.  I woke up Wilmslow from its post-Sunday lunch snooze

As we neared Handforth, I desperately hoped they weren't going to make me ride Stanleylands but it wasn't in the right direction so I was relieved to just roll through Handforth at which point Ella, on sniffing Spandelles arrival in Cheadle after his long ride, left me as she said she would. I ode into Cheadle and the arrivee toute seule.  Quite frankly, I was astonished she hung around that long but I admit it was great to have a sista for company for the day.

Back at base they came out to welcome me in and I settled down to text everyone I was safe and share stories of the road, the organisers now having figured out who I was without my usual trusty sidekick in tow.  A steady stream of riders kept filtering through so there were about 12 still on the road behind me - a strong indicator of the fast pace I had gone around in, particularly having been forced to rock a big gear to the finish instead of breezing it in.

So that was it, 12 of 12.  I challenged Ella, of course, to keep going and deliver 11 more.  She sounded moderately tempted.

I can't decide if I'm excited to have December off or if I want to join in with another ride and keep my tally ticking.  I didn't think hard about work for a whole day - although I did my share of defending how exciting I find it.  What I did think about was how much I had missed riding my bike.  I made myself promises.  Ones I intend to keep on keeping.

I dwelled long enough to eat soup and some biscuits and drink a cup of hot squash.  Then packed up my stuff and headed back into the night to ride back to the Farmhouse.  Mum was back in bed and dad was mooching around in the garden when I got back.  I got changed and drank tea and told tales of a great day before hastily rushing back to Sheffield in the van.  It was all I could do to keep myself awake - though the snake pass helped my alertness.  I guess my reluctance to finish the tale is testament to my reluctance to stop riding these events.

I'll (not) end this here.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Finding it on a sparkly, misty night

I ran today. 8.6 fairly insignificant kms yet they felt the most profound of my life.  I wish I were being over-dramatic.

For the last couple of months my life has been a traumatic joke.  For a while I managed to balance my work life on a knife edge with remaining sane.  Constantly challenging myself to keep looking after myself at the same time as delivering more and more work with less and less help.  Gradually my own life ebbed away, leaving a worn out, flustered, annoyed, angry, exhausted shell of a woman I did not understand or recognise.  It was allowed to happen.  Help was offered but it was the wrong kind of help.  And so I struggled on.

Then last week I accidentally booked into the wrong hotel.

I thought I’d upgrade to a hotel in town but discovered that living in the middle of a shopping arcade and a housing estate doesn’t give me any motivation to leave on a bicycle.  Then, tragedy, I forgot my running shoes.  The easiest device to use to navigate yourself out of a ford-focus-and-2.4-children hellhole and I left them at home. 

Getting in from work at 6 to 7pm, eating then working some more then falling over on the bed only to wake at 2am, get up, do more work and then go back to bed for an hour-or-so before getting up and doing it all again.  My brain was exhausted but my body was not.

I drove to the station to pick up managers.  I drove to Worksop for a massage.  Apart from the lack of time to ride, the inclination wasn’t there.  I’ve had problems with the bike getting into its gears.  On Thursday night, in place of riding my bike, I lay on the floor next to it and stared at the ceiling then stared at the bike.  At least if I couldn’t ride it, I could fix it. 

Funnily enough, in a moment of calm I at least figured out what the problem was and fixed it… at least I think I got it.  I didn’t get to find out for on Friday, I drove home.  Still no bicycling.

I stopped in a side road to dial into the 4:30 meeting – I at least gave myself that much of the afternoon off.  Apparently it was most inconvenient of me to dial into the meeting from my motor car. I guess it meant a man had to take minutes. 

I updated my colleagues and promised to finish a piece of work either this weekend or on Monday.  It wasn’t going to get done on Monday. 

I stopped off at the bike shop to buy a bit for my other bike and tried to make conversation but all I could think was how little I had ridden my bike and how little time I would have to fix this part to my bike. 

By the time I got home I wanted to cry.  I ate my dinner and fell into bed exhausted.  At 2am I was wide awake.

I got up and made the first changes to the document.  I worked for 2 hours before going back to bed at 4:30 and sleeping until 7:30.  I got up more exhausted than when I’d gone to bed but I had to eat.  I got the laptop out again and finished the document and sent it out.  I worked on the bike for the shortest amount of time possible.  I didn’t even test ride it.  I was supposed to be going out but I really couldn’t face it.  On the other hand I knew that friends were exactly what I needed right now so I went out.  I was exactly right. 

The walk to my friends’ house was tough though.  I enjoyed every moment of it.  Finally one foot was falling in front of the other; the breeze made me put my gloves on.  The freakishly warm air made me regret wearing my down coat.  Bonfires were on the air.  Happy families passed us by with children ensconced in waterproof fleecy onesies with welly boots on their feet.  It was the weekend before bonfire night.

I love bonfire night.  I love bonfire night more than Christmas.  Normally I know exactly when the free firework display is on in town.  Normally I have all the plans set out.  This year, I haven’t had time to think of it.  This year Christmas is likely to be ruined the same way.

My friends fed me.  I’d eaten nothing but a pot noodle and some cereal and toast all day.  I stared at a fire, chatted, wandered around the corner to get the best look at the fireworks and spent 15 minutes sitting on the pavement leaning on a wall and watching the sparkles glide through the air, enjoying the booms, banks and crackles. 

Then I returned to the party for sparklers.

A lovely lady called Rita shared her stories with me and said sweet things like, “women like you are forging the future, you’re what will make it better for women who follow” and I nearly cried.  Not because she made me feel special (she did and she’s right) but because I am sad that when I was her age, 25 years ago, I thought that women like my boss were forging the future, that she would make it better for women who follow”.  Current status: Things feel a whole lot worse right now.

I didn’t drink a lot – despite buying enough to sink me, I drank one bottle of beer and a bottle of some lowly alcoholic level.  I daren’t drink anymore, it just makes the sleepless nights worse.  So we walked home, early enough to go racing tomorrow, early enough to be thankful that I didn’t get shit faced and make a fool of myself / cry / spend the weekend cursing the waste of time being hungover.  Early enough that we weren’t so tired we got a taxi.  Instead we walked our way home through the glorious winter evening, yawning our way up the hill and fell into bed as soon as we got in.

This morning I woke up thankful for a full nights’ sleep.  From midnight till 7:30 am.  Abject bliss.  Clearly exhaustion is the key.  Clearly I cannot live this life without exercise.  Still, the bike looked at me and I knew I needed to work.  Here is my balance at the moment – I do what makes me feel least guilty.

My hair and body smelled of smoke.  Despite the light weighted night, I felt like I’d been clubbing pissed and smoked 20 fags.  Exhaustion from the week sat on me heavy and as soon as TSK asked if I wanted to go out racing, the answer was honest: No.

Last week I forced myself but I was worried that if I forced myself this week I would never actually survive another week at work.  Starting tired and sore, no.  I needed to start this week rested but ahead of the game.  I got my laptop out but I did promise myself I wouldn’t do too much.

TSK did the right thing and gave me advance warning of lunch so at 11:45 I negotiated myself one last action and then extracted myself from work by 12:30.  We walked up the hill at which point my body crashed.  Yesterday’s starvation combined with a small breakfast and all that exercise last night did not bode well.  I was teary again in the café but thankfully I recognised it as low sugar.  A burger and chips sorted me out.

We walked for miles around and into town.  We walked along Frog Walk which follows a riverside path and I listened to the stream.  A little bird blew through my brain with its song like fresh air and again I felt alive.  I didn’t for one moment regret my decision for the day.  A nice bit of gentle exercise.  I felt I was giving my body permission to move again.  Nothing that was going to do any damage – physically or mentally – but just enough.   I did some shopping which made me happy.  A simple pair of everyday earrings to replace and odd pair.  £20 on a fountain pen since I’m sick of losing expensive good ones.

Then we walked home.  Still I enjoyed every step.  The temperature got warmer and my coat came off and by the time we got home I was determined to find myself another space in this day – to earn myself the time to go for a run.  I got changed almost immediately and went back out.

I ran up first, through the edge of the woods where I could still just make out enough under-foot to see where I was going without falling over.  The thought of someone trying to attack me was laughable; they wouldn’t be able to keep their footing.  I knew this like the back of my hand. 

Up through the allotments where the children streamed down the hill screaming, “I can smell the bonfire!”  Through the horse yard where I walked carefully to avoid making anyone jump.  Dropping down the bridle path the light really had gone as I stepped off a stile and snicked my foot between a rock and the dry stone wall.  The head torch went on.  Onto the clifftop run around the quarry then a short jog along the A57.  For once my immediate surroundings were not the distraction.  Up and down the valley I watched the fireworks cast out into the fog, blotting in the wet sky like psychiatrist’s patterns in the mist.  Were they telling me I was crazy?

I descended, finally feeling a little cold in the dark air and without any load on my legs.  The gloves went back on and I rolled my sleeves back down but I was too happy now to be upset with the cold.  I was ecstatic to have my shoes careering through the crisp leaves as their white backs glistened back at my headtorch.  Suddenly I felt abject joy.

I stopped to capture my joy in case it fleeted away.  It was a challenge. 

Along the bottom of the valley, with kids and families again.  Dogs’ wild eyes reflecting off my torch light turning the happiest and softest of family Labradors into the Hound of the Baskervilles, the lumens reflecting off teeth in the smiling, panting mouths of pups.  They all had a fuss off me.

When I reached the mill pond my legs were beginning to tire.  I realised I wasn’t on the 7k loop but on the 8-9km loop.  My ankles and knees were aching and I was starting to run with sloppy form.  I was worn out.  Rather than keep plodding away at the same bad form, I put in a stint of perfect running.  It was fast but it was “easy”.  I’d been plodding so long that consciously “running well” was introducing all kinds of new muscle groups and giving my worn bumbling muscles a rest.  It didn’t last long.  It really didn’t last long but it brought me to a new state of mind. 

I could feel the tangled mess of my brain straightening itself out into tangible strands.  I didn’t solve any mind blowing problems but suddenly I found peace.  My project no longer mattered. I matter. 
My deadline is irrelevant compared to my lifeline.
I have done my best.  I have asked for help (and it was denied).  I have learned a lot (it has done nothing for my trust issues!).

By the time I reached the Rivelin Park the free firework display had begun.  Whizz bang.  I took the opportunity to do some stretching, ease my tired legs whilst I watched the fireworks go off somewhere good.  Usually the golf club have a “do”… or the posh people on the park at Crookes.  Down at the bottom of the valley by the allotments, some others were just having a bonfire of garden stuff.  It was tempting to go and join them but probably not advised in shorts.

My final run was through the park where dog walkers still streamed out.  I remembered how much I missed going to Scotland, running and walking in the real hills.  I made myself some promises to do more fell races this year.  They were good promises.  Ones I will keep.  Most importantly I felt like I had rescued myself from the brink.  Abject exhaustion is an after-effect of my run today.  With a brain already fatigued beyond belief, my body does now actually match – which is a relief.  I will sleep tonight – potentially for the second time in a row… but even if I do not, I have learned something massive this week.  I have learned just how broken I can be and still survive and I have learned just how unacceptable it is to be there… and I have promised myself, more than anything else, I will never, ever, ever, go there again.

I am still alive.