Sunday, February 25, 2018

Where did it all go? Or... Where did it all come from?

I struggled yesterday and I struggled today too. Where did all my hill climb fitness go?

It was only the mid cyclocross season when I was still doing 90 miles on a Saturday and racing on Sunday. In December I was aceing 200km and riding 500km over Christmas week and yet I have had a number of weeks where I just can't seem to get the miles to stick. Weekday miles come and go only to work and back and I can only manage 40 miles on a weekend day.

Where did the fatigue come from? - well, I know the answer to that one.  Last week's relatively hilly 200k plus three rides to work on a week which saw me working 50 hours.

But what happens is, I sit at home in between, knowing that sooner or later I have to start linking these days together just day after day after goddamn day because that's what I do now, every day. I ride my bike as far as I can, all the time.  My ride plan for the race is to ride at least 98 miles a day.  This will see me back just in time to catch my Ferry home.  I actually expect to ride more than that most days and then I look at myself now and think, no way.

It really is ages since I got in from a ride and needed a bath. Perhaps that is the problem. Rides have gotten too easy. In the interests of making them long, I have made them all slow and around a lack of stimulating speed the legs have got lazy.

Today I was so tempted not to go out but the weather was so nice I couldn't resist.  Cold as hell but the sunniest it's been in ages. I tried to take it easy and enjoy it since yesterday was hard enough but I couldn't help myself from heading into the peak and was rewarded with quiet roads due to the cold but an immense sense of wellbeing as the sunshine flooded my body and I was treated to a golden pheasant glowing in the sunshine and mile after mile of breathtaking scenery as the bright but low sun cast stark shaddows on the crags, which made me grin even when I was exhausted.

After lunching in Castleton then doing some ambling around plenty of climbs I stopped for tea in Tideswell before heading out for home around 4.  I threw in an extra mile whilst trying to decide which way to go home - opting to enjoy a climb over Great Hucklow and the lovely lane to Abney - my favourite road in the Peak.

And then, just when I thought I'd had enough, I towed a bloke up Surprise View Hill Climb and destroyed myself completely.  It did my ego the world of good and I actually dropped the fella and then he came back past me over the final climb to the Norfolk Arms, as I blew up unceremoniously.

As the sun set behind the moors, I struggled through Ranmoor and into Crookes and then flopped through the back door, my toes and fingers now searing with pain from the cold.  I ran a bath, didn't even pause to turn on the heating and drank recovery hot chocolate and tried to rewarm from the outside and inside. 

To my hands and feet, the water felt hot.  My legs weren't so sure, it felt hot but not as not as it did on my feet so my legs decided it was cold water.  My back and head (the warmest of my body parts) at least recognised the water as mostly warm, though I was slightly alarmed when both big toes went black.  The right one subsided quickly but the left one swelled into a blistered end with little feeling in it. 

It seems fine now but I think that (possibly initiated by my Kings Tree ride) is the closest I have ever come to frost bite.

After 5 minutes I added more hot water then had to leave the bath before things got too cold as the heating hadn't yet come on.

I went straight to bed.

TSK came in drunk from podcasting to rescue the heating situation and then at least I had to make some tea - which I have enjoyed immensely and feel moderately human again after my 40 minute turbo-kip post ride.  Moderately human I say.  It's nice to have this fatigue back.  It's nice to be contemplating going to work knackered tomorrow.  It's good that I got out two days on a row. I proved I can do it.  The fact that it was sunny is a boundless benefit.  I'm giddy on the vitamin D and now know never to miss an opportunity like that again.

There is so much to be said for a potter in your own back yard, because it can lead to something bigger, something better, or failing that, just a little sunshine.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The North West Passage

I was still anxious about the North West Passage when I left Rochdale at 8am.  We missed the group start because I was hunting for my extra-warm gloves. I wasn't going to make the same mistakes I did last weekend.

Still, we left Mog, the new Mercu in the carpark and headed up the streets of Rochdale.  Bad start, I set us on the wrong course and began following the route in the opposite direction.  Fortunately, TSK noticed my mistake and we swung a U-turn and headed back the way after just 100m. 

I realised I'd blocked most of this ride out of my memory from the last time.  The roads through Rochdale seemed to go on and on. Miles of rows of shops, traffic lights.  Boring, no scenery except looking forward to the hills on the edge of town.  

And then eventually the hills came.  Joyous long, lingering even kiltered climbs past tiny rows of houses, old mills, river valleys.  A peloton of riders passed us, we caught up and were caught back by a couple of older chaps and the occasional hipster.  Todmorden came and went, images of the Calder valley.

My bike had developed an uncomfortable clunk.  Every 4 -5 pedal strokes, like clockwork.  Probably a chain link working loose, I'd examine it at the first control or cope with the consequences when it failed.

TSK got a puncture and I was too busy helping him to bother to look at my own bike until I had remembered and it was too late and we were standing on the side of a pass, a big wind and rain going on.  Down the other side and into Burnley.

As we descended into town, an Audi pulled out in front of us then proceeded to move slowwwwly down the road as I approached the rear bumper in the wet and I shouted, "Mooooove" to avoid running into the back of it.  As we drew side by side to go straight across at the roundabout the driver simultaneously stuck on an indicator and started to turn straight into me.  I braked, screamed and slid sideways all at once, fortunately managing to stay upright and scrub off enough speed to let them manoevre out of the way so I could straighten up and continue on my path.  As I stood on the pedals to get off the roundabout my chain snapped and I limped to the side of the road.  

My first instinct was to go and punch the living shit out of an audi driver or strangle them with the chain but fortunately it was too much effort to go into Morrison's car park so I set about calmly fixing the chain, except now my front light was inexplicably on and refusing to turn off too.  I say inexplicably, I changed the battery on it recently and, recognising that I'd never get the seal to go in place unbroken, have resigned myself to the fact that eventually this light will short-circuit itself one day - and this seemed to be the day.

I did the only thing possible, had a very short-lived break down then fixed the chain.

By the time I'd done (took a little longer as I wasn't taking my glove off for anyone), my light had turned itself back off.  I had a headtorch with me so not totally concerned if it wouldn't turn back on again but it was going to be uncomfortable and inconvenient later if it didn't.  

Riding out of Burnley, a woman in a black Skoda drove straight at me (in the bike lane) whilst staring straight at me - well on her way to using the bike lane edge as the give way line.  I looked her in the eyes and screamed, "What the fuck???" and she gave me the thumbs up and mouthed "sorry"... 

Funnily enough, it took her a long time to make her turn and have the guts to pass us.  In fact, I'm not even sure she did.

I was glad to leave Burnley and head for more hills.  Out through Nelson, where the peloton were pulling into a cafe, probably now half way through their speed-charged ride, ready to dry out a bit before heading home.  I on the other hand was still toasty warm and dry in my coat and settled into a 12 mph pace for the next 10 hours.

It's hard to imagine Nelson being so close to Burnley because Nelson is a precursor to Settle and we enjoyed the road between the two immensely although a number of drivers were taking more than a little liberty with space.  I complained that I didn't remember it being so busy last time and we recalled that it is half-term week and vowed not to do this ride on half-term week again.  On the plus side, a ray of sunshine, seen across the flat land valleys creeping across the rising hillside was starting to take hold and grow into some more meaningful relief from the persistent rain that had dogged us all morning.

Skip to the next paragraph if you're at all squeamish:  A steady stream of snot and sweat had been cursing down my top lip all morning.  Mostly, this infiltrated the edges of my mouth and drizzled over my lip and I licked it away and gulped it down.  If I was going to sweat and snot this hard, I was going to take up all the salt I could get.  So as we rode into Settle, yes my body was craving something other than the taste of my own body salts.  

Settle brought immense relief.  We'd both been getting hungry.  I'd been eating snacks - an entire energy bar and nuts too.  We locked up, stripped off the wet coats and settled in to cheese and chutney toasties, chips and coffee.

Who would have thought, coming out that we'd bump into a family friend?  
Po is quite small.  Yes, TSK is on his knees.

We frantically unlocked bikes to get going and tried to catch up with Po - very briefly - and take some selfies.  

TSK - who seemed to have come out with an empty Carradice - took my headtorch which I'd now put on battery charge to replace my light if necessary.

On up through the Limestone Steps of Clapham, Ingleton, past 3 Peaks landmarks and into Kirkby Lonsdale.  Not far to control 2 but on the A65, we were desperate to get away from the traffic.  A couple of short steep climbs told me that my legs were less than perfect now.  The week's strength session left them feeling somewhat lactic-ey.  But then all I needed to do was keep going.

To try to mitigate things, I made up the spare bottle I carry on my bike with energy drink powder and guzzled the lot down in one sitting.  That was needed then.  

We turned into the second control as part of a motorbike cavalcade and stopped to get our brevet cards stamped by willing volunteers.  As one of the few bits of the last ride I remember, it was nice to be here and not be on my knees, sending TSK off to get my card stamped by a reluctant burger-van owner.  I suspect by the time we arrived in 2012, we were either late or the organisers had given up on us.  This year the burger van was buzzing with activity, bikers queueing, kids damp from playing near the river were waiting for their burgers, drivers parked in the extended carpark were waiting for tea.  Four employees were working in the tiny caravan.  We had a brew, shared a cake and stocked up on a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar for later.

We retraced our steps by riding through the carpark, taking us as far as possible away from the main road before joining it and then turning off onto the more minor A 683 towards Hornby and Caton.  Finally, pleasurable relief from the traffic and no more mad over-taking manoevres. 

The sunshine had now well and truly taken hold and we enjoyed some wonderful shadows and silhouettes. 

At Caton we deviated from the published route to go onto even more minor roads, taking to the hills around Quernmore and the Trough of Bowland.  While the main road route is probably advisable on an icy February ride, we needed to stick away from Lancaster traffic and were happy to take on the extra elevation.  

Choices / choices

We finally crossed under the M6 at Forton Services and joined the A6 briefly before taking another cut off to Dolphinton to avoid the A6 horror, exiting onto the route further along.  Another turn-off which I nearly missed.  

Finally we were at Scorton for our afternoon tea (shall we call it that) which last year was a desperate affair again - in the setting sun, contemplating our demise out of time and worrying about a big finish.  This time, with the sun still high in the sky, I knew I had mostly saved my legs for the final climbs and, aware of what was to come, only had minor reservations that we were going to make it on time.  An 11 mph average would see us back in time so only mechanicals were going to interfere... and we had a tail wind.  I was hoping we had had our fair share of mechanicals and the tail wind was just a bonus.

Tea cake AND lemon meringue pie please.  And lovely lovely coffee.  The older guys trundled in behind us and one of the younger hipsters.

We set off in earnest, TSK giving me my charged headtorch back in case I needed it and I took back off him my pack of crisps and chocolate bar for when I needed those.  The next few miles were the best of the day, watching the sky turn golden then pink then rusty red as the city lights ahead, gleaming off the clouded sky took over from the sunset and a sliver of moon peeked out from underneath.

From Garstang it was over Longridge to Ribchester.  The first of the climbs.  On my mission to get us back in time, I purposefully let the legs go.  The tailwind kicked in and all the "saving myself" was over.  Time to let the legs do their thing.  I rode the hills with purpose and now TSK was staying behind me (as I had the nav), not darting past me and therefore over-cooking whilst I was being a bit slow and crap only to have to slow down whilst he waited for me and get cold.  I realised that if I am to get faster at doing this long-distance lark, I really need to keep developing these muscles I have discovered so that I can keep doing the big effort climbs for longer and keep the pressure on for longer instead of just letting the miles bob along uncheked.

Into Blackburn where we had very little trouble and next over to Rawtenstall and Haslingden moor where I'd previously had a melt-down in a driveway and only dried cranberries could help me.  This year it was TSK who needed to stop which I initially found a little draining after all my efforts but, realising I'd do better to meet my timescales if I wasn't dragging a tired TSK around, I actually quite enjoyed as we sat on a kerb watching the stars and eating our crisps as a random family of 6 plus a dog walked past drunk from the pub making comment on our flashing lights.

My vigour was renewed and I set about towing us over the next climb and letting TSK do the town navigational checks as my brain, not my body, started to let us down.  We were finally in Rochdale and not joining the M65 is a key skill we failed at last time and I almost failed on this time too.  

As we sped down a dual carriageway, being told by tits to "Gerrof the fucking road", we later passed another tit sitting in his motor on the grass verge, strips of chromed plastic littering the scene around the deep tyre ruts sunken into the turf as he sat, abandoned, like an antelope up to its belly in mud, just waiting for the crocodiles to come.  A passer-by was on his mobile, I assume helping out - if not, ringing his mates to laugh at the fella - so we assumed the situation was under control and kept riding.

I thanked TSK for stopping for crisps in case we had, otherwise, been at the scene of his whatever(drugs / drink / mobilephone)-fuelled excursion off the carriageway and onto the grass-verge.

It didn't make me feel anything though, but riding downhill at the end of the road, recognising the petrol station where we'd done our U-turn in the morning and taking the turn into the estate, carrying the name of the pub where we finished the ride, that made me feel good.  As did the free pie and peas laid on for all finishers and the quarter (half shared) pint of beer, that made me feel really good.

It was a ride of mixed emotions.  It had its truly uplifting moments - the sunset over Lancaster watching the sea and the distant view of Heysham Power station where I'll be working on Monday, the stars over Haslingden Moor.  I even enjoyed the rainy hill climbs through Todmorden and the sunny ones through North Yorkshire.  It was let down by the traffic, the shitbags and the prevalence for main roads - which I'd forgotten about from last time.  

If I were to choose a route to do on an icy day in February, this'd be it.  For it is sure to have been cleared and gritted.  However, I enjoyed the Poor Student more, for its complete and utter lostness in the countryside of the mid to South West.  There are plenty of lanes around the area where we were riding today which I would have enjoyed more - even if they are a bit steep for an early season ride.  

SO, despite the invitation from the organisers to see us back next year, I suspect I will only do so if it's not half term week and only if there's no other events on in February and it's nice to leave an event knowing that it will probably always be there if you need it but you're looking forwards to trying something else next time.  For as a dear friend once said, "If you don't like something the first time, try it again just to make sure".

Distance: 130miles
Time: 12hrs 41 mins (11 hrs riding) 
El: 1044m

  1. 44.3 mile 12.7 mph HR 138
  2. 52 minute cafe break!
  3. 16.4 mile 12 mph HR 133
  4. 16 mins tea break
  5. 24.2 mile 11.6 mph HR 129
  6. 22 mins tea stop
  7. 43 miles 11.73 mph last big hill HR 137

Total time: 12:36.  Riding time: 10:46 ish

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sick in the head

It's been a difficult week for riding.

Last weekend messed me up and I have driven to work every day this week.  Sometimes with yoga thrown in or some weights but mostly I have done very little physical exercise.

I managed a run.

I was just tired of it all.

Tomorrow I ride 130 miles around Lancashire.  It's going to be a blast - I hope.  Positive temperatures (5 or 6 degrees) and gentle winds.  It will rain and I'm not going to let my guard down - my big coat is still coming.

I have supplies because I seem to remember gorging myself desperately on a mars bar last time I did this ride.

I am also, for the first time since I re-started audaxing, a little scared.  I feel less confident than I have recently due to last weekend and due to a lack of training.  I'm ready to get going again but yes, I am a little scared.

Keep your fingers crossed for me interwebz.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Cold, early, long, then short.

The week was great!  Having not done any riding on Sunday, I vowwed to get out on Monday early and I did, leaving around 7 to watch the end of the sunrise through the clouds as I climbed up Rails Road to the top of the Rivelin Bank and then over the top into the edges of Stannington.

I soon realised I'd made a mistake, if I'd stuck to a right turn up to Dungworth I might have stood a better chance of avoiding traffic.  As it was, I joined the school run through the edges of Stannington, rode over to Wortley where I passed my boss's house going the opposite way at 8:30.  I added myself to the queue of traffic waiting to climb jawbone hill or turn into the trail of cars heading into Sheffield and enjoyed being the road block all the way over to Grenoside where I took the direct route over to Eckington and joined the bridle path that runs in the shadow of the M1.  If you're ever passing just North of Meadowhall and see the cranes, the bike lane passes the other side of those, down in the valley... and IT IS COLD down there.

I braved it out but by the time I reached the office I could only just feel my fingers and as the heat rushed back into them in the office, I tried not to cry as the pain surged through the ends.

I did yoga on Tuesday and had a slightly easier day on Wednesday as I prepared for a customer meeting so on Thursday I was not going to hold back. 

I was up at 5 and out the door, wearing ALL the clothes to compliment my fear of cold.  By the time I got half way up the hill, I had to stop and shed a layer down to my fleece and high-vis gillet.  Climbing back up to Bradfield this time - my ploy to avoid traffic was working. 

Down the other side to Dungworth reservoir and up to the Loxley Road, crossing to climb up to Higher Loxley then drop down again to Jawbone hill and in through the same route.  The sunrise from the top of Bradfield hill made was incredible .  Sooner or later though, the snow started to chase over the hillside so I got a wiggle on.

Down in to Eckington, patiently waiting through the traffic to get on my bike lane then diverting off onto the dirty path through the industrial estate that secretly takes me to my bike lane. 

By the time I reached the cranes I was ice-chilled to the core.  I stopped, got off the bike and unwrapped my big coat, threw the high vis away into my caradice as it's the sweatiest garment I know and started riding again.  The big coat allowed the venting of sweaty fleece and the extra gloves were enough to stop the complete freeze experienced on Monday morning.

I arrived at work with a huge grin on my face, *just* in time for the morning meeting and had one of the best days at work.  It's easy to wobble home from a day like that but something just clicked and rather than wobble, I raced home through the streets, riding over the big hill past the Northern General and stamping out quite the pace.

On Friday I had a rest day in an attempt to get the car into the garage for its final MOT before I get rid of it.

On Saturday I was determined to get out twice this week so like an optimist, I dressed early and set off out the door.  It was already raining hard and because it was raining hard, I didn't think it would be icy cold so I wore a soft shell and took my summer coat, put my rain trousers on and started riding.  I did wear by big thick gloves.  I only wore a cotton cap. 

By the time I got to the bottom of the hill and set off up the Rivelin Valley I knew something was wrong.  My feet had been bugging me for days so I had moved my cleats before I left and the right foot really wouldn't settle.  So I popped into the toilets to get some shelter and messed with my cleats, added my summer coat with the hood up and put my helmet back ontop of it.  I then took it off again and added my buff around my neck to stop my chin freezing and re-dressed. 

Further up hill, I removed the soft shell as I was now warm and fiddled with my cleats some more, with another fiddle out side the water treatment works.  I wasn't doing well here.

I stuck to the main road instead of putting myself out there on the tops up on Rodside.  The head wind was bad enough in the valley, I thought I'd save the wind on the tops for the way home.  I struggled through the wind, feeling tired and spent.  Headwinds weren't supposed to be this hard and I could hardly remember feeling so good on Thursday night.  It was somewhat the fault of my new crud catcher which I know looks wrong on this bike but I'm so sick of getting covered in crap and wet legs within seconds of riding on a wet road...  I put it on backwards and now it acts as very efficient resistance training.  Still, at least my legs were dry. 

The descent was fine into the Derwent valley on the other side.  Whilst I'd left the house with big ambitions for a long day, I was non-commital as to where I was going and hadn't even turned to sat nav yet in the spirit of making it up as I go along.

At Bamford lights I was overcome by the temptation to ride up the Ladybower valley.  Theoretically out of the wind, surrounded by trees offering at least some form of solace, shelter and diversity of vision compared to rainy lanes of the Peak, open spaces, the Hope valley with its exposure and wind-tunnel effect.

The idea grew on me faster than the descent and I continued straight on at the lights, turning up the one-way road to Fairholmes and Kings Tree.

The effect was instant, an immediate demise in traffic.  One way a view over the lake, the other way, trees, dense, stacked trees.  The scene was set for the next 90 minutes. 

Debating whether to stop at Fairholmes for a hot pie and deciding not to get cold (there's no "indoors" except the toilets) I continued up past the village of 2-3 houses and on along the contorted contours of the lake shore, in and out of stream beds and finally, onto the last open straight trail to King's tree itself.  I had already decided to extend the joy and make this a lap of the reservoir, despite the muck I would experience, riding down the trail on the other side. 

Through the gate onto cinder road now, I would see nothing but mountain bikers and soggy walkers, equipped to various levels of rain-proofing. 

I passed the tiny humped bridge where I sat with some of my closest girlfriends on my Hen do and then joined the trail on the other side of the water expanse.  I forgot how exposed it was on this side!

Split between getting the hell off the open hillside and getting my hands into warmer gloves, I kept pedalling until I reached some tree cover.  This went on and on for some time as I passed mountain bikers and walkers and didn't want to stop until gradually I realised that my thickest winter gloves were doing nothing to stem the cold because for all that they're super-fluffy, they're not in the least water proof and they were sodden and being blown on by the icy wind. 

As my left hand clawed so that I could not have used the big ring if I wanted and my right started to hurt so badly, I decided it was time to change my gloves despite not being certain how much it would help.  I didn't anticipate having to do this before lunchtime so therefore started to get a little nervous about how long my day could be. 

Stuffed inside fleecy dry liner gloves and backed up with my fleece-lined water proofs I thought there would be too much padding to allow the blood to flow into my hands but it did and slowly I regained feeling and then gentle warmth.  A little moisture seeped through the stretched seams and then nothing, we were back at the road.  I was still too alarmed by the temperature though to consider continuing.  I could have made the cafe at Bamford for a warming lunch before continuing my ride but I determined that I had already given the day enough of myself.   I rode back up the side of the Rivelin Valley, up onto Rodside to brave the elements and enjoy the tail wind home.  Unfortunately, the wind had move sideways and was now gusting at such a pelt it almost lifted my front wheel off the ground several times. 

My feet slushed around in a little puddle of water in the bottom of my boots and my soles, toes and heels were numb.  The pathetic wool socks I'd worn were too thin.  If I'd been out for a longer ride I would have stuffed heat pads in there long ago but now all I wanted to do was get home and do something more constructive with the day.

I walked through the back door, took my boots off, threw my gloves, socks and buff straight in the washing machine and went upstairs to pee - something else I'd been putting off doing all morning - the journey from the back door to the bathroom took an inordinately long time as I hobbled through the house on stilts, the fore- and heels of what used to be my feet, completely numb and hardened.  My middle right toe felt like it had frozen into an ice-ball.  I gently massaged it whilst sat on the loo, reassuring myself that I hadn't actually got frost bite.

Three cups of coffee later, I still hadn't really warmed up but I did make substantial progress towards building the wheels I am intending to ride on various events this year.  My bike stood, muddy and dusted and trickling onto the kitchen floor, my Carradice looking very sorry, covered in a layer of grit, gradually drying by the radiator.

I made one big mistake today - I underestimated the weather.  Days of snow an ice warnings that didn't materialise and I get one day of forecast "rain" and let my guard down, forgetting to check the wind chill and almost freezing my toes off as a result.

I couldn't feel sad about not riding all weekend.  As I sat on the sofa on Sunday, pricing up my van insurance a friend stopped in and empathised that we are both so bored of freezing on our bikes. 

I finished project wheel build.  I didn't even go to the gym or have a run as I'd promised myself.  I just sat through the day, dreaming of projects to come.  Hoping that time wears well, that temperatures rise, that I'll get my mojo back for long distance, or anything.

Time this weekend has trickled through my fingers.  I am sitting on the sofa again this morning, waiting for neighbours to move their cars so I can get mine out onto the ice and snow to take it in for its MOT and get rid of the fucking thing. 

My first job today, therefore is to clear the road.  Nothing more.  Maybe file some emails whilst I wait for the temperature to rise.  To be honest, I could just sit here on this sofa, waiting for the temperature to rise.  That is the nature of my day. That is the nature of last week.