Sunday, April 15, 2018

Everybody Rides to Skeggy 2018. 300km Audax

I'm struggling to write about Skeggy.  What to say about a perfectly executed ride which does exactly what it said on the tin, in perfect conditions that's over much quicker than expected?

So much.

Everybody did, I think, ride to Skeggy. Not everyone returned.

4:30am is a particularly unsociable time to get up on a Saturday morning - even more so when TSK has been at work till 11pm and then comes home and fidgets but then I didn't even notice him get up and go to sleep in the spare room at 1:30am to give me some quiet time.

We were too dozy to speak on the way to Alfreton.  We missed the group start, still faffing in the car park.  I left my heart rate monitor behind and soon realised I'd left my brevet card behind.  For a short time I was annoyed at myself but then everything would be fine, no one would care and I would just collect receipts along the way.

A group of three riders passed us.  Two, in red, said, "Mornin'" as they passed. "Mornin'" I said back to the first guy... which kind of passed to the second... then as the third guy in Grey/blue came past, I said, "Mornin'".  He stared at me... and rode off.  OK then.

I only had one info-control which TSK conveniently read from his card and I watched the miles tick down on the screen on the Garmin.  I dislike info controls.  I'm always paranoid I'll miss them.  This one was, "The name of the house after the level crossing".  The road approached a level crossing but did not cross it.  I looked around apprehensively as TSK said, "Not this one" and then the road ran alongside the railway before crossing the next level crossing.  I need not have worried about missing it.  A busy crowd of people were scribbling, "Station house" (predictably) onto their Brevet Cards.  We decided we could remember that and kept on going.

The first control was in a lovely cafe in Newark.  I'm used to riding all day to get to Newark from Sheffield but this time we were there by 9am with enough appetite for cake and coffee.  I met a guy who was doing his first 300k and we set off just behind them, catching them up through Sherwood forest.  We mused about how much sunshine we were to get that day, under the grey skies.  Then looking in my new dynamo light which, I had just noticed, acts as a little mirror on the world behind me, I noticed a large patch of bright blue sky spreading across my vista.

Somebody asked me about my bike forks - they're rather special - I did my best to answer with some authority.  They seemed satisfied and continued on, better informed.

After this point, TSK decided to go on alone.  I advised him that I would be plodding out my own pace and he was welcome to join me or leave at any point he chose.  After a short ride up a hill together, we parted company and I bounced between my new first-timer friend and riding lonesome.

I accidentally made an extra checkpoint stop at Navenby just because.  It had a cafe which was decorated exactly the same way as one I had seen in my reccee on the internet on Friday.  I went to the cash machine to get a receipt and the machine said it was all-out... even more confirmation for my brain that this was a checkpoint so I went and bought an apple in the McCalls.  Then restarted my Garmin and noticed that I was still 15 miles short of the next checkpoint.

Oh well, there were miles of Fenland riding to do next and I seemed to need the apple and chowed down on it heartily, discarding the core at the actual checkpoint 15 miles later.

The Timberland Fen was enchanting, Timberland village even more so.

I didn't plan to stop in Woodall Spa unless it was lunchtime.  I arrived there at 11:30 and given that I'd just eaten an apple, I didn't need to stop.  I could use the opportunity to gain some time.  It almost felt like cheating as I rode past hoards of cyclists holed up in sweaty and steamy caf├ęs.  I locked my bike to a road sign, popped into the Co-op and bought a cereal bar and a chocolate bar for later and rode away again.

I religiously followed the Garmin for a couple of turns, enjoying the woodland and then the countryside and then became suddenly confused as it redirected me to make another turn towards Woodall Spa 2 miles away.  I furiously zoomed out.  The blasted thing had sent me on a 4 mile loop completely off-course - all because I turned the wrong way up the high street in the village.  As I rode past a couple of riders going the other way, I realised it had then over-shot the route, leading me into Woodall - presumably to pick up from where I left off!  I u-turned, caught the other riders up as they stopped at the toilets and then, when they caught me up later, oh how we laughed about my 4 mile detour.

Now I had to remember to add 4 miles to all my distances on my directions!

As I turned in Miningsby, I was caught up by a genteel man who pointed to the road sign and said, "Mavis Enderby what a wonderful place name.  I'm so excited that we get to ride through Mavis Enderby". He was good enough to point out that after the next climb was a long descent whose "surface degrades rapidly".  I exercised suitable caution but it looked like it had been somewhat repaired since he last saw it and the clear skies meant it was free of any slipperiness.  I left him somewhat behind as I took the next series of turns but then at Old Bollingbrooke he left me behind as I followed my route into a little lane, only to find that I was off course.  Whoever plotted this route either took a wrong turn or popped into the pub in Old Bollingbrooke for a pint before continuing as the route did a U-turn outside the pub before continuing on the main road through the village.  I caught up my friend a few moments later who had reached the bottom of a steep climb and been wondering just exactly how I got so far ahead of him already. To be honest, we didn't get to notice Mavis Enderby as we were engaged in some lengthy discussions about audaxes we had done and places we had ridden and his hillarious story about a drunken person throwing a freshly bought kebab at him in the middle of one of his longer audaxes.

After Mavis, there was Spilsby Hill to enjoy.  A long miandering climb that was almost a relief after the flat fens.  Coming down the other side was fun and then the descent clearly continued gradually for many miles as I suddenly felt like I was on absolute top form - or had a tail wind.  My genteel friend passed me again, warning not to do this road the other way for its deceptive gradual uphill.  I did not see him again.

I passed another couple on the next climb.  She was obvious by her billowing green and yellow jacket and green and yellow rugby socks to match and she was pushing far too high a gear.  He rode steadily along in a red, white and blue knitted jersey.

After I passed with a "hello, are you doing OK?" they caught me up at the next set of traffic lights.  "Is your mudguard bamboo?" she asked.  "Yes," I explained.  "I decided Titanium was a natural material so I aimed to build my bike with all natural materials" and pulled a comedic face.  She was amused that titanium was about as natural as any material.

The next control was "Skegness" although not actually Skegness, but a cafe just outside called "Poppies".  We were sent "around the back" so as not to get "in the way" and appointed three tables by the back door which strangers had to share so that the "other customers" could use the remaining tables.  It sounded unfriendly but in fact was outstandingly efficient as orders were taken in bulk across groups and delivered upon, payments taken on an honesty basis and riders dispatched all checked in and fed.  It was very welcome as by 1:30pm, I was well over-due my lunch.

In the new compact community of sharing tables with strangers, I ate my baked potato and we exchanged war stories of Audaxes and holidays gone by and discussed the gpx file of the route.  The couple I had passed earlier were from Sheffield too.  I shared a pot of tea with three people I'd never met.  We all empathised with the guy who had lost his bank cards and money somewhere between a cafe in Woodhall and a bench on the fens and had used the last of his mobile phone charge making the call to his bank to cancel his card.  Another rider had lent him a £20 to get through the day.  He had added 20 miles to his journey, retracing to search the wooden bench and surrounding area for his cash.  Suddenly my 4 miles didn't seem so bad.

The officials took one of my receipts from an earlier control and stamped it instead of my brevet card then text'd the organiser to let him know.

As I left Poppies, the two guys who had witnessed my Woodhall error were just departing, "Right, let's see if I can find my way out of this one", I said and they laughed at me as it was a simple right turn onto the main road.

We crossed the "Welcome to Skegness" sign and then, avoiding the mele and carnival that was the funfare, out-of-season caravan sites and drinking alley that is Skegvegas, turned North to wind our way through lanes and streets around Ingoldmells, Chapel St Leonards and finally into Sutton on Sea.

The guys in red asked me about my forks then rode on, fully informed.

All the time hearing but not seeing the sea was kind of disconcerting for a swimmer but after 105 miles of riding, the trip over the massive sand bank that protects the villages from the weather and the waves seemed frivolous and all of the villages I've just mentioned are not the kinds of places you want to leave a bike locked up out of sight to avoid getting it sandy whilst you go for a paddle.

To match the area, the little road that ran along the non-sea-front was pitted and potholed.  The guy ahead of me was doing a lot of standing on the pedals, proceeding quite slowly.  I pulled up alongside with the familiar, "how you doing?" greeting that becomes appropriate at this point.  "I'm just admiring your forks," he said.  "I bet, you look like you're doing a lot of standing up on this surface".  I span out the same platitudinal schpeil, hopefully leaving the enquirer feeling like they were better informed.

Thankfully Sutton on Sea was a little more tempting and I arrived on the high street, immediately noticing my mistake in Navenby.

"The Coast Cafe" had identical decor to "The Corner Cafe" in Navenby and the village almost identical layout.  Turn left and continue to the village square where you can park your bike opposite the McCall newsagent.

A couple of other riders were eyeing my bike.  To detract from any further questions about my forks, I reversed to the cash machine, took out £30 and a receipt, remounted and started riding, cracking into my nose-bag to find my date and nut mix and started chomping.

Sooner or later, the guys caught me up.  "We were just admiring your forks".  I'd seen these two before - one in white was wearing a "H Middleton" jersey and speaking with a Wirral accent.  The other, a demure gentleman wearing yellow and with an ankle which had obviously been horribly smashed some time ago.  We talked briefly before they surged ahead.

The next checkpoint was Horncastle.  By now I was starving.  Whilst my Poppies baked potato was substantial, I could have eaten it twice but didn't fancy the apple crumble and custard many of my compatriots had scoffed as I feared the sugar slump that would come after it.

Thanks to my Friday research whilst I had been on holiday, I knew exactly where the chip shop was in Horncastle and there was a square outside where I could lock up my bike.  My progress was lightly hampered by stopping for a kiss with my husband, just on his way out. A multitude of riders were stopped outside the co-op but I had my eye on real food, big food and the team inside the chip shop were encouraging riders to come in for a water bottle top up and giving away free chocolate to audaxers.

The weather was so beautiful, I sat on the steps of the war memorial to eat my chips whilst observing my fellow riders engaging in conversation with the local gentleman of challenged intelligence / alcoholic tendency who also clearly was/had been a keen cyclist before he had, one assumes, taken a severe blow to the head.

I heard his incredulity with the first pair of riders he talked to as he proclaimed, "but that's a 69 inch gear!".  If you're a non-cyclist reading this, be reassured, whilst I know what he's talking about, I don't actually understand the gear inch system either, it's kind of like someone telling you that they're driving at 24 furlongs per minute.  You recognise it as a unit but have no idea whether it's fast or slow.  You have to be a keen keen cyclist to get it (and usually born in the 1950s).

As he talked to the second pair of cyclists, further incredulity spread, "Alfreton, you're riding all the way to Alfreton?"  He was beffuddled, they left and he came to talk to me.

I tried to focus on what I was doing, anxious to be away.  I listened carefully as he told me everything he'd just learned.  He admired my bike, my light, my Garmin and told me that he nearly won the Isle of Man tt races once.  Thank GOD he didn't ask about the forks.  I made my excuses and left.  I was against the clock after all, although by now, 2 hours ahead of my planned schedule.  "Those guys are going ALL THE WAY TO ALFRETON" he said, "I know" I answered, "I'm on the same ride".  He looked at me like I'd stolen his innocence and wandered away, muttering, "All the way to Alfreton..." and shaking his head.

On the way to Lincoln, I caught up with H Middleton and the chap in yellow.  "Chips are working" I said.  They were impressed by my recovery.  Me and H Middleton took turns on the front but we kept dropping the guy in yellow.  Every time we slowed up to wait for him, we got carried away chatting, rode faster and dropped yellow again.  H Middleton decided to wait for Yellow as they'd been riding together all day and I admitted I was riding outside myself by accident so we all reigned it in and rode together all the way to Lincoln.  I talked with H Middleton whilst I was on the front and then dropped to the back to talk to Yellow.  I found out that H Middleton was the name of a club in Ormskirk and wondered if it had anything to do with firends from back in the Northwest.  Before I knew it we were in Lincoln, the final checkpoint.

Yellow and H headed straight into town and I continued to follow the route - a rather pleasant bike route along back roads and over pedestrian flyovers and riverside paths that avoided the worst of city streets.

As I back-tracked having found myself on the wrong side of a river, I saw the blue grey jersey of the chap who had stared at me in the morning.  Keen on one-up-manship and setting first impressions to bed, I waited for him to make sure he didn't miss the turn that I had missed.  He was thankful but then sat silently on my wheel the rest of the way through town.  At the retail park where I'd spied my bike-accessible McDonalds, we rode through the carpark together then went our separate ways.  Again, it was nice enough at 8pm that I could site outside without my jacket on.

I'd been dreaming of a chocolate milkshake but the machine was broken.  I didn't fancy any more food so settled for a smoothie, having been upsold by a teenager who thought I wanted a cold drink (because it's so hot outside) instead of a protein rich sugar fest.  Sadly the smoothie was light on protein and high on cold and I left most of it.  Thankfully I'd ordered a double-espresso to keep my cafeine levels up though.  With a plethora of other riders to keep my bike safe, I was happy to use the toilets before setting back off up the road behind pink stripe riders.

The route out of Lincoln was up for debate.  There was the route that I usually take - a pleasant one along the river which is initially surfaced and then not - or the official route.  The two are inter-changeable up to a certain point and apparently the route used to use my riverside path.  I opted for the official route as I fancied something different.  I also got myself on the cycle superhighway (give or take side road interruptions).  It was here I passed the pink stripe riders looking at the map.  In a moment of uncertainty I wondered if I'd made the right choice but, remembering I felt like something different, I ploughed on.

After a short distance I really started to doubt the route as I joined the A57 and 60 mph vans passing and saw a sign that said Sheffield was 20 miles away - actually closer than the finish point of the ride at this point!  Thankfully though, I turned off onto minor roads but I was still lacking in company.  Surely the pink stripes should have passed me by now.

Some time later I turned my lights on as the sun started to set and settled onto the tri bars to batter out some lonely miles.  All of a sudden there was a flurry of activity as pink stripes passed, followed by yellow and H Middleton then the two red riders and blue/grey jacket and I let out a whoop of "Full team!" as red shouted, "jump on!".

I jumped in behind grey/blue jacket who dropped back - to talk to me this time! "Is your mudguard bamboo?" he said.  "Erm yes".

Conversation over.

We forged ahead in a massive pack until finally me, yellow and H all blew off the back and resumed our group of three all the way to the Dodworth Toll bridge where we admired the red sun setting into the Lincolnshire wolds like a Japanese painting.

"How are you doing?" asked Yellow.  "Well, my backside is aching I said, "but I'm about 90 minutes ahead of my planned schedule so I'm happy with that.  I thought we'd be back at midnight."

"What time do you think we'll be back?" he asked.

I did the math.  "About 10 - 10:30.  Depends if I stop on the way back".

"Are you planning to stop?".

"Not really, I could stop at Ollerton but I think I'll just keep going, I've got plenty of food on board".

I did a few turns on the front and then eventually it was H leading out with me and yellow struggling for mid supremacy on the hills.  It was nice to have people to ride behind, rather than me towing the stragglers in.  Finally, I decided that H's pace was too high and dangled off the back then got separated just short of Ollerton.

I toyed with the idea of stopping but locking up and going inside was only going to make me reluctant to come out again.  I fancied salty food and realised that I had a protein bar which was packed with salty peanuts and that would do.  I ate the picnic bar that I'd bought in the morning and through Sherwood forest treated myself to a packet of loveheart sweets that I'd bought in the sale after valentines day.  They cheered me up immensely and the concentration of eating them from the soggy plastic packet without dropping any litter kept my mind off my sore backside.

As the rolling hills picked up the more we approached Derbyshire, I made some adjustments to my front light fitting, tilting it up to give me better advance notice of potholes.  I was trying to make sure it didn't dazzle oncoming motorists and to be honest, it's best angle on the road for me, didn't look good for oncoming traffic but I left it there tentatively to see if anyone flashed me or tried to dazzle me back.  Thankfully they didn't and I spent the rest of the ride very happily enjoying the reassuring glow and a sound feeling of being in a warm goldfish bowl as I was surrounded by a perfectly round pool of light.

Beyond Mansfield Wood house I could not remember what came next.  I got excited as I drew into a town but that turned out to be Sutton in Ashfield instead of Alfreton.  I enjoyed immensely the bike route alongside the A38 which took me on the other side of the fencing from a dual carriageway with fast-moving cars.  I got excited about the town at the end of the A38 but that was South Normanton instead.  I finally remembered to eat the salty peanut bar and felt better.

Finally I was onto a descent that I recognised and I remembered that Alfreton is at the top of a bloody long hill.  It took all of my effort to mash up that and then I was there, back.

I threw my bike in the van and grabbed my kit whilst the guys in red welcomed me back.  Then I headed inside to check in.  TSK was waiting for me.  He'd only been back 30 minutes (though I suspect longer).  Pink stripes were already back.  I'd got my tea by the time Yellow and H Middleton walked in, closely followed by blue/grey jacket who had all been sucked in by the golden arches in Ollerton.

A few I'd not even seen all day came in after us.  I saw nothing more of the guy who lost his wallet and a couple called in to say they were still in Lincoln at 10:30pm with little chance of making it in on time.  I guess this was the lady from Sheffield and her partner.

I shoved tea and malt loaf in my mouth like there was no tomorrow then bundled myself into the van to be driven home.

My official finish time was 16h:24m, 4.5 hours faster than The Dean but a completely incomparable ride with only 1000m climbing and impeccable weather.  By the time I finished I had 3.5 hours float, mostly due to me taking very limited rest stops and having done an incredible prep job on this particular route, knowing exactly where to get food at each stop, planning what I wanted and when and what the options were for achieving it if things went well or if things went badly.

Again, and unbelievably, I enjoyed every single moment.  Met some lovely people.  Was humbled and charmed by their friendliness, both quiet and chatty.  The audax community is a sweet one.

Next up? May: to be decided, based on recovery from this.  Possibly I'm going to defer a 400 till after TAW and revert to 200 as a bit of a taper.  Before that though is the Norton Weekend which is going to see me doing a ride out to Shropshire for camping fun.  Now that's going to be a weather gods type of weekend.

Get your praying boots on.

Friday, April 13, 2018


I got  a new Garmin last week and took it out for a ride on Saturday.  A little ride as I was still recovering from Newport 200k but a hilly ride nevertheless and I threw some speed at it to make it count... and because I had a massage appointment to make in the afternoon and didn't want to turn up all sweaty.

I watched my heart rate, mostly because I am interested in increasing the length of time I can ride over zone 3 in any particular day. 

On this particular day though, I sat royally above zone 3 most of the ride.  Which was odd.  Even on a 23 hour ride, I only managed 90 minutes above zone 3 and though my wrist monitor was not picking up most of the peaks, I didn't expect them to have been that numerous or long in duration to make much of a difference... and they'd still be caught by the zone 3 radar.

Back home I've checked the new zone settings onthe new Garmin - in theory they should be those of an average 45 year old hag.
And my own person settings on my Sports Track Ap...

Of course, now that I have properly syncd the computer, it's not quite right, they match. Cue one average hack.

Which led me to check what they should be:

On simple percentage theory.
So at the low end I'm giving myself more HRs to play with but when I hit the zones I've been trying to improve, I'm setting my limits a little too low.

I've gone back to basics and using last weekend's ride to calc LTH (It wasn't really a hard enough ride but hey ho, at least it has reliable recent data) we get LTH = 175.6.  At least, that's what I was blowing going up the steepest section of Mam Nick, in control and sustained for 5:41 with a bloke dangling off my back wheel who eventually couldn't hang on.  So I'm average.  Which is actually slightly fitter than my settings on my ST software.

I studiously recorded the date that I set these - 16th March 2016 - when I was taking qualifying rather seriously, overcookked myself and left little motivation available for racing with, if I'm honest. I used to set these based on Cyclo-cross performance when I'm doing all my racing but actually, I'm probably not as fit as I am when I'm in the middle of a triathlon season or late summer mountain biking - and those heart rates were set before I discovered Alps and bike packing and rediscovered long distance riding and Oh so much water has gone under the bridge!

Before that, my heart rate settings were also depressingly low... those of a 49 year old, though in the year I was recovering from a PE, not surprising.

So there you go.  For some reason I down graded my max HR to 169 and gave myself a HR age of 51.  Not that there's anything wrong with 51 year olds but I'm not one.  So today I'll change the clock again.  Recalibrate myself... and find out just how much time I can spend in a new zone.

The thing is, now my head is spinning.  Am I fitter than I thought I was, or not? I'm fitter than I'd claimed but just average but I'm happy with average, if average is fit...  I mean most average people don't give a shit what their heart rate zones are right?  Which means I'm average for a fit person and as someone who's generally presumed myself to be below average, that's in improvement.  My endurance at higher zones is less than I thought it was... but all that time I was in a higher zone on the flat, I wasn't really.

Changing numbers doesn't make me fitter.  In fact, it proves I've been training less hard! I'm not going to recover any quicker, even though my predicted recovery times will probably now be lower.

When I do set out train hard though, it will at least mean something - not nothing. 

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Having a little faith

I have to have a little faith here.

That things happen for a reason.

That I'm tired because I'm training hard.

That I have trained hard, despite how it feels.

That I have more in me to give in the next 2 months.

That I will recover in time.

That if I save weight on equipment and money on lower gears, I'll still be able to ride up hills.