Category Archives: Out on my bike

The Longest Day (on a bike): The Amesbury Amble – a 312km Audax

The past eighteen months have been a bit shit, and I’m seriously considering a move back to Wales in the upcoming months. My late mother’s house sits empty and unsold, and it seems mad to keep paying rent in London when I can write in Aber. What has kept me here is the inconvenience of moving, and some great, supportive friends.

My body has been rebelling – the hips and ankle/foot have been a nightmare in recent months – so when I signed up for the 312km Amesbury Amble, I vowed to not put myself under pressure. I would only do it if I was feeling up for it. And, for a tenner (plus a couple of quid to Audax UK for temporary membership), it wasn’t much to risk.

Kingston Wheelers Audax Chapter (“KWAC”) had organised the Amesbury Amble in response to a growing demand from club members for longer rides. The challenge of audaxing intrigued me, and I’d followed the thread on the club’s forum. The event scheduled for Saturday 1st July fast approached.

I only decided mid-afternoon on the Friday to have a go. And promptly headed for the local community centre to print out the directions. Next, off to Evans for a top tube bag.

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*shudders*

Call me a bike snob, but sticking something otherwise known as a “tri bag” on one of my machines really pained me. However, I knew I would struggle to carry enough in my pockets. My bike’s geometry won’t fit either a handlebar bag or a frame bag, and I didn’t want a backpack. I also needed to stick my portable battery in something while it was charging my Garmin.

Next to Sainsbury’s for a few snacks: jelly babies, flapjacks, and some sausages for breakfast. I was set, what about my boys?

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The boys: Toby and Bouncer. They were my late mother’s companions but now live with me in London.

Time to stick them in the shower and pack a doggy overnight bag. Earlier in the week, I’d asked a friend if he fancied canine company over the weekend and fortunately, Barry was still willing and able. I’d planned on calling a cab to drop them off, but it being Friday night, assumed the roads would be busy. So, after they had dried off, I stuck them on leads, got my bike and made my way to Surbiton via the Thames Path and a couple of trains.

Much cuteness and aahing of clean and fluffy woofsters later (and that was just strangers on the train!), I was cycling home, in the rain, at half past eleven. This late return did not bode well for the next morning.

The unexpected shower meant my ‘best bike’ was now filthy, and the dry lube I’d applied had attracted a layer of grit. So, at midnight, while cooking the aforementioned sausages, I hosed it down in the garden. After a towel off (both me and the bike), I plugged in a wide variety of lights, put my clothes in a pile for the next morning, and was out like a light.

5am alarm. Yuck.

I’m not at my best first thing in the morning. In the past year, my preparation for club runs has improved, so as to dress and take the boys for walkies before disappearing for the day. I missed having them following me around, pinching my socks, gloves, and anything else they could abscond with.

The morning was damp, cool and overcast. Not what I expected.

I added a base layer to my planned outfit, chowed down a couple of the precooked sausages and spent more than ten minutes futilely looking for my Wheeler arm warmers. Slinging on a convertible rain jacket instead and stuffing a few last-minute items in my already-full pockets, I set off, cursing that I would be late. A quick zoom through Richmond Park (good morning, deer!) and down the A3, and I found the Scout Hut with five minutes to spare.

Bikes. Bikes. Bikes.

Arriving at these events always entertains me. At the Richmond Park Time Trial last week, there were mostly the serious TTers in their super-aero gear, and the still-serious roadies. Only a few years ago, audaxing was apparently known as the haunt of mostly men over a certain age. This appears to have changed.

The age range was massive – from pre-teen to OAP – and so was the range of bikes and kits.

Normal-looking road bikes, but also classic tourers with a multitude of different bags attached. Bulging pockets (like mine!) and slimmed down, hardly carrying anything except the ubiquitous credit card. There were many, very-experienced audaxers, but also some total newbies. Before Saturday, my longest ride was 168 miles – when I did the overnight Dunwich Dynamo – so I counted myself as one of them.

Been a while since I’ve been a newbie of anything cycling-related.

I barely had time to register and scoff down a banana (and one of my sausages from a jersey pocket) when riders started rolling out.

0km – Départ: Raynes Park – 6am*

*hereafter, all times will be approximate

Eep! I stuffed another banana in my pocket, my jacket down my jersey, grabbed my bike and pedalled.

I had one plan for the day: to stay out of the red zone.

I hadn’t thought much further than that. I knew not to push as hard as a club run – the worst I could think of happening was to bonk in the middle of nowhere. Well, second worst – the worst was having an unrecoverable mechanical and losing my Uber cherry getting home or to the nearest railway station. (Yes, I know the ‘real’ worst is probably blue-lighting it to the nearest A&E, but I prefer to not think like that.)

I also knew that I couldn’t push my dodgy ankle and hips. Really steep climbs force the ankle to collapse, so spinning was the order of the day.

I hadn’t planned on riding with anyone in particular, though I knew several Wheelers were taking part. I thought I’d tag onto their group on the way out and see how my legs felt. After winding out of the suburbs to some epic tunes (Middle of the Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep was one highlight, and an earworm for later in the day), we hit the still-quiet A roads.

We flew along for a while, overtaking several other groups, scooping some up and losing others off the back. A missed turn meant turning around and overtaking a group we’d only just passed. My legs were coping well, until we navigated the undulating one-way system outside Farnham. Red zone approached, and the other Wheelers pulled away up the next hill.

Spin, spin, sugar: I spun up the incline in bottom gear. Slowly. On my own. Up another rise. And then ate a flapjack.

The next half an hour consisted of taking it easy and finding a speed at which I was comfortable. The quiet country lanes enabled us to ride two abreast for most of the time, so I chatted with several other riders overtaking me, and ones I overtook.

After a while, I found myself pacing with the same two riders – Eric and Paul. They were experienced audaxers, but even they later admitted they had gone out too fast.

73km – 1st Control: Lasham Gliding Society – 8.55am

We arrived at the first control around the same time, and one of the fellas mentioned that he wasn’t going to stop for food. My stomach was grumbling, but not in a hungry way – the sausages last night and in the morning ensured I didn’t need any more fried food.

We’d also arrived just after a couple of large groups, so the breakfast queue was long. After getting my Brevet card stamped, I popped to the loo and straight back outside. Don’t get me wrong – the food looked lovely, but my legs felt good and I was keen to keep going.  I met up with Eric and Paul and we departed.

About fifteen miles later, we passed through the small town of New Alresford and our group called for a quick supermarket stop at a Tesco Express.

Most of my time in the aisles was totally wasted: I wandered, futilely searching for a small bag of crisps but saw only nuts. Grabbing a pack of salted cashews, I re-joined the others and had a few handfuls. Combined with a mouthful of flapjack, they were surprisingly tasty. I stashed the packet down the front of my jersey, to join part of my jacket which wouldn’t fit in my pockets.

During our stop, many of the other groups had passed including my “noisy clubmates”. There was a chap in red who we passed and cycled with us for a while – Eric and Paul seemed to know him. Others we passed and passed us throughout the day. We talked about routes, and I discovered my companions only calculated in kilometres.

Ummm…

A Garmin 800 is known for being a bit flaky on long rides, so I’d uploaded the route in five segments. It was also set to imperial units, and I had cycled to the start. Combined, it meant that the written route directions were impossible for me to work out relative to mileage completed. Doh!

Note to self: next time, attach list of route bullet points to top tube. 

All the information I could access was miles left to the end of that segment. When it came to the first information control, I was lucky that the boys were alert.

95.2km Information Control: Name of brewery for pub –Wadworth

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Squint and you’ll see it. Unfortunately, the only photo I thought to take all day.

The lanes we mostly rode on were rolling. Some piles of gravel, but nothing major. A light breeze shook loosened remnants from the previous night’s shower off overhanging branches. We greeted some other cyclists and I struggled to remember it was still morning, not afternoon. It felt like I’d been up for hours. I realised I had been.

I was curious about the bikes the other two were riding. Both had dynamo front wheels, powering their permanently on lights and route guidance. Eric rode a normally geared road bike, but Paul’s had hub gears and a “chain” akin to the fan belt on a car. Their gearing was lower than mine, so I tended to leave them behind on the downhills. Either that or it was my lower centre of gravity – their geometry was far more upright.

When the roads widened, Harry B’s skinny racing pack drifted past us with some cheery ‘hellos’. For some reason, this brightened me up. Thanks, boys.

Back to the road, and approaching the hundred-mile mark, I was developing some discomfort, mostly due to the aforementioned geometry.

About my steed: the frameset is a second-hand Kinesis Racelight T2, which I impulse-bought off eBay a few months earlier. It came with a 105 groupset, 40cm bars and narrow-as-hell Bontrager tyres. I upgraded to an Ultegra 6700 groupset, fitted narrower bars and added Arc Ultrawide rims with Conti GP 4000s II tyres in 28c. There had been a plenitude of spacers below the stem, but I’d slammed it for the previous week’s time trial in Richmond Park. My position is naturally aggressive and it had been fine for the 65-mile club run afterwards, so I hadn’t moved them back. It also has a carbon seat post – which I was hoping would help with the inevitable arse ache.

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Kinesis Racelight T2 in 48cm. I really like the ride and handling.

However, an audax is quite different to a TT or club run, and it wasn’t my arse which began aching first. I kept reminding myself to loosen my upper body, hence started considering those spacers and what I could do to increase my comfort.

Years ago, on my first ever road bike ride, I’d bruised my left elbow joint. Hitting a few bad potholes months later aggravated the soreness, and on all long rides since, the elbow plays up. I had to remember to bend it, and my other arm wasn’t much better.

My hands had gravitated to the tops and my neck was starting to get really sore. I needed to do something about that. My bottom was also starting to get a little tender – my hip problems mean I don’t ride out of the saddle much, so I miss the circulation that standing on the pedals brings.

As the sun eventually peeked through the clouds, I decided a list of priorities for the next stop, apart from devouring food and refilling the water bottles:

Sorting my pockets out, so I could grab what I needed and not lose anything. Moving the spacers to lift my bars up. Finding a loo and applying some chamois cream to my rear. Resetting my Garmin 800, plugging in the portable charger, and starting a new ride. Checking my saddle wasn’t slipping back, and that my chain hadn’t gunked up.

I just needed a quiet few moments to do it all!

150.5 – Information Control: Name of cottage on corner – Crockers Cottage

Paul and Eric had batted around possible names for this, but it wasn’t what any of us expected. We saw a massive hill ahead. Eric reassured me it wasn’t part of the route. Instead, we wound around it. Relief.

157.2km – 2nd Control: Amesbury – 1pm

Over 100 miles and I was surprised how good my legs felt. Yes, my upper body wasn’t so good, but I knew with the help of a multitool, I could sort that out.

The café stop was busy, so we parked our bikes outside a bakery. A futile sortie confirmed they had no gluten-free savouries, so I hobbled to the Co-Op instead.

Another supermarket, another aimless wondering wander down the aisles (this felt like the theme for the day).

I went for water, cheese and chorizo, aping another passing rider, but on my way to the checkout, I spotted a pack of onion bhajis. I discarded the cheese. The bhajis were just what I needed.

An audaxing friend had advised me to listen to my body, and my body wanted spicy and fried Indian treats. Weird.

The cashier offered me a receipt. I automatically said no, then shouted, “Yes!” The cashier laughed along with other cyclists in the queue – I wasn’t the first cyclist that day to need that proof for the organisers.

While scoffing, I decided some reorganisation was in order, and emptied my pockets into the Co-Op bag. At that point, I found the sample packet of chamois cream, and placed that where I could easily find it again. My tender arse required comfort.

Eric held the wheel and bars and spacers while I rejigged my setup. 1.5 centimetres upwards didn’t sound like much, but I hoped it would minimise my upper body torture.

The draft plan was to find a hedge for a loo stop, but we were parked conveniently outside a pub. I nipped inside to pee and apply some of the aforementioned cream. Not being a regular user of the stuff, I didn’t really know where to put it, and couldn’t identify the sore areas while standing. It stung a bit. I read the packet – it advised to apply before a ride. Not after over 100 miles. Whoops.

Back outside, the chorizo went in one of my rear pockets. A couple of other cyclists laughed at the randomness. Though, it made me feel like a proper audaxer.

And we were off again! At shortly before 1.45pm.

The next stretch, part of which went through the North Wessex Downs, was my favourite. Rolling roads, some Roman, some even more ancient lanes, no painful climbing to hit the legs, and some fun descents. Glorious English countryside in shades of green and yellow stretched for miles. We crossed the military areas, passed a tank zone, and some parachutists. Cars were few and far between.

I was smiling broadly. The impromptu bike refit had worked and my upper body was much more comfortable. Some Wheelers who caught and cycled with us for a while commented on how happy I looked, and I was – utterly content.

Those miles to the next stop flew by. Hot, lush, rolling miles. The pace we travelled was perfect – I was happy to share the work and even happier that I didn’t need to ask anyone to wait for me. I had the odd weak moment, but so did the others – the strongest rider alternated between the three of us.

188km Information Control: Postbox Collection time  – “4.15pm”

Again, I was glad I was with experienced audaxers. Just after we got back on the road, a group of Wheelers overtook. It was plain they hadn’t stopped for the information on the postbox!

The chaos of a missed turn amused village pub goers. I wasn’t jealous of our observers, enjoying their leisurely pints in the golden afternoon sun. Honest.

212.8km – 3rd Control: Whitchurch – 4.10pm

It was hot. Really hot. I was feeling the effects of the unrelenting sun. I hoped the out-of-date Ultrasun Sport 30 still worked. We didn’t find the Mill control, instead rolling along to yet another Tesco Express. I’d made another mental list of everything I needed to do, and top was reapplying sunscreen. Second was more chamois cream, though my bottom wasn’t half as sore as earlier. The warm chorizo slices from my jersey pocket were inhaled. And I realised I could still strip off my base layer. I hid behind a delivery rack while I pulled it over my head. Strangely, it wasn’t that much cooler without – the base had been designed for hot weather. It went down the front of my jersey, to join the cashew nuts.

Eric wasn’t so shy – he brought out a pot of cream and scooped a handful down the front of his bib shorts. That absurd moment gave me the giggles, as other car park users stared or looked away.

Having a couple of spare minutes, I managed to get out my phone and check for any messages from Barry. I felt guilty I hadn’t had the time to do this earlier, and was relieved to hear the boys were behaving themselves.

the boys on barry's sofa

Making themselves at home. Pic thanks to Barry.

Phone away, and at 4.35pm, we rolled out of Whitchurch and up what felt like a nasty hill.

Maybe it was a hill, maybe it was barely a rise, but my legs didn’t enjoy it. My companions had mentioned the road to Bracknell had a few more hills, and I was chewing jelly babies like they were going out of fashion. I knew this stretch would be the most testing. I consoled myself with the thought that the remaining miles weren’t much longer than a club run.

I told Eric and Paul to go on without me if at any time I was holding them back. They refused. I kept up. (Though, I did start talking bollocks at one stage.)

Coming to a junction where the route doubled back, the penny dropped for my companions: we were on part of the “Chase the Sun” route. And therefore, there was a nasty hill ahead. A “wall”.

Eep.

Another jelly baby. A mouthful of water. I changed down early, and hoped my legs wouldn’t fail me. I didn’t break any records, but I got there.

At the top, I saw three Wheelers with a mechanical. My “need anything?” didn’t get a response, so I continued upwards, to see my companions had stopped to catch their breath. I obeyed a call of nature and shakily scaled a nearby high gate (always use the hinge end, peeps – it’s usually the most stable!). Some lizards or other fast-moving creatures in the field of crops weren’t pleased at my intrusion, scattering away. I took a few moments to enjoy the peace and quiet, before more gate-related acrobatics and remounting my bike.

A few yards later, I blinked. I’m sure they’d said we’d finished the hill, but the section ahead appeared far more daunting. (Strava concurs – over 15% in places.) My legs screamed, and I came closer to climbing off a bike than I have in years.

Much swearage abounded.

Mental fatigue was the next concern. Several miles later, I overshot a left turn, just as the mechanically recovered Wheelers overtook us. My late turn gave the driver of a car a shock. I mentally kicked myself. We would be soon hitting busier roads, so I needed to be more alert.

I wasn’t the only one struggling. The Wheelers ahead took the wrong turn at the next junction, and I was surprised that it was several miles before they caught us again. When they did, their numbers had doubled.

The lanes and quiet roads couldn’t last forever. They dwindled as we approached Bracknell. Instead of rolling countryside, we travelled through industrial estates and dodged Waitrose lorries. My Garmin didn’t like the light, so I relied on Eric’s navigation. We emerged from a catacomb of subways to see the petrol station control, and bikes stacked around it.

270.1km – 4th Control: Bracknell – 5.10pm

For the first time that day, I found a normal-sized packet of crisps! A chocolate milkshake joined the Walkers. Both tasted wonderful. I loaded the last route segment, and was delighted to find only 25 miles remained. I knew the roads wouldn’t be great – it was Saturday night – but I could bear that. Light began to dwindle. Rear light on, I changed the lenses on my glasses from dark to yellow.

Shortly after my quick strip in the field, it had felt like there was grit in my gloves. It was just a seam rubbing, but I stuck some chamois cream inside my gloves too. It did the trick.

The Bracknell control felt like our longest stop of the day, but it wasn’t – only 25 minutes later we were rolling out and navigating towards Ascot. These were roads I semi-recognised, even the horrendous ridges through Thorpe. Though I’d warned them in advance, my companions weren’t expecting the dig over Chertsey Bridge. The traffic-calming bumps through Shepperton weren’t terribly enjoyable for my sore bits either. I turned my front light on, and was dismayed to find low-battery red shone a few minutes later.

Don’t panic. Do not panic. It’ll be fine.

The boys went in front of me, just in case the light failed. Hampton Court. Sunday evening traffic in Kingston. Finishing felt close enough to touch. A last effort on Coombe Lane, and we were freewheeling along the path to the Scout Hut. Blazing lights welcomed us.

312.3km – Arrivée: Raynes Park– 9.15pm

Just in time to bag the last bowl of Spanish pork and bean stew (which was fortunate as food sensitivities meant I couldn’t handle any of the other options). I completed my brevet card and handed it in. I was sad to see it go.

I perched on the corner of a chair and contemplated the bowl of stew, my first proper meal of the day. Tipping some salad over the tasty stew was my pretence at eating healthily, after the assortment of bizarre, calorie-laden foods I’d eaten that day. Our little trio wasn’t far behind many of the Wheeler packs, and many were still there eating and chatting.

I wasn’t sure if I could finish the stew, but it was delicious and just what I needed. Bowl emptied. I spooned fruit salad and yoghurt into another. That too was demolished.

I idly wondered if my calorie intake balanced my expenditure.

I had been stuffing flapjack in all day – the tri bag did its job, and it was definitely easier to pick snacks from there than bend my tender elbows enough to reach my jersey pockets. Eric asked if we felt like we could do another 100km. At that time, I shook my head.

However, would I do it again?

Yes. I’d even think about going longer. With some considerations:

  • I’d aim to get more rest/sleep the day/night before.
  • I’d lift the stem up before I started, and ensure the reach was comfortable. (I suspect the saddle had also slipped back on the rails, which didn’t help.)
  • I’d sort out possible layers the day before, and wear my most comfortable shorts.
  • I’d apply chamois cream before I started.
  • I’d pack better – I hate overflowing pockets – and really think about what I did and didn’t need. For a longer ride, I’d need to somehow fit a bigger bag on that frame, though I think the only option would be a larger saddle bag, Apidura style.
  • I’d ensure my lights were fully charged, for no nasty surprises.
  • I’d take more photos. (I can’t believe I didn’t take my phone out more than once.)
  • I’d change my Garmin to kilometres, not miles. Plus, I’d have notes on my top tube of where the information controls were. I know some that completed the course didn’t stop for the extra controls, but for me they were an essential addition to the day. Part of the fun of audaxing.

And it was fun. Well, the bits which weren’t painful were fun. Honest.

Thanks to everyone who organised the day, and to Eric and Paul for keeping me company. And to Barry for looking after the boys. 

Kingston Wheelers Audax Chapter (KWAC) are organising a Super Randonneur (SR) Series of rides for 2018 and 2019. They have the following dates pencilled in for the 2018 SR ride series:

200: Sunday, March 18, 2018
300: Saturday, April 14, 2018
400: Saturday, May 19, 2018
600: Saturday, June 16, 2018

Contact audax@kingstonwheelers.co.uk for further information or visit their website.

My Second TT – An exercise in grief.

So, you must have read My First Ever TT, yes?

This was my second. As previously mentioned, almost a year later.

Why the time passing? Well, my first-claim club is in Mid Wales, but my second-claim club, KW,  is in the suburbs of London, where I usually live. KW TT courses are on A roads which don’t appeal to me as, in my eyes, they tend to be rather busy. Others can ignore the traffic, but I’m not so good at that*.

20160512 phone download 062(*With my hip problems, I have to make cycling something I enjoy. It relieves so much pain. When it’s a trial to get on my bike, with too many close-passing vehicles, it removes the enjoyment.)

One positive about TTs in the Surrey environs is they are generally a lot flatter. Like, flat-as-a-particularly-flat-pancake flat. But, the traffic thing, and trying to get there for a time just beyond rush hour, generally puts me off.

Circumstances found me in Mid Wales again. So, with trepidation, I turned up for the Devil’s Bridge Hilly TT earlier this month.

 

My mother had unexpectedly passed away the previous week. I was in the middle of organising the funeral, but, after several days of many exercises in futility, I needed to have actual, proper exercise on the bike. If you have gone through a time such as that, you’ll know what I mean – a touch of normality, fresh air and a distraction, all bundled into one. It was sorely needed.

20160512 phone download 061The marshals were lovely, as they often are.

The course was a touch…climb-y – look at that profile. 1000 feet in 22 miles. Not the easiest.

Weather report – sunshine, 12-ish degrees – warm enough for 3/4s for me, and shorts for others. Quite a strong wind, though I never worked out which direction it was coming from!

I did it on my winter bike which I had brought from London – the Kinesis Racelight T2 with 105, F7s and Conti 4000s IIs.

20160512 phone download 087Oops, wrong pic.

20160512 phone download 086Cow overlooking dam. Love this shot. Oh, sorry, I was supposed to be finding a pic of my bike. Hang on…

20160512 phone download 064 20160512 phone download 081Less cows, more views.

Not aero, or light, although it can be quick. It’s a workhorse. And I can’t blame it for being slow – it likes being chucked around. It was me:

Decent nutrition that week had been non-existent, bike maintenance zero too – tyres were soft and no one had a track pump at the meeting point.  I’d had no time to find a pump, and later, I would find that they were around 50/60 psi front/rear respectively. (Far, far too low. But, I’d had other, funeral-related things to worry about.) My lovely PDW mudguards were alternately admired and ridiculed – I just didn’t have time to take them off beforehand.

All not ideal.

I turned up. I signed up. I was number 1.

I set off. And promptly wheelied a little. Head down due to embarrassment.

200 yards later, I remembered I hadn’t started my Garmin. Oops.

A mile later, my ‘minute woman’ passed me. And the next wasn’t so far back. In the following miles, before halfway, most of the field overtook. Some encouraged me, some were fighting their own battles. Some did both, and I truly appreciate those who did, even when I couldn’t respond.

The first half was rolling, but uphill overall. A fair bit of work for someone more used to flat roads. I would run through my (sticking) gears, from 34-28 to 50-11, in a matter of a few hundred yards. And again. And again. And a few more times. But, nearer to the lower ranges than the upper – it was mostly climbing.

There was nothing in my legs. My head was in the wrong place. The only drive I felt was after someone passed me. I wanted to do well in memory of my Mum, but thinking that was too much for me – emotion destroyed my concentration.

I nearly gave up at halfway, as all-but-two riders had passed me and I had a random bout of grief-related tears. With encouragement from marshal Tim, I continued. After the last of the remaining competitors overtook me, that spurred me enough to make some time back on the long descent into Capel Bangor. (Without drafting him, of course!)

I know I didn’t push myself enough – there wasn’t enough physical pain at the end, and I wasn’t gasping for air enough. Compared to some, I had hardly tried. It was difficult to justify, or even describe, the mental versus physical battle. I felt I had fought, yet my body didn’t show it. And I didn’t know if I had won or lost.

1.22.06 was the official time for 22 hilly miles – solidly last place.

In better news, it worked miraculously to sort out my escalating hip pain. And, as cycling often does, it cleared my head enough for a semi-decent night of sleep.

At that time, that was the best I could hope for.

Not the best examples of ‘racing’ a TT, but this post was never really about that, sorry.

13077104_1171265942897284_4913196289976820842_nMum. I miss her so much.

Tx

My first ever TT

It’s almost the anniversary since I wrote this, a year ago – after my first time trial (“TT”) on the 20th May, 2015. At the time, I only posted it on my club’s forum. After completing my second TT recently, I decided to preserve the report for posterity here.

The TT was part of AberCycleFest, which takes place every year just before the last May bank holiday – you don’t usually get tea and cake at the end of every TT!

***

My First TT

I did my first ever TT last night.

I cycled the 11 miles to the start, which was up the picturesque Cwm Rheidol valley, near where they produce hydro-electric power. En route, a group of four cyclists on TT bikes powered past me as if I was standing still, so I was rather nervous of embarrassing myself by the time I reached the car park.

No worries though – there was a mixture of ages, clubs, and road or TT bikes out, even some without tri bars like mine.

20150530 camera download 146The bike I used, minus the mudguard, saddlebag, and second bottle.
Paid my £3 and decided to take the vacant spot 1 on the list. Then spent the next 15 minutes stripping anything not needed off my bike (including my saddle bag), and dithering on whether to put my base layer back on. The sun was going behind clouds and the temperature was dropping rapidly. All the boys said leave the base off, but the sole other woman had one on. Thinking also of Maryka’s words of wisdom about always wearing a base, and making the excuse that I was now a softy Southerner, I found a quiet corner and pulled it on. Instant warmth, lovely.And so to the start for 7pm. I had identified myself as a TT virgin when registering, so the lad briefly explained about the countdown, held my bike and I was off! And wobbling!

To find for some bizarre reason that I couldn’t clip my right foot in. So, for the first half mile, I was dawdling along with one foot out. At last, it clipped in (no idea what was wrong) and I could start putting what little power I had down.

I had absolutely no idea how to pace myself, so I decided to go all out for a while, then pin it back a little until I could actually breathe and my legs weren’t screaming so much. I was expecting Clint (2) to whizz past me in short order, but after I had wheezed my way past a relative’s house (small world around here), it was 3 who flew past. Followed a couple of miles after by number 5 (Welsh Nat RR champion Stevie Williams) and much later, 4. Clint (2) didn’t pass me until a third through, and I stayed about 30 metres* back from him for the next 4-5 miles.

*I could have been able to overtake him again, he seemed to slow when I was feeling stronger, but I pegged my pace back as I couldn’t recall exactly how far back I should be. Then we hit a few lumps on the last stretch of the return and he disappeared from sight.

It was a bit weird to be by myself yet racing. The thought of being overtaken by others and being embarrassingly slow kept me going, and it was easier than I thought to get into a rhythm. I do confess, when cycling by myself, my attention tends to drift and my power output drop, this probably happened a couple of times. I didn’t really have target time, but was hoping to be back in around half an hour. The last few miles, I tried to push it as hard as possible, but despite wheezing/coughing uncontrollably after I passed the finish, I still don’t think I was going all out.

After I had washed the flies stuck in my throat down, the timekeeping lad was relieved when I managed to stop coughing and get my breath back – I think at one stage, he was fearing that he’d have to do either a Heimlich or mouth-to-mouth. He said I had done 30:29, and anything under 30 minutes was ‘considered decent’. So I wasn’t far off. Bearing in mind I didn’t know the course, and the cleat thing (*cough* excuses, excuses *cough*) and it being my first time, I’m OK with that.

Scoffed two flapjacks and a piece of lemon drizzle cake in short order (thanks to the Cwtch Cafe), and pulled my jacket on while watching the others finish. The organisation was flawless, and everyone was really friendly.

Here’s the official finishing times:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/ystwyth … 176933350/

Here’s my Strava:
http://www.strava.com/activities/308428255
(the flybys are quite interesting!)

I cycled back towards home with Clint and another lad whose name I can’t recall. Clint said he kept looking back and was impressed to see I was still there for so many miles.

Tonight, I have the choice of attending the AberCycleFest Gala Evening (in the National Library of Wales) to see cycling films, ‘Battle of the Bikes’ (Obree v Boardman), ‘Manpower’ (1982 Milk Race) and finally a Q&A with Dean Downing, or joining an Ystwyth chaingang and trying to not embarrass myself again around a local loop. Decisions, decision…

***
If you’ve never done a TT, most clubs hold weekly events during  summer evenings, and I’d recommend having a go – there’s more information here.  Some clubs even hold occasional ‘Come and Try It’ events open to all comers. There will be another at this year’s AberCycleFest, and I’ll be in Aberystwyth for it.
abercyclefest 2016

Festive 500 while unfit? Anything is possible.

It’s the 31st of December, the sun is out, and I’m in bed. Because I’ve done it.

Last year, I accepted defeat early on. In mountainous Mid Wales, cycling 500km in 8 festive days is a massive challenge. In the previous three years, I hadn’t managed it. I posted about my failure here.

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The nice weather that year didn’t last long.

This year, a combination of hospital appointments and other factors kept me in the London area. So, I thought I’d have a go in a less-mountainous area.

However, I’ve been off the bike a lot this year. A lot. I’ve had a fair few mechanicals, both physical and bike-related:

My left hip has been a problem for years – I’ve had three operations and I can just about manage it. Due to the damage, I still can’t sit upright on my left side, and have to be careful to not set the teeth-grinding pain off. At the tail end of last year, the right side started to play up too.

One minute it would be fine, then a shaft of agonising pain would take both my breath and ability to walk away. That’s how impingement works. One particular impingement walking down steps scared me. If I hadn’t had my bike to catch my fall, I would have face-planted and had scars to show for it. I was on my way out for a ride with my sister.

Spin, legs. Please spin.

I held back tears for all I was worth, and tried to avoid dwelling on it.

On a good day, the pain would slowly ebb. On a bad day, I had to wait hours for the pain to give me a break. I could go to bed and wake up with the pain still there, or ready to pounce.

I could feel myself slipping back mentally. So many reminders of the grim days of years ago. The crutches, the lack of faith in my own body. The fear that it could happen any time was destroying what little peace of mind I had.

I was also getting pain when on longer rides, the same rides which always help the left hip. My rides were getting shorter. My weight was creeping up. My head was going down.

So, I went to see the GP who referred me back to Bankes at Guy’s. I saw him. We agreed on the operation – an athroscopy and FAI correction. I joked about having a matching bikini-line scar, but he said this time it would all be done arthroscopically, through the same incisions.

I expected to wait for months for the operation, but within six weeks, at the end of June, I went under the knife. Apparently, the earlier the correction is carried out, the better the long-term results.

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During the operation, my hip was dislocated, so when I came around, I had to have the leg held back in the socket. The bottom of a hospital bed is good for this.

I was off the bike for just over two weeks, the hottest two weeks of summer.I lay in bed, staring out of the window at the clear blue skies. I have to thank friends who complained that it was too hot to ride – I didn’t feel that I was missing so much then!

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Ever feel like you were being left behind?

Getting back on a bike was a relief in itself. I should’ve used a turbo or stationary bike in my recovery, but instead, I just pootled around on Baby, my battered road bike. I tied the crutches to my backpack and cycled to meet friends.

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My backpack came in handy!

Three weeks after being discharged, I did a very slow, 50-mile Surrey Hills ride. I then had a bollocking from the registrar at Guy’s who told me I was overdoing things! I probably was, but it was hard to watch and feel my hard-won muscles withering away. I pinned back my mileage and effort a little, and continued to avoid the steeper climbs which put pressure on the healing tissues.

Fast forward a few weeks, and while I was visiting family in Wales, I managed to trap a nerve in my back. Fuck me, that was agony. I’d had warning twinges for the last few months, always meant to return to swimming to improve my upper body strength and flexibility, but with everything else going on, never got around to it. It took weeks for that to improve, and for me to be able to sleep properly again. It’s still not right now, months later. I’ve started a stretching and exercise regime, but I’ll also need to look at my bike fit and posture when riding to resolve it, long-term.

I started having menstruation problems, which left me feeling very rundown and tired. I assumed it was just ‘one of those things’.

I had some potentially-problematic skin lesions removed, leaving me with a 1-2 inch incision in my back, and other sore parts.

Next to hit were a variety of bike mechanicals. The forks on Buzz, the Racelight, were recalled. Baby’s wheels started making ominous noises and gears became awkward. I recognised the Tarmac was too big, and the aggressive position was probably contributing to my trapped nerve and painful neck.

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The Tarmac. Sadly, too big and aggressive for me. Anyone after a 49cm frameset?

November came along, and brought a cold with laryngitis. For the best part of the month, I sounded like a disastrous combination of Mariella Frostrup and Minnie Mouse.  I finally went to the GP about the menstruation. That’s still under investigation.

There’s been other stuff, and my head’s been all over the place at times. I’ve jumped through DWP hoops, and won a couple of tribunals. My novels were published, but they’ve not set the world alight, and sales haven’t exactly been outstanding.

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My racy rugby romance novels, in paperback! (Other formats are available…)

I’ve received critical praise for the novels and some of my other writing work, but it’s nowhere near being able to make it a profitable enterprise. Next year, I’ll have to make some tough decisions.

 

On to the 500.

I was just feeling better for December, and had confirmed I would stay here for Christmas, rather than joining family. I did a couple of quicker rides. I thought I was ready.

500 kilometres works out at just over 310 miles. In seven days (assuming a rest day), that works out at about 45 miles a day. Infinitely doable, especially with flatter routes than in Wales.

It didn’t start well. Christmas Eve was wet. Another cold had hit me – I had a sore throat and a cough. I rode to a friend’s house, and was soaked by the time I arrived. Total 11.6mi.

Christmas Day, rain was forecast again. But, we were up early and decided on a jaunt to Windsor. It started raining in Windsor. We got wet. I chose a terrible route. 45.6mi.

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In Windsor, just before it peed down…note the tinsel necklace. #festive

After a shower, when I discovered how cold the drizzle had made me, we popped to the New Inn for some ‘recovery cider and peanuts’.

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Ideal Christmas Day fare.

That evening, after cooking a full Christmas dinner for four, I felt dreadful. Shivery, and sweating. My nose began running like a tap. I dug out a thermometer.

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Shit.

I went to bed early, with a cold compress to work on the fever. At that moment, I assumed completing the 500 wasn’t going to happen. Friends told me to take days off. I said I’d see how I felt in the morning.

I slept. A lot. Until late afternoon on Boxing Day. All my friends were out riding, I was in bed coughing and sneezing and feeling like crap. That evening, to make me feel productive, I decided to fit the Portland Design Works mudguards to Buzz. They’d been sitting in a box for six months, while I dithered. They went on smooth as silk, the only problem being the brake pads rubbing on the tyres, not rims. I solved that by removing the caliper’s washer.

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Lovely, lovely mudguards and new fork on Buzz

The following, drizzly day, I was feeling better and cautiously optimistic. I didn’t have much in my legs, but neither did my riding partners. A hilly and wet 45.8mi.

That took me past 125km, a quarter of the way. Still a way to go. I was like a zombie when I got home. So tired that, after washing my face, I placed the liquid facial wash back on the counter, flip cap open and nozzle down. I discovered soap had run everywhere the next day…

Monday 28th, more sleep and recovery, and my legs felt good. Seven of us cycled around the sunny Chobham lanes and Ripley. Despite the sun, I was grateful for the mudguards as the roads were still mucky. And for the relatively-flat route. A chunk of 70.4mi completed.

Past halfway. I could do this.

15.2mi meeting some Wheeler friends for a few post-Christmas drinks that evening, which gave me less than 200km to go.

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I love presents from cycling friends. Mine is the Park Tools spork, thanks Matt!

On my ‘pub bike’, Baby, I managed to get soaked to the skin by the time I got home, from head to foot. This getting wet thing was getting old.

A more challenging Three Witches route to Windsor on the 29th. I was dropped on the hills after working on the front. But, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 61.6mi more in the bank.

I was feeling so good, I added 13mi to that, to cycle to a friend’s place for a bit of Chinese. I’d forgotten about the headwind, which turned what should have been an easy ride to a battle against the deteriorating conditions.

Fifty mile-an-hour winds whistled around the house the next day. The planned club ride was cancelled, but we still ventured out, to the Surrey Hills. My legs felt like jelly – Elz dropped me repeatedly on any type of climb, but thankfully sheltered me and my tired legs from a lot of the wind. 32.3 hard-fought miles.

On getting back to hers, I worked out that I only needed 15 miles to complete the challenge. So I cycled home, in a meandering way, circling the slickening neighbourhood until the magic 15 had ticked over.

I plugged my Garmin in with trepidation. For the last few days, I had been recording the rides on both of my Garmins (a 500 and a backup 800), and was glad I had as a couple of rides had lost miles – user error with bulky gloves or random blip. I only hoped that I wouldn’t have to venture out into the increasingly-heavy rain.

500.

I did it, with one day in hand.

I breathed a sigh of relief. So did my knees. I went to bed and slept until later that evening, missing several calls and messages from friends.

Should I have gone out the next day? Probably, but I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove, and the lingering cold was still a problem. To be honest, my legs were tired, I knew there was nothing in them, and I didn’t want to hold a ride back. As I said at the start, I wasn’t terribly fit.

I’ve cycled over 6,000 miles this year. It’s not as much as previous years when I’ve clocked over 10k, but I’m happy with that. Plus, to end the year, I’ve achieved something, despite my body letting me down at times.

And others have had to cope with far worse than I have.

I have to thank my cycling friends who’ve led or followed me around this last year, listened to my moans, kept me entertained and joined me for cake or a few beverages. They’ve kept me sane, and from withdrawing too much into myself when things have been going wrong.

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Sunnier times, with some of those who have the patience to follow this crock around the Surrey Hills

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Drinks after Wednesday night laps of the Park with a few club friends

This year ahead, I’ve been thinking about my goals.

1. Sort out the Bike Room upstairs and sell/give away anything I don’t need. Reduce my n number from 7 to 5.
2. Aim for two long rides a week to keep my hips happy (but not castigate myself if I don’t make it out).
3. Work on the strength and flexibility of my core & upper body by hitting the Gym (also the Bike Room!) at least three times a week. I do not want another trapped nerve!
4. Get fit enough again to keep up comfortably on a KW K3 club ride, or an Ystwyth 10am ride.
5. Lose enough weight that I feel comfortable in my cycling clothes (but not ultra-skinny).

 

I thought of several more goals, like competing in my first Crit, doing a minimum amount of laps in the Park on Wednesday nights, updating this blog more regularly, and cutting down my cider consumption :wink: …but I’ll leave it at that.

I don’t want to pressurise myself to achieve what may be a strain, and deal with an associated failure, however pragmatically. My hips still aren’t great, and Bankes has offered me a replacement for the left. I’ll think about it. I’ve had enough of hospitals for now, and I still have to sort out my back/neck, and the ‘women’s problems’.

I finally completed the 500. That’s enough for me, for now.

Tx

 

Another Festive 500 Fail – Accepting My Limitations

As I pedalled through the rain earlier today, with various parts of me starting to freeze, I wondered what the hell I was doing?

Festive 500. 500km from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve.

Sound easy? Not in mid Wales, right by the coast it isn’t! This is the third year I’ve attempted it, and the third year of failure. This is the earliest I’ve admitted defeat though.

Last year I was 80km from finishing, despite gale force winds and torrential rain. The previous year, illness stopped me just after halfway. This year, I’m less fit that I’ve been for ages, both cardiovascularly and with my neck and back inflamed from alternative sitting positions, knees twinging and so-called ‘good’ right hip misbehaving. Nonetheless, I thought I’d see how it went.

Pretty bad, actually.

Many people encourage setting targets. The trouble with my physical and mental limitations is that sometimes they prevent me from achieving those targets. It’s taken me a long time to learn to stop castigating myself in the event of ‘non-achievement’, aka FAILURE. If you have failed something, you are a FAILURE. It positively shrieks at me and makes me feel worse. I still don’t always know when I should give up or plough through, or whether I should even make an attempt in the first place.

So, I’m quite glad this year I’ve decided early on that it’s not going to happen, and that I knew from the start that it wasn’t realistically likely.

I just wish I’d decided that before I did those 12 extra, lonely, rain-soaked, freezing-cold miles earlier.