April Fools Double

Some people can’t resist coffee and walnut cake, some people can’t resist chocolate biscuits… but me… I can’t resist century bike rides.

My original plan for the weekend was a short gentle ride on Saturday followed by the usual Sunday club run. The latter was pencilled in as a 65 miler at ‘social’ pace, and if I included my commute… and a few extra miles… I could muster another century. But then I got thinking. There was also a local Sportive on Saturday, an 80 miler and if I included my commute… and a few extra miles… and yes, you know what’s coming… another century!

It’d been several months since my last (and first) double century, so why not?

Day One… At the Plumpton Races

Saturday arrived and I also had a sub-mission for the day… distribute some flyers for my website amongst the Sportive riders. Fitting everything in required an early start, so I found myself whizzing around some local lanes racking up some early mileage while more sensible people were still tucked up in bed.

I arrived at Plumpton Racecourse, the venue for today’s Sportive, to find riders streaming out of the venue… it would seem that most riders had already departed. Not wanting to be left behind, I hastily dispatched my flyers on a table near the entrance, hoping that people would help themselves when finished later in the day.

I had ridden this course before, in the months building up to my first century back in 2014… so had fond memories. It starts off fast, with a fairly flat 20 to 30 miles before the hills kick in during the middle and latter sections.

I say hills… there are certainly some gradients on this course, but nothing compared to the grimace inducing ascents experienced a couple of weeks ago during the Battle of Bradfield. The hills in this part of Sussex may slow you down, but they only take the edge off your average speed unlike the Yorkshire variety which take huge chunks out of it.

I found a group of eight to nine riders to latch onto “this’ll  be nice” I thought to myself “being towed along”. I stayed towards the rear trying to reap the benefits, the first small rise came and I pushed to the front to take my turn. I looked back at the summit and the group had gone… this happens to me a lot!  I didn’t want to waste time waiting, only for the same thing to happen again – so I pushed on.

All was going well, the sun was out and there was very little wind, but about 60 miles in…  I noticed a wobble coming from my front wheel, I kept going for a short while but it was more noticeable on the descents… “looks like I’ve got a puncture” I thought to myself. I pulled over and my fears were confirmed, not quite pancake like, but certainly on its way.

Punctures are not usually a problem, wheel off… tyre off… tube out… new tube in… inflate and go, but it all started to go wrong during the inflate part. My pump was gripping the valve so tightly that it kept pulling it out releasing all the air I’d just spent the last few minutes furiously pumping in. A few more attempts at inflating the tube were pursued, quickly followed by frustrating bouts of deflation… for both me and the tube!

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  “Time for a different strategy” I thought to myself… “if I semi-inflate the tyre, use the old valve as a tool to hold to new valve tight… it might just work”… “phew” it did. Not an ideal result, but at least I could get going again.

40 miles to go on a half inflated front tyre… I’d have to take it easy cornering from now on.

My mind kept going back to those flyers. I just left them in a pile on a table. “People might not see them” I thought to myself “I’d have to go back and start handing them out, perhaps as riders cross the finish line… yes, that’ll be a nice touch”.  I hadn’t planned to go back to the venue, but I’d never know what became of my flyers if I didn’t.

So this became my new plan. Now it was time to give my brain a workout… “If I wanted to arrive home with 100 miles on the clock, no more, no less… and ride via the venue… what shortcut could I take?” After running through a few options, I chose a new route and with unnerving accuracy arrived at the racecourse with 95 miles ridden… 5 miles from home… perfect!

The finish line is an ideal opportunity to hand stuff out, where everyone is in a good mood, a mixture of relief and sense of achievement. Everyone was so grateful as I milled around handing out the flyers… but not as grateful as me, flattered with the interest shown.

Once all my flyers had been gratefully received, it was back on the bike for the last leg of today’s journey.

Once back at home, my thoughts turned to tomorrow and time to instigate my recovery routine… protein shake, ice bath, omelette for lunch, followed by stretching, compression tights and an early night… not forgetting to fuel up for tomorrow in between.

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Day Two… Post Century, Century

I always like to be immaculately turned out when I start a ride, which I why I chose not to wear my Gabba… it was covered in energy gel from yesterday. I must have put a half empty wrapper back in my pocket, which over the course of the ride seeped its way through the vents and down the back of the tail… yuk… a thick gooey sticky mess!

So, my choice for the day was shorts, summer jersey with arm warmers, mitts and a gilet… largely dictated by the weather forecast… dry, starting off around 7-8 degrees, increasing to double figures by early afternoon.

The forecast lied!

Five minutes in and my barely covered body was exposed to a bone chilling mist, numbing and invigorating in equal measure, it took some furious pedalling to keep the cold at bay. At least it took my mind off the pain of yesterday, still grumbling away in the background.

An hour later I arrived at the meeting point, the mist had cleared and the sun was starting to seep through what cloud cover remained. I was met by an array of jackets, long sleeve jerseys and winter tights… my riding chums had all chosen more sensible attire. That was until, like a juggernaut, Jason arrived… just jersey and shorts… ready for action!

So, this ‘social’ pace ride… what exactly does ‘social’ mean?  My definition would be riding at a steady pace, where you can easily chat to your co-riders… with your eyeballs remaining firmly in their sockets!  I obviously misunderstood the term.

Jason and Gary clearly had different views on the definition, as they drove the nine rider train down to the south coast at breakneck speed… with the rest of us desperately clinging on.

I was getting a sense of déjà vu, I was sure I’d been here before… a fast group on my way to a century steaming like a train through Amberley to the foot of Houghton Hill… “Yes you have” I thought to myself as I recalled the Accidental Century ride from last August.

I didn’t have a tactic for the climb today, after all I still had yesterday’s century in my legs, so I relaxed into the foot of the climb. No-one seemed to want to lead this one out, so I obliged… lighting the touch paper for Jason who powered passed me, disappearing into the distance… Yes, this was definitely a case of déjà vu!

At the summit Jason waited for rest of us to arrive, all out of breath but happy enough to joke about the ‘social pace’. “Well its slower than my commute, so I figured it was social” Jason joked. “The only thing that’s social about this ride is that you’ve got company” Ian replied.

After a bit more banter we were off again, down the glorious two mile descent into Arundel.  I led the way, 40mph… 41… 42… then all of sudden Gary flew past me, followed by four fleeting blurs of lycra… I dread to think what speed they were doing.

We regrouped at the bottom of the hill, our leader pointed out “we’ve got a flat bit now”.  Now that’s what I was worried about, the climbs and descents I can do at my own pace… but the flat.. trying to stay with the Jason and Gary train on top of yesterday’s 100. My legs were screaming at me to stop, slow down, rest… anything but this, but no… the relentless pace was never ending.

I needed a break… I desperately needed a break. On cue Alex obliged…  a puncture… thank you Alex, what a relief! I think a few us thought the same.

Slightly fresher after the enforced rest, the pace was a bit easier to manage and with the longest climb of the day coming up I was more hopeful.

Up Upwaltham and Down Duncton… a seven mile stretch with three separate climbs followed a nice long descent at the end. Time to relax into the climbs and do my own thing at my own pace.

We regrouped on the last summit, rapidly descended down the other side and turned east on the homeward journey.  A couple of the group decided this would be a good time to split and tailed off for a coffee.

The rest of us stayed pretty much together until it was time for Jason to spin off home.  “all we need now is to put Gary’s brakes on” joked Ian.  Nice thought, but no such luck. Every time Gary came passed I could see the back of Ian’s head visibly shaking left to right… as if to gesture “oh no, not again!”

Somewhere around the 70-75 mark I was really starting to struggle, my legs were protesting… not just because they ached like fury… but because they no longer had the energy to continue at the pace we were going.  My mind games were no longer working and I was getting dropped by the remainder of the group at every opportunity.

I was due a gel in about 15 minutes, so I tried to use that as an incentive, but I was so drained I had to take it early… in fact I had to take two. It took a few miles, but I picked up a little and was able to at least keep up now.

We arrived back where we had all met earlier in the day, with a shade over 80 miles registered on my Garmin. The consensus was to stop for a coffee. My first thought was relief but I was also slightly frustrated having just taken two gels. I sat down with my strong black coffee added more sugar than I would usually consume and wolfed down a rather large granola bar… my body was being very demanding. This was closely followed by half a tube of shot bloks, similar is shape and consistency to wine gums… but packed full of energy.

Now I was hyper… I couldn’t wait to get back on the bike!

There were just three of us now, we were all going for a century today… but I was the only one who was hyper… my turn to drive the train, summit the hills first and wait at junctions.

As we approached the last few miles, I bade farewell to Ian and Gary who live further east than me, so still had a few miles to clock up.  I was soon home, immensely quicker than yesterday… both satisfied and relieved. I’d need to get used to this though… the Tour of Wessex was only eight weeks away 🙂

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The Battle of Bradfield

The Plan

Sometimes… just sometimes… you can’t complete the challenge you’ve set yourself.  Sometimes you have mechanical problems, sometimes the weather dictates your day and sometimes you crash…. on 19th March all three happened.

Gary, my cycling buddy, had arranged for us to the enter Dark White’s Battle of Bradfield Sportive on the edge of the Peak District. The long route was 40 miles of almost endless climbing… and we love climbing… the steeper the better.

We also love centuries, so Gary’s cunning plan was to ride the Sportive route twice and then find another 20 miles so we could add another century to our collections.  My slightly more cunning plan was a post sportive ride out to Holme Moss, taking in a handful of climbs from the ‘100 Greatest Climbs’ book en route and then back to Sheffield to take on one final ascent… Côte de Jenkin Road, made famous when the Tour de France came to town.

We both preferred the variety of Holme Moss et al, so that was pencilled in as our plan A.

Saturday

The journey up to Sheffield was a good opportunity to get to know each other a bit more, we’d only previously chatted briefly on the Sunday club runs.

It turns out that we both arrived at this mutual dual addiction for centuries and hills after life changing events.  Gary used to race motorbikes, a serious accident however, left him with multiple spine injuries.  He consequently swapped motorised propulsion for pedal propulsion.  My path (documented in the book Tales of a Centurion) was dictated by a football injury and subsequent health scare which in turn led to the cessation of my running days.  In both cases cycling filled the void.

Sunday

We figured an early start was required to fit everything in, bearing in mind that we still had a long journey back to Sussex later that day.  We were up at six and on our bikes by seven.

I imagined the ride to the Sportive HQ to be quite sedate.  I’d only been to Sheffield on a few occasions, but these were only fleeting visits, so I had little knowledge of the city.   My home town is named after a hill, but compared to Sheffield it’s like a pancake.  This city seems to have a steep climb lurking around every corner… we were forced to climb some of these during the short five mile commute… more like a rude awakening than a gentle warm up!

The Sportive

We were greeted at the HQ by some of the friendliest volunteers I had ever met. Although they were busy with registration, issuing numbers and maps etc… they were all very welcoming, still finding time to chat to us. This all adds to the experience and encourages people to come back.

After attaching the numbers to our bikes it was time to take the plunge, we rolled over the start line and were on our way.  It felt quite relaxed. I’m used to racing the clock on sportives but with part two of our adventure planned for later, time wasn’t an issue.

There’s no gentle introduction to this ride, a steep descent then straight into the first climb of the day a 6%’er over a mile long, but that’s nothing compared to what lay ahead.

Five miles in and we’re already on climb two, dubbed Côte d’Oughtibridge for the Tour de France, but known locally as the Jaw Bone. A one mile ascent maxing out at over 15%… we were now getting into the swing of things and I was loving every second of it.

A nice long descent now, but our joy was short lived when Gary punctured.  While he was attending to his front wheel an elderly man on foot came over for a chat.  He was asking about the event and explained that he used to enter local time trial events when he was a lad.  When I explained that we’d come up from Sussex, he said “my son moved down that way and lives in a town called Burgess Hill”… I was gobsmacked… “that’s where I live” I exclaimed… small world!

By this time Gary had changed his inner tube and it was time to resume our adventure… “oh no” it deflated almost immediately.  It was now a case of replacing his spare with my spare… no punctures for either of us now.

Less than a mile later Gary’s front tyre was flat again.  Now we were stuffed, we were trying to think of options… but there weren’t any… we were well and truly stuffed.  We started asking if anyone had a ‘spare’ spare.  A couple stopped, saying that they had enough spares between them and gave us a fresh inner tube… our saviours!  Gary offered them some money for the tube, this was declined… they say it’s grim up north, but the people are lovely.

Tube number three duly replaced number two and we were on our way again.  This one lasted a bit longer, maybe a couple of miles, but the sorry sight of Gary’s front tyre airless once again left us deflated as all four inner tubes.  Completely out options now, he had no choice but to call it a day and phone for emergency assistance.  I felt a bit guilty about leaving him, but he encouraged me to continue, not wanting to spoil my day as well as his.

Next up was Côte de Midhopestones, another Tour climb.  This one’s a mile and a half long, averages 6.5% but similar to the Jaw Bone, peaks at over 15%.  “Gary would have loved this one” I thought to myself missing my climbing buddy.

By now the wind had picked up and every descent was subject to gales in excess of 20 mph.  The wind direction didn’t seem to matter as Mother Nature was intent on making riding as difficult as possible. The only favour she dished out was the occasional tail wind on the climbs.

The descent that followed is the brutally steep zig zag road down to the delightfully named Wigtwizzle. A really technical descent made even more technical by the high winds. The joy I was experiencing on these climbs was the polar opposite of the anxious moments encountered on these dicy descents.

I was relieved to be climbing again, thus is the nature of this course… back to back bouts of climbing and descending. This short but steep climb was soon over with and I was facing another dangerous descent. I was so pleased to reach the bottom that I took my eye off the ball and missed a turning… steaming full on ahead instead of turning right.

This misjudgement led to a mile long climb not on the route. As I zig zagged up the hill I couldn’t see any other riders either in front or behind me, “had I missed a turn?” I thought to myself. I decided to answer that  question at the next junction. Unfortunately, this didn’t arrive until I’d ridden a few more miles including a mile and half descent into Deepcar. I stopped and checked my whereabouts on my phone “Oops!” I was way off course.  My only option was to follow the exact same route back and try to pick up the route signs… now to head back up that steep mile and a half climb… trying not to grin too much about the prospect of even more climbing.

Pretty soon I was back on course, realising my mistake I vowed to concentrate and get back to the finish with no more detours… I didn’t want to keep Gary waiting any longer than necessary.

Three more climbs came and went… Canyards Wood less than a mile long but with a 9% average and maxing over 25%… Edge Mount a mile and half long with a slightly kinder 15% max… and Gibralter Rocks, over two miles long also maxing out at 15%.  These, of course, were interspersed with some nervous descending.

The latter of these descents deposits you in the picturesque village of Low Bradfield, the calm of which does nothing to prepare you for the brutal climb you’re about to undertake… Côte de Bradfield… over a mile long (it felt longer) with an average grade of 10% and long sections of over 20% (if felt steeper).  A right turn after the village and you are immediately plunged into a section of double figure gradient, which steepens to a 20% section where some riders were dismounting… I was still grinding out some sort of rhythm, already on my easiest gear and fighting the gradient.  A slightly easier section followed of around 15%, but then it rises again to 20% to what I thought was the summit… “phew” I thought to myself… “oh no, there’s more” a right turn at High Bradfield then a left onto the rest of the climb.  Back into a 20% section as it sweeps left, but then it mercifully gives you some respite with a section in single figures before kicking up again towards the summit.  “Surely, this is it now” I said to myself as I ground out the last few metres… its was… an awesome climb and my favourite part of the day.

The two mile descent that followed would normally be a relief and a joy, but the winds were getting stronger… this one was probably the scariest.  A cross wind for most of it meant leaning into the wind in an attempt to stay upright, intermittently braking to control my speed.

I was having second thoughts about our planned venture over to Holme Moss.  We would be on higher ground in the Peak District and exposed to the 40 mph gusts forecast for later in the day.  We were also running out of time.  This was taking a lot longer than anticipated, with the multiple punctures, the detour and the sheer amount of climbing all taking huge chunks out of our time schedule.

By this time I had one last climb to go, less than a mile this one. Although it peaked at over 15%, it seemed easier than some of the others. A mile or so later I arrived back at the finish line, greeted by the sight of dozens of relieved riders, all happy to have got back safely.

Back at the ride HQ I was reunited with Gary. He’d been picked up OK and the mechanic had found a tiny slither of glass in his tyre… it’s amazing how something so small can have such a big effect.  Big shame, but at least it had been sorted.

I checked in to get my time, which under the circumstances I wasn’t at all interested in, but I commented on how much I enjoyed the hills. I also explained how I’d missed a turning, ended up riding an additional six miles or so, but was pleased to get two additional hills in.  I was promptly nominated as “going the furthest off route today” followed by a congratulatory “well done!” what a friendly bunch.

While waiting, Gary was hearing stories of riders being battered by the strong winds and struggling to stay upright. My arrival more than confirmed that.  I explained that I wasn’t keen on riding east into those winds and I also pointed out that it’d been over five hours since we left the hotel and at this rate we wouldn’t get back until early evening… and we still had a long drive back to Sussex.

Gary was pleased. Still traumatised by his relentless bout of punctures.  We resolved to head back to Sheffield, pop over to Jenkin Road to savour one last gradient and then head home.

The Crash 

The route over to Jenkin Road, started with a long descent back into Sheffield.  It was still raining at this point and having cooled down after the sportive I slipped on my brand new shower proof jacket.  I had the route from the Hillsborough football stadium to Jenkin Road plotted on my Garmin, so it was just a case of navigating the main roads to the infamous stadium.

As we neared the A61, there was a build up of traffic and a long queue to get onto this busy road.  As is usual practice for experienced cyclists we weaved in and out of the traffic in a cautious but vigilant manner, however, these two ‘experienced’ cyclist had never encountered tram lines before… let alone wet tram lines. At this point we were both riding down the middle of the road, between the tram lines overtaking the queue of traffic.  With a left turn coming up we had to switch to the left of the lane and cross three tram lines… I didn’t make it past the first… my front wheel slid along the steel and thud!… I was down… “Ooooouch!” for the first time today I was experiencing ‘real’ pain.  It seems that the northern tarmac is harder than our soft southern variety… I had fallen the week before on our Sunday club run, it barely hurt at all… this was excruciating!!!

It seemed like I was on the ground for an eternity trying to come to terms with the pain while trying to unclip.  Gary’s back wheel had skidded on the tram lines, but somehow he’d managed to stay upright. He was first to the scene with the driver of the car immediately behind me. Although I was in a great deal of pain I knew there were no serious injuries. I was helped to my feet and thanked the car driver for his concern assuring him that nothing was broken.

Now out of the road, time to asses the damage.  New jacket… ripped, arm warmers… ripped, leg warmers… ripped, overshoes… ripped, but my beloved Castelli kit and Sidi’s had come through unscathed. And my bike? Just the bar tape ripped, phew what a relief.  Me? I daren’t look, I’ll check that out later.

Gary suggested that we change our plans and just take a gentle ride back to the hotel and go home.  A resounding “No” was my response, “we can’t end it like this, we have to do Jenkin Road and end on a high” I added.  I also wanted something to take my mind off the pain.

Côte de Jenkin Road

A few miles later we arrived at the foot of the climb… a 90 degree left turn from a set of traffic lights, so no chance of taking any momentum into the climb.

My first sight of the climb was overwhelming, a wall of tarmac rising skyward with no let up in the 15-20% gradient.  Gary with his fresh legs immediately took the lead, I couldn’t stay on his wheel and slipped back slightly as the road switched right with the gradient now increasing to 20%.  At this point you get your first sight of the famous left hander. “Oh shit” Gary exclaimed, this doubled the effect of the daunting site of this 25-30% section with the railings on the pavement to help pedestrians climb the hill.

We both dug deep, using our personal mind game strategies.  Gary was pulling away from me now, but I was more concerned about grinding to a halt as I pushed against the gravity.  Once round this leg burning corner, the gradient lessens to a mere 15% before the final 20% kick up to the summit. Wow, we’d done it, we’d both conquered Côte de Jenkin Road 🙂

Gary stopped just past the summit.  I continued thinking he’d follow me and without checking, I descended down the other side.  I made a left turn at the bottom, looked over my shoulder and he was nowhere to be seen… I’d have to go back up… ‘hurrah’ more climbing!  He was still at summit, chatting to some Dutch cyclists who were on an adventure themselves… riding the climbs made famous by the Tour de France.

Back at the hotel, I tentatively peeled off my arm and leg warmers to reveal scarlet patches where a layer of skin used to reside… ouchy!… I was starting to feel it now especially without the cycling distraction. It felt like someone had tattooed over a patch of sunburn… double ouchy!

Epilogue

From my perspective, it had been a fantastic day of glorious climbing which more than made up for missing out on a century.  The 8,776 feet climbed turned out to be the most I’d scaled in any one ride since records began. Yes I was sore, but very satisfied with the weekend’s achievements.  Although Gary was disappointed having only ridden 30 miles, he didn’t regret coming all this way. He was pleased with his Jenkin Road effort… or was it the pleasure of my company?

Lessons learned from the weekend… If you get consecutive punctures, take your tyre off, turn it inside out and find the problem.  And… don’t cross the tram lines!

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Flat as a Pancake!

Unlike last week, this century was planned.  I say  planned, I mean scheduled. I downloaded the route from a website, gave the map quick glance and made the mistake of not looking at the profile… it turned out to be a lot lumpier than imagined.

The tone for the ride was set by my first time on a WattBike the previous Wednesday.  I did one of the machine’s sadistic tests (although it’s not advertised quite that way). The test I chose was three minutes long, where I needed to hold a certain level of power for the duration… “sounds easy” I thought, blissfully unaware of it’s sadistic tendencies.

The first minute was tough, but I was just about meeting the target. The second minute though “I’m struggling here and I’m not even half way yet” I thought to myself, by the third minute I was sweating profusely and gasping for breath, but somehow I hung on to complete the test.  I immediately got off the bike and slumped to the floor… and I thought I was fit.

Anyway the outcome of the test was my MMP (Maximum Minute Power) and a new max heart rate.  The former will be useful for when I come back for further sessions of torture, but latter I can use on my bike.

So, fast forward to Saturday and my Garmin is set up with my new heart rate data, including my new zones from one to five.  My plan for the ride was to keep it easy and stay in zones two to three (these are described in Strava as Moderate and Tempo).

I planned to set off quite early, knowing I had in the region of six hours ahead of me.  After getting everything set up and ready, I sat on my bike and… the course wouldn’t load on my Garmin, it just froze… “no problem” I thought “I’ll just reboot it”… still frozen… a few more reboots and I still can’t get the course up.  “Urrrgh!” Frustrating… so much for keeping my heart rate low, I was already in zone two and I hadn’t even turned the pedals yet.

I couldn’t hang around any longer, so I set off… without the course. I was overwhelmed with negative thoughts, but I had to get over it “look, I’ll just ride the bit I know and just make the rest up” I thought “that’ll keep me going for a couple of hours.”

Feeling a bit more positive know (although still slightly frustrated) my heart rate was back to normal and I was bouncing between zones two and three as planned.

I’ve recently been trying to improve my descending, experimenting with shifting my body rather than using the brakes so I can descend quicker. On one particular bend, I was a bit annoyed with myself for feathering the brakes went I didn’t need to… but around the corner a squirrel darted out in front of me and just missed my front wheel “if I hadn’t braked… I would have hit it” I thought to myself… that could have resulted in one squished rodent and one rider on the tarmac… “ouch” good job I braked.

After a couple of hours I was getting to the point where I needed navigational assistance, my knowledge of these roads was running out. Now, the dilemma was do I reboot my Garmin and risk losing what I’d already done (if its not on Strava it didn’t happen) or just ride around the roads I knew for another four hours. There’s something about riding new roads, a sense of adventure and escaping the tedium of the same old scenery. I decided on a reboot (taking a photo of my data beforehand just in case) “Phew, what a relief” I thought to myself, it worked. I was in business, I could now enjoy (or is that endure?) the rest of the ride.

It was about this point that the hills started, I occasionally went into zone four, “Ok, no problem” I thought “it’ll come back down.” It didn’t. The hills continued, back to back one after the other. That’ll teach me not looking at the profile. I usually like hills, but my plan for the day was to keep my heart rate down, so I needed flat roads. I seemed to spend to next couple of hours completely in zone four.

Somewhere south of Burwash (I had to look this up afterwards as I didn’t have a clue where I was at the time) there was a two mile descent that I particularly enjoyed. Most descents in this part of the world are either short, full of tight corners or, especially this time of year, covered in winter debris. This one however was smooth, long with enjoyable sweeping bends. My delightful reward for all that climbing.

My enjoyment was short lived however, with the sudden realisation that a thin blue line was approaching. This is the thin blue line on my Garmin’s map, a stream, which signifies the base of a hill but also lets me know that it’s payback time as nature has another climb to throw my way.

I love modern technology, the way that my Garmin navigates the route for me, it’s a delight.  Over the years it has accompanied me on many an adventure, but its not much help when there’s a road closure. “Oh dear” I thought to myself “I’m in the middle of I don’t know where and they’ve gone and closed the road”. I whipped my phone out of back pocket, opened the Maps App and memorised a detour… as I said I love modern technology.

An hour or so from home and my Garmin battery was starting die, the navigation/heart rate combination was obviously too much for it. Did I say I love modern technology? The consequences of a dead battery don’t bear thinking about, I think I mentioned it earlier… if it’s no on Strava!… you know the rest. I decided to pull over, memorise the remainder of the route and turn the sat-nav feature off… I’d rather get lost than the alternative!

With no further mishaps, I arrived home with the battery on its last legs but with all my glorious statistics still intact. And what about those heart rate statistics?… 28% of the ride in zone four… that’s hills for you!

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Wet, Windy and Mucky

It’s Saturday lunchtime and I’m sitting on a spin bike in my local leisure centre, warming up for the first of two back to back spin classes.

Out of the blue I received a text from one my cycling buddies, Malcolm “if interested Gary & me are planning to do 100 miles tomorrow, carrying on after club ride”.

This would ordinarily be a straight forward “Yes” but this morning’s events and my plans for the weekend cause me to pause to consider the request.

I had mistaken the time of my first spin class and turned up an hour early… “uh oh!” I thought to myself “how frustrating” but hang on “I’ve got an hour to kill and I rode here on my mountain bike”… obvious really… let’s go mountain biking for an hour.

Anyway, back to that text… my non-committal reply was “I have to say I’m tempted. A lot depends on how I recover from today.  I’ll ride to the coffee stop and see how I feel going back.”.

The next few hours were spent slogging my way through the double spin class and then (as is usual for me) the most indirect back home… 68 miles in total… now for some recovery.

Roll on Sunday morning and we meet at Nomads HQ at 9am. The forecast is dry, mild for this time of year, but with a wicked south-easterly wind.  The trouble with forecasts is they’re generally wrong.  The wind… yes, we were still experiencing the lingering remnants of Storm Doris, but dry… definitely not!

Malcolm is there to greet me… “so are we doing a 100 today?”… “maybe” I replied “I’ve brought enough energy food just in case, but let’s see how it goes”.  I’d already banked 15 miles, by setting off an hour early, but was keeping that to myself for the time being.

The 30 something mile route to the coffee stop was relatively straight forward, albeit on wet and mucky roads. There is a club rule about using mudguards during the winter months… this doesn’t seem to apply to the my group… only one out of eight had mudguards and we all arrived at the coffee stop soaked and splattered head to foot in mud.

What a sight, anyone would have thought we’d just come off a mountain bike trail.  The coffee shop was very accommodating, serving this drenched bunch of bespeckled cyclists while mopping up around us as our rain soaked clothing dripped onto the floor.

By now I had chalked up 48 miles and still felt relatively fresh, so the 100 was do-able. It was just a case of venturing back out into the post-Doris apocalypse again after the joys of this warm and dry sanctuary.

Venturing back onto the bike after sitting around in damp clothing is not the most pleasant of experiences. We were all still wet, most of us were cold and I was beginning to shiver.

The consensus of the group was that it was colder now than when we started, which is probably why the pace shifted up a bit. This was OK for a while as I warmed up, but with yesterday’s mammoth session still in my legs I began to struggle and kept dropping off the back of the group.

The trouble with getting dropped is that you have to work twice as hard to get back on, then when you do, you just get dropped again as the pace picks up again. This circle of events went on for a while until I was so far behind I could no longer see the line of riders as they snaked through the country lanes.

I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for the next two hours, so I was considering breaking away from the group and riding at my own pace when Michael saved day with a puncture. This enforced stoppage gave me the opportunity to have a whinge about riding as a group, have a quick stretch and down a caffeine gel. I don’t know which of these did the trick, but that was it… I wasn’t dropped again for the remainder of the ride.

During the stop we agreed a route out west towards Steyning in order to drop the non-centurions off and then loop back for three of us to complete our centuries. This involved going through my home town, in fact we passed within a stone’s through of my house, as if to tempt me into an early submission… but I was having none of that and rode passed the key turning.

By now the weather had dried somewhat and was beginning to warm up, making the last couple of hours a bit more bearable.  The non-centurions were dropped off one by one as the three of us made our journey back east.

Remember those 15 miles I rode before meeting everyone else? Well, they came in very handy now, as I had the least to do. I span off to head home after passing through Ditchling leaving Malcom and Gary to slog it out another half an hour or so.

Thanks for the invite Malcolm. Another one completed, albeit a rather mucky one… now where’s that hose?

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New Forest at the Double – Part 2

You might want to read Part One before you read this!

Day Two

After making the wrong decision over which bed to sleep in, I reverted to the sensible option and chose my wife’s comfy king sized double.  I figured that as I was so tired, she would not disturb me when she got in… I was right… the best night’s sleep in ages and I was fresh and raring to go come Sunday morning.

I also decided not to go to the HQ and waste another couple of hours queueing.  That would mean, no official time, no medal and no t-shirt… all things that I could do without.  “Does my t-shirt drawer really need another t-shirt?” I joked to myself.  I kept yesterday’s number of my bike, so at least I could still get an official photo.

I drove to a village called Hurn, the nearest part of the course to where we were staying, about ten miles into the course.  I still had the route on my Garmin and of course the signage would still be out.

I readied myself quite quickly today, eager to commence part two of my ‘sufferfest’.  I was lucky enough to jump on the back of a group almost straight away, but this splintered at the first rise and I followed the fastest wheel, leaving just the two of us.

We chatted for a while, my co-rider was from South Africa, although he’d been living in London more recently.  Once we’d established our aims for the day, we decided to work together.  This didn’t last long however.  We were passed by a slightly faster group, which we both latched onto but the pace was too hot for me… yesterday it may have been OK, but I needed to be realistic and waved my new friend goodbye.

There were other groups of course, but the pace was bit too sedate for my liking, so these were caught and passed as the miles were gradually ticked off.

These were the last groups I saw for a while.  It felt a bit like yesterday where I was soloing for a large chunk of the ride, albeit under different circumstances.  The site of yesterday’s mechanical came and went, and I grinned at today’s improved fortune.

A feed station, around half way, provided me with a dilemma.  I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to use it, but did I really want to loose momentum by slowing down for a tight u-turn?  The alternative was to skip the out and back section and turn right at a T-junction.  I chose the latter, confusing a couple of riders… “It’s left here!” they shouted.  I did reply, but I don’t think they heard me.  I would, of course, need to tag some mileage on at the end to complete my double century.

The last feed station of the day (22 miles from the finish, but 32 or so for me) was the only one I stopped at.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t usually stop at feed stations, but I could still taste those jelly beans I’d  picked up yesterday… it was just too damn tempting.  I pulled in, grabbed a couple of handfuls, filled up one of my pockets and I was on my way… a nice treat for later in the ride.

The wind direction had changed today, so luckily for me that headwind on the climb up to the moors was no longer there.  However, after taking that 90 degree turn at the top…there it was… stronger than yesterday… and head on!  As I was preparing for an epic battle on the exposed moor, a couple of riders came passed me “thank you very much” I thought to myself, as I latched on to the cover they were inadvertently providing. As soon as we were down the other side of the moor, I passed them with one other rider and the pair of us pushed on, working together.

Wind aside, we had been blessed with quite good weather over the weekend.  But nature always has something to throw at you when you’re least expecting it… today it was a torrential downpour.  Initially it was quite refreshing, but my thin layer of lycra was not the best defence for this deluge… I was starting to get soaked.  A sensible option would have been to pull over and slip my showerproof on, but I didn’t want to lose momentum this close to the finish.  Fortunately, the shower only lasted 20 minutes or so.  Even though I was soaked, I wasn’t cold and the sunshine that followed soon dried me off again.

By this time my riding companion was approaching the driveway up to Somerley House and the finish line.  I explained my alternate plan, we wished each other luck and went our separate ways.

I was now on the last leg of my adventure, soloing the last 10 miles back to my car plus a few miles to tag on to make the century… now, where are those jelly beans?

Pretty soon I found myself passing my car and after some quick maths I rode out for another mile or so, did a u-turn and rode the same distance back… and that was it.  My ‘moving’ time was only nine minutes slower than yesterday, but more importantly I had just completed my first double 🙂

Epilogue

Reflecting on the past two days, all in all it had been a fantastic weekend.  I had been dogged with bad luck on Saturday, but the stunning scenery and wildlife more than made up for it… the famous New Forest wild horses, roaming cattle and sheep… I even saw a large pig grunting on the roadside… glorious memories of a truly memorable weekend.

Of the 3,500 riders who completed one of the routes on one of the days only 27 rode on both days.  Of those 27 only 10 completed the 100 mile course on both days.  Of those 10, only one rider covered the 200 miles in less than twelve hours… which just goes to prove that white beards are more aero than any other colour!

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New Forest at the Double – Part 1

The Challenge

I set myself three century based targets for 2016. My longest… 125 miles ridden in June, my fastest… 4 hours 27 minutes ridden in July and one more challenge for the year… ride a century on consecutive days… my first double!

Wiggle kindly provided the opportunity by putting on their New Forest 100 on a late September Saturday and Sunday.  Most riders choose one or the other, but for me, it was both.

Day One

I awoke bleary eyed, around 6am, after a bad night’s sleep.  I’d made the mistake of choosing the wrong bed. It’s not like I didn’t have a choice. I’d arrived at the three bedroom apartment yesterday lunch time, ahead of my wife and her friend who would both arrive late afternoon.  Choice one, and the obvious one, share the comfy king sized double bed in the master bedroom… no, Theresa and her friend Ali would be staying out late and I didn’t want to be disturbed.  Choice two, the other double room… no, not very gentlemanly, so I left this for Ali.  That left the twin room with two single beds to choose from, they seemed OK, either will do… decision made.

Roll on Saturday morning and decision regretted.  As I said, bleary eyed after a night of tossing and turning trying to get comfortable.  No use crying over spilt milk however, so I stepped into a cold shower and followed it with a large dose caffeine… bleary eyed no more.

The car journey to the sportive HQ, Somerley House in Ringwood took less than half an hour… “Perfect” I thought to myself as I pulled off the main road and joined the queue for the car park.

Queue!  This is a word I’d need to get used over the next couple of hours… it took longer to get into the car park than it did getting here.  I’m used to turning up at these rural sportives; parking, registering and crossing the start line all within half an hour of arrival… not today though.  After eventually parking, I made my way to registration and noticed that the queue for the start line was already a few hundred riders strong.  By the time I got my number fixed to my bike and back to the start line the queue had more than doubled, in fact it was so long that the venue could no longer handle its length as it meandered like a river around the registration marquee and in-between various refreshment stalls.

After chatting with some fellow queuers, we began to realise that we’d miss the 8:30am cut off for starting the century ride, in fact this was missed by an hour as my group eventually rolled over the start line at 9:30am.  This had already hampered my timetable; I was hoping to have a post ride massage before lunch, this was already looking unlikely.

Time to focus on the ride, time to think about what lay ahead and not dwell on a frustrating few hours.  The plan for the day was to take it as easy as possible, saving something for tomorrow but still fast enough to get back within six hours (my target was to ride the combined 200 miles in less than twelve hours).

Early on I chopped and changed groups a few times until I found the one I wanted… a small determined looking bunch, not too quick, not too slow.  I slipstreamed them for a while and although I took the odd turn at the front I didn’t think I was working too hard.  My average speed was 18.5mph, well ahead of my target pace…  It was going so well, “what could go wrong?” I thought to myself.

I got my answer after 35 miles… I had trouble changing gears and while fiddling with one of my levers I was dropped from my perfect group, but worse than that I could only change down.  My fiddling had left me in the lowest gear and that was it… I couldn’t change up anymore… stranded in my granny gear!

I got off and frantically tried to work out if there was anything obviously wrong (bear in mind that I’m not a mechanic) but to no avail.  I was too far from the nearest feed station to get help, so my only option now was to call the emergency mechanic number and wait… and wait… and wait!

I called back after some 30 minutes “someone will be with you shortly” I was told again.  They weren’t.  I called again after 45 minutes and then again after 60 minutes.  While I was on the phone for the fourth time, the mechanic finally arrived.  “Sorry for the delay, It’s been a bit busy today” he said.  “No problem” I replied, trying to disguise my general grumpiness.

After taking a quick look, he said he wouldn’t be able to fix it and it would need to go to a bike shop… my general grumpiness turned to shock, bordering on devastation… I was on a mission to ride 200 miles and barely 35 miles in I’d have to quit!

While I was sinking to the floor, he carried on twiddling with the lever “a-ha, I’ve done it” he declared.  My eyes lit up “really?” I queried.  Somehow he’d managed to click the lever back into place, he quickly checked all the gears and I was back in business… what a hero!  I waved goodbye to my knight in shining armour and I was back on my way.

The elation overshadowed the last frustrating hour or so, watching endless streams of cyclists riding past me.  Once I got going again it didn’t take long to realise that the nice speedy groups had all gone, in fact all the riders had gone… I was now facing the next 65 miles or so riding solo!

I arrived at the next feed station some 45 miles in.  I don’t usually stop at feed stations, preferring to carry what I need, zooming past them conscious of that ticking clock.  Today, however, I had consumed some of my precious energy food awaiting mechanical rescue.

So I pulled in, grabbed a few items… but when I went to pull away a steward announced “You can’t go that way”. “Sorry?” was my bemused reply.  “The long course is closed, you’ve missed the cut off, you’ll have to switch to the short course” he explained.  This made sense, I started an hour late and lost another hour due to the mechanical.  “I can’t do that… I’m a Centurion!” I thought to myself and sped away back onto the long course.  Fortunately, the steward was on foot, so couldn’t do much about it.

The course closure highlighted one important fact to me… I was now indeed last.  It was another ten miles before I saw anyone else and I only passed a handful of riders before the last feed station… at least I wasn’t last anymore!

From this point onwards, I knew there wouldn’t be any issues with cut offs and course closures as there were about 50 other riders taking on one last dose of sustenance before the last 20 miles or so.

My average speed was still good, but it was gradually slipping with the back end of the course loaded with trickier terrain and a small matter of a strong headwind blowing up from the finish line.  The worst of which was a full on, in your face gust, blowing down from the top of the moors.  It was a relief to get to the top of that climb, but with no shelter and a 90 degree right turn… that pesky headwind turned into a cross wind… now it was a case of just trying to stay upright on the long descent.

On lower ground and out of the wind, I found myself passing ‘Sandy Balls’ a holiday park where we’d had a family holiday several years ago… I didn’t know this was on the route.  I reminisced about the joyful times we had when our boys were children.  This gave me a lift making the last few miles fly by and before I knew it, I was riding up the driveway to Somerley House and the finish line.

The ride was not as easy as planned, a lot of energy and time wasted.  I was still really pleased with my ‘moving’ time of 5 hours 32 minutes, but I knew I had an uphill battle recovering for tomorrow… no time for a massage, no time for lunch and very little time for anything else.

I arrived back at the apartment in time to catch up with Theresa and Ali just before they went out for their night on the town, while for me it was just a case of eat, sleep and do it all again tomorrow.

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And here it is… Part Two!

Accidental Century

Nomads Ride to Climping

Post London I set myself one final challenge for the year, to ride the New Forest 100… on both days.  My first venture into riding centuries on consecutive days.

I had little time to train, as my focus had been on Ride London and the various speed-endurance sessions that dominated my summer.  The plan was to cram in as many back-to-back sessions as my body could handle.  So on this particular weekend in late August… it was the club run today… and a double spin class tomorrow.

Today was meant to be a normal club run, albeit further than usual, down to the seaside and then back again along the coast.  Probably 70-80 miles, long enough to be a decent training ride, short enough to allow some recovery for tomorrow’s double bout of suffering.

It started with a ride down to Climping beach, which was fast and furious, partly because it was reasonably flat but mainly because Jason was driving the train… and the rest of us were just hanging on.  The first proper ascent did not arrive until 40 miles in, at which point we were averaging 20 mph.  The mile long ascent of Houghton Hill is steeper at the bottom but shallows somewhat to a reasonable 5% average as the climb unfolds.

The previous week I’d attacked early on a steep climb in attempt to catch Jason out.  It worked… but only for a short while… it was also a long climb and the attack had left me in the red, he cruised passed and pulled away.  So, my tactic today was to get onto his wheel and stay there… it was working while the gradient was in single figures, but as soon as it steepened to 15% I had to get out the saddle and inevitably slowed down… he just kept going at what seemed like the same pace… “bye bye Jason” I thought to myself as he disappeared into the distance… different scenario to last week… same outcome.

What goes up must come down…  in this case a glorious two mile descent down the other side into Arundel on smooth dry tarmac, no tricky corners and only light traffic… exhilaration!

The coffee stop soon arrived, 50 miles ticked off in a shade over two and half hours.  Time for a rest, a quick cuppa and a well deserved slice of cake.  Having a coffee with your chums next to the beach is fun, but we had some riding to do, this time along the coast before heading inland and then home.

Jason decided to split early and take a different route home.  “Phew” I thought (and I’m sure the others felt the same) maybe we can have a more sedate ride home now.  Our route was interesting, a ride up a pedestrianised street, a detour through a park and a one point we had to dismount to carry our bikes across a pebbly beach.  A kind of ‘don’t know where we’re going route’… club runs are never dull!

Things speeded up as we found the kind of surface we were more used to… in other words… roads.  We got back in the swing of things, taking turns on the front while winding our way back towards our Ditchling HQ.  As usual, as we got closer to home the group dwindled, with riders spinning off to their various different end destinations.

This left three of us as we neared the rides conclusion.  I was as about three miles from home, which would have been a healthy 80 mile ride for me, but… “Hey Dave” Gary called out to me “Alex and me are going for a century, are you with us?”.   My eyes would normally light up at this point and I’d reply with a resounding “Yes” before they’d finished their sentence.  But I had to consider my plans for tomorrow, I also had to consider that I was busting for a pee (I was holding on until I got home).

“OK” I thought “I’ve got just enough gels left and I can always make tomorrow a single spin class… without feeling too guilty”.  “Ok, this is the deal… we stop for a pee and then I’m in.”  I’m easily persuaded.

We spent the next few miles calculating, comparing and then re-calculating our routes, finally deciding on a loop that would deliver all three of us home with the number 100 on our bike computers.  After riding for another hour, Gary and Alex sped off on their homeward journeys to complete their centuries.

Despite all of those calculations, I found myself over four miles from home once I’d clinched my century.  I’d run out of gels and fluids by this stage and found myself limping (or the cycling equivalent) through the last few miles, eventually arriving home mid-afternoon.

So, with century no.13 in the bag, my thoughts turned to tomorrow… how… just how was I going get back on my bike in the morning and ride down to the leisure centre?… and then how was going to get through that spin class?

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