2011 miles ticker

The Largely Irrelevant Weight-loss ticker

Monday, 31 May 2010

Ahead of the game

Since the start of the year, I've been chasing the 'miles clock' above, never quite catching up to it.

No longer, after the last two weeks, I'm now ahead of target and figuring on staying there.

I've not been riding regularly, not in terms of 4-5 times a week, just packing in a midweek 'Tour de Mercredi' and a couple of weekend audaxes, but its been enough (and all I can fit into non-cycling real life right now).

Following a couple of Etapes of the 'Tour de Mercredi' we had our first "real wet one" last week. Lets see how many turn up this time round. And then there were 2 very different audaxes. Different in many ways.

The Hoarwithy 100 (May 23rd)
Starting from Apperley near Tewkwsbury, this was a new one or me, and for Mrs H in her 4th Audax this year. She now proclaims that "100's are addictive" and will, all things in our favour, be attempting the Crich Tramway 100 this coming weekend.

Despite many potholed lanes, copious amounts of wet tar and loose chippings, and the hottest day of the year, this was a belter. Long views over Gloucestershire, cracking climbs up into the Forest of Dean (the ONLY way into the Forest of Dean is 'up') and the cider orchards of Worcestershire on the return rendered this ride a pleasure. The pasta lunch made it even better. Mrs H even robbed me of the MPH award for the day, descending at 40.5mph into the Forest, yelling "that was fun" over her shoulder at the bottom. Methinks she's becoming used to these events.

Marcle Ridge was lumpy, but the views superb, and we finally trolled into Apperley 20 minues inside the time limit, remarking that thankfully Piz Buin had done its job, and sunburn had been averted. If only all other riders were that lucky.

The West and Midlands 400 (29th May)
More firsts. I'd never done a 400 before, Ray never more than 300. Sodden roads and leaden skies greeted 7 hardy souls (plus organiser) at the start. A variety of wet weather gear was in view, 5 x Rainlegs, 1 x longs, 1 x full foul weather gear, and Ray. He's going to have to get some proper kit!

First leg to Newent was wet, but this was the last time on the ride we were to see concerted rain. A short stop at a well-stocked coffee shop saw us leave in the first group of 5 riders. By Gloucester, the fat bloke pace on the front had reduced this to 4, and we split briefly with a difference of routing opinion in the City Centre. Reuniting on the road out of town, 4 became 3 as time-trial mode was engaged to put the A38 behind us and we went out onto the Severn Plain round Epney and Sharpness.

Wooton-under-Edge was next as a control, but first we had to climb over the 'edge' which it is under, a brutal climb away from the M5 flyover, rewarded with a good swoop into the town. 3 remained, but the 4th rider arrived as we were leaving en-route for Chippenham.

On this leg, the puncture fairy visited. Only once, and at that only 200m prior to the end of the section. If I only ever get punctures AT controls, in the daylight, I'll be happy. Better that than at 2 a.m. in the pitch black, pouring rain and middle of nowhere. On then to Membury services by the M4 and through the Pewsey version of the Vale of the White Horse, and the Marlborough downs. On this section, it became apparent that the organiser had a sense of the sadistic. An info control was strategically placed to ensure that you climbed over the Ridgeway to visit it, a trend to be repeated later. In fading light we arrived at Membury 225km in at 22:10 some 11 hours 40 after our Droitwich start.

After checking in home, Jason decided upon needing substantial food, and Clive and Ray became the two at the front. We left for Cirencester in the hope of reducing headwinds as night took hold. This section ultimately passes through the Cotswold Water Park, and at that time of night, roads were deserted. Lord knows what the few cars must have thought of us. Cirencester came at an average of 20kmh for the leg, and we rested for almost an hour, being met by Jason who arrived as we were leaving.

Skirting the edge of the Cotswolds, we headed for Avening along a road navigable only by GPS. I'm sure I could never find it again. Nailsworth noted another organiser 'moment' with an info at the top of the hill beyond Forest Green Rovers' ground, an evil climb after 300km. Worse was the fact that the subsequent descent could not be fully enjoyed in the quarter light of the brightening morning.

So we left Stonehouse bound for Winchcombe, into the brightening day and over the Cotswold escarpment. At this point, after 315km, even the traffic calming looked like Alpe d'Huez, and the Slad valley was just purgatory. Nonetheless, after a 10 minute Mars Bar stop at the top of Corndean Lane when I was fully bonked, we made the final control at 8:10, only 37km left.

Leaving at 8:30 we set ourselves the target of completing in under a day, but found the undulations much harder than they would normally be. Despite fatigue, we returned at 10:05 on Sunday morning for 23:35 elapsed. I'll settle for that.

During much of the day, Ray was trailing a bit, feeling rough, and being wind-blown. I guess that there's no experience like experience, and that having been there before made it easier for me. We're still on for LeJog, though, and its less than 4 weeks away.

Today I have DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness) and it has to be felt to be believed. I could have got back onto the bike today........................................but I wouldn't have liked it much.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

And so to the Etape du Dales

2010 is the third consecutive year I have ridden this Sportive, and it still ranks among the hardest rides I've ever done. Granted, I've not done the Fred Whitton (yet), and I know that will be right up there, but my top three currently are:

The North Cornwall Tor
Tour of the Black Mountains
Etape du Dales

Notice that the 2008 Etape du Tour doesn't make my top three. These three sportives really are that hard.

2008, in training for the Etape du Tour, I 'left it all on the road' in fairly benign conditions and did a 8:30:13. Last year, in awful wind and rain, on a heavier bike, I embarrassed myself with a 10:59:57. My target for this year was back to 9 hours, a fairly tall order given that I'm currently about 8 kilos heavier than 2008.

Still, I had my times from 2008 as a crib sheet, so off I went. Grey and windy, the first rolling section didn't seem to roll well at all and by the time I reached the first proper pitch of Fleets Moss an hour had passed. 2 minutes down already. As my breath deserted me a voice said "Hello again" and Karen Popplewell breezed past (or as close to breezing as you can come on a 16% pitch). I had sufficient breath for a wheezed "Hello, Goodbye" and she was as gone into the distance as Brett had already done ten minutes before. By the top of Fleets Moss, the deficit had grown to 5 minutes, and the potential 50mph plummet was looming.

As I hit the steepest slope, brain instructed hands to loose the brakes. Hands refused. Steadfastly. I finally sort of released them and got up onto the hoods some 400 metres lower down, not exceeding 40mph. I found out later that Brett had a much more 'interesting' time. He overtook a guy in Mammoth Cycles kit who'd parked next to us at the start. This guy was doing 50, Brett left him for dead but had no speedo to know exactly how fast. He didn't want to know. Suddenly, all hell broke loose, and his bike tried to violently throw him off. He finally came to a halt many yards further on, and the other guy stopped to make sure he was OK, having been shocked by Bretts near death experience. Perhaps next time he's cleaning his bike the numpty will do the front quick release up properly? Either that or set a record for the fastest speed ever set on a unicycle.

By Hawes, I was re-settled and oblivious to Bretts experience, and still only 5 minutes down. A grab and go at the control gained a little time before Buttertubs lost me some more. An ambulance showing it's blues 'n' twos was coming the other way carrying a cargo of cyclist. Hopefully OK. By the bottom of the Buttertubs descent, the deficit was 10 minutes but the marshall proclaimed "Tailwind and Sunshine. Life is perfect" and indeed it was. By the turn for Low Row, deficit was 1 minute, a mark maintained up the climb which was the scene of last years first walk.

At the ford, I was still only a minute down, but this was somewhat spoiled by falling off in the ford. Apparently this happens to someone every year. This year it was me. The front wheel went away, and I fell off in instalments, at least getting a foot loose to avoid the water. Straight back on, and on to Arkengarthdale, making the turn to Tan Hill just 2 minutes behind 2008.

And that's where the good news ends. The next 32km to the turn in Nateby were into the wind and brutal. By the time I reached Nateby, I was 55 minutes down and outside 9 hour pace. At least I managed to descend the whole of Lamps Moss (on the hoods) without bottling so badly I had to stop to recompose myself (and that's a first).

By now the little voice in the back of my mind was telling me that I was useless, and should give up at the Moorcock Inn if I was close to the cutoff. I even asked, but I was 90 minutes inside it. Best to carry on then. On to the infamous Coal Road, it's 1 in 4 ascent, and similar descent where I exited over the handlebars on the 2008 White Rose Classic. I don't really like this hill. Consequently, I found myself pushing round the first bend. I will admit I didn't really even try. My bad. The view over to Sedbergh and the Lakeland Fells beyond was superb, and the descent tolerable, especially given that the worst bits have been resurfaced since last year. I lived through it and gelled up along the next bit of road ready for Newby Head.

It didn't disappoint, and I found myself walking again under the viaduct, but only very briefly. The next stretch to Stainforth was a blast. Cranking up the power with the wind slightly helping and absolutely flying along. I hit my fastest time of the day on this section, without it containing a major descent. Arriving in Stainforth, I was 55 minutes behind 2008, and any hope of a 9 hour finish effectively gone. Nevertheless, there was reason for an exercise in 'how close can I get'.

I was briefly unseated again by the severity of the Silverdale climb, but mostly stayed on, successfully avoiding the kamikaze sheep on the drop to Halton Gill. Turning right and over the bridge, the wind was slightly helping so time-trial mode was selected for the mainly downhill 11 miles to the finish. These were completed in 26 minutes, for a final time of 9:12:55.

I'll admit to being satisfied with that, especially given the complaining my legs were doing after the Skeggy ride the week before. It was good to briefly catch up with Karen at the finish, but I'm still mystified how she can possibly get a "Sportive Pass Out" on her wedding anniversary. Chapeau!

As if the day hadn't been eventful enough, the chip shop in Pateley Bridge was shut so we had to drive on, and I experienced a full-on energy bonk on the A1(M) on the way home. Not good!

Demon Descenders

Now, I thought I'd take some beating, but some people are just lunatics.

Le Tour de Mercredi is already in full swing for 2010, with half a dozen 'Etapes' already in the bag. This weekly ride started last year as a result of a small local charity ride attended by many people from the office. At the end of that ride, people were proclaiming that they would love to do it more often, so the Tour de Mecredi was born, leaving the office each Wednesday evening, and heading out into the Warwickshire countryside around Stratford on Avon. We started at 5, we now number 9 when fully attended.

Having got people into the mood with a couple of 25 mile outings, last Wednesday was the biggest to date, with an 'extra spicy' detour for the utter nutters up Conduit Hill out of Chipping Camden. And so we arrived at the top of Fish Hill outside Broadway for a game of "chase the fat bloke" to the bottom.

I dutifully led off, bottling the approach to the second corner and allowing Brett past. This helped me in terms of encouraging me to stay off the brakes, and as we rounded the last left hander, I hit my terminal velocity of 45.5mph on the straight before the long right hander half way down. All this time I could hear another bike on my right, poised to leap into the bend as I braked early (always do). Expecting it to be Joe, a very keen Sportive rider, so I was surprised to see Simon come flashing past on his sit-up-and-beg mountain bike (with road tyres). Now, this gentleman is a very sensible, totally unflappable 40+ tax accountant. Imagine my surprise when he braked so late into the corner I thought he would go over the hedge. Valentino Rossi has nothing on the two wheel shimmy he achieved into the bend. The smell of burning rubber brake blocks was unbelievable.

As the bend widened, I hit the gas and re-passed, arriving just behind Brett at the bottom. Simon squealed to a halt seconds later with the rest of the group, which rapidly degenerated into testosterone/adrenaline fuelled laughter. Simon pointed out his front brakes for all to see. Or not. He'd braked so hard he'd broken them off and descended the rest of the hill on rear brake alone. All there was at the front was an empty brake arm on one side, and a non-functional brake on the other. Without a speedo, we can only guess what speed he hit. My guess is about 50mph.

Being so upright, he looked very stable. Could this be the secret for the Etape du Dales, where the descents scare me to death?

It's Soooooooo Bracing!

That's what the Victorians said, at least. I'm guessing that they were too polite to say what they really felt about the place.

By 'bracing' what they mean is "there's a howling wind blowing off the freezing cold North Sea". Thus it was on 8th May for my second riding of the "Everybody Rides to Skeggy" Audax. This 302km ride starts in Alfreton and is, it seems, universally windy. Last year, however, the wind was from the West and behind us for the first 100 miles, this year was the reverse.

I often wondered which was worse on a ride, having the wind against early or late. I think I now know that having the wind behind early on is best, you get ahead of expectations, and have time in hand when the going gets tough. The other way, you are already knackered when you turn to cycle with the wind, and are too tired to exploit it.

Last year's attempt was one of the first on the 'tourer', a none-too-light Kinesis Racelight with rack & panniers, this year I was determined to be faster, so I took the Trek. I know the sight of a carbon fibre Trek with a Carradice Longflap Saddlebag is a little incongruous, but 'needs must'.

Setting off early from Alfreton, one thing was immediately apparent. It may have been May, but it felt like November. I had layers of Winter gear on, but was still cold. And stayed that way for most of the day. When it stopped raining, the wind was just evil. At least I don't have the problems that Ray does. At 9 stone wringing wet (we were) the slightest puff of wind sent him all over the place, I'm more of an 'immovable object' (and it feels like it uphill). Timberland Fen near Woodhall Spa was a very good example. Maximum effort, hunched over the bars, 11 mph.

Worst of all are the controls. Each an oasis of warmth, once warm you have to put cold, wet kit back on and go back outside. Ugh! By Skegness, we didn't even stop that long at the control, and kept the wet kit on. Shortly before Sutton-on-Sea we had our last downpour and, on the seafront, turned West for Home. After 100 miles of headwind, the silence was deafening. 11mph flat out became an effortless 20, and windchill reduced to the level that layers came off.

Horncastle and Lincoln came quickly, but legs were sapped by now and the last section to Alfreton seemed interminable. We arrived, once again in the dark, at 22:19 for a total time of 16:19 for the 302km (187 miles). Surprisingly, we were numbers 24 and 25 back, there still being 41 out on the road. In the 15 minutes we were recovering only 2 more arrived, and we saw no others on our journey back to the M1. It turns out that many finished around or after midnight. Perhaps we didn't do so badly after all. The first finisher was 90 minutes down on his 2009 time, I was only 42 minutes slower. Sometimes what seems a bad day at the office may actually be a good one.

302km, 187 miles in 16:19 with over 2 hours of stops.
Average speed 21.1kmh

I'll settle for that, but the legs are destroyed. No worries, only the Etape du Dales to come.

Friday, 7 May 2010

What's in a name?

It seems there are many naming conventions for Audax rides. There's the factual (Two Battles, which visits Bosworth & Naseby), the cryptic (Towering Trees, which goes through the National Forest to Alton Towers), the 'bordering on the rude' (The Faccombe Haul comes to mind) and then the outright untrue (The Dean Bluebell Doddle).

Perhaps not outright untrue, it was in the Forest of Dean, but the bluebells were delayed by the late Winter and it wasn't a doddle!

With 1250 metres of climbing in 58km it's billed as the hilliest 50 in the calendar, and we believe it. Right from the off there was a draggy uphill, followed by undulations to St Briavel's. This is a lovely place with an interesting castle around its quiet side streets, but we were in no mood for stopping, only averaging 15kmh to this point due to the hills. A screaming descent followed with glimpses of the days few bluebells, before one of the climbs featured in the following day's Forest of Dean Sportive. Nevertheless, it got done, and we arrived at the Symonds Yat Control still in possession of our legs. Views were, as promised, spectacular.
Of course, being so high must lead to a descent, and this was a good one, 25%, narrow & winding, as riders on the Sportive would have appreciated as they were going to come the opposite way. Dodgy squeezes past cars were negotiated, and we rode out, briefly, onto the valley bottom.
Only too soon, we were climbing past Worcestershire Spa towards Drybrook on a road with 4 chevrons. Linda achieved three, and then had to stop to reinstall her lungs. Starting again, the top was achieved, and we tootled off over the undulating lanes, by now on our own.
Shortly after, just before Drybrook, the unthinkable happened, and walking was done. Mind you, the instructions advised it to best view the scenery behind, so we were just following instructions. This was the physical high point of the ride, and more good descents followed, getting us back to the start in just under 4 hours of ride time.
By Monday, legs were complaining and bodies very heavy (mine's always very heavy) so the climbing took its toll. As a comparison, the coming weekend's ride to Skeggy only has 350 metres more climb than the Doddle, but that's a 300km event not a 50!