Saturday, 19 December 2009

2010 Plan

The plan for 2010 is to attempt a Randonneur Round the Year (200 for 12 consecutive months) and to do another Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400, 600).

The RRtY was my original and only plan for 2010. The SR came only because, for some bizarre reason, I want to do the Bryan Chapman 600 again. For that you need to build up by cycling a 300 and a 400. I'm on the same trajectory as the Fabulous Faccombe Four, so it can't be helped :). Then the second half of the year is when the FNRttC comes into play. One of the rides I am most looking forward to, is the FNRttC to Dieppe. The plan is stop over in Le Treport and the next day, cycle to my parent's place in Rumbeke (Belgium).

09 Jan: The Poor Student 200 - NOT DONE due to ice/snow
23 Jan: The Willy Warmer 200 - DONE
27 Feb: The Kennet Valley Run 200 - with the Faccombe Four - DONE
27 Mar: The Dean 300 - DONE
16 Apr: FNRttS - DONE
24 Apr: The Severn Across 400 - DONE
15 May: The Bryan Chapman 600 - with the Faccombe Four - DONE
28 May: FNRttC Whitstable - NOT DONE
19 June: Brussels - Paris - Brussels 600 - DONE
25 Jun: FNRttC Bognor Regis - DONE
15 Jul: FNRttC Dieppe - onto Rumbeke!! 200 DIY - DONE
12 Aug: The Severn to Wye 200 PERM - DONE
14 Aug: The Radnor Roundabout 100 - DONE
27 Aug: FNRttC Whitstable - DONE
19 Sep: The William the Conkerer - DONE
02 Oct: The Upper Tea 200 - NOT DONE - The Anfractuous 200 instead
22 Oct: FNRttC Whitstable - DONE
06 Nov: The Upper Thames - not planned but DONE
19 Nov: FNRttC Brighton - NOT DONE due to holidays

Monday, 7 December 2009

The South Bucks Winter Warmer 200

I had a pair of devils sitting on each shoulder during early parts of this ride! Each shoulder pair would argue amongst themselves, working out what would get to me the most: "She doesn't need to do this - its not going towards an SR or anything!". From the other side: "She could be sitting at home, warm, dog on lap, writing Christmas cards." Then the cross-departmental arguments would start: "Above all, what is the point cycling in lovely country side when its dark at 4PM and you can't see anything".

My motivation had been a bit lacking, and I had promised myself beforehand that I needn't cycle in the rain yet again. To set off with those thoughts is never good. Fortunately, it didn't last long. As soon as I told the devils that I was going to get to the first control at least, they had gone.

I'm pleased I did it - as always, I never regret doing a ride. The support the riders were giving each other was extraordinary. I loved the peleton forming in Twyford. It was reminiscent of FNRttC as we were going over the weir. Before that I had a good run with Terry and his mate (Brian?). I heard Terry's mate say at some point: "There is nothing I would rather be doing". I had to agree with him - despite the devils' acrobatics earlier on.

I haven't quite got the hang of the GPS yet, but it was a great help nevertheless. Terry and his mate were expert routesheet readers. And if there was a hint of hesitation, at least I could contribute something and shout out: "Yes, its right here!". When I was on my own, I gradually relied more and more on the GPS. But I must do a short Richmond Park ride to explore the best way to use the GPS.

Another bit I liked was the approach to Bisley - home of the National Shooting Centre. You could hear the shooting from a long way away. When we cycled around the ground, I was amazed by the enormous distance the targets are set at.

Haslemere had the High Street closed off for the Christmas Market. There was quite an atmosphere there. I tried not to look or smell the lovely smells of baking, toffee, mulled wine ...



Audax receipt? No problem.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

FNRttC - Brighton

Why are rides completed in horrendous weather always more epic?

It wasn't too bad really. We started and finished in dry weather. Just the hours in between were a bit wet. It had also stopped raining as we left the halfway spot at the cabin, so that lifted the spirits. But I must quote something posted by mistral on CycleChat: "I had to drive a relative home last night, the rain was heavy the roads awash and visibility difficult, it was only then that I realised just how insane we had been on Friday". That is exactly how I felt when Sarah and I drove back to London on Saturday evening. When we came across a horrible accident on the M25, it wasn't funny anymore.

What an impressive group of riders, though. Simon gave a bail out option at some point (it was a night of many firsts!), explaining that Gatwick was only a couple of miles away for a train back to London ... nobody answered. How brilliant! And the group was quite diverse, from experienced long distance riders to people who've never cycled more than 40 miles (the forum quotes 7 miles - is that really true?).

Hats of to "The Cabin Cafe" establishment in Faygate. It has a reputation as a good truckers' stop and voted by The Times as "the purveyors of one of the best bacon butties in England". Its quite true. How often do you need a steak knife to cut a bacon buttie. That is not because its tough, but because its so big. At first I didn't understand why chef kept shouting and pointing to one of the tables: "Knifes are in the middle". And what a mess we made! The floor resembled that of the showers after a rugby game.

The other thing that was a first was Simon getting a puncture! What an impressive puncture with the sound of a fire cracker being set off, I could see a cartoon animation going on in front of my eyes. I failed to find an image to illustrate what I mean, but found this little gem: Clicky (then click on the i to view in large screen).

The route was new too. And I enjoyed it very much. The highlight was Tunnel Road in Reigate.

We were able to shelter from the rain for a bit, and it was a good spot for keeks to repair his puncture. There is a whole load of history behind these vaults, wouldn't mind visiting one day: Clicky.

And all of the Faccombe Five were there! And Hummers. That made for excellent closure to the cycling season. Shame for them, that it was one of the worst FNRttC, weather wise. Still, think of BCM 2009 and everything is relative.

I'm getting a bit of hassle from Sarah right now ("We have nothing of a Friday evening because you're messing with your bike, you're out cycling all night, sleep all Saturday (oh not true!) and blog all Sunday (oh, not true either!) ... it's stopped raining now, you should be out doing things"). Cycling maybe? Ouch! So better tell her I've finished, and then I'll sneak some more words in later on. Cheerio for now.

... I'm back.

On Saturday, I was very tired and felt like I had done a 300km audax. Maybe that's the bike. I used my racer again, first time since March. It is a lovely bike to ride, but I always feel like I've played a game of rugby with aching muscles and my shoulders and neck very stiff.

I did not envy urban_biker, LEE and Chillmoister cycling home against the wind. I only had to cycle to Seven Dials (seeing Hummers on the way) and was glad to be able to enter a warm house, had a shower, a coffee and a snooze. As I woke up, a lovely lunch was laid on. I was thinking of the guys cycling home, hoping they would see sense (which they did), and was also thinking how otherwise I would be sitting on the train with soaking wet feet.

Thanks to Simon, who is the generator of the FNRttC magic. Thanks to the TECs and all the riders for contributing to the magic.

Some other thoughts:
  • the Christmas lights on Sloane Square, very impressive, almost an art installation
  • me not getting a puncture on a FNRttC!!!
  • the mince pies, hip flask, cakes, hot chocolate etc being shared
  • looking forward to seeing photos taken by the others:
by Arthur: Clicky
by LEE: Clicky
by Mista Preston: Clicky

My pictures on the slide show till the next ride or here: Clicky

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Hanwell to Hanwell DIY 200

Yesterday was quite tough and I was pleased to finish. It was a grey-ish day, but without too much rain or wind.

Cycling from Hanwell (London) to Hanwell (Banbury) and back was something I had to do, but not to be repeated I would think, at least not on a weekday. Most of the ride had a rushed feel about it. I put it down to the traffic. There was the commuting traffic: everybody in a rush and driving wishing they were already further. And there was the school run traffic: mums in a rush and hunting for a car park. Why can't 11th November be a public holiday as in Belgium? And in between, it was also rushed, because I knew that the ride was 'over distance' (more about DIYs later), and I didn't have much time buffer.

A highlight was the use of the GPS for the first time. I wouldn't have made it without it, not in time anyway. Apart from the navigation, a GPS is like a loyal friend. After a long stretch, you look down, and there is its, still with you, showing you were you are.

This is the elevation profile, one way.

The advantage of this DIY is that I can get out of the door and start cycling. And of course, after finishing also, just get a receipt somewhere and then 2 minutes and I'm home. Normally, I would have an hours drive home.

Hanwell, Banbury, is a lovely old village with stone buildings. I didn't do it any justice. It would be worth going back to visit the 12th century church. There is "Hanwell Castle" also. I mentioned Hanwell to a few local friends and we might visit Hanwell together sometime next year. It was also recounted how deliveries to the old pub (name?) on St Margarets Rd used to end up in Oxfordshire.

Amazing to think that only 65km further you'd be in Birmingham!

Some more pictures on the slideshow till the next ride or here: Clicky

Sunday, 18 October 2009

FNRttS October 2009 - Oxford

Once rogerzilla posted that he could no longer lead the group due to illness, it was always going to be more than the adventure you anticipated. Arriving by train in Oxford at 23:30, two cyclists were already waiting. They were Grub and Chocolatebike. Then Adam, Kevin and teethgrinder arrived. Kevin was on the last train from London, so we didn't expect many more to turn up. Rather, we wondered how many people would have talked themselves out of doing this. Its Friday evening, you might have had a hard week, you've finished your evening meal of cyclist's pasta, couldn't resist the glass of wine ... put the telly on for half an hour, getting cozy, check YACF ... oh ... rogerzilla will not be there, darn, won't be the same without him. Half an hour later, ... I don't have to do this ... who wants to cycle in the dark on a Friday night anyway. But I was like Grub, I can't imagine the weekend without having done this. It would be my first FNRttS and it would be the last FNRttS of the year.

We set off soon after midnight, and one of the big differences compared with FNRttC is that you are out of town soooo quickly. All of a sudden it was dark and quiet and we were living it, the FNRttS. I also soon realised that this was going to be a good workout for me. Fortunately, I was able to keep up on the flat, helped with a bit of drafting. The steep hills were quite short, so the wait was never too long (I hope!).

We had a wonderful moment when we stopped, looking at the clear sky full of stars. Heard a dog barking, but that was drowned out by tawny/little owls? Maybe both? We often hear this on rides, but this was so clear and close by.

Another moment I loved was the way we would bend around the roundabouts, in formation, well lit up, fast. At least it was a great experience from the back of the line!

Roadrunner was the Tourist Tony equivalent. Quite amazing really, how there are people who are willing to cater for cyclists in the middle of the night, make tea/crumpets/tea. Teethgrinder had a quick kip while we were sitting around the table. And then there was a knock on the door. MattC wasn't phased by not finding us at the planned meeting point, and somehow managed to find roadrunner's house. (I'm getting closer to buying a GPS now!).

Because of the small group, we didn't have the re-grouping time we have on the FNRttC when I usually take some pictures. Here, I would just about have the camera ready and ... lets go. Got one very blurred one of Grub though, you can tell its Grub, no?

I peeled off at Greenford. Its so close to home. But next time I'll continue with the group. Having breakfast with the group is part of it. And cycling back from Paddington/Acton is no hardship. Compare that with Grub's return cycling journey to somewhere further west from Oxford (was it Pewsey - Wiltshire?). Respect!

So thanks again to everybody for making it a great night. Thanks for the navigation, the company, and the 'midnight' snacks.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Anfractuous 200

And this was another excellent ride. Have a look at the pictures on the slideshow, on till the next ride, or here.

It wasn't an easy ride. There was quite a headwind for a while and I was already tired after 90km. Its the first time I used my lights again, the days getting shorter. I want to carry on doing 200s during the winter. But I think hard 100s would be more enjoyable in a way. I love ridding in the dark when its a dedicated night ride, but I don't like riding in the dark so much at the end of a 200.

Monday, 28 September 2009

LEL 2009 - La Grande Vadrouille

'Yes', I would answer to the question 'Is this your first LEL?'. By Tuesday, I would answer: 'No, this is my ONLY LEL!'.

How can they tell anyway, why don't they ask 'How many LELs have you done?'. Is it my new bright white road cycling shoes? Don't think so, because they were covered with old black tatty water-non-proof overshoes most of the time.

Getting closer to Edinburgh also, there was a farmer repairing a section of a dry wall. He peeped over and said: 'Is this some sort of endurance event?'. Why? Is it because I am cycling sooo slowly and my head is sunken between my shoulders? Or is it the 'I'm OK for now, but I'm braced for what lies around the corner' look in my eyes.

Jeeezzzz! This was tough. The thought of giving up must just not enter your head. On the way back to Alston, in that horrible weather, it would even have been dangerous to stop for a while, mentally and physically. When my riding companion, Mansfeld (? spelling), stopped to change GPS batteries, I indicated that I would ride on slowly. I was worried I would cool down too quickly and so make it even more miserable for myself. I never thought of giving up, but on that night I wanted it to finish so badly.

The highlight was on the same day though! The section going east from Eskdalemuir to Edinburgh, with a tailwind and the sun out, was wonderful!! Beautiful scenery, excellent cycling.

It was here where I rode with John Spooner for a while and chatted with the Italians. On top of their voices they would explain who John is to them (and to a lot of us!): el numero uno! el capitan! el padre! el legend! In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, Amen! Poor John, he only wants to ride his bike! Anyway, we were on top of the world!! Life couldn't be better.

And I had developed my CDs, my Cancellara Descents (If you don't know about Fabian Cancellara watch this with the sound on Clicky). I was loving it. Descending in Cancellara style, cutting corners, ducking under overhangs, sweeping across the country side [ehem, yes, take it with a pinch of salt!]. It entertained me over Yad Moss on the way back. The rain, nor the climbs were bothering me - I would be looking forward to a CD instead! High speed descents, the back wheel would morph into a ski-like contraption so as to push into the corners more, shwish left, shwish right, duck, occasionally don't take the corner, but jump right ahead onto a platform positioned perfectly to bounce off and then re-join the road. Extra points for splatting sheep on the way. My hands got cold at some point and I decided that I was so gifted (get that tonne of salt out again!) that I could do a CD while putting my gloves on. On reflection, I thought even Cancellara wouldn't be so stupid and what with hallucinations and all that, if I don't snap out of this, I would end up like a splatted sheep myself. Forgive me Elise (my parents pet sheep).

But Cancellara! Watch out! PaulD is about! He led in a trail of riders through the Hertford-Cheshunt urban areas at dizzling speed, in the dark, in built up areas, cars on both sides ... I had forgotten about my CDs for a while, then this brought it all back to me in magnified form. If Cancellara was the Yad Moss level, we now have the new PaulD elite urban obstical level. Thanks Paul for leading us in, that was great fun!

On the last day, we knew it was going to be flat, bar the last Hertfordshire bit. Those long flat sections without CDs allow your mind to wonder, especially as the weather was getting better. I was starting to reflect, gather my thoughts about LEL, what I liked, what I didn't like, how I need to learn to take pictures while riding... Then I found myself as if in the Truman Show where the man above decided to wipe the smile off my face and poured a load of freshly made hail all over us. This was in Sleaford. And we would be treated to the odd shower till about 3 hours from the finish.
One thing I had been wondering about was a sentence in the Rider Information Sheet: "On completion of LEL, a final basic sandwich and hot drink will be issued with the removal of your brevet card at the end of the event. After this, food is not available from LEL. " I had been wondering what a 'basic sandwich' is. A sandwich is already pretty basic, unless you go for the open seafood/charcutery platter type sandwich in a bistro. And how is a sandwich 'issued'? 'The removal of your brevet card' was also something that left me wondering whether I had already done something wrong. I'm not a Scroobius Pip with words, but I would rephrase that paragraph with something like this:

"Congratulations on finishing LEL! When you are ready (sure you want to do a few high fives and knuckle handshakes with your cycling buddies first!), please hand in your brevet card for validation. Help yourself to sandwiches and drinks and if you would like to start celebrating your achievement, then the bar upstairs will be open.
Never ate the basic sandwich, but the bottle of beer was a delightful surprise in the lunch bag!
But Audaxers don't expect frilly language like that. On the routesheet for example, we don't expect to read:

"On approaching the T-junction, you will see a view of the dominating mountain Mount LEL, conquered by few. Turn left to continue your journey, or, alternatively, have a break to admire the water well, built ca 213bc, tucked around the corner on the right hand side. This will interest the historians amongst you."

Instead, Audaxers want and get this:

On the last day, I linked up again with the German guy, Mansfeld, who kept me going on the depression section of Tuesday evening/night. I was puzzled by him. He went steady, telling stories of Russian LEL type rides, where they took a train to the start, but couldn't find space for their bikes ... while I was trying to hold back expressions of discomfort, but still sighing, occassionally saying 'when is this going to finish'? No reaction from Mansfeld ... better keep quiet and suffer inside. But on the last day, Mansfeld and I linked up again, and he said something like: 'Els, if it hadn't been for you I would have given up!' I was so surprised by this, I thought I was the suffering one, drawing energy from him!.

LEL and Audax is about self-sufficiency (thats the word I was looking for on BCM, when I talked about audaxing being unsupported). You sign up to cycle from London to Edinburgh and back. You know when and where to start from. Then all you have to do is cycle the route and collect the stamps at controls. Mind you, I heard a few say that making it to the start is 3/4 of LEL done. Anyway, don't expect anything from the organisation and anything you do get is a bonus. But we did get lots of bonuses - more than that!!! The slick bottle refilling facilities everywhere, the variety of food, the variety of sleeping arrangements (!), the welcoming volunteers, the mechanics, the resourcefulness and commaradery of everybody ... amazing. Thank you to the organisers and volunteers.

And, if you turn up at 2AM in the morning, dripping wet, cold, miserable, tired, a little short tempered maybe, and you are welcomed by 'There are no beds or blankets, and there is no floor space', you shouldn't be surprised, angry, upset, disappointed or anything like that. Look around and you'll find plenty of space in a corridor and heap full of linen that can be used as blankets. I think Audaxers become tramps and find space and resources everywhere! Next time, I'd be a bit more resourceful in booking B&Bs ahead of time! If I don't get to use them so be it! Oh, no, I forgot, there will not be a next time.

See, plenty of space. But where did those duvet covers come from when I was told there was nothing left?

The one testing challenge for me was the drying room at Alston, doubling up as men's changing room. Two men would come out, one would go in, one would come out, two would go in ... guys, I'd just ... another goes in, I'd just like to ... I need to, look can you all get out so that I can hang up my wet gear. I called on a volunteer to help me out but got a look of 'what do you expect me to do about it'. I don't expect anything, but the reality is that we are faced with some male/female logistics. Apologies for getting ratty at that stage and thank you to the guy who handed over a hanger and clothes pegs.

My favourite controls were (although I fear I might be getting controls muddled up - all had their unique qualities):

Traquair: for the LEL cakes, whiskey and beer touch, massages, IslandBakery biscuits, the floor space, the friendliness, the location

Middleton Tyas: for the tents with camp beds and Mike being there watching out for me on the way back.

A lot of people seem to have enjoyed the Twitter feed. I was pleased also that I had the capacity to send some updates. That is until my iPhone got wet. It was pouring down, as we had got used to, and I had lost my way. I was using the iPhone mapping to get my bearings again. I had also lost some confidence though and kept checking if I was going the right way now. Gradually but surely my phone got more and more wet, then it stopped working. At least I was on my way again, and later on Scottlington kindly posted a message explaining the lack of tweets from swarm_catcher. Thanks Scottlington!

All in all, I am very pleased with how LEL went. I didn't have the collapse experienced during BCM. My spirits stayed up, I managed to eat well and sleep more than planned. At some stage I wondered if everybody had been lying to me and that you need to do LEL in preparation for BCM, not the other way around. Then the day marked as 'potential BCM day' happened ...

And I need to thank again, all my supporters. All the people who sent messages via email/txt/twitter/cards. All the volunteers and cyclists. All the people who donated towards Bees for Development. Its been quite an effort by all!

I had wonderful conversations with the belgian riders, especially Erwin from Leuven, since we were riding at similar speeds. He stated: "As every muslim needs to visit Mecca once in their lifetime, so does a long distance cyclist need to do Paris-Brest-Paris... "

And just a few more thoughts:
  • Returning to Gaminlingay (last control) where Manotea and Mercury were - it was like coming back to civilisation. Rode with Manotea for a while. He was on fixed.
  • Peter the Austrian whom I cycled with on the first and the last day. A spoke broke in Peter's rear wheel, so he ended up walking through the night, in the rain to Thorne. A spare rear wheel was found so Peter could continue and finish LEL. It seems spokes breaking was not uncommon on LEL.
  • Need to learn how to replace spokes and true a wheel.
  • Still have Peter's kneewarmers.
  • Getting a massive 5 hours sleep on the last night which left me waking up with a face like a red balloon with knots for eyes.
  • On the return from Edinburgh, managing to clock a massive 5kph going downhill, using the granniest of granny gears. This is why: Scotland Headwinds
  • A different view on LEL by George Swain: George's LEL Ride Report
  • Quote from Mike D: "The best weather day included sun, thunderstorms, rain, wind and quarter-sized hail. The bad weather days? They were a little wet and windy as well.". Another excellent ride report: Mike's LEL Ride Report (various posts and some videos).

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Marlborough Connection 200 Perm

Did the Marlborough Connection 200 permanent ride. It was an absolutely beautiful day. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures. This means I'm going to have to do the ride again. This route might become my favourite, taking over from the Poor Student.

It goes through some lovely villages, I had never been to before, like Lechlade and Burford, Bibury and the Barringtons. Had a lovely cream tea at Wootton Bassett.

This is the route:

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Poor Student 200 Perm

This is the new bike on its first outing: it ran very nicely. I just need to do a little more fettling (= prutsen in flemish!) to get the setup just right. The seat needs be lowered just a fraction, but was at its lowest. So, I'll need to saw of a bit off the stem, or swap with another. The handlebar needs to be tilted up a bit and I'd like some extra padding (on the handlebar).

All in all, I was very happy and really noticed the greater flexibility compared with the racing bike which is very stiff (good for sprinting though!).

So I decided to repeat The Poor Student 200 route, which takes you from Oxford to Malmesbury and through the Cotswolds. It is a lovely route. I completed the route in 11.5 hours, which is an improvement on 13.5 hours when we did it in January. But then the conditions were very different!
Here are some pictures of the scenery:

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Poor Student 200 Perm

Yabadabadooo!! 11 hours including stops! 9 hours 45 minutes of riding.

After our allotment party yesterday, I really wasn't in the mood for cycling (not that I was drinking). But the alarm went off at 04:30 this morning and up I got. It was still raining, but I knew it was going to stop around 6AM, which was my planned start time in Oxford.

Everything went well. Made good time in the morning, so had lunch in the Summer Cafe. As I've mentioned before, the Poor Student is a lovely ride from Oxford to Cirencester and back via Malmesbury.

Loved seeing the lavender on Snowshill. More pictures on the slideshow till the next ride, or here.

Again, many thanks to everybody who has donated! There is still time to donate (after LEL, I will never ever ask again).

Monday, 29 June 2009

The Dean 300 Perm and The Poor Student 200 Perm

Was it hot!!

The Dean is the most beautiful ride. The Cotswolds, Forest of Dean and Malborough Hills. I didn't appreciate the Malborough/Wiltshire region before, but it is stunning and wonderful to ride (on a couple of occasions walk!) through. A horrible climb, but coming up to Pewsey Hill with the chalk white horse is impressive. Wiltshire is known for the chalk white horses (not just Uffington): Wilthsire White Horses .

Coming out of Shipton, I saw a barn owl, which then flew alongside me for quite a while. Lovely! In the Forest of Dean, I saw a group of wild pigs. Heard them first, so I was on the lookout.

Both rides were absolutely beautiful in this weather. It was the third time I've done the Poor Student this year, and the best.

I did the Dean in under 18 hours and the Poor Student in under 12 hours. How consistent: 6 hours per 100km, which includes breaks. What I learnt this time is what challenges hot weather brings. I used wet wipes to freshen up every now and again, bought water at every opportunity, but I got sweat rashes in allsorts of areas and don't know what to do about that! It also takes some time to get ready in the morning, I should allow 30 mins. Eating takes time!

The YHA was also a good way to simulate disturbed LEL sleeping. Since it was so hot, the window of the dorm was left open so we could hear the traffic, the trains and the road works (or was I dreaming that?).

I am encouraged by this for LEL. I'm beginning to believe that I'll do better than my planned worse case scenario ... but I'll stick with that plan. Anything better will be a bonus. I'm imagining if I had to do both days all over again - but I'd probably walk the steepest hills, and that's OK.

Only three weekends to go. The thought of that makes me nervous. What kind of training is left to do? I have nothing planned except not do any night riding, no more coffee, no more alcohol ... That seems like a lot of doing nothing!

Quite a short ride report for such a two-day effort!

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Summer Warmer 200

Quick update (sorry no pictures this time).

Seems a long time ago since I did the Bryan Chapman Memorial ride. Its time to get back in the routine of weekend Audaxing.

This weekend was a 200km ride in Buckinghamshire, starting in Great Kingshill. My aim was to ride out of my comfort zone as much as possible.

I averaged 21.6km/hr. I'm very happy with that, because my LEL calculations are based on 20km/hr. It took 9:45 hours to cycle 230km (excluding stops).

It was a wonderfully sunny day, with a great route, going out to the Guildord/Hazelmere area.

Next Saturday, I'll be cycling the start and end of LEL. I'll go out from about 7AM for 6 hours and then return. It will be interesting to see what distance I cover. On the Sunday, I'll do a repeat for the three Richmond Park laps, which I did last Saturday and aim to beat my time (too bad to publish!).

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Bryan Chapman Memorial 600

When I explain what Audax is to people who show the slightest bit of interest (!), I always say its about unsupported long distance cycling. The long distance cycling is of course true, but the 'unsupported' is really something I need to find another word for.

The support for and on the BCM was amazing. From friends and family, work colleagues, the organiser, the volunteers at the controls, the cyclists, the check in lady at the Travelodge ...

She was the start of a good weekend, she was so friendly, welcoming and helpul. She wanted to help Pete out with storing his kitbag till Sunday, but her boss wouldn't have it. It would be a health and safety risk. I would have thought that the BCM would be much more of a health and safety risk to us, than the bag would be to anybody. Still she let all of us take our bike into the room.

And Pete gave out good signals too: "You'll love the BCM" he said, "Its a wonderful ride".

After checking in, Bez, Pete, the Faccombe Four and I went for a meal at the Boar's Head in Aust, joined by several more BCMers.

Bez and I cycled over the Severn Bridge to the start the next day. It wasn't too windy and we took it really easy. I was nervous at the start, anxious. Good though, to see familiar faces from other Audaxes. I was wanting to take photos of extremes, like Hummer's ultra lightweight setup as if he was going out for a 30 miler; to the bike with full double panniers. But I was too focussed on being ready for the start. I knew that if I didn't take photos then, I would never have the opportunity again!

If you can spot me, you can see how focussed I am on the start!

I really enjoyed all the way to Menai Bridge. Going over the suspension bridge was a highlight for me (halfway point and interesting bridge). After that, it wasn't a ride of many highlights, but a matter of survival. The night ride back to Kings YH took far too long, leaving me with 30 mins for a quick sleep and skip breakfast. Charlotte, Greenbank and I discussed tactics here, not knowing if its better to invest time in sleep and go in time deficit, or to just keep going. I decided to do the next 'short' section and have another kip there. But again, I was too slow and felt I had no time to sleep, so carried on. I wasn't feeling too bad, I didn't get too cold compared with others (only once where my hands were freezing, that was when I caught up with the Faccombe Free by then!), didn't feel hungry at any stage and didn't run out of water.

It was at Kings Youth Hostel that the first magical moment happened, although I didn't fully realise this till I finished. I had already chatted with RichForrest when he was contemplating spending the rest of the day/night/day helping out at the YH. When I did arrive at the hostel in the early hours of Sunday morning, he made me the best, strongest coffee ever and him being around was just so good for me. Now skip to the finish or even the following day where my mum was so delighted to tell me that RichForrest's comment on my blog, saying he saw me leave the YH, meant the world to her! Waiting two days for a worrying mum is quite something, then to get such a message out of the blue ... Silverbackcyclist ... thank you so much - you are a star!

The controls were fabulous. The volunteers would know exactly what you need and want: have a chair (oh thanks!), would you like some hot soup (oh yes please!), or rice pudding (oh yes! both!), cup a tea?
Another magical moment was on the last leg. I had a quick kip of 1o mins on the grass verge, because I couldn't go anymore. I was falling asleep on the bike and was seeing double. Then an angel appeared. He tapped me on the arm and said he was going to make sure I'd make it to the end. I put my whole trust in him - no point fighting this! This was with 80km to go, which is a long way for not wanting to go on anymore! That would be about 4 hours worth of your body and mind saying stop. Thankfully, an Audax is "unsupported", because if a broom wagon had come along with someone saying 'hop in', I would have (would I?).

It didn't rain the whole way, but that is how I remember it. At first, it would shower and you'd dry off again, but towards the end, the rain was continuous. The hailstorms also were painful. Everything became wet, even my brevet card, which I normally treasure and keep dry. All the stamps probably washed into one, I don't know, I didn't look anymore, just handed it in.
Which brings me to another magical moment! From the finish control, I had to cycle back across the Severn Bridge to the Travelodge. Not far, but I didn't want to. Sorry I don't know his name, but a fellow cyclist (and budding beekeeper!) offered a lift in a van that would have enough space for the bike. Oh yes please!

Other moments: the fireworks at Beddgelert, the Honeypot Cafe where I wanted to buy one of their T-shirts (Blacksheep offered his instead), hearing cuckoos and owls again, the hallucinations not being too bad, learning about "Death Shimmy" (but sorry it happened to LEE, who then packed), the crossing of Barmouth Bridge, hearing John 'two punctures before the start' Spooner shouting "wake up" as I was shaking my head in dozy disbelief of what was going on...
Here are a few quotes from the YACF forum which made me realise what has been achieved by all participants - well done everybody!:
  • Out of the 80 or so that started about 30 packed and went home at some point in the ride due to the bad weather (RichForrest).
  • He said there are still about 20 still out there, and that he'd not want to still be riding - it's raining, windy and very cold (Fidgetbuzz).
  • I am wondering if this is the hardest ride I have done to date (Bianchi Boy).
  • That decides it; never doing this ride again (Martin).
  • Just starting the ride in those conditions merit a medal (Jethro).
  • First rider back was about 3 hours slower than last year (teethgrinder).
  • Youtube clip (geraldc) - don't know why this made me laugh so much!
All the people who made a difference: the Faccombe Four, Greenbank, Scotlington, John Spooner, Pete, Mel, Mercury, Bez, organiser Mark Rigby, RichForrest, Charlotte, Pompey Phil, all the volunteers, Paul and budding beekeeper ... thank you! .. and Hummers, how can I forget Hummers!
My recovery was really strange. I now know about the Tuesday Blues, which I got badly, but its as if my body was in three parts. Apart from sore feet, my physical body was OK. My brain wasn't switching on again for a long time although my emotions were on overdrive. And the weirdest was very sore top stomach muscles and pain inside to the core.

What have I learned? I [sort of] enjoyed the first 520km. In the penultimate stage, I could really push it, eventhough I was tired. My disappointment was my complete collapse in the last 80km. And I think it must be due to lack of sleep and lack of food. I wasn't hungry at any stage and tried to eat deliberately, but it was probably too little.

I need to find out my own sleep strategy, whether to invest in sleep despite going in time deficit. And I need to find a way of eating better. I think I do OK with food, but my calorie intake was probably far too low.

Would I do it again? Certainly. I'd like to do the ride over five days. I would wait for the best 5 day weather forecast and then set off and visit some friends in Anglesey while I'm there.
Have a look at the photos - on the slideshow till the next ride or click here.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Denmead 400 Perm

It is telling that on Sunday I wrote: "Finished the ride in time". For a couple of dark hours I thought I wasn't going to make it. But what can you do? Its the middle of the night, dark, everything closed, the odd light on - but you wouldn't knock on anyone's door. teethgrinder had given me the best piece of advice: "... don't give up, even if it looks like you wont finish. Sometimes things turn around and get better." Between 3/4AM of Sunday that kept going through my head, I gathered that by 4AM things would turn around, so in the mean time, I might as well cycle a bit. I stop/started many times, to try and warm up. The windchill generated by movement was horrible. On the Saturday morning I had already complained of painful feet, and now I didn't know anymore if they were painful or cold. Then I started to forget about the cold, the landscape flattened, there were glimmers of dawn and the end was 'imaginable'. I constantly redid my ETA (estimated time of arrival) calculations, getting later and later, but the last one sticking with about 30km to go, to arrive by 9AM.

What a day - 26 hours!

I already mentioned the highlights being Cheddar Gorge and getting into Weston-super-Mare. Going down Cheddar Gorge brought similar emotions to reaching Whitstable on a FNRttC last year, with that beautiful sunrise. There was a group of Minis parked in one of the bays. Had to take a picture for Sarah of course. The owners scuttled away from their cars, I can only think because they were eating pizzas out of carboard boxed and didn't want that to spoil the picture!

It was great to have Urban_Biker and Chillmoister as companions again. Even the full set of the Faccombe Four appeared, with LEE and keeks joining us for parts of the ride. As always, I am very grateful for their support. Although we don't ride together the whole of the time, you do have the feeling that you are in this together.

Urban_biker very kindly put up two tents in his back garden for Chillmoister and I, to have a kip at the end of the ride. I tiptoed around wondering which tent Chillmoister was in - didn't hear any snoring as promised, and was lucky to find the first one I tried empty. I unzipped as quietly as one can! Tried to muffle my gargling cough which had developed all of a sudden. You've guessed it already of course, he wasn't there, but had already gone home.
Other things of note:
Headwind: 200kms of it, all the way to Weston-super-Mare, 17kph had been the forecast.
Spoke: back wheel spoke broke (when/where was this Chillmoister?), fortunately the wheel stayed true enough.
Mileometer: stopped working, making navigation more difficult. Had lots of navigation doubts in those deep, dark hours I talked about. Used the iPhone mapping on many occassions.
Wildlife: oystercatchers heard over Frome, lots and lots of tawny owls calling - lovely. Also lots of spring nectar smells, probably hawthorne.
The Oxford Corner Restaurant: was a great, friendly place to have a meal of baked beans on toast and chips in portions none of us could finish. The staff were not at all stirred by the fact we cycled from Portsmouth, probably because it is a regular stop for Denmead 400 audaxers . I'm puzzled though why giving an 'audax receipt' was still not part of the routine.
Swarm: while at the restaurant, Sarah called to say there was a swarm happening on the allotment. Briefly I thought she was joking, because we always say that the bees wait till I've gone out cycling. But no, there is photographic evidence even! I'll check the hives at the weekend, but I would be very, very surprised if the swarm was from one of our hives.
The Bear and Ragged Staff: what does the pub name mean? Maybe this link provides some answers : clicky.
Meim ... please skip this paragraph and go to next ...
RTA (road traffic accident): after Salisbury plains when relieved to have got to the next T junction, and me being ahead of Chillmoister and Urban_biker for the one time, I stop, lean my bike against a post ready to have a little break, when I hear the unmistakeable sound of a car on car collision. I look around and saw a car tumbling down the slope. The atmosphere changes, cars stop, people get out and help the man and women out of the crashed car, alive. Soon after Chillmoister and Urban_biker catch up with me, I was pleased to see them.

... maybe skip this one too ...
Hallucinations: had three types of hallucinations
  • roundabouts and T-junctions: in stage 6, 19 out of 29 instructions were roundabouts or TJ's. No wonder I started to see them everywhere. Especially in trees.
  • people waiting to wave at me only to morph into postboxes or hedges as I get nearer.
  • and the spookiest of all are the shadows, because shadows move. They are like giant cranes, like giant arcade pick a toy grippers, ready, waiting to pick you up as you move beneath them. I imagined being picked up and being dropped somewhere ... at the finish.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The Denmead 400 Perm

A quick touching base to say that I finished the ride in time. It was the toughest ride I have ever done but my spirits stayed up. Photos up (on the slideshow until the next ride or click here), ride report to follow

Started at 7:08 Saturday, finished at 9:05 Sunday.

Highlights: Cheddar Gorge and approach into Weston-super-Mare

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The Denmead 300 Perm

Sunday morning:
A quick note to say I'm home! Its now Sunday 11:30AM, had a shower and breakfast and am not feeling too bad. I can walk!

We finished at 2AM, and I got home at 5:30AM, stopping about 5 times along the way to take powernaps.

Will post more later - taking Poppy for walk, and looking at the bees this afternoon.

Sunday afternoon:
I'm a bit downbeat at the moment. Because as I set to blog yesterday's ride and put the photos up, I realised I couldn't find my camera anywhere. Hopefully it will still turn up somewhere sometime.

We had a very ambitious plan, to finish before midnight. By late lunch time, we realised we were not going to achieve this. Instead we finished at 2AM. I probably added an hour for everybody, being the slowest and loosing a lot of time on the hills.

I have mixed emotions about this ride. On a positive side, I managed to complete the ride, with 2.45 hours to spare. The light system was fantastic, my saddle bag worked out. My chain fell off a couple of times but there were no punctures. My eating and drinking was good. Had the right clothing. Fantastic, generous company. The weather couldn't have been better. The scenery beautiful.

So what was wrong? My slow hill climbing sets me back quite badly and plays on my mind. The biggest concern I have is the night riding. The navigation gets more difficult because its harder to keep an eye on the routesheet and the road (even with the brilliant dynamo light). Its harder to read the road signs. I pay good attention to the mileage to work out where I am and take note of the next instruction on the routesheet. I overshot one junction, and quickly realised I was wrong so turned back. I overshot a second junction, but had Pete not called me on the mobile, I wouldn't have realised for an other couple of miles (not quite true as I was slowing down thinking the junction must be soon or behind me). And when you're tired, I think such mistakes can easily happen. Again, these things play on my mind.

Back in January, after the first 200, I stated that I could not see how I would ever do a 300. Now I am saying that I can not see how I am ever going to do 4 300s in a row!

I got home at 5:30AM, stopping about 5 times along the way to take powernaps. The drive normally take less than 1.5 hours.

Some stats: 20.4kph average, 52.3 max, 178bpm max heartrate, 140bpm average heartrate, 8847 calories burnt.

A big big thank you to the now named Denmead Dynamos: Chillmoister, Urban_Biker and Keeks for being such excellent company. Unfortunately, LEE had DNS'd (Did not start) because of a stomach bug. Hummers joined us for a while too after providing a welcome breakfast bite. I have doubts though whether I'll do the 400 with them in two weeks time. I do hold them back more than is acceptable I feel - so will suggest I either ride a calendar event, or go my own pace.

Also a big thank you to Sarah for letting out the chickens two mornings in a row!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

FNRttC March 2009 - Brighton

I was asked many times if 'this' was something to do with Red Nose Day! It would have been so much easier to say yes, but it was so much more fun to see the ensuing facial expressions when the truth was told. Mind you, its hard to explain when asked "Why do you cycle to Brighton, from London, in the middle of the night?". And you do this on Red Nose day? And you are not raising money? Should have referred them to my JustGiving site ...

We had the usual stop start exit out of London, before we came to quiet lanes. We had some really fast stretches (max 52.5 km/h). I also love the rolling section after the climb in Coulsdon

We cycled through residential areas, went through gates onto a footpath, left, right, up, down and ... all of a sudden, into a back alley, bike on shoulder, up the stairs and 'Arrivals'. Being in Gatwick Airport was quite surreal.

I just love FNRttC. Every ride is different. The only thorn in the side last night was an on/off puncture. Not so bad in itself, but you know that it holds up the group and it meant that I ended up walking up Ditchling Beacon. I have never walked up that hill before (I mean, I always manage to cycle up - slowly).

The mist over Ditchling Beacon and Brighton was an improvement on the hail we had last year. Shame we couldn't even see the sea though! I didn't have good memories of the Madeira Cafe breakfast, but this morning's Full English was pukka (= the max).

It was a great group of people with old and new faces. It was great catching up with Brian, Chris, the scott and meeting new cyclists.

Had a smooth journey back home, good train connections, coffee ready at home!

More photos are here.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

The Kennet Valley Run 200

This was a great ride with beautiful scenery. I had a bad patch halfway. I was feeling very sleepy. If I had been on my own, I would have stopped for a quick snooze. Instead, I drank Lucozade, slowed down for a bit and carried on. Not sure what the right strategy would be.

But other than that, I felt really good. For the first time after a 200, I felt I could have gone on. With my new dynamo light also, cycling in the dark is no longer so daunting. So this ride has given my a lot of confidence.

Saw a lot of familiar faces, from previous rides, and YACFers. Its nice to catch up, see what others have been up to, what their 2009 ambitions are, how they are getting on ...

The area around Welford was really nice. There is a privately owned Manor House with surrounding park, which is only open to the public when the snowdrops are out. May make a visit. The associated church looks impressive too, it appears that a round tower is unusual. Click on this link (and then 'Search for images') to see some images on Google.

Saturday, 31 January 2009

The Willy Warmer 200

The Willy Warmer was a popular Audax, with over 60 entrants. It was a great crowd with many familiar faces. The event was extremely well organised - thank you to Manotea.

My sister commented that this could be called The Willy Colder. Which is very true. The last section after the Sainsbury's stop was very cold. I get bouts of 'white finger'. On a ride, it usually starts when I take a break and while it hurts, it hurts even more when the circulation kicks in again. This is what was happening in the next hour after Sainsbury's.

The second half was tough because of the headwind. I still made good time - which is what counts really. You soon forget how you felt, as long as 'the job is done'.

On the train home I received a phone call from my mum, saying that a Belgian friend had made a very generous 100 euro donation on the LEL JustGiving site. What timing to receive that news! It brought tears to my eyes.

I tried to reduce non-cycling time, so my stops were brief. I only took a couple of picture at the end. Here they are:

Sunday, 11 January 2009

The Poor Student 200

Thank you, thank you to the fantastic Fabulous Faccombe Four - and Mercury! No way would I have completed this ride without them! Navigation, company, chats, light! I have only ever cycled at night in a group: Dun Run, FNRttCs and this one, and although I love it, I also find it scary at times. The thought of night riding on my own scares me a lot. Maybe the Willy Warmer will provide me with an opportunity to overcome my fears?

It was a great route, weather better than expected, hills not as bad as expected. I am very pleased with how it went, but it was tough. Its only the first in the season, and fitness and endurance will get better. But for now, I don't know how I will ever do a 400.

We started at 8 AM, cycled from Oxford to Shrivenham, to Malmesbury, to Chipping Campden and back to Oxford arriving just before 9.30 PM. The final control closed at 10.25.

I am very tired. Didn't sleep very well - how is that possible?

The Faccombe Four

LEE and Mercury