Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Did it

Not written much recently - new job (commuting on my single speed in Birmingham most weeks - fun), but also a bit of trepidation about the first couple of weeks of May - Fred and Etape week, to be accurate.

Well the Fred was bloody extraordinary.  I went up the night before to not-sleep at the Sally - the thoery being not-sleeping 15 minutes from the start is better than not-sleeping 90 minutes from the start and having a long drive there - moot point, but 5:30 saw me out of bed eating instant porridge and pulling on lycra.

A massive queue to get into Grasmere show field meant that G arrived before me, having driven over in the morning, and once we'd fettled bikes, registered, G had had a poo, gone back to the car for his number and generally buggered about, it was 7am before we left.

Actually 7am was useful, as it gave us a a clear idea of our "total time" as opposed to ride time that I have on my Garmin.

Gareth has serious labrador pup tendencies, so was pushing things from the word go, but I'd decided that I was going to be sensible, so as he disappeared up the road in Kirkstone I let him go.  In a precursor to several of the climbs I gradually overhauled him, and then he came bloody flying past on the descent.

We got in a good group along the A66, and Borrowdale was a bit stop-start due to two and four wheeled traffic.  Honister mirrored Kirkstone, and was enlivened by meeting a guy I'd ridden up Crag Vale with on the Skylark ride a few weeks ago.  Gareth was dropped, and then flew past on the way to the first feed at Buttermere.

Newlands was ok, apart from a slightly unnerving back wheel slip on the steep bit at the top, then we hit Braithwaite and the climb up Whinlatter - where my GPS said we went through half way.

I'd 'fessed up to G that I was thinking I may get under 8hrs total time, and at this point it looked doable - I was doing the usual mental maths to see what the average speed needed to be, and must confess that on Cold Fell (it wasn't, thankfully) I left Gareth and started to think that if he blows up properly I'm leaving him.

I stopped at Calder Bridge and was about to set off when Gareth came in, only a few minutes down, so we set off together, although I could tell he was starting to feel it a bit.  By this time we were definitely on for sub-8, and I'd worked out we only needed to average 12mph to hit it - my thinking became "for every mile at 20mph you can do one at 4..." (Hardknott hangs over you all day!).

I rode all the way up Eskdale on my own, but then the world and his dog appeared as I went past the phone box at the bottom of Hardknott.  The bottom bends were as steep as ever, but once I'd got up those I was pretty confident I'd ride all of it, despite the increasing number of people walking.

The top section loomed overhead as I tried to recover as much as possible on the "easy" bit, and almost before I was ready I was on it, looking for the outside of the bends and trying not to get too close to other riders.  There was amazing support on "that bend" with hooters, cowbells and shouts, and that gave me the energy to get out of the saddle and pass a few people on the inside - the increase in volume was like a booster rocket and that carried me half way up the final ramp, before I slumped back down in the saddle and ground it out to the top.

Wrynose was, as usual, a bit of an anti-climax (once I'd stopped for a bit of double-leg cramp past Cockley Beck) and soon I was giving it full beans to the finish - I found myself at the front of a little group of riders, none of whom seemed to have the energy to help out, so I led the happy band back into the show field with a ride time of 7hrs and 20 seconds, and a total time for the event of 7:24 and a bit - well over half an hour quicker than I'd thought I might just do with favourable conditions and good luck.  G was ten minutes later at 7:35, but had also absolutely smashed his planned time, and looked well set for his epic charity ride week.

Then it was on to the Etape - of which later...

Thursday, 3 April 2014

A better March...

After February's skiing affected mileage drop, I was determined to get "back on it" in March.  Longer rides at weekends have started to become the norm, and I managed four 100m+ weekends on the trot.  Weekday mileage has been patchier, with one pretty poor week, and one of over 200 miles.

The poor week was mainly affected by work/beer/travel - including a night in Ripon at the gala dinner to launch the 100 days til the Tour comes through Yorkshire.  Thackray and I met Bernard Hinault, Brian Robinson and a poet called Kate - and drank a substantial amount of beer (me) and beer and wine (Rob).

We rode the Petit Depart route one Sunday, which was a battle into the wind up to Newby Head, then last weekend we did the southern bit of the Etape du Dales route, with Fleet Moss, Coal Rd and Dent Head, all before a last climb over Pen y Ghent to Halton Gill.  Glorious weather saw me in shorts for the first time this year.

Total mileage for March was over 800, and was (I think) the 4th highest I've done.

Main concern now is shedding a bit of weight before the Fred in six weeks - I'm probably 10lbs over what I was at my lowest, and would like to get half a stone off - it's actually relatively easy (if a little tough on willpower) as I know what to do - I can cut out c500kcals a day pretty easily just by having a more sensible breakfast and lunch (however as I type this I'm about to dig into an East Coast full English...).

I'm also changing my job at the beginning of April - this will involve more travel, mainly to Solihull, and doing some days in north Leeds at Scarcroft.  Scarcroft is just under 30 miles from home, so I'm thinking of making it a "one way" bike commute a couple of days a week.  My Solihull days will involve a night or two away, so the options for keeping fit there are either to rent a flat (assuming they'll pay) in Brum and commute by CX bike (singlespeed, maybe?) along the canal (my preference), or to find a friendly hotel that'll let me keep a bike there - or failing that I'll just have to go running!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Getting better with the weather

After Feb's rather disappointingly low mileage, I decided that March had better be "back to normal", so I've forced myself out after work whenever possible.  I've been doing a bit of travelling, so that accounts for one and sometimes two evenings off, but I've also been trying to up the mileage of evening rides a bit.  Often this will be just extending the ride by two or three miles to make it a 25 instead of my "standard" 20 - riding over to Ilkley is good for this, as the main road towards Burley has a number of turning points and gives a fairly painless extra 5 miles or so.

I've been out with the Ilkley chaingang for the last couple of Saturdays - Skipton tried to organise something similar but as usual with SCC a good idea quickly died a death due to lack of interest.  Ilkley's chaingang has around 20-30 people, and rides along the valley to Otley as one group, then splits in two.  On both occasions I've got myself on the fast group (this involves hitting c35mph on the flat!) and have hung on for a few miles before dropping back.

Even with the "ride of shame" back to the second group you still get a seriously quick (average 20mph+) 30 mile ride, and home before 11am.

Sundays have been given over to longer rides with the club, and last weekend we rode the route of Skipton CC's sportive, Le Petit Depart.  80 miles long, it takes in the TdF route for its first half, then cuts back from Hawes to Ribblehead, Settle and back to Skipton via Airton.

We used a "two stop strategy" as after the battle from Hawes to Ribblehead we were in need of a brew - this inspired us to ride the very steep climb over to Airton and even rode my least favourite road in the Dales between Winterburn and Hetton to finish.

Last week was a far better 200m+ week, although this week will be less due to a beery Paddy's Day night in Derry with the resulting "delicacy" of constitution the day after.

Video of Le Petit Depart here.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Still at it, but low mileage month

February ended up as the lowest mileage month for yonks - well, since May last year - a mere 265 miles.  However given that it's been wet, windy, and worky, as well as having a week off for skiing I guess it's not too bad.

The chain gangs were going great guns, but with so many things to do with Skipton CC they started, then fizzled out.  I've decided I'm going to give Ilkley CC, where I'm still a member, a go.

Skiing was a bit of a mixed bag - I liked Vallandry, where we were based, but it is chock-full of the sort of ghastly middle-management, pushy dickheads you dread when skiing.  Said people's kids were as bad, leading to M & L ditching ski-school after one day.  The downside was almost no off-piste action for me, the upside was I really enjoyed skiing with them - so ski-school has now been dumped permanently and they'll have a couple of hours of private lessons instead.

Once back from skiing I had another week of a couple of rides then a couple of days off - motivation seems quite low at the moment, although every time I go out I enjoy it.

This weekend saw me out with Tim Edward, which is always an effort, but despite nearly three weeks with very little bike-time, I almost managed to keep up with him over Langbar, Askwith Moor and back up Kex Gill.

Then Sunday was the Eden Valley sportive, a pretty mild affair but one which young Gareth (half-man, half-labrador) boinged his way round and encouraged me to go rather faster than I (and certainly Herb) would have liked.  Herb had one of his mega-bonks and ended up riding the last 15 miles or so on his own.  G and I finished with an average speed of over 17mph, which is respectable for 60 miles.

Little vid of the day here:

This week started positive, with those nice chaps at Stages sending me yet another replacement crank - this will be the fourth Ultegra crank they've sent me - hopefully this one will work.  Their service is amazing, but their product seems to still suffer from teething problems.

I've managed to start the month better than Feb, with a ride every day, and have gone through 1,000 miles for the year so far - which means I've ridden more miles in the first two months (and a day) than I did in either 2007 or 2008 (both pretty fat years, to be fair).  The next target is to get past 2010's total by the end of March, which will require a 600+ mile month - with 135 on the clock in the first 4 days we should be ok!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Another super low (well, no) mileage week

Lots of travel with work this week - London, Glasgow and Burnsall - combined with a couple of nights of beer has meant no time on the bike since Sunday.

The weekend was, however, surprisingly not bad.  We're still having a series of massive low pressure areas blasting off the Atlantic, which has meant very strong winds - generally westerly or southerly.  Saturday in preparation for the Fred, Herb and I rode over Carleton Moor and over towards Haworth into a block headwind.  Hard going, but a good workout for just under 40 miles.  Then on Sunday we went with the club over to ride the course of the Pool Triangle 10m TT - but of course being at Pool the ride was actually over 50 miles.  The wind was howling out of the west, so we averaged about 22 mph for the ride over, then battled back at nearer 14 mph.

I might get out briefly tomorrow, but as I'm off skiing again on Saturday I may leave it and get back on it when we come back.

Either way, we're not under 90 days to the Fred.  I'm still about 5-7lbs heavier than I'd like to be, but with a very posh chalet and really good food next week I'll worry about that when we get home!

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Low mileage months

January was my lowest mileage month since I started this getting fitter lark - mainly on account of a long weekend skiing, but also the crap weather and if I'm honest a bit of a fall in motivation.  Once I'm on my bike all is well, but with this being the third month of coming home from work in the dark and with an endless series of Atlantic storms pushing wet and windy weather through, it has got a bit hard at times.

Weekends have been ok, and compared to the people I ride with I seem to be holding my own fitness-wise - Herb has been toasted nicely a few times, and with the exception of Rich Sutcliffe from SCC, I seem to be able to get up hills as fast as most.

Skipton CC has now started a chaingang, and whilst I've only been three times (which is as many times as it's happened) it's a really good, fun way of getting a decent effort in and getting home for elevenses.

I've got a mount for my Garmin Virb camera, so have knocked up a little film of the last one - Herb's really earning his nickname of "The Meat" when pushing big gears on the flat - 28mph along Bingley by-pass...

January ended up being 610 miles for the month - which would be easily the biggest mileage month prior to last May, but is actually the lowest in about nine months.  February's likely to be a low mileage month too, with a full week away skiing, as well as work getting in the way a bit.  Once March is here and we start getting lighter nights, I should be able to increase my Monday to Friday mileage, which seems to have stabilised at about 75-80 up 100, which I regard as "par" these days.

I'll need to, as we've now had confirmation we're in the Fred Whitton on May, which is followed a week later by the Etape du Dales.  Tough old seven days...

The next event is a sportive up in the Eden Valley, which will be Bob's comeback event - he had his hip replaced just before Christmas, so he'll be doing really well riding a 60 mile sportive this soon.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Low mileage, good quality (and a new toy)

The lowest mileage week for yonks last week - I was away overnight Tuesday then didn't get out Wednesday as I was a bit late home and the weather was grotty, so I hit Thursday with just 20 miles in the bank.  My rule of thumb is I like to do the best part of 100 miles Monday to Friday, then depending on what I do at the weekend it's either just under, or just over 200 for the week.  I've not had a lot of 200 mile weeks recently, mostly on account of tending to do 80 or so in the week.

However this week I was not going be anywhere near 100 for the working week - I did a very pleasant, and reasonably brisk, 25 on Thursday, then I revisited the Gargrave/Hetton loop on Friday, to give me 60-odd for the week.

Saturday was chaingang time again - I'd got a bit grumpy as I quite like a 9:30 start, but Iain and Sean both wanted an earlier one, so the group agreed to a half eight start.  The weather was stinky-wet, and Iain decided against it, but a hardy group of 9 set off from Dave's at about 8:40.  The wind was out of the south-east(ish) so going out was harder than last week, but with The Herb and Stu Cowperthwaite (a bit of a beast from Appleby) we made decent time, and dropped a couple of people before the turn at Cottingley.

With the wind behind and on the dual carriageway the hammer really went down, and before long we were down to five, with Herb and Stu pushing the pace along at about 25mph.  The trick with these paceline sessions where you do a turn then signal for the group to overtake (as opposed to a chaingang where the line's constantly rotating) is not to do too long on the front.  There were a couple of times people did a bit too long and the pace dropped a bit - I reckon with 5 of you a minute's plenty - that way you can bury yourself and then get a rest for the best part of two miles before you have to do it again.

We were quicker than last week, and the exhilarating nature of these sessions means you don't mind the wet as much as you would in a longer, steadier, ride.  The Herb, of course, bloody loved it - hitting 30mph on the flat at one point.  Animal.  And the 8:30 start had the definite benefit of getting us home for about 10:30, so extra brownie points at home for a dog walk with K and Izzy in the afternoon!

The Sunday ride was planned to be a flat ride to Wetherby.  As we found out this week we've got into the Fred Whitton (gulp) I wanted to do something a little hillier - and in the end the rest of the lads agreed.

Over to Otley on the back roads (with the usual tutting about the state of the Nesfield road) then over Norwood Edge.  I've not been up there for a while, and certainly not with a strong group, so I wasn't surprised to see a "PR" on my Strava track afterwards - but being such a popular climb even my best puts me a long way down - I think I might squeak into the top 15%.

A nice run down to Pateley, during which the decision was made against a cafe stop and then up Peat Lane, the alternative way up Greenhow Hill.  Brutally steep at the start, it eases off to just "very steep" for about half a mile then undulates its way up to the main road.  Most of the lads hadn't been up there before, and I described it to Iain as "about half a Hardknott", which as the steep bit's just over half a mile is about right!

We had considered a finish over Black Park, but we were all a bit tired by this time, so we opted for a fast finish via Burnsall and Linton.

We even managed a half-decent chaingang down the Grassington Road, with a Strava time of 8:17 for the "Blast Down South" segment - which whilst nowhere near our quickest, is pretty respectable.

The new toy mentioned in the title is a bike mount for my Garmin Virb video camera.  It's got GPS in it, and I can import the .FIT file from my Edge to the video (hence the gauges).  It was a bit dark and damp yesterday, but I've had a go at a bit of an edit:

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Tsk, tsk, slippery slope and all that...

Monday was the usual - go to work, come home, ride about 20 miles have tea.  I'm riding with a different front light this week as my current favourite, my Exposure Six Pack has had to go back as it's not charging properly.  I'm favouring it as I have a Redeye back light that plugs into the back of it and weighs a lot less than my Hope District rear light.  Exposure are a bit like Hope in that they're UK based, make superbly engineered lights and back up their products with excellent after sales.  They rang yesterday to tell me they've updated something or other and the light's on its way home.

Anyway - 20 miles along the back road to Ilkley then back through Addingham and back up the gated road.  Steady away as I was feeling the weekend's efforts a bit.

Then I was away last night over in Derry with work, so travelling, a couple of beers and an unhealthy tea meant no exercise and a fairly substantial overload on the calories in/out balance sheet.  Then after a longish day today I came home to find myself a little short of mojo and so I've had another day off - the first time I've done nothing for two days for yolks - hops this isn't the start of a period of fat laziness...

So - tomorrow is a "must ride" day - to quite literally, get back in the saddle - hopefully my fave light will have come home!

Monday, 13 January 2014

A weekend of effort and not a few miles...

There's a few of the lads at Skipton CC who are intending to race this year - I've not really made my mind up, because even though racers tend to look down their noses at mere sportive riders, I rather enjoy them - and being a bit fitter this year I've entered a couple of toughies.

Nevertheless, this means that said lads are "training" rather than "going for a ride", which means a new ride has entered the regular schedule - the Skipton CC Saturday chaingang.  This is a 30 mile ride which is ridden hard, with riders taking turns on the front - with the rule being that "if you're dropped, you're dropped".  It's an out and back route, so the idea is you can have a rest, get back in the group on the way back and the presumably get dropped again.

Ideally you want 10-12 riders, so you can run a constant loop and not spend too long in the wind, but for this first one we had four of the normal A group riders (me, Sean, Iain and Steve) plus a guy called Phil who's just returning to cycling after having a baby and then Rachael, one of the B/C team who decided to see how she got on - chapeau to her for trying.

We set off towards Cross Hills on the A629, and didn't bother with changing the rider on the front, as we were taking it relatively easy - 18-20mph and HR down around 120.  Rachael dropped off pretty soon, and then we picked up Craig, another A rider at Cononley Lane Ends.

Once across the railway we started to rotate the lead and put the hammer gently down - speed and HR increased to maybe 24-25mph on the flat, with Sean complaining of "bleeding lungs" as we stopped at Steeton lights!

HR output from the Chaingang - can you see where we turned into the wind??!

Through Keighley and Bingley we lost Craig and Phil, so as we turned at Cottingley we were down to four.  The wind was now in our faces, and we'd decided to ride back along the dual carriageway, with it being flatter - but flatter often means more exposed, and it was decidedly hard going.  Sean eventually dropped off, and Steve went back too - so by the time we were on the last bit of dual carriageway after Steeton it was just Iain and I.  He flicked his elbow to wave me past, and before I knew it I was on my own - which was not really the intention!  However, I decided to crack on and see how long I could keep going.

I got back to Skipton in about 85 minutes having ridden just under 30 miles, so a respectable average that I'm sure we'll beat when we have more riders.

Sunday dawned very frosty, but Karl was keen to go to Clitheroe to suss out a new frame, so seven of us set off down the A59 to see where we ended up.  After a stop at the bike shop we carried on round Longridge Fell, returning via Cow Ark to Waddington for a brew and a sausage sarnie.  Lovely rolling roads with just the occasional patch of slushy ice to keep you concentrating.

After Bolton-by-Bowland Stuart put the hammer down up the climb, and of course I felt honour bound to chase him.  We rode it fairly fast, and then waited for the rest at the end of the road, and received a sound bollocking from Iain, our Hon Sec, for leaving Dave behind as "he might have had a puncture".  As Dave runs a bike shop, I suspect he'd have been ok, but suitable chastened we set off, only to have said Dave ride past and inform me that "if anyone passes me on a hill I'll smack them in the face".  You'll have to catch them first, Dave...

That rather spoilt a grand day out - both Simon and I were slightly bemused by how grumpy Iain and Dave were, having only been left by about two minutes, especially as the previous Sunday we'd left our club president rather further behind on a very snowy Fleet Moss!  Anyway - one for a debate next week.  72 miles for the day game me over 100 for the weekend, and a respectable 193 for the week.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Nine months? NINE MONTHS?? Where have I been?

I've always been a bit of a hit and miss blogger, and usually get enthusiastic when I'm "doing" something - either running or cycling.  So my long-term absence from here would suggest that I've been eating pies and getting humungously fat.  Well (as Bill Beaumont used to say on Rugby Special), nothing could be further from the truth, Nigel.

I've been cycling.  A lot.  More than I've ever done before.

In my last period of writing this thing I was doing some running with The Reverend Hinsley, who had dropped a significant amount of weight and was spanking my bottom on the track.  He'd been using what he described as "a revolutionary weight-loss technique consisting of eating less shit and doing more exercise".  And in May, always one for a faddy diet, I gave it a go.

I've been using an app and website called MyFitnessPal, which simply allows you to record what's going in and what you're using up.  It gives you a calorie allowance depending on how much weight you're looking to lose and how active your job is.  Mine is "sedentary" and I was looking to lose 2lbs a week, so I only got 1200 calories a day - but what made the big difference for me was that you can "earn" extra calories by exercising.  The website has some calories usage calculations in it (so 8min mile running for 30 minutes earns you about 600 calories) that are reckoned to be a bit generous, but I was taking every one I could get.

So what this meant is that I went from doing almost no exercise to doing something pretty much every day - and by June I'd lost about 15lbs and my calorie-earning exercise of choice had become almost entirely bike based.  It was a really virtuous circle - riding my bike helped me lose weight, and losing weight helped me ride my bike, and as it got easier (and, if I'm honest, I got faster and started to keep up with and eventually drop people I'd struggled to ride with) it got more fun - so I did it more.  A twenty mile ride after work became a pleasurable way to wind down rather than an effort.  My mate Bob has also lost a shedload of weight, and got miles quicker on his bike, which is also a real help.

Herb and I did the White Rose medium route in about 5 hours 30 on a mega hot day - got a Gold standard and were in the top 30 times out of over 300 riders.  I did the Coast to Coast in a day, 127 miles at an average of over 16mph.  I hired a bike every day we were in Mallorca in the summer and rode over 300 miles on holiday. And then went to Mallorca in September and absolutely smashed (and I mean out of sight) my times on all the main climbs, including taking nearly 25 minutes off my time up the biggie of Puig Major.  I had a blast on Sa Callobra, chasing about forty city-boy charity riders, and generally had a fabulous time.

And then it got to the autumn, when I traditionally "rest", drink too much and generally go massively backwards.  Only this year I didn't.

A new winter bike, some inordinately expensive lights and a determination not to lose what I've gained (well, gain what I've lost, but you get the picture) has seen me maintain pretty good mileage (never less than 150 miles a week and usually nearer 200) and keep most of the weight off.

I actually hit my low point weight wise in September and October, when I was around 12st 4lbs (78kg) - which is a full stone lighter than I was in 2009 when I got a glowing report at my medical.  Over the festive season I put maybe 10lbs on, but a week into the New Year and I'm back at 12st 8lbs, and back to eating sensibly and of course still riding the bike.

The weather's been vile recently, but there is a perverse pleasure in getting out in the dark and the rain and the wind - this week's mileage will be pretty low - it's Friday and assuming I get another 20 or 25 in this evening I won't have hit my magic "100 miles for the working week", and as it's Skipton CC's inaugural Saturday Chaingang tomorrow (which will be about 30 miles or so) then I don't expect to be much over 170 for the week.  But that's still almost inconceivable mileage from a year ago, when if I did 75 miles in a week I'd think I'd done well.

I've been running a bit - I'm trying to do one run a week now, but if I'm honest I don't enjoy it as much as the bike, although it's a good thing to do when time is short or I'm travelling.

So - what am I going to do with all this fitness?  Well I've entered the Fred Whitton AND the Etape du Dales - we find out about the Fred this weekend.  They're only a week apart, so that'll be an interesting seven days, assuming we get into the Fred.  I'm going to do some time-trials, and might even have a go at road racing.  Mallorca 2014 is booked for September, and my bike's booked on the flight to summer hols in July.  But before any of that I've got another half a stone to lose.

Best get back to it...