Time Marches On

May 15, 2007

It’s been a while since my last update and I can confidently say I have conquered my nemesis in both directions, several times!  Somehow, I still think they will pale into insignificance once we get to Cornwall.

This weekend just gone, Maddy and I were house/horse/dog sitting for her parents.   I took the opportunity on Saturday to do a fairly short ride (30 miles) as we had lots to do in the afternoon.  I found Farley Mount (a reasonable “lump”) and was just deliberating whether to ascend or go straight on when a “roadie” went past me on his way up.  I could see another coming along the road too, followed by a small group.  At this point I felt I couldn’t really not go up the hill, but didnt want to be intimidated by them all overtaking me on the way up.  I made a big show of standing still, glugging on my drink until they were all in front of me.

The strangest thing, by the time I reached the top I had passed them all except the very first one who I could see in the distance.  I followed him most of the way to Romsey but didn’t close on him at all.  The conclusion I came to was maybe I am fitter than I thought.

Oh dear!

Sunday was grey and damp.  I needed to do a longer ride so Maddy and I poured over maps (as I don’t know the area).  We considered a long circular route that went up to the A30, pratically to Salisbury then back via lots of villages to the edge of the New Forest.  For some reason I discounted that route, and we worked out another which was probably about 30-35 miles.

The ride was going fine, and I had covered 25 miles or so, then saw a village name I recognised and decided to head for it.  Mistake number one!  This particular village (Winterslow) was one of the villages in the original route and I was supposed to go through it North to South.  Here I was, going South to North without a clue!  Suffice to say, I didnt recognise any signs after that until I saw one saying “Salisbury”.  I turned left at the next junction and decided to follow my nose (I couldn’t follow the sun as it had started to rain – heavily!).

Eventually, I saw a sign for a village I had been through earlier and as I rode through it, realised I was going through the same streets from the opposite direction and had cycled in a huge circle.  At least I knew where I was now (sort of).

With the rain continuing to fall heavily, I was wet and a little cold.  The fun had pretty much evaporated and in my feeble mind, it became a ride of survival.  Made slightly worse by the fact that my gearing had adjusted itself while I was riding and now I no longer had use of the biggest chain ring or the smallest, so was trundling along with a choice of 9 gears rather than 27.

After what seemed an eternity, I came to a junction and recognised both left and right destinations and both would lead to Timsbury.  I took the right hand fork.  Guess what?  That was the longer route, by about 6 miles.

By this time, thunder was crashing and lightning flashes were seen every 30 seconds or so.  Some of the roads were flooded (at least partially) and as the occassional car went past, I got an impromptu shower, although it didn’t make me any wetter.

Arriving back at my point of origin was the most delightful experience!  I had covered more than double the miles I had planned to do but I do need the training.  I stripped off all my clothes as soon as I walked through the door, leaving a pile of soaking kit on the kitchen floor.  Disappearing into the bathroom for a long, hot bath was my plan but I was foiled again:  my in-laws have an enormous bath that looked like it was going to take hours to fill.  I settled for a shower.

Relaying the story now it seems like a grim tale, and I can’t say I enjoyed being that wet while being that lost!, however I did feel like I had accomplished something.  Maybe by the middle of June I shall be a real cyclist.

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Conquering my nemisis

April 19, 2007

A couple of local guys who have done the “end to end” (one of whom in both directions) state that there are only really two hills round here, everything else is a bump in the road.  I have been up one of these (White Hill) in the car and noted the distance and altitude on my clever sat-nav thing – its a long, unrelenting climb over 2.5 miles.  The other is to the area called Watership Down – there are two ways up (as far as I know), one is hard and the other is harder.  The hard route is a steep climb that gets steeper at the end, then rounds a corner to go up even more.  The harder route comes from the opposite direction and is not as steep but much much longer.

Yesterday, I sucessfully rode up both hills, going up Watership Down the hard route (the harder route will wait till next week).  When I go to the top, the now famous rabbits were greeted by my dulcit tones shouting “Bring it on” (I was unusually pleased with myself!).  I then found myself hurtling down the other side of the downs at over 40 mph thinking “I’m glad I am going in this direction”.  I passed two serious looking cyclists going toward the hill and was again glad that I was not going their way.

So this weekend, master Derek may come over on Saturday morning to tackle the same route with me, and then I shall be duty bound to go play on Streatley Hill which is his own “must do before we leave” hill….  Saints Preserve Us as my neighbour used to say.

A milestone in training

April 19, 2007

Over the Easter break, I have managed to get out on the bike every day, even if some days was only 14 miles. At this point I was trying to increase the riding frequency and getting tired legs used to working again rather than having longer rest periods.

The long weekend ended yesterday with Derek and I doing our first “over 50 mile” ride of training, 53 miles to be precise.  We set off from my house early afternoon and travelled down the undulating hills of the A30 to Stockbridge, then on to my in-laws at Timsbury (small village just outside Romsey) for Tea and Cake.  I had been “tinkering” with my bike’s gears before the ride and at the steepest hill on the ride realised that I had converted my triple chain wheel bike to a double.  Derek did wonder why I was standing up going up Steepleton Hill when I am normally so keen not to leave the saddle.

Once we had arrived and had our refreshments, we had a choice, we could put the bikes on the roof of my car and drive back or solider on.  We chose the latter and after a quick adjustment to my gears, set off again.  We rode for a few hundred yards before I realised I had sucessfully converted my triple, via a double, to a single chain wheel machine.  Stopping in a layby, we worked out which screw to turn in which direction and suddenly I got my choice of chainwheels back.

Bakc on the road and the long slow climb out of Kings Somborne – my legs were okay working the pedals but had no power at all.  We resolved to get to Stockbridge (about 4 miles further on) and review the situation.  Derek had been cycling behind me and had noticed that he was cycling in a higher gear than me (normally the other way round) so this was evidence of how useless my legs were.

At Stockbridge we pulled over and discussed whether to call the cavalry (my wife, and a car with bike racks) or whether to carry on.  We elected to continue on the basis that there was a pub at the end of the next road and my memory was that the next few miles were fairly flat.   On this occasion, my memory was right and we trundled along quite nicely.  The little stop in Stockbridge seemed to be the answer to my fatigue and by the time we reached the next pub, I felt much stronger and we continued to Chilbolton, where my sister-in-law and partner own the village shop.  We called in to see them but they weren’t around so we rested a little while and consumed some energy bars, then set off again. 

The route from Chilbolton to Whitchurch is relatively flat so we flowed along quite nicely (although the last few miles into the village has some of the most bone jarring road surface I have experienced).  Then up the hill out of Whitchurch and the last four miles home, via Rotten Hill (which isnt that bad) and the hill leading up to my road which I always have a psychological issue with – it’s less steep and shorted than many other hills I have ridden, but I always struggle with it.  Maybe it’s because home is just around the corner.

So, 53 miles at an average speed of just over 16 mph and we were well pleased with ourselves.  All we have to do is just under double that distance each day for 10 days…….

Training intensifies

April 4, 2007

This week I have been out every day after work, even if only for short (12 mile) rides.  Yesterday I stopped work a little early and rode down to my in-laws again – the Stockbridge hill not being any easier, but I think I may be a bit tired.  At the end of the ride I realised I had not stopped at all, even for roundabouts or traffic lights etc.  I think my rear end noticed before the rest of me and is pleading for a new saddle – not completely sure that is the answer, it may just be the way of things.

Sponsorship for this little venture is increasing with donations seeming to arrive every day.  I was concerned a few weeks ago that a £5000 target was high considering how much (or little) we had collected.  There is still a long way to go but we seem to be gaining momentum.

The hills are alive

March 31, 2007

This morning my wife set off in the car for her parents house, about 25 miles away.  I followed on later using my trusty two wheel steed.  It’s wasn’t the furthest I riden but still a milestone as almost of all of it hills.  I travelled six miles along the A30 to Stockbridge, and all of it was either up or down (no just “along”!).  Coming out of Stockbridge toward Romsey is a hill (Tempted to capitalise that as it’s long steep thing which drained nearly all the life force from my body via my legs), then over the crest with a huge sigh of relief (and much panting) to find the next 6 miles are up and down too.  There is however a two mile stretch which is virtually flat just before the village of Timsbury.

By the time I reached my in-laws house I was feeling tired, but in a good way.  I think those endorphins must have kicked in!  Following a shower and some lunch the bike was placed on the roof of the car and I drove home – riding back would have been a challenge today but within the next month I aim to do complete the journey both ways.  (Not sure if I can persuade my erstwhile colleague to join me though)

Training goes Downhill

March 30, 2007

Last week I was in America on business so training was limited to a recumbant bike in a hotel gym, and when I returned at the weekend, jetlag took its toll.  I managed only a short ride on Sunday afternoon.

Yesterday Derek and I had our shortest (and possibly wettest) training session to date, early in the afternoon the sun was out but by the time we hit the road the clouds had come in and rain was spitting down on us.  By the time we had covered a mile or so, it was coming down hard and was laced with hailstones.  Neither of us was wearing full winter gear, and pulled over to review whether we continue or turn back.  The decision was made for us by the bubbles coming from the bottom of my tyre.  As my bike wheel stood in a puddle the only sound apart from the rain was air bubbling up from the bottom of my rear wheel.  Bikes were u-turned, a quick pump of air in the rear tyre and a fairly rapid trip back home.

Once we had thawed and changed, we set off (in the car) to the nearest bike shop where I bought myself two new inner tubes, two new kevlar beaded tyres, new brake bolcks and a new pump (£60 from my bank account in minutes!).  Derek was digging deeper into his funds and booked his bike in for a service, at which time they will change his double chain wheel for a triple (fitting a “granny ring”, as it seems to be known) and install kevlar tyres, new brake blocks and probably various other things while they are at it.  I think both realised a while ago that bike shops are the nemesis of cyclists – we cant go near them without money flying from our wallets!

Still, by the evening yesterday, my bike had been cleaned (as I had both wheels off it anyway!), new tyres and tubes fitted and brake blocks installed.  Unfortunately by this time it was gone 7pm and it was too late to go for a test ride.  I am convinced that my gears will need completely resetting, the brakes will lock on and the wheels will not be true. 

So the plan is, short ride to ensure all my tinkering hasn’t done too much damage then a nice long ride to get back in the swing of it.

The Second Ride Together

March 12, 2007

With Spring apparently here, Derek came over on Sunday morning for a bit more hill training.  We did a 16 mile route thats 90% hills, some of them quite wicked!  His training at home is working as he was much stronger on the ascents than last time. 

It is great to be out in the sun rather than howling gales and rain.  I suspect that we will be complaining about the heat before too long but at the moment, it’s very good riding weather.

While out on Sunday we passed a whole load of other road cyclists, all going the opposite direction, and I was slightly comforted that looked no fitter than we did!  On one of my short trips out during the week, I actually overtook another road bike, going up hill.  I was “stoked” with that but I am sure I will get my comeuppance before long.

Anyway, our 16 miles were covered at an average of 13.8mph which is very slightly slower than my solo riding to date.  We have talked about being able to maintain over 10mph for 90 miles, giving us 9 hours in the saddle!  The thought of that is quite daunting but on the flat we were trundling along between 22mph and 24mph so maybe we can shave at least an hour off.

I have the day off on Friday and my wife has come up with the great idea of cycling to her parents.  Its not that far (probably about 25-26 miles) but I cant remember any flat road on the journey.  The plan is that I ride out there and she will drive down in the car, then give me a lift home assuming I am not fit or strong enough to make the return journey.  We shall see.

A Training Milestone

March 5, 2007

Last week both Derek and I had the same week off work and took the opportunity to cycle together on the roads for the first time.  I was slightly anxious about this, having done all my training so far on my own this was a yardstick and I was concerned that I would discover I was neither fit enough or quick enough to keep up with my younger companion.

Derek came over to my place which is just south of the North Downs and we set off.  We cycled a circular route of approximately 24 miles, and is 60% hills.  I had the psychological advantage I guess as it was my area and I knew the route, but Derek stated quite early into the ride that he needed more practice on hills, and I was encouraged by this.

 After about 5 miles, I got a puncture so roadside repairs were undertaken.  The bright side is that it gave Derek a chance to rest his legs but having removed a tiny sharp stone from my tyre, I couldn’t help feel that this event could be quite common.  I may have to invest in some Kevlar tyres before too long.

We completed the ride without further incident (Derek describing me as a cruel man for punishing him with all these hills) and averaged about 12 mph which is slightly slower than I usually do the same circuit but then the weather was against us (strong headwind for much of the journey).

On Friday, Derek sent me a text to say he was on his TurboTrainer with the resistence turned up full, trying to emulate hill riding.  Meanwhile, I did a 34 mile ride into new territory and surprisingly there were hills everywhere. 

Sunday started well with clear(ish) skies and little wind, so I prepared to venture out again but by the time I had donned my cycling gear the weather had closed in and I got rather wet!

Monday and its back to work.  Typically, the sun is shining and the roads look quite appealing……

Winter Training

February 22, 2007

It’s the middle of February.  A number of people have told me I have lost weight, certainly some of my trousers fit more comfortably so this whole effort has its benefits already.

As for the cycling, I seem to be improving – well, at least I am going further and not suffering the aches and pains of a few months ago.  My average rides are now about 25 miles a time, typically Saturday and Sunday as I do have to work for a living.  I also seem to be over the “bruised bum” symptoms when getting back on the bike the day after a decent ride.

A few weeks ago I went out on the mountain bike for the first time since I bought the road machine – I only went round the local farm tracks, a distance of about 4 or 5 miles, but I did notice the difference:  I rode along the whole way in a high gear, didnt stop or even “huff and puff” at the hills.

Recently, Derek and I rode together for the first time.  Well, in a manner of speaking.  We were both staying at the same hotel in Leeds, so ventured into their gym and mounted a pair of exercise bikes.   I think Derek was slightly disconcerted when he held on to the “pulse sensor” and his heart rate showed at over 180.  I have a fairly slow heart beat and mine was running at 127.  I reached over and grabbed the sensors on Derek’s bike and it showed my heart rate as over 165.  (I think he was relieved! – as was I, it’s a bit late to search for a new cycling partner!)

Next week is another milestone:  we are venturing out on the roads together for the first time.  This is where I find out exactly how fit I am (not) and probably discover that we cycle at completely different speeds.  Needless to say, I shall be updating my diary shortly afterwards, even if thoroughly humiliated. 🙂

Someone asked me today whether the training was on track.  An interesting question; my wife keeps saying I should make a training plan and stick to it.  I havent got round to that yet but in my mind I know that by the end of each month I need to be comfortable doing rides of a certain distance.  The difference between 20 miles and 30 miles doesnt seem much and I am fairly sure with a bit more training, I will manage the 40 or so miles we plan for each leg.   The BIG thing, is getting back in the saddle an hour after finishing 30 or 40 miles, and doing another ride of the same distance.  Currently, I am expecting to be at that point sometime in July (yes, the ride is in June!)

Through rather tenuous circumstances, I am reading “The Crossing” by Ben Fogle and James Cracknell, essentially the diary of their entry into the atlantic rowing race.  It’s fascinating to read their different perspectives of the same event or conversation, especially as there were only two of them on a 23 foot boat for over 50 days.  Our efforts pale into insignificance by comparison and I take a great deal of inspiration from their story.

There is a certain strangeness to the story too as when I was young my next door neighbour was John Ridgway, who rowed across the atlantic with Chay Blyth in the late ’60’s before the whole support organisation was formed.  My neighbour has always been a hero of mine.

So, all in all, there is plenty of inspiration for me; I just have to put the effort in.

December Training

December 13, 2006

Since my last update (Ok, I confess! I forgot how this system works for a while), I have bought a new road bike, shoes etc so am considerably poorer than I was a few months ago.  (My wife did point out that it would be easier and probably cheaper to just give £1000 to charity).

I did a great deal of research to select my bike and I had a limited budget.  Some dealers told me I couldnt get anything suitable for under £1000, some tried to sell me whatever they had in the showroom but eventually I got myself measured, which I thoroughly recommend.  Having got my exact dimensions, a computer decided that there were a couple of makes and models ideally suited and that was that.

The transition from mountain to road biking was strange, and boy dont road bikes roll along!  I had to learn about “cleats” and the strange stumpy pedals which I didnt have on the mountain bikes.

Taking my wifes advice, I started my training very gradually with a few 5 or 6 mile rides, doubling this within a week or so.  Naturally, November and December are not the most friendly months for training so most riding is done at the weekends.

My longest ride was this weekend at the best part of 20 miles, however I cant go anywhere from or to home without ascending lots of hills.  Hills that seem to fall into 3 categories – steep, long or steep and long!  Ah well, I suppose its all good for me.  I am certainly noticing a difference though; in the early sessions some hills would leave me panting and feeling like death, now I seem to be able to get to the top with just a little puffing.

I enjoyed a birthday at the beginning of December (no comment!) and received some cycling tights, gloves and the brightest jacket I have ever seen.  I would say its yellow but its so bright that I cant look directly at it so dont really know!

We have confirmed our route at the high level so know where we are starting each day and where we are having lunch, the rest of the detail will come later (I hope) and we have issued the itinerary to the lovely people that have offered to drive the support vehicle so everyone knows where to be, and when (again, I hope!).