What a ride

It hit me like a brick. As soon as I saw the inflated red finish line in the car park of the hotel in Milan I felt completely overwhelmed. It was so unexpected—for the past couple of miles we had been leisurely cycling our way to the end, laughing and joking as we had for so much of the 900 miles beforehand. For these last few miles we were taking it steady as we were accompanied by ‘Tour Dad’ Fred, the amazing father of one of our riders and core organisers of the trip, who hadn’t been on a bike since he was fourteen. We had also agreed to come over the finish line as a team. I didn’t expect to be overcome with emotion but I couldn’t help it—everything seemed to converge all at once. All of a sudden I now knew that I wouldn’t be getting up for another ride tomorrow with these amazing people. I couldn’t help but think about all of the training hours that I had put in since January, spending time away from my beautiful and incredibly supportive wife and children to get fit, my short stay in hospital that I thought was going to set me back so much and of course all of the donations and words of encouragement from my colleagues, friends and family. And now it had slipped through my fingers and was almost gone, just as soon as it seemed to get started, and it choked me up. It was one of the most amazing nine-day periods of my life.

But I’m getting ahead of myself!

I sincerely apologise for not having been able to write a blog at the end of each evening while I was away. As I said in my last couple of posts everything was such an incredible rush. A typical day started with an alarm at 6:40am, hurriedly getting dressed into cycle gear and filling my pockets with stuff (energy gels on the left, energy bars and spare Garmin in the middle, technical items on the right) that I had carefully laid out the night before, heading down for a big breakfast (muesli, three to four croissants, scrambled egg on toast, tons of orange juice and a cup of tea), making sure I had the appropriate things on my body (for the weather) and in my day bag (in case the weather turned), loading things onto the van, getting going on the bike, stopping for a rest in the morning after 25–35 miles, grabbing lunch in the early afternoon, having another brief refuelling stop a few miles later, rolling into the hotel in the early evening, showering, going for dinner, laying out stuff for the next day and going to bed. Repeat x9. People, myself included, started to get very blurry after a few days as to what had happened when—we would recount a funny tale of having to follow a Garmin route up some stairs the day before only to be corrected that it actually took place that morning. There was little time to reflect and think let alone write things down. I’ll try and correct that now.

Things I had left out of my blog post of the first couple of days

Over the course of the trip we were very lucky to have such few incidents on the bikes. The crashes that did take place happened on the first couple of days. Aside from a plethora of low-speed “Argh! I can’t clip out of my pedals!” events the worst two crashes were (a) Nicky Bollard (nee Lampard) riding head-first into a metal post and giving her legs a proper bruising (see below) and (b) Dean ‘Woah, Deano’ Keeling having his front wheel taken out by an erratic move by ‘Uncle’ Phil while they were riding at speed. Dean’s accident was relatively serious in that he suffered cuts and bruises and was saved from facial scraping by his helmet going along the ground; he was fine but it was a good early reminder for us all to be careful.

After the near-mutinies related to people being rushed for breakfast, lunch and dinner we tried a new approach of setting out in a number of different groups with the slower riders leaving at 7:15am and one or two other groups following up to 8:15am. This worked really well as generally we were roughly in the same place by lunchtime and nobody needed to add indigestion to their list of cycling-related ailments.

Day four: Eindhoven to Spa

Day four started as day three had ended with lots of cycling along big long Dutch cycle paths. We hadn’t quite got into our stride of riding in a group and didn’t spend too much time in a chain gang. I remember this day as being pretty wet and having roads that stretched out towards a vanishing point, like a more sedate and unspectacular Dutch version of an Eagles album cover.

Entering Belgium was a shock after the luxury and beauty of the Dutch roads—the pot holes and poor road surfacing was like switching from a triple-quilted brand of toilet roll to the green paper towels that we used to use at primary school. We had to be on our game a lot more now.

At the end of the day as we approached Spa we encountered our first proper taste of hills. I half welcomed them after the endless flats of the past 48 hours but relatively speaking they were little beasts that left us with a sense of foreboding:

I had also started to develop some deep ravines in my thumbs which meant I had to tape them up each day for the rest of the event so that they didn’t get any worse:

Day 4: Spa to Luxembourg

I distinctly recall pinching myself at the end of this day and saying to myself that ‘I rode to Luxembourg on my fricking bike!’ which seemed like an apt thing to do after riding to Luxembourg from London. On a bike.

Today started as the previous one had finished. Immediately after leaving the hotel we had to tackle a 1,000ft climb, leaving us with stomachs that threatened to eject their freshly-ingested contents onto the Belgian tarmac. By the time we had got to pit stop one we had barely gone anywhere and I started to get worried about the time we would be getting to the hotel that evening.

A comedy moment happened just after we past the Spa racing circuit. Our Garmins (or ‘vermins’ as they came to be known) were telling us to go up a service road. This was obviously wrong—it was clear from the map that the tool was planning an ill-advised short-cut and we should go on and take the hairpin bend a few hundred yards away. Gayle (daughter of ‘Tour Dad’ Fred) asked me “shall we go on?” and I had barely muttered “Yes, but…” before she and two other riders had rolled down the hill, missed the hairpin and continued going at speed until they disappeared from view. Being the gentleman that I am, I waited with the others at the hairpin for their return. Someone more valiant than me went to fetch them and returned some 20-30 minutes later. It turned out that the two girls in the group had their Garmins off and the guy following them was, well, following them.

Other highlights of the day for me were seeing the monument to Sean Kelly (see below) and experiencing some amazing drafting as we rode in a group. In the long line of bicycles I couldn’t believe how much speed we could carry up hills—I would never get to those speeds riding solo—and that downhill my trusty cyclocross bike runs out of gears at about 33mph!

By this point in the trip we had a firmly established ‘late crew’ who would hit the beers as soon as they were showered and ready for dinner and stay up until at least 2am every night. I remember thinking ‘I don’t know how they do it’ and then realising that at 38 years of age I was one of the older ones on the trip. Seeing them drink with little ill-effect was giving me beer-envy and I started to dabble in a drink myself, just one or two, for the remainder of the event each night. Tom ‘The Voice’ Osborne entertained us in the hotel bar this evening, aided with much hilarity by ‘Uncle’ Phil:

Day 5: Luxembourg to Nancy
We were joined today by a guest rider, Emma Littmoden, daughter of Penny Ferguson who was one of our corporate sponsors. Emma was a great rider and really held her own. She even brought a camera crew with her who made this lovely video of the day:
We also managed to get a great average speed today thanks to an incredibly long and relatively flat cycle path and the wonders of a chain gang. It was so much fun rolling along at 22mph as a group, eating up the miles as we went.

Nancy itself was beautiful (the little we saw of it) and I wished we could have spent a little more time there.

Day 6: Nancy to Freiburg

This ended up being my biggest day of riding ever (so far), clocking in at a whopping 127 miles, beating my previous record of 120 which I had set on a day’s training where I rode from Berkhamsted to Wimbledon, did a 40-mile loop in the Surrey hills and rode back to Berkhamsted again. In summary, it was a long way. Today’s ride included a fantastic climb in the Vosges region of France up the Col De La Schlucht, high enough to have a ski lift at the top of it.

The descent down The Schlucht saw one of our riders hit a top speed of almost 100km/h (about 61mph)!

Day 7: Zurich to Feldkirch

Today we were joined by the CEO of one of our corporate sponsors, who planned to ride the whole segment on a bike without Lycra or clipless pedals. We started the day with a sleepy train journey from Freiburg to Zurich which felt a little bit like cheating as we effectively skipped 100 miles or so, but was the only way we could cover the distance to a major city in the nine days—Ride 101010 doesn’t really have the same ring to it, does it? As luck would have it, our seats were double-booked and so we had a free upgrade to first class which although comfortable, didn’t get us out of having to pay £5 for a cup of tea!

At the coach park near Zurich train station it dawned on us how far we had come in terms of a complete lack of decorum in relation to our calls of nature. Gone were the early days where we were looking for a secluded quiet bush or tree to relieve ourselves of the coffee, tea and electrolyte-infused water that had been weighing us down—now we all seemed quite happy to go right in the middle of a major urban area with a wholly inadequate small bush and wire fence to hide our shame. Not great!

Heading out of Zurich was the first time that we had a glimpse of what was to come—the Alps loomed large and beckoned us towards them. We knew that tomorrow we would be making our ascent. For now though we were very happy with a long drag out of Zurich along the lake and down through the alpine valleys. Here we found the most beautiful place ever for lunch, beside a lake with the sun shining and mountains all around us. Most people went for a swim, being careful to avoid the swans, and there was even time for a post-lunch swimming race between a couple of riders.

Views: Quarten, Switzerland by Andrew Doran

Day 8: Feldkirch to Campodolcino

Only one phrase had been dominating my thoughts since I signed up to the ride and learned the route we were taking—The Splügen Pass. Today was always going to be about the climbing. The past few days had taught me that I was pretty average going along the flats but the big climbs were where I could push a bit harder and although we were all helping each other along a nine-day endurance event there were a few of us that secretly/not-so-secretly did want to get one over on the other faster riders.

Most of the day was spent climbing but we did hit an early descent which saw me clock my fastest speed ever of almost 52mph. It felt absolutely amazing and thrilling to be going that fast and I felt such a buzz when I got to the bottom.

After the fast descent we spent most of the rest of the day on a long, shallow climb which slowly got steeper. It felt as though our lunch stop took forever to get to. After we had refuelled, we set off up a few switchbacks and I made good progress—before I knew it I was whizzing past a scheduled rest stop, eager to get on with the climb. I found myself on my own and stopped on the little descent into the village of Splügen which saw the start of the ascent proper.

The Splügen Pass climb was unlike anything I had done before. It wasn’t that it was exceptionally steep, it was more that it seemed to go on forever. Up the hill from the village, turning right onto the first set of switchbacks before hitting another mile or so of straights before starting again on an even longer set of switchbacks, this time with more and more snow around me and less and less oxygen. You could easily see back down the road you had been on and view the riders that were pursuing you (as I said, it wasn’t a race but there was something primal in me that wanted to stay ahead) but you couldn’t see what was up ahead or how long it would go on for. Sweat and mucus dripped from my face but I was beyond caring—all I wanted to do was to maintain some kind of rhythm and get to the top, ideally without being overtaken. I was looking at the snow and marvelling at how it could remain on the ground when it was so warm and then only when I stopped for a while did I realise just how cold it was up there. Later, I was gutted to find that I had stopped short of the end of the Strava segment up the pass and couldn’t see the time it had taken me—luckily Veloviewer came to the rescue and showed that it was almost 50 minutes to complete the ascent.

Getting to the top was an incredible moment—we literally felt on top of the world and that we had achieved something. The crew from the event organisers Action Challenge were waiting at the top and were fantastic—they made sure that they drilled the point home that what we had done was a real triumph. Aside from catching our breath and in one case even retching from the effort we started to realise that we had conquered the biggest climb on the trip. It was fantastic. To make it even better, we all waited at the top for every single member of the group to come up—all of whom made it—to share in the joy at having taken on the mountain and won.

By the time everyone had arrived at the top we were all freezing. We were covered in sweat and knew that we now had to tackle the first part of the descent down the other side so took time to add a layer or two and get ready.

The ride down was crazy. The Italian roads were similar to Belgium’s but even worse and this time we were travelling downhill at speed. We travelled through a bizarre, cold, barren landscape of rocks, snow, water, road and very little else. I had to stop and take a picture of the eeriness.

We also had our first taste of Italian tunnels, some of which would turn out to be truly terrifying over the next 24 hours—broken lights, sounds of vehicles that seemed to come from everywhere at once, traffic lights and roadworks in the tunnels themselves—as we made our way down the Alps.

It took us no time at all to reach our alpine lodge at Campodolcino and settle in for the night. Given the epic achievement of the day we were keen to let our hair down. Most of us had a pretty late night which was eased along by a ‘kangaroo court’ game where we were each accused of something and forced to drink a shot of disgusting grappa if found guilty (or innocent, for that matter) and pay a forefeit. The whole thing had the atmosphere of a sixth-form trip about it and that was no bad thing.

Day 9: Campodolcino to Milan

The final day saw us setting off down the mountain descent which had been cut very short the day before. We had barely gone a mile before I witnessed one of the riders in front of me experiencing a brief case of speed wobble. All he had done was to ride over a different-coloured patch of asphalt but at the speed we were going it sent some bizarre vibrations through his bike. It looked scary from where I was and he told me later that he thought he was going to crash but it was over in the blink of an eye and he carried on down the hill.

The heavens opened on us early on and we found ourselves working our way towards Lake Como in a biblical downpour. Once you’re wet, you’re wet and there’s nothing to do but to plough on. It was a struggle to see at times as rain came at my face vertically from above and also below from the rear wheel of the rider in front but somehow we made it there without incident and in good time.

Confidence had built up massively over the previous days and quite a few of us now felt pretty adept at riding extremely close to each other. This gave us a dramatic advantage in terms of speed and exertion in exactly the same way as a flock of birds support each other by flying in formation. This, coupled with the thought that we didn’t need to leave anything in our legs as we had no other days left to ride, led to a extremely fast and thrilling day. Four of us ended up together in an early afternoon session where we were as close together as we could possibly be. The environment changed around us and I was oblivious to it except where we went through tunnels, but even then I continued to focus on the rear wheel ahead of me. Keeping going at a steady 23mph for miles on end when you usually potter around at 16–17mph was amazing—we ploughed through the route with ease. After lunch I found myself in another group where we raced along as fast as we could go; all of the usual niceties of group riding such as pointing out potholes and other hazards were out of the window as we pushed with all our might and tried to cling into each others’ paths. I’d never been in this situation before and it was incredible—when we all ended up at the next rest stop it literally had me laughing with joy at the fun we had just experienced. I felt like a teenager again.

Before I knew it we had come to the end of the racing and were entering Monza and the outskirts of Milan where traffic lights naturally brought the speed down. We had all agreed that we would reassemble as a team before heading to the finish line. ‘Tour Dad’ Fred was going to get on a bike and we would come across the finish line as we had started, all together again but this time with thoughts of what we had collectively achieved. We laughed and joked our way there, stopping for a final break at a cafe where we were served bucket loads of tapas alongside beer and coffee before heading on. You know the rest.

Epilogue

On any number of levels this is one of the most amazing things I have ever done. Signing up to the ride was a massive commitment for my wife and I—we spent £1,400 of our savings on the entry fee, I had to raise at least £2,000 in sponsorship which seemed like an incredible hurdle at the time and I then had to train so hard for it, spending time away from my family in order to get the miles in. The night I signed up I immediately went to bed and proceeded to have the worst, most stressful night’s sleep for many years; it brought back vivid memories of some dark days I experienced at university and was a useful reminder of why the Get Connected service is so important for the young people who need their support.

The response from my friends, family and colleagues has been overwhelming and I have so far raised over £4,300; as a group we have hit our £120,000 target which is incredible. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped to support this invaluable service. The people involved in the event—at the charity, with the event organisers Action Challenge and the riders themselves—have all been wonderful to get to know and I feel truly privileged to have had the opportunity to take part. The memory of the trip will stay with me forever.

In Luxembourg, 400 miles in!

We are dashing through our trip and have so little time each day to fit in time to call home, write a blog post, process the day’s thoughts from the ride etc. As I said in my last post I’ll write this trip up properly when I get back. For now, please take a look at my Flickr photo stream and Twitter for my latest updates. There is also a Facebook group with posts from lots of others. Will write more soon!

On to Nancy tomorrow…

Two days in

I’m lying here in my bed in the Pullman Hotel in Eindhoven having earlier today finished 101 miles of cycling from the Hook of Holland. To say I am tired would be an understatement!

The trip so far has been indredible—all of the riders are lovely and there has been enough banter to keep us going. This is great because we always seem to be in a major rush—we’re up early, breakfasted and on the road early and then whistling through the day with riding, two brief rest stops and a little bit of time for lunch. I’m already thinking that I am going to have to post some short highlights here and then pull together a more substantial post about the trip when I’m back and have had time to process my thoughts. Apologies if this is incoherent!

Here are a few notes about the journey so far…

Day one

London to Harwich was a good way to get us started. A beautiful morning, a fun and well-equipped start line (coffee and three croissants on top of those I had before I left the house!), rain within a couple of hours of leaving (I’m sure we’ll need to get used to it) and then brightening up as the day wore on. We ended up finishing the day in a few different groups as the hills, relatively small as they were, split us up. I came in on my own behind the main front pack and didn’t feel too bad body-wise. Lunch and dinner were both a mad rush and there were near-mutinies when people were told they would have to skip their puddings! We had showers at the pub and then a fun 2mi slow ride in the dark from the pub to the passenger port.

Some other pics:

 

At the velodrome prior to the start

 

Happy to see Harwich!

 

 

End of day one. Smashed it!

 

Day two

A late night, a switch to Central European Time and a 6:30am wake-up call (to the tune of Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, I kid you not) meant that we were pretty bleary-eyed and running on adrenaline.

 

Grease is the word!

 

 

Ready for day two. Note the Holland-themed top!

 

 

Getting ready to leave the ferry

 

Today I found out that Holland is beautiful—the houses are immaculate and the scenery is stunning. The country is completely built for bikes. We must have completed 95% of the 101mi route today on cycle paths! The UK has nothing to compare to this.

 

Windmills!

After arriving at our hotel in Eindhoven we had a short time to get changed before heading out for an incredible amount of tapas at the lovely restaurant across the road.

I am absolutely knackered and keep dropping my phone as I type this so will have to stop here. Up early tomorrow for breakfast and then we roll out of here at 8am, headed for Spa. Onward!

Training is done…now for the Ride

This past weekend I took part in the London Revolution, a 190-mile two-day cycle sportive around the capital. When I entered this event last year it was at that point the furthest I have ever ridden over two days; this year it is a training session for our epic mission of 900 miles in 9 days which starts this Saturday.

It was great to meet a couple more people who will be part of the Ride 999 team. Phil and James kept me company through the weekend and it was great to get some good miles done with them. The ride itself was great—like last year, the weather was beautiful and the hospitality was very generous. So much food!

At the finish with Phil who accompanied me over the two days

One of the big highlights for me was forming part of a 15-person 'chain-gang' as we entered Chesham and sped along to Latimer. Last year I couldn't dream of keeping up with all of the fast people that were zooming past me so it was good that this year I could at least hang on at the back. I kept looking at my Garmin and couldn't believe how much speed we were carrying as we sped along. (I think it looked pretty cool, too!) I can see why this kind of riding is addictive.

I did both days at an average of about 15.9mph which is roughly 2mph faster than last year—it may not sound like much but it made a world of difference. I've been hobbling around the office today so I am not sure what state my body will be in by the time I am three or four days in next week.

So my final training stats from the start of January are:

  • Miles ridden: 2,167
  • Rides: 62
  • Climbing: 78,826ft
  • Time: 5d 17h 53m
  • Bouts of pneumonia: 1
  • Nights in hospital: 2

This graph looks good to me and will hopefully look suitably ridiculous by the end of the month:

This week I will be mainly eating. Next week I will try to keep this blog up-to-date with something every day. I can't guarantee what shape I will be in, especially from the end of day three onwards, but I will try and write something at least slightly comprehensible.

Thanks so much again for all of the support and sponsorship, I really appreciate all the interest and especially the donations and I know that Get Connected do too. I'm up to £3,600 and am hoping that I can push this a little bit further by the time we roll into Milan.

 

 

Back on track, ramping it up

A while ago, I posted that my training goal for Ride 999 in 2015 was to keep ahead of my 2014 distance. I’m happy to say that this is now firmly secured as I have now already ridden more miles since January than I did in the whole of last year:

(You can see the bit where I went on holiday and fell ill in mid-April as the 2015 line goes flat.) Another way of looking at it is by distance ridden by month. You can see how intense the training has been this year since I signed up:

Since being ill on holiday I have tried to quickly get back into it. Last week was my biggest week of riding so far this year (over 160 miles) and although I’m a bit slower and a little wheezy at the top of hills I feel as though it is all coming back quite quickly.
This is the month where everything happens—training rides this weekend and next followed by the London Revolution and then the start of Ride 999. I’m planning to step things up by trying to get a few century rides in before we all set off on 23 May. Based on the 50–60 mile rides I have been doing I am sure I am going to feel it! If all goes to plan I should have done 1,500 miles by the end of the month, including the event itself.

If you would like to sponsor me (and I would love you to!) then please do. I really appreciate all the generous support so far, it has been truly overwhelming. The Get Connected charity is doing great work and with your help they will be able to secure their invaluable services for longer.

A setback

I’ve just come back from a ten-night family holiday on the beautiful island of Mauritius. Before I went I knew I would have to do some work in the gym and possibly even some rides on the island to keep my fitness up and I was looking forward to taking on some bike work in a hot and humid climate. Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan.

I started feeling a bit out-of-sorts on the first day and thought I had picked up a cold. Unfortunately this turned into a fever over the next couple of days. I paid a visit to the hotel’s infirmary and was prescribed amoxicillin to try and get rid of what was quickly becoming a bigger problem. Although I had some ups and downs over the next few days, the drugs didn’t seem to be working and I felt as though I wasn’t making any progress. On day six, after spending most of it half-asleep on the beach beneath a towel, freezing in 28C heat, I went back to the doctor and was admitted to hospital with a temperature of 39.5C.

I was so glad to be somewhere where they could do some proper tests and try and fix me—I was exhausted and fed up with taking paracetamol, ibuprofen and amoxicillin. After a brief assessment and a couple of chest x-rays, over the next two days they pumped me full of various antibiotics and other wonderful things. I’m happy to say that whatever they did broke the fever. I then had a course of oral Dettol-style antibiotics to take over the next few days. Then we came home!

Unfortunately the net effect seems to have been that my fitness is almost back to square one at the start of the year. I went for a 50mi ride on Sunday and found it very hard, coughing and spluttering at the top of a couple of big hills and having a real lack of energy. I did my first turbo session tonight and couldn’t believe how hard it was—I am basically working two or three gears lower than I was before I went on holiday.

I visited the doctor today to make sure that I was fit to resume my training. His assessment was that I have had pneumonia (a mild form, I guess?) and that as a result my lung capacity will take some time to come back again. What was already a significant challenge just got a whole lot harder. With just under a month to go until the London Revolution and four weeks until we start Ride 999 it is going to be hard to ramp up the miles. Will have to do what I can!

Come ride with me, let’s ride, let’s ride away…

If you want to join the Ride 999 team on our crazy journey but don’t feel up to the full 900 miles from London to Milan there is now the opportunity to join us as a participant on one of the days. We would love to have you join us!

The route is shown above  and there is also a more detailed PDF (1.6Mb) that you can download from Dropbox or my blog.

To sign up, you need to head to the Get Connected website by 15 April 2015 and register for the particular day you would like to take part. Choose from:

Whether you go for a flat spin through the Netherlands on day two or choose to ascend the Splügen Pass with us on day eight, we’d really love to have you along. You would be raising money for a fantastic charity as well as having the experience and satisfaction of completing part of the route.

We are also still looking for corporate sponsors who may be able to give a little more for sponsorship of a particular day on the ride, complete with branded riding jerseys for all riders and other promotional items—please (please!) contact me if you have any interest in getting involved in this way.

Last but not least, my personal sponsorship page is still open for donations. I am so appreciative for all the support I have had from colleagues, family and friends so far. Thank you so much for recognising what a mammoth effort this will be.

This Corrosion

No, I'm not concerned about my bike getting rusty from all the sweat that has been hitting it over the past couple of months. My issue lies with the 1987 song by The Sisters of Mercy.

I've been trying to do two or three turbo trainer sessions each week to get the miles in. Although these have proved to be a great workout they can be a little bit tedious and I've needed something to take my mind off of just turning the pedals and going nowhere for an hour. As I don't have a fancy trainer with a video screen showing roads and bike races the only way to get by has been to put my headphones on and get immersed into some audio.

On Spotify I found a playlist that someone called Sarah Croucher (thanks Sarah, whoever you are!) has pulled together specifically for Turbo Trainer sessions. It has a whole bunch of dance tracks that seem to be pitched at the right tempo—it's well worth subscribing to if you want something ready-made for your workouts. Not knowing anything about how to use the turbo to best effect and vaguely remembering someone much sportier than me once talking about about 'intervals' I decided on a strategy of listening to the playlist on a random setting and then alternating between hard and harder gears when a new song comes on whilst trying to keep a pedal cadence of about 90rpm. This gives me a chance to stretch myself and then have a relative breather at regular 'intervals'. (Yes, I have since discovered that intervals are to do with heart rate zones—ah well!) So far, so sweaty.

After a few sessions I realised that even though the playlist is pretty large I was hearing the same songs too frequently and so decided to clone it and add a few high-tempo tunes of my own. Help yourself to subscribing to that second Spotify playlist but please, no comments on my personal musical taste!

One of the tunes I added which I thought would be great to spin to is This Corrosion. I've loved it since I saw it on Top of The Pops when I was in Primary School and keep coming back to it. If you've never heard the song, sit back, relax and treat yourself to some 1980s gothic pop perfection:

The problem is that the album version of this song is eleven minutes long. My turbo trainer sessions have therefore now turned into a game of 'when will This Corrosion turn up and will it be at the point where I'm going to the harder gear'? Tonight Spotify decided to treat me to it 45 minutes into my one hour training session right after a short 'easier' song:

A super hard ten minutes at the end there tonight. I didn't quite manage to keep the pace of earlier 'hard' songs but I didn't drop too far below 90rpm and was quite happy with that! Although I've been tempted to skip the song when it has popped up, there's a real sense of satisfaction of getting to the end and not giving up, which I guess is what this crazy charity cycling mission is all about?

 

New brakes please

Up until the start of this year my bike had pretty much all of its original components from when I bought it in mid-2013. When I signed up to Ride 999 it never entered my head that I would need to consider replacing or upgrading various bits and pieces but my conversation with @riderstuart changed all that.

Of the nine days of riding from London to Milan the two that I am both looking forward to and dreading the most in equal measure are days eight and nine—this is where we will go up into the Alps from Splügen (on a continuous 35-mile climb!), stay overnight, and then descend into Italy the next day. I have mainly been spending time thinking about whether I will have the appropriate gears to guarantee that I will get up the mountain. What I hadn't thought about until recently was the descent the other side.

Splugenpass by Sergio Morchon

A little Googling about the Splügenpass revealed this blog entry from an experienced rider who has done it before (emphasis mine):

“I had learned from the web that the downhill into Italy was extremely steep, was it ever. I have never seen anything like it. It scared the living daylights out of me. Just look at the pictures. Signs said SLOW. I rode basically the whole descent all but wearing my brakes out.”

My experience of riding in heavy rain a couple of weeks ago wasn't pleasant. My tired old Avid brake blocks that had been on my bike since day one were really not up to the job; it was quite scary to approach a roundabout at speed, pull the brake levers and just keep going at roughly the same speed! So, I figured that now is a good a time as any to upgrade my brakes.

@riderstuart recommended going for SwissStop GHP IIs which are meant to be good in both the dry and wet. They are not cheap—I bought two pairs with the cartridge and pads for about £45—but it seems to me that brakes isn't an area that you should skimp on in any fast-moving vehicle. Once the pads wear out they can be easily replaced for about £10 a pair.

I've only been on one ride since I fitted them and that was on a fairly flat route in the dry so I can't really vouch for their performance yet. From my limited experience they seem to work well so far and without any of the hideous squeaking that my previous brakes had. I've planned a hilly route for Sunday when a few of the Ride 999-ers will be heading out around the Chilterns and I am looking forward to giving them a proper test.

 

An ‘early-season’ century…from hell

On Sunday morning I intended to ride over to Edlesborough to take part in the CC Luton Reliability Ride, the last of the series of 100km winter sportives in the Chilterns. As has become part of my routine I was watching the long-range weather forecast in hope with my fingers crossed for it to stay above freezing—as I've blogged before, the one thing that will keep me from going out is ice on the road. Unfortunately Saturday was very wet and Saturday night ended up being -2°C which put paid to my plans of going out early.

By 9am things had started to warm up nicely—the frost had disappeared from the cars and the roads looked wet instead of white so I decided to head out. I wanted to make the most of it and not lose out on the fact that I didn't start the reliability ride. Perhaps I could ride even longer than 100km? I decided to load up the route that I followed for my first ever century last year and head out to Silverstone.

The ride out was fantastic. It only took me about 3h30m to get to Silverstone village, 53 miles away and just over halfway on my route. This meant that for the second weekend in a row I had ridden over 50 miles at 16.7mph, a speed that seemed unreachable to me a few months ago. The training is paying off! Feeling very pleased with myself, I had a quick sandwich, some buttered malt loaf and some mini cheddars from the village shop and chatted to a lovely family that were out on their own local ride.

I had expected to see some water sometime after noon and thought I had come prepared for rain, tucking my shower mac into the back pocket of my fleece jersey before I left the house. How wrong I was.

Spots of rain started to appear as I finished my lunch and this made me hurry along. I quickly donned my mac and set out on the return leg. The spots quickly turned to torrents and then the wind came, like a vicious bully, determined to slow me down and make my adventure completely miserable. Words cannot convey how difficult the ride back was—the only thing waterproof on me was my jacket and my Sealskinz socks (I think, although both seemed to suffer defeat in the end) so I soon found that I was saturated in my hat, my bib tights (which ‘wicked’ the water all the way up my legs and onto my tops), my shoes (squelchy!) and worst of all, my gloves. A bit of water isn't too bad but I was saturated within just a few miles and I knew that I had to cover 50 to get back.

The ride back was on a very exposed route and it was (or seemed) rare that I had the shelter of a few buildings or trees to my side. The gusts of wind were either coming straight at me, slowing me to a crawl even on descents, or blowing me sideways towards the gutters or passing cars. It is miserable to be going downhill at 8mph, pedalling just to keep going. At one point, as I was working as hard as I could up a hill towards Dunstable, a car behind me decided that he didn't like me for whatever reason and started honking like a madman. I shouted at his car as loudly as I could but I don't think the sound went much further than the edges of my bike. By the time I reached Dagnall, less than 10 miles from home, my hands had gone beyond freezing and I was alarmed to feel my pulse shaking through the middle fingers of my left hand—I’m not a doctor but I don’t think that is a good sign that all is well. My hands took turns off of the handlebars so that I could flex them into something resembling warmth.

Although the ride back was slow and physically tough with the wind and cold, the biggest challenge for me felt like a mental one. Twice I screamed like a man possessed into the wind as it battered me and more than once I felt like stopping, calling a friend for a lift and giving up. But I didn't.

When I got home my wife had to literally peel my clothes off me as my hands were no longer working properly. I was astonished by the weight of my soaked-through garments—carrying around my fully-saturated gear would have added even more to my journey time.

I had never been so glad to be out of the elements with a cup of tea in my hand. Disappointingly, my average speed had dropped to 14.4mph—you can really see this in the speed graph from Veloviewer below—but I am thinking that those miles home are probably worth more to me in training as they were so tough.

Despite everything, I'm glad to get a century on the board this year and the first half of the ride gave me lots of hope. Of course, I'm going to have to tackle the course again on a day with fine weather to see exactly what time I can do it in!

 

Edgware RC Reliability Ride

Last Sunday I took part in the Edgware RC Reliability Ride, another 100km (63mi) winter sportive in the Chiltern Classics series. Having spent the previous weekend working and having a couple of very difficult turbo sessions I was keen to get out on the road again. I wasn't disappointed.

I've been using the turbo quite a lot recently with a rear tyre that has been on the bike since I bought it in 2013 so I figured it would be a wise investment to replace it before another long ride. I have a feeling that my previous rear tyre started to puncture after a few turbo sessions and it may have been because the rubber became fragile after getting too hot. I have a recently-purchased Schwalbe Sammy Slick 35c on the front so I thought I would try a Continental Cyclocross Speed 35c on the back; I'm sticking with cyclocross tyres for now until it warms up a bit. They have more rolling resistance than road tyres which I figure will be bad for my speed but good for building up my leg muscles.

The ride itself started in much the same way as the Harp Hilly Hundred although it seemed as though there were nowhere near as many riders at registration—riders from the Berkhamsted Cycle Club were noticeably absent given that so many of them had participated in the HHH. I had got there quite early and decided to head out 30 minutes before everyone else, figuring that if I made an early start I would reduce the chances of being the last one back!

The day itself was glorious, starting out cold and a little icy in places but soon warming up to a balmy 6-7°C. The route was also excellent—nowhere near as many hills as the HHH but some fantastic long straights that stretched as far as the eye could see.

I made good progress and had loaded myself up with energy gels and bars which I consumed at a regular pace. On a few occasions I was wondering whether the route had changed from the one I had loaded onto my Garmin as I didn't see any riders behind me. Eventually I was caught by the leaders after 70km as I rode up towards Ivinghoe Beacon which I think was pretty good going. I ended up completing the ride in just over four hours and was pleased to find my average speed over 15mph—I don't remember having ever achieved that over a long ride before so I'm hoping the training is paying off.

The next one I'm taking part in is the CC Luton 100km on 22 February which should be good as we will be on quite a few roads I have never ridden before. Can't wait.

No time to go out

We are coming to the end of a number of projects at work and as a part of this I need to be working for most of the weekend, leaving little time to get out on the bike and train. I’m trying to put out of my head the ‘fact’ I read somewhere that you lose your fitness twice as fast as you gain it. I hope that’s not true. I’m going to try and squeeze as many additional turbo sessions in as I can over the next few days to make up for it; as boring as they are I am so glad I have the option of doing something.

I’m drawing some comfort that Veloviewer is telling me that I have never started a year so well in terms of distance covered on the bike. The graph below is very motivating to me and I’m determined to keep the 2015 line as far ahead of 2014 as possible.

Next weekend I’ll hopefully be taking part in another 100km reliability ride and will be able to get that line on a better trajectory. Can’t wait.

Making Strava last on a long bike ride

Strava is a fantastic service that seems to be ubiquitous in the cycling world for tracking your speed and route as you go along on your bike ride. I’ve been using Strava ever since I started cycling again and it has been great to look at how I’ve progressed. I have a Drybag strapped to the front of my bike to keep my iPhone safe and happy as it tracks my rides.

One problem with using Strava is the pathetic iPhone battery. It would be very disappointing to finish an epic ride only to find that your phone switched itself off some hours before. I’ve found a couple of things that you can do in order to make your phone last:

  • Switch off Wifi and Bluetooth. From the home screen, swipe up from the bottom to view the Control Center. You need to press the two icons shown below to make sure they are off. Your iPhone or the Strava app may moan at you that GPS accuracy may be reduced without Wifi being on but in practice I’ve found that this makes very little difference. One thing you do need to think about is if you use any other Bluetooth devices with your iPhone (e.g. cadence sensors or heart rate monitors), in which case leave Bluetooth on.

  • Turn off mobile data. To find this go to Settings > Mobile. Turning off mobile data effectively takes you off of the data grid when you are out and about. Your phone will still be able to send and receive calls and SMS messages but not iMessage or WhatsApp messages etc. In practice I find that this makes the biggest difference to my battery as my phone isn’t constantly searching for a data signal as I pootle along country lanes.
Once I have done both of these things I find that I can tackle a 5-hour bike ride, starting with 100% battery in my year-old iPhone 5s, and end up with over 70% battery at the end.
Remember that once you have finished your ride you will need to turn on an appropriate data connection again (mobile data or wifi) before trying to upload your data to Strava. You can switch to the settings app (double-click the home button to fast-switch between apps), turn on mobile data and then switch back to Strava before clicking the chequered-flag ‘finish’ button.

Harp Hilly Hundred

The temperature managed to stay just above freezing on Sunday morning and the roads didn’t seem to be icy, so it was with some zeal that I set out at 8am kitted out in winter gear ready to tackle the 2015 Harp Hilly Hundred.

This ride is one of a series of ‘Reliability Rides’ held throughout the winter. I don’t quite understand what that means but I assume that it alludes to the harsher winter conditions and the possibility that your bike might break down. The Hilly Hundred has been run every year since 1954 and (thankfully) at some point was reduced from its original 100mi length to a more reasonable 100km.

It was a tough ride, taking us through lots of hills in the surrounding area—Bison Hill near Whipsnade, Aston Hill near Wendover, Ivinghoe Beacon and a personal favourite of mine, Durrants Lane in Berkhamsted. I managed to get around whist consuming the contents of two drinks bottles, three energy gels and three energy bars and still had room for a massive plate of sandwiches and a pastry that was laid on at the end of the ride.

Looking at the Strava times for the Harp Hilly Hundred 2015 ‘segment’ my conclusion is—just as I thought—that I’m not very good. I’ve never done much group riding before and every time I try and keep up with a group I end up falling behind and dropping out. As well as physical strength there is a psychological factor to it and I much prefer to go at my own pace. The only time I managed to pass anyone was towards the end when riders were suffering from cramp (and I had to stop to help one of the guys out by giving him a spare energy gel as he was on his last legs!)

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I’m taking my bike for a small service on Friday. As part of that I will be changing the rear cassette from a 12-28 to an 11-30 which should give me both a larger and smaller gear than what I have now, the smaller being something I think I might need for our long climb into the Alps in May. I am also considering changing the chain rings from 46×36 to a 50×34 which is more ‘roadie’ although I am not sure how much difference this will make to my speed. Any advice gratefully received!

Ice and snow

A few years ago on a very cold morning I went for a pootle on my old mountain bike. Halfway around my route I strayed too close to where the road asphalt met the grass, hit a patch of ice and went down hard onto the floor. It all happened in a split second and was scary because I ended up in the middle of the road. I was so grateful that there were no cars around.

Along with a few cuts and a bang to my helmet I did something to my backside—it never showed any signs of bruising but hurt on the right cheek for about six months.

Since then I’ve decided that going out in freezing conditions is not worth the risk. I don’t mind the cold—you soon warm up when you’re moving—but I don’t want to risk a broken bone or something worse.

The pic below shows that riding is out of the picture today so more turbo sessions await me.

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Unplanned maintenance

As I said in my last post, when I signed up to Ride 999 I assumed that the big challenges would be achieving the sponsorship goals and getting enough miles on the bike to be fit enough for the ride. What I didn’t factor in whatsoever was the amount of bike maintenance that will be required in the run up to the event.

I’ve ridden just over 2,000 miles since I bought my bike 18 months ago. The London Revolution and Ride 999 add up to a total of approximately 1,100 miles in the space of just over two weeks. Between now and the start of the London Revolution there are about 17 weeks. If (and it’s a bit of a big ‘if’!) I can stick to the advice and try to be doing 100 miles a week in training now or very soon, ramping up to 200 closer to the event this will add up to 2,000 miles in training alone. That’s a daunting amount of miles and will take its toll on the bike.

@riderstuart has been very kind in giving me a list of things I need to plan for. I’ve also added a few of my own. They are:

  • A new chain. Apparently it is normal to get 1,500–2,000 miles out of a chain and it is obviously better to get a new one before the old one breaks. Mine is therefore overdue.
  • A new cassette. This is the set of gears on the rear wheel and normally you replace these every time you fit a new chain. They aren’t as expensive as I would have initially thought but I do need to think about what gears I need (i.e. a very small gear for climbing up into the Alps) and then whether this would be compatible with the rear derailleur on my bike (I can’t afford a new one of those so I will need to get one that fits what I have). If I change the gears I assume I also need to change the length of chain.
  • Some new chain rings. These are the big ‘front gears’ by the pedals. From my extensive* (*one hour of) research it looks as though you don’t need to change these as often as the chain and the cassette but it is a good idea to do so as they can be very dangerous when worn. This is a relatively expensive component.
  • New brake blocks. I think mine are still okay but I am sure I will wear through them between now and the event.
  • New cables. I’ve already had a rear derailleur cable replaced in the past year and they will probably all need changing at some point in the run-up to the rides.
  • New tyres. I replaced my rear tyre at Christmas as I had started to get punctures on a regular basis. I’m using cyclocross tyres for now as I have assumed these will be better over the winter and have invested in some Continental Gatorskins that I will switch to when it gets a bit warmer. They are meant to be very puncture-resistant and should be better at rolling along the road than the tyres I have on right now.
  • Cleaning and re-greasing of the bike’s bearings in the wheels, bottom bracket and the pedals. Basically, a bike service or two that I will need to plan with Lovelo, my local bike shop.
  • New cleats for my shoes. Mine are a year old and look a bit worn (I’ve lost a couple of the yellow plastic pieces on them that keep the cleats off the pavement when walking around) and I’m not sure they will go the distance between now and the start of June. Hopefully this is something cheap to replace.
  • A cheap spare back wheel, with the same cassette as the one on my main wheel. This is for use indoors on my turbo trainer with an old tyre so that I can try and avoid wearing out my main rear tyre. I’ll make use of my turbo when it is too dangerous to go out or during the middle of the week where I don’t have time to venture beyond the front door.
  • A decent front light for riding in the rain and in tunnels. My handlebars are tapered so it isn’t easy to fit anything onto them and I’ll need to get some advice on what will work best.

If (and only if) I can get the advised miles in I will need to replace some of the components twice between now and the event. None of this was budgeted for when I signed up so I am going to have to do some shopping around and take some advice as to what will fit my bike, be reliable and safe but also relatively cheap!

Lovelo can expect a visit from me very soon…