Distracted, but roughly on target

Map reference: lots of Surrey rides, principally around Leith Hill with Jacqui, Jen and new cycling bud, Caroline

Caffeine and Carbs: Peaslake village stores peaslakevillagestores.com, and the Dabbling Duck, Shere, thedabblingduck.uk.com

Yes, I’ve still been out pedalling three times a week and on the turbo most other days, but I am struggling to find time to write these rides up. This year I’ve cycled 2,355km with an elevation gain of nearly 30,000m, according to Strava, and that doesn’t count the gym sessions.

In these weeks running up to the Dragon ride, my rides have been falling into a bit of a pattern. On Thursdays I ride a ‘Ten-Hills’ route with Jen. I don’t have school pickup until 4.30pm so we usually add an extra flip round Box Hill and maybe some other local hills to try to get an elevation of around 2,100m, in around 115k. The Dragon ride is 2,900m elevation and 230k, so this puts us comfortably in range with the climbing. Jen keeps muttering about the distance but neither of us has 10 hours spare to ride the full distance. A couple of weeks ago I was fighting a virus and the route felt terribly hard. I gave myself the weekend completely off – tried to laze about as much as possible. Last Thursday I felt better but we just did the basic hills ride and I went out with Caroline the next day to complete a full 2,900m climbing across the two days. That’s good enough. I’ve been very worried about a friend with a sick baby and that has also knocked my focus off – it’s hard to excited about training for a silly sportive when good friends are holding their tiny baby in a hospital unit.

Jacqui is building up her rides too, and I generally see her on Tuesdays. We have a favourite loop around Peaslake which allows us to stop at The Dabbling Duck for a bit on our way back. It’s a lovely place for lunch, although we just tend to have soup or a toasted teacake. One day I will drive there to actually eat some proper food.

Caroline is an old school friend who I have hooked up with after a 30-year gap. She’s very fit, being a pilates instructor, but has been off her bike with house renovation busy-ness until recently. We have been on two rides. I have been pushing her a bit, because I know she will just suck it up, so she found herself doing 1,200m climbing over 75k with me last week. She’s on a pretty ordinary bike, so I wasn’t surprised to learn she had to have a little lie down when she got home.

In the gym, after turbo sessions I have been doing lunges. They seem to be making my legs stronger, and I try to follow up with the stretchy-core stuff that we all know we should be doing.

All in all, apart from the fact that I would like to be about 5lb lighter, I feel reasonable prepared. Jen is much faster than me up hill being a featherweight, but as long as I don’t compare myself with her, I think I am good to go. With three weeks to go, I’d better be.

Note to Baby Lucas: get well soon gorgeous boy, we are all thinking of you.

 

 

 

Two stops and race to the finish

Map reference: 110k, brushing Gatwick, Horsham and Billingshurst

Carbs and caffeine: Chalk Hills Bakery, 75 Bell Street, Reigate, RH2 7AN, chalkhillsbakery.com, Reigate, and Milk Churn, Kiln House, Lynwick Street, Rudgwick, milkchurn.co.uk

My friend Keith has volunteered to pick up the mantle of getting me fit while helping me map my local rides. Bealesy started the job but he is now off running his holidays in Spain and Italy and I’m still struggling to piece together the roads of Surrey, Kent and Sussex. They are beautiful counties and under-appreciated by people haring through on the main roads. Luckily this leaves some beautiful peaceful routes for the cyclists, sharing with runners, riders and walkers… and just the odd white van trying to make time on an unlikely shortcut.

The weather was not quite as billed so were both in our rain tops, and my back got filthy as I still haven’t fitted my mudguards. We had a quick coffee stop at Chalk Hills Bakery. Another time I’d love to try their pastries which looked delicious. The breads are all homemade… one to revisit in the car, I think, so I can stock up.

We pedalled on through indifferent weather but the afore-mentioned pretty roads and vistas. It was just beginning to feel like a long ride when we came to the Milk Churn for our lunch stop. I chose donker bread for my cheese on toast. To the uninitiated (I had to ask, so include me in that set) it is an especially dark wholemeal bread. It was perfect. Not enormous, just the right size as ride food, with the delicious local Charmer cheese oozing over the sides. I will be finding an excuse to go back there soon. There is a brewery and a car showroom on site, so this could easily be a family outing.

By now, with our two stops, we were pushing my time window a little and we had to charge home as quickly as possible. I chewed a few jelly babies (regular reader will know these are my emergency fuel) as we charged down the side of the A24. Keith was taking the brunt of the wind and I tucked in behind as best I could. The kilometres clicked by and the clock ticked faster, but I got home just in time. I had to drive rather than walk to pick up my daughter, but frankly my legs were jelly and I was quite relieved to have the excuse.

Keith peeled off at a garage for fuel – riding fuel to get himself home that is. I’m betting it was a milkshake. See, the funny little things you get to know about a person when you ride with them for a while.

Note to self: Mudguards… come on, make time to fit them

 

Elementary rules of mapping

Map reference: 200k over two days, loop towards Gatwick and more south-westerly route past Dunsfold looping back through Cranleigh

Carbs and caffeine: Maison du Velo, Lesbourne Road, Reigate, RH2 7JS, maisonduvelo.cc and The Dorking Deli, 37 West St, Dorking RH4 1BU, thedorkingdeli.co.uk

And she’s off. Yes, finally I’m getting into my stride again after the Christmas and house move hiatus. I’m making the most of Bealesy (bespoke-vel0.co.uk) before he heads off to Spain and Italy to lead his trips. I know at least three parties who are going with him so he’s a busy chap. But not too busy to plan rides so that I am left with a variety of Garmin maps to explore on my own. I appreciate your efforts Bealesy.

As I’ve been pedalling around following his wheel, I have been thinking about a naming convention on my new Garmin, librarian style. In the end I have plumped for distance/compass direction, then a place name. So these two rides are 100 SE Gatwick and 100 SW Dunsfold. I know it’s totally OTT… it’s the sub-editor in me. Or maybe I’m a frustrated librarian after all. There’s a lot of time to think about these things over a 100k ride.

Monday’s ride was a little slow with a new cyclist along. After three hours I discovered she had eaten nothing which I think explained why she was totally exhausted. I was horrified… part of the joy of cycling is stuffing your face as you go. Surely she must have seen us: Bealesy, fig biscuits; Jen and me, fruit cake; Rach, Naked bars, we all have our own stuffing style.  I passed some jelly babies to her as we rode on and finally at 80k after a steep climb (I’m beginning to enjoy the hills again) we came to Maison Du Velo. It’s a bike shop with great cake and coffee, and a very warm welcome. Bike parking was inside, which is always reassuring and they showed me some BBB Slimguard Mudguards which I may well purchase as a favour to my cycling friends when I’ve done my product research. It really is rude to spray water all over the person on your wheel.

Tuesday’s ride was much pacier. Alison, who we rode with last week was there and Jane, who I hadn’t met before. Jane, who was clearly a good rider, was feeling a bit below par. It’s funny, you can tell the difference between an unfit rider and one who is just a bit out of sorts. There’s a kind of mystified look on a rider’s face when they just aren’t up to their normal standard. I wear that face quite a lot myself at the moment.

The Dorking Deli is a small place, but very pleasant. I was worried it didn’t have a loo… the others had alfresco-ed on the way but I had baulked at the exposure. Luckily there are facilities as long as you don’t mind going out of the cafe, around the back and boldly walking through a gate marked 37A. It all felt very Sherlock Holmes with his Flat 221B, and even Mrs Hudson would have been impressed with the pristine state of what is effectively an outdoor lavvy. Another impressive Dorking cafe, it’s like the town is the cafe society hub of Surrey.

Note to self: maybe don’t go shopping straight after a ride… those BBQ ribs aren’t normally so tempting

 

 

My pal Jen’s Epping epic

Map reference: London Etape, 185k, 1,400m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Torq gels, cheese and jam bagel, possibly the worst ever givaway gel… and extraordinary ‘performance coffee’

Those of you in the sportive loop will know that this ride was three weeks ago… I’m slipping; houswifery, back-to-school-dom and house-moving-itus are slowing me down. But it’s a ride worth mentioning. It started at the Olympic velodrome and headed in a large loop into Cambridgeshire through Epping Forest. It was always going to be a flattish ride so Jen (yes, I signed her up while she was out of the country) and I had no idea how long it would take.

I estimated 7 1/2 hours, but, I had never seen Jen in competition mode. It took us 6 hours 21 mins of moving time… and I was basically hanging on to Jen’s wheel the whole way. Or, I had fallen off and I was pedalling at maximum effort to get back on. Sounds hilarious but it was actually really hard work. From the off, through the East End, Jen flitted through the crowds of cyclist. She has never really ridden in a group so was pedalling past perfectly fast pelotons and isolating us as the groups stretched out. I was cursing and grumbling and desperately trying to hold on, thinking it was going to be a very long ride in this degree of pain; or, clearly a much shorter race than I had anticipated, but a lot less comfortable.

After a puncture at 10k, we settled down a bit, and by the time we were out into proper countryside, Jen had got the hang of picking a pack to hang on to, and at her size (5ft2) she was able to just tuck in and roll along. I, unfortunately, had a habit of dropping off the back on the longer rises (no hills as such) and then having to battle back onto the back in order to rest up for the next drive. Our average moving speed was 29k/h and we were very held up later as we headed back into London, so we were really clicking along. I spent an uncomfortably large percentage of the six hours at panic stations; heart racing, sweat pouring into my eyes, legs throbbing. We didn’t stop at the first or second feedstation, carrying enough carbs with us to get us by (thank heavens for jelly babies…Bassetts, bless you).

The 20k to the third feedstation was hard, the field had thinned out and I was mostly just hanging on to Jen’s back wheel, and with her being so small draughting was less effective than if she had been bigger. She was tiring too. We swung into the feedstation to be stopped by a ‘glamourous’ woman on a stall offering ‘performance coffee’. She astounded us by greeting us warmly along the lines of ‘Ahh, now you’ll want this, because as women, you won’t be wanting to eat fattening, sugary stuff’. We sniggered, drank the coffee (tasted like regular instant coffee to me) and headed for the real snacks. There was no time (or energy) to take offence to her ridiculous implication that we should diet. There were very few women for her to bond with on the ride, and with her fake nails I don’t suppose she ever did any real exercise.

At this stop we were also given some gels (I’ll look up what they were, when I can) which were absolutely awful. They were too large and squirted all over the bike and my hand, making both so sticky I was struggling to change gear. And they tasted foul too. They are to be avoided at all costs. Jen’s squirted everywhere too, so it wasn’t just me. Honestly, guys, do test these things on the road before giving them out.

Quick as we could, we hopped back on the bikes and charged back towards Epping. with 20k to go I thought Jen had finally managed to drop me for good. For mile after mile I could see her but couldn’t get back up to her.  I willed her to just understand that it was fine to go on without me, but luckily two large blokes came by and I hopped onto their tail in a last ditch attempt to catch up. They delivered me to Jen’s back wheel just as she turned round to see if I was there. I still don’t know if she know how long I was missing. She rides in her own zone, legs just pedalling and pedalling.

As we headed into London we were really slowed down by the early afternoon traffic. Jen’s knee began to play up but she powered on through the final spin of the Velodrome and then we hobbled off to the car. By the time we got home an hour later, neither of us could walk properly, we were staggering about, giggling like drunk octagenarians. Still, no harm done, by the morning we were fine. That’s the joy of cycling, if it had been a marathon, I’d probably still be limping.

Note to Jen: Get that Dragon ride booked. 

Safely guided to the foothills of my Etape challenge

Map reference: Hotel Oxygen, Visabella, three days with Bespoke-Velo and my new cycling chums

Carbs and caffeine: the hotel food is fabulous and of course our guide Bealesy knows the village coffee stops too. 

The weather has now settled to hot, but not too hot; humid but bearable so. I had a short 70k ride on Wednesday to keep the legs moving. Bealesy had me in the small cog the whole way and I tried to keep a steady tempo of about 25k. Even here, I discover I have another deficiency; I can’t ride an even tempo. He suggests I do some training on rollers. My sons have used these but they look hairy as hell. You basically ride your bike on the spot on rollers. The falling off potential seems huge. I’ll put a link at the bottom of this blog so you can see them. They’re crackers… so straight on my wish list then.

For my last two rides in Italy, a couple of other riders are over from London. We had a welcome drink at the bar and got to know each other a bit. You can’t help trying to assess who might be the stronger rider. Luca is a man, a Kingston Wheeler, so he was going to be the strongest. Anyway, to cut to the chase, I was soon to learn that Meghan is also stronger than me up hills. Why am I so slow? I suspect signing myself off lunges due to my back issues has played a part. I’m also recovering from my tough ride on Tuesday. No matter, they’re nice about it and it will be good for their confidence. I forgot to mention, they are also doing the Etape so we are on the same page and we have plenty to talk about.

On our first day’s riding together, Bealesy took us out for 128k, 1,800m ride. He’s good at this stuff. The day was loaded with the big hills at the front and the coffee stop placed about two-thirds of the way through. Pushing off after the caffeine break, I felt that delicious elation of a nicely full stomach, coffee buzz and the knowledge that the rest of the ride was ‘in the bag’. Mostly I rode alongside Meghan and we discussed men, jobs, bibs and lip salve… basically all the important things. There are some lovely things about this riding malarkey and meeting new people is definitely one of them. I am hoping to recruit her to next year’s Dragon Ride, as I really don’t want to do that no my own again.

Today’s ride was supposed to be similar to yesterday’s but a little longer. At breakfast it became apparent that wasn’t going to work. Meghan had a cricked upper back from a slightly long reach on yesterday’s rental bike. She’s like me, long legs, short body and difficult to ‘fit’. Meanwhile Luca looked a little jaded from a bad night’s sleep. So, ever professional, Bealsey changed tack and we headed for a 70k circuit with one longish hill. Best of all for me, this meant Husband could come. The kids are so comfortable at the hotel that we felt happy to leave them with instructions to look after each other… and, of course, cash for ice cream.

All set for the Alps tomorrow. I am going to take a couple of days off to recover – and then go and look at the mountains. Cols de Chassy, Glandon, Croix de Fer, Mollard and Toussuire, here I come.

Note to Bealsey: thanks for a great four days. We’ve had a lovely family holiday and I’ve got to do my thing too. Not easy…

http://www.bikeradar.com/roaad/gear/article/how-to-ride-on-rollers-28631/

The roar of the Dragon

Map reference: The Dragon Ride, Gran Fondo, 229k, 3,600m elevation

Carbs and caffeine: ‘Human Race’ fodder of salted potatoes, jaffa cakes and jelly babies, plus a few bits of cake from my back pocket

As with our dry run two weeks ago, I’m not sure how I can describe a 10-hour ride and make it interesting. As I think about it now, there are a series of snapshots in my head, interspersed with hours of just plain pedalling, watching the kilometres tick by on my Garmin, sometimes fast and sometimes, going up hill, at an achingly slow pace.

The thing that was very different from my experience of the Medio last year, was it was a very lonely ride. The Medio was a big challenge to me at the time – and at 153k with plenty of climbing, still nothing to sniff at – but there are more riders and much more chatting. This time I struggled to find anyone to talk to, or more importantly anyone to draft.

As any cyclists will know, drafting (riding close to a rider in front) can save you 20 per cent of your energy. Get it right and you can feel like you are freewheeling, especially at pace. Usually the deal is you draft for a bit and then take your turn at the front. If you are lucky enough to be part of a larger group, a peloton, you can achieve amazing speeds this way. I don’t know whether it was because I was in the first group to start, or whether the crowd is just thinner for the full distance, but this time I found very few suitable candidates to attach myself too.

There was a triathlon group at the beginning, but they were going too slowly, so after a brief chat I moved on. And there were a couple of blokes in black who were happy to have me hanging on for a bit, but dropped me on a big hill. And so it went on until the first stop after two and a half hours. After that the pack thinned out still further and I mostly rode alone, sometimes not even in sight of another cyclist. I upped my search for a companion as I rode along the uplands after Penderyn, where even on a low-wind day, there is a gale in your face. I spoke to a young guy who was cycling alone and who had an odd pedal stroke. I had hoped I could tag along with him, but he was clearly struggling with an injured knee, taped up with lines of elastoplast. He had forgotten his painkillers. Luckily, I had overpacked my own stash and was able to hand him a strip of 8 Ibruprofen. He was very grateful, and being able to help gave me a lift too, but I had to move on.

The only other successful drafting came on the A4067 as we headed back up to the A40. I had a bit of a surge and could sense someone hanging on behind. For several kilometres I was shadowed until I began to slow, and then a lovely chap came round me, thanked me for my tow and offered me his back wheel for the A40. We chatted enough for me to point out my father’s house as we were passing (we both waved) and we kept together to the next feed stop, after Trecastle. And that was the extent of my human interaction. I did try to draft one woman, but she became strangely irate. As we moved together round a man, she asked me what I was doing. I said I was hanging onto her back wheel because I was flagging. She sort of tutted and carried on for a while and then suddenly sat up and stopped pedalling. I had no choice but to pass her, but it was very odd behaviour. The underside of her flapping race number revealed that she was riding alone, and frankly with that kind of behaviour it was hardly surprising.

Amid the hours of grind there were some memorable little scenes of the gorgeous Welsh countryside, unbelievably bathed in sunshine the whole way round.

There were occasional clusters of families cheering us on, or the odd person just stopping whatever they were doing to wave. It all helps, it really does. The food stops were amazing. I spent 40 minutes at three stops, which was too long. I was flapping. Undecided whether I needed to pee or not; whether I wanted food or just water. Last year I was much more efficient, probably because I was having more fun.

The most picturesque scene was a bride heading to church on a horse, holding a yellow parasol above her head. She looked lovely, I ducked under the camera as I went by. I hope I didn’t ruin her pictures.

Unnervingly, I also passed an ambulance team nursing a motorbiker on the road, holding his neck and talking to him. There was bicycle on the road too. I felt very unsettled for a while after that. The roads are so twisty-turny in places and it’s a temptation to all road users to push the limits. I found myself shuffling uncomfortably on the bike as I hoped that the crash scene looked worse than it was.

I had a pretty clear map in my head of the route. We did the Devil’s Elbow between stops two and three, so fairly early on. I knew it was the steepest climb, but I also knew I could do it. It hurt, but I got up. It felt good, knowing that the worst ‘half’ was over. The Hill With No Name, very familiar to me, felt harder than normal as it came late in the ride.

At the third stop, I repacked my food to make it more accessible, as I knew I would likely skip the fourth stop. I dumped a couple of rice cakes I didn’t need. This fiddling ate into my time and I had to skip the last food stop anyway if I was to make it under my 10-hour mark. The last 30k were a beast. I knew it would be but, with the minutes ticking by, I had to really push. Riding alone, I touched 40k/hour on ‘flat’ terrain (obviously nothing is ever totally flat). And there’s a long last hill 20k from home. I knew it was coming, but it really is a horror, coming so late in the day and winding through a built-up area of Neath. Riders puffed and cursed their way up, and finally I found I had a little more pace than many. It’s a terrible thing in human nature that I gained strength by seeing that others were finding it harder than me. Time was now ticking far too fast. I shot along the last 10k, flat sections of motorway mostly, hardly daring to hope that I would make it in time. My efforts paid off, but I had less than three minutes to spare. The timings show I was 17th woman in, and fifth in my age group… although I have my doubts about someone ahead of me called Mike.

The last photographer at the gates of Margam park will have a priceless picture of me as I roared at a car that was blocking my way into the gates. I swerved around it and with a final dizzying surge of adrenaline shot through the line at a, frankly, silly pace for the crowded area. Sorry everyone. It mattered to me more than anything at the time.

Note to Jen: You’re coming with me next year. I need company

More on drafting etiquette here http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2011/aug/25/cycling-commuter-drafting-etiquette

Words fail me on another rainy day

Map reference: very wet Leith Hill to Box Hill loop, 100k, 1,200m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: Gorgeous Gerties, 61 West Street, Dorking, PH4 1BS, gorgeousgerties.co.uk, banana and coconut cake and coffee x 2

How many times can I tell you about my rides in the rain and how miserable they are? Jen was there being made miserable too, and that helped, but basically it started raining an hour or so into the ride and didn’t stop. There were various types of rain. There are 50 Eskimo words for snow and really, for all our boasts about the richness of our language, where are the 50 words for rain we should have?

I’m not going to go on about it. Instead I shall concentrate on a lovely tea shop we were driven into in Dorking. Gorgeous Gerties is on the antiquey end of the high street, the first bit you hit if you descend, soggy or otherwise, from Coldharbour. It has a sheltered porch bit at the entrance, perfect for stashing the bikes, and is a cafe with vintage department shop attached. Actually, probably the vintage bit comes first, but the priority for us was the coffee and cake.

We had to walk to the back to view the cakes, passing stands of jewellery and pottery and all sorts of gifty things. Given the state we were in, it was surprising how much of it we stopped to mull over. Particularly as we couldn’t really buy.

Cake and coffee eaten, we felt we should push off, so paid up and collected our bikes. By then the rain had turned torrential. We hovered in the porchy bit, hesitating about what to do; discussing our options. The lady from the shop came out and suggested another round of coffee. That was clearly the best option, so we parked the bikes again and trooped back in.

The rain lashed down, and then finally slowed a little. We decided to do the final two hills; Ranmore Road and the side of Box Hill.

From there it was simply a case of slipping down into Epsom and taking our normal commute back to Wimbledon. The rain drizzled to a stop and finally we saw a little sun. We don’t have many words for sun either, but that’s more understandable.

Note to self: watch the weather forecast, I don’t think another rainfest will do you any good a this stage.