Steady as she goes …

Map reference: playing around in the Leith Hill area, 130k, 1700m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: tea and Cornish pasty at Peaslake Village Stores plus my rice cakes (see Musette munchies page)

Testing my back again, but this time I set off slowly from home. Husband was with me and he has been working his legs hard lately so he said he was glad to take the pace down a notch too.

It was blowing against us all the way out to the hills from Wimbledon and we were perhaps 10 minutes slower than usual on our leg to the Black Swan in Ockham http://www.blackswanockham.com/. It’s a waymarker for us, as well as being a good pub to visit (I believe Brad Pitt was spotted there once).

By this time I had already taken some paracetamol and some Ibuprofen but the back was holding up with the chemical support. I was attempting to follow a ten-hills route that I had done with a friend and therefore had on my Garmin. I have an Edge 500, which is about as basic as it gets, but I like it for being tiny and neat. Although I always take it off my bike when I stop, it’s not a magnet for theft. Understated is the word I am looking for, I think.

Anyway, this was my first real attempt to follow a map on it. I was pleased that I could set off from home doing my preferred route and then pick up the route and for several hills the route was clear enough. You get no map as such, just a line that wriggles in the shape of the road, with an arrow on it. So, at a left turn, you get no indication of a road junction, just the line bends left. On the twisty turny roads of Surrey it’s a little confusing, but we managed for about three hours before we lost satellite for too long and were too far off track to find our way back. It didn’t matter, as by that time we were in the vicinity of our familiar Peaslake and were able to¬† route a different way home.

I am now using my iphone to record for Strava and Garmin for my own records. It’s a bit of a belt and braces solution, but it should mean I won’t lose segments. I wouldn’t like to use my Garmin to map completely virgin territory, but I am increasing my knowledge of the roads of Surrey and Sussex all the time, and it’s fine for these excursions. It’s never a bad thing to keep the old grey matter going anyway, although it’s hard when you get tired.

We did manage to get back on track for Hill 9, aka Ranmore Road from Dorking. It’s quite nasty but only because it is long. I think the steepest bits are about 10%, so at a steady pace it’s perfectly doable.

Overall it was a long steady ride. We did about half the climbing I will face in the Dragon Gran Fondo and about two thirds of the distance. With six weeks to go, I’m glad we banked the distance, even at a pace of just under 24k/hr.

Note to self: rest and stretch today, Turbo tomorrow.

Pain and peas… a miraculous cure

Map reference: Cobham into Sussex, via Quell Hill, 22%, 120k

Carbs and caffeine: sandwich, coffee and chocolate at Kirdford Village Stores, plus many painkillers

Any regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with a bad back. I’ve also been struggling with the knowledge that I do need to get in some longer rides. I think I’ve done well on the winter base, this should now be the fun bit. With this in mind, I snapped up Keith’s offer of a longer ride out into Sussex. Every cyclist needs a mappy friend like him, and if you can find one with a plethora of trivia about the countryside you are passing through, more’s the better.

Within half an hour of riding I was on my first round of paracetamol. Half an hour later I had to break my pledge not to take anti-inflamatories and hit the ibuprofen too. Nonetheless it was a beautiful day and Keith confidentally rode us to ‘a climber’s climb’ called Quell Hill. I shall resist the puns on Quell, suffice to say, it is a real challenge; kicking hard at the bottom, and winding up through trees leaving the top obscured. After the initial shock, I just settled into grinding up as best I could. It’s a mindset thing, basically it’s faster than walking unless you are reduced to the speed where you actually fall off. I was pleased to get to the top. And the descent was unbelievably beautiful, views across the Downs; stunning and well worth the pain.

But, that said, the pain was now becoming more of a problem. We rode on for about another 10k with a lump ominously swelling towards my right hip. At last we wheeled into Kirdford, an old-fashioned village store, with an old-fashioned welcome. If they thought it was strange I bought a packet of frozen peas with my sandwich and coffee, they were too polite to mention it.

I slid the peas down my bibs and we had a long stop to chat, which I was grateful for. I kept the peas where they were when we pushed off. Frankly with all the padded Lycra and stuffed back pockets, I don’t think a bag of peas in the shorts was very noticable. The trip back was worryingly painful. My companions talked of fetching cars, but I really felt I could make it, if we could knock off the speed a bit. Keith rode with me all the way back to my car and I gratefully swung myself off the bike.

As I drove around the school run I expected the pain to kick in as the painkillers wore off. It didn’t. In the evening, I expected the pain to kick in. No pain.

This morning I was sure I would wake up in agony. I didn’t. In fact I am more comfortable today than I have been in days. It’s a miracle. I can recommend the frozen peas and a long ride method for back pain to anyone.

And did I serve up the peas for tea? No, I am not that eccentric.

Note to Lucy: I’ve put my recipes on a page called Mussette munchies

Cranking it up…

Map reference: Husband’s local bergs route, double Richmond Park flip with Surrey pals and shortened trip to Shere

Carbs and caffeine: good coffee, my choice of wrong cake at The Dabbling Duck, Middle Street, Shere http://www.thedabblingduck.uk.com/

I’m still nursing a sore back. The pain is travelling up and down my right side and I can’t walk any distance. Yesterday, even the post box 50 metres away looked a little too far and I drove to a box instead. Nonetheless, with the help of paracetamol I have been doing short rides, followed up by intensive stretching. Incidentally, I have it on very good authority that you should try to stay off the anti-inflamatories for training purposes, tempting as they are.

I felt better enough on Sunday to get Husband to ride me round his local bergs route. For the first 20 minutes I was absolutely fine, and after that it as clear I needed to head home. Nonetheless, I captured several pieces of bling on Strava… second best this year up one of the local hills? I need to go back when I’m fit.

On Monday a couple of friends I ride with in Surrey decided to travel up here. This suited me perfectly and it was a real pleasure to see Richmond Park through fresh eyes. It’s perfect terrain for Jo, who professes to not like long hills and loves blasting along the flat. She enjoyed the commute here too as she says she’s tired of the Surrey Hills. If that’s not a lesson in ‘the grass is always greener’, I don’t know what is.

Finally yesterday, I had my regular Tuesday date with Jacqui. We were planning on driving to Cobham and then doing a Leith Hill loop. Unfortunately, by the time we had chatted our way to Staple Lane and beyond, it became clear that Jacqui’s heart wasn’t in it. Her son has scholarship exams next week and, poor love, is getting himself in a pickle. And of course, as the mother, she is trying to do everything she can to make it all right; keeping him calm and helping him through his work load. Sometimes the juggling just gets too much.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, so I persuaded her to pedal on to Shere, and The Dabbling Duck, usually a port of call on our way back from Leith Hill, where a caffeine fix would surely make the outing worthwhile. Unfortunately, out of all the delicious cakes on offer, I chose carrot and pineapple which turned out to be too sugary for my taste. Luckily I had some of my apple and prune oaties packed, and we cleaned our palettes with those.

One of things we chatted about was crank length. Jacqui is a physio and one of her clients was getting terrible knee pain and struggling to climb hills, despite being really fit. Apparently she is seriously under-tall and yet, even with a bike fit, had been given 170 cranks. Jacqui was able to advise her to go back and get 165, which the shop conceded would be right. So there you go… Husband’s intensive studying and my spreading of the word should hopefully make a big difference to a complete stranger.

Here’s the link again on cranks if you are interested http://bikedynamics.co.uk/FitGuidecranks.htm

Note to self: get snacks – and painkillers – ready for long one tomorrow.

The myth of the Dragon …

Map reference: to Box Hill and back, and home on the computer researching

Carbs and Caffeine: have reinvented the flapjack using apple sauce to sweeten. They’re actually really nice, low sugar and pretty much fat free. Will test on the family and report back

I’ve been having some back niggles and so have been off the bike for a couple of days, although I am happy to report that I’m on the mend now and even managed a gentle 80k ride yesterday.

Meanwhile, with my hills training plan (and my back) on ice, I have started thinking about my two summer challenges. Everyone keeps telling me that if I can do the Gran Fondo Dragon Ride I can do the Etape du Tour. Is this a myth? Do the numbers stack up?

The Dragon Ride is 226km with 2,905m elevation.

The Etape is 142km, with 4,100-4,600m elevation (depending on what you read)

So it’s easy to see that the Etape is shorter but much, much steeper. Except, that the climbs are very different. The Dragon’s Devil’s Elbow is 20% on a lot of the ascent, and 33% on the switchbacks. But it’s short, it should all be over in minutes.

In contrast the Col de la Croix de Fer in the Etape is 22.4km long at 6.9%. If my speed drops to 10k/h, I could be climbing for two hours, although I fear the broom wagon may be sweeping my way, if there is too much of that speed. But the descents are also longer. It’s hard to imagine enjoying a descent among so many people, but my speed is definitely increasing here, thanks to the confidence I have in my new Dura-Ace brakes. The closest I have come to riding this kind of terrain is at The Hill With No Name, in the Brecon Beacons (see my post March 14) where my average moving speed was just under 20k/h. However, I need to knock off some speed for altitude and heat. The science bit is now out of the window – the affect of these is unknowable – but I’m going to knock my average speed down to 16k/h. If this is anything like right, I should be finished in 8h50m.

Back to the Dragon ride, I did the shorter version last year at an average speed of 23.5k/h. It took me 6h43 and the Gran Fondo is 73k longer, so it’s going to take me three hours longer. I am going to assume the same speed as, although it is much longer, my bike is much better and I hope I am fitter. The weather was good last year (if you can ignore an hour’s deluge at the end) and this could make a huge difference, but I can’t worry about that. So this ride should take me 9h43mins. At this distance, I don’t think I’m going to be able to up my speed at all, and my intention to hold my speed may be ambitious.

Never mind my back, I now have a sore head. And do I have an answer? Well, if you just consider bum-on-seat time, the Dragon is all but an hour longer. In which case doing the Dragon six weeks before the Etape is perfect. So I think, on balance, the myth holds water; slay the Dragon and you can conquer the Alps.

Note to self: use that grid roller… then test the back on the turbo. Boring but safe.