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.

All hail to the train

Map reference: About 7 hills, Wimbledon to Dorking

Carbs and caffeine: Peaslake Village Stores, sandwich, tea and cake. Picked up delicious smoked cheese for later

This week I have a busy cycling schedule, with three weeks to go to the Dragon Ride. It started yesterday with a plan to do my 10 hills Surrey ride with Jacqui and Jen. I knew it would be a steady pace, so already had it in mind to chop a bit off the end if necessary. All was fine to Peaslake – six hills climbed, no drama. We then stopped to refuel and as we slurped the last of our tea the thunder started. There wasn’t much option to do anything but commit the shorter route to memory (I’m still carrying the map and notes I made last week) and get going. By the time we reached the top of Radnor Road, a very pretty climb straight out of Peaslake, we were soaked and rivers of sandy water were running down the road.

We pedalled on, it was freezing rain and, unbelievably for late May, as we started a long descent, the rain turned to large brutal shots of hail. I was in short bibs and it was really, really painful. I was hunched over my thighs trying to protect them, my vision was obscured by my dark glasses and frankly I yelped all the way down.

We were still in the wilderness and now all three of us shivering, soaked to the skin, with shoes full of water. The weather eased with a tantalising few glances of sunshine, and then, as we hit another descent, another freak hail storm attacked. It was ridiculously painful, and by now my legs were covered in red dots from the icy attack. We ploughed on through Coldharbour and down into Dorking.

Thankfully Jacqui was searching her mind for a solution as we looked at Box Hill in the distance, shrouded in grey. I was thinking for ways of routing around the hills, not to avoid climbing, but because it was noticeably colder up top. But with an hour and a half’s riding in front of us, Jacqui had a more fundamental idea… the train.

So we hopped on at Dorking and shivered our way to Raynes Park. Together we laughed about our predicament and the state we were in, but the child in our heads grizzled. I have seldom been more uncomfortable.

But Jen’s last words, as we parted, were to hope we were going to do the ride again on Thursday, which is the plan. She’s a ray of sunshine, and I do hope she brings more of it with her when we try again tomorrow. I’ll let you know.

Note to self: phone brother and get him in line for tomorrow’s ride. Cake, jelly babies etc etc

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.

Rolling hills to rolling pin, the perfect Sunday

Displaying IMG_0295.JPG

Time to unwind: a rolling pin and a fitness band used to stretch out the knots

Map reference: Box Hill loop from home, avoiding the zigzag. 90k, 760m climbing, in 3 hours 20 mins.

Carbs and caffeine: no time, had to be back to watch Paris Roubaix

With the school holidays still tying me to the house, Husband and I decided to make a quick dash out to Surrey early today. The kids would hardly miss us. They were all still in their pyjamas when we got back and my daughter claimed to have been up for ten minutes.

As we set off, the roads were filled with cyclists making their way to the hills, except for one large peloton, which peeled off into Esher to the coffee shop. How far could they have ridden, I wondered? But maybe they had been looping Richmond Park while I was still asleep.

Our overall pace averaged 26.8km, so for the flat commute out we were going at a fair old lick. The bike with all it’s new bits feels just perfect. The narrow handlebars seem to enable me to keep my shoulders down – they tend to rise to my ears if I’m not careful – and this in turn allows a much more open chest position. In short, it just feels just right, comfortable; it’s my bike.

The carbon factor kicked in on the weird knobbly bit of road near Send open prison. For those of you that haven’t encountered this section, there are stretches of perfect road, interspersed with bobbly bits. I don’t know if this is some sort of mild punishment system for the prison inmates. Maybe they throw them in the back of a van and drive at speed along these sections to give them a shakeup if they break the rules? Anyway, it certainly gives the cyclists a shakeup, but not nearly as badly with the full carbon bike. I usually suffer blurred vision along this stretch, but not today.

All in all a lovely ride. I felt a little tired about two hours in, but I think I needed to eat a bit more. We whizzed back home with plenty of time to fix lunch, turn on the TV and do my stretches while watching the Paris Roubaix classic.

By the way, I have discovered that a rolling pin works very well as a massage stick. It may not have the nobbles of a bought one, but it is free, and frankly not used much for it’s original purpose.

Note to self: time to get a grid foam roller, the sun is out and there will be longer rides to recover from soon. Injury free very important.

Double Staple secures a hilly ride

Uplifting view of the Downs: free to anyone, you don’t have to be on a bike

Map reference: Richmond Park, through Cobham to Staple Lane, Crocknorth Road, Box Hill and back through Walton-on-the-Hill. You will have to take my word for it as the Garmin turned itself off. Just under 100k

Carbs and Caffeine: Box Hill cafe, cup of tea and a flapjack, cycling fuel and lunch rolled into one delicious homemade slab

Making my way to my Richmond Park rendezvous with Jacqui, I had my doubts about today’s cycle plan. The winds were horrendous. As a gust hit, all I could do was stop pedalling, grip the handlebars and hope the cars would have the sense to know how difficult the conditions were. One senile old gent chose this day to try driving (so slowly I had to overtake going up cardiac hill – aka Broomfield Hill) while holding his iphone in front of his face to take a video. The silly old duffer is now the proud owner of a shot of me gesticulating to put the thing down. Leaving your brain at the gate because you are driving through the park is not acceptable… and that goes for parking in the middle of the road to see the deer too.

I was still worried about the gusts as we continued. A cycling friend has bust his knee skiing, and it has pricked my fear that all this training would count for nothing, should I sustain an injury. We actually got off our bikes in Kingston, as the wind funnelling between Peter Jones and Bentalls was too dangerous to ride through, but things improved from there and by the time we were in Cobham I had settled down and was enjoying myself. We pedalled on to Staple Lane and, since I climb faster, I decided to do it twice to Jacqui’s once. The plan was to catch her a bit down the road. Jacqui obviously took this as a challenge and pedalled off as fast as she could. She was most of the way up Crocknorth Road (which we know as ‘the steep one under the bridge’) before I caught sight of her. She must have been holding back before. Anyway it gave me a chance to stretch my legs along the rolling ride between the two hills and I’m sure I would have set some personal records on Strava if the Garmin hadn’t failed to record that section.

My screen told me we had done 60k as we pulled up outside the cafe on top of Box Hill. I wish I had looked at the climbing rate, as that information is now gone forever.

We were trying to ‘make time’ as we set off for home as Jacqui was late for all sorts of household admin, but were stopped as we turned into Headley Common Road by a police block and ambulance. Unfortunately a motorcyclist had been hit by a falling tree. I dread to think what would have happened if it had been us. At least the guy had his protective clothing. A policeman told us that the biker will be all right, but it is very sobering seeing someone stretchered into an ambulance.

As the road was closed for an investigation into the accident, we were forced to take a rather long circuit through Walton-On-The-Hill and Tadworth (made slightly longer with a wrong turning from me). Poor Jacqui was now very late, and had to call her mother, who was at home with the children, and explain to her that there had been an accident – no, she wasn’t in the accident – and she would be much later than planned. Mobile reception is not great up there, the conversation went round and round in loud circles for a while before the message was received.

So not everything went according to plan. Jacqui was very late and I have no record of the ride. And hail had not been forecast but fell anyway. But we banked some miles, and that’s a good thing with 10 weeks to go the the Dragon Ride.

Note to self: turbo tomorrow, need to start building up the stamina

Box Hill battle wins a new friend

Map reference: Kingston, Cobham, Fetcham, Box Hill, and loop back, 60k

Carbs and Caffeine: Top of Box Hill, tea and coffee cake, our old favourite, ahhh, it’s been a while

Feeling slightly unsure of myself, after failing to make the grade last time I was out, I nearly decided to take the light bike out today, but no, this was a fairly flat, slowish run, it had to be my heavy bike. Funny… not so long ago my aluminium Giant was my beautiful bike, I feel I am treating it very unfairly by referring to it so disparagingly. She’s still very trim and lovely. She is my second bike in name alone.

Following Jacqui’s very precise instructions, Jen and I rallied at 10.10 and we set off on familiar roads out to Surrey. As we were trundling along the quiet lanes of Polesden Lacey, we passed a man in a bright yellow jacket, freewheeling along, listening to music and as we paused to regroup he asked the way to Box Hill. We were heading that way so he joined us, reassuring us that he was in no hurry.

And so off we went… in no hurry… until we got to Box Hill. As we turned right onto the zigzag, the pace picked up. I had it in mind to try for some speed (I’m getting addicted to my Strava bling – for the uninitiated, Strava is a website that checks your speed against everyone else, and awards you ‘medals’), then remembered I was on bike number two. But by then it was too late. We were clearly in a race and I was the mug at the front doing the towing. Before the second hairpin, our new mate made his move, and overtook me easily. What had seemed like a slightly stocky frame in his waterproof jacket, turned out to be sitting on very muscley cycling legs.

Jen politely stayed behind me, but as we hit the flattish bit I told her to go and get him. And off she went… poor man, once Jen sets her sights on a challenge, she generally gets there. And she did, from quite a way back.

At the top we introduced ourselves. Jason from South Africa has only been in the country since January and still feeling his away around the area… and he’s a spinning instructor. Chapeau, Jen, Chapeau indeed.

We offered Jason a tow back to Kingston – that’s a joke Jason – and he companionably took out his earbuds and chatted to us all the way back, trusting that our dodging,¬† diving and weaving route would get him back to the familiar roads of Kingston, from where he could find his way back home. Mind you he had one of those Garmins where you can just ask it take you home and it will. That may have been why he was so relaxed. And the three of us are probably not very threatening … unless you get Jen’s goat.

Note to self: must check if Bike Bean is doing their Thursday run. It would be embarrassing to drag Jen to Ashtead for nothing

The whiff of success…

Displaying photo.JPG Early start: a two-bottle run to the Surrey hills, doesn’t she look beautiful in the sunlight?

Map reference: 130k, ’10 hill’ loop to Leith Hill area

Carbs and caffeine: Peaslake Stores http://www.peaslakevillagestores.com/, just a mug of tea, but lots on offer. Remember coinage to donate to cleaner of new loo

I had a fantastic run on Sunday with Husband, doing a 90k Box Hill loop from home, but time caught up with me and I had no time to blog it. Suffice to say the bike and I are now the very bestest of friends. We averaged 24k, so finally Husband and I can cycle together without him getting a crick in the neck from turning around to look for me. I’ll never be his training partner, but at least we can ride together. It’s a big step forward.

With all this happiness in mind, I prepared to battle Barhatch again, having failed last week. This time Rob and I set off earlier so I wouldn’t have to bail after 5 and a half hills to get home for the school run. And I switched to my new bike. I can’t, if I’m honest, tell the difference between the two bikes on a flip around Richmond Park, but give it an hour or so and the difference really becomes apparent. So the lesson, well known to amateur cyclists, is … if at first your don’t succeed, bring a better bike.

Some credit should go to those winter months of training. A friend’s husband has been scoffing that I have been so focused since before Christmas but, with no testosterone to fall back on, it’s the only way I know how. Under¬†Bealsey’s http://www.bespoke-velo.co.uk/ guidance I’ve been working on pushing a harder gear and that has certainly paid dividends. Hills Seven and Eight passed by in my big cog (they were more like a series of rises to be honest) and I found this left me in a better position to maximise speed on the false flats in between. Husband has been saying this for years, but I don’t think I was fit enough to pull it off then.

Apart from the hills, which tend to grab the attention, I think my descending has improved a little. Some weeks ago, Bealsey told me that my feet should be horizontal when descending on a straight, with my strong foot forward. I had found this position awkward and tend to ride with my left foot down, which feels more restful. But suddenly his advice seems to be making sense. I think it may be the angle of my feet, I am working on having my heels lower in my pedal stroke, and that seems to give me more balance. Anyway, even on the pretty bumpy descents of the Surrey Hills I am feeling more confident.

So all in all, the stars were aligned and it was a great day. I know they won’t all be like this, some days just aren’t so good, but I feel very, very positive.

And why the headline ‘The whiff of success’? Well, Peaslake Stores is an excellent deli, and they were giving out tastes of their cheeses. I fell on love with a Chillies Farm wild mushroom infused camembert, and rode the second half with it ripening in my back pocket.

Note to self: last week to collar Bealsey for more training tips, before he heads off for his summer holiday guiding tour

Who needs a small cog?

Map reference: triple Box Hill loop, all in the large cog

Carbs and caffeine: The Grey Dove, Walton-on-the-Hill http://www.thegreydovecafe.com/

I got ahead on beastly Beasley’s programme by doing my Monday session yesterday, leaving me free to cycle with Neil today. I haven’t mentioned Neil recently because he put himself out of action for six weeks by having a tumble cycling home one evening. Apparently very little alcohol was involved and yet a speed bump leapt out and tipped him off his bike. Very bad luck indeed.

Anyway, he is back on form now, but with his long layoff, I am back in the driving seat … just. Last time we cycled he was definitely faster than me. It’s going to be interesting as our training progresses.

Today we parked at Epsom racecourse, made our way through Headley to Box Hill, down the zigzag and round the back, up the Headley hills and back to the top of Box Hill, racing the last section where the road is extra smooth. Neil always beats me there, but he is only 31… and a personal trainer to boot.

After some debate we went down the zigzag and straight back up, standing all the way. For the first half I was holding my own, but as we got to the middle flatter section Neil pulled away. He then whooped encouraging cries all the rest of the way, while clearly making sure he stayed ahead of me. I just couldn’t get back on his wheel. I had my revenge on our final loop of Box Hill, up the Headley hills again, grinding my big cog as best I could. It felt good.

A quick pitstop in the ever pretty Walton-On-the-Hill and it was home for the usual family duty. No time to change or even go home and drop the bike, but I think the school mums are getting used to my mud-speckled appearances.

Note to self: next time bring Jen. Two on one, we’ll thrash him

Banking the hours

Map reference: Bank of England Sports Club

Carbs and caffeine: smoothy and half a piece of homemade bread with peanut butter

Another chilly day, so another spin class, this time with a different instructor, very slim and curiously self contained. She has a different taste in music to the usual pop beat. It more rave/house – that really is a guess as I am way too old for the club scene. The tracks are quite mesmerising …and long. One of them committed us to seven minutes of climbing. That’s longer than Box Hill (5-6 minutes for me, I think) but rather shorter than the first hill of the Etape, The Madeleine, which is likely to take me more than two hours.

Anyway, the coach tells the class to try to lose ourselves by focusing on the beat; and watching her with her eyes closed, hair swishing around her shoulders and the sunshine strobing off the mirror behind her, I got a weirdly clubby vibe. This was heightened by the fact that she was necking Redbull. It transpires she was out until 2.30am and then up at 5.30am for her first class. Funnily, her fatigue made her a lot smilier than normal. It would have the reverse effect on me.

I watched the stats on my bike a bit today and my watts were over 300 most of the time, touching 480 on one particular sprint. Hopefully that counts as banking my biking base for the day.

Our leader’s ab sessions are renowned for being brilliantly awful. Half the class don’t stay for it. Ouch.

Note to self: don’t forget to dial up sunshine for tomorrow’s ride, it’s time to get out there and remind myself why I am doing all this…

Cold comfort

Map reference: Box Hill loops from Epsom Downs

Carbs and Caffeine: none. What, how did I allow that to happen?

Husband and I decided to take Big One, aged 12, out for ride, as the others were out this morning. I warned both it would be colder ”out there”, but my warnings fell on deaf ears. Wife/mother voice doesn’t register, particularly at the weekend. Thankfully Big One was wearing a new very warm jacket (which was supposed to be for Christmas). Husband didn’t fare so well, being in short bibs with ‘legs’ and lots of gaps in between. He also had to hand over his shoe covers to his son at the top of Box Hill as the boy was blue. So I would say it was 50/50 his fault that he never warmed up during the hour and a half ride. He says it’s my fault for riding so slowly. Happy families…

Note to self: try speaking in a lower voice and see if that gets more attention