Knees up to the cake stop

Map reference: Calpe, Spain… yes, really

Carbs and caffeine: tapas, of course, and hotel breakfasts, my absolute favourite thing in all the world.

I am just back from my first holiday in 15 years. Ok, this is a little unfair as we have had many enjoyable holidays as a family; bucket and spade, skiing, even cycling, some in hotels and some self-catering, but none ‘on my own’.

Obviously, if I had actually gone on holiday on my own that would be a bit sad. To be clear, on my own means ‘Without Husband and Children’. For four whole days my name was not Mum. No one asked me where their trousers were. No one asked me what was for lunch. I did not have to nip to the shops for more milk (we might as well get our own cow on current consumption rates), and I saw no popcorn, either in a bowl or stuck behind the sofa cushions.

Just me… and my bike. There were no lists rolling around in my head. I only had to remember how to put the bike together out of the bike box, and hope that my Lycra would stretch. To be clear, that’s not to picture a giant me squeezing into too small Lycra, but I realised too late I could really have done with another pair of bib shorts. I would just have to wash overnight. It’s not normally an issue as I don’t usually ride two consecutive days, and even if I do, you seldom get two days of similar weather on consecutive days in England, let’s face it.

The trip was a Bealesy special (bespoke-velo.co.uk). It been a while since I’ve blogged, so to remind you I’ve been riding with Chris Beales as a guide for a few years now. We ‘girls’ go out on a Thursday with him (with the odd guest husband) during his off-season months and I trained with him in Italy before my Etape two years ago. He’s great to ride with because he does all the thinking. We just think about the next coffee stop, and pick up tips on ‘roiding’ safely.

Why ‘roiding’? Well, he’s Australian. Many things come out a little oddly, and then the rush of wind in your ears can confuse things further. We turn ‘roit’, right? This still confuses Jen as she doesn’t know her left from her right, but she’s never let it slow her down.

Added to our normal list of aural confusion, this holiday we had ‘free cake at the top of the hill’, which sadly translated as ‘3K to the top of the hill’. And Jen, Rach and I were left looking at each other in confusion, when we had completely a lovely descent in good order we thought, but were told to ‘knees up’. Since we’d been working on having a straight outer leg on the turns this seemed to contradict our instructions. No, turns out it was ‘ease up’. Or in other words, wait for the others. Of course, it was ‘knees up’ thereafter, and ever shall be.

Much of our enjoyment falls into the ‘you had to be there’ category. There was much silliness and joy. The hotel was fabulous, right on the beach. I don’t know if everyone has the same sensation, but when I look at a beach and sea, blue sky and sunshine, I actually get a rushing ‘zing’ in my head. It’s quite overwhelming. Our evenings quickly fell into a pattern, of shower, meet in the bar for a fishbowl sized G&T, followed by buffet dinner. I know some people get funny about buffet dinners, but I love them, especially when you have been exercising. It’s not because I want to eat, ‘all you can eat’ style, but if I want a bit more cheese, or some fruit, some more Iberico ham just carved off the joint, I can. Freedom to browse, rather than pressure to chose the right thing off the menu.

You might assume we would be drinking into the evening, but no. We drank water at dinner (one bottle of wine between six on the last evening) and yet I’m sure we appeared utterly toasted as we giggled our way into the lifts at about 9.30pm to get to our rooms. Yes, what busy mothers/serious cyclists want at the end of the evening is… a room of their own, and how we enjoyed ours.

Note to Husband: thank you so much for facilitating my brief escape. I really appreciate it. x

 

 

 

Letting the hill fitness gel

Map reference: Ripley, Peaslake, Dorking, Woking, scooping some hills on the way. 87k, 1,300m climbing

Carbs and caffeine: The Dorking Deli, 37 West St, Dorking, RH4 1BU http://www.thedorkingdeli.co.uk/, a real treat

It’s three weeks to go now until the Etape Du Tour and I know I can’t really add any fitness. The Dragon Ride has put me in confident mode; that was why I put myself through it after all. But I don’t feel confident about running about with some of my speedy Bike Beans pals, so Keith kindly said he would lead me about the countryside ticking off hills at a less panicky pace. I don’t need to incur an injury trying to pick up Strava bling right now. That said we did pick up a bit of bling and that was pleasing too.

Keith’s plan was for nine hills, and he had a neat list of them as we pre-caffeined our ride at The Nest, Ripley (see my Carbs and Caffeine page for details). The odd number troubled him, but I’m not such a neatnik about these things. As it was, we lost count as we diverted to avoid some traffic works. All I can say is we were certainly going up a lot of the time.

There is a limit to the height of any of these Surrey hills, but the gradient can vary quite a lot, and some climbs introduce cruel twists at the end, just when you think you are finished. Some of the hills were familiar from my 10-hills ride, and in some cases I was going down my normal ups and up my normal downs. Thank you for trying to follow that. It’s been a long week.

After lunch at the Dorking Deli – chicken and homemade pesto baguette for me, marmalade and toast for Keith – I was surprised that my legs didn’t feel nearly as stiff as I would have expected. Is this a sign that I am getting fitter, I wonder? But about an hour into the post-lunch section, I did begin to feel the familiar numbness creaping into my right side. It’s annoying, but I can work with it until after the Etape. There’s no point trying to fiddle too much at this stage.

The one thing I am contemplating fiddling with, is seeing if I can get used to necking gels instead of my beloved fruit cake while on the road. It goes against the grain for someone who likes food, but on the other hand it also makes no sense to add such weight to my pockets. We were riding for 3 hours and 40 minutes – and on the road a bit longer – and I had two gels and four jelly babies to sustain me. It’s not much of a test. I’m guessing, if the fabled gastric issues were to set in, it would be more at the six-hour mark. But I think I will gently ease myself in that direction. Keith is a fan of the Torq brand http://www.torqfitness.co.uk/, so I shall start there. He’s my voice of reason du jour. See how I’m practising my French already for the big day…

Note to Keith: last trip round the Surrey hills before my trip… thank you, it was the confidence booster I needed

Sometimes the weather app talks cobblers 

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Stone me: a small section of cobbles on my little circuit to dry Husband’s bike. Riders and bikes were covered in fifth by the end, black like miners, with the wrinkly ones streaked white along their lines

Map reference: Varsenare to Houtave and back, 15k

Carbs and caffeine: nothing for this short ride, but freshly cooked waffles two days ago still a highlight of our holiday here

All holidays this year have been designed around cycle commitments, so here we are in Bruges for Husband to do what is known locally as Ronde Van Vlaanderen, aka The Flanders; 254k – 120k of boring flat (against headwinds of up to 30k) followed by hills, cobbles… and sometimes hilly cobbles. It is one of the ‘classic’ one-day cycle races that the professionals do every year, and indeed is one of five of these classics that are known as the ‘Monuments’. This one was first held in 1913 and is renowned for narrow steep cobbled ‘bergs’, which force the pro riders to fight for the space at the front or risk being edged off the road. Many times, in bad weather, the pros have had to pick up their bikes and run up the hills.

Back to Saturday, and Husband’s race, all was prepared and the weather app suggested it should be dry. Unfortunately, the app was wrong. Husband set off in short bibs to spend the first three hours pedalling against rain and wind. At the first feed stop, he was still shivering. In fact it took him 130k to stop shivering. There has been some debate later about whether this was my fault for referencing the errant app reports. But I clearly remember ‘nagging’ Husband as he prepared to leave in the dark about what he was wearing, and moreover what he was not wearing – his arm and leg warmers, his new rain gilet, his waterproof? All were left in a bag in the kitchen. Luckily he has now accepted the blame, and family peace has been restored. As with his early races where he didn’t have enough water and food, it’s a lesson learnt.

With the weather against them for the first half of the day,  all the riders were forced to dismount for the Koppenberg, an early hill which maxes at 22 per cent and was covered in mud, but by the end, the road had dried and they were able to sail up the Paterberg, another famous hill. In fact, at this moment, I feel like I cycled the route myself, as we watched the pros do the route on the TV the next day. It was dry and sunny all day for them, which seems unfair.

The drier weather gave me a chance to get out, if briefly. Husband sluiced his filthy bike and I took a little turn towards the coast. It is wonderfully safe cycling, you can see for miles across the fields. But with my elevation over 25k at 24m, this was not a training ride… Just a mood enhancer.

Note to self: must get kids farmed out so I can get out for a proper ride myself

Hanging on… just

Map reference: Cafe Bean ride into the Surrey hills, 65k

Carbs and caffeine: Cafe Bean, Ashtead, http://www.bikebeans.co.uk/… our promised midway stop wiped out by serial punctures

I am going to have to be quick today, but to give you a general idea, we started with 13 people and I just about managed to be in the first bunch of six back. In between we had three punctures and split into three different groups. This wasn’t down to carelessness on anyone’s part, I hasten to add. One guy fell off the back very fast because he was on a cyclocross bike and there were two to three ‘leaders’ so no one was actually abandoned. I had to work really hard to keep up with the front group, spurred by the thought that my screaming legs could only be good for me. Through Stoke D’Abernon I must have lost concentration and fell off the back of the peloton. I had to work really hard to clamber back on, tantalised by the fact that I could see the riders at the back freewheeling.

So six of us finally scrambled back to Cafe Bean for our shot of caffeine and the others came in behind us, to tell their tales of woe. Keith, one of the leaders, introduced himself and, on being told of my Etape plans, was plain speaking enough to point out that I need to be lighter. To explain, I look fine in a pair in jeans, but I do not look like a climber in my Lycra. Such comments are perfectly normal in cycling circles, and anyway I was too busy concentrating on scooping up the last bit of froth from my cappuccino to take offence. Real cyclists drink their coffee black and short, to save on calories and wee-stops.

To illustrate how tired I was – and maybe Jo too – we rounded off the morning by trying to remember whether, in response to Keith’s comment, Jo had said I looked like a heifer, or whether she had said I didn’t look like a heifer. Neither of us was sure…

Note to self: next time bring two bottles of water. That poor chap who you blagged half a bottle off probably needed it himself.

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 Li-Leng Hoang. She is a young Chinese girl (Hoang is the 7th most common name in Chinese, so I’m taking an educated punt here, I don’t know her nationality for a fact), 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, Li-Leng 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.

And Li-Leng’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…

People watching as my world spins by

Map reference: Bank of England sports Club

Carbs and caffeine: made myself a nice smoothy when I got home

Tuesday is my Jacqui day but unfortunately her boiler has blown and she had to wait for the gas man. Shame really, as there was briefly a lot of blue sky. Anyway, I settled for a spin session with Mark http://www.markreynoldsfitness.com/. The class was packed, I’ve no idea why. There was a couple I haven’t seen before, who seemed to be having a row. Her arms were crossed and she was clearly fuming and not really joining in. He was glancing sideways at her and then moved to another bike, ostensibly to let someone else have his front row seat… but I wondered. About half way through the woman suddenly perked up, took off her sweatshirt and started pedalling like mad. Maybe the endorphins kicked in.

I forgot to look at the stats on my bike, which is unlike me, but the class was the usual mix of climbing, racing; sitting and standing, followed by the dreaded abs. I was my standard beetroot colour, so perhaps that’s as good a measure as any.

The second half of my kid-free window was spent ironing, as the ironing lady was marooned by the bus strike. I drew a line at Husband’s work shirts as I can’t do them properly. I can only just manage fitted sheets and that’s because the difficult bit is tucked out of sight. I counted his shirts and I think he can get through to next Tuesday.

I also did some research on the Etape Du Tour. Last year 275 women finished, 41 in my 45-49 age group. In fact, only 81 finished in my age group or above, including one remarkable woman in the 65-69 age group. This is making me nervous. I would love to know how many started. I read somewhere that it was around 600 which, if true, means half didn’t make it. Oh dear. I suppose a challenge isn’t a challenge unless… well… it’s a challenge.

Note to self: Maybe stay away from the science bit and just keep pedalling

Top spin

Map reference: Bank of England Sports Club
Carbs and Caffeine: none, a mouthful of nuts on my return home
Back into my sans-children groove, I want to my normal Friday spin class with Mark Reynolds (info@markreynoldsfitness.co.uk). It’s another sweat dripping off the ponytail vibe, followed by abs (how I hate abs, I bet there’s a hateabs hashtag out there).
Mark’s speciality (I’ve spun, or should that be spinned – as in hung and hanged – with many trainers. They all have their special ways) is an upper body work out where you sort of do pressups over the bars, while still pedalling and keeping your hips up. Although quite painful, this has actually transferred to proper cycling as I am now much more comfortable on the drops.
Husband disapproved at first, thinking I should stay upright in order to keep the chest open, but he’s now found it’s quite a good position for himself too. On a long ride, I figure the ability to change positions has got to be a good thing.
So thanks, Mark, another minor victory over my resident expert.
Note to self: you know you work harder in class, less spinning at home while watching the iPad, I think.