Loopy, me?

Map reference: out to the Surrey Hills but staying as flat as I could, 135k, 1,300m elevation, oops.

Carbs and caffeine: tuna sandwich at good old Bike Beans http://www.bikebeans.co.uk/

Finally, the kids are back at school and I can get out. Jen, who said she hadn’t ridden her bike for five weeks (but let it slip that she has been spinning away during her globe-trotting tour), was up for trying to get in some distance to prepare for L’Etape London. She is surprisingly jittery about the sportive, considering she beats me up every hill and easily keeps up the pace up on the flat.

I decided we should go out Peaslake way as, soon enough, the hills around there will be too cruddy with the winter weather. I tried to avoid too much of the up-down-up again route that we usually do, but it is hard to be on the flat around there.

We rode 70k without stopping to try to get used to just keeping the legs turning, stopping only to mainline a few jelly babies and gels.

At times I felt quite out of sorts trying to keep up (that will be the depression of watching tiny Jen getting smaller and smaller as she pulled away from me up the hills) and I developed a bit of a headache despite drinking plenty of water.

We had a proper stop at Bike Beans and that helped. We then took a deliberately long circuit home back across to Cobham in order to keep the mileage up, and Jen and I parted company at 105k in Richmond Park.

With some discipline, I decided to carry on pedalling rather than going home for a shower (I must say sorry to the school gate mums, again), and challenged myself to get up to 125k. To do this I headed out of Ham gate, to do a circuit around Ham, I then did another circuit to be sure, and set off to Richmond Park. Cutting across the park I realised I was past 126k and my new target had to be 130k. I doubled back on myself to make sure I hit my new number. That achieved, I made my way back to the car. Unfortunately, as I neared, I realised that my Garmin now read 132k. So, of course I then had to circuit the Coombe Estate to get a nice round 135k. As I passed the car, the reading was still 134k, I carried on for a couple of hundred metres and quickly turned around as it ticked over to 135k. Thank heavens it stayed on the magic number or I might still be out there looping the area.

Note to self: watch those OCD tendencies when you are tired 

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

Hill reps by the book

Map reference: Hill reps, Staple Lane and Combe Lane Bottom. 51k, 1,269m climbing. Carbs and caffeine: gel and cake

I have had a few excursions since the Dragon Ride, but nothing very notable apart from a slightly irritating 10-hills ride with Jen on Tuesday. We spent half an hour trying to help a youth fix his broken chain (and failing) and then Jen had two major chain malfunctions and we had to limp home from Barhatch. We still covered 115k and 1,363m climbing, so not a waste of time. But irritating, none the less.

Today was definitely an on-the-bike day, but even as I got up, I was unsure what to do with myself. I had to pass through Ashtead, so I popped in for a caffeine fix at Bike Beans Cafe. From there, a large group was riding out and it looked fun. However, with the Etape five weeks away, hill reps were on my mind. It took self-discipline, but I was helped by the fact that second son was playing cricket near West Horsley.

I drove to the pitches and showed face for a few minutes, applying suncream to his freckly face and generally being a nuisance. I then pedalled off up Shere Road, a nice hill – narrow and twisty – although crumbling at the edges. From there I made my way to the junction of Combe Lane and Staple Road, a very familiar spot to me.

Starting with Combe Lane Bottom, I headed towards Shere and then at the main road turned and started back up. At the top I carried on down Staple Lane, past a young woman reading a book in a chair in the car park at the top. I repeated this five times, which sounds dire but actually I quite enjoyed the rhythm. It was a bit like swimming lengths.

After the first time, I did Staple Lane in the big cog to make it a different kind of climb. The reader began to notice that I was repeatedly passing her after about the third round. On the final pass I told her it was last time and she laughed, probably with relief. She had chosen a quiet spot and probably didn’t need me haring past her ten times, my top layer flapping in the wind as I tried to stay cool.

There is nothing interesting to say about this ride, other than I was surprised how much I enjoyed it; brain off, just trying to keep track of my circuits. And I was pleased not to feel too tired. The last Staple Lane was hard in the big cog, but not impossible. I could have gone on if necessary. Husband has extrapolated this out to a fine time for the Etape. Hopefully I have swept away fears of the broom wagon for now.

Note to self: You need to buy a summer base layer… who would have thought a string vest would be on your wish list?

Dawn call to ride out…

Map reference: Ten Surrey Hills, 124k with 1,756m climbing

Carbs and Caffeine: Peaslake Village Stores http://www.peaslakevillagestores.com/

Up at 5pm on Monday, I decided to get on the Turbo to work off my frustration at the way my back problems have impacted on my training. The back held out so I texted Jen and promised her hills if she would come out with me the next day. She was surprised to be contacted so early but, being the trooper she is, agreed to come. I’ve mentioned Jen before, she’s super fit, rides a heavy, clickety bike… and talks a lot. She has never tested her endurance riding before – although I believe she has some marathons under her belt – so it would be an adventure for her. And even more of an adventure if I didn’t get the route right.

This was my second attempt to follow my basic Garmin on a route I have ridden with a friend. I’ve mentioned my belt and braces attitude before, well this time it was belt and braces with extra safety pins. I poured over the map on Monday, printing out a section in the middle which was very unfamiliar and marking it with google mapped waymarkers. Then I wrote out the whole left-right-left instructions. Finally, I got two large sticky labels and wrote out the route in a point-to-point fashion to be stuck to the back and front of my phone case. Then I nearly forgot to take all of the above, but thankfully remembered at the last minute or I might now be writing this from the safety of a bed at the Priory Mental Hospital.

Anyway, it worked. Jen was patient as I had to stop a couple of times and get out my soggy bits of paper, but I felt a great sense of achievement at having completed the route ‘properly’. There are plenty of hills out there, so it wouldn’t really matter, but Strava told me I was fourth fastest female this year up Barhatch… particularly pleasing as this hill beat me earlier this year.

As for the pedalling bit? Jen was awesome. I could tell she was a little bit tired at one point as she actually stopped talking, but she just pushed on and on, even as her gears sounded like they were giving up. We munched through nearly a whole pack of jelly babies supplemented by fruit cake and biscuits. Sensibly, we had a proper sandwich at Peaslake with our cuppa. I felt hungry for much of the time and our pace was steady rather than lightning but it was good to bank the miles and the climbing. I feel disappointed that I felt so tired an hour from home, but perhaps it’s not surprising with the hiccup I’ve had with my back.

Talking of the back, my physio friend Jacqui worked her magic on Monday, sticking her elbow deep into my muscles until I could have wept. I was very sore that evening, but the freedom of movement the next day was amazing. That’s what you need, friends who’ll answer your dawn texts to go out for a ride, or stick their elbow into your gluteus maximus until you beg for mercy.

Note to Jen: get ready for another go; more fruit cake, hydration tabs… and jelly beans

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.

Rising in the East…

Map reference: Ashtead to Oxted, further east along the Downs than I have been before, 86k, including Chalkpit Lane climb

Carbs and Caffeine: Bike Beans Cycle Cafe, Ashtead, and Cafe Nero, Oxted

After a three week break I was finally able to get back to Bike Beans for the Thursday ride. There were supposed to be two rides going – a 9.15 ‘advanced’ and a 9.30 ‘intermediate’ – but they rolled into one for the first half of flat riding. Keith was in charge and had organised for us to start as one group and split after a coffee stop. I forgot to count the heads, but I think we were about 12, with some now familiar faces among the dozen. The joint ride was in part to accomodate Jo, who is carrying a skiing injury in her shoulder and so can’t do hills. In fact her doctor has told she shouldn’t do group rides. Unfortunately this advice doesn’t take into consideration Jo’s addiction to riding and this was her second group ride in two days.

The first part of the route was fairly routine commuting across the county. As ever we were going at a fair old pace, our average speed for the ride was over 26km/h, which is probably rather faster than Jo’s doctor would have liked.

I know I shouldn’t go on about the bike, but it is simply amazing the difference the last changes have made to my comfort and speed. I would love to know whether it’s the shorter cranks, or simply the upgrade to Dura-Ace groupset. And my new confidence with the better brakes earned me some QOMs (Queen of the Mountains on Strava) on a couple of descents.

Cafe Nero in Oxted coped very well with being swamped in Lycra and the group then split into three with one woman getting on a train home, a group taking the most direct and flat route home – including Jo whose shoulder was now aching – and four of us electing to tackle Chalkpit Lane with Keith. As usual there was a lot of talk about how long and how steep the climb was. I tried to tune out; so much of climbing is in the head. And, of course, it was fine. I am definitely getting stronger and I think it’s time to diary in some solo hill repeats to build on the winter base, now the weather is better.

The view at the top was stunning, if somewhat marred by barbed wire, and from there it was an hour and a half of the gentle rises and descents that make up much of Surrey. Mostly I was able to keep up. Hanno had to drift back and pick me up at one point, and Keith did the same as we bolted through the familiar roads of Headley with coffee on our minds. I earned another piece of Strava bling here, QOM of The Lord of The Flies segment, which I’m quite please with as I’d had to sneak a couple of jelly beans at Walton-on-the-Hill to get me home. No flies on me…

Note to self: don’t chicken out, you must take your heavier bike today for ride with brother

Rolling hills to rolling pin, the perfect Sunday

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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.