Out of credit…

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Good old Ebay: my new Dura-Ace Shimano brakes, not that they’d have helped today

Map reference: Kingston to Chilworth, and a reverse home, 79 long kilometres

Carbs and caffeine: Costa in Cobham, not very exciting, but just what I needed

Well it was bound to happen. I’ve been having such a great time in the past couple of weeks that I was bound to crash. At least this was only physically not literally, although I was aware that, as I was feeling less than 100 per cent, I needed to be careful on the road. The old IQ drops swiftly when you start fading.

It was supposed to be a long hilly ride with Rob today, as he trains for the Flanders sportive. But by the time we got to 40k around Leith Hill and I had been feeling rubbish the whole way, I knew it was time to bail. Unfortunately, at that stage I was 40k from home, so I turned back and trundled back to Cobham promising myself a large coffee there to get me through the last kilometres.

The smiley barista at Costa asked me how I was as she served me and was probably surprised to be told I was totally rubbish. I think the acceptable answer is an American-style ‘great’. But the bucket of coffee she served me helped me home and now I would like to say to her ‘Have a nice day…’

Note to self: it’s all part of the training. You’ve done 310k since Saturday, bailing perfectly acceptable

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.

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

New bike’s baptism of fire


Worth a trip: Tanhouse, buzzing with cyclists and the odd toddler

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Map reference: Cafe Bean, Ashtead, to Newdigate and back… via Pebble Hill

Carbs and caffeine: Tanhouse Farm shop http://www.tanhousefarm.co.uk, and not a moment too soon

Today my new bike and I set off on our first excursion together, with a completely new group too. I had been put in touch with a very keen cyclist called Jo through a school contact and I turned up today for a Cafe Bean ride with really no idea what to expect. I thought it was a ‘ladies’ ride, but oh no, it was mostly men, and quite pacey. We started off as 17 but lost two riders within 15 minutes.

I was a little concerned at the casual way they were dropped and desperately pedalled to keep up with the peloton. We were averaging 24k/h, hitting a max of 52k/h, and I didn’t know that the two dropees had been prepped to just peel away if they found it too fast. So with fear driving me on – I did not know where we were most of the time – I pedalled like fury and got my second wind. And after about an hour (and a couple of painkillers for my niggling back) I began to relax and grab the odd word with the rest of the crew on the flats. Nice bunch, cyclists generally are…

I have to say I was ready for the cafe stop at about the 40k mark. I finally caught up with Jo there, who kindly bought the caffeine required to ensure my continuing pace for the return leg. It’s a fantastic, friendly spot. We sat outside, briefly, discussing saddles and watching a toddler war in the play area. My money was on the boy in the stripey green shirt, but I lost when the boy in the blue jacket thumped him. We shouldn’t have laughed, but toddlers are so ridiculously transparent.

The return journey was shorter, but Hanno, the group leader had a little trick up his sleeve, driving us into Pebble Hill. I sensed the unease in the pack as we got nearer, although I was blissfully unaware of the challenge ahead, and Jo began to talk herself into a complete funk. She’s really strong on the flat but doesn’t fancy hills. Nonetheless, except for one chap who peeled off to go round the hill instead, we all made it up. I think it was about 20% at worst.

Perhaps this is the moment to apologise for saying that Barhatch Road was 29% on Tuesday. Apparently it’s only 22% (I think the blood pumping on my head must have effected my hearing, I’m sure that’s what Rob said) but I have to say today’s climb seemed more than 2% easier. Jo made it easily and clearly felt good about it. And so did I… getting off on a hill as I did two days ago leaves you with serious doubts about yourself.

With such negative thoughts banished, I shot into Velosport on my return, for Nick to confirm that Husband had set my saddle perfectly. Sorry Nick, both I and the bike could have done with a bath first.

Note to self: time to invest in a foam roller, Nick’s right, IT band still too tight. Ouch, rollers hurt

Are we sitting comfortably ..?

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Blog power: The LaPierre is finally comfortable, thanks to a borrowed saddle

Map reference: circuit of Richmond Park, followed by quick spin at home

Carbs and caffeine: toast with tuna, avocado and tomato, at home but worth the effort

Through the magic of blogging, my friend Lucy got to hear about my saddle difficulties and offered me her spare Specialized Lithia Comp gel. What bliss to settle into the curves I am used to. It is padded slightly more sparingly than my original saddle and comes in at 130g (yes, I weighed it myself on the kitchen scales). Although this is not super light, the bottom line (geddit?) is I need to be comfortable. And I was.

I only did one circuit of Richmond Park today is it was gusting horribly. In fact I nearly turned back before I got there as I was being driven into the middle of the road, despite gripping the bars. Luckily, in the park you can see the gust arriving, marked by a flurry of crispy brown leaves. Traffic was sparse but I kept the speed right down in deference to the wind, and enjoyed that lovely childish sense of flying that comes with a relaxed cycle.

I’ve realised today that it is only four and a half months until the Etape du Tour, and three and a half until the Dragon ride which, at 220k, will be at least as much of a test. There’s a slight training hitch as one of my riding partners, Neil, has gone AWOL for a month. Jacqui is also gone for two weeks but she is lending me her husband, which is only fair I think.

Note to self: hit the stationers, this definitely calls for a chart… maybe even some stickers

Rattle and roll

Map reference: Wimbledon, Cobham, Leatherhead, Ashtead loop, just under 60k

Carbs and caffeine: Cafe Bean, Ashtead, usual great welcome, new cake… prune and apricot slice

At last, out with Neil on a real bike. No pretend puffing up hill (ok, when spinning it’s real puffing, but pretend hills), and the feel of the wind on my face instead of the odd blast from the rotating fan.

It was a little grey (only clear glasses required) but mild. Neil had achy legs from throwing himself back into other training, but more worrying was his squeaky bike. In fact there is something majorly wrong with his front wheel which makes a non-stop crackling, slapping noise. I had severe doubts that the bike would make it. It did, but I cut out a hill… there was no way I was going to get stranded up Headley Road with a one wheeled bike. Closer inspection at the coffee stop showed the rims are completely knackered too. It’s a real workhorse of a bike, but I think it’s time the old nag was retired. An investment is needed. At least some new wheels.

Aside from that, I felt really strong after my week off the road, and managed to stay far enough ahead of Neil that I didn’t have to hear the squeak. Poor guy, I can’t imagine it’s a comfortable ride at the moment.

In the coffee shop a man became rather flustered when he found himself referring to Neil as my partne… er … colleague. What is a riding companion to be called? I shall give it some thought.

Note to self: Got to get out there one more time before half term. Call Jen, quick

Mrs Fixit

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Sweat shop: don’t think anyone will be knocking on my door for interior design tips

Map reference: home

Carbs and caffeine: quick cuppa and last of the lemon drizzle

I know a picture of Jacqui and me peddalling might be more interesting, but there are two reasons that won’t be happening. Firstly we looked pretty crazy storming our way though another Beastly Beasley turbo session in the corner of my sitting room. Secondly, despite my best efforts since motherhood, I have failed to perfect the art of being in two places at once, although I have often come close. I took the picture; you may sense the atmosphere of serene calm after furious activity in the air.

I am getting over a really horrible cold so have been off the bike over the weekend. I did an hour and a half gentle spinning yesterday to test the legs, and was able to give it full welly today. It was a shame to miss a perfectly good outdoor day, but I have a list of things to do, so it was the right decision.

Off the bike, I have been in electronic fixing mode. I breathed life into a disabled itouch (using YouTube; bless you young man, even if I do suspect the itouch you were demonstrating on was nicked), and after trotting to three different mobile shops, I finally have a phone working for middle son. I also discovered that I am stuck in a timewarp. A man next to me said he was born in 1990 (as part of his discussion with the shop attendant), and I was convinced that meant he was 14. How can you be born in 1990 and be in your twenties. Did I miss something?

Note to self: you need to brush up on your number bonds

Triple turbo tremble

Map reference: home and hereabouts

Carbs and caffeine: lemon drizzle cake a la maison, and reheated suppers

Three days of freezing weather with flurries of snow have kept me inside. To shake it up a bit I have hosted a couple of spin sessions with friends and laboured through one session by myself. Beastly Beasleys turbo printouts are beginning to look a bit ragged.

On Tuesday, Jacqui and I set ourselves up here, with Radio 6 to distract us. We elected to do some classic intervals, 4 minutes on, one minute off. It was tough, with Jacqui gasping the time in ever smaller degrees. Sometimes 5 seconds can seems a long time.

On Wednesday I pedalled away by myself, so when it became obvious we weren’t going to get out today for our normal ride, I invited myself round to Jen’s. We were going to just pedal like mad, but I have got used to timing myself and setting challenges, so I ended up bossily instructing three minute sessions of various things with one minute active recovery. It was a sort of hybrid session of climbing and cadence. The dog was very excited by two lots of spinning legs at first, but fell asleep after a while. We were passing out in a different way… but there you go, job done.

Note to Husband: take it easy coming home, red wine and Osso Bucco tonight.

Home front

Map reference: home

Carbs and caffeine: the fridge

I may not have posted since Thursday but I have not been idle. You can pretty much assume that I do one of Beastly Beasley’s turbos if nothing else is mentioned. I have three to choose from. They are all painful, but I am very bloody minded and once I get on the bike I push myself quite hard. I’m glad the neighbours can’t see me; solo effort looks quite comical, like you’re having a battle with yourself.

On Saturday, Husband and I also did a Functional Fitness class, with Jay, a curiously quiet and serious bodybuilder. I don’t know for sure he’s a bodybuilder, but that’s what his physique tells me. I know he competes in something, but he won’t say what. And although he dresses soberly for our class, I have seen him wearing extraordinary outfits to the junior boxing class. Is that a bodybuilding thing, or am I stuck in the Seventies?

The exception to the ‘every day rule’ was yesterday, when I stood and shivered at a rugby tournament for four hours. I wonder if shivering works the twitch muscle I keep hearing about http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/anatomyandphysiology/a/MuscleFiberType.htm. Either way it was a test of endurance and drained me of any energy (and time) to get on the bike. Mind you, I wasn’t as drained as our team of Under 11s who had to face very strong opposition, with some of the players about a foot taller and much, much broader. Our team looked positively undernourished, but battled on regardless. No they did not win – no Hollywood ending then – but, boy, we were proud.

Note to self: you need a warmer coat

Unveiling my new friend

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View from the saddle: got to love those stripes

Map reference: Lucy’s kitchen, she’s rebuilding her whole house with our turbo sessions in mind, it seems. Sweet.

Carbs and caffeine: Had to dash from session, but took a bucket of coffee to the bath

Another turbo session with Beastly Beasley http://www.bespoke-velo.co.uk/. It’s the fear that gets us, I think. We were doing three minute repeats – with 90 seconds active recovery – in an ever increasing gear, but slower cadence. So starting with three or four repeats at 105, we were unable to talk and that’s when the fear kicks in. Gradually we upped the gear and lowered the cadence, through 100 down to 75 in the end. We then had a fairly long comfortable spin at the end to relieve some very heavy legs. It’s definitely true that as the cadence came down, the breathing eased; and even as the legs felt worse, the panicky feeling went away. I could see that on the others’ faces too. Rachel’s had a bit of a layoff with sick children and I think she was suffering the most. She has got some major challenges inked in for this year, from marathon to half iron man, so she got straight off the turbo, threw on layers and pedalled off to swim. Kudos to her, I say…

Note to self: need to read the ‘taming the chimp’ stuff again. Head stuff is going to be important