Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Mallorca 312 - A tale of magnificent cycling and a chest full of green oysters...

There is something really rather pleasant about cycling in shorts and short sleeves in April, so being in Mallorca is proper medicine for the soul after the long period of wet and windy weather we've been having since, well, for ages!

Lorna and I booked this AGES ago having seen the event advertised and having our curiosity piqued enough for it to become a MUST DO event.
Our rider numbers of 184 and 185 give some indication of how early we got our entry in :-)

We stayed over at the Airport Inn (which had been the Holiday Inn when we booked) at Manchester Airport on a Stay and Park deal which was better value than the Park at the Airport one, and included free transport to and from the airport. It was a very efficient little system which worked well.

The journey was a ....... journey ;-)
Although I got the better deal when it came to the people we were seated next to on the 'plane, because I was too much of a cheapskate to book specific seats :-O

[apologises profusely to Lorna who got Stinky Drunk Teenage Boy, whereas I got Quite Pleasant Young Engaged Couple!]

Anyway - it was a journey!
We arrived at our Hotel nice and early and after a little kerfuffle with making the safe work, I reconstructed the bikes and we took them for a little toddle for an hour and a half to make sure everything was in the right place, and our legs hadn't fallen off in the interim, 

....although I understand that it is that running thing that makes your legs fall off ;-)

...and to get used again to riding on the right and looking left!

I digress!

So we did a short loop out to Sa Pobla via Ca'n Picafort, into the wind on the way out and with it on the way back, which only included right turns while we re-orientated our heads to what traffic does in these foreign climes.
I like riding on Spanish roads. Bikes are considered legitimate road users, and the laws actually protect them. Minimum of 1.5m space, and in a collision the driver is held at fault until or unless proven otherwise.

And the Police carry guns - would *you* argue?? ;-)

It means that you get given loads of space (overtaking vehicles on the OTHER side of the road amounts of space) and if an overtake can't be made, they wait patiently behind you until they can.

Easy to spot the locals and Europeans.
Equally easy to spot the Terminally 'Entitled' from the UK in their hire cars!

Anyway that was a super little ride, bikes working fine just needing a few bits of finetuning and they were sorted.

The hotel had had pretty decent reviews. Set up for folk who Do Stuff - there were a few groups of Trianguletes dotted about the place, and plenty of others who looked like real cyclists :-) and a reputation for decent food, both in choice and quantity.
That was spot on - not going to starve here :-)

I was supposed to be doing a race prep week in my schedule - short rides with top end efforts in them just to get the legs ready for Saturday.

What I did was:
The 167 (104 miles) route as taken from the 312 website with Lorna on Monday instead of a 1½ hour Recovery ride;

An early start up to Sa Calobra via the Caimari climb to Col de Sa Bataia, and back through Pollenca (73 miles) instead of a 1½ hour Recovery ride with 5 second sprints, on Tuesday. This was the point at which I had a suspicion of some neck glands appearing, so I made sure that I ate heartily in the evening and planned to take plenty with me tomorrow, to give my immune system a fighting chance if I was brewing anything;

A lovely 86 mile ride through the flatlands to Bunyola then over the not-the-tunnel road to Soller and then the long climb to Puig Major, and a return down the Caimari descent, instead of a 1:15 ride with a progressive threshold effort in it, on Wednesday;

Wednesday night - neck and groin glands did the "OI! YOU! WERE YOU NOT TAKING ANY NOTICE OF US!" thing and I developed and insane sore throat and cough
and cough
and cough
and cough


bollox - Green Oysters from chest - this is not good!!!

On Thursday I was feeling properly crappy, couldn't swallow and was somewhat perturbed by the volumes of Green slimy gunk I was coughing out of my lungs, and blowing from my nose.
So no riding and lots of resting and eating as much as I could.
Abs were getting a good work out from the cough reps though! :-)

We had planned to meet a club mate, Hotdog (not his name, but it *is* what he goes by ;-) ) to sign on and collect our gubbins for the ride on Saturday, and we had a coffee at the hotel bar and a wee chat.

By the evening I was no better, but was hoping that a decent meal and a long sleep would see me right :-)

And in the morning I felt a little less crappy, and was convincing myself that the Green Oysters were become less green
We went for a short ride. 
Lorna said, "how about 4 hours at *my* pace?"
I said "how about an hour at mine" So we did a short loop following the first bit of the Event route, and the last bit of the 167. I put in a 10 minute Tempo effort to stop my legs thinking they could switch off before tomorrow, and to see how it felt. 

Not terrible, but not great either. Hmmmm!

From that I knew I'd be OK to start - would be OK to toddle around the 167 if I was feeling crappy by the route split at Valldemossa, and if the Green Oyster Gods were feeling benevolent, I might be OK to continue round the full 312.

Admission time:

I'd been targeting getting around in about 10 hours - I knew it would be a big ask, but my training had gone well and I had been feeling pretty strong.

My 'B' target was getting around in under 11 hours - still a pretty tough ask, but eminently doable
With the events of the last couple of days - I wasn't dismissing the idea of hanging on to the wheels of the Green Polka Dot (green again - is this a sign?) sweeper riders who were riding the route in 14 hours!

The optimist in me was still expecting my body to deal with the Green Oyster virus overnight, but the viral rash (I get these a lot - so was expecting it) that appeared at bedtime suggested that I might be being a little *over* optimistic.


Up early - check we'd got everything (all of the organising was done before bed) check the tyre pressure of both bikes, have a couple of bananas and a pre-emptive gel for me and a coffee, and roll out of our room straight on to the start line with Hotdog who'd arrived to leave a bag of kit with us.

From previous experience, I know that I could tolerate 3 Torq gels an hour, so I'd planned to do that for the first 3 or so hours (which would see me to the route split) and see how I was going.
I'm not normally one for taking lots of stuff with me on long rides, but THIS ride was different - If I was going OK I was going to be working hard..... for 12 hours or more..... and I was still harbouring an unwelcome guest!

Luckily the Torq gels are very palatable and I had 3 different flavours to keep it interesting. Still - 28 gels weighs quite a lot in your back pockets!!

Hotdog and I slotted in to the melee at the 100m from the start/finish mark and V'rap made her way a little further back.

For some reason we didn't actually get underway until about 07:11, but it only took us about 2 minutes to get over the start line and away.
My God there were a lot of cyclists! There was a bit of unnecessary jostling in the first mile and similar to many running races there were people at the front who would have been safer starting a little further back, but overall it was pretty civilised.

We trundled along the seafront through Alcudia and to Pollenca at the best part of 22mph and the slight drag up to the start of the Coll de Femenia climb started to string things out slightly. 
Hotdog is a skinny whippet of a bloke and his strength is in climbing quickly, so we parted company at the base of the climb, and I settled in to seeing *what* I was likely to be able to do.

I had a target effort level for the climbs and an average power to aim for overall, and within the first km of the first climb it was obvious that climbing power number was going to be too high, so I settled or one that didn't make me cough my lungs on to the road :-)
That said, by the top of the first climb I was still averaging 16.1mph! Pretty happy with that - a quick calculation had me finishing the 312 in just under 12 hours if I could hold that average, and the hardest part of the course is the early part.

It occurred to me at this point, that I was starting to think in terms of the whole ride........ optimistic? Probably, but I ran with it.
I got to the garage café junction at the coll de Sa Batiaia in 1:30 - pretty happy with that too, with my average pace back at 15.8mph.

The first water station was at Gorg Blau at round 30 miles, by which time I was expecting to have finished my first bottle of Torq juice. There's a tunnel before it, and I was wondering how the organisers would marshal and manage the tunnels...

Bugger Me! It's got LIGHTS! Now that was a fabulous surprise :-)

A really short stop just to fill my bottle with plain water, and crack on to the top of Puig Major, the highest point of the day at 34 miles and around 2:16 total time.

OK so average speed was back to 15mph, but a big chunk of that distance had been uphill, and I was pretty pleased with:
a) how I was feeling and 
b) how I was riding.

From the tunnel at Puig Major (more lights - Yaaay :-) ) to Soller is a descent - 9 miles of it - with just over 800m of down


15 minutes later I was at the bottom :-)

Two things I'd noticed. I was coping well with hold a decent power at speed when I wasn't climbing, and my breathing was feeling a lot clearer.
17.1mph in Soller - Ooh! That would be about 11:15 if I could hold *that* pace, my pace calculating brain told me!

Well? You have to do *something* to fill the time, and that kind of maths is quite fun :-)

The coastal road from Soller to Deia is Stunning - with a capital GORGEOUS.
A snaking climbing road with a couple of lovely descents all in the most incredibly breathtaking setting. 

Go there - ride it - you SO won't regret it, being amongst all that magnificence, and having time to take it all in AND see more than if you were walking.


Excellent :-)

As I made my way to the feed station at Valldemossa, I'd already decided that I was going to do the 312. Body was behaving fairly well, and I was riding well enough for a reasonable if not spectacular completion time.
Bring it on :-)

For some reason my time wasn't recorded here, but for the record, I got there in 3:23. Pace was at 16.2mph and I was happy with that! :-)

I left as soon as I'd refilled my bottle and when I reached the junction that marked the split for the two routes, it seemed as if it all went very quiet. For a few miles I was on my own - this was a new section for me, but I'd been told by a few people that it was similar to the Deia section - it was - Fabulous.

A short way ahead of me - 200m or so, I saw a couple of riders who were holding that distance as we climbed the Coll de Claret - nice little climb, not too steep, not too long, and I reeled them in on the descent. It was clear that they and I were similar paces on most things, so I said "Hi" to Antonio and Ignacio. Two fantastic Spanish lads who'd ridden the event on 4 previous occasions, and so knew it well.

We chatted about this and that, and the 7 day fire that had destroyed so much of the forested area in the NW corner of the island by someone who "was, you know 'loco' in the head - did it with a BBQ..." Ignacio was telling me. 
It has been devastated! :(

The boys asked if this was my first time at the event and helpfully told me that after Calvia "the 'mountain' were finish, a few small climbs, and after Palma is flat and [forwards hands signal] wssssssh FAST :-) "

They were great fun :-)

There were a few short climbs before Calvia, and I noted with pleasure that I seemed to have re-found my climbing ability, and the 3 of us started sharing the work. Good for them, as there was an extra body to help them out, good for me, because working in a group is such a bonus on something like this!

We got to the Calvia feed station with around 5:21 on the clock and the average pace at 16.5mph [brain was now thinking.....faster bit coming up - could we get close to 11 hours??? THAT would be fabulous!] Stopped a couple of minutes longer than I was planning, but I thought it would be good to remain with the Antonio and Ignacio on the flats!!
Good decision.

I got to experience first hand how vocal Spanish cyclists are with cars and pedestrians who put them at risk - AND how apologetic said drivers and pedestrians are when they do something silly.

AND - there were police and orange-jacketed marshals EVERYWHERE as we rode through Palma. They stopped the traffic at all the roundabouts and junctions and waved us through, there was a coned off lane along the front just for the event riders. It was an amazing experience to have an infrastructure that put the safety and priority firmly with the riders, and yet there seemed to be very little traffic being held up. 

The ride down the West coast was quite hard! A crosswind which had us eschelon'ing for much of it (in 3's because the road was quite narrow) and we'd picked up a couple of other riders, and along this section we also swept up the 7th lady finisher who'd become a bit isolated, but jumped on and was clearly glad to be in a group. She was a good rider too :-)

The group was now 6 and worked pretty well in the crosswindy section until we turned left at the SW corner of the island and had the wind at our backs :-)
We stopped at the feed station at Se Salines (140miles) just for a bottle fill, a can of full fat coke and a wee (for me - well, I AM old!)
A quick check on the Garmin showed we'd upped our average pace to 17.5mph with the riding time at about 8:00

We discussed chain gang'ing the next section, and a bunch of chat in rapid Spanish ensued. And off we went. Fabulous fun, and well ridden for the most part, but it tired the lady in our group.
It was suggested that she hold on to the back while the other 5 of us did the work, but I think she was just too tired and dropped off. An older german chap also started to sandbag a bit but getting to the front then just easing off, and a younger Spanish lad started to do the same, so it was back to the 3 of us doing the work again.

It wasn't *that* far to the Porto Critso stop (164 miles - 9:18 - 17.6mph) where the boys said "We stop 1 minute" 
"Fine" I said - "I just need the Toilet"
"1 minute" said Antonio again
"I'll be 40 seconds ;-)

That made him chuckle!

And I was - and had time for another full fat coke ;-)

Just under 20 km to Arta and then the last bit back. I said to Antonio, looks like we'll be good for under 11 hours. 
He agreed.
I was elated!

We headed off quickly in a group that was working quite hard initially and then a few miles before Arta they all started pissing about, and at the top of the small rise before into Arta almost ground to a halt.

Well! I wasn't having that!

I put the hammer down down the hill and into the town - and it was quite a good thing to do because the townsfolk in Arta (176.5 miles) really take this event to their hearts, and there is a timing gantry which we went under at 9:59 and a few seconds, and the streets in the centre of town were packed with cheering and clapping people. Ignacio and I went through at the front - so we experienced it first - bloody awesome, and out of the town I discovered that I still had climbing legs and stretched them a bit.

I was hoping to shed a good number of the freeloaders. Part way up the hill a group of about 7 went past - no way I could stay with them.
Antonio came past looking to pick them up and gave me a friendly push as he did, and I just kept on working up the hill. At the top, my turn was done, and Ignacio took over. I looked back and we'd whittled the original group of over 30 riders down to 7.
Hard down the hills to the two rivers and hard back up the other side both times and we were down to a 3.

The third was the young Spanish chap from earlier who didn't have the legs to pass me and Ingacio.

I could have sprinted (not sure where that came from) but instead I put an arm on his shoulder and thanked him for a fantastic day out.

We crossed the line together :-)

10:47:57 GET IN!

You know that jelly legs thing - I got it when I got off my bike. So I probably worked quite hard :-)

All things considered I'm REALLY pleased with how I did - and thanks to a couple of young Spanish fellas, had an absolute blast.

Lorna found me just after I finished and pointed me to the T-shirt, bottle and tickets-for-food tent, and then took my bike away while I went and stared into space for a bit with some pasta on a plate and beer in a cup.

This was an INCREDIBLE day
Amazing event - really special!

I'm very glad that I was able and decided to complete the long route.
I suspect that I'm going to suffer for it though.

Green Oyster Chest is still about.

Best do some Recovery then, eh! :-)

As we were riding along the South coast with the wind at our backs, and working for 25-28mph and more at times, I thought and said out loud "this is what bikes are made for - this weather, these roads, like-minded people! Antonio and Ignacio looked at each other - and me - and nodded* :-)

* I may have misremembered or stylised a few interaction details. The old brain gets fuzzy you know

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

A year on....

Finally I get to ride the Fred Whitton challenge proper..!!

It might seem slightly strange, but I have been nervous about this all week.  And that is a bit of a new experience too, as I'm usually only a "night-before-nerves" person!

Lorna, my lovely wife, had volunteered to help out at registration on Saturday and Sunday, so we headed down to Coniston early so that she could do that.
It was a slightly odd experience showing my registration card to my wife and digging out my photo ID so she could check that I was who I said I was, and then explaining to her that the mobile number (hers) on the card was the one that had a reachable emergency contact who would in fact be in Coniston on Sunday, and no there wasn't a landline number that I could put as well.  Our girls don't answer the 'phone at home ;o)

Paul the organiser of the event was clearly very busy early in the proceedings, and although I wanted to have a chat with him, it made sense to wait until things quietened down for him.  His wife Sally (lovely, lovely lady incidentally) was at the box with *my* number in it so we got to have a brief chat while someone dug out the Fred Whitton Jersey that I would only feel justified in wearing once I'd ridden the *actual* event on Sunday.

I'd arranged to meet a few people too, Emma and Ali I bumped into right away.  They were picking up some tub-bags from the Saddleback guys.  Nice bit of kit - will have to find out where to get one!
Ali has trained like a demon for this and has done a magnificent job raising money for Macmillan, and has a very personal reason for doing so.  It's really worth a few quid if you can spare it!  
Ali's JustGiving page

Paul and Craig - who were eyeing up a crazy fast time - arrived soon after with Jen who was being a rolling support for quite a few riders, and who had very kindly offered to have a couple of replacement bottles for me at Whinlatter.

I also met up with plenty of Club members, both those riding and those who were marshaling and helping out.  I seemed to know quite a lot of people :o)  but one of the priorities was was meet up with our friend Cath who was staying with us.  Considering the number of people milling about, finding her was quite easy really, although she'd missed Lorna in ID checking area.
We headed in to Coniston for a bite to eat and a coffee and actually ended up in the little cafe that I'd 'refueled' in after riding the Fred route with the editor of Outdoor Fitness mag - but that's another story for another day :)
The coffee and cumberland sausage sandwich were still very good!!

Once Lorna was done with Registrating we headed home in convoy.  It was a lovely clear day, and Cath mentioned that it was a rarity for her to have been able to see SO many of the Lake District Fells, because they were normally a bit shy and hiding their heads in the clouds :)

Anyway - a very pleasant evening of more food, and chat, and making sure the important things were already in the car (remember the No Bike Shoes debacle on Day 1 of the 10 Freds?)  and not getting to bed early enough followed.

I hadn't realised just how light is at 4:15 am at the moment - but I found out on Sunday what with a bucketful of porridge to make and coffee for Lorna who was leaving a little before 5,  and bikes to put on the car and an inordinate amount of faffage to accomplish so that we could get away by 5:30....
which we did.

Unfortunately I'd underestimated the queuing for the Car Park at the Sports Centre so we arrived a little late for the planned 7am start for Cath - Sorry about that :o(  And she got away at around 7:30.
In the meantime I met up with a few of the Club boys and went to find our little group of "sub 7:30'ers" and off we went.

There is a tendency for folk set off way too hard on this route and Hawkshead Hill, which isn't a steep climb especially, starts before the legs are warmed up. We climbed it at a 'reasonable' effort, the kind that gets the heart rate up and the rest of you warm, but without blowing the rest of the route before you've really started. And the reward is a very pleasant descent towards Clappersgate.  Not too many folk descending tentatively here, so it was smooth and quick.  Nice!

I saw Cath in the wooded bit just before the drop into Clappersgate and said something like "have a good one..." :o)
As I approached Brathay I recalled that I'd seen somewhere that Toks - a runner I know who's doing the 10-in-10 and this was Day 3 - was starting early and as I hammered down the hill towards the start line I saw her.
So I yelled and waved and made like a complete maniac, wishing her luck - and I suspect she was thinking "Who on earth is that...??" ;)

Anyway our little group was working well together and we'd made good time to Ambleside.  The sharp little climb up Holbeck Lane woke the legs back up, but on reaching the flatter section there was time to look right and the view down Windermere was breathtaking.  We climbed together up Kirkstone although the group that had been 4 was now 3, and as we reached the top we passed a large group of riders giving us an almost clear run down the Pass into Patterdale.
When it's clear this descent is one of the most satisfying in the area.  As long as you know where the metal covers and dodgy surfaces are, it's an absolute peach of a descent.
Equally if you *can't * use all of the road and there are cars or other cyclists doing unpredictable things it can be one of the most dangerous!
Today I was lucky - I had the road to myself so could really enjoy the speed and flow of the road.
There was a decent tailwind along the valley floor too - so we quickly regrouped and were making excellent time through Glenridding and towards the Matterdale climb.  Fantastic :)

There was a little voice in my head saying - yes, it's all very well, but you KNOW that the A66 is going to be IN to this wind, don't you!!!  

The climb towards Dockray was uneventful.  Legs nicely warmed up by now, and Jen and Steph were, as promised, in the Quarry Car Park and we got a cheery wave.  I contemplated doing a single bottle swap here, but thought better of it - no point in carrying and extra 750g up the "3 Passes", eh!  ;o)

As we were being blown towards the Troutbeck Inn it was clear that the wind had already strengthened from this morning, and would indeed be quite sporting for the next 8 or 9 miles.
Again our little group worked well, taking turns on the front and making reasonable progress, actually.
About half way along a group of 3 (who may well have been using us for a tow) went past and Simon, who was on the front at the time time hooked up on the back wheel.  That group of 3 then shared the work until we got to Keswick.
That worked out rather well :)

The run down Borrowdale was a little more sheltered than I'd expected.  The road surface was predictably not silky smooth - it never is, but again there wasn't too much traffic, so keeping to the smoother bits which are generally in the middle was reasonably easy to do.
My table-tennis-ball sized bladder at this point was starting to grumble, and with the 3 Passes to come, a 'comfort' break was taken about 3/4 of the way to Seatoller

Ahhhhhhh!  That's better. :)

The Honister climb was carnage.  Never seen so many people on there at the same time.  so it was a case of sit down, keep a line and lots of yelling to try and make sure no-one swiped across the road into us.  That said, it was a reasonably smooth ascent and most of the folk pushing their bikes were keeping to the sides and those who were riding were mostly doing so without taking up all of the road like a sine curve :)
And there was, mercifully no combustion-engined traffic to deal with.  Another stroke of luck!

I did think at that point that for some it was going to be a long old day!

There wasn't too much wind on the last bit of the climb and again I had a relatively clear start to the descent of Honister.  I was held up a little on the double bends which drop away to the-bridge-that-lots-hit because there were some emergency vehicles dealing with someone just after said bends.  Hopefully it wasn't a bad one!

The section along Buttermere was strange in that the wind kept swirling around and wasn't consistent.  At this point a few of the faster guys from the Club started coming past me.  It is still a mystery to be how people can recognise me when they approach from behind..... 
It was a bit busy at the Youth Hostel where many were stopping for food. I didn't. I had enough with me for all that malarkey :o)

Anyway - Newlands.  


Nice little helpful wind that funneled and got stronger towards the top, and as promised, Dr Dave was at the summit with his camera - excellent.

He caught me having a sneaky 'standing up' moment ;o)

Had one slight moment on the flat bit at the top where another cyclist almost did a "Ferrari move"  on me and pushed me in to the side of a stationary car.  But I was still able to accelerate over the top and down the descent, the top part of which was clear again.
The Newlands descent is also fantastic - even more so with a following wind like now.  The greatest risk comes from feral sheep - but they'd either already had their fun, or were bored.
Climbing Whinlatter I started to see some of the earlier starters from the Club, and then was passed by the really fast boys who looked like they weren't even trying.  Actually they weren't because Grant spoke to me in sentences ;o)

At the top, Jen and Steph and their distinctive Flanders Flag were, again as promised, set up with a support station where I was able to exchange my empty bottles for full ones and had a piece of flapjack handed to me, was introduced to another cyclist who was also being looked after, and was sent on my way.
Because of the new parking restrictions that have been made on Whinlatter, the Timing point this year was positioned a little way down the descent.

The story of the next bit is wind!  And plenty of it.  And a stroke of luck!
I needed another quick 'comfort' break after Loweswater before Fangs - apologies to the octogenarian ramblers that I didn't entirely hide myself from - and Paul and Craig who were aiming for an aforementioned quicker-than-me time caught me on Fangs Brow, and they were in a group of about 10 or 15 other riders.
One of the benefits of knowing the course well is knowing where you can afford to be a little bit more brutal with yourself, and where it's not a good idea. And this group weren't riding *much* faster than me, and it didn't take a genius to work out that being in a group like that over Cold Fell would be extremely helpful.
So I stuck my head down to make sure I stayed with them through Lamplugh and because I descended faster than most, did a turn on the front from Croasdale to Ennerdale.

Even *with* the benefit of a large group - about 15 riders at this point - the ride over Cold Fell was a brute.  But much less of a brute than it would have been on your own! I was very glad to get to the descent and back in to the relative shelter of the hedges.
There is a sharp double bend just before Calder Bridge and (when it's clear) you really need to get the line/speed thing right!
Right out to the right for the L-hander, sweep around but all the way back to the left for the Right hander which tightens, aim for the apex if it's safe to OR scrub off a lot of speed otherwise.....

As the bloke in front of me found out by not being far enough left......

You'll run out of road.

He did. but in such a graceful and controlled way that when he fell into the hedge he was pretty much stationary!!

Timing point and Feed station at Calder Bridge - more carnage!
I reckon there must have been 2-300 people there.  It was heaving.  One of the people manning that station was Barty from the Club who gave me a cheery wave and encouragement - amazed that he spotted me to be honest as he was looking run off his feet, and was by the sounds of the conversation he had with Lorna at the end of the day! - and a "Git on yer way, lad"... which I did.
I did my best to stay with Paul and Craig along the road to Gosforth with limited success, although did get to ride a short section of that bit with another Club rider who'd been having some make-me-squeal-like-a-girl cramping.  He was still riding on though!!  Hardcore :)

I was feeling reasonably strong along Eskdale - tired, but not strafed if you know what I mean, and the wind was finally being helpful again.
The climb of Hardknott - unless you are made of the alien protoplasm that Rob Jebb and the other fast buggers are - is a very individual and solitary experience.  It's a tough climb.
Psychologically a breeze on your back is incredibly helpful, but probably not as actually helpful as you think it is.  Which also goes to show that so much of the steep climbing is in your head!
Perversely, I love this climb.  It demands respect which if you give it, it'll be good to you and 'let' you climb it!  But if it thinks you are taking the piss, OR you are scared of it, it'll spit you off and laugh at you!

Yes, yes - I know it's just a bit of tarmac - but that climb will still be there when we are ALL gone!!

Someone asked me if today would be a 'sitting' day on the steep climbs, and I'd said I didn't think so. As it turned out, it WAS!  And I took it as a compliment as one of the guys who was taking pictures on the steep hairpins near the top said,  "Great controlled ride, mate"
Made me smile that :)
About 10 seconds later this picture was taken :o)
It's still about a 20% gradient here

The descent was again pretty clear although one of the corners had a lot of Oops-too-fast back tyre rubber on it, a nice line of which the bloke in front of me left!! There was a lovely smooth free-wheel to Cockley Beck, and the wind was funneling up to Wrynose too.  I really enjoyed the climb over Wrynose.  On the other hand I did slightly underestimate the strength of the tail wind in descent.  It did mean it was the fastest I've been down there, AND I caught up with Craig (Kitch) from our club, but it was a little more rapid than I was expecting.  Fun though :o)

A word here for the people who were supporting on "Hardnose".
Even wrapped up in down duvet jackets and many layers - it must have been really rough out there for them.  And yet there they were, full of enthusiasm and encouragement both for the folk they were specifically there for, and for hundreds of random strangers inexplicably riding pushbikes in that inhospitable place.  

To the two small children who were there with their heads poking out of the sunroof holding signs for their Daddy and who cheered me on too - YOU were awesome :o)

The section through to Little Langdale was fabulous again. A 'little bit of sugar' before climbing back out - putting the head down and burying yourself for the last few miles back in to Coniston - into the wind.  Craig and I worked together for the first bit, and the last two miles were just a case of emptying the tank.

Did that. Timed out and there were Jen and Steph still smiling at the finish - They did an amazing job!  Craig who'd nailed the last section and come in under 7 hours - "hat" to you sir, and Paul who just missed a sub 7 by seconds, and Emma who was 4th lady in a 7:31  In the conditions all fantastic perfomances.


I headed toward the de-chipping area and there was my lovely wife - also wearing her 'feathers' - quite right too - it was cold and windy! - who asked me how it was

"Really really hard," I said, and paused...... "REALLY hard!"

I wasn't actually sure of my time as I'd failed to start my Garmin at the start, and wasn't sure how long it had taken me to realise although it wasn't *that* long, just after we got on to the road after the start......  so when they downloaded my chip and printed out my time I was genuinely surprised and delighted at what it said


OK I know it can't be compared, but that's 1:31 faster than my previous best 'official' timed circulation of the route and nearly 20 minutes faster than I thought I'd be capable of.  Apparently the beam rivaled that of the Cheshire Cat!
Pleased with that!

After a very welcome Pasty (Food of Champions) and beans and peas a couple of cups of tea and some sweet things, I got changed chatted to a few people and we waited for the others to finish.

Cath's story is for her to tell - but she was buzzing having finished.

Ali did brilliantly, and her story which I'm sure she'll tell in detail, is a testament to the benefits of structured training and meticulous preparation. She rode EVERY climb, and has earned every penny of the sponsorship that she's raised. 

It's a fantastic event.  The work that Paul Loftus and the Lakes Road Club, supported by so many other clubs and individuals and sponsored by Saddleback, put in to make this event run so well is incredible.  Especially as its raison d'etre is to raise money for 3 very worthy charities.
Judging by the fatigue that I saw in Lorna and the other folk I know who were involved in providing the infrastructure for the event, I'd say they'd worked harder than most of us who rode it did!!

I'm glad to have been a part of the specifically raising money for charity part last year on my own, but riding the actual event this year really iced that particular cake for me.

The Fred Whitton Challenge
Just the one
Because I can!

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

10 Fred Whittons in 10 Days - All about People - Good People

For the last three mornings, my body has been saying to me,

"What, we AREN'T going cycling today? Thank goodness for that!"

I know that it may sound a little strange, but with everything that the elements threw at me, and the fact that there is no getting away from the reality of how tough the Fred Whitton route is, from a personal point of view I had SUCH a good time. The guys who rode with me and those I met when I was in the thick of it probably saw that better than anyone.

I was asked yesterday if I felt euphoric about completing the Challenge that I'd set myself, and I said quite genuinely that I was still a little bit *close* to it for that. I'm starting to realise that I experienced that euphoria throughout the whole 10 days! And it is only now that my body and brain have started to tell me that they are in fact, VERY tired, and would like a rest please!
And what was not to like? I was privileged to be able to spend 10 days cycling around Lakeland - often in the company of really fantastic people - and I got to see pretty much ALL of the 'faces' of that beautiful area.

I loved testing myself time after time on those magnificent climbs.
I loved that no one section was the same each day - Yes, even the A66 ;o)

But you know what? This whole thing was about SO much more than Riding My Bike a Bit....

The focus was very much to do something that would challenge me with a real possibility that it would be too much - and to do it in a very simple way.
My bike.
And very little fuss.
The simplicity of it was part of the attraction to me.

When I spoke to Macmillan Cancer Support about what I was planning to do as a fundraising effort for them, I was astonished at their response. They are a large charity, and with some large organisations when someone 'small' offers to do something small, the response can be dismissive.

Not Macmillan!!!

I have lost count of the number of chats I had with them, asking how my training was going and how I was feeling, and forever having gratitude expressed for the effort I was making. Many organisations could learn a thing or two from their approach! Right from the start I was made to feel that I was almost a member of the 'family', not just some bloke raising a few quid!

And that kind of support costs nothing, but is priceless! This was to become something of a theme throughout the challenge!

A few of my running and cycling friends on the Fetcheveryone forum already knew that I was taking this on, and a few of them had said that they would ride some or all of the route with me on a few of the days, or just turn up at the roadside to wave and say hello :o)
I put out an open invitation on my Justgiving page as well, for anyone that wanted to come and join me at any time. And slowly the event started to take on a life of its own.

Now in part, that was thanks to people who quietly started to make more people aware of what I was doing. I only became aware of the work that Flip - who rode all of Day 1 with me on the strength of 200 miles training and a longest ride of under 60 miles...... NUTTER!! - was doing to raise awareness of the event as the days passed.
He contacted papers and Radio Stations and cycling clubs, and he went into Honister and Buttermere Youth Hostels to ask if they'd make me a cuppa if I needed it. There was more, but I never got to know about it!
And Sarah and Chris who between them were making sure that I was well fed, had what I needed to sort the bike out each day and, and was taking care of my body..... luxuriating in a deep warm bath was a critical part of that! :o)
In fact, although I was a guest, I was made to feel more like I was family.
Such generosity is priceless.

If memory serves, I only actually 'asked' for three things. The ability to use the Four Seasons SportIdent timing system for all 10 days so that I could record each day; Somewhere to live for the 10 days; and late on a call to ask if I could use the Cyclewise shop as a stop-off to make up more drinks.

What I GOT and what people offered to do was nothing short of incredible!
Paul made sure that the timing stuff was all sorted for me, Sarah and Chris went WAY beyond doing B&B for me, and Cyclewise not only gave me somewhere to sort out drinks, but made sure that my bike was OK, and kept it rolling for me - AND made me feel so welcome each time I arrived. I can't overemphasise just how important that was!
Friends went the extra mile either on the bike, or appearing on the course, or both; messages of support came to me from people I didn't know as well as those I did. Folk gave up their time to ride with me - sometimes just a short section, sometimes the whole route, but the support was always fantastic, and always made me smile :o)

The metaphor that it provided was really striking. I was taking on something that was tough, but the people who supported me made it not just bearable, but really made each day something unique and unrepeatable.
On the day when I punctured on Wrynose in THAT weather, I got colder and colder because I was exposed, and ALONE, and frightened.
In a past life I was on a Mountain Rescue Team and so I recognised how precarious my situation was at that time and although I KNEW what I needed to do, I couldn't because my bike was broken - it gave me what I feel was an brief insight into the the everyday lives of the people who NEED the support of Macmillan.
And once I had managed to extricate myself from there, and worried Sarah when I arrived back still mildly hypothermic, it made me all the more determined to complete the challenge and do what I could to raise as much as I could for the work they do!

Looking back now, I can see just how important seemingly 'little' things can be.
Andy's flapjack at Gosforth on one day and on Cold Fell another. It was brilliant to see a friendly face, and to also have something that tasted like the Food Gods had made it as well - it made the sun come out!! Really, it did!
Robb cycling with me over Whinlatter unexpectedly - a HUGE boost on a day where I was mostly on my own.
Alan, meeting me at Whinlatter on his handbike and riding with me to the valley in quite unpleasant conditions - It was a short ride, but one that was priceless in the context of the day.
A conversation with someone in the Cyclewise shop..
Two people each pressing £20 in my hand as a donation when I was out riding...

And the not so small things - Flip riding a whole circuit, that man has the heart of a lion; Hannah joining me for the 3 Passes and organising the PomPom moment :o)
Brian taking a whole day to ride with me, sleeping in his car and then heading home straight after we finished; Stuart coming up from Preston to do the same, on a day when my legs went into shutdown, and somehow managed to ride an 8:45!!!; Stuart and Glenn whose banter and company actually made the sun shine and the wind die down for the day, and who rode in such a way that made the day flash by; and meeting Simon on the same day, which was the start of something remarkable from the Honister 92 guys; Amy the SuperPhysio responding to a Call for help when my body needed her expertise; Barty and Graeme after Fangs Brow - again, brought the sun out; and the final day where Honister 92 were simply fantastic. Grant picking me up in Newlands Valley, meeting up with about 6 others at Whinlatter; the bagpipes, the group of 10, and company all the way to the top of Hardknott

And THAT video!

Nothing prepared me for that level of support and camaraderie. And I don't think anything I can say will ever be able to express just how amazing that was!

And finishing it all off with Pete with the sun shining, and my lovely wife Lorna, without whose total support this would never have happened,  waiting for me at the finish.

An absolutely incredible and unique experience - I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

And my overriding sense of what it was all about?


I experienced the VERY best of the people that I had the privilege of meeting, riding with, messaging, and being supported by. The genuine warmth and generosity they showed me was humbling, as has been the generosity of people with their donations to Macmillan.
Many of you have left me speechless, and THAT can be pretty difficult to do ;o)

When I set out I wrote on my JustGiving blurb..

"I hope that a few like-minded people will come along and share some of this journey with me, because I know it will be tough, and support and encouragement make a massive difference.
Maybe together we can make just a small amount of difference to the lives of the people who really need what Macmillan can offer them!"

In a VERY real sense this has been a joint effort. I may have been the one that got on my bike every day to ride this amazing route, but it has been SO much more than that because of what the people around me and watching and supporting me have given to it.

So far - we have raised over £2,800 - which absolutely fantastic. Over £2.50 for every mile that I rode over the 10 days.

I am SO grateful for the opportunity to do this, and to have met so many fantastic people along the way.

And I hope that Macmillan are appreciative of what we've achieved :o)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Fred Whitton #10 - An amazing Finale to my Adventure

I wasn't about to let the fact that this was the last of the ten days lure me in to a sense of - "well, it's all done bar the shouting"
It may not have come across that well, but the route is a BRUTE!
Officially 112 miles and there AREN'T 6 climbs - there are 14! It's just that the Passes get all the headlines!
There are a number of 1:4 climbs, and the steepest part of Hardknott is about 1:3 - and while they are hard enough, DESCENDING 1:4 on bumpy wet twisty roads can be a pretty daunting experience.

Add to that the fact that it's been really windy for all but one day and it adds up to perhaps something 'more' than I have given the impression!

It was fantastic that my lovely wife came yesterday and would be here for when I finished. I can't over emphasise how important this was to me!
Anyway, I had to disturb her at 4:15, my usual getting up time so that I could get my breakfast, ice my nigglesome knee, and get everything together to leave for Coniston.

I was REALLY nervous as I headed to Coniston, a little bit like on the first day! And as I sat in the car getting sorted I saw the clouds rolling in and the trees bending in the wind - I said to myself, I BET the Weather Gods are going to play their Joker today.
Then the HAIL started.
At this point I wished I'd worn my merino base layer :o/

I could have started a bit early, but I waited for a small 'window' to at least get started and warmed up a bit before the inevitable 'weather' happened.

Oh and didn't it! Strong wind and hail that HURT! - A lot! By the time I reached the Kirkstone Inn I was ridiculously cold and had to put every stitch of clothing on that I had...And I REALLY wished I'd worn my merino wool base layer!!
Apparently I still had hands and feet - must have, because I could see them, but my brain wasn't registering their existence. The wind direction meant that I'd actually made decent time to this point, but the road was awash with water coming out of some of the metal inspection covers, so I took the first bit slightly more cautiously than I have been. Only got up to 48.8mph today ;o)
The riding as far as the A66 wasn't too bad - I couldn't get warm, but I was making reasonable progress.
This stopped along the A66 - not fun in the conditions at all, and so I just had to stick my head down and grind it out.

When I got to the first turn into Keswick, loads of Triathletes appeared and headed down the road - they all overtook me - imagine that! It looked like their route took them around Derwentwater anti-clockwise.
I had been dreading the Borrowdale section - I was pretty sure that the wind would be trying to send me back to Keswick - and so it was. This was the hardest this whole section has been.
I stopped at the toilets at Seatoller to (mostly) use the hand drier to warm my hands up!
As I climbed I REALLY hoped that the wind would swing around the fell and be helpful once it opened up and for the descent....

Yeah, right. The Weather Gods hadn't finished toying with me just yet!!
So instead of freewheeling at 30+ into Buttermere, I was in 34/23 pedalling against a wall of wind. A horrible thought occurred to me - that I'd be fighting my way up Newlands too!!!
One positive point now though - the weather seemed to be clearing :o)
I DIDN'T have to fight my way up Newlands. It has been very good to me for all of the 10 days! And as I was past 10am (I got the the Buttermere checkpoint at about that time) I was fairly sure that I'd meet Grant from Honister 92 on the descent. He'd told me that he'd do that, and that a 'few' of the guys from the club would meet us later.

By the time I'd had my cuppa at Cyclewise - and let Joe and Dan know that the bike was running beautifully - there was a posse of about 6 people assembled. We headed down Whinlatter just after 11, and I'd been able to dispense with my windproof bottoms. They'd stopped me getting hypothermic, so I didn't care that they looked stupid ;o)
As we turned through the only bends on the descent I thought that the bike was wallowing a bit, but it seemed OK once we were through there. 3 miles later it suddenly got worse!
Typical! The only person to puncture was going to be ME!
The speed with which it was sorted was fantastic - so much easier when there are plenty of hands, and we were soon on our way.
As we climbed Fangs Brow - ANOTHER rider appeared, and turned around and scuttled back up the hill
That's strange I thought...... and then the most INCREDIBLE thing.

Bagpipes - They'd only gone and organised Bagpipes. I believe Ray was playing them, with support from Charlie and George!
I didn't notice them go past us, but they were there again at the top of the hill before Croasdale. What a fantastic thing to do :o)
By the time we got to the climb to Cold Fell, my climbing legs had reverted to Relax And Rest mode. That'll be SLOW, then ;o)

Interestingly the wind wasn't quite as unhelpful as it might have been and we made pretty decent progress down to Calder Bridge.
I had a little Opposite-Lock moment on the last bend before the village, but stayed upright and there was no harm done.
At this point most of the guys had to peel off as now 4 of us headed towards Gosforth. It was starting to get REALLY warm now - fantastically sunny and the wind was becoming more helpful. 

I was glad that I wasn't wearing my merino wool base layer ;o)
At Gosforth we were further reduced to 3, and as we headed to Santon my knee started to give me a bit of grief. In a way the Irton Pike climb was a relief. Standing on the pedals was just more comfortable!

It was getting really warm now, so I stopped at the toilets in Eskdale Green to lighten the load for Harknott, and to remove my waterproof. I know it hadn't been raining for a while, but I wasn't taking any risks with getting cold again!!
As we got nearer to Hardknott, Barty said that he'd not do that climb again, and he headed back from the bottom. Cheers for coming out again - it was fantastic!

That left me and Paul for the climb. To be fair, he stayed with me the whole way up. If I'm honest my legs had finally realised that they were a bit tired, and so I wasn't quite as 'sprightly' on the lower section as I have been, and I used the middle bit to have a decent rest.
As we approached the steep section and the hairpins, I saw that there was a motorbike parked up in the second bend, and two figures waiting there.
I had NO idea that we were being videoed, I thought that this was another club member taking photos. But no.

THIS was posted on the interweb :-O
I am speechless!! What an amazing record of my last climb up Hardknott. Finners - it's awesome. Thank you!

'Because he can'

Paul stayed with me to the summit of Harknott, and that completed my 10th successful and bottom-to-top ascent of that incredible climb. I'm pretty pleased with that :o)

Thank to everyone from Honister 92 who made this day so incredible for me: I'm afraid I can't put faces to most of the names, But I'm told that Grant, Jim, Paul, Mike, Sams, Barty, Trevor, Irvine, Norbet and Finners were all there.
I'm completely blown away by the fact that you came out to support someone that you didn't know. It really capped what has been a truly memorable 10 days. Thank you all.
And I don't know who it was that gave me the very generous donation, but that was also amazing!
I also almost have a full set of kit now - you guys are incredible!!

The rider who joined us at the top of Honister was Pete. And he asked if I would mind if he joined me to the end.
You saw how quickly he caught me on the climb, and he told me not to wait on the descents, so I knew that he'd catch me once we were down - and so he did!
My knee was getting quite painful on the easy section of Wrynose, but was fine when I was climbing and stood up, so I did more of that than I normally would have. That seemed to work out OK!

Once we reached the main road, with just 4 miles to go - in glorious sunshine, it was time to bury myself and get this thing done - and so I did. I knew I wasn't going to post my fastest time, but well under 9 hours after the difficulty of the early part of the day, and a puncture was always going to be a good result.
So 8:45 was really pleasing.

Pete arrived about half a minute after me, but not before I'd snogged my wife :o)

Then she gave me a little trophy that Sarah had had made up for me. How lovely was that?? :o)

And quite suddenly I realised that my body hurt, and I was feeling very, very tired.

I'm going to sleep well tonight!!  :o) 

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Fred Whitton #9 - All quiet on the route, except....

... where the sportive was running around the 3 Passes!!!

I was expecting someone to accompany me today. It's possible that I misremembered that though as I couldn't find the message about it.
I had one false start too - too keen, see! As the clock in Coniston struck 6 I started.... got about 400m down the road and realised that I'd forgotten my glasses. So I popped back to get them and started again. So I was a few minutes after 6 getting away.
I got the impression that it was windy, and more from the South than it has been. I was really pleased with how my legs felt climbing Hawkshead Hill and I reached Clappersgate in what I thought might be about my quickest time. The ascent of Kirkstone also went well, legs felt good - knee was happy with the altered cleat position and riding style which was slightly up on effort and down on cadence.
In fact I was at Kirkstone a couple of seconds quicker than yesterday.

The road was both dry and empty of traffic for the descent. I MUST make sure that I don't get carried away on these. I know them well now, but a tumble at 51 mph is going to make a mess. This would be a bad thing!!
The wind direction meant that it was bouncing of the valley sides, and although generally a tailwind, it kept changing its mind as to where it was going to come from. But I made decent time along Patterdale and Ullswater.
I was keeping a close eye on how the knee was feeling, and it was holding up fine!

I'm surprised, that little mention is made of the drag north from Ullswater to the A66. It's a fair amount of climbing, and after the relatively fast section to that point, comes as a bit of a shock to the legs! Again I felt that I was riding reasonably strongly up here, and I made the most of the slight tailwind up to Troutbeck Inn and the A66.

The A66 definitely doesn't like me this week!!! ANOTHER head down and just grind it out section of 9 miles of 'A' road.
But I got a fantastic surprise just before Scales (I think it was there!) A small hire vehicle was parked in the layby and a couple of people were looking back down the road. Helen and Liam, friends of mine from another 'world' were there. Fabulous!! I stopped for a quick chat, which was far better timed than they could possibly have known, before sticking my head back in to the wind and trundling to Keswick.
The Keswick Festival is in full swing, and I knew there was a Sportive today, the route of which was going over the 3 Passes twice. So there were LOADS of cyclists in and around Keswick...... mostly not going the same way as me! So lots of nods and waves and greetings before I reached the relative solitude of Borrowdale.

I forgot to say - the terminal-sounding 'CLICK of DOOM' from the rear wheel (I thought)was getting much worse, and as I ascended Honister, it was THAT loud that the two cyclists I saw actually stared!!
Well??? YOU'D creak if you'd done 1000 miles in 9 days too :-p

Interesting thing that I've noticed in the last 2 days, I'm 'micro-recovering' really well after harder efforts, so I have been able to climb strongly and it not completely trash me - OK I'm STILL keeping the effort down, but not AS down as I have been.
For the FIRST time there was a helpful wind down into Buttermere. What a difference THAT makes. WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! very nice. Maybe the Wind Gods weren't being quite as unpleasant as I thought......
I reached The Buttermere 'dibber' in the second quickest time that I've recorded during this experience - so I knew I was riding well as I had been alone all day!

There were quite a few riders on Newlands - and quite a few were walking. A group of 4 pipecleaners came climbing past me just before I reached the top, but a couple of them were a bit tentative on the descent. You can actually accelerate over it and tuck in if the road is clear. The run-off from the steep section is fantastic, and *I* was on Fred Whitton number 9! I need to use every advantage I can to cover the distance. So descents and downwind bits have been my friend!! ;o)

Climbing up Whinlatter, the Click of Doom was getting embarrassing!! Seriously!
So when I arrived, Dan and Joe set to finding out what was up.
Crank had a bit of play - but that wasn't it. Bottom Bracket was spinnning a bit fast, but not overly worn. Rear spindle needed tightening slightly.

Dan suggested that the bike could "Do with a proper service fairly soon...." ;o)

Freehub! That's where it was coming from! So that was whipped off, cleaned and greased, and the whole thing was put back together. In the meantime I'd had a couple of cups of tea and a really nice chat with a couple who were in the shop and have been following my progress :o) [waves]

So I was there for a little over 45 minutes. Awesome stuff guys!!!!

I had this niggling little doubt that the section as far as Calderbridge was going to be a bit breezy - and not in a good way!
It was!!
Oh My Goodness, was it!!!!!!

Head down - vaguely acknowledge the MANY C2C riders that were out and about - and make the most of the short bits of respite there were, and use any shelter I could.
All things considered, I made good time to the 'dibber', and again the Wind God decided to be kind from there until Little Langdale!!
Even with the long stop at Cyclewise I was making decent time overall, and I headed up Hardknott thinking that IF all went well, I might get finished before 3pm.
And I knew that my lovely wife was going to be in Coniston, So I had extra incentive not to hang about.
I didn't!
The Hardknott climb has become a little bit like an old mate - admittedly a mate with a dry sense of humour and who is happy to mock your efforts, but I have become quite fond of the old git!
And he was in good form today!
I had to rush the top section because Mr Big Black 4X4 was coming up behind me snarling, and I didn't want to get held up on the descent ;o)

I wasn't :o)

The climb up Wrynose was quite fun today - bigger gears, a bit of helpful wind, and I reached the steep bit reasonably quickly. I tired on the last tiny bit of steep stuff, but the descent was completely clear today - AND dry so I wasted no time getting down either.
And the time suggested that I'd be OK for under 9 hours!

The ride out to Little Langdale was great :o) Just a couple of non-local drivers to negotiate, and once I reached the main road I DID think I'd be pretty close to the time of yesterday - AND my wife would be in Coniston.
So I picked it up - :o)

For a day when I was alone and it was SO windy for such long periods, I was absolutely delighted to finish when I did
Yes, under 9 hours
No, not quicker than yesterday

But 8:55:53 is not too shabby with 45 minute stop in the middle

AND I get to spend more time with my wife.

All in all - this has been a superb day.

And now I'm off out to eat a plate of Farmyard and Chips :o)