Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Wakefield Hospice: Dark Peak Challenge

The day had finally come for the Wakefield Hospice Dark Peak Challenge. Twenty years since I last took cycling seriously and a full 10 weeks after buying a road bike and beginning some serious training, it all came down to this one event.

I set off from home to ride the short 5 miles to the Nuffield Health & Fitness Centre for the start location to the event (notice how I cycled there? I'm hardcore me!). No sooner had I got on to the main road and headed downhill towards Wakefield I noticed that the morning fog was getting heavier all the way. By the time I arrived I had condensation settling on me and the bike.

I was amazed to see over 200 riders milling about. The different types of jersey being worn made for a rainbow of skin-tight colour wherever you looked.

I arrived in good time for the start, but I was one of the last riders to set off because of some technical issues to my front gears that I needed to resolve first. I also needed the toilet and I didn't fancy having to stop mid-ride anywhere!

When I did finally set off it was with a group of about another 10 riders. It was a super cold start - I had been stood around in one layer of Lycra with a heavy damp, fog around me. My teeth were chattering and there was condensation settling on me and the bike again!

I have never ridden in a Peloton before, so I didn't know the etiquette about over taking and leaving the group. The group was going at a steady if slow pace - sub 13 mph on roads that I had trained on whilst hitting 18+ mph. I think I stuck with them for too long. Some other riders I noticed were starting to overtake and leaving their groups so once I realised that it wasn't poor form to leave the pack, I was off.

The ride was very much as I remembered from my previous training ride covering the old route. The route had been changed recently as there were events in the middle of Holmfirth that meant that it was out of bounds. The organisers said that it was only an additional 7 miles, skirting around Holmfirth and going through Honley. They made it sound so blissfully serene.

I underestimated those additional 8 miles (that turned out to be 12 extra miles on the overall course in total) around Honley. It was a tough climb - tougher than I ever expected. The fog didn't help as you couldn't see 50 yards ahead let alone the end of any climb. Because of this the hills around Honley were painful and just seemed to be going on and on and on, with no end in sight. I climbed that far up that I eventually cleared the fog. I then saw the summit of Holme Moss a few miles in the distance. I could also see the descent back in to the fog that I would have to make before I even started tackle the ascent. That was a real psychological drain. 

But I just kept peddling...

I managed to get up Holme Moss with only a handful of other riders overtaking me (I managed to overtake some myself!). I could see that those who did overtake me had been cycling for years - unlike me with only 10 weeks in the saddle! The only sour point was one of these riders commenting that " need to be on the big ring for the photographs at the top." If I could have managed a "F- you" then I think I would have, instead I just focused on keeping those pedals turning and that breathing rhythm going. As it turned out there wasn't a photographer in sight! Muppet!

The Scrum at the Holme Moss Food Station

But there was a food station at the summit! I stopped for no more than about 10 minutes - enough time to refill my water bottles, scoff down a gorgeous muffin and woof a banana before I was off again. I was on a tight schedule as I knew the family would be waiting at the finish line. From this point on I knew for certain what lay ahead because of the training ride/recce of the old 50 mile route a few weeks before.

The Dark Peak Challenge had 2 rides running today and at the far side of Holme Moss, where it meets Woodhead Reservoir, the courses now split from each other. I turned left and whole bunch of riders went right. I was by myself for a very long time. After about 3 miles I eventually saw one rider on the horizon so I focused on catching up to him - and I did, only to be overtaken myself by another rider who obviously used me for target practice as well!

The last third of the route was a case of head down and get on with it - and to prepare for those sneaky little hills around the corners and that little 1 in 10 near to the very end. Fluid and foods were now being taken at every opportunity as a form of mental preparation. 

The point where I was getting worried about my finish time was about 200 yards from the end. A set of traffic lights held me up for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time. Just before they changed I was like a frantic meerkat, bobbing up and down, looking back to make sure that no one was going to sneak a placing off of me! 

I needn't have worried as I crossed the finish line, with the family stood there cheering me on, I was a solo cyclist! It was at this point I was told that I had finished third over the line! I was a bit shocked by this news - but that explained why the car park wasn't as full of as many cyclists as I had expected. I also thought I'd be way down the finish line - now if only I didn't have that mechanical issue at the start!

I was a bit disappointed about my overall time - I was hoping for around the 3:30hrs mark. This assessment was based on the original route of 50 miles before the recent increase to 57. In total I travelled 61 miles, so I suppose my time of 4:20 hrs isn't too shabby for my first ever Sportive outing. Finishing 3rd also explained why I only saw 2 other riders for the whole of the return leg - at first I thought that everyone, bar me, had turned right at Woodhead Reservoir for the Extreme Course! I spoke to some of the more "seasoned" riders after the event and they all commented on how tough the course was this year and that it was the fog and Honley that made the difference. Maybe I should stop beating myself up about the time and reflect on the achievement?

One the plus side, with the generosity my family, friends and acquaintances, I have raised nearly £1000 in sponsorship for the Wakefield Hospice. So I hope that all those who did sponsor me are pleased with the performance?

A couple of links, if anyone is interested in the route I took, and what I looked like!

Afterwards me and the family went to a local public house for a spot of lunch, then afterwards Mr Hardcore me cycled the now 6 miles back home!

So what's next? I think a few days rest first, then I am going to do some rides on the flatter side of West Yorkshire for the next few weeks. I have certainly caught this cycling bug and I am starting to like the new slimmed down version of me too!

Oh and if you still wish to donate to the great cause that is The Wakefield Hospice, then my Just Giving Page is here...

Sunday, 23 August 2015

My First 50 Miler

When I set myself a challenge I do like to do it in style.

I needed my 100 again this week and the only way that was going to happen was if I tackled my first 50 miler.

I already had a 50 mile route that I created nested in my Garmin GPS device. It was just a case of selecting the route, hitting start and follow the pointer. If only it was that simple.

For the route I created, which consciously took in Holmfirth, I didn't appreciate the significance of waypoints as they were showed on the device. One waypoint was 32 miles long. Following the between these 2 points turned out to be quite depressing - especially because of the significant hills, on the uphill stretches my estimated time to the end point was over 4 hours!

Luckily for me I could change the display and have the normal view of distance, speed, average speed and travel time. That made for a more interesting read whilst tramming along the straight roads. Once I hit "civilisation" (and that is a relative term when you see some of the areas I had to travel through) it was back to the turn by turn view.

I didn't truly appreciate the hills around Holmfirth and just how steep they are. Going in to the town I was travelling down a nice 9% decline (not so nice for those coming up). I reckon I could have hit 50 MPH; unfortunately I didn't know the road or the layout so I held back on tucking down behind the handlebars. That decision paid dividends (and probably save my life). Some doddering old dear pulled out from the left to go back up the hill. She pulled right out in front of me, totally oblivious to my presence (both during her manoeuvre and at my protestations whilst passing the rear of her). Good job I didn't know the area and also anticipated her move!

I have come to a realisation on this quest of mine that when there is a good downhill somewhere, there is a doubly-menacing uphill not far away. And Holmfirth nestled in its valley in just that way. All roads in are great, but there is no easy way out. 

My ascent peaked at 1,127 feet. Other than for a quick selfie, not once did I stop and not once did I drop to the inner ring. It was the big ring all the way baby. I did however have to drop in to my reserve gear (first) very briefly on at least 2 occasions. 

The only disappointment to the ride was the wind. It was extremely breezy and I seemed to be constantly battling in to a headwind but that and the tropical storm on the last 5 minutes of the ride didn't dampen my spirits. 

Just over 3 hours and 20 minutes later that was it, all done. My first 50 Miler in the back. I had done it! If you want to check out my Strava data, the click here.

And to think I was aiming for a target time of 3 hours 30 minutes for the Wakefield Hospice Sportive. I may need to rethink that one!

On a side note, my gears worked almost perfectly. A couple of slippages in 5th towards the end of the ride. But all in all the mini-service of the gears at my local LBS worked a treat (and I put some more oil on the chain beforehand). 

Another point of note was that the crown jewels started getting uncomfortable around the 47 mile mark. Maybe that was just too much information? 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Enforced Rest Days Make For a Restless Cyclist

This weekend, after amassing just over 70 miles in 2 days of training rides, I found myself not only having to return to work this week but also having 3 days "rest" from cycling.

The rest days were through choice. Alright Monday could well have been, but Tuesday and Wednesday certainly were not! The weather played it's part to perfection; sunny or dry whilst at work followed by rain as soon as I pulled up on the drive. Perfect - not!

On the plus side I stripped The Trusty Stead down and gave her chain and gears a good cleaning. On the minus side I was climbing the walls yesterday because I hadn't been out on her for 3 full days. That was the longest period of inactivity since her first full week with the family.

I managed to get out tonight. I didn't care if the sky opened tonight. I was going out, come what may. I had a window of one hour cycle time and I used it to perfection. I went on my usual 15 Miler with the objective of getting a new personal best. We got down and dirty to it with me riding like a bat out of hell and I smashed my PB by a further 2 minutes. The only downside is that I some issues with the higher gears in that the chain was finding it very difficult to latch on to the smaller sprockets. Will need to tinker with the indexing before the next ride.

I'm not sure if I'll achieve a 100 miles ride distance this week but I will certainly give it a try. Who said that rest days are good for you?

Sunday, 16 August 2015

"I Will Bike 500 Miles....

...and I will bike five hundred more..."

Today was a milestone of personal achievement. As some of you may know I have only been back in the saddle for 5 weeks as I am training myself to tackle the Wakefield Hospice 2015 Dark Peak Sportive Challenge. Here is some background as to why I have taken up cycling.

I am raising money for the Wakefield Hospice as I hope to complete the 50 mile course in under 3 hours and 30 minutes. I have been pushing myself harder with each passing week since I bought the bike. My training consists of either beating previous route times or going a further distance. There are 6 weeks to go before the big event and I do feel in good shape and the sponsorship is also going well. I hope to have had my first training ride around the actual route in about 2 weeks time!

If you would like to sponsor me and help this good cause, then please take a look at my Just Giving page.

So what is this personal milestone that I am so thrilled about? Well I've only gone and averaged 500 miles of riding in 5 weeks! This week's goal was to do 120 miles (I actually did 130 miles). I knew I was nearing the 500 mark - but I didn't realise that I would achieve it today!

So in an almost true Proclaimer's sense of the word, I may not necessarily be walking, but here is to the next 500 miles - you never know I may get those done in less than another 5 weeks?

Saturday, 11 July 2015

The Inaugural Ride

Finally the time had come. I had bought the bike, the equipment and the clothing. Either this was going to be fun or one of those "got all the gear but no idea" experiences.

My intention was to keep the ride short and to hope that none of the neighbours saw my Lycra-clad body. I failed on both objectives. The neighbours seemed to be leaving their houses the same time as me (good job I had sunglasses on!) and the "ride around the block" turned in to a 17 mile venture that went further out than I ever anticipated. 

I won't bore you with the minutiae of the ride, if you really want to know the finer details you can check it out here. It is safe to say that I did enjoy myself - even moreso than I would have ever expected after covering 17 miles! And those Lycra padded pants? They were top dog; I never realised once that I was sat on a razor blade!

The one thing of note that did happen though was that first-blood was drawn less than a quarter of a mile from my house. I changed the gears on an uphill stretch and unluckily for me I changed them in the wrong direction. With unexpected slackness in the chain the pedal lurched forward and my knee, unceremoniously, clattered in to the handle bar. With blood now running down my leg, from the cut on my knee, I just carried on. I may not have an idea about cycling, but I can certainly look the part!

Edit: Post has been backdated to recall the events as they happened - originally written 14/8/2015

My Apollo 10: A Test Spin Fail...

Last night my new acquisition was safely put away in the garage and my new clothes brought in to the house. I tried the Lycra on for laughs size. Fits snugly doesn't it? Padded bums - well that's certainly a new one on me!

Anyway I had a little time between errands so I thought I would just ride up an down along the road just to acclimatise myself with the bike. This was suppose to be like the Apollo 10 mission; a dress rehearsal (without wearing the Lycra!) for the maiden voyage. Brakes are how I remembered them to be from back in youth days (and they work much in the same way). I also recalled how to the change gears (as shown by the man in the shop). Back in my day the gear changers were attached to the frame, not hidden behind the brake lever! Changing them down was a doddle. But it became apparent I didn't pay as much attention as I should have back at the shop. Or I wasn't shown how to change the gears back up. Yeah, that's it, I wasn't shown! ;)

So here I am, on a shiny new bike, riding up and down the street with the worse combination of gears. Could I get the things to change? Buggered if I knew how to. My journey to the moon and back stalled for the want of variable speed!

The bike was back in garage and it was Youtube time. I couldn't really go back to the shop and ask could I? I found this video, which saved me masses of egg on face! Never thought to move the whole brake lever to change up gears - ingenious! Now I come to think of it I was shown this in the shop after all - doh!

Edit: Post has been backdated to recall the events as they happened - originally written 12/8/2015

Friday, 10 July 2015

I've Only Gone and Done It!

My mind now made up and it was now today. No more tomorrows!

I took a trip to my local bike shop in Dewsbury. A quaint establishment called Bill Hargreaves Cycles. Not as "shop-fronty" as the likes of Evans Cycles. In fact upon first viewing the shop it looks a little run-down from the outside.

But looks can be deceiving.

As soon as you walk through the doors it is a treasure trove of bikes, accessories and supplies. You name it and I'm sure they have it. The staff were as friendly as can be. I was given time to peruse the wares and at no time did I feel like I was being hounded or pressured in to buying.

After about an hour of looking and trying I eventually decided upon the Trek 1.2 (2013). It was the last one in stock and the frame was my size. Because of this I got a little more knocked off of the asking price too!

Bike sorted. Just the kit next. I was pointed to the Lycra section. What me in tight figure hugging clothes with a fat padded bottom on show? You're having a laugh aren't you...oh, wait on, this is serious. I got the feeling that it was the expected norm. Oh, OK then. Go on - so long as no one will laugh at me.

Shoes, cleats, fancy clip on peddles. Me thinking "How do I get my feet out of these in a fall?". Oh I knew the answer to that one, I simply won't fall!

Water bottles and holders, saddle bag, spare inner tube and tyre levers. That's it. Me done. There is no looking back - unless I am in the saddle of course!

The only sticking point after I left the shop was "how the hell do I get home with all of this?" I had to work some serious magic with the car seats. I know, a bit of an oxymoron going on here. Maybe I should have walked to the shop - but that would have felt, you know, like exercise!

Edit: Post has been backdated to recall the events as they happened - originally written 6/8/2015

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Finally...Words Into Action

For a long time I have contemplated getting a bike. OK, getting my "+1" as I already have a Mountain Bike (that is over 15 years old).

Originally my only reason for contemplating such a move was purely for financial gain. I had always said that if I was to work at the same location for 5 days a week (that had shower facilities) then I would ride there. Well now I am and only living 11 miles away, what is so difficult about that? Not only would I save money (by not using the car) I'd get fit in the process. Oh and I'd be helping the environment. Can't forget the green cause now can we!

But the problem with this was that there was always tomorrow. There is always a tomorrow. Tomorrow never comes, but it always there. And the elephant in the room was that I would have spend some money to save some. 

It wasn't going to happen. I'm a Yorkshireman who has small arms with deep pockets!

Then something did happen; my father-in-law, Steve, died. It wasn't sudden and we all knew it was coming. He lost his battle with cancer. He fought on for 9 months after being told of it's return. But when that time came it was still a shock. A body-blow for those left to remember him. It didn't help that he was 12 days away from his 58th birthday.

Steve spent the last nine days of his life in the care of Wakefield Hospice. When I received the call from my wife I immediately rushed there to be with the family. She had our 4 year old child with her at the time and when I arrived I took over the looking after him.

Whilst at the Hospice, with the shock of it all starting to hit, I was perusing the noticeboards. The wife and I had already discussed how we could help raise funds for the Wakefield Hospice, particularly after she found out that their Charity Shops are loosing out to the likes of eBay and Gumtree. And there it was; a poster only advertising the Wakefield Hospice Sportive - Dark Peak Cycling Challenge. The small print described a choice of 2 routes, either 50 miles or 75 miles - both of which take in the view at the top of Holme Moss. You know, one of the hills used for the Tour de France when it came to Yorkshire. Yes, that very same Holme Moss! Gulp!

If ever there was an incentive, here it was staring me in the face. 

With over 10 weeks to go I could do it. I can get a bike, get fit and do the 50 miles. If not for me, then for Steve!

So it's time I put these words in to action... And tomorrow will come!

Edit: Post has been backdated to recall the events as they happened - originally written 4/8/2015