Day 8 Strathdon to Kyle of Sutherland

The day started very cold and very early. It is the first and I hope the only time that I have scrape ice off my saddle before setting off for a ride!

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Well below freezing!

This was a second new route for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain (along with Day 7). I knew it would be tough but I didn’t know how tough. Within 10 miles of the start we had The Lecht with gradients of up to 28%. I made it up the first “ramp” and had to start zig zagging to keep moving. Unfortunately I zagged a bit too far with my front wheel going into the sand at the side of the road and I toppled over onto a soft tussock of grass! I had a short 100 m walk to a lay by and then managed the rest of the climb to the ski station.

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The Lecht Ski Station

The descent off the top was fantastic. Very fast and quite scary at times. Definitely a time not to be riding in a group! We went through Braemar before we hit the huge sting in the tail of the final climbs within 15 miles of the finish, when we had already ridden 100 miles. The ride profile showed two climbs. You can only imagine the words when we crested a very steep climb to see the climb continuing up the valley for another two miles to the left – it was a false summit!

Again the scenery during the day was stunning. Scotland and the Cairngorms were certainly living up to billing and exceeded my expectations. I will have to put a slide show together with all the photos.

The base for the night was a field in the Kyle of Sutherland. My first night in a tent for over 16 years. I’d forgotten that you can actually roll off a camping mat! It started to rain as I went to bed (at 9 pm!) and later that night a huge rain storm came through. It turned out to be the second best nights sleep of the trip, beaten only by the Double Tree by Hilton in Edinburgh.

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Bit different from the Double Tree!

Highlights of the day:

  • The descent off The Lecht into Braemar
  • Getting to the finish line after my longest ever ride in terms of time and distance

Four Days to the Start ….

There are now four days until I start the Deloitte Ride Across Britain from Land’s End to John O’Groats, a ride of 982 miles over nine days, with just under 52,000 feet of climbing (I think I’ll have to find the extra 18 miles somewhere to take it up to 1,000 miles!).  The ride will take me from the the most westerly point in Great Britain to the most northerly point (on the mainland), travelling through three countries and 23 counties.     Here is the the whole route (thank you Threshold Sports for the reproduction permission) and a link to a short promotional video (again “Thank you” to Threshold Sports) for the ride here  (turn the sound down if you are looking at the video in an office!). It’s too late to enter now but there’s always 2019, the tenth anniversary year of the ride!Whole_Route-01.jpg

The first two days are meant to be the toughest as they involve a high cumulative effort of climbing between them.  Day 1 involves over 8,200 feet of climbing which is the highest daily total of the whole nine days, closely followed by 6,850 feet on Day 2.  Only Day 7 in Scotland gets close to Day 1 with 7,333 feet of climbing going up to the Glenshee Ski Station and it isn’t even the longest day – it happens to be Day 8 with the infamous “The Lecht” climb which, based on the ride Facebook page comments, is giving lots of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain participants the collywobbles!

I’m looking forward to the days riding in Scotland, particularly if we get some dry weather and we are able to take in the scenery.  I’m slightly worried about the midges – at least they will encourage no hanging around!

I now have one more indoor training session to go on Wednesday which will bring to the end over ten months of  specific training for the ride.  In some respects I can’t wait to start the ride.  There is a mixture of excitement and trepidation at what lies ahead; have I done enough training? can I keep going over nine days? how will I cope if there is lots of heavy rain?  On the other hand, as I said in my previous post, I don’t think I could have done much more to prepare physically for the ride.  I’m pretty sure I will be OK – I will not be the quickest (it’s not a race after all) and I shouldn’t be last either!

The bike is all clean and packed up ready for its collection on Thursday morning.  I’ve got all my gear together and just need to pack a last few items after triple checking the suggested kit list against what’s gone into the bag!  Another recurring theme of the event is the weight limit on the bags.  I decided to de-stress by paying for some extra weight allowance – much better for the overall health and wellbeing !  I can also take a few energy bars that I’ve been using for training – a different brand from one of the ride sponsors.

I’m going to try and continue this blog after each day of the ride.  The length and quality of the writing may depend on the energy levels each day – there could be a very short entry after a very bad day …

On the sponsorship front I’m very close to my new target of £4,000 in support of Dementia UK and there is still time to sponsor me to increase the total further.  Do contact Dementia UK on their support line if you need advice or support for a loved one with dementia.

If you would like to sponsor me, you can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here  It is very quick and easy to donate and every donation, however large or small, is greatly appreciated.  Go on, click on the link !

Final week of training before the Ride

I am now entering the final week of training before starting the Deloitte Ride Across Britain on 8 September.  This weekend saw me do two rides of over 5 hours, although not on consecutive days as originally planned due to the appalling weather on Sunday.  I know some of my fellow Deloitte RAB participants did brave the wind and rain – good for them.  I chose the indoor option to avoid catching a head cold or even worse crashing the bike!

My ride on Saturday was meant to be “flat/rolling” and I still managed 1,931 m of climbing in about 86 miles of riding.  The ride today was “three climbs” and I did 2,134m of climbing in 88 miles of riding but in a longer time, probably due to the length of the climbs.

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Top of the Rhigos climb

The ride today can be seen on on Relive map here – lots of hairpins on the climbs and descents!  The benefits of living in South Wales.  I was lucky with the weather as there were a few spots of rain but I managed to miss all but one heavy rain shower.  The rain did make some of the early descents a bit tricky and I certainly picked up more speed later on in the ride when the road dried out.

On the Saturday ride, I revisited some of my training loops round the Vale of Glamorgan and here is the latest “season” photo from Merthyr Mawr img_0742.jpg– all the rain in the last week has raised the river levels considerably since mid July when there was just a trickle.  It is also amazing how much a little rain changes the grass from yellow to green!

The end of the serious training has also enabled me to take stock of how far I have come since I started training seriously for the ride last November.  The biggest change is the weight loss, down from 94 kg (perhaps even more) to 85kg (13.5 stone in “old money”, a loss of around 1.5 stone).  I’m sure the weight loss would have been greater if I’d been more disciplined with the diet, however, I’m now the lightest I’ve been since starting work in Cardiff 15 years ago.  It has made a huge difference to the speed at which I go up the hills!

My fitness levels have also improved dramatically.  The Training Peaks fitness level has increased from 60 to 108, my Functional Threshold Power (a test used by cyclists to measure their power output) has increased from 239  to 261 watts and my resting heart rate is now in the low 40s.  I don’t think there is much more I could do to prepare physically for the challenge ahead.  I have to thank my coach, Lawrence Cronk at Enduraprep, for the training plans and pushing me on in the training.

I think the most difficult part will be the mental side of getting up shortly after 5am each day and start cycling 110 miles a day for 9 consecutive days to complete the 980 mile distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  I’m sure once I’ve got over the initial 10 miles I’ll be fine – this was the case today when there was a lot of procrastination before setting out.  The thought of everyone who has very kindly sponsored me to support the work of Dementia UK will give me all the motivation I need – I will not want to let you down!

If you would like to sponsor me and raise money for Dementia UK you can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here Please do tick the Gift Aid box if you are eligible as the tax man will increase your donation by 25%.  Please also remember that Virgin Money only charge a 2% fee compared to the 5% charged by a well know competitor!  There’s still time to donate!

Wye Valley Warrior report

Last Sunday saw me take part in the Wye Valley Warrior sportive organised by UK Cycling Events.

When I went to bed on the Saturday night the rain was lashing down and I seriously considered switching off the alarm and not bothering with the ride. Fortunately good sense kicked in and the alarm went off at 6 am which always makes me think of the Robin Williams line from Good Morning Vietnam “What does 0600 stand for- ‘ Oh my God it’s early’!”

Back to the weather – it was still raining. After a quick wash and breakfast (double porridge) it was in to the car for the drive to Chepstow racecourse (bike packed in the car the night before). After registering, changing into cycling shoes and wet weather gear it was off at 8 am.

The ride was over new routes for me. Raining, windy, slippery roads – basically all pretty horrible. The good news was that I had attached clip on mudguards to the bike which kept the worst of the spray off me – no wet backside – a result.

The 92 miles was tough with over 7,000 feet of climbing. Yes the rain did stop, to be replaced by mist and drizzle. The wind kept up which was energy sapping on the flat into headwinds. There was also a long climb at 80 miles and a short sharp climb at 86 miles when I was very grateful for a 34 tooth rear cassette to just keep moving! Unfortunately the conditions weren’t conducive for taking any photos of the scenery – sorry!  To make up for it here is a photo of the bike I’ll be using on the big ride taken in my mother’s garden just over a week ago.

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Trek Domane for the big ride

I was glad to finish in under 6 hours 30 minutes. Unfortunately, I got back to find a flat tyre on the car – that’s another story!  This week has a couple of light recovery rides before a few longer rides at the weekend. A massage at Agile Therapy on Monday evening certainly helped ease the muscles and is really recommended.

There is now less than four weeks to go before the start of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, so it’s starting to get serious with checking the kit list and buying the final bits and pieces that I don’t already have.  At some point I’ll have a practise pack to make sure I’ve got everything and it all fits in the kit bag.

I have increased my target for my Dementia UK fundraising to £4,000, having smashed my initial £3,000 target, and hopefully I’ll be able to achieve this target. You can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here if you would like to sponsor me and help the great work carried on by Dementia UK

Countdown continues…5 weeks to go!

I now have five weeks before I start the Deloitte Ride Across Britain which means one month of training left!  This has given me the added boost I needed after a slight wobble in the training mojo two weeks ago.

Last weekend we had the first really bad weather for what seemed ages with heavy rain on the Saturday and gale force winds and rain on the Sunday.  I went out on a training ride with Carl on the Saturday morning bright and early.  We had great plans to do five climbs on a 100 km loop round the south Wales valleys.  In the end we settled for two major climbs and a shortened ride due to the filthy weather plus the very slippery roads.  Carl normally drops me on the hills – see my previous post under “Gravity”.  This time out the tables were turned and Carl had a very bad day, possibly due to a heavy training week, plus my training was starting to pay off.  I decided to take Sunday off – there was absolutely no point in crashing in the wind and rain so close to the start of the big ride and missing one session wasn’t going to make too much of a difference.

Last week I bought some new shoes and changed the cleats on my old shoes – cleats wear out and become less effective.  This resulted in a slight flare up in my left Achilles heel, a problem I have had in the past.  I have also splashed out on a new bike to replace my Specialized Roubaix as I was finding my Cannondale SuperSix too aggressive and uncomfortable for successive long rides.  I’ve gone and got a Trek Domane – great service from Ride Bikes Wales, a local bike shop at Talbot Green.  I’m a great fan of the cycling formula n+1 for the number of bikes you own!

As a result of getting a new bike and having problems with the cleats on my cycling shoes, I booked a bike fit with Magnus Backstedt at his fitting studio in Newport Backstedt Bike Performance.  Magnus is an ex pro racer and won the Paris Roubaix race (also know as the Hell of the North) in 2004.

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Bike fit with Magnus Backstedt

The bike fit set up involves lots of reflective spheres being stuck on all your joints and a 3D stick man being created by a computer using the feed off six cameras – all very complicated and clever.  It is also a very quick process compared with some other bike fit models and allows almost instantaneous feedback on minute changes.  For example, my saddle was moved down two millimetres in one change.  Magnus also had a look at my cleats and made a few adjustments.

The proof was in the riding!  Two rides round the Chilterns (for the hills) and the Vale of Aylesbury (for less hills) this weekend on the new bike and no problems with the Achilles – yippee!  I even managed a few new personal bests on some of the climbs.  On Sunday I repeated part of the ride I did in April in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain training day.  It showed how much easier it was riding in a group – much faster and less effort required in April despite my increased fitness now.  A great learning point for the ride itself.

Next weekend I have my last organised sportive, the Wye Valley Warrior, starting from Chepstow Racecourse.  It will be a 91 mile ride so a good final test.  At the time of writing this post, the hot weather we’re experiencing may have turned so it may be a test of wet weather riding over a long distance.  Fingers crossed for no rain but slightly reduced temperatures.

On the fundraising front for Dementia UK, I have reached my initial £3,000 target which is absolutely fantastic!  I don’t want to stop at £3,000 but push on and see how much I can raise for such a good cause.  If you would like to sponsor me, you can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here

Six weeks of training to go

I now have six weeks of training to complete before the final week leading up to the start of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  There is one sportive planned – the Wye Valley Warrior in the middle of August which will be a 91 mile ride starting from Chepstow Race Course.  Unlike last year, the Wye Valley Warrior will not follow part of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain route – I will have some satisfaction that I have ridden the climb out of Chepstow by the time I get to do it again on 10 September.

To be honest, the ride can’t start soon enough as the constant training is starting to take its toll, not helped by the unremitting hot weather we’ve been having recently.

I need to find some different routes to freshen up the rides and make them a little less monotonous – yes, I still have to concentrate on the traffic and cars overtaking, particularly in the lanes round the Vale of Glamorgan.  However, I now know some of the routes so well that I know where the bumps and nasty water access covers in the road are located.

From a physical point of view, I am probably fitter than I have been for about 10 years or even longer.  It is not just the feeling of being able to cycle for longer but being backed up by statistics.

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Fitness line tracker – good increase since December !

That said, my coffee ride to Cowbridge this morning was the first ride I can remember where I didn’t get any notifications on Strava of a top 3 segment time compared to my previous rides over the same roads – I think this may please my coach as the ride was meant to be a low intensity session (it doesn’t fit well with my competitive side!).

I use a website called Training Peaks to track my training and my coach can set out activities for the each month.

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Training Peaks calendar

Each completed activity goes green in the calendar, missed sessions go red (as do sessions where you exceed the allocated training time – I just go and alter the specified duration!).

The high spot for me this weekend was not on a bike but on my catamaran at Sully Sailing Club where we had a race in a good strong breeze (Force 4-5) on Sunday afternoon.  It was great to have a bit of a blast, trapeezing off the side of the catamaran both up wind and down wind.  The only downside was that the course was a little small (less than 6 minutes a lap) so I couldn’t make full use of all the sails (not enough time to deploy the spinnaker and really fly along!).  Anyway, it was great was a great way to blow away some mental cobwebs.

Next weekend I’m due to do a five hour ride taking in two or three long climbs so it’s going to be up into the south Wales valleys – I think I’ll try a new route to the Bwlch and the Rhigos climbs for a change.  The long range weather forecast for next weekend is about 22 degrees which will be a welcome reduction from this weekend’s 26-28 degrees.

On the fund raising front, my firm Geldards, is donating the proceeds of our monthly Dress Down Day in July to Dementia UK which will be a great way of boosting my running total.  It will also be a fantastic opportunity to tell all of my colleagues about the ride and why I am supporting Dementia UK.

If you would like to help Dementia UK continue and expand its support for families caring for loved ones with dementia, you can donate via my Virgin Money Giving page here You can find out more about the work of Dementia UK here

Dragon Tour – First Multi-Day Event

Over the weekend of 8 – 10 June, in order to prepare for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, I took part in my first multi-day cycling event – the Dragon Tour organised by Human Race Events which is badged as L’Etape Wales with links to the Tour de France.  The event culminated with the Dragon Ride, with distances ranging from 100 to 300 km.  I had booked to do the Gran Fondo at 223 km.

The start for the first two days was based just outside Crickhowell which offered the opportunity to do two different rides of under 100 km each in the Brecon Beacons taking in the climbs of Gospel Pass and The Tumble.

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Ready for the start on Day 1

I knew what to expect with The Tumble having ridden it twice in the Wales Velothon – basically a steep first half and a relentless grind for the second half once clear of the trees.  Gospel Pass was completely new to me, a gradual start and an absolutely horrible ramp up towards a cattle grid in the middle, followed by a reasonable gradient to the top.  My sunglasses glasses had completely steamed up by the cattle grid and I had to rely on a race marshall telling me not to stop and keep riding!

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The view from the top of Gospel Pass (Day 1)

The view from the top was spectacular even with the low cloud.

Day 2 included The Tumble climb – I managed a Personal Best time, followed by a great traverse of part of the Brecon Beacons plateau.  The descent off the plateau was fantastic despite following a lorry that was doing its best to burn out its clutch (it probably stopped me taking too many risks downhill).

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Brecon Beacons plateau – not so steep descent!

The last 20 miles were the longest 20 miles I have ridden in a while, constant hills and rolling terrain and being passed by faster cyclists – no peloton this time to draft behind.

The Dragon Ride started from Margam Park, near Port Talbot.  Sunday started bright and sunny, no cloud cover of any note unlike the previous days.

The day ended up being very hot which made pacing myself on the long climbs essential – no going for PBs uphill, just getting round was the key thing!  The descents off the Bwlch and the Rhigos were fast and great fun and made up for the long slog up.

In the end, the previous days’ rides took their toll and at the second feed station I decided to drop down to the Medio Fondo – still a ride of 150 km (about 95 miles).  My hamstrings were protesting and with the Deloitte Ride Across Britain being my goal there was no point injuring myself with three months to go to the start line in September.  I wasn’t alone in changing the route on the day given the high temperature.

I ended up with a ride time of 6 hours 40 minutes (compared to a total elapsed time of 7 hours 12 minutes).  Carl (who I rode with on a training ride recently) did the Gran Fondo in 9 hours which meant I’d have probably taken around 11 hours to finish given my average ride pace.  Clodagh, who showed all the men up at the Deloitte RAB training ride in April, went round the Gran Fondo in an astonishing elapsed time of 8 hours 37 minutes and won the Strava Queen of the Mountain for the event as fastest female rider over that distance plus was one of the fastest females over the Devil’s Elbow timed climb.  I certainly will not be trying to keep up with Clodagh on the Deloitte RAB !

What have I taken away from the Dragon Tour?

  • The multi-day format was great, particularly if you managed to get to know other riders
  • Pacing is key; it’s no good going off too fast and not being able to cope on the next day or the third day
  • Fuelling (eating enough) and keeping hydrated (drinking enough) is important, particularly with the very warm weather we had during the Dragon Ride
  • Riding in a peloton saves an enormous amount of energy and riders having a bad day are very grateful for a “tow”, even if you end up cycling a bit slower than you could manage
  • I can cycle the daily distance required on the Deloitte RAB but I can work on my climbing ability (basically more of what I posted about in Gravity)
  • A daily post ride massage, however short, worked wonders on tired muscles!

Overall the Dragon Tour was fantastic – I couldn’t fault the event organisation, particularly on the Dragon Ride.  The race marshalls were plentiful and dealt with the few tacks thrown on the road by disgruntled locals (upset by 5,000 riders visiting south Wales for the weekend, many with families, and spending their money in the area!).  The volunteers and staff in the feed stations were awesome, with a special mention for the feed station at Ystradfellte – so friendly and welcoming!  I certainly hope to take part in the Dragon Ride next year.

I’m doing the Deloitte RAB in part to raise lots of money for Dementia UK in memory of my father who suffered from dementia.  You can help me raise money by sponsoring me at my Virgin Money Giving page here