Day 9 Kyle of Sutherland to John O’Groats

The final day of the ride, a short 104 miles to John O’Groats with the ride profile showing lots of climbs and descents across the top of Scotland.

It was an early start from 6 am to make sure everyone got to the finish in plenty of time. Lights on in the dark as we set off. I started at 0624 with Stu W who I had cycled in with the previous day and had a met on the RAB Training Day in April. We shared the work up the first long draggy climb with me occasionally having to ask Stu to ease up – the 870 miles in the legs were having an effect! Near the end of the climb the wind started to pick up creating a horrible cross wind. We then turned the corner for the descent into Altnaharra and the first pit stop of the day.

WOW! What a descent! A steady drop and increasing wind behind us. We covered five miles in a flash and ended up doing the first 30 miles in 1 hour 50 minutes. We arrived at the pit stop to see staff hanging from the gazebo roof braces to stop them blowing away – it was a full on gale but without the rain.

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Pit stop at Altnaharra

 

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The road from Altnaharra alongside Loch Naver

If I thought the descent into Altnaharra was good, descent out was even better and the route took us alongside Loch Naver, full of white horses created by the wind. Once we hit the coast road after going through Bettyhill, we were able to take full advantage of the wide roads and lack of traffic. I really enjoyed the even better descents although lighter riders and riders with deep section wheels hated the cross winds. On the up slopes I even felt the wind pushing me up hill near the crests – definitely a time for sitting up straight and making yourself as big as possible.

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First sight of the sea north of Scotland
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The obligatory photo at John O’Groats

The gale force wind made it the fastest day of the 9 as I completed 100 miles in less than 6 hours moving time and the whole 104 miles in 6 hours 9 minutes (only 7 hours after leaving the Kyle of Sutherland).

After queuing for the photo by the sign post, there was more queuing for a shower (we got seriously cold at this point) and a coach ride to Inverness. I had a pizza with some friends who had the overnight sleeper train to catch to London. They didn’t have time for pudding so when I had checked into my hotel I went out to the restaurant next door and ordered two puddings and a pint – the waitress said it was the strangest order they’d had for a long time!

Highlights of the day:

  • Gale or storm force tail wind
  • All the terrific descents
  • The finish at John O’Groats
  • Two puddings and a pint in Inverness

I have now cycled 972 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats. I had a lift in a mechanic’s car for 10 miles after my crash at Preston which wrote off my cycle helmet.

The questions I expect everyone to ask at work – does your bottom hurt ? can you sit down? The answers are “A little bit” and “Yes, very easily”. The injury to my thigh has been causing more issues – something for a separate post.

You can still help me raise even more money for Dementia UK by donating on my Virgin Money Giving page here Let’s see if I can top £5,000 !

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

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

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

100 Days to Go !

It is now starting to get serious as there are now 100 days to go (or less depending when you read this blog post !) until the start of the 2018 Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  As one participant wrote on their blog we have now reached a tipping point – training cannot now be put off in the belief that we still have plenty of time to make up for missed sessions or times when you don’t put in a decent effort.  There is also the desire not to pick up an injury, catch a cold or even worse, have a crash – there is not really enough time to mend if you break something!

The organisers, Threshold Sports, sent out training plans last autumn suitable for beginners, intermediate and experienced cyclists.  I’ve been following a slightly different plan with my coach, Lawrence, at Enduraprep and I’m relieved to see there are some similarities between the plans, although I tend to do shorter, more intense sessions during the week and longer rides at the weekend.  I think I would struggle to do the two 1 1/2 to 2 hour mid week rides suggested by Threshold Sports, while a five hour ride at the weekend is no longer a faint hope but becoming the norm.

Threshold Sports sent out a questionnaire last week to the participants asking about our training in terms of length of rides and the type of bike we intend to use if not a road bike.  I hope I don’t received a “Must Do More” note from “teacher”!

I was glad last weekend was a Bank Holiday as I only managed to get out on the Monday for a long ride through the Vale of Glamorgan round to the west of Bridgend.  It was hot and sticky with a headwind on the way back – distinctly hard work.  I didn’t make it easy on myself as I decided to go up the climb up to Norton near Ogmore by Sea.  It is a short but steep climb – the 1 in 10 sign is wrong – it’s steeper!  Simon Warren, who has written a series of books about cycling climbs in the UK, only gives it a 2/10 score, probably on account of its short length.  There was a great view at the top.

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Top of Norton Hill, looking north west

Personally speaking, I prefer the longer, steadier (less steep climbs) of The Rhigos, The Bwlch and The Tumble (all rated much harder) any day !  This coming weekend I plan to do a training ride in preparation for the Etape Wales and Dragon Ride on 8-10 June.  Hopefully there will be a few of us “RABbers” taking part and we plan to investigate the Devil’s Elbow (a 7/10 climb).

My sponsorship page is now seeing a bit more action as it is easier to ask for sponsorship the closer I get to the event – I’ve received some very generous donations recently – thank you very much!  There is still plenty of time to support me in raising money for Dementia UK .  You can find my Virgin Money Giving page here

South Wales delivers over May Bank Holiday

What a difference a week makes – from chilly pretty miserable cycling weather to “wall to wall” sunshine and almost too hot for cycling !

On Saturday I completed my first cycling Century – 100 miles in a ride with 2,160 m of climbing.

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View from the top of the Bwlch

It is a bit scary to think that I’ll have to do a slightly longer distance each day for nine days in September in order to complete the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

I’ve just joined the Deloitte RAB Facebook group (a closed group for participants of the 2018 ride).  It is interesting to read some of the comments about lack of training and the hope that they’ll be “pulled along” by the rest of the riders – I have to admit I’d be concerned about a bit of wishful thinking considering how hard I found the Saturday ride.  Here is a 3D view of the ride Relive Link

I ended up climbing two of the Top UK 100 climbs – the Rhigos (from both sides) followed by the Bwlch from the Treorchy side.  There was then a long ride home via Bridgend and the coastal road through the Vale of Glamorgan.

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View from the top of the Rhigos

I worn the cycle top sent to me by Dementia UK as shown by the photo at the top of the Rhigos.

I did a light spin indoors on Sunday as I didn’t fancy the heat of the afternoon after sailing at Sully in the morning, although it was a bit of a drift fighting the tides due to lack of wind.

As Bank Holiday Monday was due to be even hotter I decided to get up fairly early and got out for a ride shortly after 7.30 and took out my Specialized Venge for a spin over 100 km or so.  This is a very different bike from the Cannondale SuperSix that I intend to ride on the Deloitte RAB.  The Venge is an “aero” bike designed to go fast.  The ride is fairly unforgiving as the bike is very stiff.  The Cannondale is also a race bike and very stiff but is designed with some clever tech to dampen some of the road buzz – I have also converted to tubeless tyres which can reduce punctures.  This was brought home to me when I got a puncture after less than 12 miles!  The rest of the ride was uneventful – lots of cyclists out, probably training for the Carten (Cardiff to Tenby) ride next weekend by the look of lots of cycle tops.

The Vale of Glamorgan was looking at its best – not a cloud to be seen and new surprises for me just west of Bridgend when I came across the Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve after riding down a dead end – quite unintentional !  The smell of freshly cooked bacon from the campsite wasn’t fair…

It is now four weeks until my next sportive – the Etape Wales and the Dragon Ride.  Lots more training to get through before then including a few more climbs.

If you’d like to help me raise money for Dementia UK please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here I’m a third of the way to my target if you include the Gift Aid !

Chilly riding for the end of April

Last weekend was the first for three weeks when I didn’t have an organised Sportive to attend – it was a good job too as the weather didn’t play ball !  My Saturday ride was more like riding in mid March with an average temperature of 8 degrees Celsius, in other words pretty cold with the need for leg warmers, long sleeved top and wind jacket.  So different from last weekend with bib-shorts and short sleeves.

I tried out a longer distance, intending to go round the west side of Bridgend.  However a wrong turn took me part way into Bridgend before I started to go the right direction to Porthcawl.  A look on the map afterwards shows me where to go next time I want to ride a fairly flat ride – only 1,200 m of climbing in 113 km, not bad for the Vale of Glamorgan.

Repeating some of the routes allows me to see the changing of the seasons, definitely darker looking green grass and more leaves appearing on the trees.

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Here are a couple of photos taken from the same vantage point from a couple of earlier blogs and hopefully I’ll be able to repeat the process over the coming months.

In terms of training, the last few months are starting to pay off.  I did a Functional Threshold Power test last Wednesday, the 20 minute version rather than the hour long test – I do wonder if anyone does the full hour !  For those who haven’t heard of or done a FTP test, it involves warming up for around 15 minutes (minimum) and then riding as hard as possible for 20 minutes on a static bike that measures your power output.  I managed an average power of 259 watts over the 20 minutes which is only 2 watts off my personal best set after two weeks of riding everyday on holiday in Greece.  Although the test is absolutely horrible to do, I will probably do a couple more FTPs before September to test my fitness levels.  I have found the key to the test is not to start too hard but to try and be consistent for the first 10 minutes and then try and increase the output a little – the last three minutes are always the worst!

It’s now less than six weeks to the next Sportive, the Dragon Tour with L’Etape Wales, which involves two days riding in the Brecon Beacons near Crickhowell and then the Dragon Ride from Margam Country Park near Port Talbot.  It will be a good test of riding long distances on consecutive days and a few of my new cycling friends from the Deloitte RAB I met on the training ride will also be taking part.

Do remember, I am doing the Deloitte RAB to raise money for Dementia UK and you can visit my Virgin Money Giving page here