Deloitte Ride Across Britain – two weeks on

It seems ages since I got back home only two weeks ago after completing the hardest nine days of my life!  I went out for my first outside ride on Saturday since the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride and rediscovered my love of cycling.  No sticking to a training plan, no worrying about power output, average speed or Strava segments, just riding in the gorgeous autumn sunshine round the Vale of Glamorgan.  I went for a ride through the lanes and had a coffee at one of my favourite cycle cafes, Cafe Velo in Llantwit Major.  There’s always a cyclist or two, sometimes a whole peloton, having coffee, cake or a slice and being welcomed by Dave, Julie and Ellie-May.

I posted about the ride on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain Facebook group page (a closed site before you ask) and have been amazed by the number of likes and comments.  I think it struck a chord with a lot of riders who pushed themselves to the limit to complete the ride.  I know the Deloitte RAB is meant to be all about enjoying cycling, however, riding nine consecutive century rides (plus a bit or a lot more most days) takes more than just enjoyment to complete!

I have put together a film of my best photos from the trip plus a few from the professional photographers and Threshold Sports (taken from places that I just couldn’t get to) and up loaded it to You Tube which can be accessed here  It does start to play immediately, at least on my computer.  Any editing errors (including the music choice from Apple iMovie) are all mine as is not crediting anyone whose photo I have used by mistake.

As for my fundraising, I am absolutely astonished and delighted to have reached £5,000 (plus Gift Aid) today for Dementia UK  It is going to make such a difference to the work Dementia UK can do to help support families dealing with dementia.  If you ever need any advice or support regarding dementia, I do urge you to call their helpline.  If you would like to sponsor me, you can still donate via my Virgin Money Giving page for a couple more weeks via a link here  I think honours are now just about even between me and my sister as to who has raised more money for Dementia UK with my cycle ride and her London Marathon in 2016.  Our father would have been terribly proud of both of us.

Finally, this could be the last post I write about the Deloitte Ride Across Britain and my 11 month journey of training and taking part in the ride.  I hope you have enjoyed reading the blogs as much I have enjoyed writing them.  Any suggestions as to continuing the blog would be gratefully received.

Reflections on completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain

A week ago I got home after completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, having ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats, a distance of 982 miles in nine days.

The overwhelming feeling is a huge sense of achievement in completing the ride and remaining physically strong, subject to the crash injuries which didn’t stop me cycling but probably had an adverse effect towards the end of the ride.  No trips to the physios or any requirement for sports tape!  I’m sure my father would have been terribly proud of me – all my family have said they are slightly in awe at what I have done after following my daily blog and tracking my ride in “real time” on Strava.  Why am I supporting Dementia UK in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain ? John Evans (1934 – 2010) I had a succession of great messages on Whats App during the ride, most motivational and some asking what had happened to me on Day 5 (my second crash on the railway level crossing) as I seemed to be going at a snail’s pace to pit stop 1!  I had a lovely card from my colleagues at work today saying how well I had done – something I will get framed for the office wall!

The ride also showed me parts of Great Britain that I have never seen before – Shropshire, part of the Lake District between Preston and Penrith and my personal favourites the Cairngorms and Scottish Highlands on Days 7 and 8.  I would love to go back and retrace some of the Scottish legs and have a bit more time to take in the scenery and take a few more photos.

Threshold Sports had warned us before the event that Days 1 and 2 through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath would be the toughest.  In retrospect, I found the cumulative effect of Days 7 and 8 the hardest days of the ride, both long days at 114 and 119 miles respectively plus an awful lot of climbing (both steep hills and long energy sapping drags).

The question I am always being asked is “Would you do it again?”.  The answer is “No”.  Not because I didn’t enjoy it, I did enjoy the experience and I’ve mentioned the achievement and scenery.  However, it is a bucket list box “ticked”.  We were also incredibly lucky with the weather.  If you split the nine days into three sectors per day (making 27 in total) we had wet weather on no more than five sectors.  We also had strong tail winds for virtually the whole ride.  Day 9 would have been a completely different, horrible experience with a northerly headwind and rain.  I wouldn’t want to tempt fate and ruin the great memories by doing the ride again in bad weather. Things would have been so different if the ride had been a week later.

Is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain for you?

The short answer is “Yes” if you want to challenge yourself both physically and mentally and have the best possible support in completing a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride.  The Threshold Sports slogan is “More is in you”.  This was certainly true for a large number of riders.  I was pretty fit before I started training and then spent the best part of nine months training for the ride so that I am now as fit as I have been for over 20 years.  It meant that I my average “moving pace” over the whole ride was 15 mph so I was able to get into camp most days by 3.30 pm giving myself as much recovery time as possible.  I wouldn’t have coped with getting in each day just before the 7 pm cut off time.

My tips for a successful ride would be:

  • Train consistently and a lot for the ride.  I am looking forward to “getting my life back”.  Two Months To Go – Training Review  I have the greatest respect for the families of riders given the amount of training required.  I didn’t have anyone to “report to” or ask permission from when training.
  • Do not underestimate the relentless nature of riding over 100 miles a day for nine straight days and the impact it has on your body.  You cannot get away with just riding 40-50 mile training rides – the RAB “bubble” will not get you through to the end.  That said, nothing can prepare you for the ride itself!
  • Do train on hills, both long draggy hills and shorter steep hills.
  • Get a rear cassette with as high a gear as possible.  I had an 11-34 cassette and was grateful for every one of the 34 teeth when married up with a 50 34 compact front chain ring when going up The Lecht, Glenshee and Cothelstone Hill.  Do not be taken in by the cyclists who say that a semi-compact 53-39 front chain ring and an 11-28 rear cassette will be fine unless you are whippet thin and can climb like Chris Froome or Alberto Contador!
  • Have a professional bike fit for your bike well before the event and get used to riding the bike so that you do not get any niggles when riding.
  • If you don’t like camping, go for the Plus package – worth every penny for the long, hot showers, comfy beds and space to unpack all your kit each night.  You also get a 20 minute sports massage each day rather than 10 minutes every other day – trust me, it makes a difference!
  • Consider using a personal trainer experienced with training people for endurance events.  Threshold Sports do issue a training programme but I found it much easier to have my trainer, Lawrence Cronk (an Ironman coach) at Enduraprep, checking my progress and tailoring my programme to fit round sportives that I entered.  There was also the threat of a “kick up the backside” from someone if training slipped which can be useful with long periods of training.
  • Invest in decent wet weather gear and train when it is raining; you will then know if it keeps you dry and how you react to being cold and wet (badly in my case).  The suggest kit list from Threshold Sports is definitely useful – how some riders managed at the start of Day 8 without leg warmers and full gloves, I will not know – it was freezing!
  • I went to the Ride Across Britain training day in April which I found extremely useful, both to meet other riders, get some practical tips and to see how my training was going compared to other riders. RAB Training Ride
  • Chose a charity that resonates with you on a personal basis as it is then much easier to ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you.  It also gives you the added impetus to keep training and riding during the ride itself.
  • If you are a stronger rider, do slow down and be prepared to help or tow weaker riders, even if it just to the next pit stop or camp – remember, it is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain rather than the Race Across Britain!

I am working on a slide show “film” of my photos from the ride and will post a link to it when completed.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has sponsored me so far for the ride.  I have now raised just over £4,750 (plus Gift Aid) to support the work of Dementia UK  My Virgin Money Giving page is still open for donations and can be reached here.  To reach £5,000 would be absolutely amazing!

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