15 weeks to go !

I’m starting to count down the weeks to starting the Deloitte Ride Across Britain – it is now 15 weeks to go according to Training Peaks which I use to track my training and fitness.

The big news this week was the announcement by the ride organisers, Threshold Sports, of the final route with big changes announced for Scotland.  This year we will be climbing up through the Cairngorms to the east of Scotland rather than Rannoch Moor to the west.  It means that we will climb up through Glenshee rather than Glen Coe.  From my point of view it will mean going very close to where I stayed with my parents when I saw my sister, Caroline, graduate from the University of St Andrews (a few years before William and Catherine I hasn’t to add!).  We spent a couple of very nice days at Dalmunzie Hotel – this was before my father started suffering from dementia, so the ride could be a little bitter sweet bringing back some memories from quite a few years ago.  No golf clubs this time though!  The hotel is situated on a long “out and back” road so I’m not sure I’ll actually go and visit.

The route change has resulted in a longer ride – now at 980 miles according to some calculations and over 50,000 feet of climbing.  The reaction on the Facebook forum for the ride has been mixed to say the least!  Some regulars are not happy at the changes, particularly the extra climbing and one particularly steep bit (allegedly a 20% gradient).  Others, like me, don’t mind one bit – I’m sure the scenery will be fantastic and hopefully the roads will be a bit quieter than the road through Rannoch Moor.  Judging by some of the posts last year about the ride, some of the locals were not happy about being held up by lots of cyclists.

Training is still going well.  The good weather over the last couple of weeks is certainly helping.  My long ride last weekend was a trip round the the west of Bridgend, a distance of 119 km with climbing of 1,273 m.  The aim was a flat ride if at all possible.

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Ogmore Estuary

This weekend the aim was more climbing (at least two hills) and I covered 87 km with 1,355m of climbing.  I ended up riding the hill up to Pentyrch (and got my best time) and two of the three climbs up to the top of Caerphilly Mountain.  I gave the really tough climb from Caerphilly itself a miss – the Caerphilly 10k run was taking place and I wasn’t sure of the road closures.

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Changing seasons near Dyffryn Gardens

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!  I’m sure I will be visiting the tough climb over the summer as I need all the practise I can get to improve my climbing ability.

Fingers crossed for decent weather for the Bank Holiday weekend coming up.  On Saturday I’ve got a visit to the gardens at RHS Wisley courtesy of my alma mater Reading University – I’m taking my mother as she hasn’t seen the gardens for over 20 years!  It will be back home for sailing on Sunday afternoon and a long ride on the Monday.

If you would like to help me support Dementia UK, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

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

RAB Training Ride

Last Sunday saw 60 or so participants congregate fairly early in the morning in Princes Risborough, on the edge of the Chilterns, for a training ride organised by Threshold Sports who have the unenviable task of marshalling all the riders from Land’s End to John O’Groats in September.  For all of us who attended it was an opportunity to ask questions, meet fellow riders, hear some top tips from previous participants in the Ride Across Britain (or RAB for short) and have a small taste of what is to come.

If you haven’t seen it, here is a video on YouTube showing what the RAB could be like RAB video The video was recorded during the 2016 RAB because the Threshold Chaperones (riders from Threshold Sports who acted as guides out on the ride) told us that it rained for 8 out of 9 days in 2017 !  I really do hope summer lasts until 17 September in the UK this year….

Back to the morning, as expected a lot of the riders had travelled from in and around London – apparently the conductor on the Chiltern Railways train from Marylebone was not particularly happy with 12 bikes and riders on an early morning train from London.  At least it was early and not a Saturday when the train can be packed with shoppers heading to Bicester Village!  Everyone was friendly although a little apprehensive about what was in store for us during the day.

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Top tips session

I thought I had done well travelling from Cardiff (I bumped into Carl who had also come up from Cardiff) but I think the winner for distance travelled must have been Martin who travelled from Wigan.  I cheated a bit as I stayed with my Mother in Haddenham – I still cycled the six miles to and from the venue.

The best top tips top tips were:

  • Pack everything into a big bag with lots of spare space as kits seems to expand
  • Don’t believe the marketing blurb that your bag is waterproof; use lots of smaller plastic bags
  • Get organised and have a routine; pack your kit the night before and get the riding gear ready.  You don’t want to be the phaffer who keeps their friends waiting or even worse gets turfed out of their tent by the ground-staff packing up the camp site!
  • Bring ear plugs (plus some gloves and a hat for the Scottish nights)
  • Ride within your capacity in the first two days to avoid the Medical Tent (the two days up through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath are “the worst”).  By day five the tortoise will catch the hare who could be “in bits and held together by sports tape”
  • Don’t linger in the feed station pit stops.  However, one of our chaperones confessed to a three hour pit stop last year waiting for the rain to stop – it didn’t!
  • Respect other road users; no more than 10 in a group, be prepared to let car tailbacks pass, obey the Highway Code
  • Bring a spare rear derailleur hanger for your bike just in case
  • Keep the training going

We were split into groups of 10 for the rides based on average speed estimates.  Carl and I were chatting about going in the “fast medium” group of say 15 mph average rather than the fast 16-18 mph group – there were some fit looking cyclists at the event.  A shout went up for two more to join the fast group – Carl and I looked at each other and thought “Sod it” and volunteered.  It was the right choice as the route was fairly flat compared to what we are used to in the Vale of Glamorgan and South Wales and keeping up was not a problem (thank goodness).

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Simon and Clodagh doing all the work and leading the group

A few hills sorted us out on the first 40 mile loop, particularly Ladder Hill in Wheatley.  We dropped one team member who had over-estimated his average speed at the feed station and then the speed notched up to closer 20 mph on the flat stages in the second 20 mile loop.  I was quite happy to sit in the group and draft (saving energy).  Clodagh, our sole female rider, put all the men to shame by setting the pace at the front with Simon, one of the chaperones, on the first lap and nailing the Queen of the Mountain time on the end of route sprint.  It turns out that Clodagh does triathlons where you are not allowed to draft and she wanted the full benefits of the ride as a training session.

After 60 miles we finished the formal part of the ride.  A couple of us decided to do an extra “finisher” and do a short lap up Whiteleaf Hill.  This is one of the UK’s named 100 Climbs on Strava so on the bucket list of lots of riders.  It is only 1.3 km (just under a mile) in length but averages a 9.4% gradient and according to my Garmin GPS unit nearly touched 20% (or 1 in 5 at one point when I was “moving” at 2 kph) – in reality I think it is 16% in places but still seriously steep.  I was amazed at the Strava time when I got home (after an extra 6 mile ride trying the beat the rain) to see that I had still set my fastest time on the climb even after 60 miles of riding.

The event finished with some very tasty tomato and vegetable sauce with pasta.  If the food at the end and at the feed station is anything to go by we will not be going hungry during the ride in September.

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Post ride chat and refuelling
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Goodies at the feed station!

There was lots of checking the ride on Strava (I must update the data plan on my mobile) and swapping telephone numbers and email addresses.  I will definitely be catching up with Carl for some training rides from Cardiff.  A few others are taking part in the Dragon ride in early June – 223 km round the climbs of South Wales and the Brecon Beacons (three more UK 100 Climbs to tick off) and there was talk of some London based riders coming down to south Wales to take advantage of our “proper” long climbs!  All in all, a great event and I was pleasantly surprised how I managed to cope.  I just have to keep up the training and be prepared to cycle in wet weather  – fingers crossed for an “Indian Summer”.  Thanks to Threshold Sports and particularly for our chaperones, Simon and John, for telling us what it is really like on the RAB – bring on September!

As a reminder, I am raising money for Dementia UK, have a read of my About page for my reasons for supporting Dementia UK.  If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

Five months to go !

It is slightly scary to think that in exactly five months time I should be in Bath having cycled from Oakhampton during the day.  Next weekend I have a training day with other riders taking part the in the event.  It will be a great opportunity to meet some of the riders and compare how we are getting on with the training.  The day starts at Princes Risborough which is six miles from where my Mother lives which makes it very convenient.  It is also her birthday weekend so a good opportunity for a visit.  One of the rides near Princes Risborough is Whiteleaf Hill, a climb of about a mile and a half but with an incline in parts of 16% – hopefully the training ride organisers will not be that cruel to take us up it !

Today I took part in the KOM Sportive organised by Lawrence Cronk, my trainer at Enduraprep.  It was dry (great) and slightly cool (even better with the amount of climbing we had to do).  I chose to do the “short” ride of 98 km which still involved 1,883m of climbing.  I couldn’t face the 130 km ride with something like 2,800m of climbing.  I was slightly faster than last year even though this years route was longer and involved more hills – hopefully this is a good sign.  I’ll be going over the other statistics from the ride later (it’s the geek in me).

The ride started out from Treforest and almost immediately we had a 11% climb through Pontypridd and up towards Llanwonno.

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Towards Ferndale

The downhhill into Ferndale was pretty good but not as good as the road from the top pf the Rhigos into Treherbert – fantastic smooth tarmac and a top speed of 67 kph!

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Rhigos climb

The second feed station was reached up what can only be described as a cart track – narrow, stones and rocks in the middle and seriously steep.  The worst point was meeting a 4×4 which was coming down the track and I had to stop – getting going and clipping back into the pedals was not fun.

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Key question : What to eat at the feed stations !

The last major hill of the day for me was the Church Road climb into Pentyrch, a ride I had done a couple of times before.  Rather than turning left at the top which I had done on the previous rides, we had to turn right and continued climbing – not at all what I was expecting.  The final incline was a short sharp hill up to the finishing line in the University of South Wales campus – all the riders ended up being in their best climbing gear and seriously out of breath !

All in all a good 4 and a bit hours of cycling so a big thank you to the organisers.  I just need to see where I came on the timed climb up the Rhigos.  I also have a nice new KOM polka dot buff, although I’m not sure how long it will stay white…img_0568.jpg

If you would like to sponsor me to help the work of Dementia UK please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

Spring is here at last !

It finally felt like Spring had arrived this weekend with two dry rides over Saturday and Sunday.  Saturday was a bit of a surprise as light rain was forecast in the morning.  However, the rain held off and I had my first 100 km plus ride of the year (about 64 miles) in just over four hours.  I’ve only got to increase the distance to 110 miles to match the distance I have to cover each day in September – all a bit worrying!

Sunday morning was nice and sunny so I thought I’d do a two hour “cake and coffee” ride to Cowbridge and back through the Vale of Glamorgan.  IMG_0546Lots of other cyclists had the same idea and both Costa and Cafe Nero in Cowbridge were doing a roaring trade from visiting riders.

You don’t realise how many small hills there are in “the Vale” until you get out on a bike.  However, you do get to see the changing seasons in the countryside and signs of life after the rather grey winter days.

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Primroses opposite Dyffryn Gardens

One thing that does disappoint me is the amount of litter in the verges and hedge rows.  The worst section today was the Old Port Road just above Wenvoe on the way to St Lythans – full of Carling and Coke cans plus discarded McDonalds containers.  Perhaps a deposit scheme may reduce the cans being thrown out of cars?

I’ll be saving the “Big Hills” of the south Wales Valleys for Sunday 8th April – the KOM Sportive organised by my trainer Lawrence KOM link.  I really don’t have any option but to take part – the alternative would be multiple intervals sessions on a turbo trainer and burpees until failure!  I’ll decide on the day whether I do the 130 km or 95 km routes – both have lots of climbing (my pet hate, probably because it would help if I lost a bit of weight).  I’ve also entered the L’Etape Wales and the Dragon ride in June – plenty more climbing over three days.  It will be a good test for the legs and lungs.

Finally, with a break from the bike, I had my first sail of the year at Sully Sailing Club IMG_0551on the Bristol Channel in the afternoon.  I’ve been sailing for over 40 years and it’s a good “release” for me. I sailed a Laser today which is a full body workout, with particular emphasis on core strength – think of doing sit ups for 5 minutes every 10 minutes or so when sailing round a course.  A bit of cross training for the bike riding.  I even managed to win both races although there were less than 30 seconds in it despite each race being between 40 and 50 minutes long !

Finally, a reminder why I’m doing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain in September and asking you to sponsor me.  I want to raise lots of money for Dementia UK, a charity that helps people with dementia and their carers.  Dementia is a horrible disease for everyone concerned and any support can make a huge difference.  You can visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

First longer ride of the year

Last Sunday saw my first ride of more than 50 miles in 2018 when I managed 60 miles riding round the Vale of Glamorgan.  When I uploaded the ride on to Strava it was a little disappointing to see I was less than 4 km short of riding 100km !  Regular riders will be aware of the saying “If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen !”.  There is nothing worse than getting home from a long ride and finding that your cycle computer has failed to save all the details from the ride.

For non-cyclists, Strava is an application that can be used to show where you’ve ridden.  It also adds an element of competition by dividing routes into “segments” which are timed on the basis of your speed.  The quickest riders get the King or Queen of the Mountain for that segment.  The times can be broken down into All Time, Yearly and That Day.  If pay for a premium edition, you can also see how you compare against your age group and weight category – no cheating by claiming you are 110kg when you are actually 85 kg !  Strava segments can get quite competitive, although I only use it to see how I compare to other rides I have done over the same route.  The only problem is that it can get very demoralising when you’ve noticed that your quickest time on a segment is from two years ago.

Here is a link to my last ride Strava ride  in the Vale of Glamorgan.  It has quite a lot of data which great for a bit of data geek like me.  I like to compare “numbers” and see if I’m getting fitter from an empirical point of view rather than just “feel” on the bike.  Other riders may just rely on whether their jeans have a looser fit….

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View from Southerndown

Normally during the week, I have some training to do in the evenings set by my personal trainer, Lawrence Cronk at Enduraprep  Lawrence knows by now that I won’t do the training the in the mornings before work – it just will not happen !  I’m afraid this week Lawrence is going to be very disappointed.   I’m a volunteer on Challenge Wales, a charity run 72 foot sail training yacht, and we had a volunteer strategy meeting on Monday night.  Tonight saw me attend a Penderyn whiskey tasting event (for work) as a guest of the Wales Millennium Centre (very nice !) and tomorrow I have a visit with my sailing club to Penarth RNLI centre.  It’s a very good job that the Ride Across Britain is not for another 27 weeks!

If you would like to sponsor me please visit  my Virgin Money Giving page  and help support Dementia UK.  You may even be the first person to sponsor me !