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 !

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 !

Two weeks to go!

The start of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain became very real this morning when I received my rider number in the post.  I am rider number 23 !  I can’t think of anything witty linked to the number 23 except it was my age when I started work as a trainee solicitor…far too long ago.

I also decided to get most of my kit together by going through the official Threshold Sports kit list.  Here is most of the kit

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All the kit – some idea !

– there are a few items missing, like flip flops, waterproof trousers, a warm jacket for use in the camp, sleeping bag, blow up pillow and sleeping mat (for the one night when I have to camp in the middle of Scotland).  It looks like I have everything and there will be no need to visit bike shops or outdoors shops for last minute additions.

It all seems a big bundle of stuff and you may wonder why I need everything?  Well, I am riding 980 miles in nine days and we have two laundry runs after three and six days.  However, the laundry is limited to six items of clothing which means three jerseys and three bib shorts.  For the benefit of the non-cyclists reading this blog, bib shorts are cycling shorts with sort of built in braces which are much more comfortable to wear than shorts with a waist-band.  I also have to be ready for whatever weather we encounter when cycling the length of Great Britain – it did rain on eight of the nine days in 2017!

If you can’t identify what is what in the photo above here are the the items broken down into different collections (I think I must have been doing far too much online shopping to come up with that phrase).

First we have the cycling jerseys, three short sleeved (hopefully sunny weather) and one long sleeved.

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The jerseys!

It was easy to pick two tops – the Dementia UK top and the Deloitte Ride Across Britain top.  The third top was more difficult – in the end I chose the Dragon Ride top as a nod to where I live and work in Wales – it is also a great design!  The long sleeved jersey was chosen because it is a bright colour and very light weight!

We also have a selection of wet weather gear including the cycling jackets, one for rain, a wind top and a gillet for early morning starts when I don’t think (or hope there will be any rain).  All the jackets are from Rapha and I’ve had them for a while so I know that they work – expensive but worth it.

I also have over-socks and over-shoes to try and keep the cycling shoes dry when it rains.  In reality, the over-socks and over-shoes merely delay the inevitable of wet feet as the water just runs down the legs and into the shoes – I don’t fancy resorting to duck tape round the top of the socks (and I’m not shaving my legs!).  Other items of clothing for keeping warm include base layers (short sleeved and long sleeved), mainly made with Merino wool which keeps me warm even when it gets wet, and arm and leg warmers from Castelli which are meant to shed light rain showers.

The final photos include my cycling helmet (compulsory), various gloves, cycling glasses,  hats and a neck warmer.

There is also a collect of what I call “Bits and Pieces” including some lights, a spare tyre, a few tools, equipment charger, Garmin cycling computer to record the ride, sun cream, midge repellent and the all important Chamois cream to ensure a reduction in friction between the bits shorts and my backside!  I’ve also included a portable ultrasound machine which could be useful if I have a strained muscle during the ride.

We now have a Bank Holiday weekend coming up and it will be my last really long rides (of about five hours) before the start of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  The forecast is for dry weather on Saturday and Monday – Sunday looks like a complete wash out with rain and strong winds (I will not be taking any risks going out cycling on Sunday).

There is still time to sponsor me to help support the work of Dementia UK so that families can access advice and support to care for loved ones with dementia, like my father.  Have a read of my post  Why am I supporting Dementia UK in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain ? John Evans (1934 – 2010) to see why I am putting myself through the ride to raise money for Dementia UK.  You can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here

Two Months To Go – Training Review

In two months time I should, all being well, be sat down in Bath having completed Day 2 of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  The ride will be 980 miles over 9 days.  I’ll see how I feel about finding an extra 20 miles, perhaps on Day 4 (meant to be an “easy day”) to take it up to a round 1,000 miles!  I just hope the weather is slightly cooler than it has been recently, not that I’m asking for rain, it’s just that I completed a 2 hour ride this morning and it had already reached 27 degrees according to my Garmin by 10 am!  I felt sorry for the riders in the Wales Velothon riding up to 140 km (87 miles) today.

While the ride itself will be a challenge having to ride an average of 110 miles a day for 9 days, the training in order to be fit enough to enjoy the ride has been much more of a commitment than I ever expected.  My aim, all along, has been to be able to complete the ride.  However, I think it is important to be able take in the experience of riding the length of Great Britain and not to have to worry about being caught up by the broom wagon and this requires a certain level of fitness.  Threshold Sports, the organisers of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, made training programmes available to all the riders.

Today I sat down and added up the total time I have spent training for the ride since 1 January this year:

  • Rides inside on a turbo trainer (56 sessions)
    • 46 hours 40 minutes
    • 1,335 km or 834 miles
  • Rides outside (34 rides)
    • 107 hours 17 minutes
    • 2,733 km or 1,708 miles
  • Elevation gain (combined) 41,429 m or 135,922 feet
  • 19 separate gym sessions of up to an hour each working on strength training

As the year as gone on, the training time has increased each month both in terms of time, distance and intensity.  I am a lot fitter than I was in January and weigh 8kg less! A lot of credit has to go to Lawrence at Enduraprep who has designed my training plan and kept my training going in the right direction.

The ride this morning meant a reasonably early start to try and avoid the heat, I also had to be at my sailing club by 12 noon for a sailing duty.  On the ride round Cardiff Airport I met an 82 year rider who was seriously quick despite his age (and kept me puffing on the climbs) – he told me he was still competing in time trials well into his 70s.  I’d be delighted to still be cycling at that age let alone competing.  He was also taking a brand new bike for a spin, so it goes to show that the formula for the number of bikes (n+1, n being the number of bikes you already have), i.e. there is always a reason for another bike, applies even when you reach your 8th decade !

Continuing with an earlier theme of taking pictures in the same place to show the changing seasons, here is a picture taken near Dyffryn Gardens with the oaks trees in full leaf and the grass standing tall !

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Near Dyffrn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan

There is still plenty of time to sponsor me to help raise lots of money for Dementia UK   I have been very fortunate recently to receive some very generous donations so I am getting close to my initial target.  Remember the target is there to be smashed so please don’t hold back!  You can reach 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

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

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