Saturday, 31 October 2009

I'm a cheeky Boy

I did something cheeky & sneaky yesterday, wasn't intentional but it happened. I was looking at the Kilotogo website and noticed the Cheshire Cat 2010 page was up with all the rides listed with profiles, GPX's etc and an entry button - this was on Friday, two days before entries are to be opened officially. So clicked the button, paid my money and I was in for the 100 mile version starting from Crew this time rather than last years Knutsford. Got my email confirmations, went back onto the Kilotogo website to see my name on the entered page but I was the only one - strange, I thought there would be at least a dozen or so. Went back a few minutes later to find all those pages had been pulled off the net, I'm a little worried now so check my emails and notice that I had an email from the Kilotogo organiser saying;
Hi Mark - That was slick! We're just doing a few tweaks to the website getting ready for entries opening on Sunday and you crept in and only went and entered the Cheshire Cat. We opened entries for a few moments. Don't worry, you are in OK but hold the unique accolade of entering before entries actually open.
Lol, at the very least I can say that I came first in the Cat, certainly not on the ride itself but definitely in something.

Looking at the routes and profiles for both the 67 and 100 mile rides, the hills start 16 miles in with Mow Cop being the first and Wincle the last but no Macclesfied Forest this time. Last year the 100 miler had nearly 60 miles of Cheshire flat before hitting the hills, 2010's version will be reversed with a 16 mile run in to the hills with the the flats coming last.

Although I've signed up for the 100 miler my plan is if I'm not up for the full fat version after the hills it's easy to bail out onto the 67 mile semi-skimmed and miss the final 27 miles of flat.

Here's a video preview of the 'legendary' Mow Cop. It doesn't do the gradients justice - you will notice by how much when you actually do ride the hill.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

North Cheshire Clarion club run 25 Oct 2009

With the clocks going back an hour for the start of British wintertime we all got an hour extra in bed so at 9am (10am old time) all 7 of us gathered at Stretton for what promised to be a very windy day. Metcheck had winds of 19-23mph for the morning easing off slightly for the afternoon.

No real ride leader for the day but Andy and Dave had some suggestions for the route so it was west into and through Frodsham then over (snigger snigger) Alvanley with it's hill that made a few of us sweat a little before heading through Mouldsworth with a cafe stop at the Elvis transport cafe nr Tarvin complete with a singing reindeer mounted on the wall surrounded by hundreds of Elvis photo's.

After the tea n cake we continued the loop ending up at Willington corner tantalisingly close to Chapel Ln but good common sense prevailed and we did a right missing Chapel lane out and curving round to Delamere Forest, right at Hatchmere through Norley across the A49 before hitting the narrow country lanes once more and on back to Stretton.

The rain held off, the temperature was mild and you kind of got used to a wind that didn't really abate for the duration of the ride. A good run that wasn't too hilly - but certainly not flat. Alvanley hill which was the first hill to make me get off and walk last year not long after I started riding was the only real challenge of the day, but a nice steady slow climb had me up easy enough even though it did get the old ticker working hard.

My stats
41.3 miles, 2hrs37min, Av Speed 15.8, 1588ft climbing.

North Cheshire Clarion club run 18 Oct 2009

A 9am start had me up at 7, porridge a bagel and a mug of tea had me ready to go, ran out to the garage to get the bike ready and it was flippin cold. 2 under layers, a light wind proof jacket, skullcap, biblongs and overshoes was the choice of clothing that served me well for the day. No wind to speak of with a temp of around 5-10'C.

Rode out from home, only 7 miles / 30min at a nice easy pace got me to Stretton - the start point. Andy was the ride leader today and he took us on a loop around Cheshire. A nice easy start had us headed west to Frodsham then we hit a few hills around Delamere which slowed us down a little then on through Kelsall and Willington before having a cafe stop in a nice little place in Cotebrook.

The food looked great but the service came complete with a surly face, a shame really as it was a nice little place to stop for a bite. Moving on we headed north-east past Oulton Park and on to Little Budworth, Weaverham and onto the A49 before doing a right turn and onto the last hill of the day, a hill of around 8% and then the last few miles back to Stretton.

A good nicely balanced route - not too easy or hard definitely a good work out for all 10 of us, I certainly felt it in the legs on the hills around Delamere but overall not too difficult seeing as we bypassed the more challenging hills in the area.

My Ride Stats
Distance 55.26 miles - Time 3hrs36min - Avg Speed 15.3mph - Climbing 1627 ft

Week end ride 11 Oct 2009

No Clarion ride this w/e, the Clarionists meet every two weeks for the road run until the time that there is the demand and numbers for a weekly ride.

So we (myself & Phil) resorted to our own devices and old habits setting off for our usual cafe stop at the Ice Cream Farm near Tattenhall. By old habits I mean finding hills to climb and once climbed then riding at a fair old whack to the next hill. Now in our locality there are hills to climb if you look for them, there is a spine of hills ranging from Frodsham in the north through Helsby and finishing around Willington in the south and our usual route takes us through these areas - deliberately of course simply because not too long ago I in particular was crap on hills and the general advice for improving your hill climbing ability is simple - ride them thar hills, seek out and conquer them. A year on I have improved somewhat, not as much as I would have liked but all the hills I at one time walked up in this area are now conquered every weekend. I'm not saying I'm a mountain goat able to just waltz up em, no, I take the hills at my own slow pace, sometimes out of the saddle more usually in the saddle and in my lowest gear.

Old habits die hard they say and yes they do, but what we have come to understand is that your body mind and spirit needs rest, you cannot continuously go at it 100% all year round, you need to back off and give yourself chance to rest and heal. I have bought a few books over the last year or so looking for training regimes in particular and what I have generally found is that these books are designed for serious 'athletes' who have at least 8 hours per week to spare for training. I have found that my body atm cannot cope with that amount - that's over training to me complete with colds and sleeping problems but in saying that, in these programmes defence - I have not tried to follow them - I just know that going 'at it' as I have done in the past for 8hrs a week wipes me out and is defo no fun - not that these books endorse 'going at it', far from it, I have to sit down read them thoroughly, stick to the plan and make them work for me

Anyway I aim to get some serious training in for next years Sportives so I bought myself 'The Time Crunched Cyclist - Fit, Fast and Powerful in 6 Hours a Week' by Chris Carmichael to help me along. It sounds ideal for me, I'm not a racer nor is my goal to ride some huge foreign Sportive - although that would change if I could pass the required medical. I'm the weekend warrior with a few domestic sportives in the pipeline who enjoys his riding and wants to improve.

This book makes good reading, Carmichael goes into some detail about the theory behind his workouts. He details four different training programmes depending on your goals. He has you go through a 'field test' to determine your average max heart rate or power before you start any of these programmes then gives you a series of ratios to workout the various HR zones or power zones you will be working in. What I have now learnt from working out my zones is that I have gone out too hard every time I have ridden my bike - I have been working at too high a HR for way way too long and that cannot be doing me any good.

So back to old habits and all that, we (myself & Phil) discussed before this ride that following the advice from this book we should be doing 'EMs' - Endurance Miles before starting one of the training programmes which meant taking it easy and avoiding the hills to keep the HR down contrary to our normal habits of 'going for it'. My HR max although not tested properly (i'm no masochist) has peaked at 191 bpm so working out the ratios I need to keep my HR below 150bpm and that is not easy on the hills we needed to ride to get to our cafe stop.

So that was the 'story' behind this ride - keep that HR down even if it meant being overtaken by grandma on her zimmerframe. I think we were mostly successful, for much of the ride we were able to keep to less than 150bpm but of course when we hit the hills our HR's did go up to 160bpm at times, can't be helped on this route I'm afraid, we will just have to work out a few more flat routes for future rides...

My Stats

Distance 44.14 miles - Duration 3:25 - Av Speed 12.9mpg - Climbing 2000ft - Av HR 143bpm

North Cheshire Clarion Club Ride 4 Oct 2009

Myself and Phil drove out to the designated meeting point outside of the Cat & Lion pub in Stretton for the 9am start time. After the hello's all eight of us set off for a nice steady loop south and east of Stretton for the NCC's inaugural road ride. It wasn't long before we had another first of the day - the first puncture which happened somewhere between Antrobus and Budworth Heath. Once that was sorted we set off again on some easy roads heading towards our cafe stop at the Dunham Lavender Farm tea rooms near Altincham. Not knowing how many more miles we were to ride that day we both had some food, beans on toast - lovely stuff. Anthony the cheeky bugger obviously envious of our choice of warm food deviously schemed to separate us from our beans by telling us that somebody was shouting us from the gates in the vain hope we would go and investigate, but we were wise to his ruse and he failed in his dastardly plot to knick our beans...

Setting off from the tea rooms for the final leg the weather didn't look too healthy so I stuck my gillet on just in case - it was a wise decision (ish). Not long after setting off the heavens opened and it lashed down, my gillet kept my torso dry for a really long time - say all of 15 seconds before the cold insidious rain found it's way in. I didn't mind my torso getting wet - no I lie, I did mind but what I mind more is when you feel that cold watery trickle first of all getting into your shoes and then to make matters worse it slowly trickles its way down into your nether regions, you know it's going to happen, you feel the cold icy watery fingers slowly zooming in, but it's still a shock when it does...

Anyway despite the rain we all plugged on like brave little soldiers and after 10 minutes or so the rain eased off, hooray for small mercies. The rest of ride was pretty uneventfully, some of us started to feel the miles and in places we stringed out a little but a shout of 'tail' had us slowing down so we could all regroup, and that was that, we were home, back at Stretton, the inaugural ride of the North West section of the National Clarion was over.

The ride itself was mostly at a nice easy pace. In the early part of the ride my heart rate was at times around 120bpm and that is low for me but the ride did get a little faster as time went on and we did manage to find a couple of 'bumps' along the way. I enjoyed it, it made a change to ride with a group, great to chat with everyone on the way and hopefully a sign of good things to come.

Anyone looking for a friendly bunch to ride with will be well advised to join up with the NCC.

My Stats
Distance 34.5miles - Time 2:16 - Avg Speed 15.2mph - Climbing 1138 ft

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

North Cheshire Clarion

I had been looking for a club to join for yonks and the closest I got was enjoying a Sunday ride with the Weaver Valley Club in Weaverham but apart from that brief foray there was nothing on the cards until this thread appeared on the Bike Radar forums.

The club being promoted is the North Cheshire Clarion - a section of the National Clarion cycling club. It's a brand spanking new club looking for anyone who has a cycling interest but are clubless and on the lookout for a good friendly club or perhaps just starting out into the world of cycling.

I don't live too far away from Warrington so made some enquiries through the forum. Giles one of the club founders was very helpful in answering my questions and I was hopeful that I had now found a local club that would suit me. The invite was there for all those interested to turn up for the clubs inaugural road ride on Sunday 4th October starting from the Cat & Lion pub in Stretton just south of Warrington.

Sportive No 3 September 2009 Manchester 100

The Manchester 100 Sportive/charity ride was the event we chose for our first 100 mile ride. I was told that it would be a flat ride with it being held in the heartland of Cheshire - was it flat? yes it seemed so with the exception of the Delamere section which travelled the same few lanes and hills as the Liverpool Chester Liverpool 'Sportive' but even so there was still some 3600ft of climbing to be done so hardly flat!. Delamere seems to be a popular choice for Sportives and charity rides in this part of the north west and rightly so - beautiful scenery, quiet roads and some moderate hills what's not to like?

So myself and Phil travelled the short distance to Wythenshawe Park for the start. We were there for our designated start time of 7:20am and after getting all our gear on we rolled to the start line, handed in the required paraphernalia, given a basic map in return and we were off. A quick start saw us teaming up with a group of around six riders. I was happy to stay within the group but quite prepared for a turn on the front when it was my turn - as it should be. The guy who was on the front lead for a few miles and seemed to really enjoy being there. I was behind him for a while and then figured that it was my time to have a go on the front so pulled out overtaking him and lead the mini peloton for about 2 minutes before he stuck himself back on the front again - ah well I gave it a shot. When Phil put himself on the front a few minutes later, I watched this guy to see what he'd do. Instead of trusting his lead man who was indicating dangers and was riding at the same pace we had all been travelling at for the last few miles, he rode to one side of Phil with his neck craned to see ahead and again within a few minutes he stuck himself back on the front. He obviously didn't trust anyone or perhaps he wanted to be the hero but whatever - we tried to do our bit, now if he wants to burn himself out on the front then so be it, he's doing us a big favour in doing so....

We rode on through Knutsford and Northwich until 25 miles in and not far from Hatchmere we came to the first feed station. We wanted to be away quick so pulling up outside of the school-yard which hosted the feed stop, we ate our power bars and set off again for the southern part of the ride. Through Delamere up the few hills that there was on this 'Sportive' and on through Kelsall and Tattenhall. The ride now turned east and into a headwind that although wasn't strong, it did slowly sap your strength and here especially we felt the advantages of riding in groups. I remember one group of four we latched onto - we started off on the back with a really strong rider on the front and what happened was over the next few miles the three riders that were behind the leading man pealed away one by one from the group until I was behind him and Phil behind me. After a few minutes just as I was about to take a turn he beckoned me through and as I went past him I could see that he was so absolutely shattered - he was breathing like a horse and looking really ill. I felt bad that he worked himself into oblivion and no-one had helped out. I slowed the pace down a little to give him a rest - we had been riding at over 20mph for ages. After a few minutes I glanced behind only to see he had dropped away completely, it was just me and Phil...

The next feed station was the 'enforced' 30 minute stop at Nantwich approx 56 miles into the ride. Enforced wasn't really accurate to describe the 30 minutes you were supposed to stop. You got your time card stamped by a couple of kids sat at a table - you could then if you so wish walk away, come back 10 minutes later, get it stamped again and be away. I can't recall our exact time but it was near 30 minutes before we set off again for the last feed station. This second to last part was boring, flat roads that just seemed to go on forever but at least a decent speed was easily achievable travelling in a group in excess of 20+mph for miles on end. Again we found ourselves in a small group and again we had someone on the front that was just a mile munching machine. I think he was on a flat bar road bike with flat pedals and trainers, certainly nothing bling about him or his gear which just goes to show that Lance is right, 'it's NOT about the bike...'(but it is nice to have nice stuff).

I later found out through the Bike radar forums that about 70miles in, someone had sprinkled tacks all over the road and a few people came a cropper before the tacks were cleaned up, I didn't see it myself so I don't know if this happened before or after we passed that particular spot but we were thankfully unaffected. The next feed stop at 77 miles was at a pub by the banks of the river Weaver in Middlewich (or was that the Weaver canal?) again we didn't go in but stopped just outside on the road to have a bite or two. By this time I was getting a little tired in the legs and glad of a break.

We quickly moved on for the final 23 miles and again just like the Liverpool - Chester - Liverpool 'Sportive' all the rides came together. In this case there was just the 100k and the 100 mile rides and again there was congestion. When we came to the last hill of the day at Styal, all I remember is being stuck behind a car that in turn was stuck behind a group of mountain bikers from the 100k route walking up the hill. The road was narrow with no room to pass so it was stop start right to the top of the hill, I couldn't judge how steep it was because I didn't actually get to ride it...

The end was now in sight, when we hit the main road which was less than a mile away from the finish line I now had my bearings so put a spurt on only to be stopped by traffic and traffic lights!!!!! the last few hundred yards were reduced to a crawl behind slow moving cars. Crossing the finish line a lad gave us a certificate for completing the 100 miles under 6 hours and a cheap cycling computer that I gave away to someone more needy than me.

So that was that, time to pack up and drive home. I didn't feel too tired, my legs were a bit frazzled but I could have gone on for a few more miles. Would I do it again? I don't really know - it did get boring, miles upon miles of flat is not my thing. I think I would prefer a shorter but hillier route but I may just do it again next year, just have to wait and see...

My Stats
Distance 100.5 miles - Time 5:51 -Av Speed 17.2 - Climbing 3593 ft

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Cheshire Cat revisited Aug 7 2009

With the acquisition of a Garmin 205 the much awaited re-run of the Cheshire Cat was on the cards. Now the Garmin is a simple device - it does not come with any maps nor can you buy or load any. What you do get besides the usual normal bike computer info - speed, distance, laps etc is a gps device that partnered with a route planner such as Bikehike is great for giving you enough basic info in order for you to navigate your route. You get an icon that represents you in the middle of the screen and a black line that represents your route, put your icon on the black line, follow the line and you are on course. Simple.

Anyway with the Garmin loaded with the 66mile route we (me & Phil) set off from Knutsford heading south. Nothing to report for the first 20 miles just flat roads all the way. Stopped for a banana and a photo a couple of miles away from 'Mount Doom' then with some trepidation we set off to do some hill conquering. Approaching the level crossings that marks the start of the so called 'killer mile' we were psyched up for the climb only to be stopped in our tracks by the barriers being down. A couple of minutes later we set off again. The road starts to ramp up fairly quickly after the level crossing then its nearly three quarters of a mile with gradients of around 10 to 15% with no letup.

The last time I rode Mow Cop I walked but this time I was determined to beat it, and beat it I did. A steady climbing pace got me to the really hard bit. On the 25% gradient by the pub there was a bin wagon coming down. One of the bin men saw me coming. By the time I reached him half way up the 25% I was panting like a dog barely staying upright and he said laughing as I went past "you must be #@%^#ing mad", panting like Meg Ryan in When Harry met Sally all I could splutter was "yes.... yes.... yes........... definitely". After the 25% the climb continues for a couple hundred yards at around 8-10% which does feel like it's flat after the 25% but obviously it's not - but that's it... done...finished...Mow Cop conquered. Give me my medal...

Moving on past Mow Cop the only hill that caused me any real problems was Macclesfield Forest. This time there was no ice unlike the previous time we attempted it but the final 50 yards had me beat, my legs could handle it but my heart felt like it was about to explode - I was starting to see venus, jupiter, mars, pluto and every other star and planet in the universe so I caved in before I fell off. I did manage all the other hills though so well chuffed.

A great ride albeit a slow one, the weather was good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Looking forward to next years official Cheshire Cat in March.

Time 5:08, Av Speed 12.9, 5490ft climbing

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Sportive No2 July - The Liverpool - Chester - Liverpool Bike Ride

A bit of a gap from our last sportive the Cheshire Cat - a gap of 8 weeks. Phil and I figured that we would try for two or three sportives in our first year and build up the quantity and quality in the following years. This sportive - the LCL wasn't what I would call a true sportive - it is more a charity ride and anyone who can ride a bike had an option they could participate in.

Options Included:
Liverpool - Thornton - Liverpool ( Wirral Circular ) 25 miles
Liverpool - Chester 30 miles
Liverpool - Chester - Liverpool 54 miles Sportive
Liverpool - Chester - Liverpool 90 miles Sportive
& other small rides ideal for small children

We chose to do the 90 mile 'Sportive' and if we managed to finish the ride 90 miles would be a PB to that date. For training besides the midweek turbo sessions, from Jan onwards we planned w/e rides usually setting off to do the southern Cheshire part of the LCL loop completing around 50 to 70 miles including the hills of Delamere and Helsby.

The event

We all gathered at the mouth of the tunnel for the 8am start. The weather was looking good - nice and bright and would stay like that for the duration of our ride. Around us were riders of all types - roadies on bling and not so bling bling, hybrids, tandems, flat bar road and mountain bikers complete with backpacks, young and old, men and women.

It did not take long before a call from the announcer had the sportive riders moved to the front filtering through those on the shorter routes. With a klaxon call we were off down into the mouth of the Queensway tunnel, from light to sudden gloom and with a hoot and a holler down the gradual descent picking up some speed until the shallow climb slowed us down to a more sedate speed and then up the other side and back into the sunlight.

The roads and lanes of Wirral from what I remember were flat which allowed us to maintain some pretty impressive speeds forming and latching onto fast moving groups when possible all the way down to the first feed stop.

The only thing of annoyance to occur happened when we came to the first gate of the Chester cycleway, a small queue had formed to get through the gate and over the low bar. As we waited our turn a bunch of 5 or 6 idiotic lads on mountain bikes rode right to the front pushing their way in - not all of them got through though - cos by that time I was near to the head of the queue and refused them any space to push their way through haha the cheeky buggers...

Anyway a little time later a field adjacent to the Countess of Chester hospital around 20 miles into the ride was the location of the first feed station. It was well stocked with Banana's and other things that I can't remember. We bought ourselves bananas and a bottle refill and we were off again. This time heading into the more hilly areas of Helsby and Delamere forest - areas that are very familiar to us. We hit the first hill on Primrose Ln in Helsby which surprised a few people - a couple behind me breathing like asthmatics hissed through rasps that they 'were not expecting that!!' as they lurched themselves up the hill and came alongside me at the junction at the end of the road.

After Primrose there was just a few miles of relative flatness aside from a very short 13% climb and some rolling hills before arriving at Delamere. Apparently there were signs for a cafe stop pointing to the Delamere station but I missed it - no matter though as we had planned to stop at the forest for some buttys we had brought with us anyway. After the butty stop it was time to climb the last hill of note and head home back up the Wirral. It was here I heard a few people complaining that they thought Cheshire was flat!!

Around about 60 mile mark I had emptied my front bottle and started to feel thirsty but believe it or not I have never had to swap bottles on the go and with all the various rides coming together your eyes and attention had to be everywhere. I didn't have the opportunity or the confidence to safely do the swap whilst riding.

It was these last few miles that imho was the only let-down with the ride. As I mentioned all the rides came together all travelling along the same roads to the tunnel, that meant fast moving roadies trying to filter through kids on small bikes who were meandering all over the road with and without mum & dad, groups chatting as they rode not paying any attention and cars blocking the road as they in turn were being held up by other slow moving groups of social cyclists just out for a good time - it was chaos at times... Anyway the thirst got the better of me so eventually we pulled over at around 70 miles to grab a gel and swap bottles however I had left it way to late as I was starting to feel the affects of dehydration and as we came through the tunnel for the final time I suffered some shooting cramps in my thighs.

The tunnel itself had been closed for the event until 3pm which meant you had to finish the ride and be back through the tunnel by the 3pm deadline or else it was a trip over the Mersey on the ferry. We figured we would be back before 2pm but we surprised ourselves when we rolled in at just after 1pm for a time of 5hrs 14min averaging 16.4mph and a total distance of 85.7 miles not the advertised 90 miles.

Job done time for a pose

Now lets go home......

Friday, 16 October 2009

2009 Sportives Sportive No1 March - The Cheshire Cat

In 2008 when I first took up cycling, sportives were not on any agenda of mine. Sportives are for the good cyclists not newbies such as myself - it took me absolutely ages to build up my mileage to any sort of level I would call half decent, but you know what they say about tiny acorns and all that. From a few laps around the block to my first ever 10 miles then 20 eventually hitting 50 miles!!. I have a picture somewhere where I am sat on a bench in Walton Gardens half way around my first 25 miler where I have a wry happy smile on my face because these gardens had been a goal for a long time and you know how happy you are when you do eventually reach a target (and then get home).

In December 2008 on a whim I signed up for the Cheshire Cat medium length 66 miler and persuaded riding pal and hill climbing beast in the making Phil to sign up also, so over the next few months we put in a lot of miles and sought out the hills in our area in preparation.

Come the end of March this is what I wrote on the Bike Radar forums after we had completed the Cheshire Cat :

Did the 66 miller, at some points, many points if I was to be honest, all I was thinking was NEVER AGAIN!!!, I was disappointed with myself - walked up Mow Cop and Macclesfield Forest and a couple of other places ..... My ride time was 4:40 according to my bike computer but overall was 6:17 - an hour and 40 min stoppage time, something to improve on the next time - even though I vowed I would never ever put myself through that torture again....

The best part for me was the 20 mile run in home after Swiss Hill, 20 miles in a small group with speeds between 20-25 mph. The route signs were mostly OK except for the first right hand turn off the first main road we came to - didn't see it... No water at the first feed station but apart from that it was well organised. Disappointed there was no certificate of completion at the end...

All in all it was an enjoyable event, the weather was great, the descents were scary at times especially the one at Lamaload (sp) where I was on the brakes all the way down (NapoleonD's broken leg was constantly on my mind).

What have I learned from my first sportive? I'm not as fit as I need to be for an event such as this and I took far too much food with me, my pockets were bulging with the stuff.

Looking forward to next year

In hindsight it's obvious that I came over prepared - I had 4 Go-bars, 6 gels, a packet of jelly babies, 3 sachets of electrolyte powder as well as also being very overdressed. Phil & I drove to Knutsford nice and early hoping for an early quick start, we figured we would be spat out of the back of every group we latched onto and didn’t want be amongst the stragglers that come in really late hence the desire for an early kick off.

We did manage to be on the start line nice and early, the only downer for being so was nearly freezing to death waiting the 20 minutes for the off in the coldness of an early spring morning with the sun beaming. We were amongst the second group to start and set off within a nice big group. Inevitably we all splintered into smaller groups after a few miles but we were able to keep up with one group or another for much of the ride with some great speeds of between 18 to 25 mph all the way for the first 20 miles until the first food station - those miles flew by so quickly it was actually a shock to have to screech to a halt for food and water!!

After food n stuff - bannana's, sausage rolls and jam doughnuts, we set off for Mow Cop. It didn’t take long to arrive but what a shocker Mow Cop is if you haven't seen it before. After the level crossing on Station Rd before you hit the 25% bit, the road quickly ramps up and varies from around 10% to 15% for the first three quarters of a mile, however it didn't take long for me to click click out of my pedals and walk - what I beheld so early into the ride really disheartened me - to see the steepness of Mow Cop and realise there was another 4 or 5 big hills to come after it - Biddulph Moor, Barlow Hill, Macc Forest and Lamaload Reservoir - I lost all my willpower and determination, I was Samson and my hair had just been chopped. If there had been a broomwagon handy to take me home I would have jumped on it right there and then.

So I walked and walked - yes that's me in the shot walking up Mow Cop - and rounding that last bend - yikes, that 25% bit near the Pub looked like a giant chalkboard protruding out of the road!!! I walked it with calves screaming in pain. Mow Cop cost me £20 – the price for a new pair of cleats!!!

This photo taken by Phil (who was also walking at this point) does not do Mow Cop justice, the run up to the 25% bit looks pretty flat in this shot but it isn't believe me. You can see the 25%er in the distance by the pub on the left - looks like a jump jet take off ramp on HMS Invincible!!!

So was the completion of Mow Cop the end of the suffering? Was it buggery!!! More hills just around the corner than a little bit of a reprieve then hills hills and more hills and I had the pleasure of walking most of them. Even though there were obviously more hills besides Mow Cop on this ride you would have thought that Mow Cop was THE hill - after all it’s the hill the organisers choose to constantly highlight but NO the real killer hill came in Macclesfield Forest. Just like Mow Cop there is a gradual rise that kept on getting steeper to around 17% and then half way up to make matters harder than they need be there was a narrow band of ice across the road that caught some people out including me (who at point had been walking for a few hundred yards), I slipped on it as did others, then after the ice came the finishing blow - the road ramped up for about 50 yards to somewhere near 25%, it did near kill me pushing my bike up never mind riding it….

After Macc Forest came more hills whose names I have forgotten, some I managed, most I walked. The last hill of the day is a short but technically challenging hill called Swiss Hill in Alderley Edge, steepish and cobbled that would have called for a lot of bike handling skill if I had ridden it but I didn't - it was optional and I had had enough of walking that day. After Swiss hill it was the flat run in home and now I actually started to enjoy myself realising the suffering was over and all I had to do is see out the remaining miles. I finally finished tired, calves and cleat battered but had gotten myself a personal best of 66 miles and 5490 ft climbing for the bargain.

How did I feel after? Tired - very tired and drained but also filled with the elation that comes with the sense of achievement that comes after an event like this - sure, I didn't manage the hills but I had completed the distance and participated in my first ever proper Sportive and we each got an official Kilotogo pink Buff for our efforts. No medal though, that's for 2010 when I do manage to ride Mow Cop... (ps I love taking on hills now)

More on Mow Cop in a newer post....

Saturday, 10 October 2009

What I did next... March 2008

After being totally smitten with the cycling bug, browsing the net and buying cycling mags it dawned upon me that my 31lb of GT Nomad hybrid bike was NOT cool and was NOT what I needed for the hills - erm slight inclines that resembled mountains that I rode around my locality...

I wasn't aware of any LBS so I browsed the web looking for something that would be good for a newbie such as moi.
Wiggle has lots of bikes to choose from, so not knowing much about wheels, groupsets, frame materials etc. I sort of went ini - meni - myni - mo - this - one - shall - be - it.... no too expensive, again, ini - meni - myni - mo - this - one - shall - be - it, no thats too cheap, ini - meni - myni - mo - this - one - shall - be - it, hmmph that looks OK, now do I want a triple, compact or a double?? browse the BikeRadar forums and find it's a popular question, and the general answer? a compact, so a compact it is. So what bike did I finally settle on and buy?

This bike pictured below, a Focus Variado Expert 2008,

  • Alloy 6061 light racing frame
  • New Shimano Ultegra Ice grey
  • New Truvativ Elita compact crankset
  • Shimano RS 20 wheelset
  • Michelin Lithion Tyres, 23-622
  • Weight: 8.7kg (size 56 without pedals)
When this big, no - huge - box arrived I couldn't wait to get the bike out of the box and get it on the road. Prior to the bikes arrival I had bought some 105 pedals and a pair of Shimano SPD SL shoes so after the pedals were fitted and the bars attached it was ready to ride. I took it out on a short 6 mile ride and the impression I came away with was how fast, responsive and easy to ride compared to my 31lb hybrid - but then again any bike that weighs less than the hybrid would feel fantastic!!

I have come to really like this bike, it's not much of a looker but it's fairly light and after a saddle change from the standard Velo razor blade via a Specialized Alias that was too flat across the profile causing numb bits'n'bobs I finally arrived at a Sella Italia Max Flite Gel Flow in black which whilst not perfect for the posterior is leagues ahead in comfort value for my bum than the previous two saddles.

The only other change has been to swap out the 110mm stem for a 100mm I felt my reach was just slightly too much. Besides my bum ache I had another problem, for the first year or so on the Focus, my neck gave me a lot of pain 3 hrs into a ride and that's with maximum stem spacers, the stem turned upside down and the bars tilted upwards slightly, so before any 3hr+ ride I had to take a couple of paracetamols to alleviate the pain, that plan of action worked tremendously. Recently, probably because of the time on the bike over the last year, my neck seems to have gotten used to the position so no need for the pain killers anymore with the result that I have been able to return the stem to its normal position and take out some spacers.

So that's it, that's where I'm up to bike wise. What I have done with this bike is subject to my next blog entry...

Friday, 9 October 2009

Recent history, 2005 onwards (and upwards)

After much nagging from my G.P, works Doctor and hospital consultant I embarked on a get fit regime. Now prior to my enforced hospital stays (2003 to 2005) I had always been physically active in some way or other, in my youth and on into my late 20's it was footy, swimming, footy, squash, footy, the occasional bit of jogging and a lot of gym weights. The more aerobic type activities gave way eventually to gym weight training in my 30's. With my type of physique, ie stringy, I was never going to be an Arnold but I was strong and toned as they say.

From 2004 after being fitted out with a dialysis tube that was permanently grafted into my stomach, strenuous physical activity became difficult so I gave up and settled into nothingness - playing quake2ctf all day and watching the X-files and Star Trek late into the night. June 14 2005, the very next day after Michael Jackson was found not guilty of a dozen or so charges I had my transplant. Six months later after finally escaping hospital after LOADS of setbacks I was back at work and eager to get back to the gym which I did - but it was not without its problems. The main problem being caused by a lack of an immune system - I need to have my immune system suppressed through drugs so that my brand spanking new kidney is not rejected. Lack of an immune system means I caught every bug going and in a hot sweaty gym there is zillions of nasty things just waiting to jump down my throat and put me out of action for weeks at a time which the buggers did, regularly......

Time to look elsewhere

Feb 2008 (I'm getting there OK!!) on a whim I went to Warrington Cyclehouse, browsed the showroom, ogled the expensive Scotts and eventually handed over £200 for a 2007 GT Nomad Hybrid bike just like the one below, another £30 for a big black bell cheapo helmet and a basic track pump, stuck the bike in the boot of my Mondeo, drove home, got the bike out of the boot and set out on my new bike.

Regarding that first trip this is what I wrote on the BikeRadar forums :-

quote I've only recently bought a GT hybrid bike with a view to getting fit. On my first ride a few weeks ago I only did 25 min and approx 4 miles but was I knackered after, getting off the bike my legs nearly collapsed they were like jelly but didn't it feel really good  - that pumped up feeling is so nice. Over the last few weeks I've built up my time to about an hour every other day but the hills and the WIND kills me....I'm looking forward to building up some strength and stamina over the coming summer, it's a horrible feeling to be unfit. unquote

My first ride had immediately impressed upon me how unfit I was, 25 min and 4 miles and I was kerknackered - an average of just 9.6 mph on flatish roads!! now that is slow... Over the next few months the so called hills and the wind that 'killed' me, continued to carry on 'killing' me and they were not what the stronger riders or even average riders would call 'hills - just mere humps! So what could I do to try to remedy this nastiness?

Considering the GT Hybrid weighed in at 31 lb and I had been browsing the 'tinternet' as well as buying the Cycle Plus mag, I realised that buying a lighter 'racer' would get me absolutely flying up those 'humps' leaving all those OAP/mums-with-shopping-basket type cyclists who previously smirked at me as they cruised past, chocking on my dust -harhar.... Well that was my theory anyway.....

What I did next is subject to my next post so keep tuned folks...

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A little ancient history

As everyone on the planet did in their younger days they rode a bike, and so did I. My Dad had bought me a Claud Butler Super European 5spd built from around the mid 60's, it was a little too big for me aged 12 but I grew into it. It was fast it was furious and it was mine, everyday after school I would get my bum on the leather saddle and just ride my bike. No great distances, no planned rides, no constructive training, i just rode my bike wherever I wanted to go, up and down the street, in a group around my local area with the other kids on thier bikes or just hanging around on street corners. When the gauntlet was thrown no-one had a chance against me and my Claud I was the 70's version of our favourite Manxman. What I didn't realise because as most kids do when something is bought for them is appreciate exactly what I had be been given, I didn't know for example just how light it was until my two brothers got their 'racers' and mine was like a feather compared to the others, I didn't appreciate how sleek it was until I compared it to all the other kids bikes - I didn't realise that I had a thoroughbred. I wish I had the Claud Butler in my garage now as a memento to my childhood but alas that's not so, just a few years ago Dad was having a clear out and he threw it on the skip. I'm cursing myself because he asked me if I wanted it and I said no....... boohoo

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Welcome to my blog

This blog is NOT about my illness, it's about living life AFTER being diagnosed with a chronic illness and how cycling has given me a new lease of life. I hope it gives inspiration to all those who are struck down with illness and demonstrates that living with an illness doesn't mean you curl up and give in, there is life to be lived so live it whilst you can...

However, you must be wondering what chronic illness afflicts me? Well, firstly, renal failure leading to the need for peritoneal dialysis and then eventually a kidney transplant. People think a new kidney means being back to normal and to an extent they'd be right however there are many side affects that can have an impact most minor but some major such as an immune system artificially suppressed so that the transplant is not rejected - you can imagine the problems that can pop up. Also lately I've found out that those immune suppressing drugs can also lead to 'thinning of the bones' which I'm sure had a major part to play in the breaking of three of my bones in a fall on a club run on black ice in Jan 2011.

My new kidney was kindly donated by Mum in June 2005 when I was aged 43 -TA MUM-, so there it is and I will try not to mention kidney stuff too often as it does get a little boring...