Give pain a rain check

So this year’s sportive season is over.  And yes, I’ll write about that sportive in due course as usual, that being what I do, even if it sometimes takes me a while to get around to it.

But in the meantime…

medals 2015

Another season done.  One amazing training camp followed by 18 sportives of varying length and varying levels of form and performance.  It’s also been my 11th year of cycling, having started out in 2005, and I’ve been doing the many sportives thing for around seven years now.  Right now it doesn’t feel like a many splendored thing though.  I’m not sure I can face another year of doing the same thing over and over, on my own, and not being good enough.  Although I’m well aware that that is…well, good enough for what?  For who?  In comparison to whom?  Who’s judging me anyway?  And besides which does it matter if anyone is?  Etc.  Nonetheless…

As the year has gone on, my health has been deteriorating again. This means I’m in more and more pain for more and more of the time.  As a result I’m usually on fairly heavy duty drugs.  Which isn’t great in and of itself, but they also have other interesting side effects.  I have sod all appetite for starters.  Or mains, or desserts 😉  So I’m eating even less than usual, and thanks to my IBS, eating wasn’t something I was all that keen on or bothered about anyway.  On the upside there’s less of me, and hey, nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, right?  And talking of taste?  Yeah, it screws up my taste buds too.  I’ve even gone off beer.  Yes people, you heard right.  Off.  Beer.  The end of the world may indeed be nigh, get your houses in order 😉  Since I try not to be on the drugs all the time, when I do have to take them, and am not habituated, they also turn me into a bit of a zombie.  And yes, you might think being permanently stoned is fun, but it isn’t…the novelty wore off quite some time ago.

slow square

None of which makes cycling any easier I reckon.  I swear it sometimes takes as much energy to keep it together on the bike as it does to actually ride the darn thing.  Riding sometimes also makes the pain worse, but it makes my head better, and since the state of play sometimes gets me down I need to ride…ooh, it’s all so circular 😉  Even when I have the pain under control, my body is still dealing with it even if I’m not actually aware that that is going on, so I imagine it’s working harder than I think.  And thanks to the calorie deficit levels, I don’t seem to have reserves like I used to, I don’t have enough stored in the tank to ride on.  So I tire easily, get cold easily, and generally don’t have what I had.  Mind you, my body is an amazing thing really.  Look at everything it’s going through, and what I put it through, and what it does and can do regardless.  Pretty awesome :)

The chances are that there is more surgery in my future.  I have an appointment with my consultant, this time via the NHS, in January.  It being the NHS, I’m thinking I could probably get away with avoiding the knife until next Autumn at least though, what with waiting lists and all that jazz.  So I can still make some cycling plans.  I have my amazing prize, my 5 day Spanish cycling trip, in February.  And I have a vague Maratona plan shaping up for 2017.  But for 2016, I think a goal would be good.  Possibly essential.  Something that gives all these sportives meaning, makes them part of a training routine.  And I’d prefer it to be something I do in company.  In fact I’d like to cycle with more people more of the time, and not just because it’s probably better to have company in case I lose it completely and need picking up off the tarmac 😉  I’d just like cycling to be more of a social, sociable thing than it has been this year…  Back to goals though.  I have no idea what that should/could be.  The Etape is out, the route doesn’t interest me.  And it doesn’t have to be a sportive or an event.  I’m open to ideas…fire away if you have any suggestions!

Considering how I’m feeling, mentally and physically, it is definitely the end of the season.  Even though, as is oddly and always surprisingly, frequently the case, it turns out that yesterday’s sportive went a lot better than I felt like it did.  I was a golden girl 😉  But it felt like hard work, it hurt, and my head wasn’t really in the game.  Which has been the case for the last couple of sportives really, and I think I’ve possibly had a elegant sufficiency of them for the time being.  Just as well it was my last one this year then 😉  I just feel a bit like I’ve been fighting too many battles on too many fronts somehow.  I’m even thinking of maybe taking a break from the bike.  Or at least making a conscious effort to do it differently.  With a different focus.  Which will be easier since training is less of an issue for a little while at least.  I think it’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride, and when I can get out there, remember to be grateful that I’m riding at all.  But I’m not going to let this beat me.  I shall remember there have been some real high points this year, and that there will be more ahead.  PMA here I come! :)

the high point of my year

The high point of my year. Literally 😉

Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs 2015

Dad's 70th birthday cake

Me oh my, I am such a long way behind. But there’s been so much going on! Riding, working, Dad’s birthday, life…what can I say?

A lot of the two weeks prior to this sportive was spent trying to get my knee better.  Resting more, riding less.  Though probably not quite enough of one and too much of the other.  But hey, I was trying…!

Ashton Windmill  Alan and his tart

Since the Welsh Raider, when things went a little pear shaped, I’d done a flat easy run with Alan, a flat short loop on my own, another easy run with the ever-patient Alan, and a nice seaside loop with, unsurprisingly, Alan again.  And slowly things had been getting better.  Riding was not pain free but it was improving, and the time required to recover off the bike had been coming down.

Cycling time: 6:32
Distance: 99.2 miles

All of which means it was time for another sportive.  The Evans Ride It Wiltshire Downs, to be precise.  It’s fairly local, which means a shorter drive and more time in bed.  And coming as it did, the day after the clocks went back, that means another hour in bed, and daylight to drive in.  Very handy!  Even better, the forecast was good, and that drive took place in autumn sunshine, something you wouldn’t have predicted considering that it spent all Saturday p*ssing it down…!


HQ was at Wiltshire College, Lacock, at the end of a long, muddy, leaf covered drive, which would turn out to be pretty typical of all the roads for the day.  It may have been dry overhead, but not under wheel!  I parked up in a muddy gravel carpark a little way from registration and decided that I’d get sorted and then register rather than to-ing and fro-ing.  It being October, even with the sun shining, it was pretty darned cold, somewhere around 6°C, so it was just a case of putting on all the layers I’d brought with me, loading up the bike and my pockets, and heading off.  There were toilets in a changing room block opposite where the gentlemen were queuing and where I didn’t have to, and as it turns out, there were also more inside by registration.  I registered, and the lady stuck my timing sticker on the right hand side of my helmet which was unusual, it’s usually t’other side.  No bike number, so presumably no photography either, a map, and a High5 race day pack, and I was done.  Since I had no intention of returning to the car to stash anything, I plundered the pack for the useful and discarded the rest.

the long queue to start This is NOT a race

Back outside, and the queue for the start was stretching a long way back, which was a bit disheartening, with the thought of standing around in the cold for ages not appealing.  Still, it turned out not to be too bad in the sunshine, and the other riders around were chatty and sociable and as riders were being let away in fairly big groups, it wasn’t long until we were the next group, with me right at the front of it.  No pressure then!  After the usual rider briefing, a demo of the black on pink arrows, again novel, and a reminder that this was all supposed to be fun, we were off on our way.

Wiltshire College doesn’t half like its speed bumps!  I’m not sure when we stopped being on the estate, presumably when they finally ended!  Somewhat oddly, I seemed to have left my group pretty much behind me, so it felt like it was just me heading out into the Wiltshire countryside.  My camera had somehow run out of batteries, so there’s not a lot of photographic evidence of my day sadly…which is a shame because it was absolutely beautiful out there.  Glorious in fact.  I’ve cycled around this area before, most notably on the White Horse Challenge, but a lot of this route was completely unfamiliar to me, and I’ve never seen the Downs stretched out around me like that before.  Stunning :)

Food stop at The King's Arms Food stop goodies

Having got my layers spot on, after the initial chill had worn off and I’d warmed up, so about an hour then, I was pretty happy out there.  There were a few ups, but nothing too terrible, and most of it seemed to be being fairly flat or rolling.  So, on to mental meanderings and route decisions to mull over.  There were a lot of options, and route splits came one after the other – no front loading this time.  Would it be the Fun route at 15 miles?  Nah, don’t be daft.  Ok then, how about the Short at 34 miles, the Medium at 63 miles, or the Long at 80 miles?  Hm…  No rush to decide though.  The first food stop came at 28 miles in, in a pub car park, where the two outdoor toilets were proving woefully inadequate for the number of people wanting to use them.  I duly queued, and then after grabbing some jelly beans, and taking the odd photo with my phone, headed off again.  The next route split came shortly afterwards, but even though I reckon there were at least three things wrong with me, because I’m lucky like that, I still reckoned the Short route would be too short.

White Horse on the Downs coming into Avebury

I did decide however that, although the longest route appealed, and let’s face it, it was a beautiful day to be out there, it would be unwise to push it. I reckoned I could manage the 60 without making things too much worse, whereas with the 80, with the bigger climbs in the extra miles, I might set my knee’s recovery back quite a way, which seemed like a daft idea.  So when the next split came along shortly afterwards, I took it.  Which meant that I was half done already and on the homewards stretch.  A stretch that took me through more beautiful countryside but back on to more familiar turf.  Not that I’m complaining, I love cycling through Avebury :)  The lack of novelty did make it feel slightly like harder work though somehow, less to distract the brain from the effort being put in?  I guess I was also getting tireder, I’m fairly sure I hadn’t eaten enough, (nothing new there then), and being ill does have a habit of taking it out of you even if you are doing a very good job of ignoring that 😉  Still the scenery continued to keep my spirits up far enough.  Multi-coloured autumn leaves, close cropped fields still golden in the sunshine, blue skies stretching for miles…  Sorry, since I’m short on photos I thought I’d try poetic words instead 😉

riders over the finish line

Towards the end there was a long draggy staged up that went on for a couple of miles.  Hardish work but my kind of climb, and man, the descent afterwards was way more than worth it!  OK, so there were “Caution” signs and there were other riders who were gingerly braking their way down, but I could see all the way down, it wasn’t very bendy, and there wasn’t any traffic coming so….yep, I was the loon hurtling down on the right with a massive grin on my face 😉  A couple of miles after that and I was back negotiating speed bumps, and then crossing the finish line, where I was given another High5 taster pack.  Job done :)  There were lots of happy riders milling around in the sunshine and eating the hot food on sale.  I took a break on a step with a can of fizzy lemon, before making my way back to the car.

Cycling time: 4:04
Distance: 62.2 miles
Avg: 15.3 mph
ODO: 11487.7 miles

High5 taster pack

I may not have done the event justice, but I’d definitely do it again.  In fact I actively want to.  The route is lovely, the scenery is stunning, and it’s not too challenging – so it was perfect for this time of year.  Maybe next year I’ll get to do the long route :)

route map 2 route map 1

Cycling Weekly Welsh Raider 2015

Apologies for the delay…usual excuses…etc.  But hey, better late than never so here goes…

Most of my sportives are only a couple of hours away.  It means they’re within driving distance and I can get there and back in a day.  And the Welsh Raider was no different.  But what with the nights drawing in and not feeling great these days, I figured I could use a couple of extra hours sleep the night before, and booked myself into the nearest Travelodge. Presumably that’s travelodgical…*groan*.
in the right place
So on Friday night, off I went.  Yes, Friday.  The Welsh Raider was on a Saturday.  I always like that, it means you have Sunday to recover and relax, and you don’t lose your entire weekend to one sportive.  It was getting dark as I set off, and and proper dark when I arrived, having spent a couple of hours blindly following my satnav along a whole range of pitch black country roads.  with no idea of what the scenery was like.  Mind you, at least that kind of road means I stay awake – motorways + medication tend to send me to sleep, which ain’t great.  Anway, I may have had no idea where I was when I got there, but I was pretty sure I was in the right place, as I parked up next to the UK Cycling Events van!

Having checked in I took myself off to the pub next door, The Squirrel, for some food.  Scampi and chips, in case you’re interested.  Having ordered, and whilst looking for somewhere to sit, I spotted a group who looked a lot like fellow cyclists to me, and as we chatted, they kindly asked me to join them.  Apparently they were from the Grench cycling club – which is something to do with concatenating two village names, and nothing to do with Dr Seuss.  I’m not good with names, but I think they were Mark, Nigel, Neil and Owen.  Hi guys!  It turned out to be a very amusing and enjoyable evening – which made a nice change from my usual pre-sportive nights.  Sometimes doing these things on your own is actually good – you get to meet new people :)

I got a reasonably early night, and then predictably slept like something not at all resembling a baby.  Why do hotels not have plug sockets next to the bed?  My phone is my alarm clock.  My phone needs charging overnight.  So my phone is now not next to my bed.  I must therefore now wake up at least every hour to check the time on my watch (old skool!) just in case something has happened to the phone and I have missed the alarm  I’m not sure why this would be improved by the phone being next to the bed, but I just know it would! *grrr*.

Right then.  Time to get up.  Outside the window was…well, who knows?  The sun wasn’t properly up but there was enough light around to reveal that last night’s meteorological fog warnings had come to fruition.  It also looked pretty chilly out there.  Marvellous.  I made some guesses as to which layers of what kit was going to work for this, and with minimal faffing was on my way down the road to HQ at Ludlow Racecourse, all of 10 minutes away.  I was there around 7:30am, when registration opened, and I was amongst the first arriving.  It was cold, darkish, and still very foggy, which also meant it was damp.  Lovely…

P1000157 registration

On my way to register I was quite impressed to see that each of the bike racks outside came with a track pump attached, which struck me as a really good idea, even if I didn’t need one.  Mine was in my boot if I did.  I headed inside, and after a brief spell in my queue, was given my map, cable ties, bike number (3713) and helmet timing chip.  After nipping in to use the facilities I headed back outside to the car to faff for a bit.  It wasn’t exactly inspiring weather for a sportive but I was here, and it was there to be done, so I could only put off the inevitable for so long!  It was time to head for the start…

getting inflated foggy start line

Today’s rider briefing was short and to the point which, as it was freezing standing around, was a good thing.  Around 8:00am I, and a small group of other riders, headed off for the day ahead.

Right, once again, like the Bristol Belter, I need to explain the route set up.  Think uneven figure of eight, with HQ in the off-centre middle.  The right/east loop is sort of 40 miles, the left/west loop is sort of 65.  The Short route does the 40.  The Standard route does the 65.  The Epic route does the Short route and then the Standard route – making up 105 miles.  Which pretty much means you have to make a call between Epic and Standard within about 2 miles of setting off.  I was here to do the Epic one so I duly turned right when the option arose, whilst almost everyone else didn’t!  Too late now

rider briefing foggy out there

About 2 miles after that, whilst still freezing and not at all ready for it, came the first hill of the day.  A pretty steep one has it happens!  I may not have enjoyed it much but actually it proved fairly motivational as it didn’t feel as bad as I’d thought it might, thus leading me to think that today might be going to go ok.  Mind you I’ve have been even happier about it if the roads across the top and back down again hadn’t been so sh*tty.  And to the four riders who hurtled past me downhill one by one with absolutely no warning, while I was trying to avoid potholes, mud and gravel…?  No, I won’t say it, but I did then, albeit probably under my breath.  Probably.  It didn’t amuse me at all when one of them undercooked the following corner and ended up in the hedge.  Much.  And before you tut at me for my black heart, he was absolutely fine, not even his ego was dented.

There was another bigger, or make that longer, hill a few miles on, and then after that the route settled into rolling.  I’d looked at the profile before and had presumed it only looked relatively flat between hills due to scale.  But it really was like that.  It was also still foggy, freezing cold, and without views to look at or any sense of anything, it was a bit depressing.  Life picked up at one point though, when a gentleman called Ray (I think) pulled alongside me and asked if I was me, which of course I was, and it turned out he reads my blog!  How cool is that?  Hi there!  That definitely cheered me up a bit, and he also rode with me for a while which also helped, even though it would turn out to be the longest conversation I had all day.  After a while, and another small up splitting us up, he headed off with my blessing, and I carried on my own without having to keep up 😉

shimano support first food stop

The first food stop came at around 27 miles in and though I wasn’t feeling too bad it was nice to have a brief break.  The fog meant that I was proper damp and although it wasn’t windy, the air temperature of the air going past me made for a significant wind chill factor – I was frozen right through!  Remind me to not use that base-layer again – bamboo doesn’t seem to wick, and once that layer was cold and damp it just sat there keeping you that way!  It was actually warmer being stopped, but I still didn’t hang around for too long.  Places to be, many miles ahead, etc.

The route split came another rolling 13 miles later.  I had been mulling my route choice over, since I wasn’t having a whole heap of fun out there, but having driven there, paid for a Travelodge, etc…well, that ain’t worth it just to ride 45 miles right?  With a quick “you can do this” to myself, I didn’t go left, I carried on in to the foggy grey yonder on the Standard route, with another 65 miles ahead of me.  Most of which I spent not just on my own but without another rider in sight – another side effect of the route set-up.  The official times show just 96 riders doing the Epic route and judging by the times some of them recorded, some of them definitely didn’t!  That means that there weren’t a lot of Epic riders out there and we few were also a long way behind the Standard route riders.

trees roads foggy fields

The route carried on rolling through the fog, with the odd actual up and down but nothing too noteworthy.  None of it was making me any warmer or drier.  I was breaking the time and miles left down into blocks to deal with, mentally & physically.   I broke things up further with breaks for food, drink, and occasional photo ops as taking pics with the gloves on was tricky.  I was really looking forward to the halfway mark since that’s always a bit of a mental attitude tipping point…and it even came with a church to photograph at precisely the opportune moment.  There wasn’t a lot of scenery out there to admire, as I mentioned earlier and even the villages and towns seemed a bit unremarkable to me, so a pretty church was a sight to behold.

half way church second food stop

Time for another foodstop then, which I think was around the 56 mile mark.  The ‘staff’ were lovely and friendly, and there may even have been a bit of banter :)  And there were fig rolls!  At this point I was feeling ok.  Just ok, but ok is ok.  Ok and over halfway.  The terrain was proving to be doable even if I wasn’t doing it as fast as I felt I ought to be given the lack of big hills.  What’s new?  And I was bound to warm up sooner or later as the forecast had better things in store for the afternoon, right?  Time to go and get the rest of it done then.  Off I set, up through the town, up something that I guess was a small hill but really wasn’t anything special.  However…  Halfway up it my left knee “went”.  I can’t describe that really.  I wasn’t doing anything different to usual, I was just pedalling, which I’m fairly sure I’ve done before!  But something failed/scrunched/popped…and it started hurting.  Now I’ve had a niggling knee problem since my L2P in 2009 but that’s sort of background.  This wasn’t that.  Well ok, it kind of was, in that it was in the same sort of place, but it was most definitely foreground!   And for the next 49 miles every left pedal stroke hurt a bit.  Nice, no?  No!  I have to say it did very little for my joie de vivre…

another rider pretty town

There was nothing to be done about it, I just had to keep going.  The only way I was getting back was to get myself back.  So I rolled on.  I knew it wasn’t going to stay rolling…there was at least one proper big hill between me and HQ, in fact between me and the next food stop, which had me a little worried.  In the meantime it brightened up a bit, and the fog cleared, but I still didn’t get as far as needing to remove layers, I just carried on and counted down the miles to that hill…  At a couple of points I even saw a couple of other riders!  There was also some scenic stuff to admire too; I vaguely recall a nice bit along a tree covered river, which reminded me of similar in the Pyrenees last year.  However I figured I must be in Wales when I saw my favourite road markings :)  And there was even a level-crossing.  Train tracks have been known to be the bane of my life but I made it over these at the recommended 90 degree angle and stayed on the bike…

i be in Wales level crossing

I was getting increasingly tired and less with it.  Being cold, the knee hurting, the relentless rolling, I think it was all just getting to me.  And my performance up that very big long hill was abysmal!  I mean I made it up, hairpins and all, but there really wasn’t anything in the tank.  There was a sign by the road calling it “Ceri” at some point but I’ve no idea if that’s the name of the hill or the nature reserve on it, or what.  I just know that it went on and on forever…most unusual for English hills.  Which is probably because it was Welsh 😉

sunny hairpin a view

Still, just briefly there, on the way up, there was sunshine, and views, and hey, after this hill it was going to be essentially downhill all the way back.  It wasn’t that bad, right?  These are the things you keep telling yourself to keep you going…  A little sign at the top told me I should cheer up, because I could be mowing the lawn.  Actually mowing the lawn sounded like a perfectly acceptable alternative to me… 😉  But it did mean the hill was finally behind me, and it was time for the third and final food stop.

lawn mowing third food stop

There were other riders here, the same faces as I’d seen before at food stops and occasionally on the road.  There weren’t many of us though!  We chatted briefly, and I wasn’t the only one not feeling it, or not feeling my feet for that matter.  But chatting wasn’t going to get me home.  I set off on my own again and the last 20 miles were, yes, you guessed it, rolling, although with a downwards trend overall.  And those miles were also pretty much purgatory.  It clouded over again and got colder.  I got tireder, my lower back started hurting, the knee got worse, and even with gels and eating and drinking I was definitely running on empty.  I can’t tell you much more about that last section other than it seemed to take a very long time!  I’d assumed that defeated, head sunk between shoulder blades drooping, position and the world had shrunk down to just me, the road ahead of me, and my need to get back.  Then 105 miles turned out to be 106.4 which isn’t a big deal really, but did mean I spent the last mile or so wondering if I was lost on top of feeling out of it!  Luckily, as with all UK Cycling Events, the plentiful signage kept reassuring me I wasn’t.  I kept following the arrows, kept pedalling, and finally I was back at the race course and limping under the Finish arch.

finally the finish line

Cycling time: 7:13
Distance: 106.4 miles
Avg: 14.7 mph
ODO: 11326.3 miles

There weren’t many people left around, unsurprisingly.  The timing team handed me my medal and various goodies – a Power Bar recovery drink, a magazine, Craisins, & pistachios – and I parked up on one of the racks I’d seen so many hours before.  There was no sign of the tea/coffee on offer, and the masseur was busy, so I gave up looking, retrieved my bike and headed for the car.  It took me a while to figure out how to get into the car however…my brain had so gone elsewhere.  I’d gone so far beyond, that I couldn’t think straight.  Everything hurt, nothing wanted to move anymore, and I was wiped out!  Looking back later, I realised that it was my longest ride this year, and my first century since May, so maybe it’s no surprise that it was hard work?  After a while sitting in the boot of my car, I got it back together enough to get changed, load up, and nip into HQ for a quick freshen up before heading off.

the course map

Not that I got far!  A couple of miles down the road I realised that there was no way I was going to get home in one piece in that state, so I pulled into the next available lay-by, locked the doors drank a can of Red Bull, closed my eyes, and was out like a light.  It’s a good thing I set an alarm, otherwise I might have still been there the next morning!  As it was, 45 minutes later, I was up, feeling much better, and had a lovely drive home down through the Wye Valley and over the new Severn Crossing which, as you should know by now, I love :)

So.  I guess it’s a nice enough event.  I’m sure on a good day it’s much nicer.  It’s well run – let’s face it UK Cycling Events know what they’re doing by now.  But 2 average hills, 1 big one, and a lot of rolling means that the only real challenge to it is the distance.  The way the route is set up reduces your options on the day and leaves long route riders lonesome.  There are also prettier parts of the country, in my opinion anyway.  So of all the events they run, for whomever, I’m not sure why you’d do this one, and I don’t think I’d do it again.  Having said that I am still perversely pleased that I did what I set out to do.  Goal achieved.  My knee was not and is not…  But I do feel like I earned my little reward on Sunday, not that I ever need an excuse to drink fizz 😀

medal and fizz



And everything is finite


Followed by energy/health, enthusiasm/motivation, and, of course, the weather.

The first is essential.  And obviously also fleeting.  The following three are factors with varying degrees of importance, possibly descending in such in that order.  Debatably.

If I get all four things together, then I’ll go riding.  Possibly with just two of the lesser factors on offer even.  But if, as is all too often the case, I can’t get it together, the chances are I also don’t have it together enough to be writing.  It’s sort of a binary thing.  Since riding is, surprise surprise, my priority, when I do get it together, I get out there, and when I come back in, I’ve probably run out of at least one of those things and so writing doesn’t happen then either.  So there has, of late, been a paucity of paragraphs, a shortage of sentences, and my words have been found wanting…


However today I went for a coffee run to Glastonbury with Alan, although my Garmin is denying all knowledge of that fact, which is verging on the irritating.  I had the time – it’s my day off.  The weather was, and is, fairly nice – sunny, bright, although a bit chilly & rather windy.  I was relatively enthusiastic – Alan has been off piste for a little while – and I’ve been missing the motivation that going to be riding in company gives me to get out there.  Plus I needed to get some miles in, company is good, and the coffee at Heaphy’s is my favourite locally.  However, as for the energy/health thing?  Well it turns out I didn’t have as much of that as I thought I did.  I struggled…*sigh*

Some days the tank is full, sometimes it’s half empty, and sometimes you’re into the reserve tank.  I wish I knew which it was going to be beforehand!  But then maybe last week’s unexpected zone ride wouldn’t have been so good.  And then maybe I wouldn’t have gone out today, and that would have been bad.  So I went out.  And ok, so it wasn’t great, but I’m still glad I went :)

In the meantime, though I still have time, I am all out of energy, I could use some painkillers, and my enthusiasm for doing anything at all is waning, even if I could do anything!  So I think I’ll make the most of the weather…if you want me, I’ll be curled up on the sofa, enjoying the sunshine, in the conservatory.   With my kindle, possibly a cat if it suits one of them to keep me company, and, who knows, maybe later on, something cold and medicinal.  Laters y’all :)

Cycling time: 1:41
Distance: 28.2 miles
ODO: 11219.9 miles

If life gives you demons, make a deal

all blue

Increasingly rubbish weather.  Increasingly rubbish me.  It’s getting harder and harder to get out on the bike.  And it’s just as hard to find reasons to do so when I actually can.


Sure, when you’re riding with a mate, or mates, it’s easier.  There’s conscience, company, and frequently coffee.  All good.

But when it’s just you?  Or in this case just me?  Well not having been out this week, my conscience was gnawing away at me.  The weather seemed like it might be tolerable.  Two out of three ain’t bad, right?  But I was having trouble remembering why I should be doing it.  Another couple of hours cycling around familiar and thus contemptible local roads on my own?  Hm…

So, since I have otherwise had a very constructive week and still had some things to do, I decided I would make my ride about getting some of those done, and make up my route around that and as I went along.  An ride that would be both errant and run errands.  Or ride errands 😉

Et voilà…

Job one: put on my new socks because I wanted to test them out on route.
new DeFeet socks
Job two: post a rented DVD back to Lovefilm.
Job three: ride to George’s and drop off a bag of spare kit for her. Which involved the novelty of riding with a pack on my back, and the discomfort and extra heat that went along with that.  Ick.  Hence that being the first stop en route.
kit delivery
Job four: get some less familiar miles in.  Meander, wiggle, roam, take roads at a whim, and then join up the dots.
Strava route
Job five: pop into Cheddar Cyclestore and buy new cleats for my winter shoes.  I discovered earlier this week that I had clearly harvested those that they originally had at some point earlier this year, and forgotten about it.  I don’t half get through cleats!
Cheddar Cyclestore cleats
Job six: Go home.  There was no job 6.  Just job done.  Out, but not down.  I remain undefeated 😉

Cycling time: 1:56
Distance: 31.8 miles
Avg: 16.4 mph
ODO: 11100.7 miles

Bristol Belter 2015

I saw the sign

So that was “summer”.  Hm.  It would appear to be September already.  The mob are back at school.  So, typically, the weather last week was pretty good, if not that warm.  I rode up hills with Alan, and went for coffee with George.  But I didn’t have much to do last weekend, other than doing my civic duty opening the Somerset Showcase on Saturday.  An weekend devoid of riding, people, things to do, with a reasonable weather forecast.  Sad face, etc…

Cycling time: 4:12
Distance: 61.1 miles
ODO: 10919.0 miles

Hello Thursday night.  A meeting and a few drinks later.  A sofa and a laptop.  Tipsy internet shopping?  No.  Well, ok, yes, actually I did do that.  A girl can never have enough frocks, right?  But I also pinged off an email and got me a press place to do the Bristol Belter on Sunday *grin*.  With nothing better to do I might as well be riding the bike, or maybe riding the bike is better than doing nothing.

So, civic duties done on Saturday, I cooked myself scallops and trout for tea, thanks to the Farmers’ Market part of the day, and got an early night.  I even managed to sleep better than usual, which made the early alarm call somewhat less objectionable than usual.  Though it’s still not exactly pleasant to wake up in the dark…daylight, daylight, wherefore wert thou?  But when it did make an appearance it was clear, and bright, and full of promise.  It was also blinding as I drove into the sunrise all the way to HQ at The Fry Club in Keynsham, which made driving interesting!


The car park wasn’t large, and it was still fairly empty.  Not a lot of riders expected?  It was probably more due to the way the event is/was structured.  The Belter has three routes.  Short – c.44 miles.  Medium – c.63 miles.  Long – c.100 miles.  Both the Short and Medium routes head south to the Mendips.  But the Long route starts with a 37 mile loop around the Cotswolds back to HQ before doing the Medium’s 63 miles.  So only the long route riders were the ones daft enough to get there for the 7:00am start, what with that first hour’s start slot being reserved for Long Belters.  The other routes got a lie-in – lucky s*ds 😉

start line rider briefing

So HQ was sparsely populated.  Having faffed in the freezing sunshine and put on all the layers I had with me, there were no queues for anything – neither registration, the toilets, or to leave.  Riders were leaving as and when they were ready, so I was one of just three when my ‘group’ was briefed and let go at around 7:30am.  Bye bye HQ, and very shortly bye bye fingers, bye bye feet!  Yes it was sunny, yes there wasn’t much wind.  But me oh my, it was cold!

Castle Combe pub Castle Combe church

It was odd out there.  It was very early.  The sun was, though rising, still very low, and casting exceedingly long shadows.  It was either very bright or very dark.  Chiaroscuro.  After a stretch of cycle path, the roads were deathly quiet.  As was the world really.   It all felt a bit unreal, or maybe even surreal.  Like I was just aimlessly cycling around waiting for the day to actually begin and it hadn’t yet.  It was also a bit worrying.  What with the sun being so low and in front of me it would be blinding any motorists coming up behind me…so it’s a good thing the residents of the Cotswolds hadn’t really woken up yet.  Furthermore, what with the signs for the long route being black arrows on a red background, they really didn’t stand out, and spotting them in the shadows was a bit tricky, so I was worried I’d miss one and get lost…

me and my shadow first food stop

It was very pretty out there though.  And, as I’ve mentioned, very very cold.  I was almost grateful for the fact that, in dribs and drabs and then one biggish hill, we were going up in the world, as it at least generated some internal heat!  Up on the top there, there were views over to the Severn Bridges and beyond, fields of gold with straw bales dotted around, blue skies, green hedges, and even a hot air balloon in the distance.  All very idyllic.  As was the cutesy chocolate box village of Castle Combe which the route then went down to, and which marked the turning point of this loop.  What could have been a nice descent wasn’t as, being in a wood, it was just too dark to see the dodgy road surface.  Still like I said, the village was pretty, and the climbing back out again wasn’t too bad.  Time to head back to HQ, with the sun behind me and no longer in my eyes, making it even easier to enjoy the scenery.

In an ideal world I’d have warmed up by now and, being back at HQ which was also serving as a food stop, I could have stashed my superfluous layers in the car.  Sadly I still couldn’t feel my feet so that wasn’t going to happen!  I did nip to the toilet and grab a bit of flapjack before heading off for the Mendips loop though; this time following white arrows on red which stood out a bit more.

waiting waiting waiting aquaduct

There turned out to be rather more climbing today than I’d expected.  And it wasn’t obvious either, various and numerous climbs lurked amongst the country lanes and under trees.  Deceptive.  And slow.  Scenic though, I even got to ride under a viaduct!  I gave in to the inevitable and accepted that today’s ride was going to take me a long time, and that I should stop fretting about it.  Well, I really didn’t have anything better to be doing, and I was riding my bike in the sunshine so…time to sit back, enjoy, chill out, etc.  Actually, less of the chilling, things were finally starting to get warmer.  At 11:17am precisely I realised I could feel my feet again, which cheered me up no end! :)

second food stop resting pair

I was heading for the very familiar but in the meantime all the back country lanes had me feeling a bit in the middle of nowhere, and a bit lost, and at one point actually lost.  Somewhere before Chew Magna I climbed up a gritty muddy hill to a t-junction and…nowt.  No sign.  Hm.  So I went back down the hill to find a few other riders riding up it.  So I went back up with them.  More climbing is good, right?  Still no sign at the top though.  Cue much consulting of maps and gadgets, before resorting to some semi-educated guessing!  We went left and hoped for the best.  Which worked.  Judging by how the next sign we saw was displayed we should have been approaching it from a different direction, but hey, at least we were back on the route.

bike break top of Westbury

From here on in I was going to be on home territory for a while so although I’d lost confidence in the signage somewhat, I knew I couldn’t actually get lost, which was nice.  After a steepish climb up to Hinton Blewitt, and some more wiggling, I popped out on the road to Litton and prepared myself for the long climb from Chewton Mendip to the top of the Mendips.  Which, at the top of the nicer way up there, up the delightfully named Torhole Bottom, is where the next food stop was.  Not that there was much food left.  It was staffed by army cadets of some sort.  Rather more of them than you’d have thought necessary, who were larking about rather more than necessary.  One of them topped up my water bottle though, whilst another counted the remaining bananas.  All 18 of them.  Make that 17 after I’d grabbed one and eaten half, having decided to take a seat for a few minutes in the sun and take a little time out, in keeping with the enjoying it spirit.

time for the Gorge with Guy riders behind on the Gorge

Right then.  Time to head for Priddy, and the descent to Westbury.  Which I do like.  Especially on my own.  Here however signage once again let me down.  Apparently I missed a sign to turn left on the way down.  Didn’t even see it.  Possibly because I was trying to avoid a u-turning MX5 at the time, or because at the speed I go down there at I need to be concentrating on the road surface ahead..  Either way, I missed it.  So having had much fun flying downhill, I ended up at the bottom, at the junction with the Wells road, with no signs to be seen.  Well more climbing may be good, but I certainly wasn’t going to climb all the way back up that particular hill just to see where I’d gone wrong – it’s a killer hill!  But I wasn’t lost per se, as I knew exactly where I was, I just wasn’t where I was supposed to be.  Having seen some of the route signs the day before when out and about, I knew where I could pick it up again, so rather than try and figure out where the route had actually gone, I cut across to Cocklake instead.  Ok, so I missed out a few miles looping through Easton and Theale and Wedmore, but I didn’t miss any hills out, and I cycle through there at least once a week, so I figured I wasn’t missing out on anything much.

overtaken on the Gorge rocky Gorge

Back on route, en route to Cheddar Gorge then.  Having made my short cut I had managed to get ahead a bit and actually found myself with quite a few other riders for a bit.  Two of whom turned out to be Jon and Guy.  Jon was actually on the ride, Guy was just along for some of the ride.  I only realised it was him when I recognised his as the voice of the rider apologising to the driver of the car that he’d just rear-ended…*grin*.  No harm done though.  Guy was actually supposed to be on a recovery ride and keeping his heart rate down to whatever b.p.m.  This didn’t stop either him or Jon from leaving me for dust up the Gorge as usual though!  Ah well :)  I did actually overtake some riders in my turn, wiggling my way up beneath the cliffs and through the shadows.  The Gorge was a tad busy, plenty of cars, riders, grockles and sheep that look like goats, but we all seemed to be getting on amicably enough, even around Horseshoe Bend which I always go up in the middle of the road.  The cars behind me didn’t seem to mind today, and I waved them thankfully by once I was done.  And soon Cheddar Gorge was done too, and I was back up on the top of the Mendips again, basking in the sunshine, and chatting to Guy and Jon who were at the third food stop here.

top of the world third food stop

It’s good to talk, right?  Especially as a lot of today’s riding was just me.  Normally it’s not until later on a sportive that I end up on my own, after the shorter routes have headed for home and left me out there.  This one works the other way around.  There’s always fewer riders doing whatever long route it is, and having been set off the way we were, us few were pretty well spread out.  And then later in the day on the other loop, all those shorter route riders were so far ahead that I never saw much of them either!  This also means the food stops later in the ride have been pretty thoroughly ravaged.  I think it might work out better the other way around – Mendips then Cotswolds?

lake view classic Chew

Right then, time to get back to it.  Having earnt a decent descent I was disappointed to be given the narrow wiggly gravely one to Compton Martin which was not at all fun.  *sulk*.  Still, at least I was on the home stretch now, and going pretty well, even if that home stretch did turn out to contain a couple of nasty hills, one around Nempnett Thrubwell and one really steep kicker at Norton Malreward which I was actually quite proud of myself for not walking up – it hurt!  (By the way, have you noticed what cool place names we have here in Somerset?)  That last final up also meant it was pretty much downhill from there for the last five miles or so back to HQ – always the best way for a sportive to end IMNSHO 😀

thatched Keynsham church

Finally my Bristol Belter was done, albeit a slighter shorter Belter than it should have been *grin*.  I was rewarded for my efforts with a rather nice Bristol Belter mug – which is far more use than a medal and far more interesting than a water bottle.  As it turns out, it was a very nice way to spend my Sunday after all :)

Cycling time: 6:49
Distance: 93.4 miles
Avg: 13.7 mph
ODO: 11012.4 miles

Bristol Belter mug

Severn Bridge Sportive 2015

here I come Bridge

I have a bit of a thing about cycling over the old Severn Crossing.  I like it.  A lot.  And it’s a fair bet that a sportive called the “Severn Bridge Sportive” involves that, right?  Bit of a no-brainer really.  I also have a tendency to repeat sportives that I’ve enjoyed before.  This one I did in 2013.  In June.  In glorious sunshine.  This year’s edition was in August.  On the Bank Holiday weekend.  So guessing what the weather was going to be like was also a bit of a no-brainer…

Yep, I love waking up in the dark, after a truly disastrous night’s sleep, to the sound of rain on the conservatory roof, and the forecast of much more to come *sigh*.  I came this close to rolling over and going back to sleep, but since I was due to be reviewing it my sense of obligation and my conscience kicked me up and out of bed.  Man, I have to learn to get rid of those two pesky things! 😉

Which brings us, after a damp and dreary drive, to HQ at Castle Coombe Circuit.  I was on the early side and was marshalled to park up at the nearer end of the parking, passing many walking riders heading off to register in the chilly rain.  I wasn’t going to do that.  I knew better.  I knew that it’s further than you think.  And I figured the best thing was to sit in the back of my car, faff, get sorted, and kill time so that I could ride to registration, use the facilities, and then not have to loiter around in the rain for too long before start time came.  Moisture minimisation.  So there I sat, peering out, watching riders walking to and fro’ while it rained, and rained, rained heavier, rained lighter, but always rained.  Ah well, at least it was easy to decide on layers.  S*d the gilet, it was definitely an armwarmers and waterproof day. Let’s face it, with the autumnal temperatures, boil-in-bag wasn’t likely to be an issue.  Hey, on the upside, at least it wasn’t windy for a change!

car cave registration

Time passed, and finally it was time.  I clambered out the back of the car, clambered on to the bike, and rode off to register.  Luckily registration was indoors.  Riders were sheltering wherever dry was, and there may even have been an element of huddling together for warmth!  I signed in, got my number (322), ties, and helmet timing chip, and went back into the ‘orrible outdoors to fix them where they needed to be.  Whilst waiting outside I bumped into Herbie and his Mrs, and we chatted for a while, friendly faces always being a good thing, before taking our places in the start line.  I think we were in the second group away, but a bit far back in it so I couldn’t really hear the briefing – maybe a mic would have been useful – but I caught the odd salient point and saw the signs I would be following, before we were on our way.

waiting in the rain start queue

The route starts with half a lap of the race circuit which, though smooth and flat and therefore probably lovely normally, seems to have decided drainage is not necessary and that standing water is a good thing.  Water was coming down, coming up…and my ar*e was soaked even before we left the circuit.  Ick!  I’d meant to cycle with Herbie for a while but all that cold and wet going on meant I needed to get going on and warm up a bit so I left them behind and headed off.  As we exited the circuit onto a muddy country lane, one poor sod was already fixing a puncture.  I’m fairly sure that today, if that had happened to me, I’d just have walked back around the circuit, loaded the car up, and gone home!

Off we go then.  There’s a distinct lack of photos today, mostly due to the weather.  But also to the fact that we’ve all seen damp English country lanes before!  What scenery there was en-route to the bridge would probably have looked lovely on a different day but today it just all seemed a little grey and dismal and uneventful.  It’s amazing what a difference weather makes to a place, and when you’re busy looking down and watching where you’re riding, you’re not really looking at the view anyway.

So…  It was a ride of four hours.  One very wet one, one wet one, one mostly dry one, one wet one.  Or maybe it was a ride of three parts.  One ride out.  One bridge aller et retour.  One ride back.

Because today I did the short route.  I like Welsh hills.  I liked the long route when I did it before.  But today 40 miles of wet Welsh hills just didn’t appeal.  I can do them any time and, in fact, have already done that several times this year.  So I rode a fairly flat 33 miles just to ride over the bridge, grab some yummy apple pie, ride back over the bridge, and ride 33 miles back again.  Which made this a fairly easy, vaguely miserable, slightly boring ride.  I know, I’m weird, how can riding a bike be boring?  But without lots of up there isn’t lots of down.  It’s just fairly constant pushing, slowed down by puddles, potholes, and mud!  Maybe I should have done the extra forty mile hilly loop after all?!

Bikes Only empty Bridge

But, and there’s a big but, it was totally worth it.  Why?  Because thanks to coinciding with the Severn Bridge Half Marathon and presumably some hefty behind the scenes negotiating, the old Severn Bridge was closed.  Totally closed.  As in the only traffic to be crossing it between 7:00am and 13:00pm was us.  Cyclists.  How cool is that?!  Very, since you asked.  How many people can say they’ve done that?  Well, around 300 or so probably, depending how many no-shows there were, but still, bet you haven’t!  It totally made my day :D.

Riders on the bridge from one bridge to another

You can’t blame an event for the weather though.  This was not a bad event by any means, it just suffered from bad weather.  There were a lot of positives.  Good signage, all bar the odd bit when I’d been on my own for a while and was convinced I was lost and could have used a reminder.  The marshals and staff were friendly and helpful.  The food stop (used twice on the long route) was great, well supplied with hot drinks, savoury and sweet food (I mentioned the apple pie, right?), water and energy drink, and being in a community centre, it also had toilets.

food stop more crossing riders

Mind you, the short route – being essentially out there and back again – involved a little too much repeating for my liking, and the section around what I think was Yate on the way back in the rain involved far too many roundabouts, traffic, and traffic lights to slow me down when I was in push for home mode.  And I did push.  After a drier hour around the bridge, on the way back the rain came back.  I’d had enough, and I wasn’t taking any prisoners – I was over-taking them all!  Well, it was pretty flat 😉  Which would make it a great route for people who don’t like hills, who aren’t race snakes, who fancy a nice day out in the countryside, or for novices.  The 100 mile route has more to challenge and more to see, and those hills in the middle would break up the flat out and back nicely.  Maybe next year? :)

finish line pasta party

After 66 miles I was back on the soaking circuit again and sort of sprinting for the Finish arch, where I was soon collecting my goody bag, and then declining the free pasta.  That done, I had a chat to Andy Cook who runs the event and who seemed remarkably sanguine given the weather that had happened to his event and no doubt cast somewhat of a pall over the Family Cycling Day element of the day.  Still, it’s the English weather, what can you do?  There were still various undeterred small people cycling around the track with their parents and clearly having fun doing so :) Chatting done, and since I was soaked through and getting cold, it was time to head back to the car, reverse the faffing process, and go home.  Back home, down the rainy motorway, with the heating on!   Bye bye summer… :(

Cycling time: 4:11
Distance: 66.5 miles
Avg: 15.9 mph
ODO: 10857.9 miles

By the way the day did have another highlight.  On the way back, as I closed in on another rider, and passed a farm on the left hand side, there frolicking on the drive, were two very cute small kittens.  One of which ran off, while the other sat and watched, all black and white and wide-eyed as I passed.  Aw, how adorable.  It definitely made me smile.  In fact, as I informed the somewhat bemused rider I was now passing, I think all sportives should include kittens 😉 *grin*.

Me going out on the bridge Me back on the bridge

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

OK, before I start on my latest sportive blog…let’s play catch up shall we?  Actually at present it’s also my last sportive this year, but I really hope that isn’t the case so let’s skip past that…

Alan Rock Cake Cafe

So there’s the ride I did with Alan last Wednesday.  We went up a Gorge, had a coffee stop, and came back down again.  Oh, and in case you’re interested, or heading out that way, the Rock Cake Café is apparently closed as of the end of August…future as yet unknown.  Just FYI.  Anyway, another day and for the usual reasons, I’d probably have bailed but as I had an academic errand to run to Wells and it always oddly pleases me to use the bike to do something constructive rather than just as a mobile gym, I didn’t.  Maybe I should have.  To be honest, it did not go that well.  Given flat, given down, and I was a vaguely on form me.  Up however?  Ow…!  *grrr*  But Alan was both tolerant and patient, and is also probably used to my vagaries by now so hey…out, not in, and another ride in the bank :)

Cycling time: 2:08
Distance: 33.1 miles
Avg: 15.4 mph
ODO: 10760.8 miles

And then there’s the ride I did with Charlie and my adoptive cycle club (it’s a Velothon thing) on Saturday from Bedford.  With the aforementioned sportive ahead of me the following day I opted for the slower of their two groups.  Well…OK…let’s be honest, I kinda did that because I was scared I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other group but…after a happy couple of hours bimbling around Bedford, where their word “hill” has a completely different meaning to mine, and seeing the other group’s average speed I SO could have done. But hey, discretion, valour, sportive, etc. *grin*

Cycling time: 2:01
Distance: 30.5 miles
Avg: 15.0 mph
ODO: 10791.4 milesCharlie

It had a lot of upsides though.  It was sunny.  There was no wind to speak of.  And as I may have hinted, Bedford be flat!  But it sho’ is pwerty.  Very pwerty :)  It was nice to ride somewhere new, with new company, without signs, timing, or pressure.  Our slower group numbered five, and it came with a stay together help everyone vibe – as a club that seems to be how they work – inclusive and encouraging.  And, sincerely, with no insult meant to the slower riders in our group; when I ride with folk, I am pretty much always the slowest, the drop off the back, the wait for me at the top of the hill.  And it was nice not to be that for a change.  To be faster.  To be let off the leash to sprint and hurtle on my own from time to time when we could all regroup afterwards.  To feel comparatively fast, but not feel resentful about our average speed.  We all have to start somewhere, and it would have been great to have had such a supportive group like that back when, in the distant mists of time, I started out.  Oh, and I was also drug-free for a change…for how long who knew?  But I can cope with that.  You bear your cross, I’ll bear mine.  Like it or not, sometimes the ego needs a boost, and this was good for mine.  Even if I know I’m not fast really.  So I enjoyed it all ’round.  You’re supposed to enjoy being on the bike, and this was enjoyable.  Sadly I couldn’t hang around for post-ride coffee and banter for too long afterwards as I had to get home, and it’s a longish drive, so apologies and thanks for having me guys :)

The fastest way back home

One week.  Four rides.  It’s probably time I put metaphorical pen to metaphorical paper right?

Square steed

So I’ve ridden with Guy & Rob, with Alan with hills, and without, and also with Steve.  At times like these it is better not to be just with my imperfect self, just in case, even if I don’t say so, so the company has been both great and much appreciated.  I am extremely lucky to have my cycling mates.  And we’ve been lucky too, as there has been sunshine on both the hills and the Levels; our timing has been immaculate.  Along the way there has been coffee, cake, a Cornish pasty and lots of fizzy orange.  Liquids for me, solids for others of course…the moon may be inconstant but some things are not.

Some of it has gone great.  Some of it hasn’t.  Sometimes it’s felt like one but Strava says it was the other.  Sometimes it’s been both, one after the other, and great has turned into it just being time to get home as quickly as possible.  But however it’s been, it’s all been good really.  Because out there is good :)

cake Alan looking pasty

Yes I should have been writing about it all.  It’s what I do after all, no?  But in addition to it being the school holidays, working, and other things that might possibly count as having a life, thanks to the current analgesia regime, I also end up spending rather more time than I would like asleep.  What the mob call my non-optional naps 😉  On the days that I make it out of bed in time for there to be enough time left in the day for there to be time to have a nap that is…   It isn’t ideal, but then the alternative doesn’t exactly appeal either…them’s the breaks.  So there hasn’t been much time left for writing…I’m sure you’ll forgive me, right?  But tonight there is some time and tonight I have written.  Job done :)

taking Alan up the Gorge

Cycling time: 7:32
Distance: 123.6 miles
ODO: 10727.7 miles

In other news, Rapha have had their annual sale on.  And I hankered a little…but there wasn’t anything I really needed or wanted, and besides my budget restrained me.  But it also inspired me, and thanks to a jammy ebay best offer buy, I have the new mitts I might have gone for if I could have gone there.  I have finally replaced the mystical perfect pair I had years ago that tore and couldn’t be replaced like-for-like because they’d gone out of stock.  Still not cheap as mitts go, and they won’t stay this colour for long, but they fit like a glove (yes, I know, terrible, but they do!), and man, they are SO comfortable!  Let’s call it retail therapy 😀

new gloves