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Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2018

You would be forgiven for thinking that I don’t ride a bike anymore. Let’s face it, I practically don’t. As my health has gotten worse, I have been less and less able to ride a bike… I’ve barely even been even to use the spin bike.  That wasn’t going to stop Matt and I doing this year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue ride however.  What, miss a good excuse for a weekend in Pembrokeshire, with bikes, and beaches, and all?  Not likely!  

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Which is sort of the point I’d like to make in this blog, and part of the reason the Tour of Pembrokeshire – i.e. the actual event in May – is such a great event.  Unlike most sportives it takes place on a Saturday which means you have the change to spend a whole weekend in one of the most beautiful parts of the country I know, without that mad rush for home to be ready for work on Monday..  Even if you don’t want to ride the sportive, and your other half/friends/family do. it’s not like there’s not plenty of other things to do in that neck of the woods – more of which later.  

But let’s re-wind a little, to the morning of Friday 26th January, when we were due to be at Crug Glas, the official event HQ, first thing.  When you’re aiming for bacon butties at 8:30am, and it’s a 3+ hr journey, sleeping through your alarm clock and not realising how many times you’re hit snooze until around 5:15 is NOT a good start!  You’d be amazed how quickly you can get your act together, kit/clothes on, and bikes into an already mostly packed car when you have to!  

OK, so getting there in time for the bacon was never going to happen…and as we got closer, and I dozed while Matt drove, and rain intermittently kept us company, it was looking like getting there in time to ride at 9:00 was also not only unlikely, but unattractive!  I pinged Peter (organiser extraordinaire) to warn him, in a fingers crossed tone, that I might not make it but I was on my way.  A quick check of the schedule for the day informed me that we were actually due to head out at 9:30am, and for all that the weather was looking unappealing, I did actually kinda want to ride the bike, just to prove I still could. Back to crossing those fingers…

By the time we arrived, the weather had brightened up considerably.  I left Matt parking the car outside the hotel proper and sorting bikes, since we were staying the night and the Cowshed car park was full, and nipped in to let Peter know we’d made it and would be riding, and to please not leave without us. Just as I walked in to the back of the briefing, where he was reading out who would be riding in which group, he read out my name – spotted me, and pointed me out to everyone.  Comedy timing..thanks Peter!. ūüėČ  Having had issues in previous years with losing riders en route, and with the Prologue getting more and more popular every year, we were all organised into groups of roughly 5 riders to 1 official Tour rider, roughly by ability, and by route (25 or 40 miles) with the emphasis being very much on keeping those groups together.  Not that those groups couldn’t end up riding together – but G is for group, and you should never leave your wing man, right?

 

Our group was to consist of Tour stalwart Griff, Matt and I, and three others (names escape me right now, I’m rubbish with names!), all very happy with 25 miles being the wise choice to make around here – what with it being early and the year, and it being more than a tad lumpy here!  Having checked in, and had a quick chat with Peter, there was just enough time in hand for me to rejoin Matt, for us to put every layer of kit on we owned, and to take the bikes over to rejoin our group.  Did I mention that it may well have been brighter, and it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t warm?!  And it was a tad breezy on top of that…isn’t it always?  S/s base layer, l/s winter jersey, bib winter tights, winter jacket, gilet, long finger gloves and, Matt’s leg warmers over the top of my tights.  More kind of as a precaution than anything – I tend to get cold and then stay cold – and they’d be easy to take off if necessary.  Matt, clearly being of questionable sanity, wore baggy shorts as usual…! You can take the boy off the MTB but you can’t take the MTB out of the boy… ūüėČ

 

So there we were, all ready to go and, after Matt played Good Samaritan and helped some lad who was borrowing a bike put pedals on it, we headed off into the wilderness.  Last year, on leaving Crug Glas and heading towards the coast, you’d never have even know there was a coast to head towards…  Today, in chilly winter sunshine, under brightening skies, there was the deep blue sea stretching away towards the horizon…which was enough to put a smile on even my slightly nervous face.  It felt a bit weird being on my bike after so long…but it also felt good.  I have been missing it, and I’m looking forward to the days when one day I’m able to get back into, and onto, it properly.  

I hadn’t had chance to look at the route really, but we’d established that there were two or three big climbs to be done – one out of Solva, and two at Newgale – one on the way out and one of the way back.  Which was bound to mean more than three – Pembrokeshire tends to either up or down, there’s precious little flat stuff around here!  We headed out towards St David’s, where we skirted the main town centre to head out along the coast road east.  It was a shame not to see the Cathedral…but I also know going to see the Cathedral involves a country lane detour and one of two possible killer and not short enough climbs to climb up past it, so I really wasn’t complaining!

Being on the bike very quickly got painful.  Which was bad, unsurprisingly.  But good, in that it reminded me why I’ve not been able to ride a bike for months, and helped me feel a little less guilty/cross with myself about that.  Silver linings I guess.  Which are hard to cling on to as, as the ride progressed, it got worse and worse….

Anyway, enough of my pity party, back to the road and the ride.  The coast road is rolling, with some steeper drags, and as it happens, not a lot of traffic and what there was was very courteous and respectful.  Being able to look right and right out to sea helped distract from some of the drag, and also from the fact that the first climb of the day, out of the very pretty village of Solva was coming up.  Our group stretched a little from time to time, as the climbs spread us out, with me not quite last, and the descents did the same, with me not quite, but sometimes, first ūüėČ  

 

The descent into Solva is a bit wiggly, and I wasn’t best positioned to get the most of it. Neither was I really in any rush to get to the unavoidable climb ahead.  Back in the day the route didn’t come this way, but my drive down did, and every time I drove up or down it I used to muse that I was really glad I didn’t have to ride up it.  Well these days it does, and having done it before on last year’s Tour I did at least know it was doable.  I also knew how hard it is if you’re me.  And as we left the very  picturesque and colourful village and started the climb upwards, the gradient cut in pretty much straight away, the group spread out, and it was time to sit back, engage crawler gear, and just concentrate on plodding my way up.  Matt decided out of the saddle was the way to go and disappeared into the distance.  Some considerable time, and pain, later, I finally met up with him and the rest of the group, bar one, at the next suitable regrouping point.  I was ever so glad for the bar one, as it meant we didn’t head off straight away, and I got to get my breath and composure back again!

With the group back together again, in more ways than one, we set off again.  A few more miles of draggy saw us to Newgale, for yet another lovely descent to be followed by a climb!  As you arrive and start descending the whole coastline opens up in front of you and the beach stretches out ahead of you, beckoning.  Don’t get too distracted by it though, there’s a really really nasty hairpin wiggle on the way down, which would be bad even if the road surface was good, and it isn’t, so it’s even worse!  Think of slowing down as an excuse to look at the view? ūüėČ  Once at the bottom the road heads along the beach, divided from the sea by piles of grey stone,  which block out the view until you start to leave the beach towards the other end.  Rather than carrying on up the main road climb, which was on last year’s Tour, we turned right to continue further along the beach, and climb away from the coast that way instead.  No rush though, we slowed down somewhat to enjoy the view, listen to the waves, and have my camera tell me it was full and refuse to take photos of those stunning views! (not amused…turns out later that the memory card had popped out a little – it wasn’t full at all *grrr*).

It turned out to be a nicer climb than t’other one in some ways.  Longer, but more gradual, sort of stepped, with occasional steeper bits.  Matt kept me company this time, which made things feel a little easier.  Had he been with me up Solva I’d have been tempted to ask him for a helping hand, something I virtually never do or permit…now that he was with me, I found it easier not to need one. Perverse I know…  And..then…climb done…or so I thought.  Turns out there as another similar one shortly afterwards, after the left turn inland, which no-one seemed to have thought to mention…told you there were bound to be more than three climbs!   Ouch!

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Somewhere around here, where the 25 mile route was to split from the 40, the other female member of our party was struck down by the puncture fairy.  We all pulled over in a convenient gateway, where a Tour marshal and his extremely cute small child happened to waiting, and various manly MAMILs helped get the job done, using a surprising number of different bike pumps.  Meanwhile I enjoyed the chance for a break, out of the wind, to enjoy the sunshine and be glad we only had 10 miles or so left to go.  Having said that, Peter’s routes have often proven to be somewhat longer than expected, so I was mentally aiming at it being more like 27 miles than 25, so as to not be annoyed if that happened! Praemonitus, praemunitus…or something like that anyway.

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Time to head back then.  Which involved looping us back round, down the much more enjoyable decent to Newgale from the other side, and more beach loveliness.  It took a while to warm up again after the break, but retracing our steps back up that wiggly hill out of Newgale was bl**dy hard work, relentless, and seemed to go on for ever. It warmed me up though!  Every time you thought you’d reached the top, you hadn’t, and the photographer, who’d been popping up en route all morning, was predictably sat half way up after one of the worst stretches to capture the moment for posterity.  I may have smiled.  Or gurned… Once again Matt kept me company, once again it hurt like f*ck, once again we both made it to the top eventually.  

We regrouped, headed back along the main coast road for a bit, where we stretched, and regrouped as usual, and then checked the map and route ahead to make sure we weren’t going to get lost.  One right turn later and we were on to virgin territory.  Which did involve us getting a tad lost, or at least not entirely convinced we were in the right place and/or going in the right direction a couple of times.  Maps and gadgets were consulted but, with only a few miles to go, it wasn’t too stressful an affair. I was pretty sure I could see Crug Glas in the distance anyway, which helped.  Somewhere in amongst those wiggly lanes was a fair killer of a hill, which took the last of what little was left in my legs and then some.  Except it can’t have been a hill because there were only three hills today right?  Sure felt like a hill to me…  By now I was definitely in “I need to go home” mode.  Stick a fork in me and call me done.  Too much ouchy on many fronts, but hey at least we were all still together, and I was warm enough, right?  It was definitely a relief to find ourselves on the road back to Crug Glas, and a welcome surprise to discover, upon turning into the drive back up to the hotel, that the route had indeed been 25 miles or thereabouts!  Result! The work part of the Prologue was over and we’d suffered but survived. That’ll do me ūüôā

Right then.  Time to park the bikes up outside the hotel and, with a little time to spare, head inside, have a shower, and freshen up.  The faster/longer groups probably weren’t far behind us to be honest, race snakes one and all, but luckily lunch was set for a fixed time, not for when everyone was back!  Here’s the photo that a nice lady took of us, to prove that we survived.

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Being off the bike, my body and soul stopped having to hold it together, and lost it fairly monumentally.  I thought it hurt on the bike but holy crap, did it ever hurt now!  Unbelievable sort of mind-numbing amounts of pain…  Luckily I carry a fair arsenal of analgesia, but it took me quite a while to get on top of it, get it together, have a shower, and put on civvies.  Which, as I said before,  made me feel rather better about not having been on the bike for quite a while – because this is how it feels when I do, so I’ve not been being lazy, I’ve been being sensible, so there!  Still…  Ho hum, hopefully I’ll get back to it eventually. Put me back on my bike!

Wrapped up in comfortable warm clothes, we headed back over to the Cowshed for the eat, drink, meet & greet part of the event.  Catering for both this and the Tour is always good, and today was no exception.  It’s a two part buffet.  Jacket potatoes and/or wraps, filled with whatever you want – pulled pork in my case, or various other options.  To which you can then go and add salad, pasta, cheese, whatever floats your boat.  It was very tasty and very necessary. Even I ate most of my wrap!  I could have eaten it all I suppose, but then where would I have put the sticky treacle pudding & custard?  Yes yes, I know I shouldn’t, but I did. I figured I’d earnt it, and bl**dy lovely it was too! ūüôā 

We chatted to our group, who’d we’d ended up sitting with, and also to a few others, over food and the odd pint of rehydration therapy. Andrew Mathias then gave us a motivational talk about his circumnavigation of the UK coast, which was really interesting, and mad, if you consider he’d not been riding a bike for all that long.  I’d call it the folly of youth (cos I’m a grumpy old woman), but since he was doing it for a very good cause – the Paul Sartori Foundation – I won’t. Especially as he raised ¬£5,403.04 for them!  Quite surprisingly, given the ride, good food, and a warm darkened room, Matt even managed to pretty much stay awake!

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So that covers the Prologue. But as I mentioned before, the Tour of Pembrokeshire is about far more than one long very challenging sportive ūüėČ  It’s a weekend in Pembrokeshire for both riders and their families, to stay and enjoy the whole area.  After all it can be a long way to travel for just one day, so why not make the journey even more worth while?  When it comes to staying around St Davids, there are plenty of places to stay locally, up to and including Crug Glas itself (which is amazing!), and you can also book a space for a tent, caravan or motorhome on site if that’s more your thing.  And when it comes to activities, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has teamed up with Preseli Venture for coasteering and sea-kayaking or surfing and Falcon Boats for wildlife boat trips.  It’s not all about the bike you know ūüėČ

You and yours could join the guys at Preseli Venture for a full or half day of family friendly coastal adventure. Try coasteering, sea kayaking, and surfing – it’s your chance to see this beautiful coastline from a whole new perspective! You can enjoy a hot local lunch while you’re there, and even stay in their 5 star eco lodge which sleeps up to 40 people. It includes a private lodge bar with music, pool table, outside seating, cosy lounge and lovely bedrooms, with a range of different sized rooms.  Hardly slumming it! ūüôā

If that sounds a little bit too active for you, how about taking a trip with Falcon Boats for the wildlife trip of a lifetime around the Pembrokeshire islands? Discover the RSPB reserve of Ramsay Island, head out to Grassholm to see gannets, and maybe porpoises, whales & dolphins, or North Bishop to see the shearwaters and puffin colony. Seeing a whale in the wild is on my bucket list, so I may have to give it a try – how cool would that be??

Back to the Tour, which is where I’ll be on May. This year’s Tour has four routes – opening up the stunning scenery and roads of Pembrokeshire to everyone, whether you want to do 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles.  The Tour of Pembrokeshire really is one of THE best sportives you can do.  Quiet country roads, with challenging climbs, swooping descents, amazing scenery and the sea all around.  It’s why I keep coming back for more, year after year.  Sadly it’s looking like I may only be up to the 25 mile route this year but…with free parking, amazing feed stations, delicious free post-ride food, free hot tubs and showers on site, free beer (if you do the right routes!) and live music around the course and at the finish, what more could you or I ask for? I’ll be there, wearing my very fetching Tour of Pembrokeshire Castelli Women’s Team Jersey in the hope it makes me look like I know what I’m doing.   See you there?

*official photos – i.e. the good ones with ToP marks ‘n all are used by permission from the Tour of Pembrokeshire and are ¬©huwfairclough. 

Malvern Mad Hatter 2016

selfie as ever

Right then. Time for another sportive. ¬†Which in this case would be the Cycling Weekly Malvern Mad Hatter. ¬†Which already had a couple of things going for it. ¬†First off it was on a Saturday. ¬†I like Saturday sportives. ¬†It means I don’t spend my entire weekend waiting for and then doing the sportive. ¬†It also means I get a Sunday afterwards for R&R, which is allegedly what weekends are actually for. ¬†Secondly I’ve done it before. ¬†Ok, so it didn’t go that well as it came just¬†after my life went to hell in a hand basket, but I did like it, and clearly I liked it enough to want to go and do it again.

As usual my pre-ride preparation left a little to be desired, and after precious little sleep, the 5:45am alarm call was a far from welcome one. ¬†But hey, who needs sleep anyway right? ¬†So it was time to get up, drink coffee, eat porridge, and faff some as usual. ¬†Matt was down for the weekend, and rather than just play chauffeur for me, and also because he worries about me riding on my own at the moment, he’d decided to actually do the sportive himself. ¬†So that makes two people faffing…except he doesn’t really faff, he just laughs at me while I do…! ¬†I can cope with being laughed at though, especially if it means I don’t have to drive and, since he drives a massive van, loading the bikes and assorted crap up was easier than usual too ūüėČ ¬†Besides, what with this being his first ever sportive, and one that he was about to do on a single speed (insanity), I figured I might get my own back by dropping him on the odd hill… ūüėČ

riders heading off as we head in to register registration desks

1.5 hours up the motorway, in the sunshine, got us to HQ at the Three Counties Showground. ¬†It wasn’t a great journey. ¬†There’s something about sitting cars, or even vans, position-wise that makes the pain worse, and since these days proper pain seems to come with mild nausea, I really wasn’t feeling great by the time we arrived. ¬†Having a massive van mean that we were marshalled, after some debate, into a corner of the field right by the entrance road, which was handy as it would mean less walking on the grass in cleats.

waiting at the start rider briefing girl

We set off for registration, walking rather slowly because that was all I could do, through other riders already setting out on their way, and via the spacious and clean toilet/shower block. ¬†Yes I know, I go on about it, but decent toilet facilities are important! ¬†Ablutions performed, it was time to register. ¬†As Matt had only decided to join me the day before, but as he was playing chauffeur and ride escort, a very nice lady in charge called Dawn kindly gave him a free place on the day to ride with me, which was exceedingly nice of her. ¬†Credit where credit is due – since if Matt hadn’t been with me, I don’t think I’d have have made it to do the ride at all – and then this review wouldn’t exist…even if it is a bit late in getting completed.

car park maneuvres heading off

While Matt¬†signed up, I went and registered myself, signing my name to get my bike number, two cable ties, and the timing chip for the LHS of my helmet. ¬†It wasn’t at all busy,¬†no queues at all, although there were plenty of riders around, and parked up outside, so I guess they must just have been well organised! ¬†We headed back to the van to get sorted in the lovely sunshine. ¬†Yes sunshine again. ¬†In fact it was so warm that I even ditched the base layer, just putting that & my gilet in the saddle bag just in case. ¬†Well I know it was due to be warm, but when I’m having a bad patch I sometimes get cold so… ¬†Oh, and it wasn’t even windy! ¬†How rare is that? ¬†We took our time getting ready, as although I was signed up for the Epic route, I figured today was definitely a Standard day at best, and Matt was doing the Short route, so my nominal 8-8:30am start slot was fairly academic so it’s not like there was any need to rush.

sunny country lanes cute white house

And when it came to it the¬†Start was, as I briefly sort of alluded to earlier, a little weird, so let’s get on with that. ¬†Time to head there, via the toilets again of course. ¬†We joined a bunch of riders near the start line, waited for that bunch to become orderly groups, and then shuffled forward in our group’s turn to be given a long, fairly humorous, briefing. ¬†Possibly the girl giving it hadn’t done as many such as some other folk¬†usually have so was still finding it enjoyable ūüėČ However when we went over the start line – which I’m sure points straight ahead to a main site entrance gate, or at least it did last time – instead we had to negotiate the way around the car park, up through one aisle, and then back out the way we came in to the site, through other riders milling around and cars still coming in. ¬†Not great. ¬†Maybe someone forgot to unlock a gate?

manse tractor

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned already, today’s event has three possible routes, and they work kinda petal stylee. ¬†Everyone does the first loop, including the big climb up the Malverns, back around to near the start. ¬†At which point the Short route goes home. ¬†The route then carries on for another 10 miles, before you decide if you’d like to add the extra 26 miles that make the Standard route Epic, as long as you get there by 12:30 that is. ¬†Or just carry on and loop back around to the Start, happy with¬†your less than Epic status. ¬†It means the route is really flexible. ¬†And in this case I meant I could do the Short route with Matt and see how that went before having to make my mind up about anything. ¬†It’s a¬†really nice way of letting different levels of ability of cyclists ride the event together, and please all the people all of the time, and it also makes deciding on your route on the day easier¬†as you¬†don’t have to commit to anything too early on.

a new sign me and gate

So Matt and I headed off into the sunshine for our first 43 mile loop. ¬†It was fairly flat to start with, for the first 15 miles or so. ¬†I’m not complaining though, what’s not to love about 15 miles of flat and sunny and scenic and easy? ¬†Especially if you’re not feeling great and are a little apprehensive about how the day might go. ¬†Matt was getting a bit bored though…so it’s just as well we hit a few draggy climbs. ¬†Apparently that’s more fun…even on a single speed. ¬†I wasn’t loving them much because they made things hurt…but that didn’t mean I wasn’t getting up them just fine. ¬†Then came some bigger ups…and I was sorted out now, pain under control, warmed up, settled down, and back to feeling happy. I did get to leave Matt behind on the bigger hills, but downs we pretty much did together, and some of them were a blast. ¬†Well, apart from the one where our¬†descent met a tractor’s ascent…without a lot of space…with my¬†back wheel locking… ¬†So I stopped braking, it stopped locking, there was just about enough room, and we¬†got to carry on downhill a little more cautiously while the rather scared tractor driver probably went on his way cussing us a lot!

war memorial first food stop

The first food stop came 25 miles in, at a nice shady village hall. ¬†Fodder tended towards the sweet, but since that included Haribo,¬†both normal and¬†Tangfastics, which I love, I wasn’t really complaining! I would have grabbed a Power Bar Smoothie, but since I already had my own with me, that seemed a bit pointless… ¬†So I filled up my bottles with water, used the toilets, and we spent a little while hanging around and chilling out, a little literally. ¬†Well it was hot out there! ¬†Besides, it’s all part of the experience, and since this was Matt’s first sportive, might as well make sure he was getting the full show, right? ¬†Besides, he looked like I needed the break more than I did ūüėČ

oast house trees and views

Duly refreshed we headed off for some more draggy rolling in the sunshine – with Matt continuing to get kudos from all and sundry for his single speed insanity. ¬†Well if they were struggling up the hills on proper bikes…then he was proper putting them to shame, apparently ūüėČ ¬†It continued to be nice out there, and we weren’t rushing. ¬†Sometimes it’s nice to just ride around in company, chat, stop and take in the view occasionally? ¬†In fact I can’t tell you as much about the scenery as sometimes. ¬†Well when you’re on your own you have nowt to do BUT look around you…when you’re not, it tends to fly past you more.

tennis court mansion

I can tell you it was all very pretty in a cultivated, well groomed and expensive fashion. ¬†Properties with drives, and tennis courts, and so on. ¬†Oh and the odd oast house. ¬†Lots of fields. ¬†It reminded me a bit of Kent, or Hampshire, in a green and pleasant land way. ¬†Luckily the signage was mostly really good so even though we weren’t paying as much attention as we might have been, we didn’t get lost. ¬†There was¬†just the odd dodgy bit where it was hard to convey with a sign how sharp right turns were from where you approached them, which made navigating them a bit hairy… ¬†Talking of the roads, a lot of the road surfaces were SERIOUSLY crap – even more so than I’d usually expect. ¬†And there were a few ‘interesting’ crossings of main roads that, though well signed, and sometimes marshalled, were tricky when there was traffic. ¬†And when on more main roads for any length of time, they tended to be a bit too busy too, which is never that pleasant.

big hill behind climbing the big hill ahead

Enough talking. ¬†Enough bimbling around in the sunshine. ¬†Time for the BIG climb of the day. ¬†Which was not the climb previously advertised, thanks to roadworks and a road closure I believe. ¬†Instead we all went on a little detour which added a couple of miles and meant that the climb wasn’t the long, hard but steady one I vaguely remembered from last time… ¬†Nah, this one was a doozy. ¬†(Croft Bank apparently). ¬†It was long, a bit steppy, mostly steep, went on forever, and got worse towards the end… ¬†Killer in fact. ¬†As a great many other riders would probably tell you. ¬†Whilst I was plodding my way up, those riding were few and far between. ¬†I’d spot a pedalling rider ahead, only to pass them by a little while later, as the gradient had defeated them. ¬†And just for once, the single speed was defeated… ¬†So as I doggedly, determinedly and more than little stubbornly pushed my way up, Matt was left behind to walk. ¬†I made it up in one go though – I love that I can kind of do hills now ūüôā ¬†I spent quite a long time waiting the top, at what was clearly the unofficial point to wait for your team mates, until you were all back together and recovered enough to ride on again. ¬†Matt finally arrived with a little posse of guys who’d ended up walking up together – sounds like they’d had time for quite a chat on the way up! ¬†Oh, and apparently I’m well ‘ard for making it all the way up without stopping or walking ūüôā ¬†Well…since you come to mention it… ūüėČ

view from the top views and scenery

After that slog, we spend a fair few scenic miles bimbling around the top of the Malverns, with it being mostly flat or down. ¬†Well earnt views and descents – nice ūüôā ¬†Lots of nice shady trees too – coolth being a good thing. ¬†(And yes I know coolth isn’t a real word). ¬†The route split came about 40 miles in, up on the top somewhere, that I failed to photograph, next to a very tempting pub where a great many non-cyclists were clearly having a splendid time sat outside in the sunshine and watching us all.

And so…the time had come. ¬†I’d had a really good ride so far, I’d been taking it fairly easy (sorry Matt!) and since I was feeling the love, and not the pain, and I knew the next 30 odd miles weren’t due to be too challenging, I wanted to do¬†what I’d set out to do. ¬†Matt wasn’t tempted to join me…after initially considering it, the last few miles had finally taken it out of him. ¬†No gears will do that to you ūüėČ ¬†So we parted company¬†for the time being, and I left him to turn left while I turned right and headed out on my own.

forestry riders in the road

It’s a little novel to feel that fresh more than half way into a ride, but I really did. ¬†And as it turns out my legs were raring to go. ¬†Head down, time to go! ¬†To be fair, I think the first loop had the best of it though, from a challenge and scenery point of view. ¬†This is not to say I didn’t have fun. ¬†I did. ¬†Masses of. ¬†I spent a couple of hours bombing around the countryside, on mostly quiet roads, in the sun, overtaking as many people as possible, generally having a blast, and seeing how far I could get my average speed up from the 14.6mph I’d started with… ¬†I was definitely in the Zone ūüôā ¬†I know, not sociable, probably a tad juvenile, but SO much fun. ¬†Flies in the teeth fun. ¬†And I may even have been singing along with¬†my music at one or two points, which is generally a good sign, though probably less good if you end up as accidental audience! ¬†Still when I passed the route split for the Epic route around 20 minutes before its 12:30pm cut off, I wasn’t tempted. ¬†I might have decided to push it, but I’m also occasionally sensible enough to know not to push it too far!

heading back second food stop

The second food stop was much like the first. ¬†Well-stocked with sweet stuff, at a village hall, conveniently under a shady tree and, I think, being used by both riders on the Standard and Epic routes, with riders suffering from¬†different degrees of tiredness as a result. ¬†I tried a PowerBar gel, as they didn’t have the smoothies this time, and I know these things are a question of taste…so let’s just say I’ll stick to my own pocket-heated smoothie next time ūüėČ ¬†I stopped for a bit, clearly, and then headed off again. ¬†After some more hurtling around, with a somewhat more boring stretch at the end, and some annoying temporary traffic lights that stopped play, I was back at the Showground, doing another weird car park loop to retrace my steps and head under the Finish Line. ¬†Malvern Mad Hatter done.

traffic light me finishing

T’other side of the Finish line I was given my medal, and a slightly bizarre collection of goodies – a cycling mag, bar, and men’s toiletries – and was reunited with Matt, t’other side of the hoardings, complete with camera. ¬†Having been in for a couple of hours he was all recovered and fresh as a daisy – you’d never guess he’d just done 43 miles,and was a recently deflowered sportive virgin ūüėČ ¬†Oh, sorry, make that 47 miles; that earlier detour added a couple of miles, and it’s apparently important that I don’t discount¬†that ūüėČ ¬†On my way round, I also bumped into Herbie who’d used the event in a similar to us – his Mrs had done the shorter route and he’d done the long one. ¬†Told you it was a good route set up for that – it’s not just me after all!

Photo purchased from the very lovely sportivephoto.com :)

Photo purchased from the very lovely sportivephoto.com ūüôā

So, how much fun was that?? ¬†I love it when this girl can ūüôā ¬†Although I think I probably overdid it a bit in the heat, as I tend to. ¬†Even after restorative fizzy orange and some chilling out on the lawns, I slept most of the way back in the van, and I was a bit wobbly and off balance for quite a long time. ¬†But that’s ok, least said soonest mended. ¬†Just as well I wasn’t driving though, no?

Cycling time: 4:43
Official time: 5:38
Distance: 75.9 miles
Avs: 16.0 mph

Anyway, it turns out we both really enjoyed the ride. ¬†It was a really good balance of riding his way, my way, in company, and not. ¬†If¬†Tash ever gets up to doing such things – it’d be a perfect one to do with her. ¬†Maybe one day… ¬†Oh, and I got a Silver time too ūüôā ¬†Looking at the standards, and judging by my usual waiting around times, it’d probably¬†have been a Gold without all the time we took out¬†actually enjoying the ride…but that’s never going to happen, because that’s what it supposed to be all about, and it really was ūüôā

 

 

 

Dartmoor Demon 2016

After last weekend’s Tour of Pembrokeshire, it’s safe to say I was a little nervous about this Saturday’s Cycling Weekly Dartmoor Demon. ¬†I’ve been struggling this week as things get worse, and thanks to that, and extra work and the like, I hadn’t been able to get out¬†on the bike either though, in my defence, I’ve managed a few home workouts. ¬†On the upside, thanks to advice from the chemists, and my magical¬†drug cabinet, I’m taking additional pills so, whilst not entirely under control, the pain had been pushed back to manageable…and I was hoping it would remain there. ¬†But there was no guarantee…and I’m very good at worrying…

01 directions to registration 02 registration desk

On an additional positive note,¬†for a change, and a very pleasant one, I wasn’t going to be riding on my own. ¬†As it turns out Gary and I are actually doing the next few sportives together, including this one, coincidentally. ¬†And Robin, who was visiting his in-law down there this weekend, had also volunteered to come and join me¬†for a bit. ¬†Various people seem quite concerned that I not end up crying by the side of the road on my own again, which is really nice of them. ¬†To be fair, I’m quite keen that that not happen again too!

03 ride briefing on the start line 04 heading off through Haldon Forest

Right then. ¬†Friday night. ¬†A relatively sedate affair, involving covering the front room floor with everything I might need/want, and then narrowing it down, and slowly loading up the car. ¬†The forecast was, as seems to be becoming typical, for sunny, cold, and a bit breezy. ¬†Which, in April, could mean almost anything. ¬†How cold is cold? ¬†How warm is warm when it is sunny? And this being the Dartmoor Demon, with up on’t moor to consider, and ups to climb and downs to do…well, the temperature possibilities were endless! ¬†So¬†I loaded up the car with the bike and essentials, and left the decisions for the morning…

05 layer stop riders 06 Rob & Gaz climbing out of the valley

Which wasn’t as early as sometimes, as HQ was at Exeter Racecourse, only an hour away. ¬†The weather was as predicted…so I opted for the same kit as last week and threw extra options in the car in case things changed a lot on the way. ¬†I drank the all-essential coffee, ate porridge, popped various¬†pills, and headed out at about 6:30am, to spend¬†a very happy hour driving down a sunny, dry, fairly empty M5, listening to extremely loud music. ¬†What a difference a week makes!

08 pill stop riders 08 climbing slowly behind me

On arrival once again the size of my car played in my favour as, unlike those entering the racecourse before me, I was pointed towards some empty¬†spaces right at the front of the carpark – one of the Directors’ spaces in fact. ¬†Oooh, get me! ¬†Well, I am a VIP right? ūüėČ ¬†All parked up, I decided to go register before faffing. ¬†I wasn’t in any rush, and there was no sign of Gary yet, so I might as well take my time. ¬†See, there were two routes today – the Epic (95 miles) and the Standard (55 miles). ¬†As ever, I was down for the Epic, but all things considered I’d pretty much decided that I’d be better off doing the Standard route, so if I missed the Epic route starting slot, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

09 another long climb ahead 10 welcome to Dartmoor proper

I followed the signs to registration, carrying my helmet with me as instructed, into the main stand building. ¬† Being such it had plenty of facilities which, seeing the queues, I decided to use first, before taking my place in line. ¬†A few more people on the desks might have come in handy… ¬†My turn came, and I was¬†given my bike number, cable ties, and my timing chip was stuck on the LHS of my helmet. ¬†Amazing how many people hadn’t brought their helmets with them though…! ¬†I was also informed in a by now well practiced spiel that changes had had to be made to the route, so to just follow the signs, and by the way, here’s a map, updated this morning. ¬†Allegedly… ¬†Since this took the Epic route from 95 miles to 102…any lingering doubts about my route choice decision vanished pdq!

11 moor climbing ahead 12 amazing views up there

Back at the car, as I was mulling over kit options in the chilly sunshine, Gary appeared, on his way to registration, which meant I had¬†one less thing to worry about. ¬†He headed off to get sorted and a little while later, we were both ready, and heading towards the start line, feeling nervous but fairly positive. ¬†Well I was, I can’t speak for Gary! ūüėČ

13 trio riding high 14 rob and gaz and a map

I hadn’t really given this sportive¬†much thought. ¬†I’d scanned the pre-event pdf, glanced at the map, and skipped over the route profile…so I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect. ¬†As it turns out, it was pretty much a large chunk of the Dartmoor Classic….done in reverse! ¬†So somewhat familiar, yet completely different too. ¬†A surprisingly good combination. ¬†The first few miles were through Haldon Forest, and flattish, that is when they weren’t going down in a very long and lovely way…¬† Not a bad way to start things, until you realise that inevitably you’ll be going back up the same way at the end of the ride! ¬†Still, plenty of time to worry about that later, right?

15 riders on the Moor 16 the long road ahead

About 5 miles or so in, Robin was, as planned, loitering with intent by the side of the road. ¬†And then there were three¬†– one for all, and all for one, presumably ūüėČ ¬†Which set us up¬†for a fair few miles bimbling along a sunny but shady valley, chatting away sociably, and stopping from time to time to take off the odd item, answer calls of nature, etc. ¬†Of course it being Dartmoor, it wasn’t going to stay flat for long, not if we were going to actually see the Moor. ¬†Time to climb out of the valley first then, up a climb that was remarkably similar to¬†Porlock Toll Road. ¬†Long and slow and gradual and scenic and actually pretty lovely. ¬†Which did wonders for my PMA, already boosted by sunshine and company ūüôā ¬† This was followed by a long and steeper climb towards Moretonhampstead which, I hate to say it, I also enjoyed. ¬†Which pretty much sums up how today was. ¬†I loved the ups, however slowly I plodded up them, because I was still getting up them. ¬†Yes they were frequently hard work, but my crawler gear was well and truly engaged, and I didn’t even feel like I was suffering really. ¬†Well, apart from the usual pain, but I was coping with that. ¬†How cool is that? ¬†And the result of all that up? ¬†Well some of the downs were amazing, especially as they’ve always been¬†ups when I’ve been here before and I figured I’d somehow karmically earned their fun factor ūüôā

17 first food stop 18 first food stop goodies

After that climb up, or another one, or whichever one it was that involved a Donkey Sanctuary that was actually a Miniature Pony Sanctuary, Robin left us up on the Moor, after a map reading session. ¬†Thanks for joining us Rob – I really appreciated it ūüôā ¬†While the boys deliberated over maps, I looked out on the world, and took a few photos. ¬†Man, the views were amazing today! ¬†Mind you it was still chilly – especially up there. ¬†My layers stayed on all day today, even if zips went up and down, and towards the end of the day I may even have rolled my sleeves up a little ūüôā

19 Gaz and gorse 20 rider on the bridge

After a beautiful descent down a climb I usually hate, it was time for the first food stop, 27 miles in, which would mark our halfway point. ¬†The little village hall being used here only seemed to have one toilet, which was leading to a lot of hedge watering…which wasn’t really an option for me. ¬†And which was also not that pleasant from a resident/spectator point of view… ūüėČ ¬†So I queued, emerged, took photos, and ate a few jelly beans. ¬†I know I’m rubbish at eating on rides, and I’m even worse on a “short” one as I don’t see the point somehow, and besides I wasn’t hungry…which is probably not clever. ¬†Feel free to tell me off, you won’t be the first ūüėČ

21 20% walkers 22 another girl!

Back to the Moor please. ¬†Shortly afterwards, somewhere near Princeton, came the route split, and I was actually a little tempted…but I was more tempted by the idea of spending a whole ride in company, and also not having to regret a rash¬†decision later on. ¬†Plus I’d made a decision earlier, and I’m learning to stick to my decisions; I’m getting better at it ‘n everything ūüėČ ¬†So it was the left turn for us. ¬†More Moor please! ¬†More sun, more climbing. ¬†A lovely descent to a pretty bridge across a babbling brook and rocks, was followed by a long and kick-ass 20+% up which I wasn’t expecting, and which wouldn’t be the only one such, but I still liked it ūüôā ¬†The second of these however, wherever it was, after yet another cutesy village, was less cool. ¬†By now Dartmoor was getting busy – a sunny Bank Holiday Weekend Saturday was bringing the grockles out in force, and the little narrow lane we were now climbing up out of there on was cluttered with cars trying to get both up and down, and precious few passing places. ¬†Driver tempers were rising…and our presence was not helping. ¬†Luckily by the time I had to stop and watch a few of them play car chess to get around each other, the very steep bit was behind me. ¬†It was annoying though – I hate to lose momentum. ¬†It’s a little weird, but the hills were going so well, I almost wanted more of them just to keep proving that I wasn’t imagining it!

23 church tower 24 refreshment on the move

Back up on top, the Moor was getting even more familiar, and coming from this direction I could see all the way to the sea. ¬†Breathtaking. ¬†And I was practically at the beach! ¬†Life is always better at the beach *grin*. ¬†Not a bad place for a foodstop then…about 42 miles in…even if there were no toilets. ¬†Just for a change, having topped up my bottles again, I decided I’d try a Mango & Apple PowerBar Smoothie thingy. ¬†Which, amazingly, was very nice! ¬†In fact I put one in my pocket for later, should I need it. ¬†My not¬†eating a great deal¬†might not seem¬†wise, but it worked¬†just fine today, which just goes to show that we all work in different ways. ¬†Different folks, different strokes, etc ūüėČ ¬†Anyway it was a pretty fab place to hang out, on top of the world, while Gary adjusted his seat post, which had somehow managed to drop an inch en route. ¬†Apparently¬†this was not helping with the whole getting up hills thing which, miraculously and just for once, I was doing marginally better than he was. ¬†Ooh, get me and my ego ūüėČ

26 drinking in the views 28 sharing the road

Right then, about 12 miles or so to go. ¬†We weren’t the only cyclists making the most of the weather, as plenty of non-event people were out too, and we were all doing a pretty good job of grinning at each other as we passed by. ¬†After some of that, the descent off the Moor was a blast…even if it did seem a shame to be leaving it behind. ¬†What is usually a long slow slog at the beginning of the day was a long fast flight down at the end of mine. ¬†Such fun ūüôā ¬†However, it was a good thing that came to an end, meaning it was time to spend a few miles being flat and fairly fast, and to look for the up that would take us back to HQ.

29 Gaz is rude 30 another church tower

Which, thanks to the route change, and the map that wasn’t up to date after all, wasn’t where we’d expected it to be, and several of us became convinced we’d missed a turning as we were cycling the same way along the valley as we had much earlier during the day. ¬†Much though I was kind of enjoying myself, I didn’t want to do it all over again! ¬†Somewhat amusingly one of the guys who stopped to pour over maps with us had done the epic route, plus a detour, so in the time we’d done 52 miles, he’d done over 100… ¬†*sigh* ¬†I will¬†never¬†be that good. ¬†Way to put a girl in her place…ah well, my ego probably needed that! *grin*. ¬†We decided to carry on and hope…which just when we were about to give up hope and turn around, turned out to be the right decision, as a marshal at Lower Ashton showed us the right turn we should be taking.

31 red rider on the way home 32 rough stepped climb

So we weren’t going to be going back up the same way, but we were still going to be going up. ¬†The sight of a large tower – which turned out to be the Haldon Belvedere – beyond and up above kind of gave it away. ¬†How could an sportive route organiser resist sending us up to that? ¬†So up we went, through more bits of¬†Haldon Forest, up and up and up… ¬†It was sort of a stepped climb. ¬†Steeper bits, longer gradual bits, all on a lousy road surface with holes marked out in orange spray paint. ¬†Let’s just say there was a¬†lot of orange paint…

34 Haldon Belvedere 36 smiling near the end

As we got nearer the tower, it got steeper, and the right turn below the tower wasn’t the end of it either, but it did flatten out a bit… ¬†It all seemed a bit gratuitous this close to the end, but at least the end was nigh. ¬†Finally up, we were rewarded with a flat¬†couple of miles down which to fly¬†back to HQ, and which were well earned fun ūüôā ¬†Time to cross¬†the Finish Line, and¬†be presented with my medal, a bar, and a copy of Cycling Active magazine.

The pen behind the Finish Line was full of women waiting for their men to home¬†from the sea, who presumed I was one of them as I waited for Gary, until they spotted the medal around my neck, which made for some quite¬†funny reactions. ¬†To be fair, and not blame them, there really didn’t seem to be many women riders out there today…which is a shame. ¬†Anyway, Gary wasn’t far behind me,¬†but I was able to immortalise him when he arrived. ¬†Dartmoor Demon done. ¬†And the refreshment van sold fizzy orange…result!¬†ūüôā

37 hello finish line 38 hello Gary

Cycling time: 4:30
Actual time: 5:15 ish
Distance: 58.6 miles
Avs: 13.0 mph

39 Gary and medal

It’s been quite¬†a while since I’ve had a proper post-ride buzz going on. ¬†But I did today. ¬†I’d had a really good ride, and I was in such a good mood that I could have hugged everyone, and hugged Gary instead, who was probably a bit taken aback by that…sorry! ¬†But it had gone so well, I’d really enjoyed it, and while those around me were talking about how tough it had been, I really didn’t feel like it had? ¬†Also,¬†I guess the whole good mood thing was due in a large part to it having turned out way better than I’d feared it would.¬† It was just such a relief to have made it around without serious pain, mental or physical;¬†I’d been so dreading ending up down there again.¬† It was also great to have had company, to chat to, and share the sunshine and scenery with, which probably made all the difference. ¬†Many thanks guys, no hedge moments today ūüôā ¬†Here’s hoping the next few rides go just as well…*fingers crossed*.

40 traditional post ride refreshment 41 goodie bag

Wiggle Bitter Beast 2015

big tank

Right then. ¬†Time for the final sportive of the season – the Wiggle Bitter Beast Sportive. ¬†Which I’d really been looking forward to, oddly, because it’s a part of the world I really like, and cycling around the Jurassic Coast seemed like a pretty good way to round off the season. ¬†However as the weekend drew near, so did Storm Barney and although it was due to have blown over by then, and yes I did do that on purpose, there were still some pretty impressive winds due to be blowing around on the day.

Hm. ¬†I hate wind. ¬†Which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. ¬†And with 40-50mph winds it’s not just that I don’t like them, they can actually be dangerous. ¬†But I wanted to do it. ¬†But 2 hours is a long way to go to then be miserable for 70 miles. ¬†But I hate bailing. ¬†And then my work threw an extra spanner in the works. ¬†Having been doing the social media for the Cairo-Cape Town world record bike race attempt for the previous¬†few weeks, it turned out that the¬†team¬†were now due to arrive¬†in Cape Town, and break that record, somewhere around 4-5pm on that Sunday. ¬†Their time. ¬†Which would be 2-3pm our time. ¬†And I really needed to be home or at the very least on-line for that, to keep the world updated, follow them in, and spread the word afterwards. ¬†Quite important¬†really. ¬†No point doing the job and then missing that bit!

bovington tank museum first tank

To cut a long and clearly not that exciting story short, after a little encouragement from others, I made a decision. ¬†I’d do it. ¬†I’d get up at stupid o’clock. ¬†Drive to Bovington Tank Museum. ¬†Do the shorter 40 mile route. ¬†Drive back, and be home in time to get to work. ¬†OK, so that all seems like a bit much to just do 40 miles but, as I said, I hate bailing, I wanted to do it, and more than that, since I’d been given a place so as to review it, I really felt like I should do that. ¬†Yep, I’m still pretty conscientious ūüôā

registration it is not a race

Which brings me to HQ, at Bovington Tank Museum, on a very windy, chilly, grey and slightly damp Sunday morning. ¬†I was amongst the first arriving, having aimed to be so, with my usual “sooner started, sooner finished”¬†thing going on, and was marshalled to park in the museum car park. ¬†I was sort of midway between the start line and the main museum building, neither of which were far away. ¬†Time to register before faffing then. ¬†Which I quite enjoyed. ¬†Well, registering for a sportive doesn’t usually involve quite so many tanks, and it was quite nice to get a peek at them all without having to pay.¬† As eldest has just done his EPQ on how tanks developed as a result of and through the course of World War II, it turns out I’ve recently had quite a lot to do with tanks, and having seen the place for myself now, we’ll definitely be going back next year to pay to visit it properly. ¬†Tanks are cool, right? ūüôā

start line rider briefing

Not only did I get to look at tanks, but registration was also inside, warm, dry, and had¬†plenty of facilities. ¬†And it was also easy. ¬†Sign up, get a map, bike number, three cable ties, and the essential helmet timing chip. ¬†No queue. ¬†Unlike the Gents. ¬†But not the Ladies. ¬†Result ūüôā ¬†There’s always a perverse pleasure to be be taken from walking past their queue… ¬†Schadenfreude?

All that being done, t’were time to get back to the car, layer up, load the bike up, and head for the Start line. ¬†Being amongst the first at a smallish event where I imagine the no-show rate was fairly high too, thanks again to Barney, there were only a few of us waiting to be briefed, so it didn’t take long, and all of five minutes later I was off.

autumn colours fly by damp country roads

To be fair, although yes, it was bl**dy windy out there, it wasn’t quite as bad as I’d worried it might be. ¬†We were starting in the top and middle of a loop so…it goes something like this. ¬†Out into the wind for a bit. ¬†Down with side winds. ¬†Along with the wind behind. ¬†Up with side winds. ¬†Back into the wind to the Finish. ¬†Well, ish. ¬†What with there being quite a lot of trees around, there was more shelter than I was expecting. ¬†Still, it was bl**dy hard work quite a lot of the time. ¬†I have to say I wasn’t really feeling it. ¬†I’d definitely felt better on the bike. ¬†As Alan might put it, I didn’t have any zing. ¬†But since I knew I only had 40 miles to do, it wasn’t really a problem¬†and my PMA remained¬†relatively intact.

church and cottage

At least while slogging along there were thatched cottages and churches and villages and things to look at. ¬†And colourful autumn leaves. ¬†Well ok, a lot of them were on the road rather than on the trees, but hey, they were¬†still pretty. ¬†Quite a lot of the land around there is military owned and not developed, and a lot of it also seems to be forestry, which keeps it feeling lovely and peaceful and rural. ¬†There are tank tracks, tank ranges, and military camps all over the place, all of which made the Tank Museum the perfectly logical¬†HQ I think. ¬†The military land¬†also came¬†complete with red flags flying, warning that today trespassing on that land would be even less of a good idea than usual ūüėČ

wiggly hill behind cresting

I’m was pleased to discover that there wasn’t too much climbing involved to make life even harder. ¬†I know there are some nasty hills around there, but every time we got near one of those that I vaguely remember, with my heart sinking, we’d end up not going up it and going in a different direction. ¬†This is not to say it was completely flat though, there were some ups, even the odd steepish one. ¬†The worst climb I think was the long drag down¬†south, up to the coast. ¬†It went on for miles. ¬†Literally; it didn’t just feel like it did! ¬†Still if you’re going to get views, you have to go up, right? ¬†Sometimes up there you could even see the sea! ¬†OK, so I didn’t get to be by the beach this time around, but the sight of the sun breaking through the clouds and over the sea, if not over me, was well worth it. ¬†And after however long slogging up there, the lovely descent into West Lulworth, which I realised was coming about half way up the hill, was a joy ūüôā

warning descent

West Lulworth, about 26 miles in, was also where the food stop was. ¬†Marshalls were trying to slow arriving riders down, and there was a degree of chaos with riders deciding what to do, going in, coming out… ¬†Since I was feeling fine, and only doing the short route, I decided I really didn’t need to waste time, or intake food/drink (I travelled equipped as ever), so I just wiggled around them all and kept going. ¬†It being a Wiggle event I imagine it was as well stocked as ever though, they’ve had enough experience by now!

lulworth tanks

What goes down must go up sadly, and it¬†was¬†quite a long steepish climb back up from there. ¬†However this I knew, having done it before, which always makes up¬†easier to deal with, and I just engaged crawler gear and got on with it. ¬†The wind was now essentially behind me and I won’t pretend it didn’t help push me up there a bit too. ¬†Sometimes wind is ok ūüėČ ¬†Having saluted the gate guardian tanks at Lulworth Camp near the top, and put the climb likewise behind me, the wind was more than ok for a while after that too. ¬†Wheee…..! ¬†Who’s going to turn down a few miles of sort of down/flat with a storm behind you? ¬†Not me ūüôā

Time for the route split¬†then. ¬†On another day I’d have loved to do the long route. ¬†Having looked at it beforehand I had noticed however that it didn’t include my favourite road here – the long climb up the coast past the tank target ranges, and I had half considered doing it anyway just for fun. ¬†It would have been the more logical way to go for the long route too…so I had been a bit bemused as to why it wasn’t en route…but the big red flags, and a road closed sign, explained why it wasn’t included. ¬†It also meant that I wasn’t going to be doing it for fun today either. ¬†Ah well, maybe another time? ¬†Waving a slightly regretful farewell to the road ahead, where Corfe Castle and Swanage beckoned, I took the left turn, turned tail, and headed back.

stately pile

The return leg wasn’t quite so much fun, putting me gradually back into the wind. ¬†There were some interesting wiggles to get around main roads and junctions, and after hurtling off one big roundabout to get away from the traffic I missed the “turn right almost instantly” sign and nearly ended up in a military camp…though I’m thinking the armed guard and massive security gate might have prevented that from actually happening! ¬†The small bit of cycle path not long after, which would normally annoy me, took in a very pretty bridge, river, and small country pile, which placated me nicely ūüėČ ¬†Back to the road, and not so long after that¬†I was being welcomed back to HQ by big tanks, and riding under the Finish arch.

welcome back finish line

After owning up to my Short route choice, I was presented with various goodies and a Wiggle Finishers t-shirt. ¬†I caused some consternation by asking for it in Large. “What, really?” ¬†Which I cleared up by explaining it would end up on eldest not me. ¬†At least they didn’t just look at me and go “yeah, no kidding” ūüėČ *grin*.¬† And there you have it;¬†Wiggle Bitter Beast done. ¬†And, as it turns out, even though it felt like hard work, and not stopping probably helped, I got me a Gold time! ¬†Woohoo! ¬†I’ve added it to my list of events to go back and do next year, to do the long route – but there’ll be no gold for that I bet ūüėČ

I took myself back to the car for a quick change, and a quick trip to HQ to powder my nose, and then the not so quick 2 hour drive back home. ¬†I didn’t have time to hang around and besides,¬†I have a new sportive tactic now too – pre-load the car with fizzy orange so I’ve always got some to drink afterwards, so I didn’t need to spend time finding some. ¬†Remind me about that next season? ūüôā

CT3hIqfWUAA4P3V.jpg-large

You’ll be pleased to hear I got back home in time. ¬†As did the CAROCAP team, albeit a few hours later than planned – the wind did for them too! ¬†They did what they planned to do, I did what I planned to. ¬†I got a ride in, I (finally!) reviewed it, and I was home in time to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening sat on the sofa, on Facebook and Twitter, live posting the team in and playing a very tiny part in their amazing record. ¬†They cycled from Cairo to Cape Town in 38 days + some hours, beating the previous record by around 3 days. ¬†Which puts 40 miles around the Jurassic Coast well and truly into perspective,¬†doesn’t it? *grin*.

Cycling time: 2:37
Distance: 38.6 miles
Avg: 14.7 mph
ODO: 11642.7 miles

6678 goody bag

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 ūüėČ ¬†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 ūüėČ ¬†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 ūüėČ ¬†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 ūüôā

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 ūüėČ ¬†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 ūüėČ ¬†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 ūüėČ ¬†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! ūüôā

the high point of my year

The high point of my year. Literally ūüėČ

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 ūüôā

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 ūüėČ

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 ūüôā ¬†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 ūüôā ¬†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 ūüėČ

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… ūüėČ ¬†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¬†ūüôā

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 ūüėÄ

medal and fizz