The Scribbler

10 May 2016

C2C day 4 – Stanhope to Tynemouth

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 18:55
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While those who had already climbed the hill enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, Gary, David and I set out to tackle the notorious climb that is Crawleyside Bank.

We didn’t have much chance to get our legs going before the ascent out of Stanhope began. Fellow rider Hilary had given us a good description of the challenge that she’d tackled the day before. She broke it down into three sections – to the cattle grid, to the white house and then to Parkhead. With tales of an hour’s climb and the steepest part of the route ahead, we set off a little nervously.

It was cooler than it had been the previous afternoon, but still the day promised to be bright and mild. There was a bit of traffic as the road twisted and turned on the climb and unfortunately I stopped just before the steepest section, giving myself a hard job to get back on and climb on the bike, but I made it.

Soon came signs for the cattle grid. I saw almost a mile done – that was practically half way already. I feared a steeper and harder climb ahead, but just kept going.

20160510-6I knew this would be the hardest part of the day and kept my eyes focused a short way ahead as I climbed. Using the snow poles at the sides of the road as markers, I just kept pushing on to the next one, then the next. Soon I was past the white house.

The landscape changed again. Vegetation was spare and scrubby on the exposed ground. Up ahead the road rose again, but off to the side was what looked like a farm building with an old metal wagon at the edge of the turn into the driveway. That couldn’t be Parkhead could it?

The road I was on dipped a little and levelled out as I approached, remembering Hilary’s description of the landmarks. It was Parkhead! I saw the sign and turned in with a smile.

David and Gary weren’t far behind me. We had made it! And what’s more, we had beaten the van carrying the other riders and their bikes on the trailer and Elaine and Jack who set out after us on their electric bikes.

As we sheltered from the wind, waiting for them to arrive, we felt a great sense of satisfaction. Crawleyside Bank conquered, we had been promised an easy ride the rest of the way.

20160510-16Once everyone was back together and bikes unloaded, we headed out onto the Wasterley Way, a section of gravelly track over the moor. A bleaker landscape than our start in the Lakes, but no less beautiful. The wind continued to challenge, but became easier to deal with once we dropped out of the most exposed paths towards Consett.

At the site of the former steel works, there’s now a sculpture of a silver theodolite held up on animal legs. Les met us here and gave us directions to the van, parked at a nearby retail park ready for a snack stop.

Refreshed and refueled, we were soon making great progress on the tree lined off-road tracks of the Derwent walk, meeting a number of other cyclists and walkers along the way, enjoying the sunshine.

As we crossed the high bridges and viaducts, we kept our eyes open for red kites, but didn’t see any.

20160510-11 (1)By now we were on familiar ground and recognizing place names. There’s a surprising amount of parkland and countryside close to the big urban centre of Gateshead that you only discover when you get away from a car.

A few twists and turns and we were into the industrial landscape around the Metrocentre, passing office buildings and heading towards the river Tyne. From the old Vickers Armstrong factory, past Dunston Staithes and onto the iconic bridges.

We made good progress, crossing over the Tyne and stopping for photos on the Millennium Bridge, before our lunch stop at the Cycle Hub on the Quayside.

From here it was an easy run to Tynemouth. We were cycling home, but the rest of the group were still exploring and asking lots of questions about the locations. Past Wallsend and Hadrian’s Wall at Segedunum, over the paths past the Tyne Tunnel and we could smell the sea air. Through the marina and on, down the steep bank to the Fish Quay at North Shields, and out along towards the mouth of the river.

20160510-29 (1)One last sharp rise, up the hill towards Tynemouth Priory and our final stop at the Spanish Battery car park. We’d made it from one coast to the other!

There had been some talk of going on a little further to dip our wheels in the sea at Tynemouth Longsands, but with many of the group having trains and planes to catch, we said our goodbyes, thanked the guides and went our separate ways.

We met a really nice group of people, and it seemed strange to think this was the end of our journey. We wouldn’t be gathering to eat together that evening and share tales of our adventures and wondering how tough the next day would be.

We picked up our bags and walked our bikes the last half or mile or so through the village and home. It felt like a great achievement, a brilliant challenge and a good holiday.

 

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9 May 2016

C2C Day 3 – Alston to Stanhope

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 20:55
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A hearty breakfast at Alston House fuelled us for another day’s cycling, starting with a sharp ascent over the cobbles out of the village and up onto Alston Moor.

A morning of steady and almost continuous climbs brought us to Nenthead for our first stop. Cloudless blue skies and rising temperatures had us slapping on the sunscreen for another stunning day in the saddle.

Having managed the cobbled hill first thing, today was the day I felt like I got the hang of climbing in the lowest gear, keeping a steady turn of the pedals and managing to stay in balance while clipped in.

20160509-5 (1)My previous experience had been of shorter hills that I’ve tried to power up, leaving me breathless at the top. Now I understand how to climb on a long day’s cycling and leave myself enough energy for another ten miles. I felt good and strong, just going steady, not pushing too hard on the uphills and enjoying the flats and descents.

We soon passed out of Cumbria and into Northumberland and through the highest point on the route. Seeing the county sign was a signal that we really were making progress towards home.

We stopped near Allenheads for lunch, enjoying a picnic in a field and soaking up some sunshine. The post lunch ride has proved hard to get started each day, and it was the same again. Climbing in bright, hot sunshine out of Allenheads, we were soon up into scrubby moorland with no shade, being challenged by an easterly headwind.

Today we were accompanied by Ollie, a photographer who popped up at regular spots on the route with a still camera and also a flying drone cam. Hearing the buzz of the drone was a great incentive to keep pedaling when the going got tough. With growing confidence in my ability to pedal slowly and not fall over, I didn’t walk at all today.

20160509-10 (1)The electric bikes continued to speed away up the hills, and the remaining human powered crew stuck together until we were offered a choice of routes just after Rookhope – one going up and over on the official route and the other taking a slightly longer but less hilly road to Stanhope.

Three of us opted for the lower route for the last section of the day. It was scorching hot by now and the wind had picked up, so at times, even though we were heading downhill we had to pedal into the wind. It felt like being blasted in a fan oven.

I started to recognise the roads approaching Stanhope from riding the Weardale triathlon route a few years ago. It was a shorter mileage day and we were glad to arrive in the village and find our B&B, before heading into the village for an ice cream. It was a shame that the outdoor pool doesn’t open until the end of May, as it was perfect weather for a dip. But, finding that Janice, our fabulous host at Burnside Brace had carried our bags up to our room for us was an added bonus.

Some of the group opted to get the climb scheduled for the next morning out of the way and continued on to Parkhead station, but after being blasted by the easterly wind and picking up some interesting tan lines in our cycling tops, we opted to tackle it in the morning, hoping for cooler weather.

 

7 May 2016

C2C Day 2 – Threlkeld to Alston

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 21:57
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Another day of hot sunshine forecast and as we left The Horse and Farrier at Threlkeld we started to climb under big blue skies with mere wisps of cloud.

We were soon away from the road on good tracks, enjoying a nice sequence of undulations. Each of the climbs came with a nicely rewarding descent and we made good progress to our first snack stop at the pretty village of Greystoke.

20160508-6Taking advantage of the services of a guided tour run by Newcastle based Saddle Skedaddle and doing the C2C route over 4 days was a good decision based on our cycling ability and leaving all the organisation to someone else.

Each day we get a briefing of each section of the route and our lead guide Brad rides with us. He is often at the back so he can check everyone is okay, but sometimes takes the lead through sections where we may take a wrong turn.

Les, the other guide on this trip, provides back up, excellent route and local knowledge and very welcome food and drinks from the van. That means there’s the option to take a ride in the van if cycling becomes too challenging.

Brad and Les were fantastic dealing with the very mixed abilities and demands of the group. I couldn’t fault them.

The landscape started to change as we left the Lakes behind. It became more open and rolling with cultivated fields. A group of five with regular, rather than electric bikes found we were maintaining a nice pace and stuck together.

Despite clear instructions from Les, we missed a turning and ended up on the slightly busier road route into Penrith. But after a bit of navigating we made it through the town centre and up a deceptively steep climb back on the route again.

20160507-16We stopped at Langwathby for lunch – another amazing spread with salmon, Spanish omelette, tomato and mozzarella salad, chicken and all sorts of goodies laid on.

It was a long lunch. Maybe a bit too long to be still, having the hardest climb to tackle in the afternoon – up the hill to Hartside.

Gary and I both struggled to get going after lunch and the rest of the group moved ahead as we started to climb. The day before, Gary got cramp, so I kept an eye on him, stopping at the top of each set of rises, but I needed a break to get my breath back too.

Seeing Hartside cafe in the distance on the hill, never getting closer was taunting – especially when Gary had convinced himself that the total distance for the day was 35 miles, when that was the distance to Hartside. He started cursing the descents for undoing all the hard work on the climbs and got annoyed at the wind.

He kept telling me to go on, but I know how demoralising that can be, so I continued to move forwards and then wait so we could re-group.

Behind us another rider had given up and called the van, so when he passed us on his way back for her, we decided we’d struggle to make it to the top and down again in time for dinner, so we took advantage of the ride. It was 5pm when we stopped, just below the final tarmac section and sharp climb to the top.

So we did reach the summit, but under motor power. We congratulated those who made it and who were posing for photos at the sign, then joined them for the long descent and ride on to Alston.

The wind was sharply in our faces at the top and down the descent. It was so strong we had to pedal downhill at times, although I enjoyed a lovely long freewheel.

Our stop for the night was Alston House where we received a warm welcome to a lovely big room and many laughs over a good dinner.

6 May 2016

Cycling the C2c Day 1 Whitehaven to Threlkeld

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 20:40
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The C2C, or sea to sea is a popular route that crosses England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. And, like many others, we decided we’d like to take on the challenge of cycling the route from Whitehaven on the West coast to Tynemouth on the East – over 140 miles.

20160507-3We opted for the easy option of an organised tour with Newcastle based cycling holiday company Saddle Skedaddle, and doing the route over four days. It meant that we handed over the hassle of arranging accommodation, transporting luggage, understanding the route, and importantly where and when we were going to eat to someone else. A good move as I’d need all my energy for cycling, especially some of the big climbs.

Our challenge began in Gateshead, where we met our fellow cyclists and guides, Brad and Les. Here we loaded our bikes onto a trailer and piled into a minibus for the road trip over to our starting point.

We stayed overnight at The Horse and Farrier in Threlkeld, where a warm welcome and a pub meal gave us chance to get to know each other. Out of a group of ten, there were four using electric bikes on this trip and a mixture of experienced and less experienced cyclists. Most had travelled from far further afield to enjoy the scenery and challenge of the ride starting in the Lake District.

The forecast was fair for our first day cycling, so after an early breakfast, we took the bus and the bikes over to Whitehaven for the start of our trek. As we arrived, we saw plenty of other cyclists getting ready to set off. They all looked better prepared that we did!

We were a little delayed as there was a problem with one of the electric bikes. But support guide Les got his hands mucky and sorted it out and we were soon lining up for a photo on the slipway with the sea in the background. The North East coast felt a very long way away.

The first section was a gradual steady climb along old railway tracks and we motored along really nicely, enjoying the sunshine as the temperature rose. We stopped for a snack break and regroup after about 10 miles along the tracks and then the climbs really started.

We cycled on, into real Lakes scenery – glowering hills and still waters. Pale yellow primroses peeped out from deep green banks. It really was stunning.

To get the best views, you have to climb and, living on the North East coast as I do, it’s not something I do much of, so I found it challenging, but the descent into Loweswater was fantastic fun and allowed me to reach unheard of speeds on my bike.

Just after Loweswater was our first stop and our first experience of a Skedaddle lunch. No soggy sandwiches here – Les set out the first of many magnificent spreads and we fuelled up for the afternoon.

By now the wind had picked up and was in our faces. It wasn’t cold, but it added a resistance factor. I dropped into the lowest gears for the uphills and kept pedalling slowly, getting the feel for climbing on the bike.

It was an undulating afternoon, with a climb up to Whinlatter and then another thrilling fast descent. I lost my nerve a bit on this downhill and made good use of my disc brakes. I was glad I was on my Crosstrail, rather than my road bike.

20160507-15Parts of the route have been diverted due to the damage in the winter floods, meaning that after Keswick we had no option but to climb up through Castlerigg Stone Circle. That was a brute of a climb and I struggled to keep my balance in the lowest gear, and resorted to  walking the steepest bits.

But the view and the atmosphere in the Neolithic stone circle were worth the stiff legs. It was stunning in the early evening sunshine.

From here it was an easy descent and a run back to Threkeld to the Horse and Farrier, where we made the most of the sunshine in the beer garden before a well deserved evening meal. Day two was set to be a tough one…

31 January 2015

Cold weather training

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 14:23
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I’ll soon be setting off to take part in a cycle trek through Vietnam and Cambodia supporting Lend with Care, a charity that helps people by funding micro-loans for their businesses.

Read my latest cycle training update on the cycleforcare blog

13 September 2014

And then I fell off my bike

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 11:18
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In the last few weeks of training for the Great North Run, I’d started to think of what I’d do next. I was looking forward to getting out on my bike again, and to changing my endurance focus to get lean and strong with more of an emphasis on weight training and short, high energy bursts.

I gave myself a day off on Monday after the race. Then on Tuesday I had the option of going for a swim or a bike ride after work. It was glorious, sunny, no wind to speak of, and so Gary and I set off along the coast after work.

We took the trail path of the Waggonways and emerged near Seaton Delaval Hall. I’d been roaring along, feeling more confident on the crosstrail, getting used to bumping over slightly rougher ground. But as we turned onto the road, I tried to bounce up a kerb onto the cycle path, misjudged the angle quite severely and came crashing down on my right hand side.

I managed to bounce my head (in a helmet) off a wall and scraped my knee, shoulder and hip. I felt like a real fool, but didn’t seem to have done too much damage, so after a quick clean up with a squirt of water from my bottle and we cycled back at a slightly more temperate pace.

My arm hurt a bit at the wrist and elbow, but I reflected that I’d been lucky not to break it, as I’d obviously put it down to cushion my fall, and I figured that it would ease up, but that getting in a shower with a bit of road rash would really sting.

When I woke up in the next day, and struggled to brush my teeth, wash my face and brush my hair with my right hand, I figured I’d done a bit more damage and was advised to get it checked out.

So, on Wednesday morning I took myself to the local minor injuries unit. I love our NHS. I just pitch up, give some details, go through a consultation, X-ray and review and am referred back to the fracture clinic. I’m in and out in about an hour, treated considerately and courteously by all the staff and not a worry about paying for it or claiming on health insurance.

I know. It’s not perfect and maybe if I had something more serious, or longer term or expensive to treat I’d have a different view. But really it was a good reminder of something special that we can take for granted.

The X-ray had flagged up a crack in the bone, although the guy who talked me through it admitted he couldn’t see it on the screen. He was most sympathetic and understanding, and sent me on my way with a simple sling for comfort, some pain killers and an appointment at the fracture clinic.

By now I’m nursing my right arm in the crook of my left, and although I’m counting my blessings that the damage is small and the bone hasn’t moved, I feel like a right muppet and start thinking of all the plans I’ll have to change. Like cycling in Scotland next week…

Through the day, I know I’ve done the right thing getting it checked out, as it becomes quite painful and I resort to taking an ibuprofen, then a co-codamol in the evening, hoping it will help me have a pain free sleep. I also get some lovely messages from my friends on Fetch.

I muddle through things left handed, and have a brief moment of getting upset when I realise that, although I can move my fingers quite well, it hurts too much to hold a pen and write. But I tell myself this is temporary and shut up any complaints when I see the coverage of the Invictus Games opening ceremony. Whatever small inconvenience this causes, whatever treats I’ll miss, this will pass.

On Thursday, at the fracture clinic, I have better news. The registrar takes another look at the X-rays, gets me to move my arm around and declares it isn’t cracked after all. He zooms in on the X-ray and spots the query fracture – a slight grey line that’s only visible on one view and not on the others, and says that could just be a feature of the bone.

The damage is soft tissue only, so he advises me to ditch the sling and get it moving and refers me for a physio consultation. I fear a long wait, but I’m next in the queue. The physio measures my range of movement. I can’t fully straighten or lock out my arm or flex it so that my right hand touches my shoulder, but she says it’s not horrendous and refers me for further physio at my local hospital and gives me a series of exercises to do in the meantime.

Today, I’m sporting a cracking bruise, but am supremely thankful for a lucky escape. It might curtail my usual training for a week or two, but it could have been much longer.

22 July 2014

Because a bike’s not just a bike

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 18:06
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When I first got my shiny new road bike, I posted a picture of it with the caption ‘ Say hello to my new adventure machine’. Because that’s what it is.

Me and my friends about to head off on a bike ride

Cycles at the ready

A bike is a means to freedom and fitness. A cheap form of transport; a means to get a job; an environmentally aware decision.

A bike means rides out to the coast for fish and chips and ice cream. Rides through muddy puddles and ‘Would you look at the state of you!’

A bike is sunny days messing about with friends. Discovering tea shops and garden centres and where you can get really good home-made cake and a refill for your bottles or Camelbacks.

A bike is finally making it to the top of that hill without stopping and free-wheeling down the other side. Or taking a moment to admire the view, when all you can see is mist.

A bike is praying that your skin really is waterproof and that your toes won’t fall off. Or hoping that those weird looking tan lines will eventually join up.

It’s bruises, scrapes and chafing and a permanent chain tattoo on your calf. It’s saddle sores and Sudocrem and realising just how many layers you have to take off to go for a pee.

It’s exploring the countryside or speeding through a city. It’s about finding places you never knew existed. Rediscovering the intimate knowledge you had as a child of your local area with all its secret pathways and shortcuts.

It’s tech talk of carbon, cassettes and chain rings and ‘mine’s better than yours’. It’s le Grand Depart, le maillot jaune et, chapeau to you! It’s about being King of the Road or Queen of the Mountains, imagining you’re on the Champs Elysees or the Queen K Highway.

Chrissie Wellington, four times Ironman World Champion has had her bike stolen. The one she won her 2011 championship on. The one she calls Phoenix, because they rose together.

I’m sure Chrissie could have any bike she wanted – faster, lighter, more expensive, higher spec. But if your bike isn’t there any more, it’s not just a piece of metal that’s gone. There’s a bike shaped hole in your heart. Because a bike’s not just a bike is it? And Chrissie’s not just a World Champion. She’s a girl who wants her bike back.

I really hope you find it Chrissie.

11 May 2014

Alnwick sprint triathlon – first tri of the year

It’s fair to say I was quite nervous about doing my first tri of 2014 at Alnwick. My training’s been a bit inconsistent and mainly run focused and I’ve had very little time on the bike. But, having never done this race before, I had no performance targets to compare myself against and approached it as a good Sunday training session.

I can see now why this event gets booked up so quickly. It’s well organised, very friendly, with top marshaling and a great season opener. I’d definitely do it again.

I arrived quite early, but was glad of extra time as a road closure meant I had to take a diversion to get to the Willowburn sports centre. I registered in the sports hall where there were lots of people sorting out numbers and goody bags, so it was very speedy. I checked my number and swim time on the list on the wall – last but one, in the pool at 09:11:40. That meant a long time to hang around and get nervous.

Bike rack at Alnwick tri

Personalised bike racking space – a nice touch

I knew I had to have my bike racked before the race briefing at 07:25, so collected my kit and set it all out in transition. For once there was plenty of space on the racks, and a nice little touch was having your name marked with your number.

As I made my way back into the building, Stuart, a Fetchie pal, spotted me and said hello. It was really nice to see a familiar face. Although I know quite a lot of people in North East triathlon, not being part of a club can make you feel a bit lost turning up at a race. I also bumped into a couple of people from my tri coaching course, so started to feel more at home.

The race briefing was straightforward and left me enough time to walk back through transition and get my bearings before the elite women were first off in their race at 8am. I still had loads of time for the nerves to build and to wonder what to do with myself, so I checked into social media and got some encouraging good luck messages.

I went to watch the start of the swim, to see how it worked and to familiarise myself with the pool. The first girl was off like a rocket and soon 100m ahead of the next swimmer. Starting people off at 20 second intervals and keeping them moving from one side of the pool to the other, meant there was a continuous stream of swimmers, and not too much overcrowding.

I’d been unsure what to do with my kit, especially my car keys during the race, but discovered the sports centre lockers were big enough to fit my tri bag, which just left me with one of those locker keys in a plastic holder that straps round your wrist.

My nerves were building with the wait and hearing snippets of nervous conversation from others getting ready for their turn, so I took myself off to a quiet area of the car park and ran through some warm up drills. This really helped settle me before I went to strip off my final layers and wait beside the poolside.

I took some more deep breaths and did some stretches, trying to give myself the best shot at a controlled and panic free swim. It was almost all undone when I finally got into the water and ducked below the surface to get my face wet and practice breathing out, only to come up with a splutter, realising I couldn’t touch the bottom. I didn’t think I’d got it under control when I got the 3,2,1 go!

But I was off and swimming and the adrenaline rush was under control. After a real confidence booster open water swim on Thursday night, I resolved to keep it controlled and easy, making the most of rolling to breathe in and pulling right through my stroke. I’m afraid technique gets a bit lost when I’m racing, but I did my best.

Ducking under the lane ropes after 4 lengths was a new one for me, and I thought it would give me a bit more of a breather, but as I moved into the centre lane, I took on a mouthful of water and spluttered. It gave the guy who had been last in, but who was catching me, the chance to duck in front.

With half the swim done, I was annoyed at myself for losing a place I didn’t need to lose, so I kicked on and managed to pass him in the last 100m. Up and out of the pool and round to transition with no hassle.

I was a smidge slower than the girl ahead of me and the guy behind me in transition as I’d opted for bike shoes and they just went with trainers, but it was still a decent changeover and I was off and out onto the bike and into the unknown.

I hadn’t checked out the course, other than the online maps. This was deliberate on my part, as I didn’t want to over complicate and add pressure to my preparation. I’m not the fastest cyclist anyway, so it was just about seeing how I got on. I knew, from talking to a friendly couple before my swim that there were two significant hills, but was reassured, that despite one being called ‘Heartbreak Hill’, it really wasn’t that bad.

I kept the bike in low gear through the first few twists and turns until I got a clear patch of straight road where I felt confident to hit the big ring. The course is undulating, so I was clicking through the gears nicely, trying to keep the cadence up and grateful for my bike service this week, which meant everything felt smooth and easy.

I almost took a wrong turn, despite at least three marshals pointing me to the right, because I’m dozy, and corrected it by making a wide turn behind a lady marshal. I really enjoyed the route, it had enough twists and turns and up and downs to make it interesting and most of the time I could see a rider ahead, which made me feel less lonely.

I’d opted just to ride in my tri suit, leaving my jacket in transistion, gambling that it wouldn’t rain or that any showers would be short. My shoulders were a little cold when the wind picked up, but I’m always amazed at how much warmer I am when racing than when training – must be all that adrenaline.

I managed to catch and pass the lady in front of me, after working hard up the first real incline. Then I think I must have taken my eye off the ball a bit and drifted into ‘hello trees, hello flowers…’ as she passed me a little later on the straight. But she shouted something encouraging as she went buy and I kept her in my sights.

Once again I passed her, working up a bit of an incline, and she shouted, “You know there’s a big hill coming up?” I did sort of, but it was good to know that would be it. I pushed on, dropped down through the gears and told myself I was strong. I was compensated by a really nice stretch of downhill, onto the drops and feeling quite daring, not touching the brakes through a dip and a turn. My bike was handling beautifully.

Unfortunately numpty head was on, and in trying to move the plastic wrist strap holding my locker key so that it didn’t dig into my hand, I managed to undo it. ‘Argh, don’t drop it’ I though as I made a grab for it. But of course I did. Stop the bike, turn round to see a car and cyclist fast approaching; backtrack a few yards pick it up, put it in my back pocket. Back on the bike, but having lost that place. “Bad luck,” she shouted as she passed. Nice lady.

Numpty error number two. There wasn’t going to be a number three. I knew I could catch her, so I put the effort in, gave it a bit of a sprint and pushed on. It was actually a blessing in disguise, as it stopped me drifting into easy cycle mode and made me up my game for parts of the course. Now the aim was to keep her behind me to the finish and see if I could gain ground on the rider ahead.

I never did manage to make up the distance to the one in front, but tried to make sure I put as much between me and the lady behind, before I dropped down the gears coming into the sports centre car park and got ready to dismount. Back round into transition again, bike racked and shoes changed. She was a fraction of a second ahead of me, due to her position in the racks and not changing shoes as we set off for the run.

Out across the road and into the fields. I knew this was an off road run, and was expecting it to be tough, but I hadn’t realised I really needed to do cross country training for it. The first part was pretty much all grass, round the edges of the playing fields. And after the recent rain, wet, soggy and muddy grass. And it was uphill.

Legs still in changeover mode, it was pretty brutal and ‘little steps, little steps’ went through my mind hundreds of times. As we turned onto something more of a trail like path with slightly better grip, but a steeper slope, the woman ahead started to walk. ‘Not walking. Not today’ I said to myself, even though I was barely above walking pace. She gestured me past, no doubt hearing my huffing and puffing, and I checked she was okay, not injured. “No, just shattered,” she replied good naturedly.

The up was relentless and it got steeper as we passed into a farm yard, so although the ground here was firmer, loose pebbles meant you still had to watch your step and keep your eyes upwards. I was convinced that was it, but there was a bit more, a more level path out to the turnaround point at which my running companion passed me.

I kept her in my sights, thinking it’s all downhill from here, and that if I stayed within 20 seconds of her, then that would still gain me a place. I really hadn’t enjoyed the run out and up, but the route back down made it much more bearable. Here, at last I was able to find my legs, stretch out a little and let go. It started to feel like I was running something like my current pace.

I didn’t manage to catch the lady in front, despite a Scribbler style short sprint to the line, but I had the honour of being the last competitor to cross the line and resounding cheers all the way. It felt great. And I remembered why I do this crazy sport. It does make you feel good. It is a friendly and supportive atmosphere. And it is a challenge.

I messed up the Garmin recording (again) so won’t have accurate times until they’re published by Alnwick tri. And I’m pretty confident I won’t actually be last when the results come out as they mixed in a wave of slow swimmers after the elite women. But today wasn’t about times or even feeling self conscious at the back, because I didn’t. It was about getting back into the swing of things, enjoying myself and taking on something I was a bit unsure of.

Yes I made some numpty mistakes, but it really didn’t matter. I’ll confess, I’ve had doubts recently, questioned why triathlon, why not just run? But I do still love it. It does still fill me with a much-needed buzz. And now I’m ready for the rest of my season.

Race results

My times:

Overall 01:37:28

swim +T1 12:02 (estimate 10:30 for swim)
bike + T2 57:08
run 28:18

134th out of 148 (back of the pack)
44 woman out of 56
20th in my age category

 

28 April 2014

Stockton duathlon 2014 – my sprint story

Filed under: bike,run — The Scribbler @ 19:42
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Early on Sunday morning, I drove through grey fog, following the vagueries of the sat nav, getting stuck by ‘road closed’ signs for the event I was desperate to get to, I arrived, in Stockton, rather frazzled, for my first duathlon or run, bike, run.

With three events taking place on much the same course, I’d wanted to get there early to support my friends tackling the novice version, including Sue taking part in her first multi-sport event and the reason I was there at all. So it was a huge relief to see her, Tove and Jules as I wheeled by bike along to register.

I could have wished for kinder weather than the grey clouds and chill over the Tees, but spirits were high and I was able to wish them luck before the start and give a few encouraging shouts as they passed on the bike and the run.

Soon it was my turn. I set up in transition for the sprint distance and a little warm up run settled any remaining nerves as well as convincing me that I would be okay with my choice of long sleeve top and tri-suit.

Just before the start, all the competitors were called to transition to check that bikes had been properly racked. The marshals were very efficient controlling security of bikes in and out of the area, but perhaps a few more would have been useful to give advice on racking. With all abilities represented, there were bound to be some rookie errors.

I had joked that I’d feel strange not getting onto the bike sopping wet. There was still a chance of that as grey clouds loomed. But the first run was like any other mass run start. A gaggle of shivers and just wanting to get off, then a surge forward and I was on my way.

The route for the first 5k took in much of the riverside and took us over a couple of bridges. Much of it was familiar to me from the Tees Barrage 10k, but with lots of twists and turns, I really was doing nothing more than following the ribbon of runners and pushing hard, not thinking too much of the ride ahead. It’s just a Sunday run and ride I told myself and a chance to blast out a decent 5k.

Run completed and into transition. I see my bike, but not my helmet, which has been knocked off from where I’d balanced it on the brake cables. I pick it off the ground – no obvious damage, so on it goes, along with my bike shoes and I’m off to the mount line before I can think any more about it.

The surge of adrenaline carries me off and away, pedalling fast on the bike, up a bit of an incline and spinning the legs in an easy gear until I start to settle and pick it up onto the big ring. 

It’s a closed course of three laps, which is great for me as there are always cyclists around, unlike at many events where I’m passed by the fast groups and left out on my own on empty roads. It’s twisty and turny and you have to keep your wits about you. 

The super-fast road warriors first lap me as I’m negotiating the trickiest part of the course – a series of tight bends over the potentially slippery paving in front of the council buildings. There’s a loud, clear shout as they take the inside line and slower riders clear out of their way. 

It’s the first chance I have to catch my breath and bring my heart rate down to a more reasonable level after the surge of the start. But I do my best to keep the cadence fast and chase down riders who I think may be on the same lap as me. As I gain in confidence, I make use of the bends and turns to gain advantage and I hope a place or two. Overtaking is a new experience for me on the bike.

Three laps down and I remember to drop through the gears and spin a little before the dismount line, then ignore my legs as I judder into transition. 

There’s a bike in my slot. I check my number, thinking I’ve misremembered, but no, that’s my slot and there’s a bike there. I cannot rack my bike. I shout that I cannot rack and think about shoving it further along, but I know that I could get into trouble if I do. A marshal comes over and moves it, but I’ve wasted some time, and in the anxiety my left quad has cramped up. I limp out of transition and battle on.

‘Ignore it and your legs will come back to you,’ I say to myself. I take small steps, just keeping moving forward, willing my muscles into this new action. Back out along the riverside and over the bridge again. This time, the route is shorter – around 2.3k.

I start to target runners, picking them off one by one. Guy in black T-shirt… guy in white and orange… girl in pink…We loop round and a cheery marshal directs us round to the left and up some steps. Steps! That’s just mean. Around the corner, a young lad gives a big grin, clear directions and a ‘doing well’. Top marshalling young man.

My legs start to regain some feeling and I push on, looking for the pace of my first run. The last bridge is in sight. A quick up and over and I let myself go down the ramp on the other side, picking up places as I go.

At the final corner is Alister from Elvet Striders, with a big shout and just 200m to go. I’ve turned onto the final straight with another girl beside me. She pushes on, picking up the pace. I stay with her, shoulder to shoulder and push on. But I have a sprint, and this sustained hard pace proves just a bit too much for me, so I let her go, hoping, hoping I’ll be able to pull out a last gasp of power.

Less than 100m to go and I pick up my feet, rev through the gears and close her down. Another surge and another. I catch her as the route is narrowed by a couple walking beside the river. If she’s got a sprint in her, she’ll still beat me. I put my final surge down just metres from the line and accidentally bump her shoulder as I go through to finish. 

She takes it in good form as I apologise, understanding it wasn’t an intentionally aggressive move and we chat as we recover our breath and pick up our water and chocolate bar. 

I felt really unprepared for this race, but was pleased in the end to give it a really good shot. It’s really well organised, marshalled and inclusive. It’s definitely one I’ll think about returning to next year.

Results:
Total time 1:37:04
Run 1: 27:29
T1: 1:00
Cycle: 53:20
T2: 1:25
Run 2: 13:53

Pictures and report from Gazette Live

24 March 2014

Triathlon training in sunny Scotland

Saturday, sunshine, blue skies and a trip north, over the border to Scotland for the first tri day of the year, hosted excellently as ever by my fab tri buddy Lesley.

These often happen midweek, so despite it being the weekend, I still felt like I was skiving off as I put my bike in the car and drove north on a practically traffic free road, casting admiring glances at the calm blue seas off the coast. I must have had about three complete changes of outfit packed in my huge tri bag, in anticipation of any kind of weather, but it was very kind to us.

Four runners in red tops

On the run with my tri buddies (Photo Bob Marshall)

With me, Lesley, Al, Lucy and Cat  all arrived safely, we headed off for a pool swim at Haddington. With the pool shortened, it was a good chance for me to try out some of my coaching and Swim Smooth tips and to suggest drills that would help improve the efficiency of swimming strokes. It’s amazing what you can learn from watching other people swim and see all the different styles and learning techniques.

I had them doing doggy paddle, sculling, torpedo push offs and swim backs, and I did some 6-1-6 and catch up drills using a High 5 tube, which I passed from hand to hand. It worked very well, but I’d forgotten how hard those drills are. I need to make sure I spend a bit of time doing them.

I did get a bit of a swim in, but no great distance. It was just lovely to be in such a bright, airy pool. And reminds me I do need to make time for my swimming as I do enjoy it.

After a bit of a refuel with flapjack from the cafe, it was back to base and change into cycling gear for the main part of the day. Much faffage and discussion about how many layers and pumping up of tyres, but we were soon on our way out onto the quiet and largely traffic free roads around North Berwick.

Cyclists ready to roll

No one gets dropped on a tri day (Photo Bob Marshall)

The best thing about these rides is that no one gets left behind. We all enjoy a nice cycle, stop and regroup at junctions, push on and fall back when we need too. This time everyone seemed to be at a similar level of cycling and it was very pleasant just moving along, spotting swathes of yellow daffodils, passing a couple of horses and chain-ganging down a lovely smooth stretch of road.

Last time I rode this route, we got hit by a horrendous head wind in the last 3 miles, which was so bad one of our party actually got off and walked. It wasn’t quite so bad this time, but still tricky enough to slow us down and send me rattling down to my lower ring. I can still feel a flush in my cheeks and on my forehead today from the wind burn!

But we all made it back in one piece and us girls did a quick change around for a bit of a run while Bob took some great photos and Al made sure we’d have soup ready for our return. It was great all running together in our Fetch tops and we stuck together for one lap of the trail loop and did our best Runner’s World pose at the end for another photo.

How could 4pm have come round so quickly? It felt like we’d only just got started, but we were all hungry and soon devouring soup, bread, spreads and cake and flapjacks. Yum!

They say time flies when you’re having fun. It certainly did for me. Even cycling, which I usually get bored with in less than an hour, felt relatively easy and carefree. The chat flowed, the sun shone and it was all over too soon. But, as always, it was just one of the best days.

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