Saturday, 31 July 2010

My first cycling Anniversary

On August 2nd it will have been a full year since I rediscovered cycling and in that year a lot has happened.  Back then, my goal was to ride 25miles a week and more often than not, I would struggle to reach that in 4 rides. Now, it usually takes just two rides to achieve that mileage (and if I try, and really wanted to, I can do that in one).

So what else has changed in the last 12 months?

Obviously my fitness levels have changed dramatically. This time last year I was incredibly unfit which consequently affected my asthma. The slightest exertion would leave me breathless and wheezy.  I would have to stop and catch my breath every mile or so.  The slightest cold would rapidly turn into a raging chest infection as my lungs were to weak to fight it off.  Things have changed considerably since then and I (stupidly) don’t even take my daily preventative inhaler anymore. (Yes, I know I should, as precaution is better than cure, but I honestly just forget, as I rarely *touchwood* have any symptoms.) Anyway, much to my delight I can now happily ride a fair few miles without the need for stopping to catch my breath.

Another major change is that of my body shape. My general tendency to be really lazy and my insatiable sweet tooth left me overweight, but since then, without changing my diet or giving up the sweet stuff, I have lost at least a stone and visibly shed a few inches of my thighs and tum. I'm looking forward to buying a pair of jeans the next size down - when I can be bothered as I hate clothes shopping.

So now I am a happy lassie indeed.  Colleagues keep telling me that I must be really fit now, but I am the first to admit that No, I am just MUCH fitter and healthier than I was, as I was very unfit. There are still plenty of improvements to be made and I look forward to continuing to develop.

So whats next for my cycling rediscovery? My aim is to continue increasing my mileage with longer rides. Unfortunately, as we live in a very hilly part of the world, upping the ride length will inevitably increase the amount of hills in my ride. Currently I can do about 12 hilly miles comfortably. 

Finally, as you all know, at the start of the year, I treated myself to a sparkly new bike after outgrowing my lovely hybrid and since Ted’s birth he has greatly improved my riding technique and I even made a smooth transition to clipless pedals. Trouble is, now I've seen the impact of having a lighter bike, I want to take things even further and get an even lighter and speedier road bike and watching the Tour de France just exasperated this desire.  Anyone wanna buy me a nice new carbon road bike? Pretty please?

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

My first cycling event

On Sunday I took part in my first cycling event ever.  A 54km Audax!

Who knows what possessed me to do it. When Mikey originally asked me if I wanted to do an audax that his mate Don (a customer from work) was organising I just laughed.  I didn't think much more about it, until Friday evening after a strong ride to and from Penzance.  I started to ask a few questions? Where was it? What roads would it involve?  The start of the route sounded OK - In fact it encompassed a lot of my usual routes. Mikey seemed confident that I would be able to do it! Hmm, whats the worst that could happen?

By Saturday, I was nervous. Mikey was in charge of prepping my bike and getting me organised.  I even got to wear one of his VeloCake shirts for the occasion.

We set off under a grey sky but at least the rain was holding off after yesterdays deluge.  We had just over 3 miles to ride down to the start. When we got there dozens of riders were just setting off for the 100km ride.  There was a VeloCake shirt in the midst of them all.  "Go get 'em Andrew!"  When the last 100km rider had gone, it suddenly became deserted, it looked like there may only be a handful of entrants for the smaller event.

I think there may have been 15 altogether.  When we set off 2 chaps accelerated off the front at quite a fast pace, but me and Mikey sat on the tails of the next riders (3 Tri-athletes - 2 girls and a lad.) They seemed to be setting a very easy pace (8-10mph). I started to feel confident, as although these tri-athletes were very fit, my cycling skills were much smoother.  I was enjoying myself and within a few miles we had caught up with the 2 breakaway riders (without trying).  So far we had encountered a few hills; all of which I knew very well and knew just how much to push myself to get up them.  All was good.

After about 7miles, we reached a nasty hill I have not ridden before. It started off gradual, then became very steep for 100m and then turned back to a long gradual climb.  At the first steep bit I was struggling behind the 2 female tri-athletes, who were attacking the hill really slowly.  I struggled at their slow pace. It was burning. I stopped to give my legs a break and to allow myself space to ride at my own pace. 

As it eased off at the top of the hill we were joined by Andy, who works part time with Mikey and his friend, Martina.  I introduced myself and we had a gossip as we continued to ride.  A little further ahead and another of their friends, Nigel, was waiting for them. Now we were five! (BTW, there was now no sign of the tri-athletes now - they had obviously accelerated off when they realised they had dropped us. Those competitive types, eh?) ;-)

I pretty much managed to stay with our new friends pace until I had the misfortune of riding straight through a stinking decomposing fox carcass. After stopping to rid myself of the Foxes remains I was surprised to find our pals waiting for us.  Unfortunately, I was then dropped on an extremely steep hill. This has to be the steepest hill I have ever seen. There was no way I could do this! We had just climbed to get to this point and there was no way my legs could get me up there too.  I got off my bike! To hell with my usual view of not pushing a bike. This was gonna be tough walking up - never mind cycling! Seriously, I struggled up on foot.  When the hill eased slightly I got back on the saddle and rode, but even still it was one heck of a hill.   Surprisingly again, on arriving at the top our three new pals were waiting for us. What nice folks.

We soon arrived at the midway control point.  A cafe on the top of some cliffs in the stunning surroundings of Gwithian.  Yay only 26km left! I had the nicest piece of cake ever - a large piece of divine chocobanana cake.  Sorry, I was too tired and hungry to think about taking its picture.  I was glad to hear that we hadn't arrived last, there was still a few more to come in and some had possibly already dropped out. Trouble was, I was already well out of my comfort zone. (Apart from the day we rode round Kielder lake, my usual mileage is about 10-15miles/16-24km) and I wasn't actually sure I had anything else left in my legs.

On leaving Gwithian we had a great descent where I reached 36mph but unfortunately a long climb followed and I had to let our pals past me as I struggled up.  On making it to the top we found them waiting for us and we all made our way through Hayle market town and towards St Ives. My legs felt OK on these flatter roads, but it didn't last long as we were soon on the hilly roads of St Ives. Almost immediately, I was dropped. They waited. I caught up and then got dropped on the next hill. And again ... they waited. I caught up and then got dropped again. I was now seriously broken. It was torture!

I couldn't give up. I told Mikey to go ahead and insist that his friends continued without us as the pressure of everything was getting too much, but when I slowly pedalled myself to the top of the hill, they were all there waiting. Don't get me wrong, they were all completely wonderful and supportive, the issue was that I was putting myself under unnecessary pressure to try not to keep them waiting. Thankfully we were now just minutes away from the 3rd checkpoint and after some supportive words and encouragement I felt a little better. They still continued to wait for me when they dropped me on the longer climbs, but now I was calmer as it was their decision to wait.

Thankfully, reaching the 3rd checkpoint had motivated me, now we were on the homeward stretch. Unsurprisingly, the roads continued to be long and draggy climbs and as I dug deep to find any energy, I kept telling myself that under normal circumstances - during a normal ride - I coulda flown up most of them. They were only defeating me as I was tired!

We finally got back to the Control point for tea and more well deserved treats. I was pleased with what I'd done. 54km, is more than double my usual ride mileage!

After more tea and cake and a natter with new friends and old, it was time to get my weary backside back on the saddle and ride the 3.3miles home.  Unfortunately, home was uphill! Somehow, I mustered up every last ounce of energy left in my body (I think a cheeky custard doughnut helped) and I fought my way home.

With a distance of 40.1miles on Ted's computer and an average speed of  11.5 I was a happy - yet very weary - bunny.

I expected to be sore the next day, but shockingly, muscle fatigue wasn't the problem - I was severely sun burnt! Despite the grey skies we set off under and the previous two wet days and a miserable weather forecast; Sunday turned out to be glorious.  Unfortunately, my poor delicate milky skin, which is usually well hidden under jeans and a tee, was burnt to a crisp.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Silly Cat

Since my last post there have been many rides. Some great, some uneventful, some very painful (see next post) and even a couple that have had to be cancelled due to our neighbours cat who keeps insisting on sunbathing in the middle of the road.  This is understandably causing all sorts of chaos on the road and as her family are always "out" the only option is to bring her into our house (despite my allergies) to prevent any major accidents. I shudder to think of what could happen to her.  Our road is the main thouraghfare through the village and is really busy.  It is used by 100's of cars, tractors, lorries, horse riders and cyclists (as we are on the preferred route of Lands End to John O Groats).

Trouble is, now we have done it a few times she keeps inviting herself in. Does she not understand that it is her that is making me sneeze and have itchy eyes. And why does she insist on rubbing herself past my legs.... has she not noticed the huge blotches and hives that appear as she does it?

Silly cat!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Back on the bike.

After hurting my back at the start of the month, I took five days off the bike. However, despite being kept highly entertained by the Tour de France, it left me frustrated; as I too wanted to ride my bicycle.  By the following Saturday I was climbing the walls! I needed to get out and let off steam after a stressful (and painful) week at work. 

On the Saturday, my Mum wanted to ride, so we decided on a gentle pootle around the local lanes.  Unfortunately, after 7 miles; I decided to call it a day -  I don't know if it was the pain or the monotony of riding the "same old" route.  (We were doing laps around the lanes that I frequently rode when starting my rediscovery and that helped me keep my mileage up through the winter, so now I just find them really tedious.)  I was disappointed, but at least it was the start of the mountain stages in Le Tour that afternoon and there was always Sunday to ride. ;-)

Sunday came around and despite watching the grumpy Aussie inherit the yellow jersey I felt inspired; as Alberto Contador and Daniel Navarro had done a fine job.  So, me and Mikey took a little jaunt out on the bicycles; going further afield and putting another 13 miles under my belt.  My back was still a little sore but I was now happier.  Yeah OK , so I hadn't met my weekly target, but I'd managed over 20 so it wasn't a complete wash out. =D

By Monday my back was feeling much better (the occasional twinge, but not too bad) and I was eager to start the week well and be on track to meet this weeks target. So despite the grey, miserable sky and ghastly wind I headed into Penzance to meet Mikey.  I was soggy by the time I got there (I'm not sure if it was actually raining or if it was all just ocean spray as the tide was in and the waves were crashing next to the coast path). Nonetheless, I was in good spirits as the strong tailwind had got me their faster than usual - Just wish I had looked at my average speed, as half way back over the coast path; now heading into a fierce headwind and barely achieving more than 9mph, my average speed was still over 13mph!  My day got even better, when Evans spectacularly lost the yellow Jersey and when Armstrong had one of the most disastrous rides ever.  Poor chap, I hate to admit it but I really felt sorry for him and I gotta say the fact that he didn't throw his toys out of the pram, gave me some respect for the man.

My next ride was Tuesday afternoon. Mikey had the day off and we went out for a wee ride after watching the exciting TDF stage which saw Schleck and Contador sneek up on the unsuspecting stage leaders! Those boys are good!!  Inspired and in a moment of madness, when seeing a fellow cyclist up in the distance I sprinted after him. Admittedly, on catching him, I felt a bit silly when I realised he was about 30years older than me, but it had been fun challenging myself like that.  LOL!  This racing lark is contagious, I see the pro's do it and think I can do it too.  ;-) ROFL! I've even discussed with Mikey what "road bike" I would like.

I've not ridden since Tuesday afternoon, but there's always tomorrow and the weekend. Anyway, I've got "The Tour" to watch. =D

Monday, 5 July 2010

Shoulda stayed indoors

Yesterday was obviously a bad day for cycling, what with the "Tour" riders having to deal with a loose dog on the course and then the chaos in the last 3km.

As for my ride, it was just as disastrous. After reading an old copy of "What MTB?" I felt inspired to do some of our local singletrack. The weather was grey and miserable and Mikey wasn't overly enthusiastic about riding anywhere, but my eagerness spurred him on to join me.

So off we set. The weather was seriously horrid. It was really wet - but too hot and humid to wear waterproofs. My happy mood quickly changed as I got wetter and wetter. Oddly though, Mikey had now cheered up and he was now the eager one as I dragged my feet.

The dirt tracks that I had been so excited about were trickier than ever. The recent warm weather had dried them out but with this down pour (and the recent winds) the dust had been washed off and there was nothing apart from slippy greasy rocks. After a fair few dodgy moments where I nearly went face first into the ground my confidence had vanished and progress was slow.

I kept telling myself that I was having fun, but just as I managed to convince myself, the first disaster happened. Whilst chattering to Mikey, a huge fly decided to fly right into my mouth hitting me quite forcefully at the back of my throat.  An involuntary gag reflex unfortunately took it further down, which made matters worse and induced vomiting. Yuck! I wasn't best pleased. Ah well, it was only a fly; isn't swallowing flies all part of the joys of cycling? See, I was still convincing myself I was having fun.

Onwards! Grrrrr.... now I had a puncture - a tiny wee hole in the tube caused by one of the many overgrown brambles.  After a slow and mud infused tube change, we were off again.  But not for long. Just 5 minutes later I had another flat on the same wheel. I couldn't believe my luck, I now had an inch long thorn and a very large hole in my tyre. This time, we had to do a quick tube repair.

In another case of misfortune, I then lost Mikey.  He was leading the way and one moment he was infront of me, the next he wasn't.  I just presumed that he had accelerated off down the dirt track and I'd find him at the bottom, but when I got there there was no sign of him.  A few moments later he trundled up behind me. Turns out he had taken a turning off, expecting me to follow, but as I was so focussed on not falling off I had somehow not seen him. Silly me, that'll teach me! ;-)

By now, I was seriously naffed off and soggy wet. I wanted to go home. But on the way back, I had 2nd thoughts - Things weren't too bad, it was only a fly and a couple of punctures - which are all part and parcel of cycling. So what, if the weather was miserable? Doesn't mean I had to be. We decided against going home and took a detour to do a loop of some old fave local haunts. I started to have fun again. Weeeeeeeeeee! This was more like it. I had my Mojo back! Amazingly, at the next junction that could have taken us home, I decided to continue. Wooooppppeeee. I was having fun now. I liked riding my MTB!

Unfortunately, the joy didn't last long before the big disaster of the day. After stopping for a moment to choose a route, we went to set off again. I put one foot on my pedal, then the other, then "snap"... OUCH! My lower back had just gone. The pain was immense (it still is). Not sure what happened, why it happened or what I've done to it. All I know is that it hurts. Worst thing was we were 2 miles from home and I could barely walk. Sitting on the bike was not an option.
Who's silly idea was it to ride Mountain Bikes today? (Oh, ;-) that would be me!)  This cycling malarkey is bad for my health; there may be a dramatic improvement in my overall fitness and lungs, but I keep getting silly injuries that I wouldn't of got if I'd stayed indoors watching TV! :-P

Saturday, 3 July 2010

What would Bertie do?

I've had a quiet(ish) week this week, with only two rides so far.

Wednesday afternoons ride was hard (possibly not helped by the very hot sun)! We went on a new route - a ride I've so far avoided due to some long steep climbs.  It didn't surprise me that the biggest hill beat me (I blame the heat though - it was unbearable). But I am happy to say that it didn't completely beat me, there was no need to get off and push; I just needed to stop half way to catch my breath and have a drink.

Thursday's downpour put a stop to any thoughts of riding, so another rest day, leaving me fresh for Friday's ride to meet Mikey from work.  I'd planned on doing an extra few miles before making my way into Penzance, but on the way out of the village I bumped into a neighbour and a quick hello turned into 15 mins of gossip, so I lost my extra 15 mins and had to ride like the wind to get to Penzance on time. Unfortunately riding like the wind was tricky as I was heading straight into a strong headwind. Progress was slow and I was unable to get much faster than 9mph along the coast path.  Usually, I'm early so have time to sit and watch the boats bobbing in the harbour, but as I arrived I could see Mikey heading towards me. No chance for a breather today. 

Homeward bound and the wind was with us. Weeeee! This was more like it, the wind meant we were riding faster than usual. This was fun!  Just over a quarter of the way home and there was a tinkle of a bell from behind us. VeloCaker John, was on our tail.  (As always I suddenly felt like the odd one out as the pair of them were in their VC kit - hurry up Endura, I want my jersey!).

Even when we'd changed direction and the wind was no longer with us, the pace continued to be fast. Eek! Ah well, John normally turns off before we get to the Hill out of Marazion so I'd be able to catch my breath before we set up it.  Oh! Today he was coming up the hill with us.  Could I do it? Could I really get myself all the way up through Marazion without stopping? Its a heck of a hill; the climb starts gradually and then suddenly gets quite steep, then back to a gradual climb, another steep bit and then a real draggy slow climb.  There's practically nowhere for an unfit cyclist like myself to catch their breath without having to stop for a minute.  But I couldn't stop (and embarrass myself) in front of John.  We started up the first steep bit, still riding faster than I normally would.  My legs started to burn. No! I can't stop! I asked myself "What would Alberto Contador do?" We got to the top of the first steep bit and somehow I was managing to hold on to Johns wheel. I'd made it through the worst! But my legs wanted a break. No! I wont stop - that would just be plain embarrassing. 

Surprisingly, half way up John decided to turn off (he was on his MTB and planned to do some off-road miles).  When he had left us, I was SO tempted to stop, I looked ahead of me, there was still a long gradual climb. I stopped pedalling  momentarily before screaming (in my head), WHAT WOULD BERTIE DO? I carried on, at a slower 10mph. My legs were burning, I just wanted to stop my legs spinning for a moment. No! I could do this, the hardest bit was over. This climb paled in comparison.  We were now only 200metres from the top and then I could freewheel down into the village. My legs were very grateful for the recovery time, but my head knew that it was short lived and there was still the final hill in the village up to our house. 

It suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't stopped at all on this journey, apart from the one minute stop in Penzance, I couldn't stop now. I pushed on. We were now near our house, there was just the short off-road climb up our lane to the garage to do. I could do this. DAMN! There were two kids stood in the middle of the narrow lane, blocking my way. I slammed on my brakes and tried to swerve around, but at the same time they changed their position to move out of our way and inadvertently blocked my way for the 2nd time. Cursing under my breath I gave in, my legs were empty, there was no shame in walking the last few yards to the garage door.

Anyway, I'd done it, so thanks Alberto. You helped me beat the hill. Now it's your turn. Win!