Monday, 28 February 2011

Newport 200 Audax

We interrupt this description of the events I've chosen to make charidee events this year to bring news of yesterday's exertions - the Newport 200 Audax.

What's an Audax to start with?  I'll keep it simple - it's a timed bike ride over a set course, which you have to navigate yourself with the aid of a route sheet, proving through the collection of stamps at 'controls', receipts from shops/petrol stations, and information gleaned from places like church noticeboard that you actually completed the route.  It's very French in origin, hence the distances are always quoted in km (the 200 in the title refers to the 200km distance [201 actually] of yesterday's event).  It has a reputation for being the province of men with beards, sandals and steel-framed bikes, but in the ones I've done recently, there have been plenty of club and independent participants who have been without any form of facial hair, but with plenty of carbon, both in the soles of their expensive cycling shoes and the frames of their even more expensive frames and forks.

So, yesterday.  I took a sensible precaution in looking at both the weather forecast and the rainfall satellite picture before I left home at 7 am, and so realised it was going to be a wet morning.  Then when it did actually rain (and rain hard) I was less sensible in that I decided not to get the raincoat out of my pocket because the group I was in was going so well and I didn't want to get left behind.  Even when we hit a few hills and I pulled away from them (I mention this purely as a statement of fact), opening up quite a big gap I still didn't stop, because the stupidly competitive bit of me kicked in, and I didn't want to be caught.  End result - I got pretty damp and fairly cold.

Anyway, back to the beginning.  The ride started at Cheadle Village Hall, just inside the M60, and took a meandering route through the lanes of Cheshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire to Newport near Telford, then back through a different set of meandering lanes.  We saw Goostrey, Woore, Audlem, Wrenbury, Middlewich and Mobberley along the way for anyone who's interested in such things.  125 miles in total.  The things that made it distinctive for me:

- riding for a while with a pair of chaps from County Durham on a tandem, one of whom was blind.  The communication and teamwork needed for that - and which I witnessed - was something else
- no daft drivers or driving!  Normally on a ride of 100+ miles you get some idiots who overtake too close, cut you up, or worst of all from my point of view, holler obscenities out of an open window (yes, that really does happen quite a lot).  But yesterday - nothing.  And in fact quite a few very courteous drivers, some even pulling over on single track roads to let me through.  A rare treat
- the wind: it wasn't at its worst yesterday, but there was one hour period on the flat into a head wind where I averaged only about 12 mph.  I was also on my own at that point, which made things doubly dispiriting
- mechanicals: no pu**t***s thank God (real cyclists never name that phenomenon in full; it's the same principle as actors always referring to that play by Shakespeare as "The Scottish Play"), but a bottle cage managed to shear off its mountings, the rattly roads managed to dislodge part of my rear light, making it unuseable, and all the road silt made the chain and cogs very squeaky for the last 40 miles.

I returned to Cheadle after 7 hrs 48 mins of cycling (125 miles; I'm too ashamed to give you the average mph, you can work it out for yourself, but in mitigation it was very wet and windy m'lud), aching, damp, unable to see out of my right eye, but happy.  A tomato soup made me even happier.  The eye thing - quite often when I exercise over a sustained period my vision goes cloudy, like you imagine someone with cataracts would suffer from.  My optician reckons it's nothing to worry about, but .....(10 minutes later, just been Googling)....if it happens again soon, think I might get checked out. 

After I'd driven the short distance home, the happiness levels shot up further with a hot bath, Bovril in the bath (well not in the bath, me drinking a mug of it in the bath), a roast dinner and a chocolate eclair.  Life doesn't get any better.  And on that bombshell...

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

What the Royal Mail doesn't have any more*

Ok, I'm going to explain the title of the blog one event at a time, and in the order they appear in the title, not their chronological order.

So, A Monster.  This is Maggies Monster Bike & Hike, a fundraising event for Maggies Cancer Caring Centres that's held every year (I think this is the 7th or 8th edition) in Scotland, over the first bank holiday weekend in May, or as the dates fall this year, 30th April (the day after our extra bank holiday).  It starts in Fort William, and the challenge is to spend the next 24 hours getting you and your team up to Inverness, via the Great Glen Way.  The first 32 miles are completed on mountain bike, and then the next 43 by foot.  The mountain biking bit is reasonably straightforward - 2.5 to 3 hours worth of a few hills, nothing too serious.  The hike is a bit more challenging - there are Bronze, Silver and Gold finishes, after 9, 25 and 43 miles respectively.  Bronze is pretty straightforward too, Silver is a little more stretching - it's marathon distance, but with some testing slopes thrown in, up and down.  Going for Gold though is tough - the terrain is a notch harder again, and you've got the accumulated effects of fatigue, and it's dark, quite often in woods, and just, frankly, energy-sapping.

I've done it 3 times before - first to Silver, then to Gold on the last two occasions, with teams of 5, 5 and 3 people.  This time, there's just 2 of us - me and Bill Lloyd-Williams (the other ever-present), and also this time, we're aiming for a time, and not just to finish - 15 hours.  That's still as nothing compared with a few folk from the services and local athletics clubs who bound round in 9-10 hours, but if we can do it in the 15 hours, we should comfortably be in the top 50 finishers (out of around 1000 starters last year).  What that objective means is that we have to cover the 43 walking miles in around 12 hours - gross.  By the time the inevitable stops for food, fluid and extra kit are factored in, it'll be closer to 11 net.  And that's not possible by just walking.  Not on that terrain anyway.  So this time, there's going to be running involved.

Running.  I'm learning to love it, in much the same way as I learned to love hills on a bike.  It's a bit like falling in love with a beautiful woman, then discovering she has smelly feet.  At first it's an unpleasant surprise, but after a while it's part-and-parcel of the wider being, and an integral part of their identity.  Bill, however, can't yet see the beautiful woman - he's too busy smelling the feet.  Given his distaste for running, he's training well.  Or that's what he tells me - I'll see for myself in a few weeks.

There'll be more on Maggies over the coming weeks - we're 65 days away from it.  In the meantime, a bit more on the training.  I'm doing more cycling training than running, on the basis that triathlete friends tell me that cycling benefits running, but the opposite is much less the case, and I want to try to preserve my joints as much as possible.  However, there's no getting away from the fact that I've got a lot of miles to do on my feet, so I'm trying to get one long run in at the weekend - 17 miles is the furthest so far.  I've also got various long rides organised - the next is this weekend, with a 201 km 'Audax' - an explanation of that, and how I get on, can wait till next time.

* a second post

Monday, 21 February 2011

Crossword clue: not the Last Post

So much to explain, so little space if the blog's going to be interesting!  The questions to explain:

- why am I blogging?
- what am going to blog about?
- what are the events I'm doing?
- what does the signature name mean?
- why should you care?
- who am I raising money for?

All will become clear over the next couple of weeks, as I try to answer the above, and weave in some progress reports about training and preparation for events over the next few months.

First question first: why am I blogging?  There are two answers really.  First, I've been inspired to by others - they've made me laugh, made me cry, fired my enthusiasm, and impressed me with their wit and urbaneness.  This, for example, is by Mendip Rouleur, a collaborator on a number of important missions:  I've not just chosen it because I feature from time-to-time (though under an alias, see if you can guess....), but it's of a standard to which I can only aspire - entertaining, learned, philosophical.  I fear mine will be far more prosaic, but I'll at least endeavour to find some other redeeming features.  And second, because if I'm asking folk for money for charitable causes, I want to make it a more engaging and ongoing experience than popping on to a charity website, leaving their credit card details, and wondering what the heck ever happened - did the sponsoree do the event?  Did they finish?  Was it windy?  Did they break a nail?  Just how much misery did my tenner buy? I'll aim to share all the detail, whether you want it or not.

I'll come to the events I'm doing next time around, but in essence I'm training for both cycling and running events, and a couple that combine the two.  I'm a cyclist by trade (actually I'm a project manager by trade, but this feels nearly as important), but this year - 2011 - I've added some running to the mix.  That was caused by a massive feeling of ennui at the last organised cycle event I did in 2010 - the Exmoor Beast at the end of October.  Nothing wrong with the event, but as I signed on for it the day before (at Pontins in Minehead - that probably didn't help the vibe) I just wasn't excited, or felt even particularly challenged.  Anyway, I couldn't give up cycling as I just love it too much, but I needed to branch out a bit.  A triathlon or two would have been nice, but as I can't stand swimming that was a non-starter.  Running, however, is something I've enjoyed for the last couple of cycling offseasons, so that was the problem solved.

Though as I was running up a hill in Macclesfield Forest in the wind on Saturday morning, as the precipitation that had been heavy rain at home turning to driving snow 400 feet higher, with my feet soaked and my knees throbbing, it didn't feel like a problem solved.  It felt like one created.  However, to talk about something that I suspect will become a recurring theme as these blogs progress, the pain and privations of training don't half make you appreciate common-or-garden things like muesli, a hot shower and dry clothes.  In retrospect, the 2 hours 8 minutes I spent out on Saturday morning running down inundated canal tow paths, up snow-packed hillsides and through reservoirs that had spilled onto roads, were possibly the best of the week.

I suspect that's quite enough for a first blog.  Don't want to scare the horses, they might not come back for more.  I've now got an image in my head of a horse sitting in a wing-backed armchair with a pair of reading glasses on the end of his ever-so-long nose, reading a book.  With a cravat.  The horse, not the book.  Enough already. 
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