Sunday, 31 March 2013

Chirk 200 Audax

Today I rode the Chirk 200 audax. I learnt some Things:

  1. At -7c (which it was when we left this morning), air at 20mph makes your face sting. Not a particularly surprising revelation, but a good excuse to mention how effing cold it was for the first hour
  2. 131 miles is a long way to ride on your own. Had we done the ride as scheduled last weekend there'd have been 79 starters; today there were 20ish, due I suppose to Easter commitments. And I didn't manage to hook up with any of them
  3. Audaxes are always longer than the route sheet would have you believe. I rode 131 miles today instead of the advertised 129. Again, not the biggest disparity in the world, but a sly way of mentioning  how far the ride was. A Long Way. Particularly when:
  4. The wind's in your face, literally and metaphorically, for half the ride - i.e. 60-odd miles. It saps your will to live, but at least it gave me an excuse to consume a hot horsemeat pasty at the halfway point. Mmm
  5. You shouldn't try to open and consume an energy gel at 18mph while wearing full-fingered gloves, as I did today. It didn't go well. I looked like I'd taken a shower in ectoplasm
  6. The dodgy tummy I had after my last long ride was definitely the result of the vast quantities of sat fat ingested via 3 Chunky KitKats. Today - no KitKats, and digestive tranquillity
  7. It's not necessarily to a good idea to do a ride of today's length when you've only done 1 other road ride in the last 6 weeks. I'm not sure whether it was the wind or my lack of bum-on-saddle time, but I was 24 minutes slower than the audax I did in Jan of the same distance
I can't think that there's much else to say. For a ride of over 8 hours it was surprisingly dull, in a good way. The sun shone, the wind blew, the Welsh snow looked dirty, and the Cheshire, Shropshire and Welsh countryside looked pretty, but not as pretty as it might have done if the temperature had been about 10 degrees higher. I've said it before and I'll say it again; when I start going on about the weather it's time to stop.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Q. When is the best time to ride the lanes of Cheshire?

A: On a summer Saturday or Sunday morning, at about 6am, when the day is shaping up to be gloriously hot, and the early morning rays of sun are gently caressing your back; when the lapwings and sparrows are ducking and diving in front of you, and nature - rabbits, squirrels, voles and pheasants - disappears off the road as you ride down it, like a stage curtain revealing the actors in the first scene.

Sadly, yesterday morning had few of those things going for it - but it wasn't a bad second best time to ride around Cheshire; early on a bank holiday before the masses have hit the roads, with the sun in a cloudless sky, and at higher altitudes at least, banks of cleared snowdrifts at the side of the road making it feel like you were riding Alpe d'Huez early in the season. It was a short ride (35 miles), just as this will be a short post - I'm stuck on 111 blog entries, an unlucky number for the English as I've tweeted about in the past, and I don't fancy being on Nelson when tomorrow I'm riding the delayed Chirk 200 Audax (delayed from last weekend that is, thanks to the snow and ice that would have made last Sunday dangerous and unpleasant).

It's actually 207km from Poynton in Cheshire to Chirk in north Wales and back again. With the clocks changing tonight, it's going to feel like a cold and early start, but the forecast looks as good as you could reasonably hope for after the recent horrors. The Carradice saddlebag (suitcase) is fitted so that I can carry a change of gloves and a selection of hot cross buns, and I'm flirting with the racy new idea of isotonic sports drink coming in a dilutable gel rather than as a powder. Curry for the third night in a row tonight, and I'll be well-stoked for tomorrow.

As it's another bank holiday on Monday, may get round to recounting anything interesting that happens tomorrow. In the meantime, off to butter my buns.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

The Great Depression

It would, I thought to myself at breakfast this morning, be very easy to feel a bit miserable with life today. Not just me, anybody that is. Look at what's going on round us; regardless of your politics, it's pretty indisputable that the economy is not in a good way (and some of us think its long term prospects are even worse); the weather is shocking, and there isn't an end in sight to the current hideousness, including over the Easter break; and perhaps not quite in the same league, England's much-vaunted cricket and rugby teams have been/are being massive disappointments at the moment. (Though at least the rugby team were beaten by the Land of My Father's [my apostrophe], which lessens the pain just a little).

Things aren't necessarily better on a more personal level; most significantly a number of friends have got parents who are very seriously ill (and thoughts are regularly with them); less significantly I seem to spend more and more time being low level grumpy with the world, and being frustrated at the slow pace that future plans are taking to be executed.

But then I thought, maybe things aren't so bad. The weather may well be rubbish up to and including next weekend, but four days off work is, well, four days off work; me and Mrs Monmarduman had a lovely time last night hosting some good friends (and I made an a*s* of myself trying another eating challenge; downing a tablespoon of cinnamon in one mouthful - don't do it kids, it's not big or clever, and may leave you coughing, spluttering, retching, and gasping for air. Still, at least your friends will be amazed and impressed with your bravado and fearlessness - that's what laughing and pointing normally means I believe); and yes, I've done some exercise.

It's just over three months now till I and Mendip Rouleur arrive in the Pyrenees for a little Tour de France watching, and a lot of hill cycling, including a monster one-day ride called the Devil's Pitchfork, so named because the pitchfork shape represents the day's route profile. Accordingly, when it's too cold and/or dangerous to go road riding, as it has been round here this weekend with both the Cheshire Cat sportive (which I wasn't entered in), and the Chirk 200 Audax (which I was) being postponed, I ought to get in the garage, and do some planned, disciplined, targeted sessions on the indoor trainer.

Ought shmought. It's been way too interesting round here this weekend to not go out and take a look at what's been going on in the hills and forests. We haven't had a vast snowfall round here, but we have had 48 hours of ferocious wind which, when they've not been ripping ridge tiles of my roof (grrr, another job), have been creating fantastic snowdrifts any place which is even slightly exposed. Consequently, whilst the traffic has never stopped flowing outside our front door, within 500 yards of where I'm writing this there have been cars marooned for two days in drifts:

And further afield by a matter of only a mile or so, the drifts are so enormous - 8 to 10 feet in places - that with the current forecast it's hard to see how people are going to get out of their house other than on foot for the next week or so. The pic doesn't quite convey it, but here's one of those drifts:

Just beyond the trees is a pub, so they should be ok for a a day or two. Anyway, I took these pics when I was out running yesterday, as I have been again today. I was tethered to the house yesterday morning for domestic reasons, but got out for two hours yesterday afternoon, and another couple of hours earlier today. The aggregate stats are 23.5 miles run, with 3700 feet of ascent, but those don't even begin to tell the story. As soon as I got beyond a couple of miles from home, scenes like the one above occurred every couple of hundred yards. Quite often the drifts have still been building as the wind has continued to whip the snow across the hills and fields. There were stretches of 200 yards at a time where the banks of snow were hedge or wall height without any way round them, so you had a choice of trying to pick your way precariously along the top of a dry stone wall, or sink up to your hips in the drift trying to make forward progress.

In other words, it was a hoot. I'm not sure how much training value from a cycling point of view there is in running up hills and extricating yourself from six feet of snow, but having run a distance reasonably close to a marathon in under 24 hours over two expeditions (because that's what they felt like) separated only by a rather nice bottle of Shiraz and six hours of sleep I'm exhausted and exhilarated. Also stiff as a board and with hips that feel like they've been sandpapered.

However, the onset of the Great Depression of the aborted spring of 2013 can wait just a little longer.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Breaking the seal

I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks, so time to break the seal, as it were. Though mentioning seals reminds me of one of my favourite jokes. It goes a little something like this:

An eskimo is out for a drive one day when his car breaks down and he is forced to call out the Alaskan AA. The eskimo stands in the howling wind waiting for the mechanic to arrive. When the mechanic reaches the broken car, he: sets to work, looking under the bonnet until he appears to have located the problem. He looks up at the eskimo and says, "You've blown a seal, mate", to which the eskimo hastily replies, "No, I haven't, that's just frost on my moustache".

A lot of my favourite jokes seem to involve northern Europeans; my absolute favourite is this one from Not The Nine O'Clock News (you've got to watch it; it doesn't work written down - it's only 23 seconds):

...and I'm also a big fan of "I wanted to go to Norway on my holidays, but I couldn't a-fjord it".

Though it doesn't beat my standard reply to anyone enquiring as to the state of our stock of eggs: "I think we've got an oeuf".

As you can see, the dark winter nights just fly by for Mrs Monmarduman. There's no evening that can't be improved by rolling out one of these classics. She too however has her book of standard lines, which if they were cars at a showroom would be labelled "pre-owned". There's too many to remember, but Morecambe & Wise's gag about them "not selling many ice creams going at that speed" whenever a vehicle with a siren goes past does spring to mind.

I mention all this to give an idea of what it's like when me and the better half (as we used to say in nostalgically-misogynistic times) spend a week in a car together, as we did last week in France. For the first time since we bought our modest Breton abode we ventured further south, and enjoyed, I'm delighted and not a little smug to mention, fantastic weather. Fantastic for March in France anyway - sunny and 21c much of the time. The Dordogne, the Gironde and the Charente all saw us trundling around in our epically under-powered hire car; 75 horsepowers it had, which sounds more than adequate for 2 people in a small car, but the measurement must have been based on the Shetland Pony scale of horses. The thing wasn't even that efficient as it's little engine struggled to propel us up any hill, 47 mpg, I do better than that in my barge of an estate car.

Although to be fair, there could have been a little more weight in than usual, as we seemed to stay in places that served only French breakfasts - croissants, butter, coffee, and in a nod to healthiness, homemade jam of many varieties, made to an ancient recipe of one part fruit to ten parts sugar. We should have taken some picky kids with us - by the end of the week they'd have been begging for some vegetables, as indeed I was. Mmmm, salad, said I on Saturday when I got one with my pizza, and I don't say that very often.

I don't seem to have said very much so far about running, cycling and the like. Well, that's because last week there wasn't any, and this week has been dominated by the turbo trainer, which means that all there is to report is my view of me in the mirror in front of me in the garage, and even that picture was blurred because I took my glasses off each time I was on the damn thing, in an attempt to make the experience less horribly real. Though I have been listening to some banging choons, which does help the boredom a bit. Oh yes, rewinding a bit, I do have a mirror in the garage so I can see myself on the trainer. It's to, erm, well, ensure that I can see my pedalling technique is up to scratch. Yes, definitely. And if you believe that, you'll believe other cyclists who tell you they shave their legs "so the skin heals better" if/when they fall off; bilge, it's because it enhances our muscle definition, we all know that's the real reason. Though for those of us who do shave it does mean we can comply with another of the Velominati's rules.

Enough ramble and waffle for this week; who knows there may be something about bicycle riding next time.

Friday, 1 March 2013

A period of silence on your part would be welcome

I'm not normally keen on quoting Labour politicians, even ones as venerable as Clement Attlee, but it's he who has le mot juste on this occasion. For, dear reader, I'm going on holiday. Just a week, but from this weekend until next weekend, so there'll be no blogging about anything cycling or running related, as I'm having a week off all that too.  I've had a good couple of months when it comes to training, and sometimes a week of rest enables the body to convert all that hard work into tangible gains.

You may well be having a little private cheer at the thought of not reading the usual drivel, but I can't promise that there won't be blogging on subjects other than cycling; me and the good lady Mrs M are off to various bits of south-west France, and I may not be able to resist posting photographs and comments. We're actually flying to Limoges on Sunday, which has happy memories for me, as it was the Ville de Depart of the Etape du Tour in 2004, which I did. Heavens that was a long day, 152 miles of Massif Central, starting at 7am and finishing at 5.25pm. I wasn't as fit in those days as I am now, and I was about 5 kg heavier. I don't think I've ever been as tired as I was that night.

This time though we'll be staying in a nice hotel rather than the university accommodation block which it was the night before the Etape - that meant I suffered a night-long chorus of snoring, farting and belching from my room-mates (following an evening of carb-loading), which in turn made for about 3 hours proper sleep. This time it'll be much the same I would imagine, though Mrs M's snoring has reduced by a few decibels recently. (Hope she doesn't read this).

So, au revoir for now.
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