Sunday 23 February 2014

Snowdrops not Wet drops!

Started this week off with a run. SJ and I ran the reverse Studley triangle route on a drizzly night. SJ kept a good pace throughout and ran the whole route which was great considering that it was only her third run since giving birth to Lunar Pops.

Tuesday was a great day out too. Ron and I cycled Mr Pickwick's March Madness - a 200k event organised by Mark Rigby. A blog about said ride has already been published (so those riding the calendar event can have a preview to their days adventure), you can find the blog entry here:

Last week, I blogged about my Rapha Festive 500 roundel. Well, this week I also got the T-shirt to prove my achievement. Check me! Ha!
Showing off, mostly
As with a lot of Rapha related merchandise, it came with a groovy card inside with a kinda motivational message printed on it. We all know miles tell stories - read about it here! We all know I'm crazy. Do I really have to prove it - well, read on….
The weekend saw me complete the Snowdrop Express 120k audax. This was an event organised by Beacon RCC that started and finished in Hartlebury. I have now cycled this event many times - the ride was special to me because it was the first audax event that I ever entered and completed. Each and every time I have rode this event, it has not been without incident. This ride was no exception.

Lin drove me to the start (Hartlebury) where we met up with a whole bunch of my mates. Those present were (Me, Lin), Ron, Andy Genders, Phil, Red, John Mitchel, Andy Tolley, Jamie and Trev. Finbar (SJ's ex boss) was also present, though we never saw each other. Lou Rigby, Becky Burns, Aid, Chris, Jimmy Po'cock, Jane (my sister) and Chris Hodge were all DNSers. Lou, Becky and Jane could all be excused on grounds of ill health. Chris was in Malaga, so I guess he has excuse enough too. Aid and Jimmy were the 'Southern Fairy's' and rumour has it they were afraid of being 'chicked'! Si, Andy and Clive the Dr were also absent for various reasons and missed out on a great day. For those of us that were present, we all assembled at the start line for 9 o'clock and then we were off…
'Team Doo' at the start
The group soon disbanded and smaller groups formed. We were 11 of a whole bunch more cycling this event. As far as I know, I was the only guy on a single-speed bike. Weather was fantastic - a bright sunny day that lasted the whole event. Prior to the event, Andy Tolley thought we might have to dub the event - 'The Wet drop'. Relatively flat roads took us swiftly to the first control in Upton on Severn.
Doo and Lin at the Upton Control
This first control was great. Not only great for the tea and cake it offered, but great because Mark Rigby was the controller here. Not only did Mark stamp my brevet card, he returned my 'other' brevet card from Tuesday's 200k event too. Better yet, Mr Pickwick's March Madness event scored 1.75 AAA points, a whole .25 points more than I thought. How cool! The Snowdrop Express scored no AAA points (no points at all in fact) and the hilliness profile is demonstrated below.
Hilliness profile of the Snowdrop Express
I left the Upton control as part of a smaller group as some were still eating, drinking and socialising. What I remembered most about this section was some lovely flat and descending roads that enabled folk to get a bit of a speed on. At times my pedal arms could spin no faster because I had 'topped out', even so, I did not miss having a geared bike. When I was about 3k from the control, I span my legs as quick as I could because I knew SJ my wife and daughter Lunar (plus my mum, dad and sister Jane) would be waiting at the control. How blessed I was to have such an awesome family. Thankfully, the pedestrian bridge in Evesham was open today and I made it to the control in good time. As I parked my bike up, my family were all looking at me through the cafe window - how cool!
Lunar kitted out in her cycling gear
Was awesome entering the cafe and meeting and greeting my folks. Lunar was especially awesome and gorgeous - she was wearing a cycling shirt identical to mine. Lunar turned most peoples heads! Had my audax staple diet here - beans and egg on toast. Following shortly after me, the rest of 'my group' all rocked up, all except Lin. I figured Lin was only about 10 minutes behind, but time passed and no Lin. After my friends had eaten they all left but I figured I would wait for Lin. I waited about a further 30 minutes and then, thankfully, Lin rocked up. Lin had GPX issues and had ended up cycling to Worcester! Poor Lin but at least she was in good spirits and had cycled her target training distance. I left the control here and started a solo cycle to the finish.
The last stage was great and I very much enjoyed trying to catch folk up (and overtake them). I passed 2 cyclists almost straight away and passed a few more shortly after climbing a real tough hill (tough without gears anyhow). One of the guys I passed was Red! Red had a 'mechanical' where his rear mech had gone AWOL. I stopped with Red a short while as he converted his bike into a single-speed - the way forward! I didn't wait for Red to complete his task and carried on with my chasing game. With less than 20k to go, I caught Andy Genders and Phil. This pair were caught just before Pig Hill. I though Pig Hill was going to be a real 'pig' of a hill, but actually it wasn't as bad as I was reckoning. I whizzed up this hill, passing a guy walking his machine. The hill just after the Lenches was much tougher in my opinion. After Pig Hill it was only a short stretch till I reached the arrivee - woo hoo, job done!
John looked like he was in a lot of pain at the finish. Ron and the Meekon had a great day out
Brevet card stamped. Awarded with a sausage sarnie and cup of tea. A quick catch up with some of the lads and time to go home. Wow, what an eventful ride! The route GPX track is presented below.
Snowdrop Express Audax, 120k
Ran a total of 5k this week and cycled a total of 330k. Am pleased to have now cycled over a 1,000k this calendar year - 1,164k to date. Am hoping to continue to mix up my running and cycling.

Thursday 20 February 2014

A touch of March Madness mid February

On the 18th February 2014, Ron and myself thought we’d like a dose of March Madness. This dose of madness came in the form of a Black Sheep audax – namely, ‘Mr Pickwick’s March Madness’. This was a hilly, 200k event organised by Mark Rigby (aka Black Sheep) and Ron and I had the pleasure of route testing.

Ron and I started the event at Black Sheep HQ. Just as I was about to knock the front door, it opened revealing Mrs Black Sheep donned in her cycling gear. Great, I thought. Sadly, Mrs Black Sheep was not joining Ron and me – she was going on a club run. Once inside HQ, Black Sheep issued us with our brevet cards and kindly checked internet services to check on possible flooding and the likes. This search indicated that there was a possible fallen tree on route and maybe some flooding near the Fownhope area. Mark suggested a possible alternative around Fownhope. With suitable information in our heads we left Black Sheep HQ for a wonderful adventure.

The day looked promising from the start. My front wheel had a slight buckle but nothing major. A newly fitted (bodged) mud-guard at the rear was sure to keep my back dry and a new fibre-flare light would keep my rear end illuminated too. I toyed with the idea of wearing water-proof socks but decided against this as the weather folk only predicted light rain and my shoes were waterproof gore-tex anyhow. Strangely, Ron was wearing waterproof socks which must have been a first for him.

As we left Tewkesbury, Ron and I felt great to be cycling a 200k event together at last. For once the rain was holding off and the skies were bright. When we had cycled only 8k though, we faced our first obstacle – flooding! This flood was not predicted and so deep was the flood that the road was just swallowed up. I think this area was called Longdon Marsh but Longdon Lake would have been more fitting! Now I know why Ron was wearing his waterproof socks.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
(Quoting Black Sheep, quoting Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

As is our style, we faced our obstacle head on. My feet were soaking wet, the water had simply gone over and into my shoes. Brr, cold it was too. Ron and I were not the only ones to be sailing along, a beautiful swan was having a good float out too. This water way continued for about 1k and then a little island appeared before another waterway followed. At least my back was dry!

Once we had completed our passage through the depths, we did not encounter anymore flooding on route. We faced more obstacles though, these being the many hills. The first hill of note came during the first stage and could be seen way before it was tackled. This hill led up to the base camp on the Malverns. The Malvern Hills were beautiful and could be seen hiding behind some cloud as we made our way towards them, almost as if the clouds were hiding the horror that lay ahead. The climb was tough but a nice zig-zag road led to the summit and once at the top it felt great. Then followed a butt clenching descent with a sneaky right turn to almost take us off guard. We were headed for Flowerdew’s café and the thought of a nice sit down and cup of tea kept me cycling along. In my wisdom, I had packed a spare pair of dry socks and was looking forward to putting them on. Boy, my feet were cold.

When we reached Bromyard – horrors! Flowerdew’s was not open! We cycled around looking for a café but none was found. We did however find an amazing patisserie (a few yards away from Flowerdew’s on opposite side) and indulged in the most scrumptious pork bap ever. Yummers! The sausage roll was equally special too. We couldn’t sit down here and hence I couldn’t change my socks but the grub was so great that I didn’t much care.

Leaving Bromyard we headed towards Fownhope and half expected to experience flooding. Thankfully there was no flooding but the damage of recent flooding could clearly be seen. Whole areas were flattened and looked desolate. As we passed a war memorial near Withington it reminded me of a permanent event I had previously cycled (forget which) as said memorial was used for an information control. We chose not to stop at the Moon pub control (despite it sounding like an awesome place and reminding me of my daughter 'Lunar') but stopped at the Post Office 2k further ahead. The folk in the Post Office were slow to serve us and the content of their chatter was quite disturbing – they were talking about how the floods had damaged this and that. The woman who served me must have been away with the fairies – she gave £5 extra when giving me my change (good job I’m a conscientious sole). After a quick drink and a snack, we left this control and my mind went back to thinking about my cold feet.

The route continued in its undulating, but mostly hilly style. We knew from the outset that this was going to be a hilly affair – the route scored 1.5 AAA points. A quick look at the hilliness profile demonstrated just how hilly this event really was.
Hilliness profile of Mr Pickwick's March Madness
After passing through Mitcheldean and Abenhall we reached Soudley. Soudley strangely sparked off conversations about the soup dragon. Perhaps we could have soup at the control at the Dean Heritage Centre?!
The soup dragon
The Dean Heritage Centre was a real welcome break. We had our first proper sit down and eat stop here. I was so pleased I could take off my shoes and in an attempt to dry them out, I stuffed them with the free newspapers at this centre. Better yet, I was able to dry my insoles on the radiator and partially dry my wet socks. My feet felt so cosey with new dry socks slipped on. As for our feeding, well, we had soup. Ron had a nice broccoli and stilton soup and I had a nasty vegetable variety. My soup looked like troll snot which I guess would have tasted nicer. The mug of tea was a decent brew and washed down said soup.

Leaving the Dean Heritage Centre more hills were climbed. The climbing appeared relentless and harder now that our bellies were full. The climbing took us up to Chepstow where thoughts of the Bryan Chapman and Brevet Cymru events filled my head space. After a final climb the Severn Bridge graced the horizon. What an awesome bridge which we finally crossed and I am sure I will never tire of crossing this work of art. For a change the wind was still as we crossed the bridge on this occasion. Almost as soon as we were over the bridge we had reached the control.

Severn Bridge services was the aptly named control. These services offered a Costa or Burger King (as well as a WHSmiths). I opted for a tea but did not partake of any cake – at £2.99 a slice, does anyone indulge?!

Leaving the Severn control also meant we had left the hills behind. All the hills except one that was. We cycled through a place called ‘Hill’ but ironically there was no hill here. Bonus!  Ham was another interesting named place we passed through. With relatively flat roads and warm feet, I felt all was going great. Then all of a sudden psst, I got a visit from the puncture pixie. No major menace – I had a spare tube. Typical that I punctured having a newly fitted tyre (Continental 4 season too).  After this quick fix we set off again along some pot-holey roads and it was only a matter of time before psst, I had punctured again. No major menace – I had another spare tube and a spare tyre. Decided to fit the new tyre (a cheap Vittoria one) which stayed inflated for rest of adventure. Due to these ‘mechanicals’, we bounced the next control. Stables café appeared closed anyhow, but the pub opposite tempted me.

Leaving control we had some cyclo-cross action and sped along some tow-path. It was now dark and a few puddles, random dogs and a granny had to be safely passed as we rocketed along. After a brief period of navigating some road, we were back on canal paths that led to some docks. I found this very pretty but Ron was wishing for daylight. We had reached Gloucester and the Cathedral looked majestic (am sure the bells were chiming). It was difficult to follow the GPX and route sheet here because of the many twists and turns and we felt like urban rats in a maze for a while. It would have been easier for us to just follow road signs sign-posted ‘Tewkesbury’, which was essentially what happened next. The last 20k was a fast stretch mostly along the A38. I would have been happy to cruise along knowing the arrivee was near but oh no, I was following Rocket Ron. I was working hard to keep up with Ron as he was zooming along playing his ‘stay on my wheel game’. Not sure why but Ron often feels a sudden urgency to finish when reaching the end of an event. I quite like better value for money myself but with cheap brevets I had no argument (plus the Black Sheep pair were waiting for us).

And the next thing you know, we reached the arrivee! Our final control was the 'spoons pub in Tewkesbury where the Black Sheep pair were patiently waiting for us. A splendid feast and a great catch up ended our adventure in style. 
GPX track log
ps At one point on our adventure we were following Hedwig for a stretch. Indeed, some beautiful owl with a lengthy wing span was flying just ahead of us for some distance in broad daylight. Nice. 

All those waiting for the 1st March, the calendar event, are in for much fun.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Floods mostly

This week started well. Almost as soon I was up and out of bed, I went for a cycle. The weather was pants but it was nice to be back on my single-speed machine. Cycling along my AM SR 1 route seemed a tad tougher than usual and caution had to be exercised due to the large amounts of ice and slush covering the roads in places. The return leg saw the heavens open but at least the roads were not flooded like elsewhere in the UK. Once home, it felt like I had been rewarded for my cycle because the postman had delivered my Rapha Festive 500 roundel! Woo hoo!
My Rapha Festive 500 roundel 2013
The Rapha Festive 500 roundel was awarded for cycling 500k during 24-31 December last year (2013). The horrid weather and my adventures in the cold and dark suddenly seemed worthwhile. The roundel came neatly packaged in a small black packet with an accompanying post-card with lots of stat's printed on same.
Front of Rapha post-card
The reverse of the post-card had a printed message congratulating my achievement. Nice touch. This is my only Rapha award to date.
Reverse of Rapha post-card
Continued with my running this week too which made me feel good. My first run was especially super as SJ joined me! We ran the Studley triangle - this being SJ's first run since giving birth to our lovely daughter Lunar! Talking of Lunar - we ran past her on route, my dad was taking her for a stroll in her pram. How cool was that - a run with my 2 girls!

Third adventure of the week was a cycling affair. Ron and I took our MTB's out on a very windy and wet day. Most of the UK had weather and flood warnings on this particular day. We decided to cycle the Reed route and almost straight away we were to witness the power of the wind. Several tree's were broken and blown straight over and debris covered the roads, especially around the Studley Castle area.  We were cycling on flooded roads and it reminded us both of our Bear Bones adventure. The flooding was bad but not particularly deep up until Great Alne. Ron wanted to continue to the ford in Coughton and said he could hear the ford beckoning us. All I could hear was the strange sounds the wind was making. I informed Ron that Coughton must be flooded for sure but he didn't heed my predictions. We continued and suffice to say, I was right. As we headed towards the ford, river and road became one!
'I was right, you were wrong Ron'
Hmm, water up to my knees 
Road and river became one
We feet were freezing cold after wading through the river. Once the ford was passed we were again on dry ground and had an easy pedal back home. Just for fun we decided to cycle through alley-ways wherever possible.

So many adventures this week that I almost lost count. Thursday was a double-whammy! In the morning I cycled and in the afternoon I ran. The day was beautiful and dry, though flooding was still evident in parts. My adventure first took me from home and into Redditch. A quick stop in Redditch to drop off Aid's Xmas parcel (somewhat late) and Angelina's birthday present before making my way to Evesham. On route some sections of road were closed and machines were pumping water - flooding perhaps. Reached the bridges in Evesham but there was no passage across, for safety reasons they were closed. Booo! I decided to cycle through the park and once more, river and road (well, foot path) became one!
D'oh, no passage across bridge allowed
River and path become one
The return journey home was fine, no mis-haps and no bother. My poor bike looked pretty filthy by end of ride though and to be honest, I had not cleaned her in ages. I figured this would probably be the last ride on this machine before the impending Snowdrop Express 123k audax next week. With that in mind, Kay O had a complete wash, degrease and lube! She now looked (almost) brand new.

'Cleaning a bike's like cleaning a toilet. If you do it regularly, it's fine and easy. If you wait, it's a truly disgusting experience.' (Steve Gravenites).

In the afternoon, I swapped bike for running shoes. SJ ran with me and we completed the Studley triangle in the reverse direction which was nice. Note to self - don't disturb the Mrs when she's in 'the zone'!

Friday was the last day of adventure and saw me run another lap of the Studley triangle. I deliberately pushed myself a bit harder on a couple of up-hill sections. It appears my pushing was worthwhile as my pace was 5.34 mins/km which is my fastest yet (this year).

Would like to conclude this blog post with a 'Where's Wally?' photo. This photo was printed on the inside cover of the latest Arrivee magazine and was taken during the prologue stage of the 2013 LEL. Myself and my buddy Chris ('Wally') were part of the pack. Is hard to find Wally and myself but if you look at the photo carefully you will see 2 arrows pointing to Wally and I. Is so bizarre that blog content on my website and Chris's is oh so similar. Isn't that a pip?!
Ran a total of 15.3 k this week and cycled 134k - yay, finally managed to cycle over 100k in a week! Still have not cycled total distance of over 1,000k yet this year but hopefully this target will be passed by end of next week. More adventure awaits!

Sunday 9 February 2014

Self suffieciency

For a third week in a row, I cycled less than 100k. Next week doesn't look to promising either. Time is never time at all.

On the one occasion I did manage to get my bike out, Ron and I cycled a urban MTB route. We basically cycled streets into and out of Redditch from home to home. On route, Ron punctured. This was really annoying, as Ron's puncture was on a tyre that I had fitted (for Xmas purposes) with a anti-puncture slime tube. Anti-puncture my butt! Also on-route we by-passed Aid's abode but he wasn't able to come out and play. We don't think Aid has been out for about 6 months and are now placing bets he won't cycle the Snowdrop Express 123k audax this month for fear of being chicked! I hope Aid does come out and play that day.

This lack of cycling got me down this week and I just couldn't create or find enough time to go out on any long distance spins. A simple solution was found - why not go out running?! I could fit a run in, no problem - a 5k run would only take about half an hour.

To be honest, my idea of running came about following a recent read. I got hold of Ronnie O'Sullivans autobiography entitled 'Running'. Ronnie is my favourite snooker player. Strangely, I have no interest in taking up snooker but felt inspired to run.
My first 'Ronnie inspired' run was a lap around the Studley triangle. This was basically a 3 mile run around the village where I live. I used to run this route in times past, especially with SJ when she was training for her marathon. Considering I hadn't run for months (years?) I felt pretty good and thought my pace was good - 5.51 mins/km. Not sure if that really was 'good' but that was quicker than 10 minute miles. Good enough for me!

The following day and my legs really hurt, especially my thighs. Now I remembered why I preferred cycling to running. Not only did my legs ache but so did my back and chest. Still wanting to exercise, I considered another run. The voice in my head was telling me not to run - 'it'll kill you', 'you'll never do it'. I reasoned with my voice and figured that a run had never killed me in the past and if I was really in trouble, I could just walk. According to Ronnie (and Dr Steve) the voice in my head is really a chimp - read 'Running' and you'll make sense of what I say. So, ignoring my voice (chimp) I ran the Studley triangle again but in the easier, reverse direction. It hurt, but I made it all the way around without walking and had a quicker pace than the day before - 5.44 mins/km. The following  days and I could hardly walk - ha!

Lunar's birthday party, organised by SJ was my next 'event'. This was a great day and I was so proud of my 2 lovely girls. SJ, Lunar (and absent Cody Dog) - I love you so much! x
My 2 lovely girls
Finished the week by going for another run. This run was a relatively hilly affair that took me into Redditch and back. During the run I felt pretty good despite my pace being quite slow. I ran over 8k and wonder if I'll ache tomorrow?!
Hilliness profile of my 8.2k run to Redditch and back
It was nice to get out and cycle and run this week. I prefer cycling as it gives me a longer time to meditate and less pain is experienced. My mind tried to meditate whilst running but the pain barrier was hard to cross. At often times my cycling and running gave me a sense of self-sufficiency. However, a Sunday service helped me realise that I am not really self-sufficient at all.

'Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God'. (2 Cor 3:5)

Am hoping that I'll be able to cycle a wee bit more next week compared to this one. Now my running has started, am hoping the enthusiasm stays. Time will tell.

Cycled a miserable total of 23k this week. Ran nearly as far as I cycled! I ran a total distance of 19.3k.
Lunar says 'remember, cake is part of the staple audax diet'!

Monday 3 February 2014

Lunar's birthday; Scotty's debut 2014 blast

This blog entry has been posted late because work are making me work many a night shift, am slightly intoxicated at time of writing and today was my daughter Lunar's first birthday!
Baby Lunar reads 'In the Night Garden' with Daddy
Anyways, let's attempt a blog entry. Ok, last week I didn't cycle so many Peter Kay's, less than a 100k in fact. However, I did make it out on 3 separate occasions. Each adventure was using my MTB which had recently had the rear hub serviced again.

The hub on my MTB was a DT Swiss model and it had been wonky for ages. Speeds Cycles in Bromsgrove had serviced it in the past but it never really felt much better to be honest. This time around, I got Cult Cycles to fix it - which they did, but it cost me a whopping £62. Even with hub fixed and mech hanger replaced, my Scott Scale 20 didn't feel perfect. Sadly, my MTB is equipped with Avid disc brakes which are in my humble opinion quite pants. I don't earn enough dollars to replace said brakes…

Anyways, my MTB 'Scotty' was fixed and ready enough for adventure. First adventure was a quick blast with my buddy Ron. We cycled a shortened version of my Deer route which Ron dubbed 'The Deer route - no antlers'. 

For my second trip, I cycled Ron's TROAD route. The TROAD (The Route Of Absolute Doom) is a great ride that Ron jokes is 'his perm'. When I first started cycling this route, I considered it hard, but to be fair it isn't so tough at all - in fact, it's a classic lovely route to cycle and local to me - bonus! When I cycled this route on this occasion, I was caught in a slurry of snow! Could you believe it?! - Snow, when all we've had all year has been rain, rain, rain.

To complete my cycling for the week I had a blast around the Reed route. The Reed route is essentially the Deer route in reverse. I swapped the off-road sections for road, simply because Scotty was kitted out in slicks.

One might re-call I took my weight in January and it was over 92kg, closer to 93kg. Well, I did manage to bring my weight down, in fact I got down to 88kg! However, no photographic evidence is available currently. To be honest, a trip to Lin's plus today's birthday cake piled the weight back on. Is good that I know I can exercise some control. Watch this space.

So, what are my plans for February?! I plan to cycle a (hilly) 200k event on the 18th (weather permitting) and am looking forward to the Snowdrop Express 123k with a whole bunch of friends. Hopefully, the snowdrop will be completed on a single-speed bike. I also plan to eat less cake!
Lunar and Daddy on a future birthday?!

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