Monday, March 29, 2010

The Cheshire Cat

Yesterday Jez and I did the medium route of the Cheshire Cat road sportive. It was billed as 67 miles but turned out at 68.8 on my Garmin, the 1.8 miles mattered a lot to a certain person! I have to say I really enjoyed every single minute of it, this enjoyment was shared by my riding partner right up until, oh about just after Mow Cop, 16ish miles in.

An easy drive down to Crewe, straightforward parking and a little queue to pick up numbers and chips and we were ready to go. Unfortunately the queue to get started was massive and I think we were there for an hour before finally starting at 9:29. It was pretty cold and there was a fair wind blowing but the forecasted heavy rain wasn't there, I was glad to get moving and be able to try to generate some heat.

The first 16 miles were pretty flat and we were moving well, averaging about 16.8 which was faster than our 15mph plan but it was really easy riding. We got stopped at the level crossing at the bottom (of what I hadn't quite realised) was the climb to Mow Cop. We set off in a big bunch and the road soon headed up, I hadn't realised where I was and thought the road would soon level out so stayed in my middle ring but it just got steeper, a lot steeper.

My new Garmin said the gradient was 20%, whether that's entirely true or not it was too steep to be trying to grind up it in the gear I was in, there was no way the front derallieur was going to move due to being stood up and it was so crowded I couldn't do anything but keep moving, slowly forward. Once it eased off significantly my legs were toasted but I did think to myself "if I can get up that in that gear then there is a good chance of getting up Mow Cop". Then I looked up and there it was up ahead, oops. It looked like carnage at the top.

Lowest gear engaged, slow spinning to regain some sort of control over myself. As I got closer to the pub the steep bit started looking shorter and shorter (because it is very short) and I decided "I'm having that"...and I did. It did hurt, quite a bit and toasting my legs further down didn't help but I got up. The only slight eek moment was when someone bailed next to me and nearly dropped his bike on me, I squeaked and he pulled it away (thanks). I saw Jez stomp up it as well but he put a foot down somewhere apparently before the pub I think.

I continued on, unlike a lot of other people, until the road totally stopped going up. I waited for Jez then we set off down the descent and on towards the next climb. My memory of exactly what hills were what is pretty hazy (no change there then) but on the next one Jez stopped as he was knackered. Hmmm.

I stopped part way up the hill for a bit which was a bit of a mistake. We continued on, Jez walking bits if he needed to and me waiting at the top. None of the remaining climbs were as brutal as Mow Cop.

For a bit of balance, there was some excellent descents, particularly around Bridestones (I think). Jez pretty much managed to blast past everyone when the road headed down, very confident descending. I managed to hit 41.2mph on a descent around there, god knows what Jez was at as he was way faster than me.

We finally made it to the first feed station at 27 miles and it is clear he is not a happy camper! I make a suggestion that perhaps we could find out if there is a way of getting back to the start but I was informed that he was "not giving up, mutter, mutter, grr, bloody road bikes" (or something to that effect). Okay then....get round mode engaged and I stopped worrying about riding time taken - which was probably a good thing as I had forgotten to set autopause on the Garmin. I remembered to pause it manually sometimes but it was irrelevant really.

Fed, bottles refilled we set off again, next target feed station 2 at about 48 miles. The next 10 miles or so seemed to take absolutely ages, a few more hills to contend with though I found them fine and again waited at the top. Jez was in that special personal hell that you only visit when your knackered with miles and miles to go.

I've been there lots of times myself and I know there is nothing I could say to make it better (except perhaps "Taxi for Jez!"). I did what he has done for me loads of times before, ignore the grumbling and keep thing moving on..."you can't stop here".."why not?".."Road bikes are crap"..."It's not the bikes fault"..Only x miles to go..that was the last climb..and on and on.

I think the hills were pretty much done by 36 miles, a few more fast descents which were fun but it really seemed to take ages to get to the feed station.

We finally rolled into it, I decided to have my butty and Jez wandered in and came back with a sausage roll which seemed to start perking him up a bit - that and the fact there were only about 20 miles left. Next target, get to the finish.

Setting off from there we tagged onto the back of a large group, that meant tootling along at 15mph with very little effort. My legs were feeling pretty strong but we stayed with the group for a while until I started to worry about the route split as the miles were stacking up above 50. I didn't want to end up on the 100 by mistake (and had forgot to start the course I had loaded into the Garmin). I saw a signpost showing we were heading for Church Minshull, a quick squint at the route card on the back of the number and saw Church Minshull was on the long route and then looked at the wrong part of the card for the medium, saw it wasn't there and panicked.

We pulled over and lost the group, a proper look at the card showed that in fact we were supposed to come though it. I thought he was going to murder me, seriously if looks could kill.....We got going again and just round a bend, not more than 100 metres further was the bloody route split sign.

My penance for that little bit of stupidity was to ride on the front all the way back. I think it was at least 10 miles with a good chunk into a headwind. My legs were feeling pretty good, however both Jez's legs were now threatening to cramp so keeping a pace he could ride at wasn't that easy. However, eventually I realised that he was starting to get quicker and quicker. The last 5 miles were at 16.7 average, which I was really pleased about because it was my legs setting that pace and they could have gone faster.

As the stadium got really close a buch of fast lads came zooming past and Jez jumped on the back of them, blew past me with a big grin on his face and took off for the sprint finish!!!!!!!! I gave chase but didn't quite manage to catch him, the sod. He crossed the line a few seconds faster than me some semblance of male pride restored hopefully. It was a bit of a miserable experience for him but he toughed it out.

We queued up again to hand chips in and I got my medal for clearing Mow Cop. I can't remember the overall time, it was something like 5:25. My Garmin had 4:55 for ride time and an average of 14mph but it was really all about getting Jez round.

Overall, I loved it and whilst I knew my legs had done something by the end they were still going well. I had a bit of numb bum as I didn't stand enough and my gloves were starting to annoy my hands. I think I could have made the 100 but if I tried it yesterday would have probably suffered due to not eating enough early in the ride. It was fine for the 68 miles but wouldn't have been for longer I don't think.

The jury is out on whether Jez does the Etape Caledonia, I can't wait.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Playing Frogger

On last nights ride, loads of the little things on the roads and trails near Anglezarke. Not entirely sure I was 100% successful in missing them. A very short and chat paced ride in the end with just Ed and I out, the only real effort put in was climbing Lead Mines, just for a change though its still firmly a decent for me. Everything was wet and sloppy, even stuff I didn't think was normally prone to being that bad.

Decided against exploring the new Healy Nab stuff for the first time in the dark and it was only when packing up that I realised we hadn't gone to the pike. Not really a proper Rivi ride for me if the pike isn't visited. Just perfect for an easy week.

Running has resumed and an easy five miles are planned tonight, then a lazy two days before the Cheshire Cat on Sunday. Forecast is for p*ssing rain....what tyres for stopping wheelspin on Mow Cop?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hmmmm, now what?

This weekend is the Whinlatter Enduro. I have been in two minds about whether to do it due to not getting in many (or actually any) long MTB rides due to the weather. In the last couple of days I had pretty much decided to HTFU and just get on with it but my stupid car has now got to go back into the garage.

It had developed quite an oil leak and spent last weekend there being "fixed", I got it back on Tuesday so far so good but Jez opened the bonnet last night to put the engine cover back on (which they had failed to do) and the whole of the engine is just swimming in oil. It looked like a fire just waiting to happen. Another car was used to get us to the Velodrome and apparently at some point today the garage are hopefully going to come and pick it up so I'm probably going to be carless again for the weekend and won't be able to get there.

Weather forecast is less than ideal to ask someone to hang around while I crawl my way around Whinlatter forest for five hours or so. I'm not doing very well with my planned events this year.

I think a road ride is the only real option but I do need to get in something over a couple of hours or so. as the Cheshire Cat is next weekend..........grrr cars.

Not much running going on

Not sure what has been up with my calf muscles since I've come back from the Cairngorms but they have not been happy bunnies.

A short get back into it run last Thursday was enjoyable, I expected possibly a little bit of soreness but my calves were very stiff on the Friday. I ended up doing some lunchtime hill reps on the bike on Friday due to car faff and working from home meant I had access to some hills.

The reps were about 1.4 miles long but not massively steep, more of a gradual climb interspersed with steeper bits. It wasn't ideal but I didn't have time to really get anywhere properly steep so decided to make sure I worked hard all the way up and resist the temptation to take it easy on the easier bits and push on over the top of the steepish sections.

I have to say, at least mentally, proper steep is easier, its just "get to the top". Making myself push where I wanted to back off was hard. They took about seven minutes each and I got slightly quicker each one but there is lots of room for improvement. I only had time to get three in before heading back home. Since I found them so difficult I should probably do them again.

A lot of stretching afterwards and I thought my calves would be fine, nope. Saturday I woke up and could barely put my heels on the floor. My calves and achilles were just solid, from my heels to just below the back of my knees. I wasn't 100% sure if it was the running or the hill reps but the pattern of tightness was slightly different on each leg which made me suspect running, my foot strike is slightly different on each leg. Maybe something to do with doing lots of walking as opposed to running?

An easy day of fubbing about on the shopping bike due to no car and an easy afternoon ride on the MTB did nothing to help but at least my calves didn't hurt when pedalling. It was too sore to stretch or bear the foam roller. They didn't hurt like that after the marathon so I rested on the Sunday completely.

They felt much better on the Monday, I could walk properly so decided to celebrate by going out for a run. I got less than quarter of a mile before my calves felt solid again, a bit of stretching and I decided to carry on taking it easy for a couple of miles to loosen them up.

They did loosen up a bit eventually but I was having to stretch them a lot at road crossings, or at the top of inclines, I should have taken the hint and cut it short but I carried on and did over 7 miles. I was hobbling for the rest of the night and the next morning so it was a bit of a stupid thing to do.

An easy spin out on the road bike on the flat on Tuesday, a fantastic dry trails and spring temperature night ride on Wednesday (so glad I made myself go) and a fantastic session at the Velodrome last night and I think, touch wood, things are heading back towards normal.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Cairngorms

I've been back from the Cairngorms for almost a week now, a bit of a sniffle and post holiday blahs this week and it all seems a world away now.

I could write loads about the experience but I won't, it was just utterly fantastic. The snow was simply amazing. We had a pretty painless drive up on the Sunday, avoiding the worst section of the A9 it would seem by coming up from the Edinburgh side. Managed to drive past the turn off for Glenmore Lodge as the sign was totally obscured by snow. Heading up the ski road was entertaining, the road hadn't been ploughed, it had had to have a snow blower to cut through it. There is a four metre high wall of snow near the Coire Cas car park.
Days 1 -4 had pretty much no wind, which is quite frankly rare in the Cairngorms. We also had lots of sunshine and blue skies, again rare. I just hope I haven't had my lifetime's quota of good Scottish winter weather in one week. Soft snow meant slow moving progress particularly being the shortest member of the group, with the shortest stride. It wasn't always easy following others footsteps and as I took a lot of photos I spent a lot of time as the tail end Charlie.

On the Tuesday we were accompanied for the day by cameraman from the Adventure Show, they are doing a piece on people beginning to venture out into the Scottish hills in winter. It was quite odd doing stuff and then having a camera watching or being asked questions. Its only shown in Scotland and probably won't be out til the autumn so I'll have forgotten all about it by then. I will no doubt look and sound like a complete plank!

Ice axe arrest practice was hilarious, crampons and ice axes were seriously confidence inspiring though there wasn't always a massive need for them due to the soft snow. Snow shelter digging was interesting but quite frankly I think I'd rather bust a gut to get off the hill. A snow hole on the other hand might be fun for a night. Avalanche awareness was a hot topic for obvious reasons, lots of attention to the forecasts, looking for wind scoured slopes etc, learning new words for snow....loaded:

Sastrugi, my favourite word for snow:

A good walk around the Northern Corries on the Wednesday with visibility for miles in every direction, not sure if I'll see it like that ever again:

Lots more photos on Flickr if you want to trawl through them.

Just to redress the balance the normal weather closed in on Friday. We wanted some experience of trying to navigate in white out conditions and we got it. Snow shoes and following the pistes up made for fast progress up to Cairn Gorm summit. Sheltering in the Ptarmigan ski station for some food and layer rearrange it was then up to the summit, walking on bearings in pairs using dark patches in the snow to sight off - it was the only detail and using hand signals to correct the lead (voice signals drowned out by the wind). The view from Cairn Gorm summit, the little grey "sighting" patches visible at the bottom:

From the summit over to another feature on a bearing taken and measured by me (gulp) but it worked. I was the lead of our pair, we managed to stay on bearing and I managed to keep counting paces. I found it was a good way of blocking out thinking about the conditions. I had my only real "I'm not liking this" moment across here as everytime I had to turn back to check I was still on bearing I got a load of icy snow driven into my eyeballs, not pleasant.

Still, we found the little tor we were looking for, walking round it I got blown off my feet three times due to the combination of 40mph winds, soft, deep snow and snow shoes. Hiding behind the tor on quite frankly, dodgy windslab (just as well it was flat) I managed to get my ski goggles on and what a difference. Eyes protected, hood up, in my own bright yellow bubble it made a huge difference to things.

We set off back to the Ptarmigan with more bearing walking and pace counting and I was by then really enjoying the challenge. The only slight annoyance was having to carry my walking poles to use the compass and they kept icing to my gloves and making whatever hand was holding them freezing. The compass base plate was ice, all toggles etc were covered in rime ice, jacket hoods etc. It was a good reminder of exactly how serious things can get up there.