Here is my latest guest blog from Ken.
I’m Ken, a librarian originally from Perth in Scotland but now living in Portsmouth. I played quite a few different sports as a child with rugby definitely being my favourite, and if my knees and ankles were a bit more robust I would still play. I’d had a road bike from my early teens so it was probably inevitable that I’d get back into cycling eventually. I got a new road bike in 2013 but didn’t really start riding regularly until the summer of 2014 when a picture of me with my youngest nephew made me realise just how much weight I’d put on. Since that time I’ve really been bitten by the bug to the extent that I’ve completed the London 2 Paris Sportive twice and in September 2018 am doing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.
On May 20th I, along with 2700 others, took part in the Etape Caledonia a closed road sportive based in the lovely highland Perthshire town of Pitlochry. This was my 3rd time taking part and it was a relatively late decision to do so as initially the route wasn’t going to change so the challenge wasn’t quite there but when my Dad entered I decided that I’d go back and attempt to set my best time over the 81 miles.
After entering the organisers made some interesting changes to the route by adding in an extra 4 miles to the 81 miles. This was a new climb up towards Trinafour which added in around 1,000 feet of climbing and then a fun descent back down to Dunalastair Water to rejoin the route from the previous 2 years. With this climb added the route became much more of a training ride for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain in September and my goal changed from setting my best time to seeing how the legs recovered for the Schiehallion climb after a ride around Loch Rannoch.
Riding around the shores of Loch Rannoch was one of the highlights of the ride this year as it showed the camaraderie of the road brilliantly. Leaving the first feed station into a headwind I found myself being drafted by quite a few cyclists, I’m a relatively large chap with the characteristics of a diesel engine so act as a good wind break and tractor. After a mile what had been a bunch of complete strangers formed themselves into a cohesive group working together into the wind. This gave me a time of 1:00:14 for the timed Lord and Lady of the Loch section of the ride.
From the 2nd feed station on the south shore of Loch Rannoch your mind is focussed on the upcoming climb of Schiehallion, the signature climb, and the location of the timed King of the Mountain section. The timed section is 1.46 miles long with an average gradient of 6% but the full climb rolls over a plateau for almost 5 miles after that. My time on the timed section of the climb was 00:11:31 which was 35 seconds slower than 2017 showing the effect of the earlier climb.
What goes up must come down and this is where it being a closed road event is great because you can use the whole road on a descent which flows very nicely with only a couple of corners you have to be wary of, but these are well marked and well marshalled. Once off of the descent the rest of the ride is fairly flat and fast apart from the last 5 miles from Logierait to Pitlochry which has 3 steep, but thankfully short, sections in it.
This is definitely a ride that I would recommend to anyone with an interest in cycling and one which is achievable by most people with some training. I am intending to do again in 2019 with the aim of beating my moving time of 05:18:24. If the thought of 85 miles is too much then the organisers added a 40 mile route option for 2018 and I hope that they do this again as it is a lot less daunting although it does include a different route up Schiehallion which I’ll have to find an excuse to do during the summer.
Last weekend was my first race of 2016! I had a major mechanical on Friday which left me a bit apprehensive as I packed my stuff. I like to make sure everything is sorted and in the car the night before as this helps banish my pre race nerves.
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The Wiggle Southern Rough Ride sportive started and finished in Amberley, Sussex, a pretty little village nestled in the South Downs. I am lucky enough to live in the South Downs and was excited to ride in a new part of this beautiful landscape.
After registration I lined up and the organisers set us off in group. A sportive is not a ‘race’ ‘race’ as it uses public land. Instead its a mass participation event with different routes for all abilities, I was doing the Epic, a 34 mile route.Each sportive has gold, silver and bronze finishing times I was aiming for around 4 hours putting me in the women’s gold position.
I set off with a plan to let my legs warm up for the first 30 minutes and then to ride hard, consistently. The first two hours passed by and I felt good, I had stopped briefly at the first feed station to fill up my water bottle.
The course was good fun with a mixture of open trails through farmland and scenic ridge paths.
After a while the course split where the standard and epic routes divide, here I came across a bit of a stumbling block the sign-age on the route had been great but myself and a group other riders miss read the sign and ended up on a mile detour back to the course!
Back on track I knew I had lost valuable time so pushed hard, to make it back up. This part of the course seemed a lot more hilly but after the final big push the last feed station was in sight and I knew there was only 8 miles left.
This gave me a new lease of life and helped me push towards the finish line.
My nutrition routine had been very good during the race eating three homemade apricot & nut bars, one each hour with a few jelly babies, a banana and a handful of salted nuts for good measure.
The course neared the end and doubled back on itself with an exhilarating downhill all the way to the finish line.
Crossing the line I was really proud to have finished in 3 hours 46mins even with a little detour of 2 miles. This put me well within women’s gold and was the time needed for mens gold!
Thank you to UK Cycling Events and Wiggle for organising a really good event.
Ride London 2014 – the most fun I’ve ever had in the rain!
On Friday Martyn and I headed off to London ready for the Ride 100 on Sunday.The weather was not looking promising, with thunderstorms and gusty winds forecast due to tropical storm Bertha.
We packed for rain, but could never of predicted just how much rain we would encounter on our journey.
On Saturday we picked up our race chips and as many freebies as we could possible carry before returning to our hotel in Ilford. After realising the train would not be running in time for our 6:17 load deadline we made plans to ride the five miles to the Olympic Park, after all, what’s an extra five miles on 100!
We had planned our nutrition snacks, USN protein, nuts and seeds bars and hour one and three of the race peanut butter sandwiches and a banana at hour two, jelly babies and Bounce Balls for hours four and five and more peanut goodness for hour six, all washed down with plenty of High Five electrolyte drink and water.
The alarm went off at 4am and was swiftly put on snooze, 20 mins later I shook Martyn and flicked the kettle ready for our porridge and tea breakfast.
Attaching race numbers to our bikes there was no sign of the horrendous weather that had been predicted and as we set off towards the Olympic Park we were hopeful for a dry race.
Arriving at the Olympic Park we gave in our bags which we would collect at the finish line and made our way to our wave loading. The park was already brimming with cyclists, all excited and making pre race checks to bikes and clothing. The atmosphere was really exciting, but with an added nerve of tension about the impending stormy forecast. We had been told due to the weather the course would cut out Leith Hill and Box Hill, making our journey one of 86 miles instead of 100. Standing on the start line this seemed like such a shame, later on I would become thankful of this short cut!
All black loading waves went off in quick succession meaning we started before Schedule. I think the organisers were keen to get people moving before the weather came in.
Out on the course we breezed through the first 20 miles with no sign of rain. It was just as exciting as last year, riding on closed roads through one of the busiest cities in the world with not a car in sight, you felt like you were part of something special.
I don’t recall the mile or time when the rain started, just that droplets began to appear on my jacket. The rain didn’t seem to bother us and as we entered Richmond Park we were feeling good and going strong.
Leaving the park, the scenery soon changed from built up urban areas to rolling hills and hedgerows. Entering the country side it became more apparent that it was raining as the wind funnelled through the trees. We headed for the main climb of the course, Newlands Corner. When we reached the hills the water was flooding down the road, so as well as gravity pulling us backwards we had to battle a stream flooding the road. When we reached the top and the view opened up it was one of dark grey sheets of rain! With nowhere to hide from the storm the only thing you could do was laugh about the situation. I was so glad to have Martyn there, we kept each other going and were often joined by loan cyclists taking turns to shelter slightly from the beating wind.
I think they call it “character building”!
Stopping wasn’t an option. We dug deep and kept rolling on. The marshals were great because of the rain parts of roads were completely flooded and they made sure people went through at safe speeds.
60 miles in, it’s time for a pit stop.
At 60 miles we stopped at a hub to refuel. I had been under the illusion up until this point that under my coat I was dry. Nipping to the loo and having to peal off soggy layers I found out this was not the case, I felt instantly cold and knew we needed to get going quickly to build up warmth again. I frustratingly managed to reset my Garmin at this point too! Martyn and I grabbed some High Five, bananas and urban fruit bags before heading off.
Coming into Kingston the rain had eased to a mere dribble and the sun for the first time peaked out from behind a cloud, this was a great feeling, we felt instantly energised and pushed hard for the finish.
Coming into London crowds of people lined the finish line cheering which lifted our spirits just when our legs were starting to tire.
The tar mac turned to red as we made it to The Mall and sprinted to the line together. We had made it, 90 miles in a tropical storm! 22,000 cyclists, 90 miles and one tropical storm proving that cyclists are made of tough stuff!
Thank you to Prudential and the event organisers and volunteer who made sure everyone was well looked after.
5 hours of character building riding. Another great experience and we eagerly await the 2015!
The day started early, leaving the house at 7.00 to drive down to the New Forest to take part in our first Sportive. I had convinced Martyn we should do it together and that we wouldn’t race it but just enjoy it, I wasn’t until we arrived that it became apparent Martyn had other ideas!
Arriving in Brockenhurst it was great to be back where I had spent so many days training last year. I love the New Forest it’s one of those places where you can ride for miles through different landscapes from heathland to forest, the scenery is always changing and hills spring up out of no where.
We set off on the Epic route which was 35 miles long at 9:45. The course meandered through forest and heath using the main forest tracks linked together by the odd road section. It was great to see so many people of different abilities doing the same ride, all out to enjoy the fresh air with friends on their bikes, it reminded me of The Ride London back in August which had the same feel.
Martyn soon picked up the pace and we seemed to be eating into the miles, to get ‘Gold’ you had to finish in 3 hours 50 which seemed fast for an off road race and like I said we were taking it easy, or so I had been led to believe !!…
The first food stop was at roughly a third of the way round, there was lots of snacks to choose from and I had half a banana and tried one of my USN Vooma caffeine gels, which USN had kindly given me to test during the event. I had used other brands of gels before in my XC races but not during an endurance event. As we were stopped I could open with my hands, but usually during a race I would do this with my teeth moving. I think from the way the packaging is designed it would be easy to open with teeth and shouldn’t spew out over you before you can eat it which is a bonus!
The gel was mocha flavour, not being a coffee drinker I was intrigued to see what this tasted like! it tasted like it smells when you walk into Starbucks with a hint of chocolate and a warming feeling. What I liked about this gel is that the texture was nice, some can be too sticky and leave your mouth feeling dry but this did not, which is a real plus for me as there is nothing worse than having a sticky horrible mouth when your racing and breathing hard.
The gel contained 24g carbs which is good for the size of pack and I would have been able to fit a couple easily in my jersey pocket.
As with most other gels if taken, it contained a mix of carbs and electrolytes which is great because it means you can take it just with water, saving you from having to buy energy drinks as well, and for a racer on a budget like me that’s a great option!
The gel seemed to kick in after about 10/15 minutes and I felt like I had an extra boost of energy and was able to push hard which was good as we had reached the hilliest part of the course and the extra energy helped me keep up with Martyn who was setting a medium/fast pace.
I only took one gel but think that if you needed to take them more regularly it would still taste and be fine. Some gels, if i take them too often don’t agree with my stomach but this seemed fine and I would be keen to try during a XC race where I usually take one per lap (every 30/40 mins).
The miles seemed to fly by as we got close to the end. We chose not to stop at the next feed station and pushed on, we were doing very well until we got about 8 miles from the finish and I heard this shout of ‘stop’! from behind, Martyn had a puncture! We quickly pulled out a new inner tube and got it changed but had some pump issues. Luckily a nice guy and his little boy stopped and lent us their pump. Once sorted we continued in having lost around 10/15 minutes, we pushed a little harder, but now raining slightly as well we were keen to see the end and a nice hot drink! It seemed like all the drama was going to happen in these last few miles as we went flying down a hill and it was my turn to shout stop! Martyn pulled up and pulled along side him, not able to open my eye because I had so much grit in it, not ideal. After a brief stop we were back in and eased off slightly and enjoyed the last part of the course.
We crossed the finish line in 2 hours 50 minutes travelling time which was a great achievement for our first sportive and meant we were comfortably within the time for a gold finishing position.
For anyone thinking about doing an off or in road sportive I would say go for it! It’s a brilliant way to get out and see new areas you wouldn’t usually cycle in and also a great sense of achievement to finish.
My tips would be take lots of layers, even if it looks like a nice day the weather in the UK is unpredictable especially in winter! Drink plenty, staying hydrated is important so make sure you have at least one bottle of water with you. If you’re doing a longer distance than you are used to make sure you have some decent padded shorts and chamois cream or Vaseline to stop any irritation. Take two snacks with you incase you get hungry in between feed stations, peanut butter sandwiches are great, as are bananas and gels. I can personally recommended the USN Vooma mocha gel it kept me going to the end.
The alarm went off at 4am and then promptly back onto snooze for the next hour as we stirred and tried to get every inch of rest that we could before what was about to come.
At 5am we woke I made our porridge and tea with the hotel room kettle which eating it as we pulled on our layers and put our days supplies in our pockets. Numbers already attached to our jerseys we headed with our bikes to the train station for the first leg of our journey.
Arriving at the Olympic park at 06.20 with a load time of 7.20 gave us plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere. Situated next to the Copperbox arena were large lorries ready to take our belongings to the finish line. The sun was just up and the park was filling with eager excited looking cyclists wearing a multi coloured array of jerseys many representing the charities they were riding for. It was truly inspiring to think about how much money was going to be raised by friends and family supporting the 15,750 cyclists who were about to start an epic journey of ups and downs, twists and turns, through London and Surrey on the same course, which a year earlier saw elite cyclists from across the globe compete in the Olympic road race.
The time seemed to fly by and although it was early morning on a Sunday I had bags of energy and enjoyed listening to the commentator as each load of cyclists was sent through the start line. It was soon our turn and what had felt like an exciting prospect suddenly hit me as a daunting one.
The furthest Martyn and I had cycled was 38 miles during training and we were about to do 100! That suddenly seemed like a large leap and I felt sick and concerned about not being able to finish. I was used to nerves at the start of races but had never felt like this before, my stomach was tying itself in knots and as we edged closer to the start line with our bikes it felt very real!
Load ‘S’ went off to the sound of The Jam playing and I knew we were next. I don’t recall what was playing as I was too busy trying to focus on not stacking it into the other cyclists around me as we all pulled through the start.
Riding up through London on closed roads was an invigorating feeling, all the worries and nerves seemed to float away and I knew we would be fine.
We had talked about needing to keep an average speed of 14mph to finish in our predicted time of 7 hours 20 minutes. As I expected, we went off at a blistering pace around 21/22mph for the first couple of miles before we settled down to a more comfortable 17/18mph, still above what we wanted, but the crowds seemed to be pulling as along and it felt effortless. We were both buzzing on the high of what a truly special occasion this was.
At 14 miles we stopped for the loo and water stop which took longer than expected due to, as always, a que! We got back on and again set a fast pace as we caught up and over took people who had overtaken us whilst we were stopped.
We carried on drafting from time to time and cycling next to each other. It felt almost naughty taking up the whole road, cycling on the wrong side of the road and running every red light. Whilst biking through Blackwell Tunnel everyone was whistling and cheering, it was a atmosphere ill never forget and we all shared the experience together.
Coming up through Richmond Park the wind felt very strong and we took it in turns to draft one another so we could rest, this worked really well and I was so happy to have Martyn there as company and support.
At 22 miles the Garmin sadly cut out, so from then on we were data blind. We kept checking with other cyclists around us on the time and distance as we had devised a strict eating strategy for each hour and had enough snacks to last us until the end. Our snacks consisted of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, Eat Natural bars, High 5 and SIS energy drinks, bananas, Clif energy bars and most importantly jelly babies!
Leaving London and moving out into Surrey we talked about the hills to come and decided to take it slow and steady and then give it another burn once we were back in London. The view changed from streets lined with houses and spectators to open fields and trees. As we meandered our way through small villages there were crowds of on lookers shouting and spurring you on up the next hill, the landscape had changed but also the road surface, we were now on pot hole watch and passed lots of people with punctures!
We turned a corner and were greeted by a large hill. Not knowing what to expect we were puzzled as to whether this was Box Hill, it turned out to be Newlands Corner which we found out at our stop at the top at the Hub where we again refuelled and used the toilets.
This was also nearly the half way mark at, 45 miles and at 11.00 put us an hour ahead of the broom waggon, which was the bus coming along to pick up people not able to make the 9 hour window to finish the race, this was a relief and meant we could take it easy for a little while knowing we had time.
The next large obstacle came in the form of Leith Hill nick named ‘lethal’ by our fellow cyclists. The hill was narrow and full or weary cyclists now on two feet pushing their bikes. I stayed in the middle pushing upwards, Martyn’s tactic was to cut up the gutter, this was working well until the person in front of him stopped forcing him to also stop. I carried on up and soon Martyn back on his bike was motoring up the hill to the top. Leith Hill was steep and seemed to go on for ever, it was a relief to get to the top and was thrilling going down the other side, it felt so fast even with my brakes on the speed just seemed to gather!
Going down was fantastic, but I was very aware that all this down meant there was a lot of up to come, in the form of a three hair pin bend called Box Hill. I had heard people talking about the three bends and relayed this to Martyn. We decided to go at our own pace. The start didn’t feel so bad as the large decent carried you part way up the first of the three bends that was until yet again we were met with a wall of cyclists! I lost Martyn as he seemed to have a boost of energy and sprinted away up the hill. I soon caught and over took him but waited after the second bend and we rode the last one together.
At the top we took a quick refuelling stop and admired the view before making our way onwards and again upwards. After Box Hill I felt sure London was not far away, we had covered 70 miles and were feeling slightly weary but generally good.
At Esher the refuelling station was at Sandown Park race course where we got High 5 Mojito flavour energy drink, my now personal favourite, it seemed to give me a spike of energy and again we picked the pace up. The sign for 90 miles eventually came just before Wimbledon. The scenery once again changed to houses and shops and spectator’s waving flags and shouting, this perked us up and we rode faster carried again by the crowd. The JDRF supporters were great and really screamed and shouted it was an awesome feeling.
The last 10 miles were a blur. We pushed the pace and kept each other going through each corner, now out of snacks the conversation, when we could catch a breath to speak, turned to what we should have for dinner?
Coming into the Mall was incredible! I remember watching the road race in the Olympics and seeing the crowds on the TV and this looked just the same, We agreed to sprint and it was like all of the last 99 miles had fallen away and my legs felt fresh and raring to go. We crossed the finish line together emotional and full of pride, we had done it! 7 ½ hours ago we had started on a journey together in the Olympic Park and now it was over standing in front of Buckingham Palace.
Words cannot describe the feeling of accomplishment and joy when you look back over what you have just achieved.
Our total riding time was 6 hours 28 minutes an hour quicker than we had estimated.
We collected our medals and goodie bags and sat in Green Park, soaking up the atmosphere for a while before making the journey to the Thames Clipper. This turned out to be a two hour wait so after cycling 102 miles we decided what’s another 10! And cycled back to the hotel.
Our first 100 miles and we are hooked! We want to do more and are hoping to again take part in Ride London in 2014. London to Paris sounds quite inviting too !! Watch this space….