Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Bizarre Observations

I cut my fingernails yesterday.

See, the title said it was bizarre. Actually it's more proof that my body has been putting its energies elsewhere. Fingernails are meant to grow at around 3mm/month and I find I'm trimming them every ten days or so. But I've gone over five weeks between trimmings, i.e. since before the operation. It's a similar story with my hair, now I'm not exactly blessed with a lot of hair but again it's hardly needed cutting since the op. In fact I've lost weight over the Christmas period so there's still some repair work going on, though I've also lost muscle mass and tone so actually look fatter.

One thing that has markedly improved is the state of the operation scar - it's looking decidedly reticent and is well on the way to complete healing. There'll always be a mark of course but already it's beginning to look like a mere scratch, albeit one that's 15cm long.

My mobility is also improving: I'm walking without crutches around the house and only really need one crutch when outside just to steady myself. I can walk for a couple of miles without much problem so the main thing will be to keep on doing the exercises to work the ancillary muscles which will help to stabilise the joint.

Yesterday was also the last day of injecting Fragmin - phew! At least I'm now qualified to give subcutaneous injections to an orange :-)

Well that would appear to be it for this year. Somewhat eventful though not for the right reasons and I've seen more than enough of medical staff and the inside of hospitals to see me out. Here's hoping for an improving year.

All the best and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Another Week Gone

Things have improved dramatically over the last week!

First: I'm now able to lie on my (non-operated) side when in bed. This has made sleeping somewhat easier though I'm still waking up at rather silly times in the middle of the night. I didn't try and push this, it just happened and I round that I could roll over. I caught myself rolling over on to my front a couple of nights ago, which is a bit too much too soon I think. Most of the bruising around the wound has gone and it isn't too sensitive to touch.

I'm also able to take a few steps without crutches. I need to be close to something that can act as support but it's a definite improvement. Again it was an accidental discovery: I'd get up and walk to make a cup of tea and then realise that I'd left my crutch by the table. I don't want to push this as my gait isn't correct at the moment and doing too much will ingrain those motions in my muscle memory and potentially cause problems down the line.

I still need a power nap or two through the day, though yesterday's lasted most of the afternoon! I think the body is using all available energy to repair itself as I'm eating as much as I would normally.

My gait is actually correct now when I'm walking with crutches rather than the curious swinging to the outside of the body that I had previously particularly on the injured side. Now both feet move forward in a straight line.

I had the wound dressing removed yesterday so last night was a little bit delicate as I kept catching the scar on the bed clothes. The scabs will soon go though. I've another two weeks of anti-thrombosis injections to go, I've actually got used to self-administering them now.

If the next week or two show the same level of improvement then I'll be very pleased.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Day Fifteen

As is usual with complicated things like the human body, not everything improves at the same rate. So while I'm definitely moving around a lot easier I still have to lie on my back to sleep (or rather moan about not sleeping). It's a pain to wake up every morning around 3am and not be able to get back to sleep.

Of course I get round this by having naps through the day - they aren't planned, I suddenly start feeling very tired so I hobble up to bed and by the time I've lain down I'm both shivering for some reason and nearly asleep. Yesterday my power nap lasted about 90 minutes. I'm probably getting my usual amount of sleep, just not in one block.

One odd thing that I think is due to not being able to turn around in bed is that it feels like my ITB has flared up again. It can hardly be over-training! It must be due either to the constant position when I'm sleeping or possibly the knee realigning itself back to normal when I'm moving around.

I had the wound dressing changed yesterday and this was the first time I'd had chance to look at it, it's certainly a long scar, possibly 25cm or so. Currently it looks all a bit crooked as the flesh underneath is still settling down. The nurse did offer to leave it open as it looked OK but I thought it best to cover it up again to provide a bit of protection.

Still, I suppose it's early days yet, it's another month before I go back to see the surgeon and another six weeks after that before the restrictions about bending, sitting, etc. are relaxed. I'll just have to be patient.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Ten Days Gone

Well, nearly. Things are getting a lot easier though the bruising and scar tissue do give occasional twinges. Getting in and out of bed is a lot less painful and I switched to using just one crutch on Friday but if I go outside for a walk round the yard then I'll still use two. I'm also able to shuffle round for a step or two without crutches but I do need  to have something to hand just in case.

The biggest problem I'm having is sleeping - I'm just not used to sleeping on my back. The other night I awoke to find myself halfway through turning on to my (good) side, I suspect the pain from the wound woke me, it took a moment or two to ease myself back. The following day things were a little more sore than usual. The solution is to put a pillow between your legs. In itself it doesn't offer much resistance but it drags against the duvet so is quite effective. Until that is last night when, half-asleep, I found myself almost on my side. Another gentle easing back down. I don't feel as sore this morning so hopefully that means I haven't done any damage.

The current concern is that I'm coming to the end of the course of painkillers that I've been given: paracetamol and codeine four times a day. I've been dropping the frequency of codeine down over the past couple of days so that when I do finish it won't be such a shock.

If the next ten days show the same improvement then things are definitely going in the right direction.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Well, 'tis done!

When the surgeon had mentioned back in July that I might be home within a day, I really didn't believe him. On Monday morning at 1130 Cath dropped me off at Airedale Hospital and I walked in ready for my hip replacement operation. At 1800 on Tuesday evening I was back home, done and dusted!

On admittance I got asked lots of questions, most made sense though the question about when I'd had my last period was a bit strange - apparently one bloke had replied "not since my hysterectomy!" I suppose they have to cover all the bases. A blood sample then it's a visit from the anaesthetist who persuades me to have a spinal rather than a general anaesthetic though I request that I be sedated as well, I'm not too keen on the idea of listening to an operation going on when I'm the subject!

At about 1300 the surgeon comes to see me, marks up my leg just to make sure that we get the right one then half an hour later I'm following the nurse to theatre and pre-op. I really wasn't looking forward to this part, the anaesthetist couldn't work out my logic in being afraid of a needle but not the surgery. Then it was through the doors in to theatre.

I can't remember a time in my adult life when I have been as frightened. I've soloed alpine routes and hard rock climbs but have always been able to rationalise my emotions, but now I just couldn't do it and was shaking uncontrollably. Well my top half was, my legs had gone to sleep and we're just lying there. A squeeze of the plunger and the sedative took effect.

I came to about an hour later with the operation still ongoing. On the other side of the curtain it sounded like the seven dwarves were at work hammering away at the insert. It was utterly bizarre to be lying there talking to the anaesthetist and his assistant whilst just a metre or so away the surgery was still under way. Another twenty minutes and they were done and I was wheeled in to the recovery room.

After half an hour here I was deemed safe to return to the ward which was only a few metres away. It was still only 4pm. By the time Cath came to see me in the evening the anaesthetic was just beginning to wear off and I could start to wiggle my toes. Half hourly blood pressure, pulse and temperature checks meant that I didn't get to sleep until around 2am so by morning I was pretty tired.

After breakfast the Physio arrived with a Zimmer frame. One trip around the room on that and it was straight on to crutches and up and down the ward corridor. "Just keep at it and we'll be back this afternoon to sort you out on stairs". The rest of the morning was spent doing increasingly long walks in and around the ward.

By afternoon I'd had another visit from the surgeon and the Physio had got me walking up and down stairs so once my latest blood test had come back I was free to go. One last thing was being shown how to self inject the anti-coagulant drugs then it was just wait for Cath to take me home.

Initially getting in and out of bed was painful but as the swelling/bruising has gone down then this has got easier. Having to sleep on my back is awkward as I'm not used to it so I'm getting fitful sleep at the moment meaning that I need naps through the day.

The impingement pain in my hip has gone, not just reduced, gone. There's still the pain from the op itself but that's easing all the time. Due to being restricted in the movements I can do for the first three months I don't know how the rest of the hip is shaping up, I'll have to be careful as otherwise it could dislocate.

I'm in awe of just how quick and efficient the whole day was, twenty years ago hip replacement patients spent two weeks in hospital now it's just one to three days.

The surgeon has done his bit, the rest is up to me.





Thursday, 21 November 2013

Autumnal changes

Autumn finally appears to have arrived, that mixture of crystal clear and dull dank days where you are never quite sure what the morning will bring. November has never been my favourite month, memories of snagging cold wet turnips on the farm and increasingly short daylight, it always feels like it's a stop gap between the good weather of summer and the hope of winter.

As a consequence I've always used November as a recovery month, just let the body catch up, whether that's letting my fingers rest when climbing or my legs when running or cycling, it's just time to chill before the next ramp of effort. With my operation now very close, it's also quite important not to push things and potentially have an accident. Open wounds or scars aren't particularly welcome in the operating theatre.

A couple of Sundays ago I decided to skip the A group ride and go for a spin up Wharfedale to Kettlewell. My main rule was to stick in the small ring all day - the day was a clear one and pretty cold so pushing the speed would only produce extra windchill. Having set out late enough for the frost to have thawed away there weren't many of the local riders out and I only saw a handful all the way up the Dale.

At Kettlewell I had a choice - either head in to the cafe straight away or head up Park Rash. Of the five roads out of the head of Wharfedale, Park Rash is the hardest though not the longest - that's the southern part of Fleet Moss; next year's Tour de France will head over Kidstones which is the easiest; the other two head up Arncliffe Cote and out of Halton Gill. Now I'd only ever ridden down Park Rash and according to the 100 Climbs book it is meant to be equivalent to Fleet Moss from the north. Time to find out!

The first climb out of the village was covered in leaves and a few skids ensued. There then follows a section along the valley floor before the main event: around 200 metres of 20-25% followed by a long section of 18% before an easing and the final 20% to the summit. In to next to bottom gear (always gives me that psychological boost knowing there's another gear left) and hit the slopes. The steep section isn't actually too bad and since there's no traffic I can take it wide on the hairpins. It's the 18% that I find the killer as there's no respite from the effort below and I hit bottom gear. Then it's the easing and soon the final rise is done and the summit reached.

Four cyclists at the top ask if the descent is icy and there's a large icy pool on the road where I turn round - they'd all hit the deck several times coming up Coverdale and were a little worried. So it's a blast down to the village and the cafe. The ride back down the Dale was pleasant in the afternoon sun with just the climb up Park Lane to get home. There was hail still on the ground and it felt as hard as the climb at the other end of the ride.

This last Sunday was the Cumbrian Cracker Sportive: Grasmere; over Red Bank and down to Coniston then along the east side of the lake and down to Cartmel. Then it's back via Bigland, Grizedale, Hawkshead and Ambleside. There were thirteen of us but after Red Bank we split in to two groups, slow and quick. The quick group then split again as we went down the east side of Coniston Water. The problem was that there were now only four of us (Andy, Rick his brother, the Herb and me) and we could do with more bodies to share the work especially along the speedy section of Holker Mosses.

There was a group of three riding in and around us and by the time we got to the start of the Mosses we were riding together. It turned out that we did the majority of the work anyway with just one of the others taking a turn on the front. There was also another rider just wheelsucking - definitely poor form. A few bumpy bits and we arrived at the food stop in Cartmel.

We'd just sat down when a voice spoke up: "Bob!" It was Nick Wharton who turned out to be one of the group of three that we'd teamed up with. I'd climbed with him in the 1980s and Andy went to school with him. Really quite a bizarre meeting. His mates hadn't helped with the pacing as they were struggling to keep up!

Food eaten we headed on our way. The problem was - it was one of the dull dank autumn days and the drizzle was getting heavier, not only that, I'd forgotten my waterproof and only had a gilet for protection. Time to crack on.

The return journey was quite eventful. First a rider fell off trying to avoid a car that simply stopped in front of him (he wasn't too hurt and kept up with us for most of the way home). Then Andy had a couple of punctures so a bit of easing up rather than hang around and cool down. One steep descent to Hawkshead was taken with care then push on to the finish. As we approached Rydal there were blue flashing lights ahead - a rider had collided with a car and was out on the ground being attended to. It turned out he hadn't broken anything. Just the main road back to Grasmere and the wheelsucker was back - but a bit of determined pacing soon dropped him. We rolled in to the finish in just over 3hrs30 which is my best time for this route so quite pleased.

After food it was time to get changed before the damp got through and chilled me. By the time I got back Cath had finished, also in a good time. Then it was time for the pub - my last alcohol before next week.

Monday, 18 November 2013

More Pre-op sessions

The next stage of pre-operation preparation has been undertaken: the Joint Replacement Education Group. A large part of modern surgery is self help and active recover and this meeting was all about that.

Not too long ago the mantra for recovery from surgery or injury was "rest". When I was run over some twenty years ago and gained a broken leg for my troubles this was the case. As it happened it was a good summer (apart from the broken leg) and after the initial ten days to a fortnight when my body really didn't want to know about doing anything I'd be out as much as possible, some days walking four miles to meet Cath for lunch then back again. I don't think the hospital was too pleased when I returned their fancy articulated cast in an unrepairable state!

Back to the present day and my ignoring of medical advice is now the norm: active rest and recovery has been shown to improve the post-operative outcome. After all it doesn't look good on the hospital and surgeon's stats if you have to come back for a refit. I was the youngest attending the group, by far! One or two of the others were coming in for their second hip replacement, obviously keen for punishment :-)

The first part of the session was going through the pre-op and post-op procedures. The ward sister also passed round an example of the implant we were going to get -  the tang and neck are titanium, the ball is ceramic and the socket is plastic. A bit of Googling reveals that the average femoral head (the ball) is 40-50mm or just a little bigger than a golf ball whereas the ball we looked at was 22mm or so in size. This gives a good basis for the restrictions placed on hip movement in the first three months post-op as there'll be much higher stresses on the smaller joint surface so displacement would be more likely. Some newer replacements are starting to use larger balls to reduce this risk, I'm not sure what I'll be getting.

As part of the active recovery, the ward staff will be looking to have me walking as soon as I get back from the operating theatre and potentially through the night as well. Once I'm able to perform basic
tasks like dressing myself; going to the loo; getting up and down stairs then providing there are no medical complications I'll be discharged. This is usually two to three days after the operation but could be as little as one.

The rest of the session was taken up by physio and occupational therapy and finally the handing out of the various tools we need so that we don't have to bend down - the hip-body angle mustn't go past 90deg, again this is to prevent displacement occurring.

I also had a visit from the occupational therapist to ensure that the house is suitable for me to be discharged to. Again it was making sure that the chairs, toilet etc aren't too low to avoid over-flexing the hip.

Just a week to go now.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Pre-op assessment

I had my pre-op assessment this afternoon. Which was interesting.

Firstly I've shrunk! I always reckoned I was 6ft tall but I'm a bit shorter. It's an age thing apparently. Fortunately my weight didn't go up compared to our bathroom scales so they are reasonably accurate (a Kilogramme or so difference which can be accounted for by clothing).

Then it was on to the ECG, I've never had one of these before and the nurse tried to avoid putting the sticky contacts on too much body hair (:-)) She must have succeeded as they didn't hurt when she removed them. Once all the leads were attached and some advice "Just relax and breathe steadily", she set it going and it promptly had a fit going "wee-wah! wee-wah!" in high pitched electronic fashion. A few more button presses: "Your heart rate is too low - it thinks you've died!" "OK, relax again" Relax?! It thinks I'm dead! This time all went well - presumably the excitement had pushed my heart rate up enough for the machine to recognise I wasn't a corpse.

Then it was a long question and answer session about lifestyle, previous medical history of both myself and of close family. Twenty sheets of questions.

Finally it ended with that awkward question in the other direction: "Do you have any questions?". Well yes, it's just that having been bombarded with information, plied with pamphlets, info sheets, more questionnaires I don't know where to start. So some heavy reading material for this evening before tomorrow's Joint Replacement Education Group.

In two weeks' time it will be done. The countdown begins.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Weight Loss and a Different Future

Like most well in to middle age I'd put a bit of weight on over the years. To be a bit more precise in the last 25 years I'd put on nearly 20Kg (3 stone). In my early to mid twenties I was both very active doing lots of climbing, walking and running as well as having a physical job - scaffolding. There wasn't much chance to get fat as there simply wasn't time.

Following a road accident in which I was run over I was advised to retrain and avoid physical work, or as it was put at the time: "you should seek work of a more sheltered nature". So I went to university and studied Computing Science. Since then my work has been sat at a desk typing, writing and debugging code. It's also fair to say that I've a healthy appetite and I was taught not to leave an empty plate.

Hence the increased weight. Unfortunately this has had an impact (literally) on my health. Around two years ago I began to have trouble running. At first I thought it was a groin strain that I'd picked up slipping on ice but even after a few weeks' rest the symptoms would return. My wife persuaded me to visit a physio. The physio said that my hip was as stiff and immobile as any she'd seen and suggested that I have an x-ray to check if I'd got any underlying skeletal problems.

The result, to put it bluntly, wasn't what I was expecting or wanted to hear: severe arthritis.

A year on and the pain was getting worse, at times it would reduce me to tears, ripples of tension shaking my body. Something had to be done. First off was visiting my GP. In the meantime a bit of research (AKA Google) suggested that weight loss would help alleviate the symptoms. Each kilo lost equates to around 3 kg of stress on the joint when moving. I don't know where I read about it but I settled on the 5:2 diet which consists of five days of normal eating and two days of severely restricted calorie intake, just 600KCals per day. It is equivalent to a weekly 25% calorie deficit.

In the four months from early April I lost 16-17Kg (roughly 2 1/2 stone). To see what that's like, head to a supermarket and pile up 16 bags of sugar. Even better, try carrying it. I haven't been this weight since I was in my late twenties. I'm significantly lighter than I was when I did my Bob Graham Round! Clothes now just hang off me - it's like being a child trying on my dad's jackets. I've gone from nearly being on the last, largest, hole on my trouser belt to making two extra holes at the opposite end. What's ironic is that early in the year I went through my wardrobe trying on all my clothes and sending those that were too small to charity shops. I'd fit them all now! For friends who hadn't seen me in the interim it was a bit of a shock.

The GP visit led to a referral to the local hip consultant in mid July. "You are a bit young for a hip replacement" was the first comment. The next were: "It's bad and will never get better" and "We can replace it whenever you want".  As it happened I'd lost about 10Kg by this time and wasn't have much problem with the hip. Whether this was just the weight loss or the fine weather we had this summer I'm not sure. I decided to wait a while and see him again in October.

As October approached I began to get different pains, not as short and intense as before - I think the weight loss has reduced the likelihood of these, but niggling pains that would wake me up several times most nights. My right buttock also continually felt as if I'd been kicked by a horse. So at the next consultation I took the decision to get the hip replaced. "We'll put you on the queue and it will be twelve to sixteen weeks before your operation".

So it was a bit of a shock on Wednesday evening to get a letter saying that my operation had been scheduled for late November! To say my jaw dropped when I read the letter is a bit of an understatement. The whole timescale was suddenly compressed: there are blood samples to give; pre-op assessment; another physio session; a session at a Joint Replacement Education Group; a visit by an Occupational Therapist checking furniture height at home (chairs have to be high enough so that my hip doesn't bend past 90degrees) then it's the operation.

After that it's a couple of weeks of inactivity then many weeks of recovery. The hard part for me will be not pushing too hard and trying to do too much too soon. I've got to let the joint stability build up, push it and I could pop the joint apart and need a revision. It will be a balancing act between boredom and improving.

Whatever happens, my future will be different.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Hidden Lakes

Either side of last weekend's BG dinner Cath and I got some mountain biking done. Even though both routes were within twenty miles of where I grew up a large part of both routes was completely new to me. It just goes to show that different sports can coexist with hardly any contact with each other.

Hmm, Are you sure this is the right way?



Descending from Claife Heights towards Hawkshead

Saturday saw us on a route to the south and west of Ambleside taking in Claife Heights, High Tilberthwaite and Loughrigg. I'd been on Claife Heights before but this was a new route for me - I'd done about five metres of it before - never really technical though there was a great descent down towards Hawkshead that needed a dismount at one point as I got the wrong line. It's often the case in mountain biking that knowing the line helps. Then it was on towards Little Langdale via old lanes.
Mostly these were easy but there was one section that I walked, my bike handling skills aren't good enough to deal with drop offs in to loose blocky ground.

Heading towards High Tilberthwaite

From Little Langdale we took a bridleway that I never knew existed round to Elterwater. It even had a warning sign! I thought this was a bit over the top until we dropped in to the woods and began a long loose rocky descent that had you on your toes all the time. The way to do these is to keep your speed up so that your front wheel pushes rocks out of the way but the last thing you want to do is go fast!

Leaving Little Langdale for Elterwater

A bit of a damp end to the ride!

The last bit of the ride was round Loughrigg Terrace which is mostly straightforward apart from one step and a submerged section through Rydal Water.

Sunday's ride was based on the "other Borrowdale", that is the valley that runs between Tebay Gorge and the A6 main road over Shap. Our intial route finding saw us miss the bridleway on the north side of the valley so we turned round and followed the easy track on the south side of the river. Given that it lies between the A6 and the M6 it is surprisingly secluded and quiet, a real forgotten corner of the area as it lies in the no-man's land between the Lakes and Dales national parks.

A bit of road work towards Tebay then back west saw us in to Bretherdale which I'd never even heard of! The last challenge was to get back over the hill to the head of Borrowdale via a track. Unfortunately most of this was a push as it was steep (10 - 25%) and both loose and rocky, it was hard work simply trying to walk and push the bikes up it. There was some riding at the top as the gradient eased and then we were soon on the descent. A lot of this was just as loose as the ascent and we were forced to walk large sections until we got to the lower reaches. A final crossing of the river then back to the car.

Afterwards I checked Strava to see what the best time for this descent was: just under three minutes, our time was over eleven! I really am rubbish at descending :-)

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Bob Graham Dinner

Last night was the biennial BG Club dinner. It's mainly a night for new members from the previous two years to receive their certificates. Of course it's also a reason for the rest of us to have a drink or two and catch up with things. This year was the first dinner since I've become club membership secretary so it was interesting to put faces to names I'd only previously had email correspondence with. We had the pleasure of Leo Pollard, member #44, handing out the certificates - all 130 or so from 2012 & 2013.

All was going well until we got in to the early 2013 successes: Stef French was receiving her certificate when unknown to her, Andy her boyfriend had also approached the table and then promptly proposed to her! He even got down on his knee :-) Pleased to say she said yes, closely followed by a rousing cheer and round of applause. There were of course one or two mischievous comments along the lines of "I'm available!" from later acceptees though I don't think the club dinner will be turning in to a dating agency any time soon.

By midnight I was bushed so headed to bed, not too much of a hangover this morning. Registrations for next year have already arrived so the work continues. Hopefully by the next dinner we'll have our 2000th member.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Majorca

Despite having climbed abroad a lot I'd done very little biking outside the UK, a wet trip to Ireland and a couple of mountain biking trips to Peru and Cyprus being the only exceptions. So a long weekend road biking in Majorca would be quite different. Nine of us were going but flying from different airports so transfers were a bit tricky to arrange.

The main problem with flights on the cheap airlines (or Budget carriers as they like to call themselves) is the anti-social flight times. Our flight out left at 0630 which meant getting up at 3AM! :-( As it happened the return flight got delayed and it was 0145 before we got home.

Rather than take our own bikes, Cath and I decided to hire: for a long weekend there's not much difference in cost between hiring and baggage charges plus you get the chance to try out a different bike. Andy had a series of routes planned for the weekend so after a bit of lunch we set off. We were stopping at Puerto Soller on the north of the island which has three roads leaving it - all uphill. Our introductory route was out by the easiest of these, round to Valldemossa and back over the Col de Soller.

Climbs on the continent tend to be different to those in the UK. Here we take the line that means least amount of building work so the gradient varies enormously. Also whilst the actual elevation gain isn't much the desire to take the shortest route possible means that the gradients are often severe. Continental road builders tend to pick a gradient then stick to it so when a sign says "5Km 5.4%" That's pretty well what you are going to get. There is some variation of course but not to the extent of UK roads. All this means that you need a different approach to cycling up the hills: rather than pushing through short steep sections you have to find a gear that you can keep spinning for the whole climb. You might go up or down a gear occasionally but generally that's the strategy.

Of course since we were setting off in the mid afternoon we were in the full 30C mediterranean heat which despite our brilliant summer was a bit of a shock. Cafe stop in Valldemossa then a zoom downhill and along the plains to get to the foot of the Col de Soller. This used to be the main road but there's now a tunnel through the mountain and bikes aren't allowed so it's up and over.

The final switchbacks to the top of the Col de Soller. There are five cyclists in the shot.


On the descent we seem to be waiting a long time for Andy, when he arrives it's because his pedal has come out of the crank. It happens again just before reaching the hotel and it seems like the bearings have seized so he hires some from the shop. Not to be the last "mechanical" of the trip.

Cath isn't impressed with Andy's mankini impression.


Day two was to be the longest ride of the trip: same climb out of town then along the coast to Andratx and back via the Col de Soller again. Some truly amazing scenery and at times it felt as if you were floating above the Med as the road twisted in and out of the ribs and gullies dropping down to the sea. By the time we were heading back it was hot again and we'd still the Col de Soller to do. Dropping off this Tim came to a halt - a broken spoke. Which shouldn't be so bad except he'd got some stupid bladed things which are very hard to get hold of. Back to the shop.

In the morning they said that they'd lend him a wheel while they sorted his out. Then the problems started: Tim's bike was fitted out with Di2 electronic gear shifting and when putting in the new wheel they trapped and broke the wire so he couldn't change gear. They decided to lend him a bike for the day while they fixed it. Today's ride was basically ride up to Puig Major, down to Sa Calobra then back again. Out of 75Km of riding just 8km could be regarded as flat!

Again the difference between UK and continental climbs became apparent - the climb to Puig Major was 13.5Km at an average gradient of 6%, it took me just under an hour to do. In the UK even the biggest climbs only take 20 minutes or so.

Down the other side then turn left and over a small col for the descent to Sa Calobra, which is back at sea level. The road is one of the tourist attractions of Majorca and is truly spectacular, in order to keep the gradient to a reasonable level the road designer had to build in a 270 degree bend where the road cuts back under itself. 9.6Km of descent gets you to the village which isn't much to talk about really. What gets you is that the only way out is back the way you came. Only one thing for it: man up and ride the bike!

Rick heading back under the loop on the descent to Sa Calobra.


The problem isn't so much the 7.1% gradient but the tourist coaches - you just hope that you don't meet them on a bend. There's a lot of cyclists on the road, it's a popular ride in spectacular surroundings, but mostly you just keep pedalling away counting down the kilometres to the top. Fortunately there was some cloud keeping the sun off otherwise it would have been a cauldron with all the limestone reflecting the heat. All that's left is the climb back up to Puig Major and the long blast back down to the hotel.

Ian, Rich and Tim in front of a heat damaged road sign - the boys were scorching!

Our last day was meant to be a ride across the island but eventually we decided on getting a taxi through the tunnel and riding the first day's ride in reverse. There were just six of us doing it and the first flattish section became a bit of a chain gang - we only took 36 minutes to get up to Valldemossa where we thought we'd better have a coffee as otherwise we'd get back too soon. Coffee done, we'd only two short climbs on the way back to Soller but with the first day's two long climbs as descents.

All that was left was to take back the hire bikes; pack our kit and wait for the transfer taxi.

Monday, 9 September 2013

King of the Pennines

There's been a huge increase in the number of sportives (timed road rides) in recent years. Some, like the Fred Whitton or the Etape du Dales, have been going a number of years and are a good test of a rider's fitness and might be considered in the "classic" category. Others seem as much a money making exercise as anything else.

Of course there are many that lie between these two extremes and there are new "rides" appearing all the time. First run/organised two years ago, the King of the Pennines is a pretty tough ride starting out from Skipton and taking in 100 miles and some of the bigger climbs in the southern Dales. It's nowhere near as tough as the Etape though. I did the first event and suffered towards the end getting cramp at 90 miles and just 200yds from the finish (!) mainly because I hadn't got the base miles in.

Cath had entered for the long event and there were several club members who planned to "bootleg" the shorter event. The roads aren't closed during most sportives so there's nothing stopping anyone riding all or part of the route whilst avoiding or ignoring the food stops. There was no point in entering the short event as it wasn't much different from one of our standard club runs - £27 to do what we can and do ride over most weeks.

My plan was to see Cath away then ride the short route but with a cafe stop in Kettlewell then back to town. Things didn't start out too well - Cath got a puncture within ten metres of the start! Fortunately we were stood right next to her at the time. The event's mechanic came out with a spare inner tube as well so she was soon on her way again.

There were six of us on the club run so not a lot of waiting around. The route is initially a bit strange going through housing estates on a loop that is surprisingly hilly but it's to avoid a busy roundabout on the bypass. The next section to Malham is straightforward rolling lanes but then the fun begins with the Cove Road, one of the 100 best climbs in Britain apparently.

This is where you reach the conclusion that overweight middle aged men should be banned from wearing lycra - as we pass one such gentleman we are treated to what might best be described as the cycling equivalent of "builder's bum" with a white panel of lycra stretched over corpulent buttocks. Cathy (different Cath) got a bit too close and reckoned it was spotty as well!

The short route then continues over Malham Moor to Arncliffe and on past Kilnsey down the dale. We turned right at this point to Kettlewell and our cafe stop. Actually this was on the long route and after we'd finished in the cafe I decided to find out how far Cath had got from the event's Kettlewell food stop. "About ten minutes ahead" was the consensus so I decided to try and catch her up.

Just one little bit of the climb of Fleet Moss to do!
It took until the start of the final climb up Fleet Moss before I picked out the Skipton jersey ahead. All I got when I reached her was a grunt. By the time she'd decided that she'd like me to carry on with her we were at the summit. I've never really liked the descent from Fleet Moss down the north side, usually there's a cross wind and it feels very insecure so we just took it steady.

The route doesn't just head straight down Wensleydale but does an awkward loop round Burtersett and Semerwater just to get the vertical ascent figures up. Then once you are at Bainbridge it's mostly a long gentle downhill to the next food stop at Redmire. This is just over 60 miles in to the ride but you still feel as if you are heading away from the finish as you continue down the dale towards Leyburn.

The climb up Gayle Bank to get to Coverdale is more awkward than you might think but the loop around Middleham High Moor just seems unnecessary. Then it's Coverdale which I hate. It's a long deceitful drag of a climb with lots of descents to take away your hard earned effort and the wind is nearly always in your face. Today the wind had picked up again, not as bad as our first ride up here some years ago but still annoying. The steepest part of the climb is the last bit and as the gradient eases you are exposed to the full force of the wind so even the flat summit area of Park Rash is hard work.

Finally it's the steep descent down Park Rash back to Kettlewell and the familiar roads down the dale. Cath decides not to use the last food/drink stop but continue straight on as it's only an hour back to Skipton.

Cath at the top of Black Park.

Of course there's a sting in the tail in the form of Black Park. It's a long drag from this side but being local I know the effort needed and soon I'm passing riders who passed us earlier some of whom are walking. Finally it's the top and the blast in to Skipton. A couple of club members are out cheering us on.

So well done to Cath for her first 100 miler for a while. Not an easy one, I reckon there's only a handful of sportives that are harder. With the lack of food (not officially entered so couldn't use the food stops you see) my legs definitely felt it as well.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Dry Stone Walling


Out of the many jobs I've done over the years my favourite has always been dry stone walling. This is the means of building a boundary wall using rough stone without the use of mortar to bind the stone together. There's the satisfaction of putting something together that isn't obvious how it's done and that fits in to its surroundings. I've done walling since I was a child helping my dad repair walls on the farm filling in the hearth or heart of the wall while he handled the stones that probably weighed as much as I did at that age.

Building of the garden wall back in 2006
Dry stone walls are particularly prevalent in the upland areas of northern Britain and two main types can be distinguished: those built from stone recovered during ground clearance and those built by contract wallers either following the enclosure act or renovating much older walls. The dry stone wallers association estimate that it would cost around £3bn to repair all the walls to the top stock-proof standards, current labour prices are around £30 per metre. Walls provide both stock-proof boundaries as well as shelter to animals in poor weather, walls on the high fells aren't completely solid and the gaps allow wind to pass through so that snow doesn't drift next to the wall and burying animals sheltering there.

In 2006 I'd cut down a line of leylandii and built a wall on the side of the garden next to the lane. The wall on the other side of the garden was slowly deteriorating, partly as a result of cows picking apples from our fruit trees! After confirming with the farmer that he wasn't planning on putting stock in the field for a few weeks I set to work.

Starting to pull down the old wall. It's in a sorry state really.

The pile of stones always looks as if it's too much.

As a rough guide, you can reckon on one tonne of stone per running metre of wall and I'd about twenty five metres to sort out. Day one involved pulling down the old wall making sure that the cams or top stones were kept to one side. Some walls have dressed stones for cams but most field walls simply have large stones of a similar size and shape to do the job of protecting the top of the wall. The section of wall changed direction and went across slopes of different angles so I began with the main length of about sixteen metres. Shifting sixteen tonnes of stone is quite hard work and I was definitely tired by the end of the day.

Getting the footings in and then up to the first line of throughs.

Most of day two was getting the wall footings sorted out - no point in rebuilding a wall if the foundations are all wrong. Some of the footings were in good shape but a lot had slipped meaning that they needed pulling out and the earth digging away to get to firm ground. Fortunately this didn't take all day and I was able to begin building the first few metres.

The wall is now up to the level of the first set of throughs. Although this one doesn't go all the way "through" it was too good to not use. It actually is the roof of a rabbit smoot.

The two end guide towers are now up. The batter or lean can be seen on the upper tower.

The construction of a dry stone wall is in some ways very similar to that of a brick or block cavity wall. From the foundations two towers or skins of bricks/blocks/stone are built and then tied together at regular intervals. For brick walls you use brick-ties which these days are also used to support cavity insulation whereas for stone walls you use throughs: these are large flat stones that span the full width or more of the wall. Depending on the height of the wall there may be two or even three courses of throughs, this wall had two courses. The height of a wall is measured to the base of the cams and typically is four feet. The width of the wall at the base is half that of the height whilst the width at the top would be around 12 -15 inches. This means that, unlike a brick wall, the sides of the wall lean inwards, this is known as the batter and can indicate several things.



A wall can be built with equal batter on both sides or with one face almost vertical and the other with the majority of the batter. In this instance the vertical side is the face and usually indicates that the wall is the responsibility of whoever owns the land on that side of the wall. However if a wall goes across a slope then the face will always be on the uphill side as earth creep will naturally try and push the wall downhill - think of the cross section of a water dam. Often the batter is provided naturally by the stone itself, when stone is broken it doesn't break at right-angles but actually has a slight lean to the face, this means that a stone has a right and a wrong way up when placed in a wall, get it wrong and the profile of the wall looks like a saw tooth, get it right and the profile of the stone fits in with the batter.

This run of wall went straight up the slope plus I wasn't sure who had responsibility for it so I went for equal batter on both sides. I couldn't use the pieces of wall to either end as guides as they were just as dilapidated as what I'd taken down so my plan was to build a small section of wall at either end of the run then stretch a line between these and fill in the middle part to that level, put on the throughs then build the end sections to the height of the next row of throughs and repeat, finally building to the finished wall height.

At the height of the second row of throughs.

Finally at cam height. The run of wall to the right was later re-built as well.

Once I'd got to cam height on the main run of the wall I then pulled down the section at the lower end of the run. This both kinked through two slight bends and was partly on a flatter section of ground so needed a bit closer attention than would a straight run. I'd decided not to repair the final few metres down to the field gate as it wasn't bounding our garden - I might do it later if it nags me - so the last bit of this part of the wall was slightly rough in that it hand to match in to a wall that might be getting pulled down. Then it was on to the cams.

As well as being the final set of stones that bind the wall together, cams can help in stock proofing a wall. When jumping a wall, sheep actually run their feet up the stonework so a set of cams that overhangs the wall interrupts this movement and forces the sheep backwards. Thus a relatively low wall with overhung cams can be more stock-proof than a high wall with flush cams. One style of walling around here (West Yorkshire) has small cams resting on a layer of large throughs that overhang each side of the wall by three inches or so thus providing this protection.

Most of the wall is now complete.


Just the last bit to do and tie in to the wall running along the bottom of the neighbour's garden.

Amazingly I'd actually managed to keep enough stone back for cams for the length of wall I'd done so far. Phew! Then it was just the final few metres at the top of the run to patch in to the wall between our garden and that of our neighbours (actually this needs rebuilding as well). Finally it was done, ten days' work for roughly twenty five metres of wall with eight days of actual construction, not the fastest bit of walling but the fruit trees you can see in the photos meant that I was working from one side for most of the time. Unusually I actually had some stone left over, normally I run out and have to pilfer stone from wherever. I reckon that the new wall is just under an inch lower than the previous wall. Still, if I rebuild the bit next to the gate I can use it there.

So, as promised, that was something completely different.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Strava

Ah, the 'S' word.

There, I've said it. Most club cyclists will know of Strava the web site that lets you compare your times along particular sections of road, known as segments, against other cyclists. Like most things it has a good and a bad side.

On the bad side it can encourage reckless cycling. One view of Strava is that it's a virtual race, similar to those automata you chase on indoor rowing machines or exercise bikes. There's an ongoing case in the US against a cyclist chasing a fast time on a segment who collided with a group of pedestrians one of whom later died from injuries sustained in the collision. All I can say about this individual is that there are pillocks in all walks of life. I also know of one cyclist who died whilst trying to claim top spot on a segment, known as "King of the Mountains", though this was actually on a descent rather than an uphill climb.

There are also some segments that are potentially quite dangerous, usually descents but also those in urban areas that cross through major junctions or traffic lights. We've some round here and I really can't be bothered with putting any effort in to them at all.

So what of the good side? Well if you are like me: middle aged and not the slimmest of chaps, then Strava can be used as a training tool and as a means of measuring progress or more accurately the possibility of not slowing down quite so quickly :-) Since pretty well every climb on UK roads is covered by at least one segment (you get all sorts of "X climb full" and "X climb short" segments) there's always something local to be able to use as a benchmark. More on this in a while.

After a while you get to know the segments you can do well on and target those. Usually I look at the fastest time and add 50% to get an idea of what I'm capable of, occasionally though I do a lot better than that and manage a top ten placing just a few percentage points away from the KOM. What can throw the league tables out are weather and company. Get an exposed segment on a windy day with a tail wind and you are going to get a good time, it's really hard to determine purely from the times if this has happened. Similarly if a group heads out for a ride then it's quite possible for the whole group to flood the top spots, this happened last night on our club ride: on one segment 7 out of the top 20 times were posted by club members on that ride! On another segment we logged 5 out of the top ten. Not exactly fair to any lone rider who comes along afterwards and tries to match our times.

Then again on a ride at the weekend I was hanging on the tail of two strong riders and cut my personal best on one climb from 9:20 (from April this year) down to 6:34. Other than determination to try and keep up with them it was all my own effort and I received no assistance from them so I was pretty pleased with that.

Using segments as a benchmark is what I find Strava to be most useful for: there are some climbs locally that I know I can do that *little bit* better on. As an example there's a hill close by that for most of last year I would manage to get up in around ten minutes though my best time was 9:15, the fastest time was (and is) 6:30 by a professional cyclist so not far from my 50% rule. An obvious target for this year was to get under nine minutes. A few attempts saw me get close to my best time then out of the blue I got up it in 8:30 and a couple of rides later that was down to 8:03 so obviously getting under 8 minutes is more than possible.

Intelligent use of Strava has certainly helped me get quicker over the last year such that I can now, just about, keep up with the fast group from the club when I certainly couldn't even just a few months ago.

Anyway the next post will be, as they used to say, completely different.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

More Long Rides

We'd been looking after our niece last week and after dropping her off back home Cath was keen to get some longer rides done. More specifically: "Let's do a 100 miler".

A bit of fiddling around on MapMyRide I got one worked out over roads that we hadn't done much riding over. The one problem was that it went over two watersheds before heading back over those same watersheds to get home.

A reasonably early on Friday start saw us on our way up Wharfedale readying ourselves for the first climb, which happened to be the easiest, over Kidstones to Bishopdale. It's a long steady climb with just the last couple of hundred metres steepening up. Then it's a blast down the dale to our first cafe stop in Aysgarth.

The next leg was to head over Redmire to Reeth then up Swaledale before beginning the return journey via Oxnop Scar. The climb up from Redmire is long but again steady with just one short section of 14%, there's a few false summits though if you don't know the road. Swaledale is my favourite dale and the ride from Reeth to the foot of the climb back out of the valley was surprisingly quiet of traffic - there were nearly as many cyclists. I've ridden over Oxnop Scar before but in the opposite direction, all I can remember is an undulating section near the top and some steep bends at the bottom.

The bottom section is much, much, steeper than I remember it and I'm forced on to the wrong side of the lane to get round one left hander. The upper part is much easier though the last few hundred metres steepen up a bit. Once back in Wensleydale we keep to the north side of the dale to reach Hawes and our next cafe stop.

I'd managed to get Cath over Oxnop by saying it was harder than our next climb - Fleet Moss. Now we'd find out. She managed the first section OK but struggled on the final bit of the main climb.

All that was left was the long descent down to Buckden and then back down Wharfedale. Except as we were riding through Skipton, we had an encounter with a driver who attempted to overtake us when there was oncoming traffic and then behaved aggressively towards us. I was annoyed enough that I noted the license plate and reported it to the police. As it happens they would only take it further if we were willing to go to court. All I was wanting was for them "to have a word", as it is, the driver's record has been tagged in case of future incidents. One incident to spoil a great day.

On Saturday I had a 100Km blast with Andy and Iain. Well they had a blast, I was hanging on for grim death! By the time we got to Halton Gill we'd only been going an hour, so now for the big climb of the day over to Stainforth, again I was behind the other two but post ride analysis (Strava) showed I'd ridden it in a personal best by three minutes :-)

After a loop round by Austwick we headed for a cafe in Settle. Iain needed to get back quick so went back via the A65 while Andy and I went the long way via the back lanes. All in all a hard session and it took a while to recover.

Monday I managed to get a ride done that I'd been meaning to do for a while. We got the first train from Skipton up to Kirkby Stephen and then headed back south.

First up was Lamps Moss, I'd ridden down this on the Etape du Dales in May, the Etape being the reason I'd wanted to do this as a training ride to get some hills in. Steep at first then a series of ramps with flatter sections to get a breather. The biggest flat section is just before the final ramp which although not as steep as the first section but quite a bit longer and I'm panting hard by the top.

The drop in to Swaledale is long and not all downhill but before too long we are at the foot of the next climb of the day - Buttertubs. Again I'd done this in the other direction on the Etape so new territory. The first section is fairly steep but rideable whilst seated and then there's an easier section past a barn before the road ramps up and it's out of the saddle for the zig-zags before a long blast past the Buttertubs themselves before the final steepening gets to the summit.

It's a blast down to Hawes - Fleet Moss looms large across the valley - same cafe stop as before. Once we got going again it's not quite so much of a struggle for Cath as the previous effort. We still aren't halfway but we have the three big climbs out of the way and we have the usual run-in back down the valley to Skipton, just time for an ice-cream in Kettlewell though.

So some good hard cycling done. Now need to recharge my batteries. :-)

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Kildwick TT

"We're doing the Kildwick time trial on Wednesday!" said Cath "Oh, are we?", "Yep, I've said we're doing it"

So the die was cast. Now neither Cath nor I have ever done a time trial or indeed any other form of bike race on the roads so this was a bit of a departure. We've done a few trailquests and a mountain bike race at a local show once but nothing on the roads. I was intending to go out with the fast crew on Wednesday night but: "they're all doing the TT". No escape there then.

As the day drew closer, Cath began to get more nervous - "What have I done?", "What do I do?" - answer: put your head down and pedal like ****!

Come the allotted evening we rode down to Kildwick, there were already a few cyclists milling around, all looking very thin and serious. There's a lot of seriously expensive bikes around. Eventually the organiser turned up and we paid our money and picked up a bib number. First rider off at 1900 then at one minute intervals. I was #11, Cath was #14. Eventually the rest of the Skipton crowd arrived, so many that as a club we were over 1/3 of the entries! The course is probably as flat as you are likely to get around here.

A few rides round the block for a warm up and then it was away to the start. Slowly the number of riders in front of me dwindled and then it was my turn. "Three, two, one, go!" A few pedal strokes then it was up in to the big ring and on to the drops. Try to go as hard as I can without blowing up, keep the cadence high and spin those gears.

The first roundabout comes up in six minutes flat then it's on to the bypass and the long drag up to the top roundabout. Even in a car this bit of road just seems to go on and on with the roundabout always just over the horizon. Eventually the marshall is in sight, the roundabout is clear so no chance of a rest. The return should be easier but there's actually a headwind and once the long descent is done the effort to keep going becomes greater. Cath is still heading out and on the start of the climb to the turning point. There's no sign of the rider in front, he's long gone (he actually came 3rd) so it's just keep spinning.

I'm back in sight of the first roundabout again when I'm overtaken by the rider behind, I'm surprised it's taken this long actually. I almost come to a halt at the roundabout when a car turns across me without indicating then it's more effort to get back up to speed and there's a rider ahead (not in the race) to act as a target. All too quickly I'm past him and then I hear a clunk as he picks up my wheel and begins to draft me!

More effort from burning legs and lungs and then it's a filter left to the finish. My sneaky drafter yells a "thank you" and carries on. I cross the line and pull up. Once I've got my breath back I check my time: 26:51, not bad - the best time was 20:30 though the rider is a semi-pro. By the time everyone is in, it's starting to go dark so rather than head back to Skipton for the club TT prize giving we head straight home. Cath managed a respectable 31:24.

Thoughts? Well it's hard work and you need to have your technique nailed, which I don't. Still I've got a target to aim at.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Manchester Velodrome

Well I survived! Our taster session at the Manchester Velodrome went well, no-one fell off and we all enjoyed it.

It was a bit of a shock to get on to a bike so lightly equipped, modern road bikes are nearly as complex as their motorised cousins. I'm not sure what the gearing was but it was fairly easy and you didn't need legs like Sir Chris Hoy to get things moving. The banked curves looked very intimidating.

The hour long session included a basic lesson with instructions on how to slow down and what the lines on the track meant - I can't remember what the red and blue lines are for, the black line at the bottom is the racing line and the measured length of the track. A couple of test laps at the inside of the track, some more instructions mainly about overtaking and then we are let loose for the rest of the session.

Apparently you need to be going around 18mph to make use of the banked sections, if you go slightly less than this you can hear your tyres squeak as you slip down the bank which is a bit disconcerting to say the least. Once you do reach the required speed then things get easier and harder at the same time. Easier because you actually go round the banking without feeling as if you are going to fall off, harder because there is simply no respite - you can't stop pedalling at any time.

It took a few laps before I had enough confidence and went above the black line, then it was just a matter of working higher and higher. Of course as you move up the bank you have further to travel so in order to use the banking you have to move faster - I think the blue line is 15 metres longer than the black line so you have to go 265/250 * 18mph  or just over 19mph to keep pace with someone on the black line. Of course even though the best line is the one at the bottom of the slope everyone is seeing how far up the banking they dare go! Most of us got above the blue line at some time, I managed to get towards the top of the advertising banners which is still quite a way from the top of the bank - there's a shot here of the track - some definitely got higher.

By the end of the hour, or half hour of actual full-on riding we were all pretty knackered - there's no freewheeling, the only way to get a rest is to slow down and move to the inside of the track and get off the bike.  One of the first questions everyone asked in the cafe afterwards was how many times you forgot to keep pedalling. The common answer was two or three, if you were doing 20mph then it was an interesting experience with the bike bucking around under you.

All in all a lot of fun and we've already booked an improver session - chain lines ALA team pursuit, along with something called "stacking. If you've not done it then it's well worth it and when you consider that you are renting the national stadium for just £120 for an hour it's really value for money.

Bring on the next session!

Monday, 29 July 2013

Scorchio!

It's been a while since I've posted anything as I've been making the most of the brilliant weather we've been having this month.

Completely different from last year - we've been able to sit outside most evenings whereas last year we might have done so just once or twice. Some days it's been too hot: I have been repainting the windows on the house and the paint stripper was evaporating before it could do its work! Also since we are on a private water supply we have to be careful with water usage in times like this, we managed - just - but there were times in the day were the spring overflow stopped running and we just had to keep an eye on it.

I've been doing a lot of biking, nearly 1800km since the Ripon Revolution, a variety of rides from steady training rides to quick efforts along with some that were intended to be one and ended up the other! Above about 25C I begin to struggle so on the really hot days I'd go for an early ride at about 6am, the roads are lovely and quiet at that time of day.

Like many cyclists these days I use Strava, not to be in competition with the young riders (typically I add 50% to the best time for any segment to get my time) but as a means of measuring progress (or decline), the only competition is with myself. One Strava segment I'd been testing myself on is one of the hills heading back home, try as I might I couldn't get under nine minutes - my best time was 9:15, so a target for the year was obvious. Imagine my surprise about a month ago when I logged 8:30 then just two weeks ago logged 8:03 so it looks like sub 8 minutes is on the cards :-) I don't think I'll get anywhere near the best time of 6:50 posted by Tom Moses, a professional rider, though.

Other than that most of the cycling has been a blur, a bit like a long day doing lots of gritstone routes, it's the overall experience that your remember rather than the individual routes. One incident though was unusual - I got stung by some insect one Saturday morning. I remember the sound of something striking my bike helmet then a sharp pain on my forehead just above my eye. Fortunately I'm not allergic to bee/wasp stings so I wasn't overly worried. The rest of the ride my forehead had that slowly subsiding tingling feeling. The following morning however my eyelid had drooped such that that side of my face had an oriental appearance and by Monday morning I struggled to actually open my eye! A trip to the doctor's and a course of anti-histamine and it began to subside but a little worrying at times.

We've got a club trip to the Manchester Velodrome coming up in a week or so (must find out the actual date!). I've never been on a cycle track, I'd missed out on a couple of trips to Manchester over the past few years, so it will be an interesting experience. In fact I've never ridden a fixed wheel bike so it's going to be doubly interesting if not amusing for those watching.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

When Silver isn't good Enough

So, the Ripon Revolution sportive, my second 100 miler of the year. The first of course was the Etape du Dales back in May.

This one promised to be a bit different, not least because I'd now got lots of miles in my legs but also because the hills were all in the first half of the route with the last half being pretty much flat out in the Vale of York. There were quite a few Skipton CC riders entered but only I'd entered the long or (Jeremy Clarkson voice) "EPIC!" route. The first thirty miles or so were shared with the medium route anyway. Given that the route is so close to us, I'd actually ridden very little of it so it was all going to be new to me.

We woke up on Sunday to quite nasty weather though once we were over at Ripon it at least wasn't raining but it was definitely windy. This wouldn't be good on the first climb over to Lofthouse. The nice man at the starting gate reckoned it was going to start raining about 10am and if we wanted we could do the shorter route rather than get cold and wet.

Actually it didn't turn out that bad with just one short shower, not enough to put the jacket on for, on the climb out of Masham. The climb over to Lofthouse wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and the cattle grid marking the summit appeared about two miles before I thought it should have. Down in Pateley Bridge and decision time: bad weather alternative to the left; planned route to the right. Turn right and up Greenhow it was. Again not a bad climb but a definite headwind once the steep bits were over and done with.

The rest of the route went fine, mostly I was on my own though from Summerbridge to about five miles after Kirkby Malzeard I was riding with a guy from Harrogate until I looked round to see him about two hundred metres back, off his bike with cramp. By the time I got to the last food stop I'd been on my own (and passing quite a lot of riders along the way)  and also had the feeling that I hadn't been feeling the wind against me for a while. I needed to get in a group for the last bit back in to the wind.

About  two miles after the food stop a group went past me, but too fast for me to get on to their wheel, then about a mile later a second group of just three. A couple of miles of real effort got me on to the back of them and then it was just a case of doing my turn on the front. We picked up another rider with about 15Km to go so even easier work wise.

I'd got it in my head that the time limit for the gold standard was 6hr45 which now that I was in a group looked very achievable, I'd guessed that I'd be finishing in around 6hr30. With this in mind at about 10Km to go and seeing Cath up ahead I reckoned that I could roll in with her and still make the gold standard time so I peeled off the group and chatted to her. She'd had a blowout just after the last food stop so had been delayed a bit. At the top of one rise I realised that I'd dropped her so decided to press on.

Before too long I recognised the road as being the one we'd set out on and crossing the River Ure there was the finish. Over the line and stop my clock at 6hr31min37. I'd only just got back to the car and begun to get changed when Cath arrived, so she hadn't been that far behind.

I'd actually felt pretty good for the whole ride and hadn't had a bad patch, in fact I would have been quite happy to do another twenty miles or more: the benefits of dong a lot of miles in the preceding weeks.

It was only when I got home and check that I found that the gold standard time was 6hr34! Was my watch correct? Had it auto-stopped at any point? When the results appeared, it was confirmed: 6hr31min37 Phew! My first sportive gold standard, in fact I'd never even got a silver standard before now so I was really pleased with how things had gone.

I went for a recovery ride the following day and even managed to get a top ten cup on Strava without either trying (I stopped for a comfort break!) or realising. Things are starting to feel good :-)

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Some Days are Better than Others

A couple of decent rides at the weekend taking advantage of the warm weather. It's nice to be able to get out without feeling you are dressing for the arctic winter!

On Saturday four of us headed over towards Nidderdale for a "lumpy" ride that took in a few roads (and climbs) that I'd not done before. Here's the Strava trace. For some reason my legs felt heavy and I was hanging off the back for much of the ride, especially the uphill bits. Dunnies Cafe in Otley provided the usual good value fare.

Come Sunday and there was six of us heading out for a slightly less lumpy ride over to Settle then Halton Gill. My legs felt fine and I could blast up the climbs with ease. This was a two cafe stop ride: Halo in Settle and the Kilnsey Trout Farm, well it was Sunday :-)

In a couple of weeks' time there's the Ripon Revolution Sportive and I've signed up for the 102 miler (gulp!) but since most of the climbing is in the first half of the route it won't (or shouldn't) be too bad.


Monday, 3 June 2013

A Ramsay Round Success

No, not me! Bill Williamson finally succeeded on the Ramsay Round at the weekend.

He'd had several attempts, the first in 2009 when I'd walked in to the eastern end of the Mamores to wait for him and support him over the final section. In the event he'd given up on the descent from Beinn na Lap and I ended up supporting the other two contenders: Alan Lucker and Will Houghton who succeeded becoming the 54th and 55th completers.

Alan and Will on Binnein Mor. This shot was used as the cover for the Harvey's map for the Ramsay Round.

Bill had a couple more attempts in somewhat poor weather conditions: constant rain and up to 70mph gusts of wind which didn't go well. Last week I received various emails and texts reckoning that the weather was going to be good for the weekend. By Thursday it was on!

Friday morning saw me getting the train to Appleby where Bill and Jean (his wife) would pick me up. However they had forgotten about Appleby Horse Fair and they got stuck in the traffic of horse drawn carts heading to that event so it there was a slight delay before we began heading north.

Usually Bill had used the Rucksack club's hut at South Ballachulish but it was in use this weekend so the base was a B&B at the foot of Glen Nevis which was actually much handier.

The attempt was fairly lightweight, a total of four pacers on the hill plus Jean and myself as "static" support. Unlike the Bob Graham and Paddy Buckley rounds there's no road crossings on the Ramsay, the nearest road being a kilometre from the Loch Treig dam so Jean was going to meet him there and I was going to walk in to Meanach bothy.

Reaching Fort William we headed to the supermarket to get some supplies. As we pulled in to the car park we noticed a camper van with a pair of running shoes propped up on the windscreen. " That looks like Ali's (Welsh) van" Sure enough he was inside. Alan Lucker who was the sole support for leg one over Ben Nevis and the Grey Corries tried to persuade him to join him but Ali wasn't keen having been out on the hill already that day.

At the accommodation it was a matter of biding our time until we needed to drive up the glen to the youth hostel in time for Bill's midnight start. Alan was going to set off a few minutes earlier so that he wouldn't be under pressure keeping up with Bill whilst carrying all the supplies. Finally it was time, some synchronisation of various time pieces and he was off.

Not only are there no road crossings on the round there is very little mobile phone coverage so the first we would know how things were going would be when Bill and Alan arrived at Loch Treig, hopefully around 8am.

My cue to walk in to Meanach would be a text from Jean once she got back to the car at Fersit. This actually made things quite tight timewise as it's about a ten minute walk from the dam then from the accommodation it is around fifteen minutes to the head of the glen and then I reckoned it would take me three hours to get to the bothy. Bill would only take four hours or so to complete the three Munros to the east of Loch Treig so there wasn't much leeway.

When the text came through, it was that Bill was about 15 minutes down on schedule but looking strong. In fact he was very strong and was beginning to pick up time on nearly every ascent. Time to go. I was walking in with Jim Mann who has a very quick winter Bob Graham time against his name. Jim had never been on any of the hills in the area so it was all new to him.

We took a good steady pace in the morning sunshine. There were a couple of showers but they were so light that it wasn't worth stopping to put a waterproof on. Three hours later and we arrived at the bothy. Two minutes later Andy Kitchen the fourth pacer arrived having run from Glen Nevis in 90 minutes - he promptly pulled out half a dozen pot noodles from his sack along with a stove! Scottish fell runners' hill food!

We'd only been there about fifteen minutes when Andy shouted out "They're here!" It turned out to be a false alarm - I think it was a couple recceing the round and they didn't come to the bothy but headed straight for the Mamores. However it was only another five minutes before they did come in to view and there were three of them. Ali had decided to help out on this leg.

Bill, Chris and Ali approaching Meanach bothy

Once inside we got Bill fed and on his way in fifteen minutes, with such few chances to take a breather and sort things out there's no point in rushing. Bill looked strong and remarkably stress free compared to previous attempts. Even though on this occasion the weather was fine, having the bothy as a stop would be really advantageous in poorer weather. Then it was time to go.

Bill getting replenished in the bothy


Time check and then it's away to the Mamores

So in less than an hour of arriving at Meanach we were on our way again. This time I'd got Chris (Armour) and Ali, the leg 2 pacers as companions on the walk out. As we set off there was a heavy shower which lasted about forty minutes, though this was the only real shower we had all day. We could see the group of three making their way up the long north east ridge of Sgurr Eilde Mor. The last I saw was them beginning the descent from that summit, our progress, the distance and the terrain meant that we wouldn't be able to see them again.

The walk out was rather hard as my knee was playing up so Chris and Ali had to keep waiting for me. In the end it took 3 1/2 hours to walk out, I'm sure the other two would have done it in 2  1/2 or less. Then it was a waiting game, a long waiting game.

We decided to head up to the finish line at 10pm - it was unlikely that Bill would get there by that time but it would be a bit ironic if we'd found him there twiddling his thumbs! A few walks up the road and back as the night began to draw in then there was a shout and he came in to sight.

Still running he reached the point where he'd set off and stopped his watch: 22hrs 54 minutes. He'd become the 71st person to complete the round.

The finish, 22:54 and job well done!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Etape du Dales

Some years ago a friend mentioned that she was doing the Etape du Dales. Having not heard of it I looked it up and felt somewhat in awe, basically if there was a big or steep hill in the Dales then you rode over it.

Back to the present and with a year of cycling as my main sport I felt ready to have a go. Except I didn't. Breaking my ankle in January put training back by a couple of months and I didn't feel as if I'd got the miles in my legs. Still I'd entered. My get-out clause of wind and rain failed to materialise so at 6:15am on Sunday morning I turned up at the event HQ at Threshfield Rugby Club. There was a posse from Skipton CC doing the ride but I thought I'd better start off a bit earlier as they were all fitter than me.

My basic plan was to get round, I'd set myself a target time of 9hrs, I'd be ecstatic with 8hrs and a time of 7hrs would lead to a trip to doping control :-) The weather was cool and overcast with no wind, ideal.

Timer attached to bike, there was little to do except get in the next group of ten or so to be let loose on the route. And then we were away, the first objective was to get warmed up before the foot of Fleet Moss so I ended up in a group of about six or seven pedalling away nicely along the back lanes of Wharfedale. Come Fleet Moss there were only a couple at my pace so either I was going OK or they knew something I didn't. Fleet Moss from the south side is relatively straightforward if long and you get  a breather after each steep section. (1hr mark: bridge over beck at Yockenthwaite)

On Fleet Moss, looking fairly happy


The first food stop at Hawes was gained in 1hr40 which I had in my mind as being around 8hr pace. There was just one of the original group with me so we continued over Buttertubs pass together. Now I'd never cycled any of the roads north of the Hawes - Garsdale road so other than looking at the map I didn't really know what to expect. Again, the reality wasn't as bad as I thought it might be, all the steep bits are low down and once you've passed the old mine workings at about quarter distance then it's a pleasant ride so it wasn't long till we reached the summit. (2hr mark: mine workings on Buttertubs ascent)

The drop down to Swaledale was a blast and even the first mile or so along the valley didn't require pedalling. Then it was a bit of roller-coaster road to get to Low Row and the next big climb. This is one of the steeper sections of the route, getting to 25%, plus it's a narrow lane in trees so you can't zig-zag around if you get tired. Then there's a cattle grid! Fortunately it's past the steep stuff. My companion was falling behind - I found out later he'd dropped his chain and his legs were tiring. The section over Reeth Moor is a bit undulating with two big drops, the second is to a ford which can be tricky but it was OK today. Finally there's a great, open, descent down to Arkengarthdale and the start of the next climb - Tan Hill. (3hr mark: Ford on Reeth Moor)

Any conversation about the Etape inevitably turns to the climb to Tan Hill. It's not steep, in fact there are quite a few descents and it only gains 150m in 13Km, but it's open and is in to the prevailing wind. Today with no wind, it was still a grind and by the end I could feel a bit of cramp coming on in my right thigh. Fortunately this started about 100m before the top of the last climb so I was able to drop down to the food stop at the pub and get replenished. 3hrs45 to here.

I took a good twenty minutes getting in some proper food rather than gels and power bars at Tan Hill before setting off again. The descent back in to Swaledale is open and fast until the last little bit which is a series of tight switchbacks before the turn right to Lamps Moss. (4hrs mark: Crossing the Swale - note this is riding time)

This was one bit of the route I didn't enjoy, basically it was my bad patch and the whole climb just felt hard work and a bit of a drag. The descent though was brilliant! It had been described to me as being alpine, open and fast, you can see round pretty well every bend so there's not much need for braking. All too soon it was over and I was faced with the one bit of road that I didn't really look forward to: the climb up to the Moorcock Inn. I've driven it and it's always felt as if there's more up than there should be.

As it turned out, it wasn't as bad as I'd made it out to be and I got to the Moorcock about ten minutes up on what I was expecting. (5hr mark: Pendragon Castle & 5:33 at the Moorcock) What I knew was coming up was The Coal Road, I'd done this on a recce a few weeks earlier but not with 70 miles in my legs. As you approached the base you could see a long line of cyclists slowly inching their way up the climb. Again, the steepest part is at the bottom so basically once you get past that you know you can do the rest. It's still pretty steep but there are easings to allow you to recover.

Still looking OK on the Coal Road


The mist was still down for the lumpy road over the top and then you dropped out of the cloud as you pick up speed for the descent in to Dentdale. I thought I was going quickly at about 40mph but a group shot past me. One of them obviously overdid it as I heard a scraping sound on the first sharp bend and he was just picking himself up as I went past. (6hr mark: Dent station)

Typically the sun chose to make an appearance on the most sheltered part of the route, the climb up to Newby Head. I've done this several times so it wasn't too bad as I knew what was coming up. Then another blast, down to Ribblehead and then on down through Horton to the final foodstop at Stainforth (7hr30) I got passed by Sean just before the stop. 7hrs12 to here.

One last climb over to Halton Gill and I was going OK, if slowly. Then it was just the ride down the valley to the finish. Somehow I managed to find some energy in my legs and made good time, even managing some Jens Voigt like "keep going" messages to my legs.

Finally I crossed the line with an official time of 8hrs27, my actual moving time was 7:45.

Surprisingly I didn't feel too bad, certainly not as bad as after the White Rose ride last year which was 30 miles shorter. I'd actually gone out with a drink/food strategy that I pretty much stuck to and this probably made a big difference. Could I have gone faster? Possibly though I might have suffered a bit more during the latter part of the ride.

All in all a good day out, I certainly slept well that night.