I’ve been following the inspirational Steven Abraham as he attempts to break Tommy Godwins record cycling distance in a year, he doesn’t live too far from me so I expected to see him at some point & did so on my way home from work this evening between Kimbolton & Swineshead. Video here
Technically I didn’t have a number on for this but it turned out to be a bigger challenge than anything I’ve done previously, largely due to a bout of food poisoning & riding on my own for such a long time.
This year was my turn to work at Eurobike in Germany, with the inspiration of a colleague riding home last year & the opportunity to visit some dear friends in Switzerland I decided to ride home. It was quite tough, I shouldn’t have ridden so far each day and I definitely shouldn’t have picked up a stomach bug 3 days in, not that I had much choice!! I’d definitely do it again though, the scenery was amazing, particularly alongside the Rhine & Moselle rivers & through central France, 567 miles ridden in 5.5 days, oh and half a stone lost!
Day 1 took me from the Eurobike exhibition in Friedrichshafen – Germany across the lake to Switzerland, a fairly easy 60 miles. On arrival at our friends in Switzerland it turned out they’d moved house & no-one had told me! Thankfully the wife had Apples “Find my Friends” on and I was able to locate them, I got my first soaking this day too!
Day 2 I had a leisurely late start pedalling past Zurich airport on the pleasant Eurovelo Route 5, then on to Basel alongside the Rhine, I popped over the Rhine river to buy food as I wasn’t carrying any Swiss Francs, just Euros. Riding the Rhine cycleway was gorgeous, it was a beautiful day with amazing scenery, though toward the end of my 88 mile day my old calf injury started to rear it’s ugly head, thankfully I rode it out over the coming days. I finished the day in Mulhouse, not the greatest of cities but fine for a nights calorie replenishment & sleep! The city square housed a Bonsai exhibition which was a touch bizarre!
Day 3 I set out early as heavy rain was forecast & I had 113 miles to ride across the Vosges mountains, I’d hoped to ride the Grand Ballon but after exiting the city on an eerily quiet cycle route into the foothills the rain started to come down hard, I donned my Helium jacket to climb the less severe 750m Col de Bussang instead. By the time I reached the top it was hammering down so I added my waterproof shorts to keep me warm on the descent toward the Moselle river.
My pre-planned route had me pick up an old railway converted into a cycleway for a good way which although slower progress makes for a more pleasant day. After the usual game of hotel receptionist vs bike in room roulette I finished up in the pretty city of Nancy with enough time for a bit of daylight sightseeing & a nice evening meal of seafood linguine, little did I know how much that meal was going to come back to haunt me!
Day 4 saw another early start, I’m well known for being happy to get out before first light & leaving a city the size of Nancy before the traffic built up was high on my priority list, I skipped breakfast as I wasn’t feeling too great & tucked into some pain chocolate as I rode out of town. I climbed for a good while before the thick early fog dissipated and turning onto a quiet country road I felt I could turn my lights off, I’d still got well over a hundred miles to go and was feeling decidedly ropey, it seems the previous evening seafood was a poor choice and I felt so ill I could barely eat, not good with that distance still to go.
Then fate dealt me a blow that took me to the lowest point of the trip, the singletrack road I’d been enjoying for the last 20 minutes or so faded into a dirt track, something that’s happened to me before when using Google Maps to plan routes but today really wasn’t a great day for it to happen, my heart sank & I stood at the side of the road with the paper map re-planning the route, and the extra mileage I’d now have to cover. What happened next was a blessing, one I’m still extremely grateful for & the people involved will never know just how they lifted me that day, my Garmin flashed up 3 text notifications in the space of a few minutes, one from my Swiss friend Mike wishing me strength on my hardest day, one from my Father checking in on me & finally one from my good friend & former colleague Krien who was driving back to the UK & was going to take time out of his journey to meet me today, I was reinvigorated & hatched a plan with Krien to meet in Saint Menehoud where we spent a good couple of hours catching up & eating lunch.
Leaving Saint Menehoud with some food inside me & 80 miles done I set out to cover the remaining 50 miles to Reims, again just arriving in daylight with enough time for sightseeing & small meal, I still wasn’t feeling great! The bike ended up in the baggage store tonight as despite my best French negotiation the receptionist wasn’t having bikes in the rooms, amusingly toward the end of the conversation I was struggling to grasp the French room directions so the receptionist switched to perfect English, I smiled inwardly that I’d almost managed in French and they’d been very patient with my attempt!
Annoyingly I had to waste an hours sightseeing this evening drying out my passport & Euros with a roll of toilet paper, an electric hob and a towel rail as the waterproof front pocket of my Thule bar bag is far from waterproof!!!
Day 5 Just 97 miles to ride today. The lack of sufficient food yesterday & the ongoing stomach cramps made for a tough day, the roads were beautiful with the usual courtesy from the french drivers giving plenty of space and time to cyclists, something I yearn for in the UK! I crossed some of the hardest fought battle sites in the first World War & stopped to pay my respects at one of the numerous memorials I passed along the way, a poignant moment to remember how hard our ancestors fought to give us the freedom we still enjoy.
I had to find a chemist at lunchtime to buy some Vitamin I (see the book “Dividing The Great”, Ibuprofen is an ill endurance cyclists friend!) to go with the lunch I struggled to eat in Compiegne, I’ve no shame in admitting I was nearly broken at this point & googled one way car rental to Dieppe! At least it was prohibitively expensive & the Ibuprofen was taking effect so I obeyed Rule 5 and got my arse to that nights b&b.
Arriving in the tiny village it transpired my French hosts for the night were actually a French/Irish couple and the hospitality they offered me was amazing, cake, bread, cheese, wine, sirop, wifi, laundry & anything a tired cyclist could wish for, a moment when the humanity of others humbled me, echoed further by the kind offer from a good friend Howard to collect me from Newhaven the following evening rather than me spend 4 hours getting home using trains from Brighton to Bedford, another one of those moments of kindness that meant so much.
Day 6 & David my French host awoke early to make me crepes & breakfast to see me on my way, plus a couple of slices of cake for the journey, I photographed my last sunset & set out on a very cross country route to Neufchatel en Bray where the long cycle path descent to Dieppe started, this was a great end to the ride & the weather was glorious.
I arrived in Dieppe with 68 miles ridden before 12 & spent the afternoon sightseeing & finding my wife the biggest jar of Nutella I could carry in my minimal luggage.
An enjoyable ferry crossing to Newhaven & a car ride home saw me home with my family 5.5 days after leaving Germany.
Would I do it again? Probably but I’d really have benefitted from the company I’d had from my JOGLE riding companion Steve last year, and I’d definitely avoid seafood next time too!!!! 567 miles ridden in 5.5 days, half a stone lost & some great tan lines gained 🙂
I kept it simple for July & ran my first parkrun – it was always going to be a pb! 21:23 so should be able to go sub 20 one day.
Northants Shires & Spires Ultra
Another first, this time an Ultra, run by a friend at Go Beyond I thought I’d tick this one off the bucket list. Didn’t quite break the 7 hours I hoped for but it was character building & an education!
During the run up to my 2012 JOGLE this event was an important fitness marker for me, completing it in 3h35 for 80 odd miles left me in no doubt I was in very good shape, this year however I didn’t touch the bike all winter as I was focussing solely on getting under 4 hours at Rotterdam Marathon, which I did (just!).
This year I didn’t even plan to ride it.
Then the phone call came.
“I’m in the Etape Caledonia!”
As I work at this event & am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate that left me with just under 3 weeks post marathon to regain enough cycling fitness to get round an 80 mile cycling event with my good friend who had got a place and was participating for the first time.
I usually share a lift up with a colleague but as plans change & my job requires some flexibility I ended up catching the train to Edinburgh with my bike and 5 days luggage, unfortunately riding the 18 miles to the station in torrential rain got me off to a bad start, which was compounded by losing my Garmin Vivofit at the station….
Then the following day on arrival at Pitlochry my riding buddy rang to break the news he wasn’t able to ride as his bike was in the local shop with issues that couldn’t quickly be resolved despite plenty of elbow grease and an equal quantity of money, he was gutted, as was I, we’d looked forward to this & unlike me he’d trained hard.
Did I mention he was also kindly giving me a 400 mile lift home?!
Anyway, a few phone calls & borrowed computer time later I’d sorted a train home & my friend offered to collect me from the station, thankfully, as true to form the English weather chose to give us another fine spring downpour just as I disembarked the train in Peterborough!
So I rocked up on the start line at 6:30 with little expectations of my performance, as I watched my colleagues disappear off up the road the realisation set in that I was way under trained & there was a lot of Tarmac in front of me, time to start planning my excuses, at least I was on my winter bike with a decent range of gears, plus mudguards to give me my first excuse.
I managed to hang onto groups of riders & take advantage of the art of slipstreaming, inevitably I got dropped by most of the groups on the climbs but kept working with people to avoid becoming isolated, afterwards I checked on Strava & I set pb’s on most of the descents, purely ability related and nothing to do with still carrying my winter weight I’m sure 😉
Finally the finish line loomed, I’ve no idea where I came as I have chosen not to look but I still kept my average just over 20 mph & finished in 4 hours and 25 seconds, 30 seconds of which was a ‘comfort’ stop at the far end of the loch, not too shabby and I don’t regret the stop, or the lack of training, I enjoyed the ride more than ever before as I felt no pressure to perform & at points actually sat up and looked at the stunning scenery for a change.
So I was a happy chap, I didn’t disgrace myself, I enjoyed the ride, my journey home went smoothly & to top it all I found my Garmin in my backpack where it had fallen off while I changed into dry clothes on my journey out. Happy days 🙂
Working in the cycle trade it’s great to see the profile of women’s cycling on the rise, so when I saw the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain was starting in Oundle near my hometown and the parish council were appealing for marshals I couldn’t sign up quickly enough!
Oundle is a beautiful ancient market town on the banks of the Nene that is a regular hotspot for local cyclists due to it’s abundant cafés and its proximity to many great cycling areas, the town hosts a triathlon series and has a good road race circuit nearby too.
Marshalls briefing was 7:30am so I set out at 5:30 leaving plenty of time to cycle the 18 miles over, I took the opportunity to try out our urban trousers as they’re good to ride in yet look like normal trousers which is always preferable to standing around in bibshorts!
The town had taken the opportunity to have a 4 day festival across the bank holiday and upto the start of the event so the town was already buzzing by the time I arrived at 6:40, the start ramp and signing on area was nearly finished and the last of the barriers were being bannered up!
Very kindly a lady from the parish council had offered me the use of her garage to store my bike while I marshalled so I made my way there to drop off my bike before returning for the Marshall briefing at 7:30, this was pretty much the same as other events I’ve marshalled so keep people and bikes off the course as best as possible in the run-up, clear the course 20 minutes before the start then stop people from crossing until the broom wagon has passed.
The race was soon underway, our only hiccup was the pouring out of 1000 local schoolchildren 15 minutes prior to the start, they took great delight in walking the entire width of the closed road but soon moved onto the pavement when asked, they certainly swelled the spectator numbers.
Oundle should certainly take pride in the great job they did of launching this historic event, the community really came together and got involved to make this a special day for everyone.
The first of two number pinning opportunities came about thanks to a relative wanting to compete in his first ever race, Milton Keynes half marathon. I was never going to be in good enough shape to run a PB so decided to run with my brother in law & just enjoy the day.
We opted to avoid the usual pre event traffic & parking chaos by parking in the shopping district & pedalling 3.5 miles to the start then took advantage of the Trek bike park which was staffed & indoors so our bikes were well looked after.
Milton Keynes is hillier than most people think, the start was a reasonable drag up to the town centre then a series of uphill & downhill doglegs around the city which were really well supported by spectators, then a nice downhill to an undulating dogleg where the marathon split off, followed by a downhill past the start and a nice loop around a lake before returning to the stadium for a lap of the pitch.
We finished well inside the target my BiL set for himself, devoured the contents of our goodie bags then cycled through the urban playground that is MK back to the car, a thoroughly enjoyable morning, and wildly different to my MK marathon in the rain back in 2012!
Well this was the biggest one of the year so far, Rotterdam marathon.
A good size group of us from the local running club went over for a long weekend of socialising and running, one of our group after waiting with a fellow runner ended up last across the line in the time limit to be greeted by the mayor and the marathon winner with a bouquet of flowers, a TV crew and a police escort!
My efforts were a little less publicised, Stuart & I planned to run at a 3h45 pace & see how long we could last! Stuart managed for longer than I & came in at 3h49, for me the wheels fell off at 22 & I struggled to 25 with walking breaks then realising the 4h Mark was looming I dug deep for the last section to scrape in under 4 hours by 57 seconds!
I can highly recommend the Rotterdam marathon, great course and organisation, the support from the reported million + supporters was incredible & we all enjoyed a weekend of good food and drink! Surprisingly Rotterdam is quite accessible from the UK too, just 7-8 hours drive from the East Midlands including breaks & the tunnel crossing.
This month I’d planned to run a popular local marathon build up race called the Oakley 20 at approximately marathon target pace, around 8:45 minute miles so Stu & I set off with this in mind and cruised round at this pace, well apart from the last two miles where the previous few days speed work caught up with me, thankfully Stu pulled me along to the finish in a respectable 2:55, just two minutes slower than my 2012 time but with an average heart rate 13 beats lower, I must be getting fitter!
After fretting this years challenge was going to fall at the 2nd fence I was rescued by a last minute entry to Stamford 30k, I was down to run for 2h30 that Sunday anyway so as long as I didn’t race round I knew I’d be fine.
The course is scenic and fairly lumpy but for a hill lover like me quite enjoyable, as was the weather, cool, clear & bright, I’m no Mo Farah but cruised round in 2h35.