Saturday, 31 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 5

Wednesday 28th December - My Tour de Londres - South-eastern loop (Kent)

My first day of pure cycling - no running race to warm me up/wear me out first (depending on how you look at it)!

So that meant I could get up first thing, be out of the door by 9am and enjoy the relatively mild, sunny conditions all the way to Tunbridge Wells.

Wrong. Overnight temperatures had dropped and London had developed a glazing of frost on the roads. I don't recall seeing gritting lorries around, so that was going to make surface conditions tricky to say the least.

In effect, the challenge of dealing with riding after a run was replaced with the challenge of dealing with the riding after an icy blast on the roads. This would be all the more difficult given that I had planned to ride 90km around the country lanes of Kent. Hmm. A couple of people had posted photos of themselves battered and bruised after crashing while attempting the Festive 500, and having to prematurely end their mission, so I had to be mindful of the risks.

Eventually, I decided to go out, but to postpone my departure to 10am, shorten my loop and (boo hoo) stick to the main roads. So there would be no Jackass Lane, which meant no Westerham Hill, no Hosey Hill, no Edenbridge, Penshurst or Tunbridge Wells - all areas that I particularly like riding in.

Deer in Knole Park

Instead, I had to stick to the dull old A232 through West Wickham down to Locksbottom, and then pick up the even duller A21 to Sevenoaks.

I did allow myself to go over Badgers Mount and down Pole Hill though, as I could see that these roads weren't too bad. It's a shame that loads of cars and lorries also had the same idea!

My one consolation on this part of the ride was my mini tour around Knole Park in Sevenoaks which looked lovely as ever, with lots of walkers and baby deer to add to the Christamssy ambiance.

Once past Sevenoaks I moved into slightly less familiar territory as my route went towards Maidstone. Along the way I passed places that rang a bell as I recalled doing triathlons on those roads a number of years ago.

There was Ivy Hatch and Igtham, which are part of the tough bike routes in the Sevenoaks and the Tonbridge triathlons. Later I passed Leybourne with its lakes. I remember doing evening triathlons there, and they were tough simply because you had to find your way round the bike course with no marshalls or signage! Going around what had seemed like a complicated system of roundabouts I ended up completely lost with a passerby having to give me directions back to the HQ. Happy days!

Just outside Maidstone I turned up towards Rochester where the terrain was a bit more scenic. By this time the ice on the roads had melted in the afternoon sun. In these more clement conditions I was able to ride along the Pilgrims Way where the road was devoid of traffic - unlike the alternative route which was full of lorries going to the nearby Waitrose depot!

Some people might find a Waitrose depot the nearest thing to heaven, but the roads around there were a nightmare, dodging trucks and potholes. Anyway I would prefer my Waitrose wrapped in a nice fluffy Ocado van coming to me, rather than vice-versa!

Rochester Castle
Rochester was pretty - at least what I saw of it. By this time I was getting a bit bored and hungry. Being in unfamiliar territory meant that I had stopped to check the map quite a few times and that had disturbed my rhythm, and made the day longer.

A really nice view of a spectacular looking chalky escarpment in the distance had kept me going, but even with that there's a limit to how much looking you can do!

Once in Rochester I had a quick gander at the harbour, the cathedral and the castle before heading over the ironbridge to the other side of the tracks - Strood and Gravesend, where my ride ended.

In Gravesend I only managed to see the shopping centre and the train station - I must admit, that's as much as I needed to see of the place. Sorry, but Gravesend is hardly Tunbridge Wells or even Rochester!

Anyway, I was glad to have done a jaunt around the Garden of England, taking in familiar places, new places, famous and not-so-famous places, while clocking up some useful kms and staying upright!

Rochester Harbour
92.3km ridden; running total - 318.7; 181.3km left
1 bagel; two jammy dodgers, a custard cream; 3 quality streets; 
weather: frosty, 5degC, sunny spells

Rides on Strava
South-eastern loop (Kent)

Ride from the train station

Related Posts
Rapha Festive 500: Day 4

Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Friday, 30 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 4

Tuesday 27th December - My Tour de Londres - Beckenham (Cyclocross race)

Today was different from the other days of my Festive 500 challenge. Yes, I was out on my bike, I put in a few kms, but I worked harder than I have worked all week on the bike! Yes, I did a cyclocross race. As this was an inaugural event taking place in a park just three miles from my home it would have been rude not to race there!

It seems like Lewisham Council are keen to revamp and reinvigorate the house and grounds of Beckenham Place Park, and have given permission for different sporting events to take place. They have started doing Park Runs there, and now Lewisham have allowed for cyclocross racing to take place.

It's a really nice park and very vast too. While the Park Run is held on grassland that is pan flat, the cyclocross course builders have typically gravitated towards the hilly side of the park where there were old golf course bunkers which can make for a great sandpit as well as the odd berm.

So I rolled along to Beckenham for the Yulecross. Riding through the park at a rather sluggish pace I began to feel my efforts from the previous three days beginning to catch up on me. In fact, my legs felt so creaky that I wondered if I should have been racing at all. I guess there was time for me to duck out gracefully as I had not signed on, and  as I hadn't yet arrived at the race HQ I could have easily turned round and gone home before anyone saw me!

However, a deep-seated curiosity kept me moving towards the house, and before I knew it I had paid my £10 and pinned on a race number. So I was in, whether I liked it or not.

There was a good turnout for the race, with around 13 women on the start line. That was down on the large numbers there have been in recent rounds of the London League, probably due to Christmas holidays, but it was still a massive improvement compared with a couple of years ago.

On the blow of the whistle we set off on a steep uphill section (what is it with steep sections at the start of races? It's not fair!) My legs were still feeling heavy, so I just crawled up at a slow warm-up pace. Needless to say I was shot off the back into last place within a few metres. This didn't bother me much, and I just decided to do my own ride and ease my legs into the pace.

Being a festive event, I had dressed up for the occasion - well at least my version of dressing up. I was wearing my new Hackney GT arm warmers, my jazzy Madison three-quarter tights and my favourite jersey, so the hope was that this would at least be worth a photograph, if not any British Cycling points or prize money! Sadly, when you are in last place and off the back the photographer tends not to want to waste his energy or his film on you!

By about half-way through the race I could feel my legs waking up, and I suddenly had the energy to get into race mode. Gradually my pace kranked up and I began to catch a few of the women one-by-one. Without me realising, my body had found a first wind that was making me race. My legs put in a spurt on the hills, and threw me over the bumps. I had a grrr going on!

With Abi Armstrong post-race - photo by David Steele

Going over the planks was still a bit pants and I did stack it in the sandpit, getting my chain all messy with the stuff, but hey, the adrenaline rush was great and I felt strong.

In fact, by some fluke I had managed to ride myself from last out of 13, up to 5th place, once again overtaking (as with the SE Championships) Liz Orr from Kent Velogirls in the closing metres (sorry Liz - I'm sure you'll get me back next time!).

It was nice to have finished better than I started, even if I was a lap down on the winner, Louise Heywood-Mahe of Les Filles RT.
And as a bonus though, it turns out I was photographed after all!

After the fun and games of the cyclocross race, catching up with other riders including Abi and David who were up from Eastbourne, and Russ Jones who designed my arm warmers, I sauntered home, the tank empty but feeling happy.

25.4km ridden; running total - 226.4; 273.6km left
Weather: sunny, 8degC, light wind

Related Posts
Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Mudplugging again! Cyclocross is back

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 3

Monday 26th December - My Tour de Londres - Southern loop (Surrey)

Another day another running race followed by my bike ride. I must say this has been the trickiest aspect of completing the Festive 500. It's easier said than done, doing a running race before getting on the bike and riding. For a seasoned triathlete or duathlete this is a piece of cake, even grist to their mill. But for me, as someone who has not indulged in this for years it can be a bit hard on the muscles when repeating the activity a few days in succession.

Sitting in a bath of almost freezing water has therefore become part of my daily ritual. It's always a bit of a "yowser" moment when my lower body gets immersed, but my leg muscles will hopefully thank me for it!

The other practical problem around doing an event before starting my ride is that I end up starting my Festive 500 miles later in the day, and given that the sun is sets at around 4pm I always feel like I am racing against the clock to be out of the country lanes before it gets dark.

But, as I said earlier, I don't want to have to stop my other activities because of this challenge.

Farthing Down - the bit before it gets really muddy!
So, today's event was my running club Boxing Day handicap - a 2-mile cross country running race in the area south of Croydon known as Farthing Down and Happy Valley.

It involved a steep uphill section from the gun, followed by undulating sections that were incredibly muddy. For me, this would just have to be a survival run - do enough to get round without incident (there were a few casualties along the way), but not be so slow that the organisers would need to send out the search party!

Needless to say, I finished in last place. But hey, I beat the people who are still on the sofa or still in bed, and I got a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon - a nice red wine for being the lanterne rouge!

After all the merrymaking of the Boxing Day handicap my bike ride didn't start until almost 1pm. In fact, I had already clocked up some kms for the day as my ride to Farthing Down was about 16km.

Given the time, I planned on doing a short local loop into Surrey, taking in the edge of Redhill and Reigate. The roads were even quieter than on Christmas Day, and I hardly saw any cars on the lanes around Gatton Bottom. I didn't see many cyclists either, which is a turn-up for the books on this popular route. So it was great to have the roads to myself in the nice winter sunshine.

Then problems struck part way round when I got the hunger knock. Even though I had only run a little more than two miles, the challenging cross-country terrain had made it feel like a much longer distance and my legs had worked harder than I realised. So it was a bit of a battle to keep going. As a general rule I can't eat anything less than four hours before a running race, so I end up doing morning running races on an almost empty stomach. That was the case today, and then afterwards I only had time to quickly eat a bagel before dashing off to start the ride.
Fanny's Farm Shop

Ironically, my route went past the old Fanny's Farm Shop. This used to be a famous cafe stop among local cyclists for years and the cakes were lovely. It wasn't just a cafe, it had all these nice little huts where you could enjoy your refreshments in novel parts of the farm, including in a tree house.

Sadly, Fanny died a few years ago and the cafe closed in 2015. So there I was standing outside the old sign for the farm shop, without even a sniff of cake but with a few hills to crest at Chipstead before I could get home. That blessed bottle of wine in my bag was of no use apart from to weigh me down and make me dig even more into my low energy reserves! Luckily, I found a stray mini-pack of oatcakes hidden right in the bottom of my bag. A lifeline! I wolfed down the manna from heaven before pushing on back home. After a few more hills it was downhill back into Croydon (metaphorically as well as literally) and I got home comfortably before sunset (thankfully).

49.6km ridden; running total - 201km; 299km left
3.6km cross-country run
1 bagel and 4 oatcakes
Weather: sunny, 10degC, windy

My rides on Strava

Ride to the Boxing Day handicap

Southern loop (Surrey)

Related Posts
Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 2

Sunday 25th December - My Tour de Londres - Central London loop

Christmas Day, yay! I can do what I want, eat and drink what I like and lounge around - at least once I've done my customary Park run and a few miles of the Festive 500 challenge! So, given it was going to be a funpacked day I made an early start.

Midnight mass, a few hours' sleep and then 14-mile bike ride to Richmond Park for the Park run. I had never done the Park run there before, but chose this venue for Christmas as it's my favourite London park, and as it was going to be my 50th Park run I wanted to make an occasion of my run.

Riding through London on Christmas day at 8am is a dream. If only it was like this all the time. I was able to take the main roads without any problem and not think about taking a quieter alternative or a traffic-free route. Streatham High Road, Wandsworth one-way system, the South Circular were such a breeze I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!

The Park run was fun and festive, with the route being a loop set between Richmond Gate and Sheen Gate. They weren't the easiest 5kms, but they were definitely easier than cross-country races I've done in Richmond Park.
Santa ditches his reindeer to join the Park run!
Santa Claus came on the run as well, but I don't know what he was playing at. No sledge, and all the deer looking on forlornly wondering why he was running away from them!

Alistair, the run director on the day was impressed that I had ridden over from Crystal Palace. That's a long way, he said. I didn't want to blow him out of the water and say I would be doing more riding around London after the run!

Next up was my route into London via Putney Bridge, Fulham, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and into Hyde Park. Traffic did begin to get a little busier, as the Sloane rangers who brought out their Chelsea tractors also wanted to take advantage of these relatively quiet roads.
Christmas day is great for biking in London

As for the parks, Christmas seemed like any other day. Loads of people were out in all of them - Hyde Park, St James's Park, Green Park and the Mall - walking, cycling on Boris Bikes, or scootering. In the sunshine there was a real feelgood factor, and London looked lovely - just like a set in a Christmas film.

To jazz up my ride on this day, and for probably the only day of the year, I rode with my headphones on and sans helmet along the cycle superhighway from Embankment to Tower Bridge. On a day like this I couldn't not have a bit of Troika or Walking in the Air serenading me on my ride along the River Thames!

Then after Tower Bridge, I came back down to earth with a bang! The pretty buildings, the Royal Parks, the family walks were all gone, and replaced with the drudge and dreariness of Bermondsey and Deptford. And, worst of all I was welcomed by a ravaging head wind, which blew even stronger after Lewisham. There was nothing to look at, apart from the tarmac as I pedalled madly, going nowhere fast!

I guess you can't have it all. Eventually, I returned home and heaved a big sigh of relief while enjoying a well-earned glass of wine. I really appreciated my turkey roast, chocolates and mince pies.


59.9km ridden; running total - 151.4km; 348.6km left
5km run
1 bagel, 2 Hobnobs, 3 Quality Streets
Weather: Sunny, 13degC, windy

My rides on Strava

Ride to Richmond Park

Central London loop

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Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Rapha Festive 500: Day 1

Saturday 24th December - My Tour de Londres - South-west loop (Surrey)

As my rides are going to be in London and the home counties I have dubbed my Festive 500 My Tour de Londres.

Having read the various pieces of advice, one of the key points I've noted is to get out on the bike early, to accumulate the miles and leave a bit of slack towards the end of the eight days. So I got on my bike first thing in the morning - but it was just to do the 13.5km round trip to take part in the Dulwich Park run!

Park run, Dulwich Park
The terrain for the run was fairly easy - a pan flat 5km, and I just trotted round so everything was fine. As it was Christmas Eve, the runners were in the spirit of things so I joined in too by wearing something festive and having a post-run mince pie. It would have been rude not to.

Run director Gillian seemed quite impressed that I was hoping to ride 500km in eight days, though I guess it didn't sound that noteworthy when saying I had done 6.5km so far!

I really want to get in the 500km, but I don't want to miss out on doing the other sporting activities I enjoy, so Saturday was going to be a long day as I had planned to do a ride out to Box Hill after returning home from the run and having my breakfast. (I can't eat breakfast if I have a running race in the morning.)

So given the other activities I'd been up to, I didn't start my main ride until half past eleven. This was the Southern part of my ride, which would go mainly into Surrey. My ride to Box Hill took a slightly longer route through Croydon, over to Epsom and into the Surrey Hills via Ashstead and Headley. I also planned to do more than one ascent of the famous zigzags.

At Box Hill, as usual there were lots of people out walking, and of course cycling. A few of the bike riders I got talking to said that they wouldn't be signing up for the Festive 500 as they were planning on doing lots of drinking, and would be travelling up to see family (possibly or not possibly in that order!). It made me wonder what I was letting myself in for, particularly as the people I was talking to looked pretty fit, but yet were shying away from this, while I was attempting it on the back of a year of sporadic cycle training and racing.

Looking forward to my flapjack at the tea shop
After two ascents of the zigzag road, I had worked up an appetite, so I wasn't going to miss out on going to the National Trust tea shop for some festive flapjack.

Then it was off home via Tadworth and Coulsdon to return home.

91.5km ridden; 408.5km left
5km run
Two mince pies, one flapjack and 2 Quality streets eaten
Weather: cloudy and mild, 12 degC

My rides on the day on Strava:

Ride to Dulwich Park 

Ride from Dulwich Park

South-west loop - Surrey

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Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

Monday, 26 December 2016

Tackling the Rapha Festive 500

In recent years I have found my regular cycling mileage steadily drop to almost recreational levels. When I was in Milan my commuting miles were just 6 miles per day along pan-flat terrain, and although I made an effort to get out and ride at weekends in the lovely testing hills around Lake Como and the Oltrepo Pavese region, I was only getting out and doing this type training ride once every couple of weeks, since weekends would frequently be spent travelling to London or elsewhere.

Things didn't improve when I was in Macclesfield either.  Again, the great training terrain of the Peak District, the Goyt Valley and Macclesfield Forest were on my doorstep. However, I was returning to London every other weekend, and my commuting miles were just 3 miles, albeit over undulating terrain.

So since starting to live in London full-time, last summer I have come to realise how much fitness I have lost from my former self. It has been great to get back to doing my regular 10-mile hilly commute into Central London from Crystal Palace, as well as my weekend rides. Although regular, different significant events in my life and health matters have meant I wasn't able to spend as much time out on my bike, or ride to a high intensity.

But now, I feel it is time to get back to the good old days when I could ride 150 miles + per week through commuting and riding a decent weekend ride. It would be lovely to feel fit enough to properly ride cyclosportives to my potential, not just aiming to survive them. I would also like to have the base fitness that to do high intensity competitive cycling.

It is now time to break the old cycle [pardon the pun] and reinvigorate my bike riding. So what better way to do so than by taking part in the Rapha Festive 500. Basically, I am challenging myself to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.

In theory, it should, be doable. This distance, 500km (or 310 miles) is roughly what people can do when on a week-long warm-weather training camp in Mallorca or Lanzarote. But that's the rub. The Rapha Festive 500 is a global challenge, so those folks in southern hemisphere countries like Australia or South America won't have trouble completing these distances during their long, warm summer days. Even the climatic conditions in Spain or the Canary Islands at this time of year are quite mild.

Here in the UK it's another matter. With sunrise being after 8am, and darkness falling by 4pm a long bike-ride, on country lanes gets harder to fit in. Of course there's also the weather to consider. People in Northern England and Scotland are experiencing two sets of strong storms, and down here in London it has been very windy. No, these short, grim, cold days don't inpsire people to get out on a bike. So achieving 500km this week will be an achievement for me - not just because I will have endured the inclement conditions, but also because I will be able to say I have given a very healthy boost to my cycling fitness.

You can get in the 500km any which way - as bite size 70km stages, or as a couple of ultra-long rides if that's the way you want to do it. My friend, Annaleena Piel Linna did Paris-Roubaix-London last year. I considered doing London-Paris and back. But in the end I have chosen to stay home and do My Tour de Londres.

The plan is to ride from London to the home counties surrounding London tracing routes as near as possible in the shape of the spokes of a bicycle wheel - maybe with a hub and a bit of the rim! Stages will be between 50 and 100km, depending on the day, given that I will also be juggling these rides with a few running events and a cyclocross race.

It'll be a long road, but I will give it my best shot. So keep an eye out for my posts on how I've been getting on.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Book Review: Preventing cycling injuries with body conditioning

I got into cycling on the back of triathlon, which in turn I got into as a way of cross-training to reduce the amount of knee injuries I was getting as a runner.

For me, cycling (and swimming) were great conditioning exercises for my body and I never feared getting wear and tear problems when doing these activities. Swimming fell by the wayside though, as I didn't have so much time to train for three sports, and to be honest when doing triathlon I was regularly last out of the water. Concluding that I was happier on a bike than in the water, I continued my fitness journey on  two wheels.

So over the last fifteen years cycling has been my daily bread (plus a bit of running, which I have done since childhood).

Sadly though, I have not stayed injury free during that time. Even cycling can cause injuries - and I don't mean concussion and broken collar bones from crashing!

It's not uncommon to get wear and tear injuries such as tendinitis on the knees, illiotibial band syndrome (i.e. tightness down the side of the thighs). I have seen people take months out due to back and hip problems too.

As I get older I realise that things can only go downhill - and not in a good way! I need to stop the rot!

So, when Bloomsbury sent me this book to review I was quite interested. Ridestrong by local cycle racer, Jo McRae is about body conditioning, something I am really interested in reading about. I say read, it's not actually a book that you read. It's much more practical than that! There's a good introduction on what body conditioning is, and how it can benefit cyclists. Then the book is split into sections dealing in turn each with: Stretches, Strength, Core work, and Cross Training sports of benefit. You have lots of photos of how to do the exercises, as well as ready reference pictures for each of the chapters.

Finally, the closing chapters of the book talk about about periodisation of your body conditioning programme. This book is not designed to be read cover to cover, but more about focusing on the aspect that is of most relevance to you. It's also something that you can dip into, particularly if you need a reminder of how to do the different exercises.

I am very glad to see a book like this, particularly as I really need to think more about injury prevention. Sure, I've done things like pilates classes and yoga too. But there's something quite reassuring about getting advice from a fellow cyclist, so can identify with the biomechanical issues we can have.

Jo has been a coach and exercise specialist for many years and has been a cycle racer since her teens, so anything she doesn't know about cycle fitness and conditioning isn't worth knowing!

I have been following the exercises in the book and will let you know how I am getting on.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 4

Stay warm and dry when cycling

I was sent some items from the Dhb range of Aeron Rain Defence gear to test out earlier this year. I had hoped to use the gear during a cyclosportive, but in fact the weather just wasn't cold enough!

Having said that, the short-sleeved jersey was really useful because it protected me against the rain. So I wore it when I rode to Paris on a very wet day in June, and it was also useful when I rode across the windswept South Downs on a ride down to Brighton.

So even if the gear may seem a little warm for mild weather such as what we are even experiencing now, something like the jersey (and the accompanying arm warmers, leg warmers and bib shorts) are great for wet and windy days - which you get at any time of the year.

As for the Aeron Full Protection Softshell this has everything that other garments have, though it is properly toasty to wear.

When wearing this with the rain defence shortsleeved jersey you are so warm. It was useful against the sea breeze on the Brighton coast, but it really comes into its own in wintry weather.

In fact, a couple of weeks ago when the temperatures were barely above zero in London I was almost overheating on my ride in to work! When the temperatures dropped to -5 degrees celsius I felt much more comfortable.

So basically, this gear is great for the winter. Even if the weather isn't that cold right now in the UK, proper winter won't be far away and I'll be even happier to have this gear to fall back on.

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Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 2

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 1

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas Gifts for the Cyclist - 3

Jazz up your ride

Cyclists aren't always that adventurous in their choice of colours of cycling shorts and tights. When out on the road people go for black, or maybe dark blue. Certainly black is the colour of choice now, particularly as a few clothing companies like Rapha favour that colour scheme and it has proven popular.

Personally, I don't agree with Henry Ford. I want any colour as long as it's not black! I would love to see something a little zany that can jazz up your ride and brighten the day for the beholder! Even something that will make passing motorists think, "what in God's name is that?!" At least there's no chance of them failing to see you!

In the mean time check out these women's sportive three-quarter tights that I was given to test by Madison. Yes, they are black but they do have a nice sheen on them and there are a few little flourishes which make them stand out. I like the flashy design on the cuff of the lower leg.

Madison have produced matching soft-shell gloves too with splashes of blues and purples. I wouldn't say the outfit is out and out zany, but it does depart a little from the whole plain black theme, and I like it. Worn with the windproof dhb Aeron Rain Defence short-sleeved jersey, the different blue shades make a great-looking combination. 

So that's the look - how about the feel?

The pants are comfortable and have good flex for movement. Furthermore, they are warm and are fine for rides during these balmy temperatures we are currently experiencing. However, when we get properly into winter the ensemble would be better for fast-paced training rides or a race. As for the gloves, being showerproof and windproof with a fleece lining they are thick enough to still do the job, so even on leisure winter outings your ride is still jazzed up a little.

Madison Element soft-shell gloves: size XS - L; purple or red; £17.99
Madison Women's Sportive 3/4 tights: black/white/grey or black/white/blue; £44.99

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Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Mudplugging (sort of) again! Cyclocross is back

SE champs at Cyclopark. Photo by Paul Willis
Just when I was wondering if I would ever ride cyclocross again, I managed to find the time to dig out my bike and restart doing some of the rough stuff.

There's not much to say about it except that I found it lots of fun, and it's been so long since I last raced that in the words of the cook on Poldark, "I've mislaid me skillage!"

But I survived, and I didn't come last. The sun even shone on both of the races I did. Anyway, just to prove that I'm not making it up, here are a couple of pics care of some very nice souls who thought it was worth a shot photographing me! I am lucky to have not gotten too muddy as conditions so far have been dry, which gives an opportunity to ease into the sport.

My first race was at Leeds Castle, near Maidstone - incredibly bumpy, quite challenging and with a hill that completely killed people's legs! There was also moat (also known as a swamp), that people ended up jumping into after clearing the low hurdles. As I had travelled to the venue by train and had no change of socks or shoes I preferred to go round and wade through the long grass! It added a bit of time to my ride, but at least my feet weren't sopping wet for the long journey home.
Slogging up the hill at Leeds Castle. Photo by Mike Last

The lady in the London Dynamo kit is Claire Richardson. She was actually walking up that hill at the same speed that I rode it! We then battled it out for the finish line and I managed to get ahead of her by some fluke!

My second race was the South East and Eastern Regional Championships held at the Cyclopark near Dartford, Kent. Just when I thought that races couldn't get harder than at Leeds the course builders came up with another leg-sapping course! Very technical with a number of dismounts - to get over steps, high hurdles, a horribly steep hill, a deep sandpit, and I had to get off for a few adverse cambers that I just couldn't negotiate.
Dropping down a technical descent. Photo by Paul Willis

The lady in the pink jersey is Liz Orr of Kent Velo Girls. She was very good technically and was ahead of me for most of the race, but all I can say is thank goodness for tarmac! I was able to put in a bit of power on the road up to the finish line, and that's the only reason I was able to get past her.

Next time we will be in an "old school" course nearer to home in the suburbs of Croydon, where there will be pure mud. So I am not sure I will be so lucky to stay ahead of Claire or Liz. But whatever happens, just doing cyclocross will brighten up my day and I will be appreciative of the folks who cheer (or even jeer) me on as I haul and slide my way around the course.