Cycling from Alnwick to Shilbottle, Northumberland

I am getting so far behind in my blog posts! I apologise – but my PhD is somewhat more important!

So, here’s a blog post about my trip to Northumberland (21-23 February). After running on the Saturday, I went for a ride on the Sunday. I definitely chose the wrong day to ride – it was stupidly windy, not very warm and a bit dreary. I felt shocking!

I lagged out far, far, far behind my OH and the other friends. It made me miserable because I was trying to keep my heart rate down to a sensible level (i.e. Zone 2) as I was ‘actively’ resting. At one point I was lagging behind by about 1/2 km. It felt like such a ridiculous effort to keep myself in that Zone.

That, in addition to the very difficult gusts of wind, made the whole thing not particularly fun. Perhaps the ‘best’ moment of the ride was when I was heading down hill to a dip and a kink in the road and the whole of the bike was picked up and set aside. I whimpered lots at that point and began to really hate the whole experience.

Luckily we were heading back to the cottage by that point. We started to get the wind behind us rather than to the side and that made the ride back much easier. I also discovered that my brake callipers had been adjusted by the wind which meant that I effectively had the brake on the whole time.

We got home about 10 minutes into the Olympic hockey final. I had a stretch, quick shower and settled down to watch Canada trounce the opponent to win the gold once again.

Some stats:

  • Distance: 15.12 km
  • Elevation gain: 261 m
  • Time: 54:21
  • Speed: 10:4 minutes/h

Back on the bike in the Peak District

I don’t think I have been on my road bike since October (10 October to be precise); however I climbed back in the saddle on Saturday to go for a post Christmas wobble around the Peak District. Now, I am not at peak fitness right now, and most of my friends go out and do amazing things like fell races, endurance races and are generally super fit. To say that I was slightly apprehensive of how crap I was going to be was an understatement.

It was also quite cold out. The roads still had a coating of frost on them, and because of the rains that we have had, there was a lot of detritus on some bends and at the bottom of hills. Did I say that it was cold? I think I had 2 base layers on, a gilet and a windproof on my top half and bibshorts plus windproof leggings and overshoes on my bottom half. Before I got to the top of the first hill I was cold.

I took it quite steady when we first set off. I hadn’t been on a bike for a long time, the roads were pretty greasy and slippy still and I was nervous. I have been on two wheels a lot recently, but there is a difference between motorised two wheels and the really skinny tires of a road bike! After the first descent, I felt much better, and like I could predict where the bike was going to go. It stopped feeling quite so wobbly and scary.

However, my legs were taking a while to warm up and they really didn’t appreciate the first couple of hills – especially the one up towards Abney. By that point we were out of the valley and going straight into a head wind. I honestly thought I was going to have to get off and push. My knee (which I had tweaked doing a stupid rockover in the Climbing Works on Friday), started to resent the force going through it and began to hurt. I knew how long the hill was, so I took it easy and tried to keep my heartrate low (to very little effect).

Eventually we got to the top of Abney and started to coast down the hill into Foolow and onwards to Eyam. The final hill of the day was Frogatt and as we started up the hill, I watched my friends disappear up around the corner. I kept my heart rate under 175 for most of it and felt my legs start to work.

In conclusion: I am not bike fit. Running and cycling use different muscles and I am not surprised that I was slow – or that my friends were so much faster. They have been out on bikes much more than me and have a much higher baseline of fitness. If I want to keep up with them I’d have to try and integrate more cardio into my training and I’m not sure that I have the time.

Some stats:

  • Total distance – 31.5 km
  • Average speed – 19.1 km/h
  • Max speed – 49.7 km/h
  • Average power – 99 w
  • Average HR – 158
  • Cadence – 78 RPM
  • Average temp – 5 C (yeah – it was cold!)



A re-acquaintance with the bike

Wow. Monday’s ride was hard! In fact, it was the first ride where I honestly wondered if I would make it all the way around. It didn’t really get any better and now I ache like crazy.

I decided to do a ‘short’ route, so took one bottle of water and a couple of snacks. I started slow and continued that way throughout the ride. This was not about Strava, not about beating any of my PBs or anyone else’s times. It was about me trying to get back on the bike and enjoy being out in the Peak District.

However, I have never felt time move so slowly as I climbed up the A57. I intentionally kept my heart rate below 165 for most of it, and this meant staying in granny gear and sticking to around 12 km/h. I got so bored, and then my knee started to hurt. My lungs and heart felt fine, but my legs were in a whole world of pain. Particularly my right leg and think that this is still the injury I got climbing before our trip to Italy. I tried to ignore it and keep going. The hill was going to have to end and then there was a lovely descent to look forward to.

On the next climb, my lungs decided to join the party and my heart rate hit 181 with very little effort on my part. Simply the gradient of the hill and my general condition made it terrible. I sat back and took my time (again) and tried to enjoy the scenery. The colours of the Peak District are beautiful right now, and the air has that autumnal tang to it (when not masked by diesel/fuel smoke). Eventually, that hill also ended and there was a short rest. My back was so painful by this point, I had to stop for a couple of minutes and get off the bike to stretch it out.

Refreshed, I started out again, and didn’t stop until I got home again. I was beyond tired and my legs were having a good grump on anything remotely hill-like. By the time I got home, I was destroyed.

Saying that, when I did upload my ride to Strava, I had actually set my 2nd best time on a lot of segments. Considering that I hadn’t intended to go out and smash segments, and that I intentionally kept my HR low, this suggests that I did put more effort in than intended. My legs and general brokenness attest to this!

However, as much as I unintentionally suffered my way around the ride, winter is closing in, and there won’t be that many more opportunities to go out in the dry. Instead of focusing on my poor fitness and general condition, I want to end this post with an image of the Peak District bathed in autumnal sunshine. The heather slowly turning colour and dying back. The occasional splashes of green against muted browns, purples, and greys of heather, grass and stone. The smell of the air – a mix of damp, rotting grass and nature combined with the crisp and cool scent of the wind. Finally, the occasional taste of wood and coal smoke in the air from people who have already got their fires on. Yeah, cycling today was actually pretty damn good!

Some stats:

  • Total distance: 40.6 km
  • Average speed: 21.3 km/h
  • Max speed: 56.5 km/h
  • Average power: 103 w
  • Average HR: 161
  • Cadence: 87 RPM

6/09/2013 Fighting fear: blogtember challenge

Friday, September 6: A story about a time you were very afraid.

The funny thing about fear is that once the event has happened, its really difficult to remember it – or at least that is what happened with me. I choose sports that are scary. Climbing, mountain-biking, road cycling (on British roads) are all scary in their own way. In this post, I’m going to talk about my experience of trying to climb again after decking out (meaning falling off, in climbing parlance).

I started lead climbing quite soon after beginning climbing. My university club often took trips away and taught newbies the basics of rope work. However, my parents flipped out at this and paid for me to go to the National Mountain Centre in Wales for a week-long lead climbing course as a birthday present. It was an amazing week. For one thing, it didn’t rain the whole time I was there (rare in Wales) and I learnt so much. However, I also learnt just enough to make stupid mistakes.

A friend I met on the course suggested that we go to the Peak District and put what we learnt into practice. After leading a couple of Severes and Diffs, I decided that I could *totally do a VS and chose to do Paradise Wall (now downgraded to HS 4b from VS 4c), just above Stanage Plantation. I got started and about 20ft up, I was seating a nut in a crack, and it came out in my hand after a good tug. I still remember falling looking at it and then hitting the ground.

Luckily I didn’t do that much damage. I badly sprained my ankle and cracked a metatarsal in my foot. I had crutches for a while and hobbled for the summer. The worst part was sleeping in a tent the night after I fell. My ankle throbbed, I was bruised and generally not in a good way. And it’s very dull watching others go off to climb and being stuck in a campsite miles from anywhere. Telling my parents wasn’t fun either.

 However, in my head was a different story. I was always fighting the fear when leading, but up until my fall it was manageable. Afterwards, I started leading almost as soon as I could. It was not fun, but I thought I should push through the fear and get used to falling. I could lead indoors and after moving to Sheffield, I began to lead outside again. I started on Little Tremadog in Wales, and did some stuff on Burbage and Bamford. The fear was still there, and I’ve never really enjoyed trad again. I just did it because that’s what being a climber was. As being a climber was something that I had tied very much to my identity in my final year of university, not climbing trad was unthinkable.

Lead climbing became a fight between my fear of falling and my frustration that I was scared. I had a number of indoor sessions hanging at the end of a rope and being shouted to man up and just do it. I went to Orpierre and got up loads of different  sport route. I felt pleased, and scared.

In the end, I focused on bouldering and stopped leading. Occasionally I’ll try again to push myself but I don’t enjoy it. At the moment I have the urge to try again, but I think lead climbing is a bit like fish & chips for me. I see everyone loving them, I want to love them, but I take a couple of bites and remember that I find it greasy and unpleasant.