Monday, 19 August 2013

Evidence of Improvement

Those who know me will not be at all surprised to learn that I keep meticulous records of my bike rides! At the outset of my cycling recovery, which started in January, I decided to ride a few routes which I could use at subsequent points in time to measure how I was improving. These rides would not be long - they couldn't be because I had to be able to do them at the beginning! But they would be reasonably all-out efforts, on as similar equipment as possible.
I now have data for three rides on two of the routes, and here is one of them, I call it Torkington Road Loop CW (clockwise). Briefly it is the descent and pull up from my house to the A6; the A6 to Hazel Grove; Torkington Road to Hawk Green and then Marple back to New Mills via Strines. It's 14 miles. There is a long descent between Disley and Hazel Grove, and a long ascent between Hazel Grove and Hawk Green. Here is a map:

Map of test route Torkington Road Loop CW.
I use the program myTourBook for recording my rides offline and Strava for online.

I did this route on January 15 2013, it was the fourth ride I did after returning to action, on my old mountain bike. I did it again on April 14 and again yesterday, August 18 2013.

The numbers in the following table come from my GPS and from Strava. The speed, power and heart rate are the averages for the ride. Weight is the weight of everything out of the door, i.e. me plus bike and stuff in pockets.

DateMoving timeWeight (kg)Speed (mph)Power (W)Heart rate (bpm)
January 151:12:1797.711.7167175
April 141:02:0593.513.6212179
August 180:54:1293.015.6253171

To be honest I wasn't really expecting such a big change yesterday. I felt pretty tired straight out of the door from the ride I did on Saturday. I knew on the gradual ascent between Hazel Grove and Hawk Green that I was a lot stronger though - the first time I did this ride that road seemed very hard. Yesterday it was not as bad and I managed to push all the way. I didn't use the small chainring at all yesterday. I knew I would knock off a few minutes but I'm surprised and very happy it was 8. That's over 30 seconds per mile :)

I think it's also interesting that my average heart rate is down as well. You can also see my body changing from the following histograms. Not sure what a sport scientist would make of these, but to me it looks like a pretty significant improvement when taken together with the times and power outputs.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Recover - From Left for Dead to Ride with Brad

I know I'm not fully recovered yet, still on crutches, stress fractures, possibly more treatment on the horizon etc., but this week it feels like a significant enough milestone was passed to warrant the publication of my photo diary to date.

So here it is, from dying on a dark road in 2010 to finishing the Ride with Brad in 2013. Some of the photos are not for the faint-hearted, but I didn't really want to leave anything out. And I still haven't managed to secure the 'best' photo, but I will try and get it. There are a few other photos that I can't really show until after everything is over insurance-wise. So you'll have to be patient for them. For now, this should be enough!

It works best if you put it in full screen mode and if you press Show Info then you can see the captions for each picture giving the date and some commentary. You can slow it down under Options.

Ride with Brad 2013 results as spreadsheet

I don't know why events publish their results as pdf files, especially where the times are sorted by rider surname. Most people want to be able to sort the times out into order, by route, by name, by time whatever. I know many people can do this themselves, but perhaps some can't so here I give the results from this year's Ride with Brad as an Excel spreadsheet. Basically I took the pdf from the chiptiming website ( and imported it into Excel, sorted by route, time, surname, then saved out the xlsx. Enjoy!
Here it is:

Monday, 12 August 2013

Ride with Brad 2013

OK, the short version is, mission accomplished :)

Yesterday was the second (annual?) Ride with Brad sportive out of Barnoldswick in Lancashire. Some of you will know that I volunteered at the first one last year while my leg was in external fixation after the rebreak, and it did occur to me at the time that if they ran it this year I might be able to take part. It was a good target.

I plumped for the 100km route option, mainly as a nod to common sense and realism that I probably wasn't ready yet for 100 miles with nearly 3000m of climbing. There were a lot of people on the ride again, and I would guess more on the 100km than on the 100 miles, so maybe word had got around from last year how hard this route is!

Rebecca and I camped at Lower Greenhill Camp site where I stayed last year, a lovely camp site with friendly people, recommended. On Saturday I picked Rebecca up from work in the hire car, and we arrived at Barnoldswick, OK Salterforth actually, just before 4pm. We pitched and then went to registration at Victory Park, the event centre. The queue for the 100km was only a few people, which is why I wanted to register on the Saturday, no queuing for ages on the Sunday morning! I was on my crutches of course, which brought a few comments, and required my usual explanation of "I know it seems very strange, but walking is much harder than riding at the moment!". Anyway I got my rider number and timing chip label - the numbers and labels have your name printed on them this year! I've never been to an event where that was so - a nice touch!
Numbers with names on. Cool!

Next we went to The Craven Heifer in Kelbrook for a beer and some dinner. I had a massive gammon steak which pretty much covered the whole plate - not exactly carbo-loading but it filled me up anyway. 

Back at the campsite I got everything ready for the ride, put the number on my bike and checked the pressure in the tyres etc. I had decided to take a non-standard pedal configuration, on account of my nerves at making it up some of the steepest gradients. I took off my SPD-SL pedals, and put a flat one on the right and an XTR SPD on the left. That way, I could wear my Shimano shoes which have the cleats flush with the soles. This served two purposes: first I could bail easily without having to unclip on a steep bit of road, and second, if I did bail I would be able to 'walk' - walking is nearly impossible for me in the riding shoes with the SL cleats on, well, without really hurting my foot anyway. I don't like this set up because it looks crazy on the bike, but in this case I think practicality has to take precedence.

It was an early start yesterday morning - I was up at about 0545 getting excited. Got everything together, had some breakfast - tuna pasta I brought with me, made Rebecca and I a coffee and Rebecca a bacon sandwich, then packed some stuff up and headed out. Got parked and bike out of the car about 0720. Now I was happy, I'm always a bit nervous about getting to the start line on time. The start for the 100km route was 0800-0830 so everything was good. When we got to Victory Park there was a massive queue for registration, like I remember from last year, but I already had my number so I could just line up. Had a quick toilet visit, then into the line. And a long wait! I don't know why they seemed to only be letting a few people go every couple of minutes. But more likely there was a lot of people in front of me. The 160km guys had all already gone, so all these people were doing the 100km.
Event Centre, Victory Park, Barnoldswick.

While I was waiting Rebecca was alongside over the barrier taking pictures and chatting. Then there was some commotion up front and apparently Sir Bradley Wiggins was in attendance! He gave a typically verbose interview: "Are you looking forwards to it?" "Yeah, should be a good ride." Then he and the Wiggle-Honda girls were on the start line and after a half-hearted countdown, they were off. After that, they let the rest of us all go off quite quickly. That was the closest I came to Sir Brad all day!

Waiting to get going.

And ready for the rain!

The route, which I had studied on the map of course several times, starts off easy. About 15 miles of easy actually, until Waddington where the fun begins. Waddington Fell was the first proper climb of the day and it's quite long, and has a sharp pull near the top, but it was the first of the day so no real problem, legs quite fresh and all. I sent a tweet from the top, had a minute's rest and then started down the other side. Rain! No, wait, hail? Stinging the face anyway. I had set off with my Berghaus Paclite jacket on in anticipation of some rain and that helped I'm sure. It was quite an exciting descent on a wide fairly smooth road so no danger to worry about even in the wet. At the bottom of Waddington Fell at Newton there's the split point, 100km to the left. The 160km riders had gone off here for a 40 mile loop through the Trough of Bowland, which I've ridden some years ago and it's pretty spectacular. Then they rejoin us at Dunsop Bridge, so for them it's 40 miles but for us it's about 3 or so.

After that we're heading south, nice easy miles for a bit until a sharp pull up to the first Feed Station at Wildboar Forest. I stopped here at the junction for a rest and to take stock, but decided not to go into the feed stop and instead to push on. Mainly I was aware that the next climb was the one I was not looking forwards to the most, and I wanted it over. Longridge Fell, Jeffrey Hill. Now that's a ramp. It was here that I realised my pedal and shoe choice had been very wise indeed. I think I got about 5/6 of the way up the first really steep bit before I cracked. It's a shame because I knew that at the bend it eases off a bit, but there really wasn't enough strength in my thighs. It's not all about endurance - I've got loads of that (modesty) - I just need more strength for those really steep prolonged bits where I'm out of the saddle. Anyway, I wasn't the only one beaten by this short stretch of tarmac! So I walked around the bend and stopped for a little rest to compose myself. Then back on and OK until the top. But something was wrong! A strange feeling like the road got very bumpy all of a sudden. A rear-wheel puncture!

I wasn't the only one walking this little stretch! Jeffrey Hill, Longridge Fell. Hard.

I have never had a puncture on this bike before. Most likely it was all the pot-holes - some of the roads had had quite bad surfaces already. Anyway I knew I could fix it it was just a surprise and very inconvenient on top of Longridge Fell in the rain! Took me a while to get the tyre off the rim, took me a while to get the new tube to inflate, especially after I bent the valve, oops. There was a point where I was worried it wouldn't go up, but a bit of care and fiddling around and I got enough pressure in it, I hoped. Because now I couldn't afford another one! Oh, how bad would it be to fail this ride because of a mechanical? Something I had never considered - always thinking about me and my body, never worried about the bike which had never given me any problem in the past? I guess I spend about 20 minutes fixing the puncture. I knew the second Feed Station wasn't that far away so I could get there and get some mechanical assistance if I needed it, I hoped.

After Longridge Fell I protected the rear wheel a lot on the descents, afraid of going over a pot-hole and puncturing again, but I tried to convince myself that I must have done about 2000 miles on this bike without a puncture so it wasn't likely to happen. There's a lot of downhill on the next section, down into the Ribble Valley. Time for a bit of recovery. The second feed stop, near Billington, was a must for me. I could already feel the tiredness in my legs and with still 20 miles and some climbs to go, I admit I was a bit worried. But the best I could do was stop, rest, and take on board some food and drink. I refilled my bottles, took a few gels in my pocket, ate my banana and had a chocolate cookie. There was really a lot of stuff, I could have had muffins or sandwiches or fruit. Well catered. I had a bit of a chat with some lads who had seen my leg and were curious. They were impressed, I think. That gave me a boost.

I knew the next climb was the Nick O' Pendle which is pretty nasty about 2/3 of the way up. At the base of it I finally took off my waterproof jacket and stuffed it in my jersey - instantly I felt better - it was like being released from a sweaty bin liner! That helped too. I got most of the way up in lowest gear until, again, about 3/4 of the way up the steepest bit I had to stop. This time I only walked probably 50m over a little lip before I could get back on and then was fine all the way to the top. This is telling me something about my level of fitness / strength. What? I'll have to think about that!

I paused at the summit to take a picture. The rest of the ride from here is undulating almost until the finish. I knew there was a couple more pulls that would probably cause me problems and the rest probably wouldn't. Descending into Sabden I thought I'd punctured again :( But at the bottom I stopped and no, it was just a strange sound coming from somewhere. The climb out of Sabden is nasty. Three single chevrons on the OS map over about 3/4 mile. I didn't walk at all on this one, but I did have to stop halfway for a rest, "to admire the view". I was now passing and being passed by a nice guy on a mountain bike so we were having a bit of a chat.

Summit of Nick O' Pendle.

After Sabden there's a nice easy miles stretch then it goes down and up near Newchurch. Here, again, on the steepest bit, I had to walk. Coming up to a house where people were watching riders go past, a nice lady came down the hill a bit clearly concerned about me (probably saw my leg!). She asked if I was OK, "yes". She asked if I had any support riders, "no". She asked if I was going to continue, "yes". Did I need her to phone anyone? "no". It is nice when people care! But really, I explained to her and her family what I already knew - I just can't get up the steepest bits, probably because of the strength, or lack thereof, in my legs still. I knew there was 10 miles to go, there was no way now I wasn't finishing, major mechanical or body-bag notwithstanding. But her Dad told me I deserved a medal. That was enough to get me to the end.

In Barley I stopped to take a gel and eat my Go bar. Because I knew Barley Fell was a climb, but no chevrons so slow and steady should win the race! It did. After that, there's a descent and a right turn, then undulating until 3 miles from Barnoldswick. This section has some nasty pulls on it, but they're all quite short, so I didn't have a problem. As usual on these rides, the legs start to come back a bit as they sense the proximity of the finish! By the time I got to the main road, and knew it was all downhill for 3 miles to the finish, I felt like I could've done the 160km route. No wait, actually I know I probably couldn't have done that yesterday. But I will next year ;)

Crossing the finish line.
At the finish, in my dreams, Sir Brad was there to congratulate me, and there was an announcement by the commentator saying how great it was that I'd made it to here after 3 years of recovery. Of course, those things didn't happen. But it wasn't really about that was it? It was about my leg, my journey, my ride, my race, my life. I'm very happy I was able to set myself this goal a year ago and realise it. I would have liked to have done the 160km route, but that wasn't realistic. I would have preferred not to have had to walk 3 times on the steepest bits, but that gives me some information about where I am and some more space to improve into. I would like to have at least laid eyes on Sir Brad, but for the second year running, I didn't. Rebecca on the other hand met him at the finish line, exchanged a few words and got a picture! I think Rebecca was a bit bored while I was out riding, but I hope that experience made up for it a bit, and it was really good to have her there as support. I liked texting her a few times on the route. And I had a text from my friend Julia too saying that everyone at church was thinking about me. That meant a lot.

After the finish, there was the goody bag - nice T-shirt this year! - and some rider food, pasta. Then I went and found Sophie (and Leah) from Pennine Events, the organisers, who I'd been exchanging emails with in the run up to this event - to thank them and to say hi.

Then we were away, to pack up the camp and go and get a drink before heading home. I was already thinking about the next ride.

After the finish. I like my new jersey :)

If you want to you can look at my data on strava. Under the circumstances, I'm quite happy with my 5h9m moving time for this ride! Again, I find it very amusing that "there are no achievements on this ride!"

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ride with Brad nerves

Well, I just looked over the 100km route again on the map, I think I know where the worst bits will be. Then I made the mistake of reading a few blog posts from last year's event and now I have to say I'm nervous. "Brutally hard" stands out. Even my friend John 'irontwit' Sutton found it tough and he knows those roads! The blog posts reminded me that it did rain a lot last year so that probably didn't help. Pray for clear dry weather this year.

I used to know for sure that I could muscle my way up anything. I don't know that for sure right now. On the ride I did on Saturday, there was one hill which in April I had to get off on, but on Saturday couldn't understand why as even though it was steep, it was so short. I know I'm stronger. However I also know there are still some roads round here which I haven't dared attempt on my road bike yet. It's Tuesday today, and the ride's not until Sunday, so I could still go and test myself on those roads. But do I want to know? Obviously if I get up them it'll be a big boost, but what if I don't? This attitude is annoying. I keep telling myself it'll be OK if I just relax. I often find on a climb that I get a bit too excited sometimes and then it becomes very hard. If I can force myself to relax and concentrate on one pedal after the other, one at a time, it's usually fine. I know from my elevation vs time plot on Saturday that I'm still limited on the hills. Oh if I could swap my compact chainset for a triple just for one day!

Of course there is also the comforting knowledge that in spite of my leg, I am sure I will not be the least fit person on this ride.
Heather way
Jeffrey Hill, Longridge Fell. I expect to suffer. 

I also realised that I have ridden some of these roads before. I knew I'd been to Waddington and Chipping on my Slaidburn weekend adventure in 2010. I've actually been across Longridge Fell on the road out of Waddington through Higher Hodder. It was up there somewhere where a deer was in the road! And I remember turning left at the Newdrop Inn before descending into Ribchester. Also that weekend I rode between Dunsop Bridge and Newton which I will do on Sunday in the opposite direction. Small stretches in common, but in common none-the-less. And it is a beautiful part of the country, that's for sure.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Comeback - August 11 2013 - Ride with Brad

OK so I've kept this a bit under wraps because things are so uncertain with my foot at the moment: I'm doing my comeback sportive on Sunday. It'll be the Ride with Brad starting and finishing in Barnoldswick, see

You may remember that last year I was so sick of not going to races that I volunteered at this one, external fixation, camping, crutching, registering riders and all. Last year when I was there it did cross my mind that this year's one might be around the right time for me to enter it as my first sportive in my second cycling 'career'. Anyway, a few weeks ago I got an email from the organisers, Pennine Events, asking me if I wanted to volunteer again, so I reminded them of my situation and they said it would be fantastic if I entered even though they would have also liked me as a volunteer.

After some amount of thought and a discussion with my physiotherapist, I decided to enter. But, alas, not the 100 mile route which would have been the ideal :( Common sense and reason have prevailed so I'm going to do the 100 km route, which still goes over most of the climbs - it just misses out a 40 mile loop through the Trough of Bowland. It will be 62 miles with about 1750m of ascent. The main climbs I think are Waddington Fell, Longridge Fell and the Nick O' Pendle, but there are a couple of others too. In any case it promises to be hard, especially if the weather is poor like it is today, but it will be fun and will of course be a massive landmark in my recovery. The last sportive I rode was the 3 Shires Sportive on 18 April 2010, on Sunday that'll be 1,211 days ago. I think the organisers may be going to do a bit of publicity about me because of my story but we'll see. It doesn't really matter but it would be nice to get a thank you in for the NHS and all the people that have helped me get to here. Hopefully this year I will at least lay eyes on Bradley Wiggins, unlike last year where I was so busy registering people in the tent that I never saw him!

What about my foot? Stress fracture and so on. Well, yes, it's a bit of a concern but I went out and did 28.5 miles round here on Saturday, with about 1000m of ascent, and I could feel it but it wasn't too bad. I will chew down some Cocodamol before the ride on Sunday ;)

I am quite nervous but once I set off on it and get up the first hill it will be fine I'm sure. I've ordered some new kit for the occasion - a garish yellow and red Northwave jersey and some new (black) bib shorts. It will be an early start as I'm not camping this year, probably we will need to set off about 5.30am. Rebecca is going with me - I hope she won't be too bored while I'm riding - and the set off time for the 100 km route is 8-8.30. I will tweet (@andrewmarkwick) from the start, finish and some intermediate points (probably the top of the climbs!). Exciting!

After this, the next one is the Autumn Epic, 95 miles in the Elan Valley, October 6. Instead of Bradley Wiggins, on that one I'll have my friend John Sutton ( for company :)