Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Wiggle KiloToGo Flat Out in the Fens 2014

Well, that was the longest ride I've ever done by some way. But it wasn't boring, and it wasn't as hard as I thought it was going to be.

I mean, 152 miles was never going to be easy, but I was prepared for a real sufferfest which never happened. Good preparation? Good weather? New aerobars? Eating properly? Probably all of these. The weather I think was kind - I had expected it to be a lot windier, which would have made some of the long straight roads quite an ordeal I'm sure. Apparently last year it was like that, so again I have been lucky with the weather! It was hot and I had plenty of suncream on, especially on my left leg which is essentially now just one big scar below the knee. I need to find out whether it's OK to have it in the sun a lot, or whether there's still some risk I'm running by doing that. Anyway, I put loads of factor 50 on it so should've been OK.

On the start line, at Peterborough Regional Centre.

As I said in my pre-ride musings post from last week, I really had no idea what to expect from this ride time or pain wise. I guess I was preparing myself for the worst. Pretty early on though it became clear that I was going to finish this ride somewhat quicker than I imagined, if I could keep the pedals turning! I was using my average speed to gauge my effort, in the first 30 or so miles up to the first feed station, the average was around 18 mph. Big groups of riders were passing me, something which continued through the day, but I wasn't tempted to join any of them. I know all the stuff about effort in a group etc., but I'm sorry to say I just don't like it very much - I don't like being so close to people and not being able to see the road properly in front of me. One or two people is OK, but more than 5 and I'm getting nervous. Plus, these groups were going at about 21 mph, which even factoring in the saved effort is too fast for me I think. I kept reminding myself that my race was with myself, not with anyone else.

In terms of eating, I decided to stop at all 4 feed stations and make sure I was eating along the way. I think I ate more on this ride than I've ever done before, because I was concerned about the bit between 110 and 152, i.e. the end, and how tired I would be. I didn't want to struggle because I had been stupid and not eaten enough. I also thought that signal permitting I could send tweets and texts to Mum and Rebecca from these points.

The stops were at 29, 67, 95 and 130 miles. At all these points I refilled my two bottles, most times with OTE energy drink from sachets I was carrying. I made sure to eat two of the things on offer at each stop; small size cheese and onion pasties, sausage rolls, sandwiches, cakes, half bananas. This was on top of the 3 Mule Bars, one OTE Duo Bar, one packet of Powerbar Shots, 2 OTE energy gels and 2 OTE caffeine gels I ate on the move. The caffeine gels are awesome - I saved these for near the end and had one at 110 miles and the other at 140. They give you a nice boost.

It was the first time I've ridden with aerobars. I got them specially for this ride because of all the long, flat, straight roads. They're brilliant. Apart from anything they give you another position to be in, to be able to keep shifting around every now and again and stay loose. On top of that I think they give about an extra 1-2 mph. This ride was great because I was able to think about and test that during the day. I won't use them all the time, but on rides like this, and the one I'll do with Tijl in Belgium next month, I think they'll be really useful. They're Profile T3 Plus bars from Wiggle, in case you're interested.

The route was not boring. There really are some super straight roads in the Fens though - one of the stretches was, I think, nearly 7 miles straight as an arrow. Wow. The sky is big round there and there were also lots of villages on the way. Lots of interesting water management works too, engineering stuff that reminded me a lot of the Netherlands. Probably the best stretch I can recall without thought was the bit along the River Great Ouse up to Downham Market.

Time-wise I could see after about 50 miles that I was going to do quite well compared to my expectation. I had it worked out by that point that I would have to have a major problem not to end up with a Silver time for this ride, a bit surprising since on the other KiloToGo rides this year I've not even managed Bronze. I think the weather must have been a factor, but having said that I did feel good most of the way, so maybe the training has helped :)

I got a few comments about my Holme Moss jersey, which I wore on purpose as a sign that I'm from a place with big hills. Some guys from Wakefield passed me and let on.

At the end I was able to have a sit down and reflect on the previous 9 hours and 15 minutes. Lots of easy miles was my conclusion, just that there was 152 of them! I wasn't expecting to feel like this, but I think I might do this one again! There was something very different about it, but also very good. You are able to get completely in the zone, it is very relaxing. This is going to sound very silly, but at a couple of points I was actually fleetingly worried about falling asleep.

Resting at the end. Aerobars are brilliant.
Afterwards I had a rest, ate a flapjack, and drove back to the hotel, The Bell Inn in Stilton for a shower. The day ended with a few beers, some phone calls, internet and strava updating and a big juicy burger with stilton on it and chips. Mmmm. I checked my justgiving donation page - link to the right of this page - and it was up to about 450 pounds raised for the North West Air Ambulance. That's great!

Later, back at the hotel, a well-earned beer. Oakham Ales' Bishop's Farewell.

Here's my strava entry for the ride. I was very interested to hear what my friend Tijl would say after he saw this - "absolutely brilliant performance!" was his verdict, and who am I to argue? I won't be being hard on myself this time. My moving time was 8h 33m.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

4 years on, KiloToGo Flat Out in the Fens pre-race thoughts

It's a special weekend this coming one. I'm off to the Fens, east from Peterborough, to ride the Wiggle KiloToGo Flat Out in the Fens sportive. I'm doing the 152 mile option, which will make this by some stretch the furthest I've ever ridden in a day, assuming I complete it of course :)

But it's special because it marks the 4th anniversary of my appointment with destiny, June 21, 2010. The World Cup has been reminding me of it too - I know I watched some of the last one from a hospital bed in Preston but I can't say I remember a right lot of it. Although as an England fan that may be a good thing ;) 

4 years on

Over the 4 years since several factors have returned me to the point where I can consider doing the kinds of rides I used to do, and even go beyond. In the first place there's the NHS, who saved me and put me back together, rebuilt my leg and followed up with me until just recently, to make sure I was as good as they could get me, for free. I suspect that most people in this country have no idea how lucky they are that we have the healthcare system we do. Long may it continue to be so. 

The encouragement of friends and family has been important. None of them have ever 'managed my expectations' which would have been a valid thing for them to try to do, but I guess they know me well enough to know it's not what I wanted. If I haven't already, I'd like to thank them all again for their support - knowing when not to speak as well as when to - and also to apologise again for putting them all through this in the first place.

Finally, and in a rare departure from my usual modest self, I know my attitude has been one of the most important factors. I have tried to stay as positive as I could throughout the whole episode, and for the most part I've succeeded. Last week some people who really didn't have to paid me a massive compliment by describing me as 'amazingly positive' and 'a shining light'. These were the guys from the insurance company, a matter which I'm pleased to say, 4 years on, is now behind me.

It's unlikely I'll ever run again, which crosses off all sorts of things as possible, but I can live with that, and you never know, right? I'll never go a day again without pain in my leg and ankle, but it's the price of being alive. I will probably have another operation in the next couple of years, to break my ankle a few times and hopefully make this pain more manageable, and walking a bit easier. I might have a few more operations to make my leg look nicer, but there's probably not a lot of point is there? The days of me being a leg model are over ;)

There have been moments where I've been really sad and have struggled - I still have flashes of it and there are some persistent and annoying symptoms of post-traumatic stress, but it was worst was when I couldn't ride. In the 895 days I couldn't ride my bike, sometimes it looked a long way off, but the truth is I never genuinely doubted - I knew I'd turn the pedals again eventually and I knew I wouldn't just turn them, I'd push.

And here we are.

Flat Out in the Fens

The furthest I've ever ridden in a day before was 108 miles in 2009 in Wales. Since then I've ridden 100 miles a bunch of times. What are the issues with this ride then? OK well it's flat. I did more climbing within 4 miles of my house the other day than I will do in the whole ride on Sunday. So that makes this one different. Flat brings two potential problems to my mind: first, you have to pedal pretty much the whole time. On a more normal ride you at least get to freewheel down hills if you want a rest, etc. Second, wind. There will be no protection from potentially strong winds. There may be many, many miles riding into a headwind. I don't like that at the best of times, but after 100+ miles that could be a killer.

Got my number and timing chip, and some new OTE bottles and smart bottle cages for the occasion.

Anything else? Well, yes. Eating and drinking. Of course there's the well-stocked feed stations as usual with KiloToGo rides, but availability of food is never my problem - it's eating it. This time I will have to be really disciplined and eat regularly. This is too far to push through I think. Sometimes by 90 miles I'm thinking - I'm hungry and aching a bit but only 10 miles to go... this time it will be 60. Yikes. It's a long way. I will aim to carry enough food with me for the whole ride as usual, and only use the feed stations as top up and to get water. I'll probably adopt my usual strategy of missing the first one altogether. If it's super hot I will need water, but that should be quick.

What else? Fundraising. This time I'm going to ride for the North West Air Ambulance. I didn't need them, but people involved in similar accidents to mine regularly do and regularly get saved by them. I think they're an extremely worthy cause and will for sure help people like me, so they count. I hope to raise a significant amount this time, even though I know people may be getting tired of sponsoring me now - I have to think about that for the future. As usual, you can donate by clicking the JustGiving link on the right hand side of this page.

My other thoughts at the moment to do with the ride are slight worries about pain in my ankle, my contact points (hands and bottom) and lower back. I'm not sure what state I will finish this one in! I'll probably take some Ibuprofen and Paracetamol with me and hope not to need it. Also we can hope that the weather will play ball again - no rain and no wind would be best!  Finally, I have no idea what time to expect or to aim for on this one. As I said, it'll be pedalling pretty much all the time which is not what I'm used to. I was thinking if I finish in 9 hours I'll be happy, but really I don't know if that's realistic or not. I guess we'll find out won't we!

My itinerary for the weekend is to leave on Friday lunchtime - on Friday night I'm staying with friends in Cambridge, who I haven't seen for a long time so that should be fun! Saturday and Sunday night I'm booked into The Bell Inn in Stilton - as in the cheese - that will be lovely I'm sure. On Saturday during the day I will go and find some pretty village to look around or something equally relaxing. When I get to the hotel I might ride for half an hour if the weather is appropriate. It's an early start on Sunday morning - I'm aiming for 7am on the start line - so I decided to stay Sunday night too, didn't fancy driving for 3 hours after this one! So I'll come back on Monday.

I'm sure it'll be a great weekend whatever happens on the ride. I will see another part of the country I've never really seen before and I hope that I can raise some money for a good cause at the same time. I will try my best to write a proper ride report as soon as possible afterwards. I know I'm not always very good at that!