Monday, 15 August 2011

York 100: Race Report

After a painfully restless night we rose at 5am on Sunday morning, both feeling groggy and apprehensive about the day ahead. My stomach was doing cartwheels, and I wasn't even slightly hungry for my porridge and banana - a rare thing in this household! I managed a small bowl of porridge, but as we headed out on our bikes for the University Sports Centre I was feeling incredibly nauseous, and my whole body was visibly shaking! Normally I get relatively nervous before a race, but never have I felt off my food before.

We arrived at the Sports Centre at 6:30am, where there were big banners for the event and a table lined with bananas and bowls of jelly beans. We still had another 30 minutes to wait before we could register, so we took the opportunity to do some stretching and have a good wander around - soaking in the atmosphere is always a good way to prepare, I find. We were the first there but cyclists continued to arrive after us, and the demographic wasn't especially varied: middle-aged men with racing bikes and obscenely large calf muscles. I later found out that, out of the 319 cyclists taking part, only 40 were women! Still, everyone was so friendly; the atmosphere began to grow into something quite exciting, and we started to feel pretty psyched up for the day ahead.

The start was split into groups of 20 cyclists at a time to avoid a mass collision, and since we ride slower bikes and were aiming to complete the ride in a rather lengthy 10 hours, we got ourselves into the first group so we'd have the maximum 12 hours should we need it. Even starting in a relatively small group was scary, and I had a wobbly moment where I thought I might end up crashing to the floor even before we'd crossed the line! But then we were off! I was shaking like a leaf but my queasy tummy had turned into excited butterflies as we head off under a cloudy but bright sky. The day promised reasonable weather, the route looked amazing, and we were about to fulfill a goal which had been building for a year.

We weren't long into the route before the next group started to overtake, and I soon realized that we'd have to get used to this and not take it personally. I can't stress enough how enormous some of the other cyclists' legs were! It was clear that there were some really experienced riders out with us - the majority were wearing club jerseys at the very least - and so I decided to see it as a priviliedge rather than a weakness on our part.

The first hill was upon us quite quickly, and unfortunately Daniel's chain fell off half way up it! I was worried that this would be a bad omen for the rest of the day, but it was soon fixed and we were back on our way. Not long after leaving Murton we were into unknown territory, which became more and more scenic as we rode. The land around us began to rise up as we hit the Yorkshire Wolds, and more often than not we had to follow it upwards as it went. We were flying, but the cycling was tough; pushed on by adrenaline and a quick snack stop, we were making fantastic time and covering some very long inclines. The hardest came at 20 miles, just outside Leavening. From the elevation map we knew that this was the day's Killer Hill (we'd heard that some people had to push up it last year), but we conquered it with dignity thanks to our regular ascents of Bulmer Bank!

From here we were in the heart of the Wolds. I can't begin to put into words how beautiful this area is; sharp ridges sweep into deep valleys, and it feels almost like another world. We were cycling through one of these valleys for a good few miles, and it was the most delightful and awe-inspiring part of any ride I've done so far. This was the moment when I realized that we were doing it: we were actually out, loving every minute of the challenge! Amazing!

We arrived at a quaint thatched village to find our first 'feed zone' - stations set up by the organizers with drinks, snacks and toilet facilities so we could attend to all necessaries before heading back on the road. There was such a great atmosphere here that we couldn't help but have a sit down, a drink and a flapjack and soak it all in. No one appeared to be hurrying off to get the fastest time, or snubbing anyone else because they were older or slower or had a lower-quality bike: the main difference that struck me between this event and all the running events I've done is the team spirit, the camaraderie and the genuine pleasure for the whole event. This continued throughout the day - if we stopped at the roadside to check something, another cyclist would ask if everything was ok; if a car was coming up behind us, a cyclist would shout "CAR!" to those ahead; if one cyclist spotted a pot-hole he (as was always the case here) would signal to those behind to watch out - everyone was looking out for everyone else, and this was, for me, the best part of the whole day.

At mile 50 we had another stop for lunch. Here there was a range of sandwiches and pasta as well as the fruit, cereal bars and jelly beans seen earlier. The organization was just fantastic. We had a goot sit-down here and a decent amount of food, ready for another 50 miles of road. It would be fair to say that we aced the first 50 miles. We were way ahead of our intended time, we'd conquered the most difficult ascents of the day already and taken in some fantastic countryside. And then it started to go downhill (not literally, sadly).

Slightly bloated and a bit too well-rested we headed back out from the lunch stop. From here the road looked flat, but was actually one of those painful invisible inclines that goes on and on and on, causing intense burning right through the legs. On top of this, a wind had picked up and we were cycling straight into it; the going was tough, and suddenly very slow. Only 55 miles in and I wasn't sure I had much left in me. We decided to take it in 10-mile doses, with a quick pep talk after every 10 to determine how we were doing and how we'd do the next dose. This worked well. We stopped off at one point and just stretched; not only was this quite fun, but it felt great! We'd been doing the same repetetive action for over 6 hours, so a bit of roadside yoga was very much welcome! At this point the wind died down and the roads got flatter; our enery was coming back along with our enthusiasm.

Soon the roadsigns read places which we recognised or even knew, as we approached our 'home territory'. We got to Malton and knew we really were on the home straights, with only 35 miles to go and, surprisingly, quite a lot of power still in the legs! We've done the York-Malton ride many a time, but this ride took the route backwards, which was completely new to us. The long descents that we usually enjoy were painful hills, and, of course, vice versa! My parents were waiting for us at the top of the hill before Castle Howard - a welcome sight after miles of non-stop cycling! They had fresh water, melon, yoghurts and energy drinks in a cool box, so we had a stop with them and enjoyed a much-needed energy boost. The melon was perfect!

The final 20 miles were hard. Daniel ate a whole pack of energy beans in one go, and hit the sky within seconds (of course, he plummeted not long after this!). The roads were familar, and we knew we were edging closer and closer to home, though home didn't seem to be getting any closer!

Finally we got to Heslington - 101 miles later. 102.25 miles and 10 hours later we crossed the finish line together, though I can't say I remember it all that clearly! Getting off the bike was tough, walking to greet my parents was tough, realizing that it was over was the toughest part of the whole day. We got a full sports massage which was incredibly painful, but somehow enabled us to get back on the bikes and cycle home again, to a huge tea and some blackberry and apple crumble!

It was completely amazing. I'm currently mourning the day's passing from my couch, packed to my eyeballs with fruit and water. I could never have dreamed I'd enjoy it so much, and that it would go so smoothly. We've established that there are two secrets (or not!) to our success, both in terms of how we felt yesterday and how we feel today: lots and lots of practise, and lots and lots of food! The combination of these things made the day enjoyable, not too challenging (but definitely challenging enough!) and incredibly satisfying. We're now dreaming up next year's event on brand-spanking-new racing bikes - watch this space!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

A Year Ago Today...

One year ago today we were at the University of York sports centre playing badminton, when we saw a sign for a bike ride. We asked about it.

"Oh there's a 100-mile bike ride starting from here tomorrow, you can take part if you want!"

I didn't have a bike, and had never cycled more than 20 miles before. Daniel was keen, but equally unprepared.

"I'll get a bike and we can do it next year instead!" I said.

Two days later I got a new bike for my birthday (thanks Dad!).

One year later and we're actually about to do it! The Big Race is upon us!

We are stuffed full of pasta, our bags are packed with energy foods (a post on healthy energy is coming up soon!), our padded shorts are washed and laid out ready for the morning. All that is left to do is sleep (ha, let's see about that), eat a good breakfast and head over to the University.

I'm so excited. So absolutely terrified that after everything, something will go wrong, but still so excited. Wish us luck!!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Two-Wheel Itch

Only five days to go until the big day!!

Things have been quiet around here but in real life we've still been completely capsuled in '100-mile mode'; eating leafy greems such as spinach and kale, enjoying some good long sleep, deciding what we'll eat before, during and after the big ride, studying the finalized route plan, and even doing a bit of cycling too!

As we're now tapering, the rides have been less intense and much shorter: a couple of 15-milers during the week, a lovely 55-mile route through the hills last weekend (with a café stop - shock horror!!), and on Sunday a rather tough 20 miles thanks to horrid winds. Now all that remains is a 10-miler and a 5-miler, and then we're off!

Yesterday I was jittery and terrified all day, but today I've got excited butterflies - I just can't wait to get out there and see what I can do! The route looks good, and mostly unfamiliar, which will help when it comes to overcoming those inevitabe 'walls' in the latter stages of the ride. Right now I almost miss my bike; so many weekends have been spent flying down country lanes and toiling up hills, and I've loved every single one of the rides we've done. Every Saturday morning I've woken up with a ball of fizzing excitement in my tummy, and spending the day out in the countryside has, for the most part at least, been an absolute pleasure.

Sponsorship is coming in and people are being overwhelmingly generous. We're even hoping for a quick stint in the local papers this week - watch out!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

York to Whitby; the Last Training Challenge

This weekend was the last weekend of training before we have to start tapering (reducing our weekly mileage in preparation for the big race). Since we didn't manage to get to Whitby last weekend, the bright skies that greeted us early on Saturday morning were very welcome indeed. The planned route was to head to Whitby via Pickering, then take the 'Cinder Track' cycle path (the route of the Whitby-Scarborough railway line) all the way to Scarborough station, where we could catch a train back to York.

The route promised to be incredibly challenging; it wasn't only the 80-mile distance that we had to endure, but also miles and miles of climbs over the North York Moors to the coast. On top of this already daunting ride, the winds that morning were relatively strong - not a good omen for crossing the wind-swept moorlands of the National Park.

Overlooking the Castle Howard estate

We reached Malton in good time then hit some farm tracks that helped us along to Pickering. By the time we reached Pickering and its beautifully restored watermills the winds were getting uncomfortably strong, blasting in our ears and distracting our concentration. The road from Pickering was long and steep and, on top of that, cars and coaches were thundering by relentlessly. This is the only real route through a remote area to the coast from Pickering, and the traffic and conditions made us feel quite uneasy on our bikes.

There's only one road, and we're taking it...

We reached the Hole of Horcum, where we stopped to admire the views and eat a quick sandwich (Daniel was tempted by the burger van in the lay-by, but managed to resist), before heading on to the toughest part of the route. We have driven over this road many times in a car, and I have considered how hard it would be to take a bike up and over the moors. No idle dreaming in a car could have prepared us for the winding, steep and relentless ascents, and nerve-racking descents into hairpin bends and over streams - all with traffic roaring past and winds bellowing us around the side of the road. We climbed and climbed, and it took more than I thought I had in me to get up to the brow of the hill, and then up to the next hill, and the next. There was a point when I just couldn't keep going any longer, but instead of getting off and trying to gather myself, as I have done in the past, I held the point of this challenge in my thoughts: raising money for an amazing charity, and honouring the memory of my Uncle by doing so. I held that thought there solidly until the very top, and breathed a sigh of relief when the warning signs for the up-coming 20% descent down Blue Bank (complete with sand-padded escape lane) into Whitby appeared before me. Behind the red triangle the sea stretched out forever, with Whitby Abbey forming a recognizable silhouette on the headland.

At the Hole of Horcum

Whitby was heaving with visitors; not an ideal welcome after six hours of tiring cycling. We stopped at a special spot for a power snack (Daniel and I had our first holiday together in Whitby), then located the Cinder Track (also on Sustrans Route 1) for our path back to Scarborough. This gave is 23 miles of peaceful cycling - being off-road meant that there was no trouble with cars, but similarly, the uneven and often challenging terrain slowed us down considerably, and proved to be a rather tiring way to get to Scarborough. We'd been cycling for over 8 hours, and had covered over 70 miles, and despite having eaten and drunk much more than we would normally, with 15 miles to go we started getting incredibly tired. We kept having to stop for more food and fuel, but still I was losing concentration and had a few scary incidents - two of which left me off the bike and fearing for the future of my limbs!

Big tides  off the coast of Whitby

Finally the landscape turned from rambling countryside to urban structuredness; the sights and sounds of Scarborough promised the end of the long day's cycling. Just outside Scarborough station we hit the 80 mile mark - 10 hours and 35 minutes after heading out of the house that morning.

This wasn't just a test of distance. It was also a ride that, albeit unexpectedly, also tested our ability to keep going for a long, long time. It was hard, but we can still say that we did it, and I'm sure we could do it again if we had to. We hope to finish the actual race in under 10 hours, but who knows what challenges we might be faced with on the big day alongside the 100 miles: given wind, rain, rough terrain and anything else, we're as prepared now as we can ever be. I don't know if that comforts or terrifies me!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Trying to Get to Whitby

This weekend's plan was to cycle through the North York Moors to Whitby, then head back to Scarborough on the Sustrans cycle route and take the train back to York.

A scary plan, which needed a lot of planning and a lot of fuel.

But the weather forecast did not bode well. After days of muggy sunshine, non-stop heavy rain was supposed to set in this weekend - we still hadn't tried cycling in a non-stop downpour, though, so we agreed to give it a go whatever the weather.

Saturday morning came and the clouds were heavy but the ground was dry. As soon as I unlocked the bike shed at 7am I felt the first drops of rain; we set out in waterproofs and wore extra layers, which didn't leave us overly confident about the distance we had to cover (almost 90 miles). By the time we'd left York to meet the country roads it was coming down heavily, and it wasn't long until everything was wet. Every now and then the sky seemed to explode, and heavy pellets of water came thundering down, hitting my eyes like sharp stones and making it impossible to see or even hear anything.

I was starting to feel pretty demoralized, and wasn't looking forward to slogging up Bulmer Bank in the wet. Not far from the massive hill another cyclist passed us (one of only three other cyclists we saw that day), and her cheery hello and a hurried few words about cycling as she sped past lifted our spirits no end. Somehow we both made it to the top of Bulmer Bank without getting off to walk, despite slippy pedals and a wet road surface. A few whoops and cheers at the top of the hill ensued, before we stopped off under the shade of a tree to eat a few dried apricots (I wanted chocolate but it was only 8:30am!). On we headed, and I was determined that we'd beat the weather and make it to Whitby that day.

We arrived in Malton and took a wrong turn. Under the shade of a bush we checked the maps, and it was incredibly difficult to muster the will to climb back on the bikes and keep going. My socks were soaking wet, and my feet actually felt heavy due to my water-logged shoes. Climbing up the hill to meet the planned route there was another torrential outburst - the rain hadn't stopped since 7am that morning, and it was getting worse and worse. Water was gushing down the roads and the drains were over-flowing, but I kept telling myself to push on; if the weather is that bad on August 14th we'll have no choice but to push through, after all.

The next part of the route was off-road. Potholes and rocky slopes were hidden in large puddles, and we were slipping and sliding all over the place as we moved. It was at this point that Daniel made the obvious decision for us both: we decided to call it a day and take the train back from Malton. I was so glad to hear him say this; I'm not one for giving up, and I often choose the ridiculous over the sensible, but by this point - only 27 miles in - I was feeling so uncomfortable and fed up that I was happy to throw in my towel. The last thing we want is to get the flu only 4 weeks before the big day!

So Whitby has been postponed until next week. But it wasn't a wasted ride, even if it wasn't a success. I learned a few important things:

- Wear waterproof shoes
- There's no point wearing moisture wicking shorts with non-wicking underwear!
- Sometimes it's ok to give up and go home
- Peanut butter and jam cures all ills
- Getting too cold must be avoided at all costs

PB&J on the train - very soggy!
And finally, after cycling 27 miles in torrential rain we both agreed that we were actually feeling fantastic, all things considered. I certainly felt fit enough to carry on for another 50 or so miles yesterday, and I'm disappointed that I coulnd't see this through. I'm impatient to test how far I can go, and how hard I can really push myself. I'll have to wait until Saturday now I suppose!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

One Month to Go!!!

Only one month left to train, eat, hydrate, eat, sleep and eat some more. We've covered 606 miles since Easter Sunday, but there's still so much further to go.

We've finally set up our sponsorship page - - no donation is too small!

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Cycling in Northumbria - Sustrans Route #68: The Cheviot Hills

The "big ride" on our holiday followed Sustrans number 68 (the Pennine route) through the Cheviot hills. You can head up into Scotland via this route, but we took it as far as Wooler, a small town in the Northumberland National Park. As much as I wanted to cover a good 70-80 miles on this day, we only ended up covering 55 miles, but still it was one of the most challenging rides we've ever done - the verdict was unanimous!

We took a couple of wrong turns when heading out to join the cycleway, which gave us our first taste of how relentlessly hilly the landscape is here - struggling over hilly roads to find you've come the wrong way only meant more hilly roads on the way back! The hills didn't stop; up and down and up and down and up and down. They weren't sharp, steep hills as they are in Yorkshire, but rather long, slow, painful hills, without much of a euphoric race downhill once you tip over the brow!

Cheviot Hills Elevation Map
Compared even with our tougest ride, it was much hiller as you can see!

Still, the scenery was incredible - it would have been easy to believe that we were in Scotland already! The landscape was harsh and remote, and it's easy to believe that you could hide in this part of the country for days without risk of being found (just as Raoul Moat did last summer).

The great thing was that we didn't feel like giving up the whole time. We were tired and sore, we were looking forward to getting home and having a shower, but we both felt like we could do it. No one got off and cried because they just couldn't face another hill! This is good news - this tells us what we need to know: we might actually have a chance at completing the 100 miles after all.

See that small splodge heading up the hill? That's me!