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!

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Cycling in Northumbria - Sustrans Route #1: Coasts and Castles

While on holiday in Northumbira we took the opportunity to try out some of Sustrans Route 1, the "Coast and Castles Route", which runs from Newcastle up to Edinburgh along the Northumbrian coastline.

We were staying in Alnmouth, about 35 miles north of Newcastle, so we decided to head to Banburgh along the cycle route, about 25 miles North of where we were staying.

The route is simply stunning; most of the way is accompanied by fantastic views out to sea, passing through tiny fishing villages every now and then which were bustling with active holiday-makers all eager to enjoy this fantastic part of the country. It struck us how far apart everything was, and even then how sparsely populated the villages were.

Another obvious difference was the elevantion of the area. Whereas Yorkshire has steep hills and areas of serious ups and downs punctuated with good periods of flat riding, Northumbria is all either up or down - mostly up, it seemed! The hills are usually long and sprawling, but there are also regular steep climbs requiring low gears and lots of stamina!

One of my favourite parts of the ride took us off-road onto what is mainly the walker's path. Tricky in places on hybrid bikes, this offered a really exciting and reasonably technical hour of riding, some of which required the wimp's option of getting off and pushing! It was hot and the breeze onto this path, which followed the line of the sea directly, was absolutely blissful!

The heat really was a challenge for both of us on this ride. While it's possible (or even probable) that it'll be a typical grey, drizzly English summer day on August 14th, if we wake up to blue skies and potential 20+C temperatures we'll really be struggling. This ride was a good opportunity to test how we work (or if we work!) in the heat, and gave us some foresight as to how we should best deal with a hot day of cycling.

We drank absolutely loads of water during the day, which seems obvious, but it's easy to forget to top up in a village store and be left with nothing a few miles down the road. We also enjoyed a short break in Bamburgh, where we had a picnic on the beach with plenty of salty crisps. We've also taken to packing up a couple of apples in our bags when we go out, as they provide fantastic refreshment as well as sugars, and are a nice change from cereal bars and peanuts!

This was a really great route in testing weather, which at one point pushed us a little far over the edge. We were both quite disappointed with Bamburgh, which boasted only two bike parks and was absolutely over-whelmed by cars. Still, it gave us a good turning point for the ride, which ended up being 50 miles altogether. A good day out, and a great route for exploring the Northumbrian coastline!

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Now it's Starting to get Serious: Bylands Abbey Circular

This week, for the first time since we started regular training, I didn't feel particularly excited about going out on the bikes, and would happily have stayed in bed a few hours longer. I'd felt ill all week following a migraine on Monday, and even on Friday I was convinced that I wouldn't be up for much physical exertion this weekend. But, when the alarm went off at 6am I was feeling better than I had in ages, and there was no real reason to curl back up under the duvet and ignore the day's plan.

It was going to be a tough day. We've got a few busy weekends coming up, as well as a holiday at the end of June, so we won't be able to get out properly until mid-July. The fact is that we need to get some really long rides in sooner rather than later, and then build up on elevation and speed from there. We also need to know that we can actually do it, and increasing our confidence as well as our endurance can only be a good thing.

So the plan was to cover 80 miles, with hills. I'd spotted a nice-looking route on the map, following Route 65 all the way up to Bylands Abbey in the North York Moors - a well sign-posted route with good views and a great spot for some lunch: perfect!

The weather was pretty good for a change; the skies were blue as we set out, and most importanly there was no wind! We packed a good amount of food, some Lucozade for energy and our waterproofs and head out in a northwesterly direction, apprehensive about how far 80 miles really was, and whether we could actually do it!

It was plain sailing for the first 20 miles until Easingwold, when, as the name suggests, the landscape started to get hillier. From here we covered a very undulating path through the Hambleton hills, which took us up farm roads and muddy tracks. It was actually hot, and the hills were even more challenging in the heat of the morning sun. When we reached the top of one hill there was always another to climb; relentless hills upon hills upon hills, with the landscape opening out and becoming more and more stunning with every ascent!

Check out that elevation - OUCH!

We could see the White Horse of Kilburn in the distance, which lies just above Bylands Abbey, providing us with a good idea of how far we still had to go.

The White Horse sitting on Sutton Bank
We arrived at Bylands Abbey up a long, steep hill. I was surprised at how matter-of-fact it was, just sitting humbly by the roadside without any sort of pomp or circumstance. You did have to pay to get in though, so instead we sat on a bench by the roadside and admired the ruin from afar while munching on peanut butter sandwiches.

Unfortunately the distance to the Abbey wasn't as far as planned: 30 miles, not 40, so we decided to head East towards Malton in a long loop of North Yorkshire, taking in a handful of stunning villages on the way as well as many, many more hills! At Malton we had only just covered 50 miles, yet my legs were killing me with every pedal, and I had no idea how I'd manage another 30 miles. We kept stopping for water and food, but nothing seemed to be helping; I was getting persistenly more tired, more achey and more cranky, and I knew it was almost time to hit the hard stuff. 

We stopped in a lay-by on a particularly hilly and painful road just outside Malton, where I gulped the sticky-sweet nectar that is Lucozade (raspberry flavour, urgh!) as if it were liquid gold. I then had a few squares of chocolate, just to help the process along. Five minutes later we were back on the bikes, and powering along like we'd only done 20 miles, not 50 - I was amazed at how quickly and thoroughly the Lucozade had set in! I can't really put into words how hard it had been before I'd decided to take the plunge into the isotonics; all I can say is that I was doubting everything we've put our names down for and much more. From here we stopped every now and then to top up on energy, as well as to put or waterproofs on when the heavens suddenly opened on the road to Sand Hutton. The towns and villages passed by rather nicely, and though my legs were burning and my knees were really really sore, the whole ride felt possible; the whole challenge felt possible, even!

Our 80-mile route, which just touches the outer-edges of the North York Moors

We got home and stretched to our hearts' content, then ate soup and a couple of bowls of cereal before cleaning up the bikes. The day had been an eye-opener like no other, and I realize now the power of fuel, which has always been my downfall. In all I ate:

- 1 slice of toast at Easingwold (20 miles)
- Half a peanut butter sandwich and an apple at Bylands Abbey (30 miles)
- Half a peanut butter sandwich and a packet of crisps at Malton (50 miles)
- Half a bottle of Lucozade and 2 squares of chocolate just outside Malton (60 miles)

That really isn't enough; to get through 100 miles I don't only need to be fitter, but I also need to ignore the fact that I'm not hungry/don't fancy another cereal bar and just EAT. This is the real challenge for me - getting enough sustenance to be able to keep myself going for upto 12 hours. We burned more than 3,300 calories on this ride, and I consumed just over 1,000 including breakfast. It reduces eating to the most boring, purpose-driven activity - I hate it!
Anyway, to make up for the lack of food-joy in the day, we headed to our favourite restaurant for tea that night. Since I had a few thousand calories to replace, I thought I'd better have the sticky toffee pudding - I really have to look after my body if I expect it to do all that hard work! ;-)

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Wolds, the Wind, and Some Asparagus

This weekend we had our second attempt at a circular route through the Yorkshire Wolds, via the town of Pocklington. We found this route in our Big Skies Bike Rides booklet, which shows off a number of amazing cycle routes through the Yorkshire Wolds. We'd attempted the Pocklington ride last autumn when I was recovering from a nasty cold, and sadly my lungs just couldn't cope with some of the long hills typical of the area, so we gave up and came home (after desperately searching for a train station that just didn't exist!).

We took the now-familiar Route 66 to Pocklington, which is a cycling dream with long, flat roads, very few cars and fantastic scenery. From Pocklington we headed upwards - quite literally - into the Yorkshire Wolds, a hilly ridge of sparse farmland seperating the Yorkshire Dales from the East Coast. The difference between the Wolds and the Howardian hills lies in the drama of the landscape. The Wolds don't boast such torturous ascents as Bulmer Bank - the gradients are much more kindly in both directions - but instead the climbs are long and unexpected, and by the time adrenaline is required to power through the tougest gradients, the legs have just about run out of steam! The scenery is also very different; the Wolds are very rural, but without the picturesque, chocolate-box pleasantries of the Dales and other parts of Yorkshire. Huge bullocks graze on grassy verges, and roads twist and climb through the valleys, with hills upon hills spreading out into the distance.

We got to Pocklington and managed most of the way around the circular route fine, and I was getting a little complacent as we approached the final quarter of the 17-mile tour around the Wolds. But then the threatening skies started to break, and we found the winds, which had been in our favour for the first 30 miles, were suddenly against us, bellowing in our ears and making it impossible to concentrate on anything but pedalling over and over, as furiously as we could.

The winds were relentless, and it was completely exhausting. We stopped off back in Pocklington for a Soreen re-fuel, and it would be fair to say that spirits were rather low: getting back was going to be tough. We had already committed to stopping off for some of England's best asparagus at Sand Hutton, so we headed back on a different route, adding a few extra miles to our belt to boot. We bought the asparagus from a cart in the farmyard, leaving our change in a little box on the stall; these 'honesty boxes' are very common in the area, and in every village there are eggs on sale by the side of the road, left for passers-by to help themselves to for only £1.80/dozen.

The last few miles were by far the toughest, and seemed to drag by unbearably slowly. The wind was blasting in our faces, making every mile double the effort, and by the time we got back to York it felt as if we'd done 80 miles rather than 60. It all came to a head when I managed to fall off my bike in a carpark while on the way to pick up some food for tea! My bike fell to the floor and I followed suit, managing to save myself in a rather undignified lunge over the bike!

As we arrived home it struck me that the skies were blue and the wind had calmed. Typical. Still, we took the opportunity to give the bikes a good clean before putting them away for the night, as this is never a fun job for the following day!

And, for the record, we roasted the asparagus in olive oil, and it was amazing. Definitely worth the de-tour!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Spin to Win!

So, we braved it! Last week we hit the gym for the first of our spinning classes, taking the less fun and more difficult option when it comes to getting good on the bike. No hills in York's surrounding area means that we have to get a huge gym-instructor intent on reducing us to mush to create them, and he definitely did that!

We've both tried spinning before so we knew what was in store, but neither of us appear to have tried it in a listed building with no air conditioning to speak of. The open window wasn't too much help, unfortunately, and there was soon a puddle of sweat around each of our bikes, dripping off the handlebars in a rather satisfying fashion.

So, of course, it was hard, we were tired and wobbly, there were times when we wanted to give up or cry or fall off the bike. I suffered from intermittent cramp in my foot, and during the handlebar press-ups I was quite sure that I would slip right over the front of the bike thanks to the general soggyness of everything I touched.

All things considered, I actually really enjoyed it, in a dazed, should-have-had-a-banana-first sort of way. How often do I have a triangular man shouting at me unsympathetically because I can't go any faster than my actual fastest? Never! It's also worth mentioning that he did mumble the word 'good' to me when checking my pace and brake-tension at one point: I had to hold back from cheering (he turned up the dial on everyone else's bikes, mwa haha)!

From the brilliant film Run, Fat Boy, Run
So yes, it was deathly, but in a good, sweaty, give-it-your-all sort of way. And I felt amazing afterwards!

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Big Bike Ride 2011 - Wetherby(ish) to Scarborough

This was our first chance to get a taste of an organised cycling event - with support vehicles, signposts (!), a designated chocolate bar stop, and 160-odd other cyclists to boot! The Big Bike Ride is in aid of Andrea's Gift foundation, a charity that funds research into brain tumours throughout the Yorkshire region. The Big Bike Ride is an annual cycle from Wetherby and up to the wind-swept East Yorkshire coastal town of Scarborough, where fish and chips await.
We set off  at 7am with blue skies overhead, but a suspect weather forecast lurking near the front of our minds, carrying plenty of carbohydrates and water on our backs and bike frames. Though the route started at Wetherby it had been agreed that we would meet the route on the road towards Wetherby, clocking up the mileage we needed for success via Route 65 to Tollerton.

The first 18 miles were enjoyable and easy, with the exception of a herd of confused cows intent on breakfasting on the cyclepath. After a Marmite sandwich on Tollerton Green, I spotted a few lycra-clad cyclists waving as they shot past us; a quick look at the large numbers pinned to our chests reminded me that we were in a race and better get going! The route opens up into the fantastic Howardian Hills, hugely accessible from York and dominated by the imposing Castle Howard, but not before passing up the terrifying Bulmer Bank: a very steep incline indeed. For the first time we both made it to the top without having to push, or (in my case) very nearly toppling off in front of a car, and there was much whooping and cheering as the hill levelled out into the village of Bulmer.

 There was a support van at the top offering out chocolate, cereal bars and water to the hungry cyclists, and we stopped off to catch up with some of the other riders. There was a very social feel and some serious bike-envy on my part. (Also, some marvelling at the array of technical bike wear on display - sealskin calf-warmers anyone? How about thermo-stretch overshoes?) From here on, it was long roads and some long hills, with a bit of unpleasant cycling in heavy traffic on the A169. We stopped off for lunch just outside the lovely market town of Malton, which was a good call as the rest of the route was a steady and excruciating uphill to Scarborough.

The final test came on the A170 when cyclists were literally dropping off like flies into the roadside verge ("You alright mate?" "Yep, got cramp"). To top it all off, a heavy shower of hail appeared from nowhere, bouncing off our helmets and backs, biting into our skin. I don't remember too much about the final few miles to North Bay, but Catherine assures me there was a wonderful view of the sea when we finally reached the top of the hill. I was dizzy and my legs were refusing to turn the pedals anymore at this point - the closest I've come (though I can't be certain I was there) to the infamous Wall that people fitter than me discuss. I was woken from this utter torture by a horrendous sheet of rain from the North Sea, which accompanied us all the way to the finish line. It added a sense of drama to the occasion and, bumping over the cobbles to Marine Drive, we were elated and ecstatic to be at the end, surrounded by smiling faces.

We were soaked to the bone and Catherine quickly went blue, but after some much needed Soreen and photographs we were ready to face the train ride home. On the train, I enjoyed some well-earned chips and scraps (just say yes) while we discussed the race in intricate detail all the way back to York.

This is a brilliant race and has only made us more eager to get out on the bikes and prepare for that 100-mile challenge in August. It's not going to be easy - I know that I had absolutely no more miles left in me after the 64th - but it's definitely going to be a lot of fun.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Lone Cyclist

Daniel is away over the weekend on a stag do, but this wasn't enough to deter me from getting out on my bike this weekend; we have our first biking event on Saturday 14th - a 64-mile sponsored bike ride from Wetherby to Scarborough - and as I've only been out on my bike once over the past few weeks, it seemed silly to give cycling a miss this weekend.

As it turns out, I had a very important job to do. Next week's ride requires us to be in Wetherby by 6:30am on the Saturday morning, but as Wetherby has no train station and we have no car, this is not going to be feasible (ok so we could cycle there...). Instead, we've agreed to meet the other riders somewhere along the way: somewhere that is as far from York as it is from Wetherby! Cue lots of map-studying! It seemed like a good opportunity for me to use this weekend to do a bit of route-planning, followed by a cycle out to see if my calculations were correct.

I identified a destination: Tollerton, 18 miles into the Wetherby-Scarborough ride, and a decent distance North West of York. It's also a nice, cycleable route over Sustrans route 65, and follows the path of the Ouse before passing through Beninborough Hall.

So, I woke up early, packed a few healthy essential supplies and off I went!

A few weeks ago I did a lone day ride to Pickering, so this wasn't the first time I'd been out on my own. I really enjoyed it the first time - it was a real adventure, to say the least, but it is a bit odd being out there with no one to share it with. It does mean that you can go completely at your own pace, but this also means that there's no one there to help you along when energies are dwindling!

Early on Saturday mornings York is quite a strange place. Once I got onto the bike paths I met only dog walkers and runners (and combinations of the two!) for miles and miles. The Ouse was busy with early-morning rowers, too, and the water glistened impressively in the morning sun. The forecast had said it'd be quite hot but cloudy, with rain later, but I set out under pale skies and I was optimistic that I'd get a few dry hours at least.

It was pleasant riding up to Beninborough Hall, a site we have already visited on two wheels once before. I got a bit carried away and did stray from the Sustrans signs for a while, but this gave me an opportunity to coo over lots of gorgeous cows and their calves (I love cows!!), as well as viewing the Hall itself, before giving in and turning back to the actual route.

Once past Beninborough there's a rather lengthy off-road section, which was incredibly dusty due to the lack of rain recently. This made it quite hard to ride over, and I was slipping around everywhere for a while! I just about managed to stay on my bike, but cleaning off the dust won't be too much fun!

I made it to Tollerton quite easily, and lo and behold! it is almost exactly 18 miles from York - perfect! I stopped on a convenient bench to munch some Marmite on toast, and decided where I wanted to head next. I must say, I was very tempted to stick to Route 65 all the way to Bylands Abby, but with the obviously impending rainfall and no will to get stuck out there on my own, I decided to take a route from West to East over the Vale of York, meeting up with Route 66 on the way back into York. These roads are already quite familiar, so it seemed like a rather sensible option - not always my first choice, I must admit!

I headed North to Easingwold and then left Route 65 to head towards Sheriff Hutton. I was skirting the top of the Vale of York here, just below the Howardian Hills, and though it was relatively flat, the winds were stronger here and the roads provided more of a challenge. It was slow-going, and I was struggling quite a bit - I was quite glad I chosen the 'light option' after all!

It wasn't long before fat drops of rain started to fall, first quite sporadically with gusts of wind, and then more regularly. After about 30 miles of riding, just past Sheriff Hutton, it started to really come down, and very quickly I was pretty soaked! I started to feel quite disorientated and was worried about getting too cold and too hungry, so I stopped on a bench in Thornton-le-Clay to put on a waterproof and have some food. I must have looked quite a site sitting next to the road, soaking wet and nibbling on a soggy peanut butter sandwich. Luckily there wasn't a soul in sight (not even a single car) to see me!

Note the dry patch left by me!
I hurried my sandwich and then set off again towards Sand Hutton. There was one major road crossing to do on the route, but that would put me back on the most familiar roads for some plain-sailing home. Despite the rain it was really muggy, and I was aware that I hadn't eaten enough at all. When the weather isn't good, stopping off for food is just not very appealing (especially when there's a danger of getting too cold to get going again), and this is something that I'm really going to have to improve. Still, I'd packed a whole litre of sugary squash (approporiately called 'high juice'), which helped to provide an extra push when I needed it.

Once over the A64, the ride from Sand Hutton to Stamford Bridge was an absolute joy. The roads are long, flat and quiet, surrounded by thick woodland which provides a canopy from the rain and a barrier from the wind. By the time I arrived in Stamford Bridge the sun was out again - it was getting a bit too hot for my long-sleeved cycling top! A bit dazed and eager to get home, I very nearly crashed straight off the bike at a junction in the town centre; this was one of the worst parts of the whole route, as the quiet country road suddenly meets a busy main road. Still, I managed to save myself from landing on the floor, though my pride was slighly battered!

Finally I was on Route 66 back to York, a lovely route passing through the village of Dunnington. The sun was shining, I was almost home, and I'd managed to get a whole day's cycling in without going completely out of my comfort zone. I'm amazed at how much cycling there is to do around York - without covering any scary hills or huge busy roads, you can have a whole day of safe, enjoyable riding, with plenty to see and plenty of suitable picnic spots (when the rain stops!).

I got home and made myself a mug of tomato soup, then managed a few stretches before crashing entirely. I covered 60 miles, which I was really pleased with, but there were no huge hills or even undulating roads - 60 miles on flat roads proved a real challenge. Whether I'm prepared for next week or not I do not know, I guess it all boils down to the day itself in the end. The weather might be bad, I might be tired, my knee might start hurting 30 miles in, but I think the real difference will come from some company and plenty of food. Sugar and some moral support goes a very long way on a long-distance ride, and both of these things were lacking on this trip!