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!