Tenerife, again

In the context of a week’s family holiday to Tenerife, 12 hours of riding my bike plus a half marathon isn’t bad going. The fact that while you’re riding a bike in Tenerife you’re spending the vast majority of your time grovelling uphill and that some of the grovelling is at a high enough altitude so that it hurts a lot more, it’s perhaps 12 hours that would be equal to a few more hours than 12 in the UK. Perhaps.

Regardless of how much fitness Tenerife can kick out of you, the weather, the views and the varied and often breathtaking surroundings make the whole island one of  my favourite places on earth.

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far, far from the beach

The half marathon Debbie and I did was a little bit larger than I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a rather small, grass-roots type of thing in a small village on the coast. When we arrived and saw the hundreds of runners, huge start/finish gantry, grandstands, live music and TV cameras I knew we were taking part in something rather large.

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It was a brilliant event. Two laps of a hilly course (typical of Tenerife) along closed roads, water stations every couple of kilometres and lovely weather, if a bit on the warm side for Northern Englanders. I reached the finish line in 1 hour 36, Debbie crossed the line 20 or so minutes later.

I spent the rest of the week riding up and down the mountain while gradually shaking off a thigh injury picked up in the half marathon. Sometimes up the main roads with easier gradients, sometimes up the unrelentingly-steep minor roads while being barked at by (and sometimes chased by) large and demonic farm dogs. Ok, the small West Highland terrier that gave chase wasn’t demonic but they’ve all got teeth…

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I took a mountain bike (once it arrived as it somehow missed the flight that I was on) because I knew there was good (and dry!) off-road riding to be had, the only problem was I couldn’t find too much legal stuff that I was prepared to tackle on my own. I’m not a massive fan of falling off cliffs without someone to call the helicopter. What I did ride was good fun but there wasn’t loads of it – I’ll stick to the road bike in future I think. Or grow a pair :-)

DSC_4640As well as the bike, I took some Craft cycling and running clothing that up until last week I’d not had the chance to wear. The Craft gear I’ve been wearing all winter is mainly windproof, rain-proof and thermal but the jerseys and shorts I took to Tenerife were somewhat thinner and lighter.

The ‘Move’ jersey I was wearing whilst toiling in 28 degrees centigrade are covered in mesh panels and are the next-best thing to wearing nothing at all. I’m not sure what the naked cycling laws are in the Canaries but I assume it’s not allowed….

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I also took a whole box of Honey Stinger Waffles – I was starting my rides early therefore there was no chance of having breakfast before I set off so I took those to avoid the dreaded bonk two or three hours into a hard ride. They were ideal – not only do they taste good they kept my legs turning and they fit nicely in my pockets ;-)

Time to start counting down the days to our next trip.

Fron Four fell race

Holidays are for relaxing, aren’t they? Not for doing loads of strenuous exercise. Just sitting down, doing very little…
Wrong! They’re for doing stuff in new places. Mad stuff. Big stuff. Stuff that makes you all puffed out, dirty and/or sweaty. That’s what holidays are for.

As a warm-up before the half marathon me and Deb are doing in Tenerife soon, I decided that while we were spending a nice weekend away in North Wales for Easter, a local fell race might be a good plan. I dragged my family and my mate Jamie (who’s a good runner but had never done a fell race in his life) the few miles down the road to the Fron Four fell race. It was only 8 or so miles, how hard could it be?

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“just run up that”

Very hard as it turned out. In fact apart from the 3 Peaks Race I don’t think I’ve taken part in a fell race as hard as this one. The amount of pain and suffering in store for all 33 participants started to become clear as the race organiser pointed to the summit of the nearest mountain – Mynydd Mawr – and explained that we’d see that summit up close. Twice. The rest of the route was pretty bloody hilly as well, not to mention the rocks, slate and frankly ridiculous 45-degree hillside traverse that I thought was going to snap my right foot off.

85 minutes later it was all over. I’d finished in 13th place (7th vet), just behind the first-placed female who looked like she was still at school. I apologised to Jamie as he reached the finish line a few minutes later – the poor lad’s first experience of fell running was a proper baptism of fire but he was still smiling.

My description of the Fron Four race might sound like a moan and give you the impression that I didn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, I thought it was utterly brilliant and I’ll definitely do it again next year.

The incredibly tough course, the three pounds and fifty pence entry fee, the cuppa at the end and the usual warm welcome from all involved (that is as much a part of the fell running experience as the running itself) all combine to equal a brilliant way to spend a couple of hours on a spring afternoon. Fabulous stuff.

Battle on the Beach 2015

Battle on the Beach was up there with all my favourite things of 2014. Last year’s race was brilliant – in fact it was probably the only ‘short’ bike race that I thought was worthy of a 500 mile round trip in the car. This year Matt achieved something really special and the race was even better.

My weekend started with a five hour drive with Dave – we cursed the various nocturnal diversions in place that can really add chunks of time to a late-night drive (and they did). We’d set off at about 9pm (racing cyclists with children will understand) and were expecting to arrive at 2 in the morning. No big deal. We both had pop-up tents and would be tucked up within 5 minutes of arrival.

In spite of being fully-clothed inside a sleeping bag, inside a bivvy bag, inside a tent – I was absolutely freezing. Perhaps veterans of Arctic expeditions and other really cold things would scoff at my claim that I was ‘absolutely bloody freezing’ but at the time I was so cold that I even contemplated sleeping in the van. No amount of toe-wriggling was going to help, I tossed and turned and shivered and generally stayed awake. Brilliant!

Morning arrived and I snoozed for all of five minutes as the morning sun thawed my pop up coolbox.

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Photo – Jacqui Simcock

 

With a half-hour kip in the van, a couple of caffeine gels and a stern letter written to oneself, I lined up at the front of the 600-strong race. Apparently there was sixty fat bikes! A long, fast sprint along the beach would thin out the field before the incredibly enjoyable and dry singletrack sections. It was vital to stay in a fast group and not get spat out of the back.

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that was me gone.

 

I lasted all of 30 seconds in a fast group before being spat out of the back. My efforts to get back on a wheel made things worse and I was starting to curse my two-and-a-half months of non-training (for all the right reasons, as explained here) as I was losing places fast. Almost going backwards but I knew there wouldn’t be too many fat bikes ahead of me so I dropped my head and moved my hands closer to the stem, gradually gathered momentum and arrived in reasonably good shape at the end of the beach.

The next two laps were spent taking back places where I could, trying to stop my lungs from popping out of the top of my head and peering as far into the distance as I could for other distinctively-fat tyres.

Meanwhile, the new, faster tyres on the Scott Big Ed were transforming the fatbike experience from ‘low-pitched rumbling over anything’ to ‘pretty nimble and pacy trail bike’ – as well as reducing rolling resistance I’d shaved a big chunk of rotating weight from the wheels in the process. As long as I didn’t do anything really stupid on the beach section I was able to keep up with most of the other riders around me, regardless of which bike they were on and the singletrack sections were as fun as it probably gets – the Rockshox Bluto suspension fork, wide bars and quick handling helping with that. And the fact that while I was riding fun singletrack, I wasn’t blowing out of my backside on the beach.

I honestly had no idea in what position I was in when I crossed the finish line. I knew there were fat bikes in front of me (I’d put a lot of effort in but I’m far from fast at the moment) but how many?

4th fatbike (annoying), 33rd vet (not too bad I suppose), God-knows-what overall (let’s just leave it there).

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photo – Jacqui Simcock

Thanks to Matt Page and the rest of the A Cycling team for organising what seems to have become a must-do event at undoubtedly one of the most beautiful settings in the country, cheers to Scott UK for the loan of the bike and a big thanks to Dave Haygarth and Emma Osenton for keep me company in the van.

 

 

Zig-Zagging around the Isle Of Man

Last weekend was one of those “why have I not done this before?” types of weekend. Guy rang me on Thursday and suggested that it might be a good idea if we went to the Isle of Man for a bike ride. Me and Dave already had plans for a big ride but after checking with him and also checking that Guy definitely meant bicycles and not motorbikes we were all set.

The plan was simple. Drive to Heysham in the van at 10pm Friday, leave the van there and get the 2am boat to the Isle of Man which would arrive at 6am-ish. We’d all be wearing our cycling clothes, ready to go. Off the boat, ride for hours and hours, back to the boat for the 8pm sailing, back home by 2am. Less than 40 quid return, it seemed almost too straightforward, but apart from a café stop (which included beans on the thickest slices of toast I’ve ever seen), a ‘just popping in here to buy me dad a Triumph” stop, a quick visit to my mate Ron and several cup of tea stops, the straightforward plan is precisely what happened.

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hills! sunshine! Sea air!

We rode 125 miles of some of the quietest, smoothest and toughest roads in the country (I know it’s technically not the UK, but anyway) and the views were stunning. The comparative lack of potholes and damaged roads wasn’t confined to the TT course either – the whole island rode like a dream really.

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a long way up

I’m not sure a one-geared road bike was my brightest idea but Guy was taking his fixed-wheel bike so what was I supposed to do? We encountered a lot of very steep gradients that we had to zig-zag our way up and I’m surprised that my back didn’t explode outwards, but it was a good workout I suppose….

If you’ve never ridden in the Isle of Man before, you really should.

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obligatory “bikes against a wall” photo.

In true “do you know who we are?” fashion, we were treated very well by the crews on the ferries and at Douglas port. We’re talking cabins (so our 28 hours away from home was punctuated by a few hours sleep) and sandwiches here, no messing about. Thanks to the lovely Steam Packet crews for looking after us :0)

A great adventure and not for the last time either.

Honey Stinger

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I’m really chuffed that Honey Stinger are taking care of my nutritional needs for 2015’s packed training, racing and “possibly bitten off more than I can chew” big rides schedule.

In the past few years the huge advances in cool things like bikes, offroad biking lights and clothing are well-known and get loads of press coverage, yet sometimes the massive improvements in nutrition products are overlooked. I remember when I first started racing, you had to put up with energy bars with the texture and taste of plasticine, gels that reminded you of snot and protein bars that were apparently made of chalk. If you were able to experience normal bowel function in the 2 weeks following a 24 hour race, you were doing very well. 20150212_155701

Fast forward a few years and the situation is much different. The main problem now is how to resist eating all of the delicious sports nutrition products with a nice cup of tea instead of using them for their intended purpose (stuffing them down one’s neck while trying to ride a bike/run/ski/whatever).

Honey Stinger gels, bars, protein bars, chews and waffles (WAFFLES!!) are probably the most tempting I’ve ever had in the house. Maybe it’s the liberal use of dark chocolate that does it, or the high honey content. Whatever it is, I’m really impressed with the “Regular Food-ness” and lack of any kind of artificial taste or texture.

Protein bars deliver 24 grams of protein and a thick layer of lovely dark choc. Gels and chews give you around 75% carbs and waffles are around 65% carbs with a bit of fibre. Flavours include Limeade, Cherry Cola, Acai and Pomegranate and Strawberry.

If you see me at a race this year, ask me if I’ve got any sample Honey Stinger treats going spare :-)