Friday 22 May 2009

from bike to boardroom

Having slagged off reality TV shows with great venom in the past, I have found myself somewhat bemused by my delight at The Apprentice, which I have begun watching recently.

As the details about Rapha's Saville Row Suit emerge, I am imagining an exciting new task for Surallan's witless recruits........... clad of course in Timothy Everest's fine creation.

Anyone for a spot of courier racing through London by the self styled finest business brains in the country (!) wearing said apparell? Last one to the Boardroom gets 'You're Fiyed'?

coast to coast

Travelling Coast to Coast (see previous post), by an alternative and slightly unusual route, using 4 different methods of transport became my world for 4 days earlier on this week. And the 3 actual days of hard physical graft averaging over 8 hours a day taught me things about my body and the way it works that I hadn't anticipated. A days road riding from Hull to East Lancs morphed all too quickly into a huge days kayaking along the Leeds Liverpool Canal through my home town of Burnley (come on you Clarets) and the Lancashire mill towns past it, followed by a last long day riding muddy and slippy towpaths along the canal through West Lancs before a final half marathon on foot into Liverpool and the grandeur of Albert Dock.

It was also a great way to travel - not too much time for reflection or detailed observation as we were always on a schedule, but nonetheless a great way of sensing the landscape and our Northern industrial history from both road and canalside.

Without saying too much, the fact that the other 3 in the team have military backgrounds to varying degrees also guaranteed superb logistical support and a complete sufferfest.

The cycling and offroad riding was easy enough, the running less so - but predictably the kayaking was gruesome. Having not been in a canoe or kayak since I was 14 (apart from briefly the week before this event) suddenly attempting 46 miles into a bloc headwind along the canal was a little too much. I managed 12 hours or so of mostly interminable struggle and pain, broken only by 3 separate rendezvous with my kids and their classmates from the school whose excited canal bank greetings were the only thing keeping me going through the morning session and into a long and painful afternoon.

Still, I managed all but the last hour or so of kayaking before resorting to walking/jogging alongside the others to make sure I completed the journey at least, even if not quite all the kayak section.

The wildlife along the canal both on the second and the last days was amazing - aggressive, belligerent swans, brood after brood of ducklings, Moorhens, Coots, Voles, Herons, shopping trolleys - the lot. Also a true sense of a decaying and crumbling infrastructure that was once the backbone of the Industrial Revolution and the huge prosperity that launched the British Empire. All but gone, save for a few heritage projects here and there.

And so to suffering. At the risk of ressurecting old posts and old arguments, I came to a new perspective on an ongoing theme. I have never suffered so much as on the kayak section - yet there was no glory, a sense of achievement yes, but nothing so lofty, so arcane. Glory is a word that implies great emotion, high ideals, the pinnacle of achievement, something spiritual even. That is best reserved for those human endeavours that transcend, that elevate normal behaviour into something truly special.

What we did was suffer, and succeed and we draw our own personal pleasures and pride from that. Sure, we have raised money too which was the purpose of the trip and there is satisfaction there too. But Krabbe and Rapha have it wrong - wars see acts of glory (though glorification is the uncomfortable bedfellow that sometimes follows), natural disasters see individual acts of selflessness and heroism that glorify the best in human nature. But riding a bike hard, winning a race against fierce opposition? For me, no - no glory. Just good old fashioned graft and endeavour that nonetheless is to be applauded, admired and encouraged at all times.

Friday 15 May 2009

and now for something completely different.....

This weekend I am undertaking a Coast to Coast Challenge event for Charity over 3 days. Should be fun!

The format is as follows:

Sunday 17 May Hull – Salterforth, East Lancs
100 mile roadbike ride

Monday 18 May Salterforth – Wigan
46 mile kayak along Leeds Liverpool Canal

Tuesday 19 May Wigan – Maghull
24 mile mountainbike (on Canal) followed immediately by:
Maghull - Liverpool, Albert Dock
13 mile (half marathon) run

The chosen charities are:

Army Benevolent Fund
Great Ormond St Children’s Hospital
St Joseph’s Parkhill (my children's school)

It has been organized by one of the parents at the school, and there is a team of 4 of us, with Landrover support from a further lucky soul. We have been supported by British Cycling and will be wearing full GB kit (I kid you not!) and using nutritional products from Science in Sport.

There is an official send off with press coverage from the school Summer Fair on Saturday and the school children are going down to the canal on Monday to watch us paddle past at 4 different locations.

Follow us live in the run up and from the course on with pics and updates as we go along.

Blog updates later when the dust has settled.

the lights are on - no-one's home

Looking and feeling very much past my sell-by date after the hail storm and climbing up Wrynose in the Fred Whitton. Click to home in on the misery......... :)

Tuesday 12 May 2009


dénouement (IPA:/deˈnuːmɑ̃/) consists of a series of events that follow the climax of a drama or narrative

As I was chatting to a friend I hadn't seen for nearly 20 years at the end of the Fred Whitton, he astutely remarked that for him, riding this type of event led to a gradual release of memories and experiences over subsequent days and weeks, one that sustained him for some time, after the physical memories had gone.

This chimed well with my previous experiences too - though I still have some very physical reminders of my day out last Sunday. The denouement started at Cockley Beck as I fell apart in the cold, hail and rain after the brutal effort of Hardknott, continued with an anti-climatic finish at Coniston and rumbles on this week in the aftermath. I won't attempt a blow by blow account of the ride, others have been there before more graphically and accurately than I can achieve. For me, the Fred was a series of snapshots along the way that are gradually coming together in my head to form a definitive narrative:

the loneliness of riding 8 hours with 1100 people and chatting to only 3 at any great length. Must work on being more sociable.......

incomprehensible and irrepressible Geordies up Holbeck Lane

catching the tandem train into Keswick - wow, those things go fast down hill

carnage on the first 25% ramp up Honister

relief on being in one piece at the base of Honister compounded by the mirror like beauty of Buttermere - sublime.

a chat and thanks from a lovely woman for keeping her safe on the narrow, car laden descent from Newlands to Keswick. She dropped me like a bad habit after Lorton - strong.

delight at seeing friend and NW Cross Vets champion Mick Style, only for me to immediately crash heavily off the 1st right hand hairpin off Kelton Fell down an embankment and into a large bramble and nettle patch.

surprise at how much blood can come from such tiny wounds and how so many thorns can take so long to remove from my hands

the painrelief from aching arms and shoulders afforded by a huge release of adrenaline after crashing.

the subsequent collapse in energy as the adrenaline wore off.

Jebby and Dobbin dancing on the pedals in the big ring at the top of Cold Fell.

riding into Mordor (as so aptly put it), as I headed up Eskdale into the impending storm above Hardknott.

being interviewed riding the 30% ramp on Hardknott - are you serious?

fear down Hardknott and Wrynose - 1 crash was enough already.

numbness through Little Langdale, I just want to get home and warm again.

resignation on missing a sub 8hr ride - do I really have to come back again??

Courtesy of janpat41, Flickr

I had delusions of grandeur really - a sub 7hr Elite time was achieved by many superb riders, but in realilty is not a remote possibility for me. I wanted 7.5hrs but the Fred humbled me as it should - it's not a ride to be trifled with. I emerged, cut and bruised but with a new and sanguine (no pun intended) appreciation of why it is one of the finest one day challenges in the country.

The next challenge is this weekend - a Charity Coast to Coast, Hull to Liverpool over 3 days and using 2 wheels, a kayak and my running shoes. Post later in the week.

Many thanks for all your kind words and comments. Appreciated.

Monday 11 May 2009

fred whitton statistical analysis..........

No of punctures - 0

No of crashes by me - 1

No of thorns removed from bare hands after crash - about 30

% of legs covered with dramatic looking blood after crash - 50%(approx!)

No of interviews with on 30% ramp on Hardknott - 1

% of Hardknott ridden before losing concentration, steering off road - 95%

Speed down Hardknott and Wrynose in and after hailstorm - creeping

No of items of Rapha of clothing ripped - 2

No of considerate car drivers - lots

No of irate car drivers - 1

No of bottles of wime consumed that evening to ease pain from lacerations and over-exertion - 1

And my time.........

Oh, well, yes, ummm........... 8.00.47

Missed 1st class time by 47 seconds. Doh

And here's a nice picture of Jebby and James Dobbin showing how to do it properly:

Pic: Allan Nelson, Flickr

More to come...........................

Friday 8 May 2009

performance anxiety

I watched my son at his school assembly the other day - playing his cornet (solo) by way of serenading in the other Year groups at the beginning and end of the assembly. I was struck by his confidence and poise and by the similarities with my early years, trotted out regularly as performer at school, due to an above average application and ability for music. I remembered well, though my performing days are long behind me, that curious feeling of excitement and dread that live performance brings, whether performing in an orchestra or solo as I did on many occasions.

Fast forward 20 or so years and I am experiencing that same feeling of excitement and dread in advance of the weekend. More accurately, significant emotions related to pressure and achievement as my season sportive goal approaches on Sunday - the Fred Whitton Challenge.

But while there are similarities between the two activities of giving concerts and riding challenge events (application and practice leading to a final performance), there are subtle differences too. Back then musically, I was confident, meticulously rehearsed and practiced, especially when performing solo. i'd done the work and it was going to be a good show. For a 2 wheeled exploit like the Fred it is more complex.

For sure, I've trained harder than at any point in the last few years since coming back to cycling. I have worked on threshold, tempo, brisk and any other type of effort the cycling press implore us to undertake. I've had a recce and my bike is unusually well serviced. I've even managed a few long rides to get rid of that nagging doubt that a maximum of 2 hours rides gives in preparation for a 6 hour+ ride.

But the feelings of under-preparedness, of unpredictability, won't go away. The changeable weather, the dangerous descents, punctures, other riders, crashes - all of these close in to crowd out any feeling of confidence, the same confidence I had musically when I knew what I needed to do and how.

Mark with his background in personal training told me to zone into a positive mental state. He's right of course, but the temptation to interpret that as getting hammered on Duvel and Delerium Tremens wasn't that helpful to the overall goal. Luckily before long I realised that it was my insistence on perfection that was doing me down - wanting to get into the right group, wanting an immaculate pacing and nutrition strategy, wanting to ride up Hardknott at all costs and above all, wanting to get an Elite sub 7hr time.

Time for a realilty check. Undue pressure leads to undue stress. A quick mental 'reframe' later and I am out for a 1st class, not Elite time, will ride as I want to and above all get round and enjoy the day. Time to put my money where my mouth is in relation to previous posts looking at what drives me (and others) to ride.

So here's to a relaxed and enjoyable Fred Whitton, full of satisfaction at getting the job done and being part of one of the great Sportive events out there.

(I still want to get up Hardknott without putting any feet down though..........)

Tuesday 5 May 2009


©Maria Rendon

As I pored over a generic cycling magazine for possibly the 4th time for that copy, my wife asked with resignation whether I ever thought about anything else apart from cycling.

After a slightly forced answer confirming that indeed she and our mutual offspring were also in my thoughts on a regular basis (note no pecking order attached), I started to worry about what she was intimating and indeed the fact that she was onto something - that I had an obsession of grand proportions. Having not heard too many uses of the 'O' word in a positive connotation, it began to occur to me that this might not be a good thing either.

I have one of those odd detail orientated personalities that researches and orders to the nth degree, useless (though not to me) pieces of information whilst the chaos of life's practicalities builds up around me. Just ask my wife whose eye rolling will tell you all you need to know.

Cycling then, is fertile ground for someone like me with some kind of obsessive gene. Not that cycling has been my only obsession - Airfix aircraft, home chemistry sets, bassoon playing, orienteering, rock climbing, karst limestone geology, 90s house music and djing have all had their share of my considerable mental energies as I grew up.

Don't get me wrong - I coudn't tell you who won Paris Roubaix in 1967, who rode for which Belgian brewerouij team in the 70s, or even who has won the most Tour de France titles. No, wait I think I might know that one............ The devil for me is not in the detail, more living for the experience at all times.

I study maps of where I would like to ride, I study pictures of equipment I would like to ride with and in, I study maps of where races have been and where they are going to go. Witness fellow Flanders sportive rider and friend Gary as he was both frightened and reassured by my encyclopaedic knowledge of the Tour of Flanders sportive route, despite the fact that I had never until that point ridden in Flanders, let alone done that particuar route. Hours of map, route and DVD study had given me a frightening amount of information, some of which I simply couldn't let go to waste as we pedalled through the Flandrian landscape. He found it vaguely useful to know how far there was to go or whether there was a climb ahead. Me, I was living my dream..........

Historical detail then is unimportant to me - what I plan to do next is where it is at. The medium isn't important, merely what I have been into at the time - which model to build, which piece to play, the next record, climb and where to visit and so on. Not that even a tenth of my plans come off, but then I have always been that dreamer. Cycling though has been with me for 20 odd years. It has lasted the test of time and outlasted my waning interest in other things. Whilst the endorphin addiction thing cannot be discounted, it neatly fulfills a role as conduit for those dreams - there is always the hope of getting fitter, getting out at lunchtime during work when it is sunny, placing just a little higher in a cross race.

Loftier dreams too - of having time to ride Alpine cols, Flandrian bergs or watching great racing performances live, in real time. So that sad mid life crisis man reading and re-reading his tattered copy of Cycling Weekly from 3 years ago isn't looking inward, memorising the placings from a race he never saw - he's looking outward, wondering what he can do and where, at some unspecified time in the future. Give him a wave when you see him out there, living his obsession.