Day 1: We Begin

So this was it, crunch time. We had trained as best we could, cramming in plenty of Spinning towards the end, but this is where we were tested.

Carla and I drive to Swindon the night before launch o’clock, so we could be fresh in the morning. We ended up staying in quite a nice hotel minutes from the start line. After having gorged on pasta and salads, we decided to try and squeeze in a few hours sleep.

This hotel had absolutely beautiful beds, but we tossed and turned for hours; both of us terrified of what was to come. I felt like we were two lost souls, completely out of our depth, but clinging on to each other in the maelstrom. Neither of us knew how the hell we were going to be able to do this, but we were each others anchors.

After managing to get a couple of hours rest, we were up; eating our breakfast before heading to collect our bikes. It was bitter that early in the morning, and the air had a quiet peace to it; as if waiting.

We arrived at the start line, got introduced to our team, broke our camera attachment that we picked up for the GoPro to use on the trip (£200 well spent), and moved into position. We were first off, and immediately became even more terrified when we noted the slick lines of the light racing bikes that surrounded us; our heavy hybrids looked clunky and dated.

Setting off in the first group was daunting, we waited for the start. With a rousing ‘Go!’ and generous applause, we took our first nervous peddles. Within moments, our group was on the road and out of site; everything felt rather anti-climactic.

It became apparent that we were going to struggle with this, our group was setting the pace and Carla seemed to be in agony. In the first hour, we drifted closer and further from the group. Every time we encountered a hill, a part of me would feel crushed as I contemplated the long climbs.

I stayed with Carla, trying to encourage her, and make her realise how incredible she was for doing this. Portraying a cheery exterior was hard; inside, I wailed and screamed and sobbed. I had no idea how we were going to do this, my head was spinning at the enormity of the task. My thoughts kept coming back to Carla, I was so proud of her for doing this but I felt like we already failing; the training and stresses of a year all for nothing.

This continued for close to an hour before we finally lost our group. I was devastated that we were going to be out so soon, but I again focused on Carla. The very fact that she had signed up, trained, bought the equipment, and set off; knowing that she was the only woman, had severe asthma, and was woefully under-trained, was actually doing this, broke my heart. Never have I felt so bursting with pride, whatever happened now was irrelevant.

As we rounded the next corner, we came across another group; led by my brother, and race organiser. With some quick shuffling, he and Mark broke off and we had escorts. This was an enormous turning point. Having experienced and patient guides, people who were spotting and correcting our mistakes on the fly, made a gargantuan difference. We were soon progressing steadily, not quickly, but we were getting there and improving all the time.

Except for somebody clipping my bike in their Peugeot just before we stopped for lunch, we continued to get better and better throughout the day; keeping pace and making little changes to our setup as we learned. When we were approaching the final afternoon break, things started to get hard.

Due to our slower pace, our group had fallen behind and needed to catch up. A new pace was set, one that would get us there in time, we were completely unprepared for this. Coming down over the hills near Winchester, we started to crumble. Every push on the peddles was agony, the acid in my legs had lit them on fire; I felt like screaming at every step, but kept my head down and just kept pushing.

Finally, near Portsmouth, we reached the final climb. Miles of incline, leading up to the top of the cliffs. I put my bike in the highest gear and started to move, crawling up the endless road at a walking pace. It seemed like this was where I would fall, I had nothing left. Every metre was hard won, a piece of my soul in exchange for some distance. I have no idea how long it took, but I eventually crawled my way to the apex to join the others. Unsure whether to be sick, or cry, or both; I took a quick break before we set off into the City.

Every metre climbed now had to be descended. We hurtled down the tarmac towards the lights, flitting through traffic at a terrifying pace as we moved towards our goal. This was both thrilling and nerve-wracking, to come off would mean disaster at this speed. Spotting our support van, the group slowed and eventually came to a halt with the rest of the team. Carla and I were exhausted, shells of people filled with anxiety.

Carla and I spoke about the day, we confided our fears and shared our anxieties. We were both convinced that we couldn’t do it, even considering how best to get home. Could we take a coach with our bikes? Pride, or apathy through tiredness, prevailed.

After getting changed, the entire group headed into a nearby Wetherspoons for dinner. Our next issue now took hold. Throughout the day, we had been using caffeinated isotonic tablets in our water, to give a boost and hydrate. The caffeine was now having an adverse effect, we started to come down, heavily. Unable to face food, and feeling sick to our cores, we dragged ourselves through the meal and followed the group to the harbour.

Following a short walk, and a long wait, Carla and I boarded. The cabin was small, and in our fragile states, both of us felt extreme fear at being cooped into the space. Both of us fighting to stay strong for the other helped. We removed the caffeine tablets from our packs, settled in, and proceeded to stay awake for almost all of the night due to rough seas.

I make no bones about it, Carla and I were disastrously under-prepared for this. We hadn’t trained hard enough, we didn’t have our equipment set up perfectly, our nutrition wasn’t quite right, and we had given absolutely every last drop that we had to give to make it this far. We had beaten our previous record, of 38 miles, by an additional 52 miles; had added 10mph to our top speed; and consumed enough caffeine to keep an elephant up for the next 2 years. We felt spent, and terrified.

It is, without a shadow of a doubt, down to the collective patience and care of the rest of the team that we had made it this far. We would not have made it to the dock without the others, who had properly prepared, guiding and helping us. Whatever happened next, we had something to hold on to, something that we had achieved and could not be taken from us.

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Facing facts

OK, so Sean has given his opinion on how he is feeling about the cycling and I think it’s about time I shared some of my thoughts too. Since starting this I have realised a number of things:

  1. I’m pretty alright at cycling.
  2. Hills are my enemy.
  3. I have the body of an old woman.

Fact: I’ve never been athletic.

Fact: I struggle when bending over to paint my toenails.

Fact: I can’t jog (shuffle) for more than 30 seconds without having to stop, wheezing, to take my inhaler.

But….I can cycle easily for quite a distance.

Who would have thought?! Trust me I was more surprised than Sean (who was gob smacked) when we went out on the bikes the first few times. For some unknown reason it seems that my legs much prefer propelling me forward if they go around rather than going backwards and forwards. It just seems a lot easier to manage and I think a lot more inspiring. I find jogging and running too labour intensive for the amount of distance I would have travelled. I like to feel like I’m going somewhere rather than just slugging along. Cycling makes that happen, it makes me feel like I’m going somewhere fast without too much effort.

Until I have to cycle up a hill….

Seriously, we couldn’t have a picked a hillier place to train for this event. Every route we have cycled so far has involved some sort of ridiculous steep hill that renders me useless. As Sean is technically locked into his peddles, he has to keep going or run the risk of falling and causing himself harm. I therefore have been staring at him in awe, me crawling up the hill, jelly legged and wheezing, dragging my bike, whilst he powers past and continues to ride on at the top. A couple of weeks ago I managed to finally conquer one of these silly hills without getting off my bike once. Only another 30 to go!

This training has had an effect on my body that I wasn’t really expecting, with me only being 25 years of age. For a fair few weeks now my joints i.e. hips, knees have been aching to the point whereby it becomes painful to sit for periods of time and bend. Apparently it could be due to the way in which I am peddling and also because of the types of muscles that develop whilst cycling. According to some of the research I have done, the muscles developed during cycling can cause the kneecap to be pulled at a slight angle, causing pain. This has now led to me taking vitamins and supplements in order to help my joints repair and stay healthy so I can still train.

Even with all the downers and pain, I’m still persevering with the training, and I’m really excited about completing the challenge. I’m persevering because, even though it does hurt, I know that there are children and families out there who are going through a much bigger struggle. The thought of those families and children going through the unknown challenge of cancer on a daily basis makes my little cycle seem like a walk in the park and that’s what this is all about after all. The money we raise will be used by CALM to support the children and families they work with.

My side of the story.

So seeing as this is supposedly a joint effort, it has been suggested that I write a post for the blog. I’m no writer, and frankly I’m starting this out not really knowing what it is I want to write about, or frankly, what is even suitable to write about. I guess let’s start with why we haven’t posted for a little while…two words…..

  1. Welsh
  2. Weather

Continue reading

Training Status

Making preparations to move into a new job has decimated an already lacklustre training schedule for the past 2 months. However, with a new contract signed and things being moved into my ‘done’ box, I’m now in a slightly better position to get back into training.

Carla and I have started spin class, and last night I bought a turbo trainer. From now on, I’ll be training every morning for an hour before work and then taking spin classes after work as often as I am able.

We have 6 weeks to go, this isn’t going to be easy but it needs to be done. The real challenge now is trying to balance it with all of the research needed to start the new job.  With the new training , my schedule is looking pretty grim.

  • 05:00 => Wake up
  • 05:30 – 06:30 => 1 Hour High Intensity Turbo Trainer
  • –Breakfast–
  • 06:30 – 07:00 => Get to Work
  • 07:00 – 15:00 => Work
  • 15:00 – 15:30 => Head home
  • 15:30 – 17:30 => Study
  • –Dinner–
  • 18:30 – 19:30 => Spin class
  • 20:00 – 21:00 => Study
  • 22:00 – 05:00 => Bed

On a more positive note, after speaking  with an unbelievably helpful personal trainer at Planet Fitness (Luke Layman), we now have a much better understanding of the sort of training and dietary requirements that will help us through this.  I’ll go over what we learning in the next post.

As a final remark, we are now  the final leg of this journey and are in a pretty rough position.  If anyone has any advice or information for endurance cycling training,  with such a short time scale to work with, I’d be thrilled to hear from you.

We’re back in the saddle!

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After 5 weeks off for work reasons, we finally got back in the saddle and went for a ride!  Feeling knackered and disappointed about the average speed, but at least we did it.  Going to start riding twice a week to get into form ready for September, a longer ride on Friday and a short sprint for an hour or so mid week.  I figure that if we can hit an average of 8mph in the hills and valleys of South Wales, we should be able to hit a fairly comfortable 10mph on good roads, which is what we need.

Full route details here: http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/617571457

Our lessons on cycling nutrition

I’ve been seriously struggling with these cycles.  I seem to have to force myself to push the pedals around and every metre travelled is a drain and hard won victory.  My counter-part in this is Carla, who appears to casually whizz past without a care and hardly an effort.  I don’t understand it at all; I’m relatively fit and get overtaken by toddlers, while Carla gets most of her exercise from crocheting and painting [https://www.facebook.com/TheSageBird?fref=ts].

Carla seemed to believe that she gets her energy from eating.  It seems obvious now, but for a long time I just couldn’t grasp this; my body has plenty of fuel, just use my fat!  I couldn’t understand why my body was refusing to power itself using what it already had, why on earth do I need to pump it full of food in order to get it going?  Despite clinging to the belief that Carla was simply a natural, and I’m screwed, and life isn’t fair and I would better at something else, sooner or later I needed to face the facts and see what the hell was actually going on.

For the next ride, I had a good meal of pasta an hour or so before and set out again.  Now I was in business, although I seriously struggled at the end again, I was absolutely flying for the first part of the trip; passing mile markers in an instant, it felt great.  Maybe there is something to this fuel malarky.

I had a quick search and found a very interesting article on fuelling for sportives [http://easycycling.com/how-to-fuel-cycling-energy-for-a-sportive/], although I don’t have any scientific evidence to back up the claims, I figured that simply taking some advice from someone a little more seasoned couldn’t hurt.  The author posits that the body can’t use your existing fat stores because access to that store is “controlled by a small tap”.  This effectively means that although the store is large, you cannot readily access the amounts required quickly enough.  To counter this, you have a carb store that is readily accessible and accessed by a large tap.  The problem here being is that the store is quite small and requires regular filling.  

This started to make sense, so I picked up some high carb, low fat energy bars for our next trip [http://www.wiggle.co.uk/high5-energy-bars-25x60g/] and decided to stop, as the author suggested, every 20-30 minutes to have a quick bite.  

This was a complete revelation, I have no doubt that the regular stops contributed to both my efficacy and slow pace, but it also kept me going and engaged for the duration.  I had absolutely hated cycling up to this point; grafting for mile upon mile held no pleasure for me, but with a decent energy supply I was actually starting to enjoy the experience.  i once again started to seriously fail towards the end of the ride, but the author suggests that a greater intake of fuel past the 3h 30m marker may reduce this issue.  Peanut butter sandwiches on the next one!

I’m not completely converted, and still want to look into the science behind body fuelling (and specifically how our system work during prolonged exertion), but the evidence so far is strongly indicating that I was being a complete idiot.  A quick search has thrown up a potential recipe for making your own energy bars [http://www.globalcyclingnetwork.com/videos/sec-how-to/how-to-make-energy-bars-gcns-food-for-cycling/], so I’m going to give it a go.

It’s definitely worth reading the article, and doing your own research; there are some very interesting and thought provoking points made regarding this subject.  For the next ride, I’ll be taking plenty of energy bars and sandwiches, so will hopefully be imminently reporting success!

There is another article on the easycycling domain that concerns hydration, it too is worth a look. [http://easycycling.com/how-to-keep-hydrated-during-a-cyclosportive/]

Quick Update

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It’s a little delayed, but we did another ride recently.  I’ve got some footage but did not fall off my bike unfortunately so I wont be posting it.  The MapMyRide data is a little disheartening, we’re still not hitting the 10mph average we need in order to succeed in this trial.  I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that we’re training in the hilly valleys of Wales, or if we’re just not pushing hard enough.  I feel like we’re pushing, and always feel absolutely exhausted towards the end; perhaps my endurance has yet to arrive in the post.

http://www.mapmyride.com/workout/540675368