London-Edinburgh-London- part 5 to the finish line

Start my LEL journey with part 1 here

At Louth I spoke to one of the staff and she told me about Shermer’s Neck, something that many long distance cyclists have suffered. Shermer’s Neck is a condition where the neck muscles fail from fatigue and can no longer support the head. She told me another rider had already been through with an inner tube threaded through his helmet and under his arms to support his neck. I kind of laughed, in a nervous way, my neck didn’t seem as bad as this. I had done one descent and not been able to lift my head but after this, I was able to ride and support myself, I couldn’t imagine my condition deteriorating this way, to need to do something this drastic but I was completely niave. It is not a gradual ailment, after first feeling the symptoms, the neck will usually give out within two hours. I googled Shermer’s Neck, it was probably the worst thing I could’ve done at the time. Images flashed up on my phone of some very strange, homemade head braces, they freaked me out. I was still 250km from the finish line, a very long ride by itself but given what I’d already achieved it felt like nothing and I wanted to keep moving. We had a break at Louth and David and I discussed the options, the next goal would be Spalding. We knew we had some climbing out of Louth but the roads would start to flatten out and this could help my condition. The woman I spoke to was very well informed and also suggested we tip up my handlebars so I could ride in a more upright position, it would offer my neck some relief but for now, this seemed unnecessary.

Continue reading “London-Edinburgh-London- part 5 to the finish line”

London-Edinburgh-London part 3 – I cycled 700km to Edinburgh for dinner

Day 3 Alston – Brampton (South)

Distance covered: 337.90km

Ascent: 2630m

Moving time: 15:35:53

Stopped time: 08:13:01

Average speed: 21.7kmph

IMG_4998
There are some photo opportunities worthy of a stop and crossing over into Scotland was a huge moment with the proudest of smiles


The weather was now really awful, torrential downpours and headwind but it didn’t seem to fracture our spirit, today we were an unstoppable machine. I hated myself for entering this ride yesterday but today I had found my love of cycling again, I was full of enthusiasm and we were on the way to Edinburgh. We were laughing, we were having a really good time, I was calling out to other riders “we’re on the way to Edinburgh” and we urged them on, some jumped on the back of our train but most didn’t stay there for very long. David and I were riding really well together taking turns on the front, charging past other riders and riding with renewed strength and vigor.

Continue reading “London-Edinburgh-London part 3 – I cycled 700km to Edinburgh for dinner”

London-Edinburgh-London part 4 – I think we’ve gone the wrong way

I arrived at Barnard Castle and I met the physio, he’d traveled from Italy to offer his services as a volunteer to the riders. He gave me a pot of cream, it was down to the last dregs, so many other riders had been before me. He told me to rub the cream all over my knee, it would bring down the swelling and he continued to treat another rider. After this, he would tape my knee and this was my best hope for getting back to Loughton. I was full of ambition, hope, happiness, and strong will. I had made it over Yad Moss in really bad weather to get to him and now I had a chance to keep moving further. 

Continue reading “London-Edinburgh-London part 4 – I think we’ve gone the wrong way”

The journey of cycling

When I finished the Prudential Ride London event last August I wasn’t sure I could do it again. The event clashed with the tail end of hurricane Bertha, heavy rain and strong winds were forecast but it wasn’t the weather that put me off.

I’ve taken part in the event in 2013 and 2014 and I thought I should give everyone a rest for 2015. The event means quite a lot to me, I got back on my bike to train for the inaugural event in 2013 when Savannah was just a few weeks old. I’d gone from fearing the broom wagon to confidence that got me across the finish line in 5hrs 27mins. I hadn’t ridden a century before this day, my longest distance ever on my bike before this was 74 miles. Last year I chose to ride again for Bliss, the official event charity for 2014. Bliss cares for babies born too soon, too sick and too small. My Mum lost a baby, my sister was still born so I wanted to support this amazing charity and help them continue their great work. After my daughter Savannah was born and I was ready to get back on my bike my Mum drove me around the local roads, helped me plot out routes and showed me where the good hills were. I grew up in the area but I’d lived away for 20 years so I needed a refresher. My Mum actively encouraged me to start riding again and has been my biggest supporter and helper to keep riding and even more so now I’m a single parent.

The summer of 2014 had been busy at work but somehow I’d managed to squeeze in my training time and I was enjoying increased fitness with my new bike. I get up before work and ride in the early morning, it’s a really special time to be out and I think seeing the sunrise is a great way to start the day. I was away for an extended period in Glasgow working at the Commonwealth Games so I hired a bike and managed to get some miles in there too but when I crossed the finish line in 2014 I was empty.

In April as my training was building up and my fundraising for Bliss started to grow my friend and Savannah’s godmother also lost her baby, she was 38 weeks pregnant, in touching distance of holding her baby for the first time. Fiona was at her final midwife check and they couldn’t find a heartbeat, Fiona and Oli’s baby had died. After receiving the terrible news Fiona had to spend the next few days carrying her baby inside her, knowing he wasn’t alive, she was advised it was safer to give birth naturally.

I was in Malta, working when I heard the news, I was boarding a plane to come home and I cried all the way home. I cried for Fiona and Oli and I cried for Sienna their daughter. I remember being that little girl, losing a sibling and not understanding or knowing what was happening around me.

Some weeks after Fiona and Oli announced their tragic news they announced their plans for Sebastian’s Hero’s. They’d selected 99 people, chosen people that had reached out to offer comfort and support in their time of need. Those 99 people were asked to each raise £99 for a charity and also do a good deed. I’d been selected as one of Sebastian’s Hero’s so I chose to add Sebastian’s name to my Ride 100 jersey and ride in his honor.

As I rode through the torrential rain last August all I could think about was Fiona and her amazing strength and bravery. The weather that day was horrendous, it was so bad the organisers took the hills out of the course and shortened the distance to 86 miles from 100 miles. I’ve ridden in bad weather, my ride in Yorkshire just a couple months previous was quite a similar day but I’d never ridden in bad weather at the speed I rode that day, my average at the end of the event was just over 20mph. What kept me going (when it felt like someone was throwing a bucket of water in my face for 4hrs) was Fiona. She has experienced something so devastating it’s beyond my own words to even try and describe. As the rain came down there were  sections where I added to it with my own tears. Everyone had such high hopes for me; they had expectations that I would ride a good time but all I could think about was Fiona and the pain she’s been through. They’ve had all the checks done, a postmortem and nothing could be found it was simply one of life’s mysteries.

So a few weeks ago one of those Congratulations you’re in magazines dropped through my letterbox. The event is brilliant, it’s so well organised, raises millions for charities and offers cyclists a magical experience of riding on closed roads with thousands of spectators cheering you along. I filled out that ballot form again and I’ve been lucky enough to be selected. Fiona and Oli have built a wonderful legacy for their little boy and it was an honor to be part of that. Sebastian never managed to breath life on this earth but he has left a very long, lasting impression thanks to his amazing parents and their incredible courage. In 2015 I will carry his spirit with me once again as I set off on this cycling adventure.

This video was created to commemorate the activities of Sebastian’s Hero’s

Fiona was brave enough to share her story with a national newspaper to help raise awareness of still births. Every bit of money raised for Sebastian’s Heroes has gone to supporting families having to endure similar tragedies and to the research into stillbirth and the prevention of it happening to others families.  You can read her story here:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2776740/I-nine-months-pregnant-baby-lost-heartbeat-Brave-mother-opens-late-stage-stillbirth-dealt-traumatic-aftermath.html

Fiona, Sienna and Savannah chilling by the river
Fiona, Sienna and Savannah chilling by the river

Checking out the start line for the 2014 Ride 100
Checking out the start line for the 2014 Ride 100

With a 04:00 alarm call I didn't get much sleep, can you tell? Prudential Ride 100 2014
With a 04:00 alarm call I didn’t get much sleep, can you tell? Prudential Ride 100 2014

At the start - Prudential Ride 100 2014 - meeting up with another Bliss rider
At the start – Prudential Ride 100 2014 – meeting up with another Bliss rider

At the start - Prudential Ride 100 2014 - before the rain came
At the start – Prudential Ride 100 2014 – before the rain came

Prudential Ride 100 2014 in the crazy weather
Prudential Ride 100 2014 in the crazy weather

Going for it - Prudential Ride 100 2014
Going for it – Prudential Ride 100 2014

I'd hit 1 pot hole too many, with just 9 miles to go I got a front puncture and this photographer captured the moment
I’d hit 1 pot hole too many, with just 9 miles to go I got a front puncture and this photographer captured the moment

Pulling off to the side with a sad face, my sub 4hrs mission is over
Pulling off to the side with a sad face, my sub 4hrs mission is over

We really did ride through rivers - Prudential Ride 100 2014
We really did ride through rivers – Prudential Ride 100 2014

Crossing the finish line
Crossing the finish line

My iPhone didn't recover but I did
My iPhone didn’t recover but I did

Celebrating Mummy's success Prudential Ride 100 2014
Celebrating Mummy’s success Prudential Ride 100 2014

My Mum and sisters very proud of me
My Mum and sisters very proud of me

The finisher certificate - Prudential Ride 100 2014
The finisher certificate – Prudential Ride 100 2014

The bonus of riding in a club

I was out riding with my club a few days ago, it was a beautiful Sunday morning. The sun was up in the sky, the temperature was about 16’. We were rolling through some beautiful country lanes at an average speed of 18mph. It was classic Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire countryside and just perfect for cycling. I felt an amazing feeling that day, it’s really good to ride with a club. I was riding roads close to home that I hadn’t ridden before and they took me to a lovely stop off for tea and cake Church Farm Ardeley

 

My club, Ampthill Velo Club meets up every Sunday at 08:00 in our town square, when the clocks change this moves back to 08:30 to allow for the darker mornings. AVC is unaffiliated, it’s a Sunday social ride. The group is all male except me and we ride 60 miles at an average speed of 17/18mph sometimes a bit faster depending on who’s on the front. Our group has some really strong riders and I credit my ability, my strength, power and endurance to riding with this group.

 

Sadly I haven’t been able to make as many Sunday rides this year as last. My work took me abroad a lot in the early winter months so I lost fitness and I wasn’t fast enough to ride with them through spring. However I have been able to keep involved with the club via a club challenge, the AVC Grand Tour (GT). The GT uses a well known app that’s free to download but also has a premium service Strava. If you haven’t discovered it yet I would encourage you to give it a try. If you have a competitive streak (like me) be warned you may find it addictive.
 
One of the club members conceived the GT, Martin and it’s all credit to him that we go out whatever the weather and ride as hard as we can to compete against each other for points. Being the only girl I compete against the boys, there’s no ladies competition, there wouldn’t be much point. The AVC GT is a competition of stages and bonuses. Each stage is a segment on Strava, a segment is a section of road that’s been mapped out by Martin that we must learn and ride. As we pass through the segment GPS tracks us, records our time, and puts us in to a leader board based on who’s ridden the segment the fastest. When we upload our ride (either using a Garmin or via the phone app) it lets Martin know we’ve riden the segment and the time we rode it in. On paper it’s a simple yet genius idea, it’s using modern technology in an brilliant way. It allows a very small, social club like AVC to have a timed, competition, riders can go out and ride the stages at their own convenience. Not knowing who is going to go out and ride next just adds to the dynamic of it all. Segments are live for approximately 2 – 3 weeks, sometimes more, sometimes less and they range from short sprints to long, lung busters of up to 9 miles with a bit of everything thrown in hills, fast flats etc. AVC has it’s own club on Strava so Martin can sort the leader by AVC so if another cyclist passes through the segment they can be excluded from the competition. However as with all Strava segments there’s always the hope that you’ll grab the King of the Mountain (KOM) or Queen of the Mountain (QOM) which is the No1 position overall on the leaderboard for that segment.

 

Martin has spent hours going out riding and creating segments, discovering, reccing, and building the competition for us all to have something to focus on when we ride solo. The GT takes us to local places we might not normally venture out to and some of the segments are quite complicated, riders have been known to go out and recce routes in their car or on their bike beforehand to learn the route. It’s become fairly serious.

 

As well as the weekly stages Martin releases opportunities to win bonus points. It was my quest for some bonus points that was a real moment in my cycling year. It was late on Saturday night and I realised that no one had done the Stelvio challenge. The Stelvio was part of the Monster hill climbing bonus challenge. The idea for this challenge was born out of Everesting. This challenge aimed to honour the highest mountain passes in the 3 Grand Tours. The first Grand Tour of the season was the Giro d’Italia so we had to equal the height gain of the Passo dello Stelvio 1808m/5931ft. We had to confirm in advance, with Martin what hill we planned to tackle, where we’d do our reps and agree the number of reps then it was up to us to go for it. I sent Martin an email hoping he’d get it in time. I was completely set in my mind I was going to do a stealth manoeuvre the next morning and go for the Stelvio. I picked Hexton, it was a hill I’d climbed many times before. It was steep enough maxing out at 8% and almost a mile long. The elevation gain required 25 reps from me but I had to keep a check on my Garmin elevation too as I didn’t want to do all that work and get disqualified for falling short of elevation gain. Luckily Martin replied, we agreed 25 reps of Hexton, he wished me luck and I tried to get some sleep with a head filled of nerves about what I’d taken on.
 
I set off the next day on my bike from home, it’s a few miles ride there and I figured I could do with the warm up. The weather was almost perfect, it was warm and the sun looked like it would make an appearance with a light wind. I let my family know my plans for the day and they said they would come later and cheer me on. After I’d completed 8 reps I got in to a good rhythm and knew I could do this, it was merely a matter of keeping my head straight as my legs were feeling strong but my brain was becoming completely twisted with each rep. I lost count on several occasions and had to start a tally chart with pen and paper. The repetition was surprisingly confusing, I started to think about what it would be like to attempt an everest, the number of reps would be over 100. Hexton is a busy hill with cyclists on mosts days, we don’t have many big hills in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire so anyone that likes hills will ride here as it’s one of our longer ones. It was a real boost meeting and talking to other cyclists and letting them know what I was doing. They all thought I was completely mad but they all gave me so much support and encouragement. They would ride a rep with me and really cheer me on then say their farewells at the top as I would turn around for another descent. I preferred the climbs as the challenge went on, the descents became quite unsettling, my brain was so fragile from the repetitions and hammering down the hill.

 

My family arrived as I was about half way through. My daughter was all big smiles and was only speaking a few words at this time but she was able to say “come on Mummy” and it spurred me on so much. I started taking a couple of minutes break between reps at this point, fuelling up regularly and taking on board a lot of fluids. The temperature was well in to the mid 20’s by now and my mind was completely scrambled but I was totally focused on completing the task. My family stayed for around an hour and after they left I felt quite low but I had 6 or 7 reps to go so I had to keep my motivation up and keep going. The passing cyclists were few and far between now as the day was almost over but every so often one would come along and I’d share my story and it would lift my spirits so high and get me to the top of that hill and keep me going for at least another rep.

 

What spurred me on to keep going that day was knowing that I would surprise the other club riders, the only person that knew I was doing the challenge was Martin. I’d tried to send him a couple of updates but Hexton is quite remote so the lack of signal stopped the texts and emails getting through. The rest of the club had no idea what I was doing. As I rode that last rep the excitement lifted my body up that hill like it was the first rep, I’d done it. I’d pushed myself up and down that hill 25 times. Every time I ride up Hexton now it surprises me that I rode up and down there 25 times but on that day I was in the zone, I was completely focused and I was fixed on completing that challenge.

 

The GT has pushed my cycling efforts on a number of occasions this summer. For 5 bonus points I pinned on a number and took part in my first TT. For 6 bonus points I rode across 5 counties Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Buckinghamshire totalling an epic 106 miles and on the last day of the GT I completed the yummy 4 cake challenge on a wet and wild day. Riding 66.9 miles and stopping at 4 nominated cafes for a slice of cake in each for another 5 points.

 

The route profile from Strava
The route profile from Strava

Setting off on the ascent of Hexton
Setting off on the ascent of Hexton

One of many descents
One of many descents

Counting reps
Counting reps

My rep tally chart
My rep tally chart

Off for another rep
Off for another rep

Almost there
Almost there

Monster Hill Climb rules
Monster Hill Climb rules

The introduction to the GT road book, written by Martin
The introduction to the GT road book, written by Martin

The GT stages, conceptualised by Martin and designed to get us out riding whatever the weather
The GT stages, conceptualised by Martin and designed to get us out riding whatever the weather

Some of the segments, all using Strava that is free for riders to use and gives our small club the opportunity to run this competition
Some of the segments, all using Strava. It’s free for riders to use and gives our small club the opportunity to run this competition

Essex! The GT 5 counties challenge
Essex! The GT 5 counties challenge

 

Lunch stop on the GT 5 Counties challenge
Lunch stop on the GT 5 Counties challenge

Buckinghamshire....the end of our GT 5 Counties challenge
Buckinghamshire….the end of our GT 5 Counties challenge

 

Cake 1 at Emily's in Whitwell on the GT 4 cake challenge
Cake 1 at Emily’s in Whitwell on the GT 4 cake challenge

 

Cake stop 2 - The Hub in Redborne
Cake stop 2 – The Hub in Redborne

 

 

Cake stop 3 - Dunstable Downs visitors centre
Cake stop 3 – Dunstable Downs visitors centre

 

The 4th and final cake and a pint to toast the end of the GT
The 4th and final cake and a pint to toast the end of the GT

Link to my My Strava ride 

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