Hardknott

Hardknott is probably the only iconic climb in the Lake District that I haven’t climbed, so today I remedied that. I rarely cycle in the Lake District because I find the hills too steep, the descents too dangerous, it always seems to rain and the roads are just too busy. I find The Trough of Bowland or the Dales quieter and more pleasant.

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My first thoughts when seeing this was, who the hell builds a road up a cliff (The Romans).

I do like to complete challenges though, and Rapha have a Strava challenge running until the beginning of June which involves six tough climbs around the country, including Box Hill and Cheddar Gorge. Nearer to home it also includes Buttertubs, which I completed a few weeks ago, and Hardknott. Unfortunately there isn’t a great route out to Eskdale which is why I jumped on a train to Drigg. The line is also operated by Northern Rail who don’t allow the booking of bikes, so you have to take you chance that you’ll be allowed on.

I was allowed on with my bike to begin the two hour journey. The train stopped at every single station and seemed to be travelling not much more than walking speed at times. I’m not complaining too much as the views were spectacular as the train wound it’s way along the coast. Slightly annoying is the Kent viaduct at Arnside which should have a cycle/foot path on the bridge running next to the railway. This would provide an excellent short cut to Grange-Over-Sands and Ulverston, an area that I have not properly explored.

Once I was off the train in Drigg I waited a few moments for my Garmin to find the satellites, and then I was off. It was about 10 miles to the bottom of the climb, which can be seen from a few miles away. I stopped to take a photo and could just make out a few cars winding their way up the unbelievably steep road.

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The official start of the climb is next to the phone box and 30% sign, and it’s steep from the beginning. Plenty of people have described the climb already, but let’s just say it’s unique. Who in their right mind decided to build a road over it. (As I said earlier, it was first built by the Romans.)

Once I had struggled over the initial section I could see a couple of cyclists in the distance, walking with their bikes. In fairness they were on mountain bikes with panniers and in their position I would have been walking too. They became a target as I wanted to pass them before they reached the top. They gave me encouragement to keep going as I passed them, although my heart rate was too high to reply. I can’t imagine how tough the climb is during the Fred Whitton, when it comes after 100 miles. I was blowing out my arse and I’d only done 10.

I didn’t stop at the top but I didn’t go much faster as the road surface is terrible and there are numerous sharp bends. There was also a slow moving car in front of me and three motorbikes with sidecars about to start up. The rest of the ride home was fairly uneventful with a couple more hills and a heavy shower. There was also a nice tailwind for the last 20 miles, which was nice.

rapha

Obviously the first thing that I did when I got home was to upload the ride to Strava. With a week to go my rank on the Rapha challenge is 42nd out of almost 500, which I don’t think is too bad, although many of those below me will have done the segment during the Fred. My average heart rate for the segment was 158 bpm reaching a maximum of 181, yikes. I have wanted to climb Hardknott for a while, but I would have put it off without the incentive from both Strava and Rapha. Another reason why I love Strava.

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Fleet Moss Audax

Last Sunday I cycled out past Garstang for the Fleet Moss Audax. Not too far but with the 214 km of the Audax this would end up with me cycling 264 km for the day. My last long ride before my big race. For those of you not familiar with an Audax, imagine a sportive but one where you have to navigate yourself. You’re given a route card and a Brevet, which you will have to either get stamped at various check points or answer a question. This is to ensure that you do the full distance, although you can chose your own route in between each check point if you wish. Audax’s are much cheaper to enter than a sportive, only £5.50 for members of Audax UK. They are also not races, so you set your own pace. Indeed some Audax rides will have a maximum speed of 30 km/h and if you go faster then a checkpoint might not yet be open.routeThe profile for the Fleet Moss Audax. Lumpy is one word that could be used to describe it. Over 3000m of climbing.

I arrived in plenty of time, grabbed a coffee, checked my route card and waited for the off. Phil from Garstang cycling club was there, but he was going to be riding slower than me so that was the last I saw of him all day. At 7.30 am the 20-25 riders lined up for a photo before heading off.

We all headed off in one group, which soon split as we reached the first small climb of the day. I ended up riding with Allan and John, both from Ribchester riding their first Audax and as such they were expecting more people so that they wouldn’t get lost. Fortunately I knew most of the route and as an extra I had downloaded the TCX route file onto my Garmin, just in case. It wasn’t long before the three of us were over the Trough of Bowland and rolling towards Slaidburn. There was an info answer at 23 km that we missed, but we got our cards stamped at the cafe before heading up and over Cross of Greet into Bentham.

The route then went up Spout Lane, which John admitted he would have missed without me. The two others then set a quick pace on the main road towards Kirkby Lonsdale, leaving me behind. I wasn’t worried as I have found that the secret to surviving long rides is to go at your own pace, plus the others didn’t know where they were going. Past Devil’s Bridge we stopped in Barbon to write down the name of the pub before heading up Barbondale. The sun was shinning and the wind was behind us as we cycled through this fantastic valley. John and Allan had never cycled along here and were loving it. The sharp descent into Dent resulted in a blow out for John and after a quick change we stamped our cards at the cafe.

There aren’t any easy roads out of Dent although we were taking the slightly easier route by not going over the Coal Road. The long fast road into Hawes is always welcome, especially with a tailwind. We briefly stopped for another info point before making the decision not to stop until after Fleet Moss. The highest road in Yorkshire is a tough climb, but with a fierce head wind it was almost impossible. John made it look easy as he powered away from myself and Allan. The final section is the steepest but the view made it worthwhile.

moss

The last section of Fleet Moss is the hardest, but the views from the top are magnificent. You’ll have to take my word for it as I’m a rubbish photographer.

The descent down through Oughtershaw and Langstrothdale was fast but tricky in places with more than a few pot holes. John was taking it easy as he was worried about another blow out, but we re-grouped and he took the lead on the main road into Kettlewell, following the road that the Tour will take this summer.

Kettlewell was full of people as we stopped in a nice cafe, although £7 for beans on toast and a cup of tea seems expensive to me. As well left the village we bumped into another cyclist also doing the Audax, who was buying an ice-cream. He declined our offer to ride with us as he was waiting for others.

We took the quiet road that runs parallel to the road that the Tour will take and if the sun is out the helicopter shots on the TV will look amazing. From Grassington we headed towards Gargrave for another card stamp and some Kendal mint cake. John hadn’t expected to be out so long, so he headed off home rather than getting a lift with Allan, but still managed to get lost apparently. Allan and I then kept each other going with another quick stop in Waddington to re-fill water bottles followed by another stop outside of Chipping to rest my feet. On long rides I sometimes suffer from `hot foot’ and the only thing to do is take my shoes off and massage my feet for a few minutes. Allan knew the way back to the start but kindly waited for me as the last few miles were mainly downhill.

Before we knew it we were rounding the corner back to the village hall. We were the first ones back as we handed in our Brevet cards and helped ourselves to sandwiches and more coffee. Allan then offered me a lift back to Lancaster, even though it was the opposite direction to where he was going. I thanked him but declined.

The only downside was when I got home and tried to upload my Garmin to Strava, half of the ride was missing. I had downloaded a TCX route file which isn’t totally compatible with a Garmin 500. If you use a TCX file without any extras, for example, turning notices, then it will work with a 500, but the file I used had plenty of extras, hence why some of it was missing. Next time I’ll create my own route file as I hate not being able to see it on Strava (sad isn’t it).

I don’t know our exact finishing time as I haven’t got my card back yet, but it was a great day out. Ribble Valley cycling club put on a fantastic event and John and Allan were a pleasure to ride with. I will definitely be back next year, and if it sounds a bit long there were also two shorter rides on the same day that leave a little bit later.

BUCS sprint triathlon

I’m currently a student at Lancaster University, and as such I get to race at BUCS which is the acronym for sports for competing universities. This is the fourth and final time that I was representing Lancaster and it was also my 51st triathlon. I’m the one with the beard.

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The race was in Calne, Wiltshire, way down south. Fortunately one of the team lived in Bath and his parents were not only happy for use all to crash there for the night, but also to feed us. This also allowed us a more relaxed race morning as the first competitors were not off until 10 am, although the last wasn’t off until gone 3 pm. After a hearty breakfast we set off for the race, negotiating bridges too low for the minibus and van. Once everyone was registered the bikes were racked, numbers were pinned to race belts and general faffing could begin. It was the first triathlon for most of the club, although I can still faff with the best.

The race has grown amazingly over the last few years with over 500 entrants and involves a 750m swim, 25km bike and 5k run. As with most pool based triathlons the slowest swimmers were off first, although this isn’t done with the greatest efficiency. Each wave doesn’t begin until everyone from the previous wave has finished. As expected it was soon running behind schedule.

Soon the first competitors from Lancaster were out on the bike, and with the start times spread out there was always someone cheering. Before I knew it, it was time for me to set off. Swimming is my slowest discipline, but I also take it easy and don’t go off too fast. There were five of us in my lane, with 10 seconds gap between each of us starting. Within two lengths I felt a tap on my feet as the guy behind me had set off way too fast. I let him overtake, but at the end of the swim we climbed out of the pool at the same time. The next time that I saw him was when I had less than a km of the run to go and he had only done one km. For me the race starts when I finish the swim.

The bike course was flat and fast, involving heading out, a small loop and then back the same way. There was one small climb, but compared to Lancashire it was nothing more than a pimple. I soon overtook nearly everyone from my wave and finished with a 41 minute bike split. A little slower than last year but I’ve been doing long distance training all year. After a slow transition (I don’t have tri shoes at the moment) it was out on the run.

The run was an out and back affair, although this year the route had been measured correctly and was exactly 5km. It was long last year. Within a km there was three of us running together at a good pace, although two of us opened a gap on the other. At the turn around point I didn’t take on any water, but the other two did. I knew then that I would beat them both knowing that drinking would slow then both down. My run split was 18 minutes, which I was very pleased with, and both of the guys that I had started running with finished within 30 seconds of me.

My overall time was 1 hour 16 minutes, slightly faster than last year, but with a shorter run. I then relaxed and cheered on everyone else, fuelled by coffee and cake.

Once everyone had finished I was surprised to find that I was the quickest from Lancaster University, although I would expect many of them to improve vastly over the next year. After a group photo (see top) it was back on the bus for the long journey back up north, made worse by animals on the M6, delaying our return until after midnight.

During my years at Lancaster University I have been very proud of the triathlon club and will miss them all. I also wish them the best of luck in the future.