Me and Tim

In light of Tim Don’s amazing recent performance at Ironman Brazil, finishing in 7 hours and 40 mins, I thought I’d share a couple of memories from when I raced against him. (When I say ‘raced against him’ I mean that I was in the same race and wasn’t for a moment ‘racing’ Tim).

timdon

Back in 1999 I was living in Bournemouth, and during the summer there were a few open water swim aquathons, one of which a young Tim Don took part in. I would like to say I raced against him, but from the moment the race started he was gone.

20170529_152748.jpg

The race was approximately 500m swim followed by a hilly 5k run. I remember being happy with my run and not happy with my swim, although some of that was trying to remove my wetsuit.

A few years later I decided to have a go at qualifying for the age group world championships (Olympic distance) that were going to be held in Queenstown, New Zealand. The first qualifying race of the season was in Windsor, and I lined up with a few friends from the Oxford Tri Club, who also wanted to qualify. I can’t remember too much about the race, except that it felt good, as I finished 63rd overall, out of a field in excess of 1000, in a time of 2hours and 10 mins.

IMG

Tri-suits were a bit shorter in the leg back then and you didn’t get a time penalty for undoing your zip. I was also under the misguided impression that if I shaved off my beard I would go faster.

What about Tim? He was racing in the elite wave that day, and technically I beat him, as he was DQ’d, along with almost all of the elites. The leading swimmer turned at the wrong buoy and most of the elites followed. Three elites who were slower swimmers turned a bit further down the river at the correct buoy, giving the referee no option but to DQ the majority of the field.

Despite my quick time it wasn’t enough for me to qualify, although I did go in the end, as I was third reserve and three others pulled out. Tim, on the other hand, failed to qualify, although he had by that time raced in the Olympics, and would go on to race in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics as well.

Back to Ironman Brazil, and I struggle to comprehend just how fast Tim completed each discipline. 44 mins for the swim, 4hours and 6 min for the bike and 2 hr 44 for the marathon. Not many people could do any one of those events in the time, so my hat is well and truly doffed to Mr Don, and all the best in Kona at the end of the season.

Advertisements

Lanarkshire to Lancashire

February last year I completed 200 Strava challenges by doing a 200km ride (Strava activity here). So when it came round to 300 challenges I thought about doing something similar, although I wanted the ride to be a bit more memorable. I therefore decided to look at taking a train somewhere, and them cycling back. Glasgow was about the right distance, and I had never cycled half of the route, which made it an ideal choice.

I kept a close eye on the weather, and it looked like Friday would be best, so I booked myself and my bike onto the first train of the day. I also decided to start my ride in Motherwell so that I wouldn’t have to negotiate Glasgow at rush hour. The photo below was taken a few minutes before 6am at Lancaster station, with my pink Principia, loaded with extra food and lights, just in case.

20170519_055135

The staff on the train were friendly and I had a very nice cup of good coffee as I watched the changing landscape. The train manager was having a rough morning as there was a man without a ticket, and no way of buying one, who was refusing to get off the train. Transport police were due to meet him in Glasgow.

Getting off in Motherwell I was glad that I had created a route for my Garmin, as I would have got well and truly lost, but less than 10 miles later and I was on the correct road south. Another reason for cycling home from near Glasgow is that there is a road running parallel to the motorway all the way to Carlisle, making it fairly easy to navigate.

First stop of the day was at Abington after 50km, just for a few minutes, before continuing on to Lockerbie for my second stop at 100km.

20170519_100401

I was also lucky with the weather, as there was a small tailwind, although this did change later in the day. A few miles past Lockerbie there was the town of Ecclefechan. I had to stop for a photo, and I have absolutely no idea how to pronounce it.

20170519_121608

I was nearing the end of my Scottish leg, and onto roads I’d cycled previously. I had also created a route for my Garmin to take me through Carlisle. It is one of those cities that I’m sure there are easy ways to get through on a bike, but this is the fifth time I’ve been there and it doesn’t get any easier, much like trying to cycle through Preston or Hull.

I saw a few other cyclists on the route towards England, many of them fully loaded with panniers, who could well have been doing Lands End to John O’Groats. I used the Flyby function on Strava and saw that one cyclist had done 155 miles from Penrith to Glasgow, almost my exact route but in the other direction.

Once through Carlisle I stopped to refill my water bottles in Dalston and eat more flapjack (made by my lovely wife). Out of Penrith and I once again used a route I had plotted in my Garmin so that I could avoid the A6. Unfortunately my Garmin froze, so I restarted it and saved my ride up to that point. The last time my Garmin had done this I lost everything after that point, so I wasn’t risking losing 70 odd miles. As they say, if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.

The route from Penrith to Shap was where myself and Helen had intended to go on our Easter mini adventure (read about it here), although it was quite a bit lumpier than the A6. This was the first time on the ride that I had had to use my small chainring, as all of the hills in Scotland had been very gentle. The wind had also picked up and was definitely not a tailwind anymore.

I stopped once again in Shap as my total so far was 202km. One fairly bland Costa’s coffee and a very poor Ginsters sausage roll didn’t make me want to linger in the village for too long (sorry Shap).

20170519_162103

The last time I had cycled south from Shap was in terrible weather, so I opted to detour through Orton and Tebay, although the climb out of Tebay is a real killer. I also passed a geological feature that I visited on a field trip as a second year undergraduate, ten years ago. As far as I’m concerned, Geology doesn’t rock!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Up in the Howgills, and the micro climate decided that it was time to rain, and rain hard for half an hour. I made the decision that if it didn’t stop raining I would take the direct route home and not worry about completing 300km. Fortunately it soon stopped as I made my way to Kirkby Lonsdale and a slightly longer route to Morecambe to add a few extra miles.

On the cycle path from Morecambe to Lancaster I was still short, so I completed a few laps of the cycle track at Salt Ayre and then made my way home just as it was getting dark. My full route can be seen below, along with the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty I passed in England. Scotland doesn’t have any designated AONB’s, because the whole country is one.

300km

Total distance cycled was 300.3km with over 2500m of climbing, which took me about 12 and a half hours, including stops (Strava activities here and here). The bike I rode was my old aluminium Principia from 2000 with 9 speed dura-ace group set, which is still by far the nicest and fastest bike I’ve ever ridden (read about it here).

Helen, my beautiful wife, was waiting for me with pizza, beer and a hot bath. She also said how good I looked compared to when I was doing these sort of crazy distances last year, when I was training for a triple ironman (really should blog about that soon).

Overall it was a great day and a great way to tick off my 300th Strava challenge. At the rate at which I’m completing these challenges it will probably only be a year before I reach 400, and I might have already started looking at 400km routes. Edinburgh via Durham to Lancaster. Who’s with me?

 

300 Strava Challenges

I can’t believe that I’ve completed 300 Strava Challenges. Some of my Strava friends don’t bother with them, while others complete them every now and again. Me, on the other hand, got a bit obsessed with them.

Even when I joined Strava five years ago I was never too fussed about KOM’s or segment hunting. Back then, there wasn’t as many challenges, often only one a month, and they could be a serious challenge. Gradually more and more appeared, sometimes eight in a single month. Not all of them are posted on the Strava challenges page. The website here lists all challenges, although many of them are segment challenges in far off countries.

As I am a triathlete, I can manage both running and cycling challenges, and for an eight period from Dec 15 to July 16 I completed every single challenge, running and cycling, distance and climbing. The last year I’ve not completed as many due to a running injury, but most months I’ve managed the easier running challenges.

Back in Jan 15 I set up a Strava group, only for those athletes who had completed 100 challenges (find it here). We only have five members, so join up if you can.

In Feb last year I celebrated completing 200 challenges by riding 200km (Strava activity here), hence why yesterday I rode 300km to tick off 300 challenges (Strava activities here and here). I’ve set a trend, and while I might manage 400, I think 500 is beyond me.

To finish off my ramble, here are some answers to the more obvious questions.

First challenge:

Rapha Rising Jul 2012

Last challenge:

Gran Fondo May 2017

Toughest challenges:

CTS Bucket List Aug 2012, where the challenge was to ride 683 miles in 7 days. The Alpen-Traun in a day Aug 2014, where you had to complete a ride of 252km (strava activity here). It took me two attempts, as I only managed 245km a week earlier.

Easiest challenge:

What I find easy could well be a significant challenge for someone else, and what I find to be hard could be a walk in the park for someone else.

Memorable challenge:

Quarq Power Trip Feb 2013. The challenge was to complete a 100 mile ride, but there was only a three day window, and it snowed (strava activity here). Another memorable challenge was the Strade Bianche challenge from Feb 2016, as this was my 200th challenge (strava activity here). I emailed Strava and they sent me a T-shirt, water bottle, plastic phone wallet and a truckers cap.

Annoying challenge:

In June 14 I completed a double ironman, but my support crew managed to take my Garmin cable with them, and by the time I got it back I had missed the window to upload my 52 mile run, thereby not completing a challenge.

Favourite challenge:

I like cycling time based challenges. These level the playing field so it doesn’t matter how fast you are. It also doesn’t matter if you do hills, go off road or touring.

Challenges that could be better organised:

I don’t like to criticise Strava, but sometimes the challenges don’t appear to have been thought out thoroughly. For example, earlier in the month I ran a 10k, ticking off three 10k challenges that were all on at the same time. Next month the 10th Rider challenge requires you to complete a 100km ride, which is generally what the Gran Fondo challenges require. Why not have a different time period, or make it a slightly different distance.

Has anyone completed more challenges than me:

I don’t know, but if you do know of anyone, send them over to me.

Finally, here’s to the next bunch of challenges and hopefully I’ll still be here when I reach 400, 500, 600 or more.

 

 

Wigan Train Station… again

I’ve blogged about Wigan Train Station in the past where I mentioned about the new code and security for the cycle store (read about it here). This morning I saw a notice taped to a couple of bikes.

20170424_173130

This is good, as it can be really frustrating not being able to park your bike because there are bikes that have been dumped and never move from one week to the next. If you’ve ever lived in Oxford or Cambridge you’ll understand how many bikes are abandoned, so it’s good that Wigan Station are doing something positive.

20170424_173125

The bikes in question are old and cheap and they could have been used as an excuse to be in the bike store, pretending to unlock a bike, but in reality eyeing up other bikes.

Next on the agenda must be to stop people parking in the short stay disabled spaces.

The Fleetwood Ferry

Helen’s Mum lives in Fleetwood, which isn’t too far from Lancaster, but it’s only 21 miles if you take the ferry across the River Wyre. The ferry only takes 5 minutes and cuts out about 12 miles, some of which is on busy roads, so all in all it makes the journey more fun and enjoyable. Below is a photo of the Ferry arriving in Knott End, along with some side beard.

IMG_0883

The prices have recently gone up, so it now costs £2 per passenger, plus 50p for your bike. Well worth it I say, and a vital link between the two towns if you don’t own a car, as the bus takes hours.

The Ferry has been running for over 175 years and is part of Lancashire’s heritage. Unfortunately, due to the savage cuts to local authorities in the last seven years, the Council can no longer afford to run it. Arrangements had been in place for the Council to fund it for another four years, but this has recently fallen through, and the ferry is up for tender from private operators. Inevitably this will mean more price increases.

The cuts to local authorities has meant the closing of libraries and museums as well as dozens of services being paired back to the bone. None of these cuts are necessary, and I’m not the right person to blog about politics, but I worry about the state of our country if we have another five years of Tory rule.

Once we reached Fleetwood we only had a mile to cycle to get to Helen’s Mum’s house, and lunch, sitting in the sun in the garden. We then headed back to the ferry. The journey back across took slightly longer, as the tide had come in.

IMG_0891

Back in Knott End and it was a tailwind all the way home, only spoiled by some very poor driving.

If you’re in the area, make a point of using the Ferry, as it could do with our help, and once it’s gone I fear that it will be gone forever.

The Bay Cycleway

I like Sustrans routes, even if they do take you around the houses sometimes. A couple of years ago Sustrans made a big fuss about the new Bay Cycleway, which starts (or finishes) in Barrow and finishes (or starts) at Glasson Dock, taking you on a picturesque tour of Morecambe Bay. All you need to do is follow route 700.

20170506_173535

Myself and Helen had decided some time ago that as soon as she got her new touring bike we would make a day of it. So last Saturday we bought train tickets from Lancaster to Barrow and cycled to the station for the 9am train. This is the first problem with the route, most of the trains are run by Northern, who don’t take bookings for bikes. The train pulled in and it only had two carriages and five of us with bikes trying to get on. We were too slow and couldn’t get on.

Plan B: We would cycle to Carnforth and get on the next train, instead of waiting in Lancaster. This train when it arrived was five carriages and had plenty of room, although there was already two other bikes on board. We chatted to the other cyclists, who were off to Whitehaven to do the coast to coast. They had to change trains at Barrow and were slightly worried as they also hadn’t been able to book their bikes. I hope they got there. Helen has since emailed our local MP about the poor service for cyclists on trains run by Northern.

The train journey to Barrow is full of interesting views, as I described in a blog from a few years ago (read it here). Once again I mused over the lack of a cyclepath across the bay at Arnside. One day it will be built.

Once in Barrow we headed towards the start, but as we were an hour behind schedule, we opted to miss out section to Walney Island and join the route as soon as we found it. You can see our route below. As you can see we also missed out the loop through Arnside and Silverdale as well as the loop to Morecambe. We also stopped in Lancaster rather than go all the way to Glasson Dock.

bay

Out of the train station in Barrow the roads were busy with Saturday traffic and the cycle paths would suddenly stop and then re-appear later. We then almost missed a vital turn that took us down Cavendish Dock Road. There didn’t appear to be any sign posts at all. Fortunately I had created a route for my Garmin which let me know where we should go. This section was brilliant on traffic free cycle paths and views out to Roa Island and The Bay.

IMG_0835

There were also a few narrow barriers that could be a problem if you had wide bars.

IMG_0838

Once beyond the traffic free section the route follows the coast before looping inland towards Ulverston, where you can see the hills of the Lake District in the background.

IMG_0839

Here we made the decision to miss out the loop to Bardsea. Our pooch, Nelly, had been left at home so we didn’t want to be out too long, especially as we were running late. Ulverston was even busier than Barrow and once again it wasn’t totally clear which direction the route went, but we spotted a 700 sign and climbed out of the town, tipping our hats to the late great Stan Laurel, who was born there.

I had warned Helen about the climb out of Ulverston and it didn’t disappoint as it seemed to go for ages, with a couple of fun twisty descents before a last very steep section. It was then downhill all the way to the footbridge and dirt track that we would take to miss out the A590. My beard doesn’t do justice to how windy it was.

IMG_0843

We had been warned about the rough section although you might want to take it easy if you’re on 23mm tires. Once we re-joined the road the route took us up Bigland Hill and over to Cartmel. This is a real monster of a hill, often overlooked because of all the other monster climbs in the Lake District. Cartmel was full of posh people in large cars who had been to a wedding and didn’t want to share the road with a pair of cyclists, so we pushed on, missing out the loop to Cark and Flookburgh. Mid week Cartmel is much nicer, and the sticky toffee puddings are world famous, which you can read about here.

We then found a nice cafe in Grange, had sausage butties and a coffee, before heading back to Lancaster. As I said earlier, we didn’t do the loop through Arnside as we had done this many times before, so we turned off through the deer park to Betham and onto Warton. From Carnforth we took the shortest route home along the A6, which for us was the worst part of the whole route, and is why the official route directs you onto the canal and along the sea front at Morecambe. With a bit more time we do intend to go back and do the whole route.

If you are thinking of doing the Bay Cycleway, here are my top tips.

  • Have a plan B in case you can’t get on the train. TransPennine Trains do take bookings for bikes and they run the odd train here and there to Barrow.
  • It’s very easy to lose the route in Barrow and Ulverston, so either make sure you have the Sustrans map or download the route to your Garmin (other GPS devices are avalaible).
  • Bigland Hill can be missed as the B5278 isn’t too busy. I would also recommend missing out Crag Road to Warton, unless you want to complete the whole route, or love unnecessary climbs.
  • The cycle path from Aldcliffe to Glasson Dock can get really muddy if it’s been raining.

The full route is 81 miles and can be done in one day, although there are a few hills. Overall the Bay Cycleway is a fine additional to the local and national cycle routes and I would definitely recommend it.

Denny Beck Lane

There is a very pleasant 10km route that I sometimes like to run. From our house, along the canal to the River Lune, along the cyclepath, up Denny Beck Lane, over the A683, up Grimshaw Lane, past the prison and into the park to let Nelly off the lead for a lap before heading home. You can see my route in green below.

Lancs

Unfortunately, there has always been one issue with this route, namely Denny Beck Lane. Once again the green dots are my track points, recorded every second.

lancs2

This small winding road has for years been used as a rat run to get to the M6 without going through the centre of Lancaster. There are no pavements on this road, so it has always been a bit dangerous to run, especially with Nelly. The bridge over the River Lune is also very narrow, but it does have large metal bollards to keep pedestrians and cyclists marginally safe from vehicles.

20170311_075858

A couple of years ago I suggested to the Council that they should close this bridge to vehicles. I didn’t receive a reply.

Today though, I didn’t pass a single car as I ran up Denny Beck Lane. Why is that, you might ask?

Well, this is because of the new Bay Expressway, which has an entry road in Halton, meaning that there is now a quick and easy way for vehicles to reach the M6 without having to go across the small bridge and up (or down) Denny Beck Lane.

I will try once again with the Council, and maybe this time they will agree that there is no reason what-so-ever to allow vehicles to cross this ridiculously small bridge.