Lakesman Half – The Bike Loop

My beautiful and amazing wife has entered the Lakesman Half Triathlon this year, which is in four weeks time. Helen wanted to ride the bike loop to have a look at it and to make sure that she can make it back for the run within the time limit. I’ll let you in on a secret, she’ll have absolutely no worries about the time limit.

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I downloaded the route, we loaded up the car and headed off nice and early this morning (Sunday). Arriving at the carpark in Keswick where the race will start and finish, we found it to be nearly full. Unbeknown to us, the Keswick Mountain Festival was on, with fell races, walks, sportive and a swim all occurring over the weekend. I mention the swim because there wasn’t actually a swim. It had been cancelled due to a harmful algal bloom in Derwent Water. Lakesman are aware of the situation and are monitoring the water, but there is a possibility that the races might have either shortened swims or no swim at all. Currently refunds or referrals are not being offered. This is a difficult situation for the organisers with plenty of people venting their anger on social media. I think that it is sensible to ere on the side of caution, and it the water is deemed to be unsafe to swim in, then you have to accept an altered race. Worst case scenario, the race goes ahead while there is some doubt about the water,  and if a few triathletes fall ill people will want to know why the swim leg wasn’t cancelled.

Back in the carpark once we had set up our bikes we headed off, straight through the sportive. Fortunately they were all turning right at the very first junction, while we headed out of Keswick and onto the A66 towards Cockermouth. This isn’t a road I would normally ride on, but it wasn’t too bad on a Sunday early in the morning, although it was a bit boring. After ten miles we turned left onto a smaller road, which was actually worse than the A66 as it was narrower, leaving less room for cars to overtake. Soon though we turned off this onto a very pleasant country lane, with a great descent into Branthwaite. Best section of the route by far.

Joining the A595 there’s a great view of the Irish sea, and with over half the bike leg completed you’re nearly home. The route then does a loop through Distington and back along the dual carriageway. This again wasn’t too bad as there was plenty of room for us. Unfortunately the A595 back towards the A66 was fast with little room, so we opted to use the separate cycle lane, which won’t be an option on race day. Once we reached the A66 we had a stop and a chat. The route back to Keswick will be fast and impossible to go wrong, so we decided to enjoy the ride and head back along some quieter roads. This was slightly longer and a lot hillier, but was a brilliant diversion, especially as for much of the time we could still see the A66.

Cockermouth was a revelation, with a wide street lined with trees. This isn’t an area of the lakes that either of us have visited, although I did a triathlon there many years ago, before Stava. Cockermouth; we will return. There’s also plenty of signs pointing to Maryport, which sounds like a classic Game of Thrones town.

If you’re going to cycle from Cockermouth to Keswick there really is only one route; up and over Whinlatter.

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Whinlatter isn’t one of the ‘hard’ climbs in the Lakes, but it is still a bit of a beast, although we were climbing it from the ‘easier’ side. I had also never climbed it from this side. Helen wasn’t particularly keen on this hill, but the huge grin on her face after the glorious descent made it all worthwhile. Back into Keswick and once again we were mistaken for sportive riders. A couple of years ago we did the Tour De Bolton sportive and I was saddened by the dozen riders waiting outside the school gates to take part in the sportive without paying for it. I really hope that the marshalls didn’t think that we had done the same thing.

My thoughts on the Lakesman Half bike route is that most of it is on roads that I wouldn’t normally ride on, but on race day, with so many other triathletes on the roads it should be fine. The main roads also makes it easier for the organisers, with fewer marshalls required at critical junctions. I’ve chatted with people who have done Lakesman in previous years and they have all said that the roads were not an issue.

If you’ve entered Lakesman I wish you all the best in the world. As for me, I’m really looking forward to supporting my amazing wife as I know that she will surpass all of her expectations.

 

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Howgills Half Marathon

A few months ago me and my beautiful wife were looking at races to enter, specifically a half marathon in April or May. It would be used as a warm up race for later in the year when Helen attempts the Lakesman half ironman distance triathlon. (Legally it’s not a Half Ironman as it isn’t an M-Dot race, and therefore it must always be referred to as a half ironman distance race.) I digress. After looking at various races we decided that the Howgills Half Marathon organised by Epic Events would be perfect.

We had both done another race in the Montane Trail Series last year in Grizedale which had been a brilliant race (read about it here). I had also done the Howgills Triathlon a couple of years ago, which should have rung warning bells as the run had gone up Winder Fell (read about it here).

With a 10am start from Sedbergh, which is only a 30 minute drive, it wasn’t an early off, although Nelly, our unruly Pointer, knew that we had our running gear on and was most perturbed when we left her at home. As with all trail races there was a mandatory kit list, especially as it always seems to rain in the Howgills, except for last Sunday, when it was sunny, hot, dry and hardly any wind.

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We arrived in Sedbergh in plenty of time, parked in the correct field and picked up our numbers and t-shirts, before queuing to use the port-a-loos (very unpleasant).

There was also a marathon on who were setting off 20 minutes before our race, so we cheered them on as they set off. We then had a quick chat with Steve, an old friend who had completed the Bowland Half Marathon with us last year in horrendous conditions (read about it here).

Once we were off the route went directly up Winder Fell, dropping down slightly before heading up The Calf, which tops out at almost 700m high. There was then a very pleasant section along before the two routes split off with the marathon runners continuing on while we turned right. There then followed two very steep technical descents, where as always I was overtaken by more than a handful of runners. I really need to practice running downhill.

There then followed a short out and back section to the feed station set up on a farm near Narthwaite. I re-filled my water bottle and grabbed a couple of Jaffa Cakes before setting off over the very narrow footbridge. I waved at Steve as he was running towards the feed station and set off towards Sedbergh. The next few miles were fairly easy going along footpaths with very little climbing. We had been warned about the final hill, but after Winder and The Calf how hard could it be.

Swearing, lots of swearing, that’s how hard it was. So steep I was almost crawling up it. We didn’t even go all the way to the top, but it felt never ending. Eventually the route followed the contours of the hill before another steep technical descent. We crossed a small stream where I dipped my hat, which then promptly gave me a headache because the water was so cold. Finally I could see and hear the finish area way down below.

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The last downhill section on the road was hard on my tired legs, but moments later I was running around the field and through the finish funnel, to be handed water and a medal. As I was coming towards the finish the announcer was starting the prize giving, beginning with the vet 60 winner! There are some very quick ‘older’ runners out there.

I headed to the car to drop off my medal and to change into my finishers shirt, before returning to the field to wait for my wife. As I was queuing for a coffee I spotted Helen running down the road, much earlier than I had been expecting. I hobbled over to the finish line for a hug and to congratulate her as it had been an absolutely stunning performance from Helen.

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Helen was a little emotional and also full of swear words, mainly about that f****** last hill. A few minutes later the winner from the marathon returned, in just under four hours. I can’t even imagine how he had run it that fast, although Helen pointed out to me that the marathon had hardly any extra elevation than the half, which made me feel slightly less old and rubbish.

Overall it was an excellent race; well marshalled with plenty of arrows out on the course. It would have been difficult to have got lost. We will definitely be doing more events from this series, although probably not this particular race. I think I am right in saying that it was the toughest half marathon that I’ve ever done. Three days later and my right thigh (my leading leg) is still sore from the descents.

Of course when we got home the day wasn’t over, as we still had to take Nelly out for a walk.

Quiraing Mountain

As with most cyclists I love a good hill to climb. I’m also an avid collector of Simon Warren’s books; The 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, sequel and subsequent regional spin-offs. So when my beautiful wife booked us a weeks holiday on Skye, and that we would be bringing our bikes along, I had to check to see if there were any climbs near to where we were staying. Low and behold, climb #170, Quiraing was ten miles away. Confusingly though, it is given a 5/10 rating in the Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs book, and a 6/10 in the regional Cycling Climbs of Scotland book.

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We had been for a run on our first full day on Skye and had been caught in a sudden snowstorm, so when the forecast was good for the Monday we decided to go for it. Many of the roads in the area are very narrow with frequent passing places, so you get used to having to pull over to let cars past. It can be frustrating and slow going, but we were on our touring bikes anyway.

The ten miles to Saffin Bay flew by with amazing views almost constantly, and then we were are the start of the climb. The revised score is only a 6/10, while our local climb, Jubilee Tower is a 7/10, so how hard could it be. We slowly made our way up the lower section, stopping a couple of times to let cars, vans and a minibus past.

The, just beyond the cemetery, we saw the road curving up, with a couple of hairpin bends and plenty of snow at the top. It looked formidable.

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“Steady way” was our motto as we slowly made our way up, avoiding cars coming down and the snow in the middle of the road. I stopped at the last hairpin to take a few photos and to warn Helen if there was any traffic coming down.

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And then we were at the top, where the car park was full. We opted to push on down to Uig, the gentle side, with much less traffic, although we had to contend with a horrific head wind.

Fortunately, we changed direction for the last four miles back to our rented holiday cottage. Funnily enough, we both said that the climb looked far tougher than it actually was, and turned out to be a pleasant climb. It was the middle of March and there were still quite a few cars on the hill, so I would not want to cycle up there in the middle of summer as it would be far too busy.

Barbondale

Barbondale Valley is quite probably one of the greatest roads to cycle on. Located in south Cumbria it climbs gently from the Village of Barbon with spectacular views until a steep drop down into Dentdale.

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This photo of my lovely wife doesn’t really do it justice, especially as it was dull and overcast last weekend, but even then it was amazing. I’ve written about this valley a couple of times in the past, once on a 212km Audax, where the guys I was riding with had never been there (read about it here). The annual Coal Road challenge also uses this road, but in the other direction, with the steep climb out of Gawthorpe and the long gentle descent. This climb is mentioned in Simon Warren’s book ‘cycling climbs of the north-west’, although it only gets a 7/10, and is called Stone Rigg Outrake, which no one ever calls it. I’ve also blogged about the Coal Road challenge (read about it here).

If you are ever in the area there are so many great roads, but this is one that is often overlooked, which is a shame.

Cycling down Snowdon

Last weekend the three of us hiked up and down Snowden and really enjoyed it. You can read about it here. Near the bottom, as you leave the road and start on the path there is a sign.

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Imagine my surprise as four mountain bikers sailed on through the gate. A bit later we had to step to the side so that another two could pass, and then later on another two, although I stopped to talk with one of them. I mentioned the sign that said there is a ban on cycling from May to September. He said that it was a voluntary ban. That’s a new oxymoron, one I’ve not heard before.

What a load of rubbish I thought.

Back home a few days later and my wife google’d cycling Snowdon, and fair enough there is a voluntary ban, although all cyclists must be off the path by 10am. The last two we saw most definitely were not.

What got me though, is why would you want to cycle Snowdon on a Saturday in the middle of the summer when there are many hundreds of people walking up the mountain. Trying to cycle through people is an absolute pain, I want to be able to go fast, and not have to stop every couple of seconds for walkers. The voluntary ban could be revoked at any time if cyclists don’t slow down or move out of the way.

As a cyclist, I think Snowdon should be for walkers only in the summer, definitely at a weekend, especially as there are so many other really great places to cycle in North Wales.

Walking Snowdon

A long weekend away camping in north Wales, what could possibly go wrong. The two hour journey took nearly five because of accidents, I forgot the inflatable mattress and the campsite was horrible. We stayed one night, ignored the festival toilets and the scary fight at 3am, packed up and drove to Llanberis.

Even though one of the biggest triathlons in Wales is based there, and the Brutal, I’ve never been. Looked like a nice little town, dominated by the mountain railway, which was completely sold out for the whole of August, even at nearly £40 for a return ticket. We wisely decided to walk up instead, along with hundreds of others. The weather was perfect, clear sky, no rain and not too warm.

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Walking from Llanberis is the most popular route, but not the shortest. It wasn’t like when I hiked up Scafell on a foggy day and didn’t see a single person. Snowdon was busy. Too busy to go to the actual summit, which was a teeming mass of people, with a queue almost down to the summit cafe, most of them taking selfies.

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Nelly enjoyed it as well, although she did want to know what the hell that train was. Nelly is the English Pointer.

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Helen, my beautiful wife, also enjoyed the walk. Just under 9 miles which took us about four and a half hours. We stopped often and took our time, although all three of us were tired as we walked back into Llanberis.

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I would definitely like to go back to the area, hopefully with a bike and explore some of the great hills. Also, at some point I need to walk up Ben Nevis so that I have the full set. We’ve cycled through Fort William and looked up into the mist where Ben Nevis probably was, but we didn’t have the time to walk up. Next time.

Le Tour De Bolton

Yesterday me and my beautiful wife took part in the Le Tour De Bolton Sportive, organised by Epic Events. You might think that a bike ride around Bolton might not be too much fun, but it’s not an area that we cycle around very often. In fact, Helen hadn’t previously cycled a single segment over the whole 60 miles. We arrived nice and early so that we could be off first, as we didn’t want to be out too long. H was also worried about the hills, especially The Rake, which is described by Simon Warren in his iconic climbing books thus – catch your breath if you can and turn right into the almost impossible 25% stretch to the top. If that wasn’t enough, we also had to climb Crown Point, Anglezarke and Sheep House Lane, along with a fair number of less spectacular climbs, adding up to over 1600m of climbing.

The route and profile can be found here.

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The start/finish was at a local school and as we set off out through the gates and onto the road I noticed a group of about a dozen cyclists off to one side who joined us as the moment we started. I know that some people like to ride sportives without paying, but at least don’t do it blatantly. Maybe wait a day or two, or even the following week. The event wasn’t that expensive and the organisers have spent many hours putting out all of the directional arrows, so don’t be a complete d*ck. Rant over.

The first few miles were busy with other riders, but fortunately very little traffic, so it was generally plain sailing until we hit The Rake. Although there was one guy riding a TT bike who was a bit wobbly. Not the bike for the course thought I. When we hit The Rake there were plenty of people walking near the bottom. H felt a bit trapped in and put on a burst to get some room, before reaching the very steep section. She didn’t quite manage all the way up without getting off, but made it far higher than many others. With a grin we continued, passing that one guy who hates to be chicked and just had to try to overtake us at any opportunity.

The feed stop was located in Oswaldthistle, and was busy but fully stocked with everything you could want, manned brilliantly by some local cubs and scouts. My brother-in-law was doing Velo Birmingham on the same day, and the first feed station had nothing left when he reached it.

We didn’t stop long, although I had the bright idea to tip my black coffee into my half empty water bottle. Lemon hydro plus coffee – not a good taste. Unfortunately the roads were now starting to get busy with cars and we also had to negotiate a couple of main roads, so it wasn’t until we hit the lower slopes of Anglezarke that we could relax again. Amazingly this was the first time that I had ridden the whole climb, and what a place for the official photographer.

We then turned onto Sheep House Lane for the last big climb of the day, although H nearly missed the turn. The Lane was also very busy with cars and motorbikes, combined with some very narrow sections of road. You can see why Ironman UK has such a fearsome reputation, as this Lane has to be climbed twice. We zipped down into Belmont, avoided a prat in a crap car, and made it back to the finish area with big smiles.

Epic Events put on some great events, including the Howgills Triathlon which I did last month (here), and it’s always good to be able to download the photos for free. We probably wouldn’t do this particular sportive again, but H does want to return to have another crack at The Rake. Finally, even though it wasn’t a race, my fit wife did manage to win her age group.