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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

 

 

Abersoch

Last weekend me and wife, along with most of her family, spent a great weekend on the Llyn Peninsula near Abersoch. We stayed in two lovely farmhouses next to Hell’s Mouth (here). My beautiful wife had been there many times, but it was the first time that I’d been anywhere near the area since I was about five, and had a holiday in Pwllheli.

It took less than four hours to get there, and we did stop for a reasonably priced and surprisingly pleasant coffee from a McDonalds. We also swapped driving. As soon as we got there we took Nelly to the beach. Have you ever seen a happier dog.

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Back at the cottage and soon Helen’s family arrived and did what families do, eating, drinking and talking loudly.

The next morning three of us (myself, Helen, and her brother Phil) set off to explore the peninsula. I had plotted a route that would take us around the coast before heading inland and back to Abersoch. Unfortunately I’m not very good at noticing hills on a map, so after five miles we found ourselves at the bottom of a wall.

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It kind of went on and on, but the views from the top were amazing.

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Once back at the cottages eating and drinking commenced.

The next morning me and Phil went out for a gentle 20 miler out to Aberdaron, and over the same hill as the day before, but up the easier side, which wasn’t much easier.

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In the afternoon Phil lent his bike to Helen’s eldest, so myself Dan (Helen’s youngest) and Tom went out for a gentle six miles, without any hills. I think Tom was hooked, so he should be joining us on rides in the future.

More eating and drinking followed.

The final morning, Dan was keen for a quick spin, so we returned to the big hill, which was a bit of a shock to Dan as he lives on the flat lands of the Fylde coast. We then found a different route back with a great gentle descent. Back at the cottages it was time to pack up and head home. The weather had been fantastic as had the cycling, and I would definitely recommend it.

Strava routes from the weekend are here, here, here and here.

Who do you ride with?

I was out cycling yesterday with Garstang Cycling Club for the first time in over two years, and it was great to be back, as I was made to feel right at home. It was a lumpy 85 mile ride with a posh cafe stop. https://www.strava.com/activities/887431400 Thanks to Boz for the photo.

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I’m digressing slightly. During the ride Sue mentioned that I didn’t appear to have been out cycling with my wife much so far this year. If only there was some way to find out. Fortuitously, there is. Strava allow their software developers the time to work on side projects, which can be found here http://labs.strava.com/. The projects include the very popular ‘flyby’ along with ‘Project Kudos’.

The project that I’m interested in here, is The Roster. This project shows you, of the many athletes you follow, who you have ridden and run with the most. Apparently I’m a lone wolf, with 79% of my activities being solo.

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In the four and a half years that I’ve been on Strava, I’ve ridden or run with 321 athletes that I currently follow, with Chief Bunny (my beautiful wife) at the top with over 8 days, followed by The Prof (3 days) and Ian (1.4 days).

What about 2017? The Roster allows you to pick a year on it’s own. So here is the top six people I’ve been riding with so far this year:

  1. Chief Bunny – 11.3 hours
  2. Professor Badass – 9.3 hours
  3. Chris Clarke – 5.3 hours
  4. Jenny Evans – 5.2 hours
  5. Danny Rogerson – 5.1 hours
  6. Sue Taylor – 4.7 hours

My wife is still in top spot, but we both agree that for various reasons, weather and illness mainly, we haven’t been out together as much as we would like so far this year. Therefore, next Sunday we will be riding out to Dunslop Bridge, one of our favourite rides.

The Rapha Festive 500

It’s that time of year when Rapha sponsor a Strava challenge – 500km in eight days over Christmas. I had completed this particular challenge four times in the past, and each time Rapha have sent me a nice roundel (cloth badge).

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I can add that I have completed the 2016 edition, so I will be able to add one more roundel to my collection. This year wasn’t too bad, with only one really cold day, and two rides with strong winds, which was better than previous years. Last year was wet for much of it, and 2014 was freezing. The 500 also presents other challenges, as a couple of years I have had to work and in 2014 I finished work on New Year’s Eve and once home had another 50km to do. 2012 I visited my parents for Christmas and didn’t take a bike, so only had five days to complete the challenge. In 2012 there were less than 4000 people who finished it, which shows how ubiquitous Strava has become. This year went relatively smoothly in-comparison, as can be seen in the Veloviewer wheel for the eight days.

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Most years I have crawled over the finish line with barely one km to spare, but this year I managed 523km. In total I have done 2535.6km over the five challenges. This year was also the first time that I had done the whole challenge on the same bike, my Scott. Below is a percentage breakdown of how much each of my bikes has been used over the Festive challenges.

  • Trek Cobia 112.7 km 4.4%
  • Cannondale 145.9 km 5.8%
  • Forme 219.2 km 8.6%
  • Scott 1004.4 km 39.6%
  • Colnago 1051.9 km 41.5%

I would expect to still have my Scott for the 2017 edition of the Festive 500, and would also therefore expect it to take a commanding lead in the stats.

December stats and end of year stats should follow in blog entries in the next few days, and if I don’t see you, have a great 2017.

Partially corrupted Garmin file

That phrase must be the worst thing to see when you’re uploading a ride or run to Strava. I had planned an epic ride to celebrate completing 250 Strava challenges, maybe even 250km. In the end I “only” managed 232km with almost 2000m of climbing, on one of the hottest days of the year. I also wanted to go places that I had never been before, not easy with my cycling.

I decided to head to Southport, although this meant that I had to cycle through Preston during the morning commute, not fun. Once I reached Bretherton though the roads became far more pleasant, with plenty of other cyclists, and a very good cycle path most of the way into Southport.

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From Southport I headed inland to Burscough, crossing the Leeds to Liverpool canal a couple of times, and then joining the IMUK route for a few miles. At the village of Grimshaw Green I hit my first big climb, where I had to use every gear (compact with a 27 at the back). I then crossed Rivington Reservoir and climbed the whole of Sheep House Lane, where I was passed effortlessly by another cyclist, although he did compliment me on my beard. I’m not looking forward to this at next years IMUK.

At Belmont I seriously considered bailing out and taking the direct route home. Well, not too seriously. Next was the villages of Egerton and Bromley Cross, which was where my Garmin failed.

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From that point I headed towards Darwen, skirted in between Blackburn and Accrington before heading to Whalley where I would be back on familiar roads once again. A quick stop at Longridge for more water and then back to Lancaster.

I was shattered when I made it home, but pleased with my “epic” ride, so you can imagine how gutted I was when only 144km of the total ride were recorded. I was following a bread crumb trail that I had plotted myself and my Garmin froze. I restarted it and continued, although in hindsight I should have saved the ride to that point and then started it again. Nothing to be done, after checking online there is no way of restoring the file, although I’ve had my Garmin for over four years this is only the third time that I have lost a ride. I’ll just have to do the ride again, because as we all know, if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.

Everesting attempt #1

On 19th July, 2014, I had an attempt at Everesting. The concept is very simple, you find a hill and cycle up and down it continuously until you have climbed the equivalent of Everest, 8,848 m or 29,000 ft. There is a website where you can post your achievement, but only the first person to climb a specific hill gets on the hall of fame. It also has to be the complete hill, you can’t just pick the steepest section.

I picked a fairly local climb that went up to some wind turbines along a dead end, so there shouldn’t be too much traffic. It had an average gradient of 7%, which would mean that if I completed the challenge I would have to climb it 39 times, a distance of 260 km.

I knew that it would be a very long day, so I packed a rucksack with food and water which I would lock to a tree half way up the climb as I didn’t have a support crew with me. I had also only told a few people about my attempt, so I wasn’t expected much, if any, company. In hindsight, a big mistake.

The hill was almost 10 km away, so I set off at 4:30 am, and started my first assent at 5 am. I took it nice and easy, trying not to get out of the saddle too much. I had recently changed my cassette so I now had a 27 at the back with a compact chain-set. Hopefully this would be low enough once I started to get tired.

After about 3 or 4 assents it started to rain, and a bit later it started to rain much harder. The wind also picked up, with a strong headwind for the last km of the climb. There was also 2 cattle grids, one was fine and could be taken at speed on the descent, but the other one was all twisted and had to be taken slowly. Photo not taken on the day.

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There were numerous suicidal sheep near the top, who would jump out in front of me on every descent. The road was also very narrow so I couldn’t let go on the descent, just in case there was a car coming up. Again, in hindsight not the best hill to have picked.

I had completed about 13 assents when I heard someone shout my name. A good friend, Matt, had cycled out to give me a boost. He had initially cycled up the wrong side of the hill, but his company was now most welcome. He stayed with me for 3 assents, although we both nearly got taken out by a sheep. Matt took a selfie with me at the top of the climb and uploaded it to Facebook telling people to join me if they could as I needed some support.

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My Garmin had also started to play up because of the weather. It was humid, wet and change-able. My Garmin wasn’t recording elevation, so I knew that I would have to use the ‘correct elevation’ function on Strava when I finished. The problem with this is that you tend to lose some elevation, so I might have to do an extra assent or two. I also didn’t really have a clue about how much I had actually done, although I was using the lap function on my Garmin.

After 20 laps I had an extended rest as I was now over half way, although the wind and rain were still relentless. I completed another 2 assents before I called it quits. I had worked out that at my current speed I wouldn’t finish until after dark and probably near to midnight.

I picked up my bag and set off for home. I had cycled 145.5 km with 4,844 m of elevation. I was exhausted and also disappointed, especially when I found out that Jack (Photo below) had cycled out to give me some more support, and had also brought some butties.

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I did manage to complete over 50% of the Rapha Rising challenge on Strava, so not a complete failure. Below is the Strava profile of my attempt, after I had corrected the elevation.

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I took a few days to consider my options, but friends on Strava started to look for suitable climbs as well as offering to support me if or when I had another attempt. I will have another attempt which will hopefully be in a couple of weeks. I will look at a hill closer to Lancaster and I will also tell more people about my attempt, so that I might have plenty of support, especially towards the end.

I later found out that the next day someone had Everested Hardknott. It took 30 assents of that monster, which is seriously hardcore.