Category Archives: The Marmotte

Iain trains for Marmotte – during TRAT!

Well, I knew Iain was insane to be doing this, but he rang me before breakfast from the top of Shap Fell to tell me he’d done a Floyd Landis-style breakaway and raced to to the top, arriving a good five minutes before the rest of the team! He knows the road fairly well from having ridden it in training a few times in the last 2-3 years, and of course on the Jogle last year, so he knew when to go, powering down the dips and heading uphill in the biggest gear he could manage. He was going so fast they didn’t even have the camera set up to capture the riders arriving yet, so there is no photographic evidence – shame! So he’s definitely earned his ‘second breakfast’ which was waiting for the riders at the top.

Marmotte, here he comes!

Btw, they had no reception at the nunnery last night so there was no blog update or tweets from Iain. Hopefully tonight.

Four…

Gah! The creaking noise from the bike was back when climbing Broomfield Hill on the way home, so I think it’s the pedals, I’ll swap over a newer set from another bike and try them out tonight – I don’t want that noise for nearly 900 miles driving me nuts. Everything else was good though, so I’m happy overall.

I managed to fit the castors to the bike box last night so it’s now as easy to move as a wobbly shopping trolley, one less task for my return. Why the makers didn’t think we would want them in the first place I don’t know – It’s a Polaris bike-pod and it’s excellent for taking your bike on aircraft or trains as it provides a lot of protection in transit (and you can pad out the bike with all your other bike kit and cut down on other luggage).

All well and good, only it’s not really designed for the car-less. It’s unwieldy when you try and travel with it on foot – it does have a set of wheels at the back (which don’t work very well, forcing you to carry the box at an odd angle) but it doesn’t have a carrying handle or strap, all of which leads me to conclude it’s designed for you to drive to airports. This is all very much from the “There’s a hole in my bucket” school of project planning, as if I drove in the first place, I would probably drive to my fecking destination, with the bike and therefore need neither aircraft or bikebox. Mumble.

Anyways, a bit of castor fettling, a small quantity of blood and copious swearing later, the bike box was now be-castored and ready to take with me to the Marmotte once TRAT is over.

First thing this morning I had a photoshoot from a freelancer on behalf of the local paper (Kingston Guardian). Only I don’t think anyone had warned her I woud be in armour when I answered the door. The paper had very much liked the swordfighting angle and was interested in the the medieval show that my friend Andy and I do (called Medieval Fight Club) – I’ve been trying to offer this as a corporate team building event/summer party in order to try and raise funds (no takers so far, boo! Get in touch if you’re interested).

So it seemed logical to the paper to ask me to be ready, in armour to be photographed on my bike when the photographer got to my house. Only they forgot to tell her.

It was a very fast photoshoot and she couldn’t get out of the house quick enough. I asked her what was the oddest things she had been asked to photograph, “Dead people” she answered as she practically ran towards her car.

The last minute TRAT preparations continue and I’ve got Friday morning off work to deal with any unexpected problems that might crop up.

Six…

On Saturday I did my last training ride (on the road at least) in Richmond Park – was a good four laps and I was happy both with my average speed and the fact that I felt reasonably fresh at the end of it.

With a party on Saturday night (and a wobbly tandem ride home) and lots to do yesterday, I decided against the Sunday training ride.

I’m still not sure that the training I have done overall has been the ‘right’ sort of training in that I’ve really picked up my speed on the flat but possibly not done enough distance work (in fact I know I haven’t). Anyway, it’s too late to worry about that now and I shall be taking it reasonably easy for the rest of the week. I might do a last turbo trainer climb on Tuesday but that will be my last actual training ride.

I’m still much heavier than I would like for climbing too but there’s nothing I can do about that anymore – I’m stronger on the bike than I have ever been so I’m going to have to hope that brute force and ignorance will get me through compared to gazelle like climbing grace.

I rode to work today at what I thought was a deliberately gentle pace (I had to stop myself from latching on to the wheels of people overtaking me). Despite that, I still managed a 14.3mph average, which I would probably have had to work for at the start of the year after getting out of condition.

So fitness wise, I’m in very good shape I think. Mentally I’m committed to it to and sure I’ll get through, although I expect the first few days to be a real shock to the system. I think what I’m looking forward to most is getting to the end of day two – for one, I will see some of my family, but mainly because I will hopefully have got through the first two days ok and know that I will be able to continue.

My bike is at the shop having a grown-up give it some care and attention, fortunately the chain and rear cassette didn’t need changing this time and the mechanic has given the bottom bracket some tlc. Hopefully the gears have been smoothed out nicely too.

I pick it up tomorrow morning as I’m on my other bike this evening (need to make a delivery of some maps and leaflets over Ealing way). A broken spoke on this bike that seems to have appeared from nowhere added a few logistical woes to yesterday, especially as they are bladed spokes on a wheel type that I have even less of a clue than normal how to fix.

Fortunately I do have a spare wheelset, so I swapped the rear cassette over (it had an 8 speed on it previously and anyway, for smooth riding and even chain wear I’m told that you should always use the same cassette with the same chain. This is one mechanical task that I can do (it needs specialist tools which I already have) so that wasn’t too difficult. It does remind me that I need to learn to do a whole bunch of other bike maintenance stuff – I can replace a brake cable but I’m hopeless at indexing gears so these are fairly basic tasks that therefore cost me money by having to get someone else to do them.

This week I’ll be packing to make sure I get everything ready before Saturday – I have already found and washed most of the kit I will take with me (except my armwarmers, must look those out). I kind of have to get ready for the Marmotte at the same time, as I will only have two days after I get back from TRAT to prepare for the long journey to Grenoble (which reminds me, I must buy the new castors for the bike box).

So there’s lots of little things to do, not least of which is attend a publicity photoshoot on Friday with John Snow who is patron of the Bishop Simeon Trust as well as his other roles.

At the moment, I’m starting to feel the twitchy, nervy excitement that will build and build until the moment before the off.

Only six days to go now…

By tandem to Box Hill

(From Bryony)

This weekend Iain’s friend Rupert was staying over – he’d cycled over from Reigate to accompany Iain on a couple of training rides. On Saturday we went out to Richmond Park for a very wet early morning ride and spent the rest of the day drying out our cycling gear by draping it all round the house.

On Sunday, Rupert was due to ride back to Reigate and Iain was due to train, although definite plans had not been made. Sunday morning’s insane thunderstorm made a decision for them about anything early morning, so when it cleared, Iain decided to cycle over to Reigate with Rupert as a training run. He suggested I come too on the tandem and we head up Box Hill on the way there. This sounded like a good idea and we got ready. There was just time for a spot of arc welding (and botching bits off the old tandem to see if they’d fit on the new one) and we headed off.

Both Rupert and I felt our legs were in need of a warm up as we cycled south through Surbiton and Chessington, but by the time we got to Leatherhead we were all warmed up and ready to go. We followed the main road down to Ryka’s caff, noticing what looked like a cycling accident on the northbound cycle lane being attended by an ambulance and police car. Hope it wasn’t too serious. Rupert’s style of riding is to go very fast for as long as he can, then recover, so it wasn’t until we were on the southbound cycle lane of this road that we were able to ride alongside him. We quickly had to stop this though as the left-hand side was really too overgrown, and Iain wasn’t quite quick enough at warning me of overhanging brambles. I have no problem being stoker if he doesn’t duck, but if he does without warning, I get them in the face!

I’d only been up Box Hill once before, on my road bike, and it seemed to take ages, as I had no idea when the top was coming. This time, I knew what to expect. Rupert set off at a fast pace but quickly settled into a steady speed and we sailed past with Iain doing most of the pedal work (well he’s the one in need of training! I was helping!) and got into a rhythm. The sun was out by now and as we came out of the treelined first zig and onto the grassy-banked zag, the steam from the early morning rainfall was rising and it was pretty muggy. We took each corner wide to avoid being squeezed by overtaking cars, and all the club riders who overtook us were friendly and said hello (different to when I was slogging up on my own last time!)

The tandem is a hybrid one with fat tyres, and not enough gears to go really fast downhill. Iain had changed his pedals and was clipped in for this ride, so definitely had more power than me on the flat and on hills. When we were going really fast, my feet slipped off the pedals a lot, and I’ll be picking up another pair of half and halfs from Putney Cycles before our next outing. Iain will be pleased too, as I’ll be able to work harder if I’m clipped in as well.

We reached the final bend and were able to look across to Rupert coming up the other side of it, and hit the cafe in beautiful sunshine. 2 coffee and walnut cakes and a slab of fruit and nut chocolate brownie were consumed in short order, along with several beers and cups of tea. The sunshine was so lovely that we weren’t in any hurry to go anywhere else and we ended up sitting there for a couple of hours. Entertainment came from a Lancaster flying right overhead at one point, and Iain having a chat with another cyclist wearing last year’s Marmotte jersey – turned out Iain had beaten him in the 2007 Etape as well. Iain took Rupert for a go on the tandem, and they had a successful run along the top of the hill and back.

Finally all the refreshments were consumed and it was time to set off. We decided not to go on to Reigate with Rupert and set off in opposite directions. The trip down the hill was amazing! I flung both arms in the air and yelled ‘Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!’ (mainly to get us some space from the car behind, which worked). Sailing out from the treelined first bend and into the sunlight at about 30mph with that fabulous view was brilliant fun. We took it very slow on the corners going down, as there were lots of cars in front of us and coming up the hill and we weren’t taking any risks.

We came back through Mickleham and back onto the main road, where we found a parallel path the sunny side of the hedge to lead us back into Leatherhead. The Hook road was way quicker on the return trip, and we managed to set off a smiley face on one of the speed signs by passing it at 20mph. We did hit more than 30 on a couple of stretches of the Hook road though – I definitely need clippy pedals if we’re going to keep that up!

A quick trip to Sainsbury’s for dinner was fitted in, with Iain dropping me off and picking me up at the respective ‘drop off’ and ‘collection’ points in their car park. 28.5 miles done, and 2 hours of unexpected sunshine. All Sundays should be like this.

Iain adds: It was great fun, really enjoyed the day too. That Lancaster flew right overhead btw, was fantastic – I wonder if it was using Box Hill as a navigation point?

Being a cycling widow

When Iain first started training for the Etape back in 2007, he warned me that he wouldn’t be around much. He spent a lot of time on the bike trainer and out on the roads and I spent a lot of time doing stuff without him, cooking dinner to be ready when training was over for the night and encouraging him to try to get a few early nights and eat/drink a bit less. He seemed to appreciate both the support and the permission to get out there and do it without feeling like he was abandoning me.

The payoff for me is that he was so obviously enjoying himself, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the exercise and devising training plans, routes and timings and spending up big on bike kit. I tried to keep his feet on the ground a little with gentle advice about not overdoing it, keeping the credit card expenses down to a dull roar (what is it about men and Wiggle?) and motivating him when the ‘I need a rest day’ card was played too many days in row.

I’m a cyclist and cycling fan anyway, so there were lots of bonuses from Iain being in the Etape du Tour – not least a free team jersey – and going to France for the event was the main one. It was amazing to see that quantity of cyclists together as well as the thousands of people who’d turned out to support them. At the breakfast stop I took my cue from another cycling widow next to me who had a large flag, and held up my sarong printed with enormous sunflowers so that Iain would see where we were standing with his food in enough time to be able to pull over to us across the steady stream of riders. She’d done it all before and we were able to exchange stories and advice, which was good for morale. There was tons of local support on the route as well and it was inspiring to stand by the side of the road in a small village where the band had turned out to play the riders through. It seemed like it was very much a carnival atmosphere for them, to be repeated on a similar scale a week later when the Tour de France itself powered through. Also inspiring to watch the riders at all stages of the race where we spectated, especially on the finish line where many of them chose to sit back, put their hands in the air and spin over the line like their were Tour de France stage winners – not Iain! I had the video camera going from the minute he came into view as I knew he’d be head down, powering for the line, crushing everyone in his wake – and he was. Nothing to do with the fact he can’t ride no-handed, I’m sure. (I taught myself to do it a couple of years ago in Battersea Park, just in case I ever win a bike race.)

Anyway, all this inspiration rubbed off on me, and by Christmas 2007 I was enthused enough about getting a road bike to ask my boss to put a tax free bike scheme in place (www.cyclescheme.co.uk) and bought a Specialized Elite. It’s not quite a case of ‘If you can’t beat him, join him’ but I rode the Etape Caledonia with Iain (well, a couple of hours behind him) in 2008 which felt like a great achievement for me. I didn’t spend hours training but worked on the basis of a nice equation Iain picked up early in his training: you should be able to ride in one long outing at the weekend the same mileage as your total weekday commuting miles. It just meant not catching the bus on rainy days and keeping the miles in my legs building up. I wasn’t going for any sort of time, just a finish without walking up any hills, and I managed that proudly.

Another opportunity for me to explore cycling through Iain’s training was in Spring 2007, when I suggested tying in a possible advance training ride for Iain in ‘proper’ mountains with an activity weekend for me in the Pyrenees. This worked very well and we flew out to Barcelona with the bike box and were driven up into the high mountains for a few nights with Activities Abroad. Simon, the activity provider and Jo, his gourmet cook partner were very welcoming and Iain was able to get out and ride a couple of Cat 1s and an HC (the steepest mountain type in the TdF: Hors Categories, literally ‘too steep to categorise’) I, on the other hand, was driven to a ski station, given a mountain bike, and taught to ride it at speed for 17km downhill. I have never had so much fun on a bike in my life! We discovered several things – firstly that I was more fearless than Iain downhill and secondly that he needed to get his brakes upgraded as soon as he got home. In 2008 I admired Iain’s ‘beautiful madness’ riding the Marmotte in the Alps last summer but had no desire to join him uphill. He did say I would love the Col du Lautaret which is 36km of downhill but I decided I would need someone to drive me up there.

Coming up to last Christmas, Iain’s enthusiasm for training was waning a bit but I heard about a new idea, a spinning studio opening in Putney (www.pedalstudio.co.uk). I decided to join and got stuck in when they opened in January. Under the tutelage of spinning instructors who are also cyclists themselves, I quickly started to feel more energised and positive on the bike, and have been getting quicker and quicker on my commute with weekly sessions (cheers Richard!). New records break every week and I am no longer scared of going uphill (well, not the ones on my commute anyway). I even matched Iain’s time up Kingston Hill the other morning (although he wasn’t there to race against. We need to measure it properly for it to count!). During the early part of this year, Iain hasn’t been as motivated as in previous years, mainly due to illness and injury. I can’t force him to go out and train, when I know he should be on the bike if he wants to reach the targets he was aiming for, and I’ve found that all I can do is be enthusiastic and set a good example in my own riding. We’ve been out for a few rides together, and he even dragged me up Box Hill one day. We’ve also bought a tandem which is immense fun and if I think he needs to train harder, I can just sit back a bit and make him do all the work. He’s had less time to ride it now his training is full on and in earnest for TRAT and the Marmotte but when it’s all over we shall be out and about on it – roll on July and August!

In June, I’ll be willing him on while ‘cut-out Iain’ moves swiftly up the UK map on the wall in our kitchen (he made it for me during his John o’ Groats to Land’s End ride last year so I could mark his progress). In July I’ll be joining him in Bourg d’Oisans to cheer him on in the Marmotte again, and I am planning to ride up Alpe d’Huez while I’m there. I will need to hire a bike but I can’t stay so close to that cycling mecca and not take the opportunity. Again, the only target I have is to reach the top without getting off and walking. The only way I won’t do it is if Iain makes me cycle up the Lauteret – I much prefer the payoff of the 35km downhill to having to come back down the 21 hairpins of the Alpe!

Three years ago it would never have crossed my mind to do anything other than watch the Tour on tv, marvelling as the riders power up Alpe d’Huez at insane speeds. Now I’m actually planning to do it myself and it would not have happened without being part of Iain’s cycling odyssey. It’s a privilege to support him, learn from him, and be inspired by him! Chapeau!

Where will I be going?

As said in previous posts, TRAT is a six day ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, so stops will be quite far apart. Due to the need to ride an average of 146 miles each day we will be getting up at an early hour to get the most out of the day.

Stopping points are fixed, with accommodation already booked at every point so we have to make our target each day. I found that this worked for me last year, without the knowledge that your night stop was pre-booked it would have been all too easy to stop earlier in the day. We are staying in a wide variety of places, from youth hostels, halls of residence to religious retreats. The support crew will be feeding us at lunch stops in town, church, village and school halls every day of the ride.

On the first day we set out from Land’s End and will end the day in Taunton, having crossed Cornwall and Devon along the way – no mean feat to do that in a single day.

The second day will see us all the way to Telford via Gloucester (which means we miss out on the Severn Bridge, boo!). I’m hoping to see some of my family that evening as they live in Shifnal, which is just a few miles from the end of the ride that day. By not going through Hereford, I’ll miss out on waving at my brother as we go through.

Day three will probably be the least enjoyable as the route on this day inevitably goes through some of the most heavily urbanised parts of the country. At least we go through it in a single day. Starting off from Telford it ends up in Levens in Cumbria, to the south of Kendal and the Lake District. Maybe we can stop for Chorley Cakes in Chorley?

Day four should be great but challenging – we’ve got Kendal then the climb of Shap Fell fairly early on in the day, one of the hardest climbs of the route – unlike last year when I was riding the opposite way, there will be the support team waiting at the top with Second Breakfast, which will be an incentive. Later in the day we will make it to Scotland and the Southern Uplands, travelling via Gretna Green and ending up in Biggar.

Day five takes us through the Central Belt of Scotland, our last major urban area. After that we will be into the Highlands. If the weather is good, this may be a fantastic day as we will be travelling through some spectacular countryside. It being Scotland, it will probably rain of course – either way, we end the day near Aviemore and only one long day’s ride from John o’ Groats. My sister Mairi lives on this route and I’m hoping she might be able to get out and wave us on or even ride along for a bit (she teaches in Pitlochry though, so her schedule may not permit this).

Day six – this is a deceptively tough day of riding, the coastal road we will be following after Inverness and the Black Isle has amazing views of the east coast of Scotland and the North Sea but it drops and climbs a fair amount and has two very noticeable climbs at Helmsdale and Berriedale. There is a very nice cake shop just before Helmsdale though. It’s big sky country and it will still be light in the far north no matter how late we ride (unless things have gone terribly, terribly wrong).

I’m looking forward to reaching John o’ Groats again, it will be different to see it in summer and at the end of the long ride rather than in winter and at the beginning of one.

After John o’ Groats we are staying the night in Thurso before starting the long drive back over the following two days. I’m looking forward to the trip back – all I will have to do will be to sit down and watch the country roll by, this time not under my own power (this is what I mean about how hard the support crew have to work).

A few days after that of course, I get the train for France, Grenoble and the Marmotte.

Hello world!

Hi and thanks for stopping by.

This is a blog about me training for and riding in a cycling event called The Race Against Time (TRAT).

TRAT is a fast six day ride from Land’s end at the bottom corner of England all the way up to the top of Scotland at John o’ Groats. The ride is in support of the Bishop Simeon Trust (BST).

BST raises vital funds to help combat the social and economic effects of the AIDS/HIV pandemic in South Africa.

In this blog I will be telling you about TRAT, both the ride and the charity that the event raises money for.

Please keep checking in as I will be updating the site very regularly.

Thanks,

Iain