Tag Archives: The cycling widow speaks!

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.


Day 3 update

Iain’s piece in the local paper is getting lots of attention on the Surrey Comet and Kingston Guardian websites; I love the comment some wag has put about the picture!

Really annoyed that Just Giving have chosen this very week to revamp their website with massive amounts of teething problems. It means that Iain’s page keeps expiring and links don’t work which is fiendishly annoying. If anyone is trying to donate and can’t follow a link you’ve been sent, or get there from this blog, try searching for ‘Iain Houston’ on www.JustGiving.com – his page is called Iain_Houston and has a picture of him riding in the Alps. Alternatively you can search for the Bishop Simeon Trust, then scroll down for their list of fundraisers until you find him.

Today was the shortest day in terms of mileage and was again mostly sunny, until a massive rainstorm hit the riders at Preston. Hopefully Iain will check in here later with a quick update, but do read Charlotte’s blog for more of his wit and wisdom from lunchtime today. There are lots of pictures and videos too.

Thanks for all your support; it really is keeping Iain going, knowing that so many of you have him in your thoughts and have made donations because he’s doing this.



TRAT – no backing out now

by The One Left Behind

After a fiendishly late night on Friday finishing the last of the essential emailing, blogging and packing – and watching the final episodes of Battlestar Galactica, the less said about which the better – Iain and I slept badly and got up early. Not as early as he’ll be getting up to ride all week but early enough.

An 8.06 train from Norbiton on Saturday morning took us to Clapham Junction for the train to Watford Junction. Iain carbloaded with last night’s cold Chinese and spent the journey trying to work out what essential item he’d forgotten. However, he had his bike, a cycling top, shorts and shoes, and we figured that those were the only real essentials for the week.

Arriving at Watford, we joined the rest of the support crew and the team members travelling down by van (some were getting the sleeper train to Penzance) for a final team photo. Then it was time to load all the bikes, spare wheels and kit into the van and hit the road. No backing out now Iain! Nothing can save you now…

Keep an eye on Charlotte’s blog from the road – TRAT 2009 blog on the right hand side of this page. She’ll be updating it with pictures, details of where they are on the route, videos and the site also features the Twitter feeds from all the TRAT team who are tweeting.

Hopefully Iain will post this evening after the first day is over. They set off on time (pic on Charlotte’s blog) and are making good progress on the road. Expected in Launceston at lunchtime, and Taunton tonight.


In two days I set off from Land’s End as part of The Race Against Time (TRAT) riding a fast, six day cycle ride to John o’ Groats.

I saw my picture (in armour with bicycle) in the local paper this morning, which was fun. Then Bryony and I made the trip to Trafalgar Square to meet up with most of the team and support crew for a publicity photograph with news presenter Jon Snow. Sadly Mr Snow couldn’t make it but we all got to meet up, many of us for the first time.

Some overzealous rentacops did turn up while we were being photographed and tried to stop us for ‘security reasons’ (what is it with fat blokes and polyester?) which was on the high side of pointless. We were standing in front of one of the fountains in Trafalgar Square, with Nelson’s Column in the background which must be up there as one of the most photographed views in London. What sort of terrorist group dresses up in lycra and rides around on bicycles in a big group – “Britain is the Great Satan and we shall defeat the accursed dogs with our 1337 paceline riding Skillz, see if we don’t!” We should have explained that we were a situationist terrorist group and derided them as the Lackeys of Dada-ism, whatever that means.

What with images of Trafalgar Square already being freely available on Streetview, Google Earth, Flickr and anywhere else you care to name, I can’t see what on earth they thought was the problem (and the reasons changed as we went along I understand – first because it was “for security” (which means fuck all), then because we “didn’t have permission”, which when we moved to take pictures in front of South Africa House (who we *did* have permission from) transformed into “you’re breaking a byelaw”.

I’m quite tired now but looking forward to tomorrow – just got to pack up the last few things tonight and I’m ready. All is well with the bike, the fundraising is still going well (nearly £1,500 now, continued thanks for all your generosity) and there’s not much left to do other than ride the bike.

With all the work in training and fundraising it’s going to be a relief to get out there and just have to cycle – it’s going to be harder for Bryony I reckon, she has done the bulk of the fundraising work and doesn’t get the big payoff of getting out and doing the ride – while the ride is going to be a lot of work, it’s going to feel like the end of the process (apart from the party on 1st August of course!)

Almost on our way. Two days to go…

2008 JoGLE: Part Three

Day Seven: “L’Enfer du Nord”

Day seven was one of those days that should have been relatively easy – leaving Lancaster in the late morning, I was hoping for an easyish run to Altrincham (where I would be staying with Bryony’s sister Beth and her partner Andy).

It was already raining and a little windy – although the rain let up from time to time, it was never long enough to get truly dry before getting soaked again.

I had already expected parts of this ride to not be my favourite, going as it did through some quite built up areas. This was true of Preston and Wigan although there were more clear green bits than I was predicting. Also, any day where you go through a crossroads and the signpost to left and right points to ‘Goosnargh’ and ‘Woodplumpton’ respectively, can’t be all bad.

I stopped between Preston and Wigan on the A49 at a place called Euxton and had a pint – I sat outside (as it was dry at this point) and was chatting to an old boy – he was reminiscing about cycling back when he was in the RAF and was talking about old brands of bike, none of which I can remember. He did talk nostalgically about 531 tubing and I was able to tell him that it’s still popular among some fraternities of cycling. He pottered off after checking the pressure in my front tyre and nodding approvingly. Before he went I asked him if he thought it would be safe to leave my fully laden and unlocked bike outside while I nipped back into the pub to the toilet.

“Oh the kids don’t steal bikes round here” he assured me. He paused for a while in thought then added “They wouldn’t fucking know what to do with them”.

After Wigan I got a bit confused, I was trying to cross the M62 via the B5212 which avoids the alternative busy junctions and was anyway my most logical route – finding it proved less than easy. The 1:125,000 scale maps I had were great for countryside navigation and route planning, less good for negotiating cities. My route plotted on GPS would probably have looked like an ever decreasing circle.

I eventually found my route and crossed the Manchester Ship Canal via the toll bridge on the way to Warburton (bikes go fee, hurrah!). I would have photographed the bridge but it was pouring with rain and I was too tired to stop.

From then on it was a final slog through rain and wind to reach Altrincham. Beth and Andy had done a “Welcome Iain” sign which helped me find their front door in my fuddled state.

They were very kind to a cold and wet cyclist; yet another great dinner followed, then much drinking. Beth was running for the Wilmslow half-marathon that weekend and I hope all the drinking didn’t do in her chances.

I’m Bacchus me. Everywhere I go, people drink more…

Day Eight: “Keeping on, Keeping on”

After a memorable night of music, conversation, food and drink, I awoke to see the welcome sight of blue skies out of the bedroom window.

Sadly they didn’t last. After a late breakfast I started getting the bike ready and noticed that all was not well with the back wheel.

A few days before I had noticed a strange noise (a sort of “pink, pink, pink” sound). I eventually narrowed this down to the rear brake or mudguard stay slightly rubbing against the tyre, the back wheel having picked up a slight buckle somewhere along the way.

A bit of adjustment and all was well. I did thoroughly inspect the tyre at the time and found no problem except some slight wear. I continued on my way and thought nothing of it until the morning of day eight a few days later.

The tyre wear was now becoming a split, with the tyre starting to overhang the wheel, presaging an eventual and dramatic puncture. Not wanting to wait until this happened randomly, I went to a local bike shop and bought a new tyre (Beth was kind enough to drive me there). I replaced the faulty one and re-oiled the chain for the second time this trip – in fact by the time we got back from the bike shop, Andy had the bike up on his bike stand and had the rear wheel off ready for me to replace the tyre.

This was another example of three things about the ride –

1.People were amazingly generous with their time and hospitality along the way.
2.With all the help I had, I certainly can’t declare the ride was unsupported.
3.I really did need the spare tyre I left behind in London all those days ago.

After this problem, I started very late into day eight. By now the weather had changed and had reverted to the rain and wind of the previous day – the wind was stronger and almost directly from the south. This made slow going for most of the day, a shame as I had been looking forward to blasting along on the flat roads through Cheshire.

I rode through Mobberly, aware that I was riding through countryside from Alan Garner stories (sad that I had neither the time, energy or foresight to divert through Alderly Edge), the roads I took overall weren’t bad and I think this would have been a great and restful ride were it not for the challenging headwind and constant rain.

Thinking back,this is the day I remember least, it just being a steady fight against the weather (not really bad enough to term a constant battle but persistent enough to be an overriding feature of the day). At this point I was glad that Bryony had not joined me for this ride as originally planned – this would have been a downright miserable day for her – was hoping we would have an enjoyable ride to share.

I remember some bits, I remember getting lost in Crewe and how pretty either Market Drayton or Newport looked but much of the rest of the day is a wet and windy blur.

My time estimate for completion kept shifting backwards, from originally hoping to be in Shifnal and my parent’s house for 5pm, I eventually reached there for just before 7.30pm.

Not the best day but was good to complete the day (this was almost bang on 666 miles completed. Oddly appropriate).

Was good to see Bryony at the end of the ride (especially after more than a week (the last time I saw her was being waved off in London eight days and more than 600 miles ago) and enjoy a good meal with my parents – had just missed my sister Kathryn sadly by the time I got there.

In the night I could hear rain and wind and hoped it would clear for the ride next day to Hereford that I was to share with Bryony.

Day Nine

The weather had cleared mostly and we set off for Bridgnorth. We were mostly on main roads as far as there then starting heading south-west on minor roads (that rolled a bit but reasonably gently as I recall).

We stopped for an early lunch at a good pub, sitting outside at first but changeable weather drove us indoors. The weather that day was still mostly clear but had sudden intermittent bad spells including a memorable hailstorm, nature’s exfoliant.

I can’t remember what time we left Shifnal but the day seemed to fly past – so by the time we reached Ludlow the castle was closed.

We set off again for Hereford (via back roads south of Mortimer’s Cross via Yarpole (“Yarp!”). At this point we acquired a dog that decided to run along with us for some distance.

After that it was a slog on the A road south (although our back roads route had helped us avoid Hope Under Dinmore and brought us towards Hereford by a better road for our purposes. It was a road I knew reasonably welland we passed places I had ridden through first decades before – passing fruit farms where I had earned cash in school holidays here and there.

The evening was drawing in, as evidenced by sightings of two different barn owls ghosting across our path until finally we re topped the last rise, just before the Roman Road to the north of Hereford (by a suburb with the ridiculous name of Bobblestock). Looking at Hereford from the outside, the cathedral and two main medieval churches are still the tallest buildings in the town and so are still the main landmarks.

We crossed the town and were at my brother’s house, got cleaned up then headed off for more curry (no wonder I didn’t lose weight riding this). I now had a rest day to enjoy before setting off on the final part of my journey. I’m not sure but I think at this point, the ride this day was thelongest Bryony had ever ridden in one go.

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!