Circuits Royale: For Littles!

This is a REALLY short blog post. More of a continuation than a post…

After unleashing Circuits Royale into the internet, I had literally twos of messages from parents requesting a kid’s version. WELL, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I set to work and transformed it into a fun activity for little people that might help pass some time during this… coronavirus hiatus.

Just like the Original Version, you can make this last as long as you want to suit you and your minis – it all depends on how many times you throw the dice.

How does it work?

  • Firstly, decide whether you want to include all of the columns (Let’s Pretend [pretty active], Animal Moves [also pretty active] and Body Shapes [more chill]).
  • Then, with the columns you’re including, decide which order you’ll do them in.
  • Now it’s time to roll the dice!
  • If you’ve decided to do all 3 columns, in the order they’re shown and you roll 4, 1, 6, 2, 2, 5 your activity will look like this:
  • Sailing a boat, Jump like a frog, Arrow shape, Astronaut on the moon, Walk like a bear, Make a star shape.
  • Alternatively, you can just do one at a time, picking a column and throwing the dice.
  • Basically, you can play however you like!

I’ve included a suggestion for how long to spend doing the different movements, but that’s really up to you too (and their attention spans).

You don’t need any apparatus, just a bit of space, which can be inside or outside!

I hope you find it useful and, most of all, loads of fun.

Hugs,
J x

Revolve 24 – Surviving a 24-hr bike relay

Revolve24 is held at Brands Hatch circuit; famous for motorcar racing, but for one weekend, it’s taken over by cyclists. Old, young, novice, pro (Jason Kenny – hi), team riders, soloists and any other label you can think of. The idea is simple, complete as many laps as you can in the space of 24 hours. As a soloist or pair, in fours and eights; female, male or mixed teams.

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The company I work for, Jam Cycling, was sponsoring the event, but of course wanted to take part as well. We were assigned Garage 8, which had 20 places and filled it with a bunch of our mates. We fielded a female team of 4 (EatEatRideRepeat), a mixed team of 4 (Team Attacus) and 2 male teams of 4 (Team LWLL and Team Dirty Wknd), and were honoured to be joined by our good friend, Matt Falconer who was doing the 24-hr solo category (oof).

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The event started at 15:30 with a Le Mans-style start, where the first riders stood on the opposite side of the track to their bikes and, on hearing the gun, ran to their bikes to start the race. All our teams got fantastic starts and, with that, the event was underway!

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Between 15:30 on the Saturday 15th September until the same time the next day, all riders would take it in turns to head out onto the circuit, which was 2.38 miles (3.83 km) long with 116 ft (35 m) of elevation that was spread across 4 climbs, with a peak gradient of 9%. Our teams adopted a variety of strategies, with stints on the track ranging from 30 mins to 2 hours. Each strategy has its strengths and weaknesses; a shorter stint on track means you can sustain a harder effort for that shorter time, but your rest in between stints is also reduced. A longer effort out on the track means a potentially steadier lap, but with more consistency and rhythm, and a much longer recovery. The key to success, and something all our teams did very well, was adapting to the conditions and switching up their plans when things went off track (which…they always will).

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We were really lucky with the weather, it was dry and sunny; however, there was a strong and gusty wind, which was slightly frightening down Paddock Hill and particularly draining along Cooper Straight. The trick with any endurance event is to control your effort, use a lower gearing and higher cadence if you can to avoid the build-up of lactic acid and muscle soreness. I had to remind myself of this on the numerous occasions that I was faced with that brutal headwind: gear down, pedal through it.

In the end, the most difficult part was the time between riding. My team (EatEatRideRepeat) started with 1-hr stints, so we had 3 hours to recover. I attempted to follow this routine each time I finished a stint:

  • Cleats off, trainers on
  • Warm down on the RevBox (5 mins easy spinning)
  • Eat and drink (as much as possible. This got more and more difficult with time. The fatigue from lack of sleep was making me queasy, so eating wasn’t a barrel of laughs)
  • Change out of kit (hang anything that may be worn again, so it has time to dry)
  • Wear as many comfy layers as possible
  • Try to sleep or at least chill out

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That last point is most difficult. Your body is wired as a result of a potent combination of adrenaline, sugar and caffeine. Your heart rate will be high and, the more tired you get, the higher your heart rate will remain, making sleep even more challenging. It’s a pretty vicious cycle.

The stints in the night were a mix of exciting and frightening. I made sure I had a really strong light (1500 lumens), but otherwise the track was not lit. Although the field was nicely strung out, I feared an overtired cyclist veering into me. This almost happened once, but in his defence, I think he was caught by a gust of wind, but managed to straighten up just in time to avoid running me off the track. On my second night-time stint, I looked down to find my front light was on a red warning (and being a new light, I didn’t know if this meant my light would leave me in the next few minutes or in the next hour) and my back light was…gone. Luckily, I was wearing a Métier gilet with integrated lights, which meant the marshals didn’t pull me of the track. Phew. I didn’t fancy legging it round the remaining half of the course to exchange lights. Lesson: Make sure your lights are fully charged for every stint.

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A definite highlight was coming across friends during a stint i.e. someone you can trust to share the workload. I had 4 glorious laps on the wheels of Chris Hall, Matt Falconer and another 24-hr soloist, Leo. Chris sliced through the wind like butter and we all glided along serenely in his wake…for a short while. But, all good things must end. In this case, both Chris and I had done our stints, so we were rolling off. I knew next time I went on, I’d probably be alone and it’d feel that much harder!

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Cat and Esme smashing it up.

Rolling off the course and along the pit lane, it was always a relief to have finished and every time, I was greeted by at least one, if not more, friendly faces. Ready to help with the transition (exchanging a slap band) and grabbing any warm layers or snacks that might be needed. If you do an event like this, having a few crew members that are there to help with the small things whilst you’re tired/flustered/panicking is awesome. We were lucky enough to have Jimmi and Emily from Attacus, who were there supporting everyone. Legends.

Garage 8 did amazingly well. Despite a bad mechanical in Team Attacus (a busted rear derailleur), a few flats for EatEatRideRepeat, numerous dropped chains all round and one front mech. giving up the ghost in Team LWLL with a few hours to go, all our teams finished in the top 25 out of 151 teams and soloists:

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  • Team Dirty Wkend (2ndin category; 3rdoverall)
  • Team LWLL (5thin category; 12thoverall)
  • Team EatEatRideRepeat (1stin category; 16thoverall)
  • Team Attacus (3rdin category; 21stoverall)
  • Matt Falconer (19thin category; 87thoverall)

It’s hard to put my finger on what’s enjoyable about staying awake for 24 hours doing intermittent crit races… but despite the sore muscles, tired eyes and low-level queasy feeling that’s been with me since Sunday (it’s now Tuesday), my brain’s already wondering when I might do it again. I think it must be the company. The camaraderie. That awesome feeling of achieving something that not everyone can do. It’s the silly conversations at 3:41 am and eating a brownie for breakfast, banana bread for second breakfast and pizza for lunch no.1. It’s descending into the darkness or finding a friendly wheel when you’re starting to feel tired or shouting “ONE LAP LEFT!” into the pitch black, and knowing someone is listening, ready and raring to go. It’s putting your body through the mill over and over again, and being incredibly surprised that it keeps going.

Photo by Epic Action Imagery (www.epicactionimagery.com)
My team!! EatEatRideRepeat (Louise, me, Cat and Fi)

So, whilst I might not be raring to go and do it again any time soon, I know that when it comes around again next year, I’ll be signing up. This time with a lap count to beat (51)!

Many thanks to Jimmi from Attacus for the photos!

J x

Time to Try Time Trialling: The Whys and Wherefores

I’ve been battling recently with the idea of racing or not racing my bike.

Coming from a background of competitive running, my brain quickly turns to times and rankings. Am I quicker than this person, did I go longer or higher? What power were they putting out? For a long time, I didn’t feel like this about cycling; cycling was my escape from the constant need to compare myself to others (or to myself). I think it’s because I was still running, so I could satisfy those needs there. However, when I damaged my toe a while back, it put a complete stop to my running and cycling took over.

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Turns out, I have no cartilage in my second toe joint!

Working in the job that I do (Communications Manager at Jam Cycling), I’ve found myself surrounded by competitive cycling: writing up race reports, seeing power data, talking about efficiency and aerodynamics, and weighing up the pros and cons of different training techniques. All the while, cycling more and more, improving bit by bit. I’d got an InfoCrank power meter (perk of the job) so was increasingly aware of what kind of effort I was putting out whilst riding around.

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“Shall we do some intervals?” I asked George, my boyfriend and also cyclist, one day. He looked at me surprised. I’d never shown an interest in that side of things before. I was all about the adventure of it. Going for hours and hours, sometimes days and days, not particularly bothered about structure or purpose. We did a gross, sprinty sweaty interval session on the RevBox. It was rock hard. I loved it.

Have you tried racing?”, “Why don’t you race?”, “You should race.” – phrases I began to hear more and more. From friends at the park, comments on Instagram, people I’d only just cycled alongside. Always people who did racing themselves. My response always being, “Oooooh no. Not for me. Too sketchy. Too many people. Also, I’m not quick enough.” I still find cycling fundamentally scary. Even after all this time. Especially when there are multiple people around. There are so many variables and, in my mind, too many things that can easily go wrong. The fear of crashing (and mainly causing other people damage) far outweighs the niggling feeling in my mind that I wanted to pit myself against other cyclists, to see how I’d fare.

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My face when someone mentions racing.

Then, it was suggested to me that I try a time trial (TT). It would be on a familiar circuit (Lee Valley VeloPark), with no real spectators and, important to me, predominantly on my own. There are other people on the circuit, but every rider is set off at 1-minute intervals, so you only occasionally pass each other. PERFECT.

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I’m mid-TT effort…he’s waiting to get off the circuit.

The event I’ve been going to is the Tuesday Tens, a weekly TT laid on by Lea Valley CC. It’s very simple: you turn up, pay the fee, get your number, wait until your turn, bosh out 10 miles as fast as you can. Go home. Results are received by email a couple of days later.

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It has been a REVELATION. I love it. Ten miles of uninterrupted SLOG. I just put my head down, get into my drops and pedal until my mouth tastes like metal. Then I hold on for dear life until the end. Every week I get a little faster and it is so satisfying! I’m just on my road bike at the moment, so all the improvements are down to either fitness gains or better race lines. No crazy helmets, skinsuits or TT bikes…yet.

  • Attempt 1: 27.50
  • Attempt 2: 27.30
  • Attempt 3: 27.02
  • Attempt 4: 26.42
  • Goal – 26.30 (I’ve got one more at Lee Valley to try and do it!)

It’s been a great way to improve my cornering, to better understand efficient use of my gears and to develop my confidence moving at speed (I’m now happy in my drops, whereas before I hardly used them). It’s also served as a fun way to get a good solid training session done.

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I was annoyed with myself for not trying it sooner, so want to encourage anyone who’s had even a slight inkling to just have a go. Do it now!! You won’t regret it.

Here’s a random array of questions you might have had about it:

  • Do I need a race license? No.
  • Where do they happen? Sometimes on a closed circuit (no cars to worry about) or on an open stretch of road (the roads won’t be closed to traffic, but there will be marshals and the route won’t be a busy one). It varies from place to place.
  • Where do I find my local TT event? You can use this: https://www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk/find-events or contact nearby cycling clubs who might put on their own events that aren’t listed in the link.
  • What distance is it? The beauty of TTs is there are so many different distances, from 10-mile to 24-hour events. You can also test your hill climbing skills in the TT format.
  • Do I need a special bike? Nope. Over time you might want to attach clip on TT bars to improve your position. Then when you stop getting faster again, you’ll probably want to buy AWL THE THINGS.
  • Do you warm up? Not reallllly, I do a few laps of the course, but then I have to wait until my turn, by which time any warm-up gains have probably disappeared… I’d need rollers to do a proper warm up, which is what some of the other cyclists do. If I ever a) get rollers and then b) learn to stay upright, it definitely would do me good to get the legs spinning and blood flowing. My first few laps are always the worst probably because my body’s not ready to go.

Let me know if you have any more questions and I’ll see what I can do!

Otherwise, be brave. GO DO IT!

J x

Photos by Jimmi of Attacus and Toby of Cold Dark North

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A rare moment when there were a few of us on the track at the same time. Nothing to worry about though. Lots of space!

It’s Not Morton’s, It’s Mine.

The biggest challenge for me running the marathon was always going to be getting through the training in one piece.

I did not.

My last post was pretty negative, as I was finding the training hard; real hard. But about a week after that I started to get my rhythm, the training was still hard, but I started to feel better: more flow and less chug. I secretly began to think I was really going to do it. After a few good weeks hitting all my paces and training my way through the #BeastFromTheEast snow-week-of-doom on the treadmill, I then ran The Big Half half marathon. THIS IS WHERE MISTAKES WERE MADE.

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Instead of being a sensible human and running in the trainers I’d been training in, I decided it was a jolly good idea to wear my racing flats. NEWSFLASH, this was not a good idea.

The race went well and I clocked 1:26.33. Cool. I’m on track.

The plan I was following hadn’t allowed for racing, but I added in The Big Half as a practice run, because that’s what everyone else does. But instead of doing an easy week after the half, I just dove straight back into a tempo run.

This also was not a good idea.

Three miles in (feeling smug because I really thought I wouldn’t hit my target pace and I was) my calf started to feel … weird. Ignore it…It’ll go. I thought to myself.

It did not go. In fact, it significantly worsened and, over the next half mile, I ground to a halt. Then had a long three-mile walk home.

Fast-forward a week and I think I’ve sorted this minor niggle out. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation (prodding…hoping…) seems to have calmed it down. So, I nip out for a 2-mile jog and it feels 90% fine.

Here comes bad idea number three, y’aaalllll.

Instead of leaving it and being satisfied with my mini, 90% fine run, I thought, Yes. Now is the time to perform 10 x 800m as per my training plan. I did 60m. Then was kaput.

I was suffering from Marathon Madness, OK. In my mind, all these things seemed like fine ideas. Logical even. And that’s why we should listen to our friends. They are outside your bubble and know when you are being idiotic. The problem with my plan having only three sessions per week, was that every session missed seemed like a very BIG deal. So, I was mildly panicked all the time and didn’t feel like I could take a week to recover.

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Treadmill Selfie Phwooarrrrrr

Now what I haven’t mentioned is overriding bad idea number 0. Yes. Number zero. That’s because it’s the toe pain I had before I even started training for the marathon and subsequently ignored. It had been hurting for ages, but I just… couldn’t be bothered with the faff of getting it seen to. So, when I went to the physio for this calf kaput, I mentioned my toe had been pretty uncomfortable, but ignorable; hence why I’d… ignored it.

Turns out, gang, that I have Morton’s foot*! My second toe is longer than my big toe. I knew this … I’ve looked down at my feet on more than one occasion, but I didn’t realise this phenomenon has a name! The problem is, the way I run means heaps of force is going through that second toe, rather than through its big, hench next-door neighbour. I’ve potentially got a stress fracture (mri pending) or joint capsulitis…so, I’ve probably compensated for that, put unnecessary force through my calf and strained it (grade 2 strain, say whaaa’).

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Skin-coloured tape or tape-coloured skin?

Long and short of it is, I don’t have time to recover, rehab and run a 3-hour marathon (and I’m not about to aqua jog. Sorry. I spent circa 3 years doing that at uni in my desperate attempt to be athlete and I’ve exhausted my life’s tolerance of it). So, I’m not going to do the London Marathon. Not this year anyway…maybe not even next year. I’m sure I’ll do it at some point. At the moment, though, I feel like my body isn’t in to running. It’s not that I don’t enjoy it, I really do (especially when I’m feeling fit), but I often feel like I’m forcing the matter…which goes against my rule of sport: that it should only hurt you in a good way. The hurt that makes you feel accomplished, that reminds you what you achieved, that disappears after some rest and a good meal. If you’re causing yourself genuine pain, then stop; that’s not what it’s about. I didn’t always have this rule, but now I do.

I’m lucky because I can just…climb onto my bike and do that instead, otherwise I’d be in a world of confusion, where I had loads of time and no idea what to do with it all.

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Pic: Luke Atkinson (@lukeatkinson)

I’m currently in the process of shifting my mind set and setting some cycling goals. I’m going to do some interval training, and attempt to get some power and speed into my legs. Not sure if it’s even possible, but I won’t know until I have a go!

Obviously, I’ll report back.

J x

*Greek foot, Royal toe, Turkey toe (lolololol), LaMay toe, hallicusbradymetatarsalgia, Sheppard’s toe, Viking toe, Morton’s syndrome, long toe, boss toe.

How Women Talk About Women

When it comes to gender equality in cycling, it often feels like an uphill battle. Trying to break down barriers that were erected years and years ago by the patriarchy is hard enough, especially for us poor, helpless, weak, little women

JOKING, I’M JOKING!! Women are none of these things. Not necessarily anyway. And especially not because of gender. However, it’s infuriating to read articles (tweets, captions…), which generalise about women in a negative way, that are written BY WOMEN.

We need to think twice before writing and sharing. How does this reflect on women? Are we saying it in a certain way because society has conditioned us to? Can we write it without pigeonholing either gender? If a statement needs to be generalised, can it be driven by a characteristic or trait?

Seeing articles titled ‘Will Cycling Make Your Thighs Bigger’ in women-only magazines and sentences saying, ‘…women are generally more interested in appealing scenery than conquering cols or tricky descents when cycling’ is bad enough, in my opinion, without scrolling to the end of the page to find that they were written by women*.

If females portray themselves to be motivated by physical aesthetics rather than physical capability, or only riding to see a nice view, but let’s go the flat route, then we can’t really blame others (read, men) for assuming and saying those things either.

Stating the obvious (as I often do); women are fundamentally different to men, primarily because they’re provided with the equipment to grow, nourish and protect another human in their bellies! As far as biology is concerned, THAT’S woman’s primary goal; not dragging themselves up hills or powering from A to B as quickly as possible. The female body LOVES to hold onto fat, for example. This determines how the body uses those fats, what hormones are buzzing around AND how much muscle mass women are able to put on, amongst many, many other complex things. So yes, women are different. There’s no denying it. And unfortunately, the fittest, fastest woman probably won’t beat the fittest, fastest man. But that’s not to say women don’t have equally epic aspirations. That women don’t work as hard. That women aren’t superior in other aspects. That they don’t push themselves to the point of getting that weird metal taste in their mouths…

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The motivations and desires of every cyclist, male or female, are different. I love slogging my way up the side of a mountain; the effort, the way I can eventually feel my heart rate in my ears, the sensation of sweat dripping off my skin. I sure as hell didn’t get on my bike to go and look at some flowers on the side of the road, thanks!  But that’s because I’m competitive, goal driven, bloody-minded…and not particularly enamoured by perennials. Nothing else really comes into it.

We need to make an effort to stop writing and sharing these self-deprecating gender generalisations that fit in with the social construct of what it is to be a woman. Because if women do it, then it makes it OK for everyone to do it.

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We are strong. We sweat. We are competitive. We are ruthless. We stink.

We’re as bad as men and, therefore, we’re just as good as men.

Let’s not do ourselves down.

J x

*I was reminded of Mean Girls, when the female students are detained in the sports hall after having a massive brawl about The Burn Book. Watch here for #GirlOnGirlCrime

Mettle Detecting…

Week 5 is done and DONE. Nine to go…

It’s feeling pretty hard now. The miles have built up, the workouts are getting longer and my body is starting to answer back a little. I’m doing a lot of my training alone. In part because I work flexibly, so I’ll often do it at around 9am (when the marathon will start) so most other people are at work, and partly because I think it’s good mental training. If I can make myself work hard, without chasing someone down, then perhaps on the day, surrounded by people, that’ll feel like an extra boost…Maybe?

Thoughts of ‘Can I really do this?’ have been popping into my head more frequently than I’d like. ‘This run feels tough, Jess and you’ve got to hold on for 3 hours – at least – on the day’. Anyone nearby would see me physically shaking my head, trying to dislodge the negative thoughts and expel them from my brain.

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Trail runs to mix the long runs up a bit. Really good at descending.

My long run this weekend was 1 hour 50 at chilled pace, followed by 5 miles at marathon pace. The hour-fifty was fine, it’s just a case of getting that bit out the way. I try to think about my form and ignore the niggles, the aching feet (apparently I should get used to this). When it came to doing the final 5 miles, I lied to myself, ‘It’s not that far’.

It was.

I couldn’t stop looking at my watch. I didn’t hit marathon pace, I think I needed to fuel a bit more PLUS I had to keep turning back on myself – London was hell bent on getting in my way. Road blocks everywhere.

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Gnomey. So gnomey. I’ve raced two cross country fixtures during my training and added on a long run after. Tough, but good practice. I hope.

Nutrition has been an interesting one. I’ve only ever done chilled, long trail run adventures, and been fine with shoving flap jack and sandwiches in my face to sustain me for 6 or 7 hours… I won’t get away with that on marathon day, so I need to work out what to do about that. Sharpish. What I have found, nutrition-wise, is that I have to be really careful about what I eat the night before my longer runs. In the first couple of weeks I got some horrendous tummy aches. I quickly learnt what to avoid for dinner the night before (basically vegetables. No vegetables! Every 9-year-old’s dream).

A massive part of this training plan has been resting properly on the days between runs. Getting enough sleep, wearing compression tights, stretching (a bit). I’ve found it REALLY hard not to cycle on these rest days, I miss it a lot. A lot a lot. I’ve done some rides here and there, but I only ever pootle. Always afraid of tapping into energy stores I might need a couple of days later to do the tempo run I don’t believe I’ll be able to complete.

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In the meantime, I’ve been making plans for rides to do once the marathon is over, consoling myself with thoughts of buying an adventure bike and qualifying for Paris-Brest-Paris (like LEL, but…more baguettes and hopefully less bike breaking). It’s just, when I run, I feel like I’m fighting my body, making it move in a way it doesn’t particularly like. I’m not NOT enjoying this training; every time I complete a session it feels awesome, but it’s hard work. With every week that goes by I breathe a huge sigh of relief that my shins haven’t fallen off or my calves haven’t exploded.

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Solo tempo run in Gran Canaria a few weeks ago. Wouldn’t miiiiind doing all my training in the sun. Just. Saying.

So onto week 6 I go. From now on I need to focus on my fuelling, I can’t get away with not anymore. I have The Big Half in two weeks, where I’ll aim to run a 1.25. If I can do that, I might start to believe I can do this 3-hour thing.

I’ll let you know how that goes…

J x

From Quantity to Quality

I’ve decided to run the London Marathon.

Well, actually, I decided to run the London Marathon around this time last year, and then got injury after injury and deferred my entry. So now I feel obliged to do it.

But it all comes to the same thing.

On April 22nd I’ll be toeing the start line with a load of other people who will be hoping they’ve done enough. Run enough. Eaten enough. Slept enough.

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3am on 04/08/2017 – The medal that represents 7 months of training and 5 days of none-stop cycling.

Since completing LEL at the start of August (I don’t know if I’ve mentioned that before…or…), I’ve been trying to transition from endurance cycling to running. For LEL, my training strategy was to just ride… ride whenever I could, until I was blue in the face. When I was tired. When I was hungry. When I was hungover. When my bike was a bit broken (one cog? Fine. This turned out to be better practice than I could have ever imagined). But, for marathoning, I need to remind my body how to move forward in the upright position, rather than whilst sat down, and to deal with the impact of running, both physically and mentally.

It’s been an interesting time.

At first I just rested. I think I did almost nothing for a week, other than sleep, walk (hobble) and eat constantly. After that, I signed up for some hot yoga classes, the idea being that I’d stretch out any tightness, start slowly building strength and get a feel for some sort of routine. I felt good for doing that.

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August-September

Then I started cycling again; morning social laps with friends, which is lovely, but wouldn’t do much for my marathon dreams…so I joined a gym and added in strength and conditioning (S&C) to my week, as well as easy running. The idea was to get 6 weeks of consistent S&C in the bag before I allowed myself to do track sessions and tempo runs.

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So far so good. I could feel the gym work getting easier, so I knew I was getting stronger, and my easy runs were feeling more effortless, but I was beginning to move quicker. I also wasn’t getting the usual stabby shin pains I’d become accustomed to the year before. Operation S&C was working.

October-November

Then I had The Low Weeks. I returned to the track for interval training and started doing tempo runs, and I felt slow and low. If I managed to hit a target time, it would feel like the hardest thing in the world, but I was mainly not hitting my target times. When I went out on the bike, I felt crap too. The running, which felt unsuccessful all the time, was wearing me out, so when I went to ride, I felt weak and slow. This was the least fun part of this transition! And I complained. A LOT.

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Thankfully, that passed. And I give myself 13893894 character points for gritting my teeth and chipping away at the track sessions and tempo runs. *Pats self profusely on the back*. And now, we’re at now. I’m starting to feel like a runner again; I’m beginning to enjoy the track sessions and have started doing longer and longer runs (still no stabby stabby shin pains – HUZZAH!).

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November-December

All of this constituted the Pre-Marathon-Training Training Plan. If I couldn’t get myself to this point (i.e. not feeling like a bag of bricks when running) then I certainly wasn’t going to be able to haul myself around 26.2 of London’s finest miles.

Given my history of running-related injuries, I’ve scoured the interwebs for a program to follow and have decided on this one:

How to Run a 3 hour Marathon: A Just Enough Training Approach

It involves 3 sessions a week of running and then cross training (obviously, I’ll be biking…with some S&C) on the other days (plus a full rest day OF COURSE). You’ll see from the title that I’m aiming for 3 hours. I know. Bold, for a first marathon. But hey, may as well reach for the moon and all that. If I miss, I’ll fall among the stars (or onto the tarmac, depending on how much I miss by). Unlike my LEL ‘training’, just going running isn’t going to cut it, every one of the three sessions needs to be intense and ON. POINT.

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I’ve been trying to ‘race myself fit’ at the Metropolitan League Cross Country. So fun!

Scary.

I’m still trying to work out how to blog this journey in an interesting way. I’d like to document it because I’m intrigued about how this will go. The training plan is unconventional (low volume of running), I’ve never raced further than a half marathon, I’m really prone to injury, I’m probably going to want to ride my bike all the time AND I might get mid-way through training and think, LOL 3 hours is naaaaaat going to happen. Anyway, we’ll see.

Please join me on this journey! I might need your help…

J x

Von Two Three

Three weeks ago, we decided to go on an adventure.

It wasn’t my idea. As with most stuff to do with cycling, I hadn’t heard about this particular thing, but George floated the idea over dinner, I got a belly-bubble of excitement and “Yes!” popped out of my mouth before the reasonable side of my brain had chance to whirr into action (note, it’s quite common for large parts of my grey matter to not join in and, therefore, I regularly find myself in these situations).

The plan was simple: Put bikes in the boot on Saturday morning, drive to France, have a chilled Sunday to eat and spin the legs out, climb Mont Ventoux by three different routes on the Monday, eat all the food, and be back in London by Tuesday night.

Great. Nothing too complex about that.

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Pre-trip admin

Optional: You can apply for a brevet card here: http://www.clubcinglesventoux.org/fr/ and get it stamped in cafés/bike shops in each of Malaucène, Sault and Bedoin. You need to give yourself a good 2 weeks for postage faff, which we were too late for by the time we’d 100% decided to do it. If I ever do it again, a brevet card I will get.

Book your accommodation. Choose Bedoin or Malaucène, as this means you get the harder climbs out of the way first. I may be stating the obvious, but check that wherever you stay is happy to house your bicycles, as well as you.

We booked our accommodation in Malaucène. After some blog scouring and internet trawling, it seemed that the majority of people had chosen to start the challenge from Bedoin, citing Malaucène and Bedoin as the most difficult, and the route from Sault as significantly easier.
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In my opinion, doing Malaucène first was the best way. I felt that Bedoin was harder, but Malaucène was almost as hard, so it allows you to get into the swing of things without destroying yourself. Once you’re slogging your way up Bedoin for climb two, it’s mentally easier, because as arduous as it may feel, you only have one left afterwards.

Google ‘Mont Ventoux + cingles + blogs’. Reading the insights of those who have gone before will provide you with a good idea of what to carry snack- and drink-wise; however, don’t read too much into other people’s descriptions of how hard it is. Everyone struggles in different ways and all it did was give me irrational fear.

Physical prep. Both George and I came at this with fitness from having trained for and completed London Edinburgh London; i.e. bags of endurance, but no particular climbing training as such and we fared pretty well. I like to believe that with the right mind-set, anyone can do anything, and this is largely true. However, I’d recommend attempting this at a point in time when you’re feeling fit and mentally tough.

When to go. Any time between late May and early October is optimal. We did it on Monday 2nd October 2017, so just scraped in in time and the weather was pretty reasonable. Whenever you do it, you’ll likely experience a variety of weather on that day, because… alpine climb, so equip yourself for all eventualities.

RIGHT. Now you’re all ready to go, I’ll briefly describe our day.

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7.00 am feels.

7.15 – Roll out

We set out in the dark wearing all our layers (FYI: Full length legs, arm warmers, mesh base layer, jersey, wind/rain proof jacket and winter gloves). A tiny tootle through Malaucène and you’re at the start of the climb. It gradually ramps up and calms down, ramps up and calms down, twists, ramps up… you get the gist. This is why I think this climb is slightly easier than Bedoin. It has its steep sections, but it also has some very manageable 5, 6 and 7% sections. The steepest bit is 12%.

I had a bit of a shaky start, guys. I tend to approach things with the mind-set that obviously, I can do this. However, having read some other people’s accounts, I’d bugged myself out a bit and mid-way up this climb, when we needed a little stop to remove jackets (it was way too warm in all our layers), I sucked on my inhaler (fresh air was a bit of a shock to my London grime-lined lungs) and uttered that I wasn’t sure I could do it actually. My layers had made me drip with sweat, and the immediate climbing with no ‘warm-up’ to speak of had sent my heart into a range I’d usually experience during a pretty hard (running) track session. We weren’t even half way up the first climb and I was already feeling it.

One bite-sized George pep talk later, another puff on the inhaler and, with the excess layers stuffed into every available pocket, we kicked off again.

9:15 – Summit de Mont Ventoux, numéro un

The top! The bloody top! I know it seems pre-emptive, but I felt at this point that, bar any mechanicals/accidents, we were going to be fine.

The top was…fuzzy white. Cold. I couldn’t see a thing. So, we donned our jackets and rolled down towards Bedoin, with thoughts of a hot coffee at the bottom.

Summit of Mont Ventoux

Now, me and descending aren’t best mates. I’m still not super into it. The night before I’d struggled to sleep, as I imagined myself soaring through the air having forgotten to adequately brake for a corner. So, whilst some people climb motivated by an impending joyous descent, I climb and try to forget the fact that I need to somehow get down again. However, I am finding that the more I do it, the more I enjoy it. I’m still not at the YAS DESCENDING phase, but I’m getting further away from the NO, PLEASE NO, I’LL JUST SHUFFLE DOWN ON MY BUM phase. These alpine roads were spacious, smooth and sweeping, which really helped. Following George down was good too, allowing me to match his line and brake when he did. This was the coldest of the three descents. Bones cold. But the smell of the forest was delicious.

10:15 – Ascent from Bedoin

Having learnt our lesson on the way up from Malaucène, we started the climb with jackets off. At our coffee stop, we’d refilled water bottles (note, the cafes are happy to do this if you ask nicely), but hadn’t eaten much, just a cereal bar. I knew that this climb was going to be hard and of similar duration to the first, so eating on the move was a certainty.

Bleurgh. Oof. Eurgh.

Unlike other long rides where you spend heaps of time at a steady, comfortable pace, this is constant effort. For me, this meant a perpetual, slightly nauseous feeling and so eating (basically my favourite part of cycling) became a little more challenging. I hadn’t anticipated this, but had packed loads of gels, because…I could.

George, who was ahead, had stopped and had a feed, as I approached him he gestured to me to eat. I shook my head.

“I can’t eat!”

“Have something.”

“I’ll do a gel!”

“Do you want to stop?!”

“NOPE!” I shouted, as a chugged past him.

The last 6km of this climb were tough. It’s exposed and lingers around the 7-10% gradients. Knowing I still had two descents and one climb to go, I told myself to settle in. Just keep chugging. Get to the top, but keep some in the tank.

12:15 – Summit de Mont Ventoux, numéro deux

NO VIEW AGAIN.

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I ate half a banana, made an Instagram story of the none-view and we layered up. This descent was l-o-n-g. Comparatively. I think it took nearer to 45 minutes (vs. the ~25 to Bedoin). The views on the way down were lovely and the shallower gradient meant I had the time to look around. I’d got my heart set on a Coca-Cola for the next café stop, so thoughts of that sweet deliciousness occupied my mind as a cyclist in red swooped past me and chased George down.

NOTE-AY BEN-AY guys, there’s a sneaky bit of UP in this “descent” into Sault. You get to the bottom and with nostrils filled with the smell of lavender you realise that you’re not yet in any kind of civilisation. Keep going and the road hair pins to the right up a short little spike into the village where you’ll find the café.

“Deux coca?”

“Non…Pepsi.

Fine, whatever. Sugar. Get it in me.

We didn’t hang around at the stops. It’s not like you’ll recover in this time, so our tactic was to fill up and get going. Stopping only lets your body realise what you’re doing to it.

13:50 – Ascent from Sault

We knew this climb would be easier to start with, but we also knew what was in store for us in the last 6k from Chalet Reynard. We took it nice and steady, winding our way up the road, through the trees, looking up to the now blue and bright sky.

“THIS IS DREAMY” I shouted, as my bike computer was showing a MASSSIVE 21km/h, a nice change from the 9km/h I’d grown accustomed to seeing.

“The split is coming soon. Let’s have a snack, then it’s the last bit of effort”.

‘The split’ was Chalet Reynard, where the Sault route joins the Bedoin route, but also the point where I knew I’d be hard-pushed to stay with George. Weirdly, I felt in better shape than I had at the same point during the climb before. The long, shallower ascent had been within my comfort zone and served as a sort of active recovery. My speed was higher this time and I felt more in control. George gradually disappeared into the whiteness, so I put my head down and focused on … nothing. I don’t know. I didn’t want to see any numbers, so I switched the view on my bike computer to maps. I looked at the road, I looked out to the left to see if I could see…

Nope.

Another cyclist was on my wheel. I couldn’t do anything to change that, so I hoped he had more in his legs and would go past. Rather that than have the pressure of someone breathing down my neck. Literally.

He finally went around me, followed soon after by another climber. To the right of me, a cyclist had been defeated; probably just one moment of doubt, allowing herself to unclip and then…that’s it. You can’t get going again.

I whimpered.

Jessica. Anne. Fawcett, do NOT give in. You’re so bloody close.

1 km to go

George had waited for me. As I pedalled towards him, he pushed off and we turned the last corner together. It’s pretty steep and I had visions of myself just…teetering over sideways…but I remained upright and we made it to the top one final time.

Summit of Mont Ventoux

15:40 – Summit de Mont Ventoux, numéro trois

Mont Ventoux didn’t care about what we’d done, so we were not rewarded with a spectacular view. We looked out into the mist as we caught our breath, then recruited a tourist to take our picture (who subsequently borrowed George’s bike for a triumphant snap commemorating the climb he had done… by car).

“Right, I’m hungry, shall we go down?”

The final descent

… was ace. I was tired, but not completely wiped out, so was able to enjoy the sweeping corners and smooth roads one last time. We stopped briefly to enjoy the view (well if we couldn’t have one at the top…) then rolled back into Malaucène with thoughts of crepes and coffee to tide us over until dinner.

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16:40 – Fin

“Errrr…no food now…désolé…”

 Ah. Merde.

Aside from the lack of celebratory crepe, the day’s cycling had been awesome. A veritable rollercoaster of emotions, but the overriding one was joy. I’d like to go back one day – a view at the top would be nice.

J x

Distance: 84.7 miles

Elevation: 4,404 metres

Elapsed time: 9.04.37

Moving time: 7.35.00

Strava activity: Here

 

 

 

 

There Are Two Ways About It: LEL Part 2

I was enjoying the simplicity of having one gear; there was nothing to do but pedal or pedal harder, and I quickly learned to keep off my brakes.

Day 3

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Martin, one of the volunteers had taken me to see Vishal, a mechanic who had come from India to volunteer at LEL (!). He worked his magic and transformed my useless bike into something rideable: A single speed bike.

“I completed it single speed in 2013 with 4 hours to spare”.

I looked up from my second breakfast to the encouraging smile of another volunteer, “I’ll certainly have a good go.”

James and Han were chasing the 100-hour finishing time, so had left Moffat at 5 am. Ellie, Ele and George had arrived there at midnight, so I planned to set out with them slightly later on, with the aim of at least making it to Edinburgh.

As it happened, the climbs in that 80 km were the least of my worries. The gearing on the bike was low and it was the flats that were painful. Painfully slow.

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I started wishing for gradients and headwinds, and urged the others to go on without me; I hated holding them up. Luckily for me, the final 20 km was such that I could catch and ride with them and we rolled into Edinburgh together.

There’s no way I can ride back to London like that.

Aside from the infuriatingly slow speed I was traveling at on the flats, trying to pedal in the wrong gear is saddle-painful. George was struggling with an Achilles problem, so he and I were both contemplating getting the train home. Ele and Ellie headed out to commence the southward journey.

Again came the tears, as I messaged my family and friends:

You’ve done so well to get that far.

Shall I book a train for you?

Don’t worry – there’s always next time.

                                                                London to Scotland is amazing, Jess.

Can I help in any way?

No. No. No. No.

I wanted none of these things and, although I’d made the claim that I had dropped out, I hadn’t officially scratched from the race. Nor had George. We were at a silent impasse. No trains were being booked, no moves were being made to actually extract ourselves from the race. Because it’s the last thing either of us wanted.

Edinburgh to Brampton (should have been Barnard Castle)

We looked at each other and grinned as we rolled out of the control stop and straight into a hill. The mechanic had put on a new chain in a new gear. I rose from my saddle and we began to overtake other cyclists with starting letters far later than our own. This is OK. We can do this. We caught up to a guy on a fixed gear bike, again, confirming that maybe this wasn’t such a crazy idea – I mean, this chap had chosen to ride the entire thing fixed.

For the next few hours, we climbed into the clouds and descended into rain.

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– Take care, sheep on the road –

You’re not wrong.

The onslaught of hail stones as we descended into Innerleithen was life affirming, the sunset as we left Eskdalemuir was jaw dropping, and in the time between, George and I learned to ride in tandem. Quickly establishing where we could make up time and where we just had to sit in and enjoy the views, as my top speed at that gear ratio was about 25 km/h.

The darkness closed in around us, as we paused by the side of the road to eat Mars bars and turn on our lights. The rain came down once more, but we were in high spirits. We’d almost made it to Brampton and we’d had a flipping good time.

Dinner: Cooked-breakfast-for-dinner; More chips please; Protein bar.

Day 4

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The coffee’s run out?

If you know me, you’ll know this is bad; I’m 75% coffee. I settled for a cup of tea and a bacon sandwich. Then I found the porridge. So, I had that too.

We rolled out of Brampton with a big, BIG day ahead of us: 320 km and the North Pennines, with Louth as our final destination. The weather wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. We were moving well, crossing paths with people we’d met the day before.

Ahhhh single-speed girl, you’re still going!

A cobbled section in Alston was playing on my mind, as I worried I’d have to get off and push up it. Not something I wanted to do, because: pride. But, with a promise from George that there was a café stop soon, we flew up the cobbles no bother, then hit the North Pennines proper.

Garrigill.

No café. 

Newbiggin.

No café.

Holwick.

Still. No. Café.

MICKLETON. Ohmygosh. MICKLETON has the café! We topped up on caffeine, I refilled my Jelly baby supply and we trucked on to Barnard Castle (FLAPJACK AND FOREST FRUITS).

228 km to go.

We passed through somewhere called Forcett, which I enjoyed immensely. Then, to make up for the fact I’d stayed upright during The Mechanical, I dove into a bush somewhere between Thirsk and Pocklington, and had to be lifted out because I was completely stuck in my right pedal and under my stupid bike. We chuckled about it all the way up and down, and up and down the Howardian Hills. I was enjoying the simplicity of having one gear; there was nothing to do but pedal or pedal harder, and I quickly learned to keep off my brakes.

KEEP GOING, GUYS. THERE ARE CHIPS AND MUFFINS AT POCK XO

 – Hannah knew what would motivate us.

We trundled into the control stop tired and soggy, wishing this was our sleep stop and knowing it was not.

Dinner: Chips, cheese, peas and gravy (this is getting embarrassing); Muffin; Banana; Double espressos all round.

 The next ~5 hours would turn out to be the worst of all the LEL hours. On account of the time and the weather, we opted to take a less winding, more direct route along A roads. I was excited about going over the Humber Bridge again, but it came and went; minus the magic plus an almost-bonk. Our lights were failing us one by one, and soon we were left with one pathetic front light and one small, but enthusiastic, flashing back light between us. I didn’t know at the time, but George had been carefully diverting my attention every time a sign with the remaining distance came up. But he missed one.

Louth – 25 miles

I sobbed, but I couldn’t cry. It was the strangest thing. It wasn’t that I was physically struggling. People aren’t lying when they say, your legs will just keep going. But it felt like we’d been on this lonnnnnnng, straaiiiiight road for hours (we had). Lorries would occasionally pass us so closely that I’d yelp. My bladder seems to shrink when it gets dark (?!), so I kept having to stop and do roadside stealth wees (and it was way too wet and cold to be getting undressed).

Then we had a puncture.

George somehow remained upbeat, calm, steady. I’d run out of words.

Two guys that we’d left Pocklington with, but subsequently lost, rolled over to us, their wonderfully powerful front lights and company providing the lift we needed.

4.30 a.m. – Louth.

I was delirious. I felt sick with tiredness, but knew I had to eat. I piled a plate high with pasta and mince, and returned to the table where George was sat with the smallest bowl of I don’t even know what. I giggled at the situation, as I force-fed myself this weird dinner-at-breakfast meal, all the while receiving texts from Hannah and James, who were about to set off on their final day.

Day 5

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We were reunited with Ellie and Ele at Louth. We ate breakfast together and set out on our final day. The mechanics had done an excellent job on my bike, changing the gearing one final time to something that would allow me to get a bit more speed on the flats that were awaiting us.

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It was the night before all over again: LONG, BLOODY STRAIGHT ROADS. Although this time we had light, so it all seemed a lot less hopeless. A few chain slips later and after another puncture for George, we rolled into Spalding, and in the loos, I came across Hannah, a twenty-year-old (!) rider who I’d briefly ridden with on Day 1. She was struggling with bad neck ache and had had an equally horrible night the night before.

“You’re amazing!” Shouted Ele from the toilet cubicle.

We hugged and wished each other a safe onward journey.

Between Spalding and St. Ives, George engineered our four into an efficient, wind conquering machine and we rotated our way through The windy Fens.

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St. Ives came and went, then we tootled through the lovely Cambridge, to cheers from passers-by.

Allez allez! Go onnnn! Well done.

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And soon we were approaching the second-to-last stop, with some ropey, gravelly tracks and, once again, inadequate lighting (notes to selves for 2021…). Everyone was tired. Sore. It was late. Much later than our initial plans (again…noted for 2021…forget the plan), but focusing on that was pointless, because we were going to make it.

Dinner: Vegetable curry and rice; Bowl of custard and chocolate sponge cake; Black coffee; Chocolate digestives, let’s say… 3.

“Guys it’s only 40 km and we’re done!”

“49 km”.

“Eh?… Just call it 40 km”.

I was eager to get going and get back. Our friends were waiting for us at Loughton, texting us pictures of them eating brownies and drinking tea. I was so grateful to them for being there so late on a work night and just wanted to arrive so they could all get home to bed!

“Easy now. We ride together…arrive together.” – I was getting carried away and dropping the others in my haste to get back. There wasn’t tiredness anymore, no real pain. I felt like I could have ridden forever. The roads were so much fun, rising and falling, flowing from left to right. I remember my lungs feeling so full of fresh cold air and I was smiling as we hurtled down short descents in the pitch black.

Civilisation (light pollution) began to rear up ahead and I slowed down.

I wanted to turn around.

“Shall we go back?”

“…Yeh. Let’s just get a shower and a sleep first.”

J x

[Also…I’ve cobbled together this video of Instagram clips I made throughout LEL]

Big thanks to dhb for the lovely kit and See.Sense for our rear lights.

Thanks to Ele for the pictures in this blog post.
I feel like I can’t say it enough: Thank You, George. I truly couldn’t have done it without you.

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LEL: Done.

There Are Two Ways About It: LEL Part 1

Lincolnshire. ALREADY?! The blue sky and bright green grass matched our jerseys. We laughed at how flat the roads were and my brain dared to think that maybe this whole thing wasn’t going to be as hard as we’d worked ourselves up for.

Day 1

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We set out in glorious sunshine from Loughton, and soon found ourselves in a big peloton, eating up the roads – the excitement made it feel effortless. Surrounded by people from all over the world, I chit-chatted to half a dozen cyclists, as we changed positions within the group. I reached down for my drink and the ring on my dehydrated thumb let gravity take it. There was nothing to be done; I heard it clatter down my bike and ping onto the road. “Was that part of your bike?!” Someone shouted, I shook my head and dismissed it, “JUST MY RING. I can get it on the way back!” 

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Lincolnshire. ALREADY?! The blue sky and bright green grass matched our jerseys. We laughed at how flat the roads were and my brain dared to think that maybe this whole thing wasn’t going to be as hard as we’d worked ourselves up for. We cycled alongside a man who was quick to empty our half-full glasses, “You have a tail wind and it’s flat. Just wait until tomorrow.” 

K, dude. Take your negativity elsewhere. We got this.

Soon we were at the Humber Bridge. It felt magical. Hannah and James were slightly ahead, their rear lights doing a syncopated dance. I faffed around in my jersey pockets, trying to reach my phone to take some pictures and I couldn’t help but smile to myself. We’d cycled all the way here, from London, in one day.

Blimey.

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What followed was a less magical, more worrying section in the dark. The final stretch of the day into Pocklington was via some small country lanes and our front lights were only enough to spot potholes directly ahead. A mixture of joy and relief washed over me as we entered our first overnight control stop.

Dinner: Protein shake; Chips and chilli and peas and gravy and cheese…and gravy; Muffins (one at the table, one for the road…to bed). I’m going to say I ate an apple, I’m not sure if this is true.

The blow-up beds were situated in a sports hall a small walk from the canteen. It was all very organised. We signed in and requested a wake up ‘prod’. Another small walk took us to where the showers were. Unfortunately, that evening, the water was cold. We laid out our damp things to dry around us, plugged in the electricals and pulled masks over our heavy eyes. We’d be woken at 5am.

Day 2

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Such dirty shoes. What did we cycle through last night? No time to think about it. Day 2 wasn’t as long as Day 1, but involved more climbing. We all wanted to crack on with it, knowing our legs would be full of Day 1’s adventure. The next stop was Thirsk, which was followed by Barnard Castle; the home of the best flapjack of the whole trip. There was also the forest fruits juice. “This is everything” Hannah said, as she sipped from the plastic beaker. We filled our bottles with that magic sugar water and headed out. We still had 158km to do. It had been windy and the weather changeable. My jacket had been on and off all day. I wedged it into my saddle bag holster, not securing it properly.

The North Pennines were a slog. The wind battered me. I couldn’t hold onto James and Hannah, but part of me didn’t want to. I wanted to feel like I’d done some of the work. So far, I’d hung onto their wheels the majority of the time.

“A bit further and then it’s all down hill after this.”

OK, James. Sure.

I wanted to believe him, but my brain was in a funk and I couldn’t perk myself up. I kept chugging away, feeling bad for my silence. I’d promised to be the positive one – that was my job. But Brampton, our second-to-last stop of the day felt so far away, right up until we arrived.

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Coffee. Biscuits. Cake. More cake.

‘Someone’s already nearly half way. He’s had 21 minutes sleep so far.”

Madness.

Nearly there. I sucked down hard on an energy gel, making sure I got every last drop. The metal packet pinged the back of one of my teeth that has a filling in it. Gah. I was tired. Two full days of hanging onto wheels and the last section had been along main roads, where we’d been joined by some gents who took some turns on the front. The pace had been pretty relentless.

Nearly there. Nearly there.

WOH, WOH, WOH!” Came a shout from behind. My bike jolted to a stop. Without thought, both feet were unclipped and planted on the floor. I dragged my bike to the side of the road.

Why is my rear mech. salmon pink? 

My jacket had worked itself loose from my saddle bag holster and found its way into said rear mech. The outcome: my rear derailleur was hanging limply from my bike. My heart fell out of my chest, like I’d gone over an unexpected speed bump in the road. Tears rolled down my dirty cheeks as my brain became empty. Hannah was on the phone, James and a Belgian man were pulling my jacket free from the rear mech.

And I stood shivering, imagining myself on a train home with my broken bike.

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It was late evening and I was hungry. We decided to make our way to the next control stop (Moffat), eat, shower and make a plan.

Dinner: Protein shake; Cottage pie (extra cheese); Cake; More cake; Hot chocolate.

My frame was irreparably damaged, but there was nothing to be lost from asking the mechanics if there was anything at all that could be done. Maybe there was a fix? Perhaps I could borrow a bike? Going home by any other method than pedalling just wasn’t an option.

Not after I’d poured so much of myself into this challenge.

To be continued…

 

J x

Big thanks to dhb for the lovely kit and See.Sense for our rear lights.