Summer Holidays 2013 – a Spain of two halves

We tried to combine the needs of parents and children this year – mainly to success.

The first half of the holiday, having flown into Bilbao and driven from the Basque country to Asturias, was a week in the Picos de Europa. The Picos has been on my ‘must see’ list for about 20 years and the wonderful blend of real, rugged mountain stuff and pretty, rural streams, gorges, villages etc. seemed right for a holiday. The accommodation – a couple of miles outside of Potes – was really lovely. Spacious self-catering agri-tourism and a pool too, to help us cool down after a long morning out and about. We also enjoyed a trip up the Fuente De cable car and a rather longer-than-eastimated nine mile walk down in the building heat. It was ace though.

Lasting impression, apart from the sheer beauty of the place, was that of a nice mix of tourism / services and proper unspoilt tranquillity. You can get the balance right in some places. Heartily recommended.

So, from the ying to the yang. We needed to go to the beach. That’s why Brits go to Spain, after all.

The 7 hours of driving across a whole load of Spain was a real treat. The topographic changes as we coasted from coast to coast were dramatic, exciting, rewarding, and spectacular. Coast to Coast

Even the girls tolerated the driving quite well, really.

The second week was in an apartment in Tossa de Mar, Costa Blanca. Gorgeous pebbly beaches, impressive waves for the med, lots of swimming, nice pools, friendly campsite, cramped apartment, and lots of wine. It was fun.

Oh, and I grew a beard.

Photos here

Video here

Strava: The film

Strava KoM

I recently wrote about a love hate relationship with Strava. The app that bikes back doesn’t want to go away.

Some try to sue them, love, some hate, but it’s not quite like Marmite – as we all seem to love and hate it a little bit. A little bit like real racing, we love it when it goes well. We hate getting beaten.

But perhaps most significantly, it does seem to change the way the more competitive-minded of us go about our training rides. Even on a nice day. So the other week, I made a short film.

Can be watched in HD here.

Time Trialling: Ten Years Gone

Circuit of the Dales

It’s almost exactly ten years since my last time trial. I had ups and downs in my against-the-clock racing between the ages of 17 and 33, but on an April Sunday in 2003, I rode the local Hilly Time Trial (the now defunct Circuit of Holcombe) and didn’t realise quite how long I’d be hanging my time trialling wheels for.

Ten Years After: I’m going Home

A lot have changed in that ten years; fairly obviously, I guess. Now ten-year-old Lily was literally a babe in arms then. Cycling-wise, I’ve also had a bit of a late thirties flourish in cyclo-cross, in my own relative terms, and ten full years off time trialling I must admit I’d started to get a wee bit intrigued about how it all would feel again to ride against the clock…. so I entered a race that had always taken my fancy – for several years – the Circuit of the Dales. Reasonably steeped in history (since about 1980), it’s a tough course and an event that takes place within spitting distance of Kirkby Lonsdale (where mum lives) and Ingleton (where Katie’s parents live). It’s also, dare I say it, within eye shot of three rather special ‘peaks’ of the Yorkshire Dales. If I was going to time trial again, it may as well be a special one.

Surprise, surprise, there was little fun to be had. Despite the spring finally turning up just in time and that nagging easterly wind finally taking a break, even in chilly spring sun (1°C at the start) it still felt pretty heavy weather. A ‘big push on the back’ start at the top end of Ingleton gives you such flattery for five miles or so to Tunstall. It’s downhill, and I think I even sensed a tailwind… but those things never last. The psychological damage kicked in at Greta Bridge, where you start climbing the Lune Valley. For ages. The roads feel like ‘I should be doing 25mph’ but the actually are ‘I’m struggling to do 21mph’ roads. Luckily, a few rises and falls make this bearable, and changes in rhythm are welcome in this sort of a race (well, for me).

It’s a real relief to start the first ‘real’ climb, from Sedbergh over Garsdale Head. Not that I’m a climber (especially a stone over my September weight) but it’s nice to have something to get your teeth into other than energy-sapping should-try-harder drags and false flats. Though the climb lasted 29 minutes, it was a reasonably ‘fast’ climb (I rode the 800 feet of climbing and 9.8 miles at an average of 18.9mph), but it was a climb. You knew where you stood. You had to ride uphill. That was less psychological torture than the Lune Valley.

The uppy downy descent to Hawes is basically one long anticipation of what’s to come. With only 1,000 feet of climbing over 6 miles, the drag over to Ingleton is rarely steep, but tired legs make it that much worse. I rode a lot with a heart rate monitor in my former time trialling days in the 90s, abd today it was of really good use. It’s so hard to go too hard for a bit (then pay) or lose focus and let the effort drop, 2 and a bit hours into racing flat out, but riding on your HRMs guide is really useful on drags like that.

I’m going home, to see my babe

It was nice to see a few people out chivvying me along… Phil, Angus and Mum predictably chanting ‘Good Boy’ near Casterton and Middleton, and Katie with Jean and the girls at Ribblehead, but strangely, on an innocuous streth of hell, almost 1,400 feet up, it was warm to get a shout from photographer Adrian Nicholls of SportSunday – out getting a few photos in a remote spot. That was near the crest of the final climb (not to be sniffed at and higher than any Lakeland pass!) and an ‘I’ve made it’ moment – with only 6 or so miles of mainly downhill left.

So is there anything I learned? Would I do it again? Am I going back to being a tester?

Well, no, in a word. I knew it was going to be very tough. It was very tough. My finishing place – about 39th from 140 was nothing to write home about. I know how to improve that and frankly aren’t that bothered about the dedication it needs. I’d much rather relish putting training into something I could raise my arms aloft for. I’m a tart. I’m driven by ‘event’, by ‘occasion’, and by the sounds of spectators, in a strange way. Time trialling doesn’t provide any of that. That’s not a criticism of time trialling – it’s a criticism of me, and what makes me tick. Put another way, I don’t have the legs for it….! But, crikey, what a stunning part of the world to suffer in. Give me that over a dual carriageway and a fast time any day.

Thanks to my brother Phil, Nephew Angus, and to Ady Nicholls and his ace people at SportSunday for the photos.

GPS Here on Strava: Circuit of the Dales

Why I hate Strava (and why I need Strava)

It’s been nagging me for a while, this one. This is about sport , technology, monitoring and stats. It runs to the very core of me in a number of ways.

I’ve been using fairly detailed recording of my cycling and running for over five years now, since I first got a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch. It suited me. I do a lot of training on my own – probably much more than the average cyclist or runner, so the ‘virtual’ training partner’ it gave me helped. I’ve rarely been out running or cycling in the last few years without thinking about what the average speed, heart rate, calories burnt… or any one particular element of the ride (heck – even total mileage, sometimes… heaven forbid). When Strava was introduced to me by Alan about a year or so ago, I thought it was perfect. For those of you who don’t know it, Strava basically allows you to ‘compare’ yourself – your ride or run – to anyone else who has done the same bit as you. These segments are “public”, so you get to see the ‘results’ for a particular segment (the leader is ‘King of the Mountains – or KoM / QoM for females – for the climb or descent [sic]). It’s a very simple motivation – in the middle of an otherwise routine ride – to push yourself.

Simplicity Works

The purity of that is lovely. ‘Competing’ against ‘real’ rides done by other people – sometimes famous athletes, even… you can soon see how the motivational factor is a great pick-me-up or boost when you’re doing that annoying short climb after the lights and your mind might drift from the training you’re supposed to be engaged with. It’s satisfying too, to visit somewhere you’ve never been (such as my trips to Sardinia or Arran last year) and find out what other people you’ve never met and will never meet have managed on a particular climb or descent. Even better, you can look at some great stats in the middle of races, such as the various obvious ‘segments’ of the 3 Peaks Cyclocross – seeing where you performed well or badly compared to fellow competitors.

Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud

The press is rife with stories about segments that ought not be. There are countless ones I know of where the segment may include lights in the middle of them, some on footpaths where, even being generous, we’re borderline meant to be riding – let alone racing (albeit virtually). There’s even one on a canal towpath I’ve heard of. You can picture the flailing bodies of pedestrians thrown into the water as cyclists on tri-bars belt past them. It’s just not really right.

Despite it being a good idea to ride hard when training, giving people free reign over where they race and don’t race is always going to lead to a few problems with the more competitive-minded ones of us out there. It’s hard to ignore the opportunity of a bagging a good KoM when you’re feeling good, and once you get into racing mode, you start to take a few risks – unnecessary risks, in this case, of course, because you’re not actually racing.

It’s not racing.

A bit like time-trialling, a mildly impure form of racing because it relies on varying conditions, yet everyone sets off at different times, Strava suffers from extreme variations in conditions. Severe (even storm-force) tailwinds can skew (daftly) the speed on some sections of road. So can the heat, traffic, time of day, even who you’re riding with… are they even out there motor pacing? Who knows? It’s just a GPS record. They could be (and often have proven to have been) driving in the bloody car. They could be out in a chain-gang.. through and off – you’re never competing on a like-for-like basis.

That’s why I love road racing, Cyclocross, and Mountain Bike racing. The gun goes, and there you are – amongst them. The whippet climbers, the daft ones who sit on the front and then shout at you for not coming through, the ones who show little stress then suddenly blow up, the skilled ones, the powerful ones… despite all of the mirrored shades, you get to look at them in the eye. You’re racing them.

I’ll stay on Strava though. I (like everyone else on there) have enough positive motivation from it and (think that) I can resist the temptation to go for any daft KoM segments whilst trying my best to keep good speeds up where I can and where it’s appropriate to my training. I’m not dwelling on there, though. Forgive me for not paging through who’s ahead of me or behind me on certain segments. I didn’t have the legs / tailwind / motor assistance that particular day.

Truly unforgivable

But perhaps what annoys me most of all, is that people can ‘name’ their own segment, can’t use normal sentence case, or spell ‘descent’, so my achievements are forever described by some Klutz’s bad grammar. That one kills me every time.

Harriers v Cyclists – one of those little classics

Had a truly great day out on Saturday at the Harriers v Cyclists. It’s a very special event. Unique, light-hearted, but serious and brutal for the shortness of the course. It also covers a load of different topography in the It’s my fourth time there on the course that crosses farmland, ancient woodland, heathland and open moor in the 5.3 mile out-and-back course onto Baildon Moor from Shipley Glen. Continue reading “Harriers v Cyclists – one of those little classics”

On riding abroad (personal cyclist thoughts on a family Mediterranean holiday)

I need to qualify all this first … It’s about squeezing a bit of cycling into a family holiday for someone keen to be fit. Its not about trying to plan a cycling holiday or trip. The following includes references to on- and off-road cycling but this is all just done on the one bike and two sets of tyres I calculated the best to take with me… A cyclocross bike with road and off road tyres. Covering both bases. (or so I thought) Continue reading “On riding abroad (personal cyclist thoughts on a family Mediterranean holiday)”

Hit the North 3: It’s not about the bike(s). A science experiment.

So… my grand idea for Hit the North this year was to lay to rest any speculation that it’s faster on a ‘cross bike or mountain bike. In a two hour race, I would race half on one and half on the other.

After a second place in 2011 at this tough-but-cuddly suburban event inside of the M62 circle, I felt in a good position to prove in incredibly unscientific fashion whether the bike you’re riding is key on a course like that… Continue reading “Hit the North 3: It’s not about the bike(s). A science experiment.”