Applying the finishing touches

So with three weeks to go until the start of the Ride Across Britain challenge the months of training and preparation are now nearly complete. Fund raising is progressing well – helped by raising attention through my new Princes Trust cycling jersey.

A nice moment happened at the station last weekend. I was travelling by train to the start point of a sportive in Petersfield – the logic being that after the 60 mile event finished I would then carry on and ride home to add an extra 40 miles to make the total distance equivalent to a full day of RAB. Anyway I was waiting at Guildford station at 8am for a connecting train and a “retired gentleman” approached me and seeing my bike opened up a conversation. What was it made of (carbon fibre), what were the benefits (light weight), how much did it cost (a lot) etc. I told him what I was training for, and so he asked whether I was raising money for charity. I was wearing an over jacket which I unzipped to show my red Princes Trust top. “Oh yes I approve” was his immediate response and he wished me luck for the event. A random conversation from an inquisitive passer-by that made me feel really good about what I was doing and why I was doing it.

There is still time to sponsor me – by clicking on the link on the photo below.

You will be supporting a fantastic cause, that I now know has a really good public appreciation. I am also starting to make plans to be able share photos and content – via this blog and social media – over the 9 days whilst I am taking part in the challenge. I have started re-using my Twitter account – you can follow me @PaulWeald – and there you can find a picture of me ‘at the beach’ from my sportive that day.

Preparing for the elements

The previous weekend I also learned about what it’s like to ride in torrential rain. I was doing another sportive – this time in the Chilterns – and the sky got darker and darker, before the heavens opened. Thunder, hail and a torrential downpour ensued – much more than my showerproof jacket could cope with. So this week I am the proud owner of a much more rain resistant and breathable cycling jacket – all set for the inevitable rain that we might get on RAB in the Lakes or in Scotland.

I also got very wet shoes from the early morning dew walking across the field from the car to event registration that day. The RAB kit list suggests crocs and so, courtesy of some shopping by my wife, I now have my first pair of open toed footwear. A new experience for my feet!

So I guess this is all about getting ready to move out of the comfort zone – that is part and parcel of undertaking a big challenge. Not worrying about what the weather will do, and in September, recognising that chilly damp conditions underfoot are what we should expect.

And getting used to climbing back on the bike after 60-70 miles in the saddle for another 2 hour ride to get you to the destination point for that day. It’s becoming the new normal.

Six weeks to go – time to get my charity fund raising sorted

Now the schools have broken up it is timely reminder that the RAB itself is now just around the corner. In fact in six weeks time I will be packing my belongings into a 90L kitbag and getting ready for the train journey down to Penzance. Can’t wait…..

Training has continued to progress pretty much as planned. This month I had a very enjoyable four days of cycling whilst on holiday in Majorca.

Whilst the hills were good practice for the first two days of RAB in Cornwall and Devon, the 30 degree plus temperatures were not something that I expect we will see in early autumn in the UK!

So my Spanish rides were shorter trips at either the beginning or end of the day to try and avoid the ‘mad dogs and Englishmen’ effects of the midday sun. Over the four days I managed a total of 250 km across six different rides. There was a combination of flattish spins out towards the coast and then more challenging rides with 500 metre (1,500 foot) ascents of the local hills.

Most venues had a church or castle at the top. And so the song of the day was Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill“. Very apt!

It was all going well until the final day when I got caught out by a change of road surface on a bend which resulted in me falling off my bike and sliding down the road on my left hand side. Luckily nothing worse than bumps and grazes, although it was a week before I got out cycling again back at home.

It’s time to help others

The other part of the reason for taking on this cycling challenge is to raise money for a good cause – which for me is the Princes Trust. Just like the London Marathon – the RAB event does a lot of social good through charity fundraising. Back in February I attended a Q&A evening put on by the event organisers – at the offices of the Princes Trust. I met one of their ambassadors and heard first hand of the amazing work that they do to help young people – who have fallen on hard times – to turn their lives around. It was truly inspiring and meant that my Ride Across Britain had found its true purpose.

You can click on the image below to donate directly to this charity.

I would also like to encourage businesses to get involved:

  • For example, does your business have charity days – dress down Fridays for example – and would you be prepared to hold an event to raise funds for the Princes Trust?
  • One of my wife’s clients has the idea of setting up a static bike in their offices and then getting staff to take a turn at pedalling. And as ‘cake’ is a well known staple diet of cyclists, then why not combine it with a cake stall?

It would be great if we could arrange some events whilst the RAB is taking place in September. In that way there is a direct connection between those participating through your business with me (and 700 others) who are pedalling across the country. There is still six weeks left to make these arrangements.

So please do get in touch if you think your business could get involved in this way – to extend the reach of my fund raising as a corporate activity. So that together we can give more young people a chance to better themselves.

Time to get the miles in

This month has seen an increase in cycle training volume as a result of two big weekends of cycling. And the results are very encouraging for the challenges that lie ahead.

Back to back hundred miles

This first was the London Revolution – a two day event organised by the RAB event company Threshold Sports.

This started at Lee Valley in north London, with a 5am alarm call on the Saturday morning to drive around the M25. A few hours later and I was rolling across the start line for a two hour ride through London. An iconic photo crossing Tower Bridge, but lots of traffic lights and built-up conurbations to slow our progress. Made me glad my local roads are in the leafy lanes around the royal county of Berkshire!

Once we hit the green belt the scenery changed to more familiar surroundings as we moved south west through Kent and Sussex towards the Surrey Hills. A couple of nice climbs done and we made our way towards Windsor racecourse with a 100 miles ‘on the clock’. A fanfare arrival to base camp gave me a good impression of what to expect on each day of RAB, but then rather than heading for the chillout zone it was time for a quick pit-stop before the extra 15 miles ride home. As I have the hotel option booked for RAB, I didn’t need the glamping experience of rain showers, rider snoring and being woken by random tents zips in the middle of the night!

Sunday morning was a 6am alarm (a relative lie-in) for the pedal back to Windsor, where seeing a long queue to cross the start line I opted for a cheeky – bacon butty – second breakfast. Refuelled for the day ahead, the route took us over familiar roads crossing the Thames at Marlow before tackling some meatier climbs in the Chilterns. When we get to RAB, the first two days in Cornwall and Devon are the toughest by way of “undulations” and so the repetitive up/downs of Bledrow Ridge and Kop Hill was a good test. I got up them all showing that my winter training and base level fitness has paid off. Following a sunny lunch stop, we made our way north east through some salubrious areas of north London before hitting Enfield with just 5 short miles of built-up traffic to ride through.

Crossing the finish line – to another fanfare – I quickly stowed my bike in the car and grabbed a change of clothes. Barely 10 minutes had passed and I switched on my phone to see my finisher line photos already uploaded to my facebook account. Now this is a seriously cool use of technology. The event photographers must all have 4G cards in their cameras that mean that rider photos can be uploaded in near real time to social media. And both the quality of photos and the accuracy of spotting each ride by the bar code strips mounted to our bikes and helmets was first class. Meaning that everyone at home could follow the progress of the event and know what was happening. And the event company have the same technology on RAB – so you can follow my path across the country.

Make that three

The second event was a charity challenge, over the second May Bank Holiday weekend organised by a TVT member Kathryn Rossiter – to celebrate her 50th birthday. Now most people think of luxury holidays to mark that milestone, but not when you are GB Age Group triathlete. For her it was a multi-day sports endurance event instead!

The day one Saturday was a ride out west from Reading through Berkshire; then day two Sunday was the ‘long one’ with nine and half hours of riding time out north through the Chilterns before looping back through Oxfordshire. And then a third day heading out south-west through Hampshire with plenty of rolling hills. A total of 300 miles over the three days which is exactly what I can expect on RAB.

Only come September I have to do all that again… and again!

What was special about this second May weekend was the group riding aspect, with many riders all used to cycling together. Cue lots of banter, chain-gang style formation riding, and always someone looking out to see that the whole group was sticking together. That management phrase “there’s no I in team” could not have been more apt.

And given that Kathryn is Chef Exec of a local social charity called Thrive, it would be remiss of me not to mention her fund raising efforts. It was a pleasure to participate and contribute financially to this cause over the weekend.

Looking ahead

So with just over 100 days out from the RAB start line at Lands End – and how do I feel?

Basically the answer is good (which is better than the banal “I’m fine” response usually given to such questions). I know mentally that I can ride back-to-back 100 mile rides, and that the longest day of 125 miles is within my capability. There is still three months to go to continue to build fitness, to make minor tweaks & adjustments to reduce soreness whilst riding, and to focus on fundraising.

Giving something back to others who need help – via my charity partner the Princes Trust – is where my focus turns next month.

Spring training

May has now arrived and the lighter evenings start to offer more choice for cycle training. The winter period was often limited to a single daytime weekend ride each week, meaning that strength and conditioning at the gym has been an important way to lay a fitness base. Now that starts to change with additional cycle rides adding volume (and miles in the saddle) to the training schedule.

Within these constraints, my winter training has always been effective as for a number of years now I have been a cycle ride leader for my triathlon club TVT. I was even recognised last year with the Head Coach’s Award as a number of team mates have used my winter group as a springboard to future sporting success. It has also been a huge motivation for me that when the weather is cold and wet then there are no excuses to cancel a ride, because there are 8-10 others wanting to go out who are dependent on you. The winter ride schedule sequence is a general ride, with a more hilly ride the next week, then a faster temp ride (over a local Time Trial course) the week after, and finally a longer steady ride. We are out for 2-3 hours each set, which is often all that can be managed before the feeling of numb fingers and feet start to takeover.

As we move towards spring, so the opportunities to extend the ride time start to become more feasible. Back in January I took advantage of a ‘3 for 2’ sale offer from Evans Cycles and signed up for three of their “Ride It” sportives, targeting March and April for my events. I opted for the long course options, which at this time of year is circa 70-80 miles per ride.

The first of these was in the North Downs, starting from the new CycloPark facility in Gravesend in Kent. A great sporting legacy from London 2012, the cycle park facility offers a tarmac and offroad course for everyone to hone their cycle skills. I had ridden from this venue last year, as it works well to stay for the weekend with my wife’s parents who retired to live on the Kent Coast. This year, fuelled by fresh sea bream at a local restaurant on the Saturday evening, I drove 45 mins up the M2 motorway over the impressive Medway bridge to the venue. The weather forecast for the day had been dreadful, but the Atlantic depression coming in from the west was held up sufficiently that we pretty much got away with a dry-ish day. The signature climb was Vigo Hill, which is a short sharp climb up onto a North Down ridge which I managed okay. What I had forgotten from the previous year were some of the technical climbs just before the end of the ride, so I was pleased to see the cycle park venue after 70 miles and complete my final lap to the finish. The venue has good facilities so having showered, I enjoyed a coffee and pastie before the drive back to coast.

In early April was a local event starting from Windsor racecourse. This is one of the larger Ride It events with nearly 1,000 competitors so that meant some queuing at the start on a chilly morning. Once going, the wind proof jacket could be packed away as we crossed the Thames at Marlow and headed into the Chilterns. At one of the feed stops I spotted a young lady ride wearing a RAB cycle top, and soon started up conversation about the event. Her enthusiasm was such that she had completed Lands End – John O’Groats on two separate occasions, because she enjoyed the event, camaraderie and organisation so much. A great confidence boost to meet her.

The final section of the course was on local roads, and with the hillier section now behind us I enjoyed a higher tempo rode with some other Cookham cycle club riders to the finish. Another confidence boost that I could pick up the pace!

The third sportive was the weekend after an Easter holiday, and was pretty much my first ride for two weeks. It was out in Milton Keynes which meant an hour and a half drive to the start. This time I was more aware of waiting around at the start, so seeing a long line leading to the timing point I headed to the refreshment van (without a queue) for a bacon butty and cup of tea. Cheeky second breakfast! The route this day included some nice views over the Dunstable downs, a pretty section through the bluebell carpeted Ashridge national trust and a ride through the Woburn estate. It was 85 miles and was completed in 6 hours of ride time – which for me is a good average pace over that distance. Followed by a protein shake for recovery and a leisurely drive home.

A well earned glass (or two) of wine that evening, as my early season RAB training was definitely on course.

It’s been five years… and now is the time for the next big challenge

Well, where did the last 5 years go?

After the successes of the 2012 Olympic year – meaning the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam of course – the legacy lives on with another big cycling challenge for me.

This time it is the Ride Across Britain (RAB) which is a 9 day end-to-end ride across our country. In total, 969 miles to be covered in just 9 days. With over 700 cyclists taking part, it takes in some of the country’s most breath-taking landscapes; starting from Land’s End in Cornwall to cycling over Dartmoor, Shap Fell in The Lake District, Penrith, Glencoe and the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands.

I think of it as ‘just’ a 100 mile sportive (which I know that I can do) back to back for nine consecutive days. Oh err… not to undertaken lightly!

Over the past 5 years I have remained active, so the cycling aspect of the challenge is definitely something that I can train myself for, but I haven’t done anything significant by way of charity fundraising. This year I am raining funds for the Princes Trust, which creates life changing opportunities for disadvantaged young people. Through your donations they can offer free programmes that give young people the practical and financial support they need to stabilise their lives. You can find out more about why I am fundraising by reading about a Princes Trust ambassador that I met.

But to kick things off, let me tell you about what I have been up to since my previous blog activity:

  • Top left is me riding last year in the “King of The Downs”, a 125 mile one day sportive which include 11 significant climbs. This was the test of my capability and proof to myself that both bike and rider were up for the ‘next big challenge’.
  • Top right is a shot from Gran Canaria, last Christmas, where I spent a wonderful day cycling in the mountains. I look forward to seeing more stunning scenery when we get to Scotland on this years ‘RAB’.
  • Bottom right is me competing in triathlon, which is the sport that got me into cycling.
  • Bottom left is a group cycling photo with my club mates from Thames Valley Triathletes (TVT). As a coach and ride leader, they all think that the past winter of cycling training has been about equipping them for the triathlon season ahead, whilst at the same time it has been laying the foundations for me and my big cycling challenge.
  • And the 2017 glue that will hold all this together is the fund raising, and the opportunity to give something back for others.

So if you want to sponsor me, there is a Virgin Money Giving page that allows you to do so. And please feel free to follow this blog to keep in touch with my training and the event itself.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. It makes interesting reading about the reach of social media blogging….

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people. And the international context is relevant, as the site visitors came from 38 countries in total.

Throughout the year I made 26 new posts, not bad for my first year of blogging! In total there were 91 pictures uploaded – so a true multi-media experience to enjoy.

The busiest day of the year was February 5th with 32 views.  The most popular posts were:

1 Surrey Hills – Cycle Slam Training March 2012

2 Challenge Henley – Ironman Relay September 2012

3 The 3 Hs Sportive – Hills, Holes and Hail April 2012

4 Preparations are now complete – let the challenge begin May 2012

5 The Longest Day June 2012

Great memories to share!

The icing on the cake

After such an epic summer of 2012, and now that the darker nights are drawing in, it is time to reflect on the achievements of the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam and what it meant to be part of such a great event. And what is especially nice, is that my efforts have been marked by me winning an Award. 

As a fund raising activity, the event set a goal of raising £2.012M for the Dallaglio Foundation to fund the Cancer Research UK ICGC project on prostate cancer genetics and for the AF Foundation to build, develop and improve Child Rehabilitation & Physiotherapy Units throughout the UK. The first piece of good news is that these charities will have all the funding they require – as the Cycle Slam event raised a massive total of £2,022,125. Fantastic!

My own sporting story is best captured in a videocast made whilst I was taking part in the event

With a background in triathlon, I did a lot of the training preparation with my Tri Club Thames Valley Triathletes. And last night was their annual awards dinner. Well last year I was recognised as the most improved triathlete, and this year I won again this time in the “Most Impressive Performance of the Year” category. And I was up against stiff competition from Wayne Jones (who cycled to Germany raining funds for Macmillan Cancer) and Simon Fox (who did the 3 Peaks Challenge riding between the mountains and fund raising for the Duchess of Kent House Hospice). I am not sure that my cycling efforts alone quite match the others achievements but I guess the combination of riding, event promotion and beating my personal fund raising target swung it in my favour. Thank you TVT – it means a lot to be recognised by my peer group in this way.

Like all good award ceremonies, now it is time for a few thank yous!

  • Firstly to Virgin Media – who sponsored me as a customer to take part in a stage of the event – little did I know when I spotted their Cycle Slam advert, on a dark night in January this year, where this would take me;
  • Secondly to the awesome Stage 5 Group 2 riders, who I shared the best moments of the event with (both on and off the bike) – it was great to have the whole team of riders working together to achieve a common goal
  • Thirdly to my TVT team mates – who supported me on training rides and sportives to get the miles in my legs that would mean that I could really enjoy the riding challenge
  • Fourthly to everyone who donated to my personal fund raising activities – a collection of friends, colleagues and business customers who themselves raised money through their own work activities. We had the London Midland office cycle ride (on an exercise bike); the Nottingham City Homes Easter cake sale; and the LV= dress down day. That was really inspiring.
  • And finally to my family – who came to London on the final day of the Slam to see me cross the finish line and share in the glory.

It was a great personal achievement, and I couldn’t have done it without you all!

And so now it is time to draw a close to this blog. Thank you for reading and hopefully enjoying my tales. Until the next cycling challenge – target date 2014 – stay healthy everyone.

Paul.