My top ten 2017 cycling moments

To finish off the blog – in a year that has been dominated by cycling – I thought I would list my top ten memories of the achievement that was RAB. So in reverse order…..

10: Selfie rides

Some riders say that the ride only exists if it was tracked on a Garmin and logged on Strava. Well I am gadget and technology free when I ride so I don’t subscribe to this logic. Instead a number of my training rides have involved taking a selfie. There has even been known to be a competition in my triathlon club to recognise the most original photo. But for me, on a sportive near Milton Keynes back in the Spring I came across the village of Weald, so couldn’t resist taking that selfie!

9: Inspiring the next generation

As a coach at Thames Valley Triathletes (TVT) I lead a cycle group over the winter period and in 2017 that carried on well into the spring and early summer as I built up the ride mileage. Over the years I have watched a number of team members graduate from my group and go on to achieve triathlon sporting success. But sometimes it is more about being fit and healthy that matters. Earlier this year, one of my group – Winnie Pang-Crosbie – asked if we could put in a few extra loo stops? The reason being that she was pregnant. Well as a first time parent Winnie continued to ride with me until she was 32 weeks, which I think was a tremendous achievement. She was then back in the saddle this autumn for a ride out to a local Cross Country.

8: Power Hour

A lot of this year was focused on building cycling endurance, but once RAB was over I still had one more event to take part in. This was the Red Bull 25-hour relay race that took part around Windsor Great Park – an iconic local venue. The extra hour came about because the event took place over the weekend the clocks went back (end of daylight saving time) and to mark that moment at 2am the organisers initiated a Power Hour where all laps counted double. I had the opportunity to be on track in that period, and it was actually quite memorable thing to do. It makes it into my top ten at position 8.

7: RAB Training ride – organised via social media

In the month prior to the start of RAB, my personal training target was to ride 100 miles each and every weekend. This could either be the full 100 mile one day distance in a sportive, or two back-to-back rides of 50 miles+. These training rides were much more effective when cycling with others and one day in August I spotted a request on the RAB facebook group for a Sunday morning ride – at my 15 mph pace – somewhere in the Home Counties. Soon we had four people interested, and as my ride leading includes a good knowledge of the Chilterns hills, then I suggested a meet point at Beaconsfield station, allowing good train connections from London for those living in the city. Everyone arrived at the agreed time, and introductions were swiftly made before enjoying a very good training ride together over the next four hours. We even included a midpoint coffee stop at Velo Life to get to know each other. Not only was that ride exactly what we needed from a training perspective, it also gave me two people (Pete and Noel) that I then regularly bumped into during RAB.

Amazing what the power of social media can achieve when you have a group of like-minded people.

6: How to mark your 50th birthday

One of the best cycling weekends of the year took place over the May Bank Holiday where I managed 300 miles over three days back-to-back. The activities were organised by Kathryn Rossiter, who in work mode is Chief Exec of a local charity – Thrive. She and her husband Jamie are both talented triathletes and have both represented GB at age group championships. And Kathryn wanted to do something “challenging” to mark her 50th birthday so planned out a five day swim-bike-run combination. I joined her for the three days of cycling, of which the Sunday will live long in the memory.

We had eleven riders, nine hours of ride moving time, 1,200m of climbing, three refreshment breaks, and just one minute of light drizzle! At 220km – that’s nearly 140 miles in old money – it was my longest ever ride and gave me a massive confidence boost that I would be able to cope with the day seven 125 miler in Scotland on RAB. Thanks to all from TVT for making it such a great day and well done to Kathryn & Jamie for organising it. Oh – and they raised loads of money for the charity as well!

5: Arriving in Scotland

We are half way through my top ten countdown and now it is time to start remembering RAB itself. The initial entry is typified by a landmark photo when we arrived In Scotland. This was on day six – so just over half through the Lands End to John O’Groats trip.

I am flanked by Zoe and Laura, who were also riding RAB from my TVT triathlon club. At the start of the year they were fairly new to cycling and – for the coach in me – it was fantastic to see them progress as the spring training rides and summer sportives started to take over their lives. Suffice to say that when we started RAB itself I had no doubt that they would complete the goal they had set themselves at the start of the year. Well there were a few emotional ups and downs along the way, but I was entirely correct in my assertion that they would succeed. You will not find a more determined, resilient and resourceful pair of young ladies – well done both!

4: Night after RAB finish

Well if you thought that crossing the finish line in John O’Groats would be my number one moment of the year – then you were wrong! To be honest I was actually unimpressed with the most northerly point of the UK, with just a few boats in the harbour and a single café. The only attraction I could find was the iconic sign – which had a 20 minute queue to take a photo as everyone lined up for their turn at the money shot.

After showering and changing to clean dry (and warm) clothes, I hung around to watch the key people that I knew crossing the finish line and shared a hug with them all by way of congratulations. Despite the weather, despite the pre-dawn starts, despite the relentless need to stay focused and in the moment.. we had all made it to the finish!

Then just two and a half hours after arriving at JOG, I was leaving. This time on a coach bound for civilisation (aka Inverness). The road continued to follow the coastal contours, and from our elevated vantage point I could admire the scenery. Once 4G signal could be found then I could update social media with my finishers photo – 58 facebook likes then followed which is a PB for me – and as darkness fell we arrived into town. The following day I was catching an early morning train direct to London and so had booked the station hotel which was the perfect location. All I had to do was manage a 100 yard walk in the morning to the platform.

I checked in and was pleased to find that I had arrived in good time to order an evening meal. I was even given a discount voucher that included a second drink for free. Now normally on business trips I don’t really like eating on my own in restaurants, but this evening was completely different. I had a table to myself, ordered a local craft beer and nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc to wash down the main fish course, and started to reflect on what I had achieved. The past nine days had been so hectic that I had totally forgotten what it was like to take time over an evening meal and just enjoy the lovely food. Bliss!

3: Northumbria Sportive

Everyone had told me that the first day of RAB – in Cornwall – was actually the hardest ride of the event because of the ever present hills. So in my training I was keen to find a sportive event that could match that type of riding. And on the most glorious weekend of weather in June, I spent a hugely enjoyable day cycling in Northumbria National Park. Apart from the first and last 30 minutes of coastal riding, what came in between was six and half hours of relentless ups and downs.

The weekend had come about as my niece Helen and her husband Bob had moved away from London to Newcastle and this was an opportunity to visit. I did my research and found a cycling festival that included a 100 mile sportive on the Saturday. As my sister was also in town that weekend it meant my wife could join them whist I was out cycling. The locals that I chatted to that day said that in previous years the event had been cold, damp and misty whereas we had wall to wall sunshine to enjoy the views.

It was a glorious – and tough – day or riding that I was very pleased to finish. And that evening we hosted a family meal in the local pub which made it even more special.

2: Charity fund raising – for the Princes Trust

The year had started with RAB being ‘the big deal’ on my bucket list of sporting events that I wanted to conquer. It was a year of fives – I would be 55 and it was 5 years since I had done another multi-day cycling challenge which was a five day ride from mid-France back to the 2012 London Olympic Stadium as part of the Dallaglio-Flintoff Cycle Slam challenge.

So far, it was all about me. Until a chilly night in February when that all changed. I went along to a RAB evening hosted by the event organisers Threshold Sports at the London offices of the Princes Trust. As well as getting to meet Mac and his team I was completely blown away listening to the story of Aaron, who was one of the ambassadors who had been helped by the charity to turn his life around. It was truly inspiring and I immediately signed up to fund raise as part of my RAB journey.

Fast forward to the RAB event itself and I was not the only one who had a secondary motive for taking part. I would say that every single one of the 700 participants was raising money for various different good causes. And despite Threshold having a very limited reach in terms of PR promotion to a national audience – which is something that Laurence Dallaglio and Freddie Flintoff had definitely cracked five years earlier – through the sheer persistence of each and every rider we collectively raised over £1M in the 2017 edition of RAB. That is off the scale of impressive – and something that I feel very proud being a part of.

1: Realising RAB was a journey, not just a destination

And now the countdown has reached the crowning moment. As I said earlier, it was not the end of RAB that was the most memorable part of the year, but the start of day one. On a dry and crisp September morning, just after 7am, in Cornwall.

To be honest I hadn’t felt great in the couple of days prior to the start of RAB. Nerves affect people in different ways and mine was a headache and lack of energy – just not feeling a 100%. When I woke up on that Saturday morning without these symptoms, I was mightily relieved.

My ‘once in a lifetime’ cycling journey could now begin, and the near 11 months of training could start to pay off. I remember crossing the start line and saying to a well-wisher that this was just like I remember Christmas as a child – waking up to a big sack of presents. How lucky was I!

I remember clearly that first ten miles of coastal ride back to Penzance. Having not really been on a bike for the past 10 days it felt great to be riding again. We stopped to admire the view of St Michaels Mount, a collective group of cyclists who shared the same sense of excitement of the journey ahead.

Later in the week I would come to realise that it is coastal scenery that most inspires me. Yes the hills and lochs landscape in Scotland was spectacular, but it is the sea views that will live long in the memory. Some 900 miles later and we made it to the northerly coast of Scotland – with journeys end now on the horizon.

So whilst the start of RAB is actually my number #1 cycling moment of 217, what I have learnt is that to be successful in any challenge you have to embrace the process of getting there. We had a talk from Mark Cavendish on the Sunday night in Bath, and it is clear that elite sportsmen have rewired their brains in a completely different mind-set to the rest of us. Asked about what it is like to win a Tour de France stage then the answer is to be processing all the information in the final moments of a sprint – to be in a position to win.

Whilst the start of RAB was the memorable highlight, it was everything that had led up to that moment – the training, the fund raising, the team mates, the fitness levels achieved – that all combined to make it so special.

So thank you to everyone that was a part of my cycling adventure this year. It was ‘quite a thing’ we achieved together.

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Day 4 – 107 miles to Haydock

Tuesday dawned sunny with an autumnal chill in the air as we rolled out of Ludlow onto the Shropshire lanes. 

The route was a flatter terrain, meaning more chance to stretch the legs and pick up the pace.  This morning was what I had imagined RAB would be like.  Quiet roads,  lovely country scenery and time to form groups and chat your way through the ride. A cyclists heaven. 

Our route took through the Cheshire plains before the last 15 miles skirting around the Greater Manchester suburbs. Having made good time I arrived at Haydock Park racecourse without any hold up from traffic,  meaning the post ride routine of shower,  massage and a mug of tea and cake.

The cake part was courtesy of the Princes Trust where an ambassador who had used a grant to start her own baking business had provided a cupcake for every rider.  GBBO at base camp! 

And don’t forget that this ride is about helping raise funds for charity.  As an event it hopes to exceed a million pounds across the causes,  and whilst my contribution will be only a fraction – it all helps.  Go to http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RAB2017.

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.

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.