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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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.

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.

Challenge Henley – Ironman Relay

So I have spent the summer reminding myself that Triathlon is a multi-discipline sport and not just a cycle event. And to finish off my sporting season I took part in an Ironman distance event on the 16th September – doing the 42k  run leg as part of my triathlon club relay team. And quite a day it was too…..

We are very lucky that the Thames Valley is home to a number of iconic triathlon event venues. My very first triathlon some 7 years ago was taking part in a Sprint event on the closed roads at Eton Dorney; next moving up to an Olympic Distance event at Windsor; but until now the region has lacked a focus for longer distance events. I have had to travel to Europe to experience competing over a closed road course Middle Distance event.

But not anymore.  Last year saw the inaugural Challenge Henley event, offering Half Ironman and Full Ironman distances, which suffice to say caused a fair degree of controversy with many “NIMBY” locals trying to get the event banned. The local paper even ran a poll to canvas public opinion. The organisers conceded a few changes, and the 2012 event was back on.

My TVT triathlon club had good representation across both participation and support, this year having some individual Half Ironman competitors and a Full Ironman Relay team.  We also had a volunteer team manning a feedstation; and a club member providing post event recovery massages.

The weather this summer has caused its fair share of headaches for triathlon race participants – the cancelled swim at Windsor; running through a bog at the Marlow event in June, and a shortened run course  at the Cotswold 113 to avoid slippery footpaths.  At the Saturday pre race briefing, we found out that Challenge Henley also had to cope with a last minute run course change. But not because of the weather, this time because of pheasant breeding taking place on an adjacent farmers land!

So race day brought an early start, with competitors making last minute preparations at Henley Business Centre before dawn. The daylight showed clear and cool conditions with light breezes and a minor Thames river swell. In fact, perfect for racing. First to set off was Katie Hopkins at 7.10am – shaking off her cold – to complete the 3.8km swim relay leg in a very respectable 1h 21m.

By the time she was out of the water, the Half Ironman competitors were also underway meaning that everyone would be out on the bike course together.

The bike route was on closed roads, with a figure of eight loop that took riders up Bix Hill to a turnpoint near Nettlebed, then the long drag up Pishill, out past Christmas Common with a turnpoint just past the M40. The full distance was three full loops, the Half riders doing a one and half loop distance.

The riding machine that is Barry Hopkins was doing the relay full distance bike leg for team TVT1, competing the 180km course in under 6 hours. Heroic riding to cover the 112 undulating miles at an average pace of over 18mph.

 

By the time that Barry completed the bike course, the Half Ironman race was all done and dusted.  Sharkie Jaggard was first home for TVT; with a very close contest between Steve Wilson and Alistair Weir spurring both triathletes to break the 5 ½ hour barrier for the first time.  Top dog performances from all.

That left the run relay leg for the full distance event still to complete – and the big question in my mind in the event planning was whether the daylight would hold sufficiently for me to complete the run. That gave our team a self imposed target time to beat of 12 hours.

And to spice things up there was another TVT battle going to take place on the run course. Mike Williams was also doing the marathon with some mates in a relay team raising funds for the Sue Ryder Homes charity.  Waiting for the changeover it looked like Katie and Barry were giving me a decent lead to hold onto – but then Mike was 20 years my junior and welcomed chasing down a gap.

So I set off full of excitement to cover four laps of an out and back course that hugged the river Thames. Pancake flat and with high level cloud and a pleasant temperature, the half way point was soon covered in a shade over 1h 40m, which is pretty decent for me doing a HM. But I still had the second half to cover!

So even without doing the swim and bike legs, I began to experience what it felt like to be running fatigued. The last 15k was a case of digging in, staying focused, and relishing the crowd participation as the sight and sounds of Henley grew larger on the horizon.

Turning into the Phyllis Court complex for the last time, there was one last surprise. I spotted Katie and Barry in the atheletes pen, ready and waiting so that we could cross the line together. And we had one extra team member for the glory moment – my two year grand-daughter Lara. I swept her up in my arms and the cheering crowd showed their appreciation. What an incredible feeling!

And for the record, as a relay team we had smashed our expectations by finishing well inside 11 hours. On a par with Steve and Alistair’s combined time from earlier in the day. As we have all ridden and trained together over several winters – another very satisfying feeling.

And the run contest? Well Mike had chased me down out on the course, but making up a whole lap was never going to be practical. Despite slowing on the final lap, his team also broke the 12 hour barrier and happily finished in daylight. And best of all – he spurred me to a new Marathon PB, beating my previous best by over 3 minutes.

Now what’s my age group qualifying time for the Virgin London Marathon?

The joy of sportives

I rode my first sportive not long after I completed my leg of the 2010 Dallaglio Cycle Slam – and have used them as a regular part of my cycle training plan ever since. They are great – you get to ride scenic new roads; take on some challenging climbs; enjoy the company of like minded cyclists; and have a great excuse for eating plenty of cake!

You can choose a distance to suit your training needs – I typically opt for 50-60 miles which makes for a great morning’s ride – although there are longer options if I need more miles in my legs.  Even the weather doesn’t really get in the way of the ride. I have ridden in beautiful sunshine; a howling gale; torrential rain; and even in sub zero temperatures alongside snow covered fields… but not all the same day’s ride I hasten to add! The point is, that once you decided to do the ride i.e. paid your money and built it into your training plan, then you might as well turn up and go for it – whatever the elements throw at you.

In terms of my weather related memories, the following stand out:

  • Beautiful sunny weather – King of the Downs sportive (May 2010) which was my first sportive, and a fantastic introduction with 5 testing climbs in theNorth Downs
  • Howling gale – Chieveley sportive (January 2011) – a nice circular route through the Berkshire Downs/Chilterns where half the time you battled crosswinds; a quarter was a slog into a headwind and the remainder a spin session
  • Torrential rain – no contest – that was the Magnificat sportive (June 2011) where Half Ironman Training meant I entered the 80+ mile course and got so wet in 5 ½ hours of riding that I needed a complete change of clothing at the finish. Now nudity isn’t allowed in Triathlon transition, but that didn’t matter in the deserted car park at Newbury racecourse that day!
  • Snow covered fields – now that would be my most recent sportive at Watlington (February 2012) where my team mate’s Garmin registered the air temperature at 30 degrees the whole way round!

However, with the spring bulbs starting to show their face, and British Summer Time just around the corner, now is the time to plan a few sportives in April as preparation for the Dallaglio Flintoff 2012 Cycle Slam in May. And the really, really good news is that, this spring, I can combine my training with fund raising as well.

How is that? Well, I have got agreement from F3 events that they will offer discounted places in two of their  April Sportives to Cycle Slam participants (which I will also offer to team mates at Thames Valley Triathletes as well).

And the more participants we get for the two events, the higher the donation from the organisers for our charitable causes. A true win-win! The dates for your diaries are:

  • Sunday 15th April – at the iconic Dorney Lake venue (home of the Olympic rowing) with 60 and 100 mile routes available into the Chilterns
  • Sunday 22nd April – from a base at ShiplakeCollege (between Henley and Marlow) with 60 and 100 mile routes across theThamesValley region

Now I did the Dorney Lake sportive event last spring, and the route was so good I borrowed parts of it for summer training rides that I then led with TVT.  So a good days riding is guaranteed – whatever the weather.

Entry discount codes to follow. Please contact me for details.

We all have untapped athletic potential – my story

My interest in running, cycling, swimming and participating in sport in general, was sparked back in 2000 by a New Year’s resolution to mark the new millennium. It all started with me signing up for my first Half Marathon. But as a child, no-one would have imagined how my more recent sporting glories would have come about.

At school, I was hampered by poor eyesight that meant that any contact based team games were a nightmare, as I couldn’t wear my glasses. A childhood operation to correct an eye squint meant that I could never use contact lenses. So with limited hand-eye co-ordination, I am afraid that I was always the last one to be picked for team games. As a teenager I did get into hiking through the Venture Scouts and participating in things the Duke of Edinburgh’s challenge, so there was some untapped potential to build upon in later life.

Fast forward to January 2000, and my sporting career was launched. Within three short months, I had progressed from 10k races up to 13 miles, completing the Reading Half Marathon in a very respectable 1h 45 minutes.

Over a celebratory dinner that night with the family, my wife Louise asked me what was next? Well the ideas soon flowed. Within two years I had completed my first full marathon at a local event in Abingdon – proving to myself that I was fitter at 40 than I was aged 30 – and repeated that distance again in my first European race in Paris in the spring of 2004.

By this stage I was using the local gym for cross-training – and was really getting into group based exercise with weekly Body Pump and Circuits classes. Ten years on and these classes still form part of my weekly training routine – the instructors and camaraderie with my gym buddies help keep me motivated!

However, I needed a new challenge – and the sport that I found was triathlon. The first thing I liked was the variety in training; and secondly was learning new skills. When I started triathlon my swimming was a serene breaststroke; so I basically had to relearn how to swim front crawl and overcome a childhood fear of putting my head in the water. So as you can imagine, open water swimming (in a cold and murky lake) was quite an obstacle for me!

Given that I train much more effectively when part of a group, I soon joined Thames Valley Triathletes (TVT) which has given my sporting career a whole new lease of life. I am a Level 1 coach, and helped setup the junior section a few years back when my kids were interested in participating in the sport. I now lead a weekly cycle group, which is great discipline to get me out whatever the weather and has been very motivational to help like-minded people realise their own sporting dreams.

So with all this support network in place, it is really no surprise that I have progressed from sprint distance to Olympic distance, and then in 2010 (a few months after the Dallaglio cycle slam) to complete my first Half Ironman. For those not familiar with the triathlon disciplines, that is a 1.2 mile swim; followed by a 56 mile cycle ride; and then a Half Marathon. So in ten years, I had progressed gradually and steadily to realise my full sporting potential.

The point of my story, and one of the reasons for starting my blog, is that I believe that we all have it in us to be active – and therefore keep fit and healthy – it is just a question of finding the right opportunity. And don’t ever let age put you off. Last year, at 49, TVT awarded me the most improved male triathlete in the club for my performance at the Antwerp Half Ironman event.

Most improved TVT male triathlete - December 2011

So do I think I can rise to the challenge of cycling nearly 600km over 4 days of the Dallaglio Flintoff cycle challenge – absolutely!