Dealing with weight loss

A 3 part series dealing with the topics of body image, emotions and maintenance. Check it out.

South Downs Way 100

Winchester to Eastbourne Off-road

My Weight Loss Story

My story of fat to fit by bicycle

Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Program - film review

My review of the Lance Armstrong biopic, The Program, featuring Ben Foster, Chris O'Dowd and Dustin Hoffman. In cinemas 16 October.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

A year of centuries 9/12

My September century will be remembered as the most memorable so far and most likely, the year.

The planning for this ride started back in January when one of the members of Cycling UK on Google+ created the event for a day ride in France and asked who would be interested in taking part. My instant reaction was positive but only one snag, I didn't have a passport. However, with almost 8 months until the event, I had plenty of time.

It wasn't long before I got my passport application sent off and it came back a week later. Now I could book my tickets. It was suggested that we book on the 07:35 outbound ferry and return on the 17:55. Although the tickets were cheap at £7.50 each way, I decided to go for the slightly more expensive fully flexible tickets for £12.38 each way. That meant if anything didn't go to plan, I could just get the next available ferry. So, before the end of March I was now ready for our French Adventure!

The ride was planned as a 64 mile route, courtesy of Wiggle, from the ferry terminal in Calais with a stop for lunch around 40 miles in before heading back to the ferry. It wasn't until nearer the time that I considered making this ride my 100 mile ride for the month. After a little bit of planning, I worked out that I could drive to Dymchurch, ride the 20 miles to Dover and by the time I ride the 20 miles back to my car I would have completed my century.

On the day, the weather forecast was for drizzle and rain at times. With this in mind I made sure I had my rain jacket and my waterproof socks. I got up at 03:15 and left my house at 03:46. I was surprised at how warm it was - my car was showing 17c as the outside temperature! The roads were empty as you'd expect but with so many towns and villages to go through on my way it was taking longer than expected. Once I arrived in Dymchurch, I parked up and unpacked my bike from the car. I got underway at 04:59 and it was pitch black but not yet raining. Now 18c I couldn't believe how warm it was on the bike.

The route to Dover is fairly straightforward but as I needed to avoid the main A road and motorway once in Folkestone I had to check my phone a couple of times for directions. It's completely flat until you hit Folkestone. There's a sharp ramp to start with but it's not hilly again until you exit the other side. I then stumbled upon a hill I wasn't expecting, suitably entitled, Dover Hill. Once at the top, it's a very, very long and gradual descent all the way into Dover. With the wind behind me, this was bliss.

Dover Ferry Terminal
I arrived at the docks at 06:29, not bad as I only needed to be there by 07:05 at the latest. Dover docks aren't especially bike friendly but there is a red line for you to follow. This takes you to French passport control and then onto a check in desk where you get your boarding pass. I didn't have to wait long before my ride partners for the day turned up in the form of Simon (organiser) and Dave (long distance legend). It was a shame more people didn't make the ride but it turned out we were all virgins when it came to riding abroad. Dave had ridden all the way from London and he expected to crack the double century by the time he got home. Simon had ridden from his parents house down the road in Kent.

After a bit of chat we headed to the gate to board and it wasn't long before we were on the boat. You can ride up the ramp but where the boat meets the road, you have to get off and walk. Once on the boat, we found some bike racks and locked our bikes up. Mileage so far, 20.4.

Dave having a kip
We went in search of breakfast and both Simon and I opted for the cooked variety and Dave preferred the liquid option in the form of double espresso. Although the food was nothing special, it hit the spot. With Dave having ridden 70 miles overnight, he was looking forward to the option of a kip during the 90 minute ferry crossing. With requests of no pictures to be taken whilst sleeping, both Simon and I couldn't help ourselves, especially as Dave fell asleep so quickly.

Upon arrival in Calais, Dave woke on cue and we readied ourselves to go back down to our bikes on the lorry deck. It wasn't long before we got off the boat and were on our way. Both Simon and I had the route on our Garmins so we knew where we were headed. We were hoping that we wouldn't need to rely on technology, hoping that the organisers of the Wiggle ride happening the day after would have put the direction signs up already. It wasn't long before we saw a migrant camp by the side of the road but nowhere near as many as I'd seen in the news.

As we exited Calais and arrived in Sangatte, I caught the smell of fresh bread at a boulangerie. Very tempted to stop but it was too early in the ride. Just down the road we saw the first Wiggle direction arrow. This would make the ride simpler.

The Eurotunnel exit
As we were headed south-westerly, the head wind was quite noticeable. It's quite flat as you leave Calais so there is no shelter from the wind. For many miles we rode in formation and Simon, who had informed us of his lack of riding recently, was doing a stellar job of leading us out. About 10 miles in we came across the Eurotunnel exit and spotted a British couple on a tandem that had stopped to take pictures. We did the same and jumped out of our skins as the emerging train sounded its horn.

We got to a junction and the Wiggle sign said one way and our route said the other. We decided to follow our route for continuity. This is where the terrain started to get lumpy. Nothing serious but there was shelter now as we started riding through villages.

We were on a busy road for a little bit and I was thinking to myself, "I wonder if that's why the Wiggle sign said to go a different direction". However it wasn't long before we turned off and were on to little country roads. A little climbing and we arrived at our first village. There were a number of new houses, each detached and unique. This would be a recurring theme throughout the ride. Each village we passed through was small and we were out the other side in no time. Most were very quiet and people were scarce. As you exit a village, there's the place name on a sign with a line through it to show you are now leaving it.

With the forecast set for rain at some point I was expecting to get a soaking. The clouds were getting darker but as we turned to head north, they seemed to be where we had just come from. Simon then mentioned that he thought we'd ridden around the rain. Shortly after it started to drizzle! However, the drizzle only lasted about 10 minutes and that was all we had all day.

Disappointed in Wierre-Effroy
34 miles in we arrived in the town of Wierre-Effroy. This was our planned lunch stop. We arrived a few minutes before 13:00 and the cafe was shut. It closes at 13:00 on Saturday. I quickly spotted a bakery across the road. We scooted over and I spotted a theme. It closed at 13:00! We decided to have a short break and think through our options. We all had some snacks on us so we weren't desperately worried. A few yards up the road and we noticed another hostelry. The door was open, so with Dave being the most fluent in French (read: not very), he approached the proprietor and after a few words exchanged, he came back out empty handed. Never mind, we would get back on our bikes. We must remember, this was our French adventure.

4 miles down the road we spotted a service station on the A16. Not being on the main road, we weren't sure if we could get in, but we thought we'd take a look. There was a way in for pedestrians so we were in luck. We locked our bikes up and took a wander inside. There was no cafe, like you get ta a lot of continental services, but they sold plenty of food and had a coffee machine.

Having felt less than strong up until this point and allowing the other two to lead, I was feeling much better now. It may have been the lunch stop, or it may have been that we now had a tail wind. The legs seemed to push without much asking.

The bonus of riding up hills, is that you can enjoy going down the other side. Dave is a competitive rider and on a few descents, he decided to outdo me. On one such elevation drop, I went for it, as did Dave. I spotted a Wiggle sign at the edge of the road and looked down at my Garmin to confirm. There was a left turn. I shouted at Dave and slammed on the anchors. Dave was clearly in the 'zone'. He shot off down the hill at 40+ mph and I waited for Simon to catch up. We both tried ringing him but to no avail. It was now just a waiting game to see how long he'd take to notice we weren't behind him. About 10 minutes later we saw him emerge into view.  We got our phones out to record the look on his face.

With the added power in my legs I took the opportunity to shoot up the next hill. Dave and Simon both resisted to chase and due to my lack of local knowledge, the short sharp climb I was expected carried on for a good quarter of a mile further round the bend! When I got to the top, there was a nice view of Calais in the distance. It was at this point we noticed a cafe that was open. It seems they open again later in the afternoon.

Calais in the distance

As we approached the cliffs of la Manche (English Channel) I could see we had some more hills to climb. They are long and steep in places and with a tail wind, you get quite warm riding up them. I got to the top of the final climb first but most likely because Dave was saving energy for his long ride home. At the top was a Wiggle sign with 'You made it!' on it. There was now a lovely long descent into Sangatte. I didn't pedal the whole way and enjoyed the speed gravity propelled me to. It goes on for about two miles. It was then a flat easy ride back into Calais.

When we arrived in Calais, we decided to stop for coffee as we had time before the boat. We found a bar and sat down for a bit. We then found a spot to take a group photo with a ferry in the background. It was then time to take a slow ride back to the port.

The French treat you the same as a car so you have to queue with all vehicles which is a little tedious. I don't mind having to wait, but when you are on your feet for so long in the queue it seems a little unfair, Imagine if it was heavy rain. Mileage so far 84.

We finally made it to the boat and although delayed, we were finally on our way back home. Dave had another kip on board and after missing our slot to unload in Dover, we were made to wait before docking. We got our bikes from the car deck and made it to the front, just to be told that we had to wait for all the other vehicles to offload first. I powered up my Garmin and it would only show 'Working' on the screen. After a few minutes it turned itself off. I tried a few times more but the same kept happening. I decided to start Strava on my phone as a back up for the final leg. About 20 minutes later we finally made it off the boat. By this time the sun had dipped below the cliffs. It was noticeably colder as a result.

We parted ways and I headed back to my car in Dymchurch. It's a long old drag to Folkestone but I made good progress. There's a fast downhill into the town and then it's flat the rest of the way. It was a little boring to be honest. I made it back to my car by 8.45pm. I then got changed and loaded the bike inside. I now had a about an hour drive home. Total mileage 105.

When I tried to upload my ride onto the computer, the same issue happened. My Garmin was 'Working'. I eventually got it to power up but the ride was lost. All I had was the last 20 miles. Disappointed and even tempted to go back to France for a another go.

I'd recommend anyone giving a French adventure a go. It's cheap and easy to do and makes a change to ride somewhere new.

Monday, 31 August 2015

A year of centuries 8/12

For my August century ride I decided to tour around the county of Devon. We go on holiday to Plymouth every summer to visit relatives so I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to cycle places I've never been and get the 100 miles done at the same time.

Before we arrived I'd been trying to plan a route. I had a an idea to cycle to Land's End and get the train back but there's no nice ride down there from Plymouth. I'd still not decided where to go by the time we left home. After searching routes on Strava, and discounting the Plymouth Gran Fondo, I had a better idea. I would ride through Dartmoor before heading to Torquay and then back via Dartmouth and Kingsbridge.

The day after arriving in Plymouth, the weather was glorious. However, I had to choose which day to ride, based on the week's weather forecast. Every day looked rubbish but I chose the day with the least chance of rain. Knowing which day I was riding also meant I could check to see if my brother would be in that day as he lives in Paignton, a short detour from my route.

On the day, the forecast looked more grim that I'd hoped. Rain would never stop me doing a ride, it just puts you in a different frame of mind. Added to that, when you are on a sightseeing ride like this, it reduces what you can see.

I stepped out of the door at 6.39am, there was a fine drizzle in the air. The start of the ride is uphill and continues to be pretty much for first 10 miles. The ride out of the city didn't take long as I was on the outskirts and traffic was fairly light. I was passed by a couple of cyclists but unbeknownst to me, they were the last I would see for most of the day. It's not long before you enter Dartmoor National Park, which covers almost 1,000 square kilometers with granite and moorland. By now the drizzle was heavy so I stopped to put my rain jacket on. I was hoping to see some of the beauty of the landscape but with the drizzle came very low visibility. I was already glad I had my bike lights with me.

Dartmoor isn't just a large expanse of desolate moorland. It's broken up by villages along the way. It wasn't long before I got to my first village though. These aren't that far apart but because visibility was low, you don't get a sense of distance. From here the climbing started properly. You climb to about 1,200ft before a few dips peaking around 1,400ft at Princetown. From here it's a fast downhill but with lots of surface water my backside was soaked. I wish I'd bought mudguards.

It's pretty much rolling hills for some time and it's not long before I reach a place called Two Bridges. Probably named so for having two bridges! Very picture postcard scenery here. A while later I ride through Postbridge. This hamlet has what's known as a clapper bridge dating back to the 13th century. It's a simple stone bridge but very striking.

From here it's a steep old climb back into the open moorland with no protection against the rain. However, there are several fast descents and no real climbs for a while. It wasn't long before I arrived in the village of Moretonhampstead. It's a lovely little village which had bunting out (not for me though I'm guessing). I stopped at a shop and bought some breakfast. I was now a quarter of the way into my ride.

I'm now heading south east and although I'm away from the moors, the land is very green and hilly. Fortunately, the hills are either side of me. Apart from the narrow and nicely paved roads, there's nothing of note until I get to Bovey Tracey. It has some kind of giant Jenga sculpture on the roundabout before I reach the A38. The roadworks slow me a little but it's not long before I get out the other side, past Trago Mills and onward to Newton Abbot.

The town of Newton Abbot is busy as it's now 10am and I'm glad I have the route on my Garmin as it doesn't seem that obvious how to get through. It's not long before I hit some roadworks again. This time, there's a cycle path I can hop onto. The relief is short lived as the subway I'm signposted to take, doesn't seem to have any familiar place names for me to head towards. After trying all of them, and getting a little frustrated, I eventually find the right one. The building of a new bypass seems to be holding the cars up, but as a cyclist I have a brand new side road I can use. This is great for a while, until I'm spat back out onto the contraflow with the cars. it's not long until there is a bike lane on the road and I'm over taking cars again.

Riding through towns is not usually a great experience on a bike but often a necessity when covering large distances on a bike. However, today I needed to head into Paignton for lunch at my brother's. Rather than heading straight from Newton Abbot to Paignton, I planned to detour via Torquay. I was hoping the sun might shine as I wheeled towards the seafront. This was not to be. A brief photo stop and I was back in the saddle. There's a nice view of the bay as you head towards Paignton and Torquay has a ferris wheel like a mini London Eye. My brother lives on a hill so it was a bit of a long old drag to get to his from the seafront. I was now about half way into the ride.

It was a brief lunch stop. I was asked my route and I gave the little detail I had. When questioned, "you must be taking the Dartmouth ferry then?", I replied "I don't think so" in surprise. I waved goodbye and was back on the road. It had seemingly stopped raining now and as luck would have it, for the rest of the ride too. It's a little hilly between Paignton and Dartmouth but there's a nice descent as you head down to the river. There was a queue of cars ahead, presumably for the ferry and several of them were out of their cars. I soon realised they were waiting to see the steam train that was coming past. Didn't have time to get a picture. I wheeled past the waiting cars and got to the front to wait for the ferry.

A few minutes later I was on board and bought my ticket. 60p is not too bad to cross the river (foot passengers pay the same). Once on the other side, Dartmouth is quite picturesque, even in the mist. Being holiday season, it was full of tourists and navigating them on the narrow streets was a little slow. I wish I could stay longer but I had a slow grind of a climb waiting for me to conquer. With the roads being narrow I was glad there was little trying to get past me and those that were, all seemed happy to wait as I huffed and puffed to the top.

I pedalled past a beautiful bay which I now know to be called Blackpool Sands. I never stop on a climb unless defeated but I couldn't resist resting a foot on a dry stone wall to get a snap of this little hideaway. Hopefully I can bring the family back to visit soon.

Back down at sea level again and I was riding into a bit of a head wind. Not too strong but there was no shelter. It was a nice straight road with the sea to my left and a nature reserve to my right. As the road bear right, I pulled over enticed by the sale of ice cream. A quick refreshment break and I was back on the bike.

I was now headed back to Plymouth. It's not really hilly from here but there were a few sharp bits to surprise me, especially in Modbury. 88 miles in and I stopped at a garage for more food. The young lady behind the counter asked if I had far to go. "Plymouth", was my reply. "Not far then" she quipped. It is when you've already done 80+ miles, I replied in my head as I smiled back.

It wasn't much longer that I was on the outskirts of the city and back on familiar, but busier roads. I headed towards the Barbican for my next stop at Rockets and Rascals bike cafe for a nice coffee stop. After a brief break it was a short ride over the harsh cobbles and around the Hoe before heading north through Stoke Village and onto Home Park. It was here I hit the century mark and detoured off the main road and headed to Honicknowle. It was a short ride back to where I started in Whitleigh. Century ride 8 of 12 complete.

One of the many milestones on the moors



Waiting for the Dartmouth ferry


Enjoying an ice cream

Coffee break on the Barbican

Friday, 31 July 2015

A year of centuries 7/12

Having put this ride off since last year due to other commitments, century number seven of 2015 was the South Downs Way 100 organised by the British Heart Foundation. They say that off-road miles count double, so does that mean that this month's ride counts as 200 miles? July will probably be remembered as the hardest ride of the year.

The South Downs is on my doorstep and Eastbourne is known as the gateway to it. as England's newest National Park. It covers just over 600 square miles and to be honest, I've ridden only a very small part of it. In the weeks leading up to the ride I got out on a number of occasions to train on the hilly chalk downland. I even took part in an organised MTB sportive which took in some of the same terrain.

However, knowing that this ride is well known for it's difficulty, I was a little apprehensive about the ride. Many people take the ride on over two days and even the BHF suggest riders might want a support crew follow them during the ride. I wasn't doing either and I was riding alone. Planning would be key.

One of my friends, Richard, who was an official bike mechanic for the ride, had ridden the route a few times before and his latest ride was only two weeks before my attempt. I phoned him for advice and to check if there was any equipment I needed that I may not have thought of. While on the phone, he asked how I was getting there. I said I was thinking of driving up the night before and sleeping in my car and going back the following day on the train to get my car. He offered me a lift in his van along with two other riders (Jez and Julian) he was taking and the option to sleep in his hotel room, if only on the floor. This was one less thing to worry about.

The plan was to leave Eastbourne at 7pm. I had the afternoon off work so I could make sure I had everything packed and ready. The drive to Winchester takes about two hours and we arrived around 9.30pm at the Holiday Inn just down the road from the start. We headed to the bar and met with some of the ride organisers and some of the other riders and had a drink before heading to bed. We didn't get our heads down until 11pm though.

The alarm went off at 4am but I was already up as I'd woken needing a wee. It took about 15 minutes to fully wake up though. I had a sandwich for my breakfast and we checked out and headed to the start at Chilcomb Sports Ground. We unloaded the bikes out of the van and I checked mine over, loaded the Garmin and drinks bottles. All I needed now was to sign in and get ready at the start. As there were a number of us ready to ride, we were given the safety briefing early and we were on our way at 5am. Jez and Julian are faster riders than me so they disappeared.

You start off right on a bridle path. The terrain is flattened grass and not fast to ride on. Even though my plan was to ride slowly at the start as it was a long ride, I found it difficult to resist keeping up with the riders that soon overtook me. It wasn't long before the first climb started. The legs and lungs weren't quite ready for this at dawn. It was soon worthwhile as getting to the top gave way to a stunning sunrise. Totally clear sky and a glowing ball of light breaking over the horizon.

It wasn't long before the small number of riders that were in front, started coming back towards me and we'd missed a turning. Seemingly due to a sign missing! They'd ridden quite a bit further than me in the wrong direction. There was now several miles of fields, and farm tracks and nothing memorable. Arriving at Beacon Hill, 10 miles in, it's downhill for a while. I was due to eat something but thought I'd wait until the bottom. On the way down it's fast over grass and then you join the road. It was very new, smooth tarmac and the speed was fun. Near the bottom, Jez and Julian were sorting a puncture. I stopped to offer encouragement whilst eating an energy bar. I left them to carry on as I knew they'd catch me up.

It started to get slow again through fields and grass climbs and some gates. Gates that open toward you whilst trying to ride uphill are a real pain. Fortunately, with a number of riders at any one time, you don't have to do them all yourself. I was now headed up a steep climb to Old Winchester Hill. You can't really see the remains of the Iron Age fort from the path but it's very close.

More ups and downs, some road, farm track, grass, gravel, chalk etc. This will be a recurring theme. I'd not seen anyone for ages but it was time to stop for food at almost 20 miles in. Having stopped, it wasn't long before I did see some riders and several asked if I was OK. Back on the bike and it wasn't long before the terrain changed slightly. Open grassland and in the distance I could see riders on what looked like a ridge descending. I was at a place called Buster Hill, which is a fast grassy descent that leads down into Queen Elizabeth Country Park. I'd been warned that the drop was fast with one big bump. The grass was wet but I braced myself and went for it. There's a gate, part way down and it was open but it's narrow at speed. The next rider was a way in front and no one behind so had nothing to worry about. The speed was incredible. 41mph top speed on grass!

You are straight into a wooded section and at first I thought I was lost as I couldn't see any signs or riders but it wasn't long before my confidence was restored. This was also a recurring theme on the ride.

About 25 miles in and I heard a twang come from my bike. I didn't even stop to look for another few miles as I was certain it was a broken spoke nipple from my rear wheel. When I did stop my hunch was correct. I've had a number of these in the past so I just cable tied the spoke to another one and carried on.

35 miles in and I was at the first rest stop. I eat something and topped up with fluids. It was starting to get quite warm and it was only 9.15am. It was straight into a climb with a tailwind and I was getting hot. It was a lonely climb, not seeing anyone until the top. The rider that caught up with me started chatting and we rode together for a few miles. A few miles later another rider caught me up and we chatted for a bit. A few miles later I decided to stop for more water and we parted company. It was now a long fast descent back down to sea level to cross the River Arun at Amberley. It was straight back into a climb where I spotted my first single speed mountain bike. He was walking up the hill but he was ahead of me at that point and I was the second rider to start.

A long slow climb and I was at the top. Looking to the right I could see the sea for the first time. The 360 degree view was stunning. I was almost halfway and it was time to eat again. I was just short of 6 hours in. Whilst eating I decided to hold the gate open for riders coming up the hill. It wasn't long before I heard a friendly voice call my name. Jez was approaching the gate I was holding open. Julian was a little way behind. They'd had several mechanicals and Julian had suffered agonising cramp. I said I'd catch them up once I finished eating.

Back on the bike I thought I'd get back with them in no time. However, a number of combine harvesters came off the field in front of me and totally blocked the narrow lane. It was really frustrating having to wait behind them. It was 5 miles and 30 mins later before I caught back up with Jez and Julian again. When we got to Washington the lads stopped for food and I decided to carry on as I knew they'd soon catch me up. The climb out of Washington was slow and tricky. Lots of loose chalk and very steep. The sun bearing down was very hot. At the top I was gasping for breath. It wasn't long before Jez passed me and then Julian. It was a lovely long, fast descent the other side though but very bumpy. My hands were really hurting from the many hours of bumpy terrain. At 57 miles it was time to stop for food and drink and I bade farewell to the lads again. I saw my second cyclo-cross rider of the day and we chatted while I rested.

At the 60 mile mark I stopped briefly to grab water and had a quick chat with my friend the bike mechanic. He told me I'd just missed Jez and Julian and I could see them ahead in the distance. It was a long slow old climb from Steyning to Truleigh Hill. I was now in slightly familiar territory having ridden some of this on the London to Brighton off-road ride a couple of times before. At the 64 mile mark I caught back up with the lads having a break at Devil's Dyke. We set off together. At Pyecombe golf club, Jez got another puncture and told us to carry on. Julian was a little ahead of me and I was struggling with the pace. At Ditchling Beacon I caught back up with him and had a short break before carrying on by myself. It's downhill to the A27 from here but there's one evil little climb which I had to slowly walk up. It was really pulling at my calves.

I was now 75 miles in and stopped for more food and water. The friendly faces of Jez and Julian re-appeared. We regrouped and started riding again. The climb up to Castle Hill, looking over Kingston, was slow. It seemed everyone was slow, even though the hill wasn't very steep. It was the first time I could really feel the wind. It was coming from my right as I was riding south up the hill. It was cooling but felt strong. Once at the top the view was, again, stunning. I lost Jez and Julian up the hill but at the top started chatting with another rider that had ridden most of the ascent with me. We rode the journey to Southease and when I stopped for water, we parted company.

On the climb out of Southease I caught up with the lads again. They were fixing yet another puncture. I told them I would continue on and see them again soon. The ride continued to Firle Beacon where I got caught by the lads. We rode into Alfriston and out the other side into one of the last climbs in the form of Windover Hill. I don't like this hill, especially at 90 miles in. It's long, slow, rutted chalk. Coming down the other side and arriving in Jevington, there's one climb left, Eastbourne Lane. This climb is cobbled, broken and slow, especially when you're tired. Lots of riders were tired. Many of them didn't know the terrain ahead, so I encouraged them, telling them it was the last climb. Jez was slowing down. I carried on over the golf course and waited for the two of them at the main road. I told them we should cross the finish line together.

It wasn't long before we descended into Eastbourne and crossed the finish line on the Western Lawns. My wife was waiting for me and I was so glad to have finished. I was tired and hurting. I got my medal and hung around for a free massage. However, my ride wasn't yet over. I'd finished the South Downs Way but not my 100 miles. With 2.5 miles left to go I knew I had to ride home. Fortunately it was flat and wind assisted. I finished the day with 101.8 miles and went out for a slap up meal.

Having finished the ride I'm so pleased I did it but have no intention to ever do it again. My hands were so painful from the constant impact of the descents. However, I'd like to ride the South Downs Way over a two or three days and enjoy the places along the route.

Me at the start with Julian in the background at 4.55am

One of the many gates

A rider comes a cropper (not part of our ride)

The view from the top of Ditchling Beacon

The three of us crossing the finish line.

Me with my medal

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

A year of centuries 6/12

Every June, on Father's Day, I take part in the London to Brighton bike ride for the British Heart Foundation. This year I made it my century ride.

By the first week of June I'd not made plans for my next 100 mile ride but by a stroke of genius, a friend suggested that I just extend the London to Brighton. The ride is 53 miles so you may be thinking that I just had to turn around and ride back to the start. Well, many people do but I didn't need to. Every year, my friend gets his sister to take us from his house in Bexhill. I drive over in the morning and have to come back to Bexhill after the ride to collect my car. With a little planning all I needed to do was work out a route from Brighton to Bexhill in 47 miles.

A colleague of mine is training for riding Land's End to John o'Groats and asked that next time I did a 100 mile ride, could she come too. As luck would have it, she too was riding the London to Brighton after another colleague had to pull out due to injury, so we were both starting the ride at the same time.

Knowing my colleague hadn't cycled that distance before, I set out to plan the return route keeping the ride as flat as possible. There are some hills you can't avoid but by carefully routing along the National Cycle Network I managed to keep the elevation to a minimum.

On the day, it was an early start. I had to be in Bexhill by 5am which is 10 miles from my house. Once there I fitted my bike to the roof of my mates car and it was time to leave. At that time of the morning the journey to London is always straightforward and quiet.

Our motley crew at the start
We arrived near the start, offloaded our bikes and got our stuff out of the car. It was a slightly fresh morning but the forecast was good. It was set to be 21 degrees celsius, slightly cloudy and a westerly wind. Going north to south meant there would be a cross wind but the nature of the roads you travel on meant it would offer us shelter for most of the ride. The bonus however would be on the ride back from Brighton where we'd have a tailwind.

The start was busy and it seemed that the release of riders was behind schedule. It took half an hour from when we arrived at Clapham Common until we started the ride. The start can be notoriously slow unless you get away early (you can opt to start at 6am). Starting as late as we did would normally mean gridlock getting out of London. In fact, the cycle traffic on the route was less than I think I've ever experienced.

The four of us set out together and for the first handful of miles we all stuck together. It wasn't long before we started to get split up. My intention was to stay with my century buddy for the entire ride and as she was the slowest rider of the group, I would wait at the top of any hills and we would then regroup.

The ride was leisurely but constant. We had one bottleneck where someone was receiving medical attention at the bottom of a climb which forced a lot of people to get off and walk. As we reached the part of the ride where you go under the M25, it's a long fast descent. I was taking it easy and not too fast. At the bottom there is a 90 degree right turn and a big wall of hay bales to catch any that can't stop in time. As I started to make the turn I could feel my front wheel sliding out from under me. I'd scrubbed a lot of speed off before taking the corner and put my right foot down to stop myself from hitting the deck. I rolled over to the side of the road and checked my front tyre. It seemed I had a slow puncture. I decided to just pump the tyre up and see if I could carry on. It wasn't long though before I could feel the front tyre struggling for grip again. About a mile down the road I pulled over somewhere safe and I changed the inner tube.

After that it was pretty much a straightforward ride down to Brighton. We just stopped whenever we needed along the way for food and toilets. It wasn't until we got to the top of Ditchling Beacon that I noticed the wind for the first time. Being so high up it was quite breezy. The forecast was right though, it was westerly so should give us some help. The descent into Brighton from the beacon is fast and I hit 50mph!

Once we arrived in Brighton, it was pretty much just half way for two of us. We now had the ride back to Bexhill. We grabbed our medals and were on our way. The route along the coast headed east is a series of rolling hills as you ride over the chalk cliffs. The wind was behind us and pretty strong. We road through Rottingdean, Saltdean, and Peacehaven before finally descending into Newhaven. The route then took us along a flat cycle path to Seaford and then a gradual climb out the other side to Exceat.

At this point we headed north to Litlington and Lullington before taking a short detour to Alfriston for a coffee and a slice of cake. From there we headed towards Berwick turning east again, passing Abbots Wood and Arlington. The roads are quiet and fairly flat practically the whole way home now. Being a nice sunny day can mean a lot of traffic on the roads. It was so nice to be on quiet country lanes.
Litlington White Horse

Now in Hailsham we went through Magham Down and across the Pevensey Levels towards Rickney before heading through Normans Bay and Cooden Beach and we were finally in Bexhill. It was at this point we went our separate ways and I had 5 miles left to do. I was a little short on my calculations so had to go around the houses a bit to get back to my car and hit 100 miles at the same time.

When I arrived at my friends house to collect my car I had a coffee and a slice of cheesecake. It'd been a long day but not such a tough ride having ridden it at a slower rider's pace.

I'm now halfway through my century rides. Hopefully it'll get easier from now on?