Staffs to Snowdon Update: The Dirty Reiver 2017

Let me start by getting the moan and groan stuff out of the way.
I did not complete the 200km ride because I am still getting over a heavy cold. Absolutely gutted, however at the point when I had to make the decision to turn left and do 200km or turn right for the 130km I decided that I would become a liability to myself and the event if I carried on. I had already had a couple of dizzy spells and regurgitated some fluid a few times. The hardest part was not being able to breath on the hills, coughing up flem and a sore chest from the heavy breathing all led to my decision to take the easy option.
There we go. Now lets look at what a great weekend it was. A great learning experience overall, and I am happy with my overall time, distance, climbing and descents.

  • Distance: 128.3km (80 miles) all off road
  • Moving Time: 6 hours 40 minutes
  • Total Climb: 2272 metres (7454 feet)
  • Rest Time: 1 hour 2 minutes
This was my first ‘Gravel Grinding’ event and with over 700 riders it is the biggest event of this type in the UK, saying that there were riders there from a number of other countries with America being the furthest away. I was at the start line feeling very much out of my depth. There were lots of serious riders with some serious kit. I decided to stay back a bit and let the keener riders get the start they wanted. They started us off in waves, so I suppose I was around 100th to start. I settled into a steady rhythm being mindful not to get caught up in the excitement and start racing with others.
The first 2 to 3 miles there was a lot of jostling for positions from some of the riders, and I would guess every few hundred yards there would be someone mending a puncture. Not sure if the two are related but it made me be more cautious as the last thing you want is a puncture so early on.
Things started to settle down and I settled into my own game plan. The target was to ride at an average of 20km per hour, which would give me a 10 hour ride time, and a maximum of 2 hours rest over the whole distance. So a final overall time of 12 hours. This may have been a bit ambitious but you have to set some goals and have a plan.
I knew that the amount of climbing was going to get me as I had never climbed so much in a single ride before. My best before this ride was 915 metres. Anyway the plan with this in mind was to crawl up the hills in the lowest gear and ride like the wind down the other side to make up what I had lost on the climb. This strategy was to conserve muscle stress on the climb, and here comes the first lesson.


I have lost a lot of weight over the last few months, and I have a light bike, but I still can loose some more weight and I need to carry less stuff. The bottom line is the less you and all your stuff weighs the easier it is to haul it all up the hill. The 2nd part to this is to practice hill repeats and build your leg muscles up.
I was crawling up the hills being past by people who made it look like the hill was not even there. Then I noticed that they all had thighs and calves that looked like they belonged on the Incredible Hulk. All the time I have put into training has been focused on distance. I have spoken about hill repeats, I have watched videos on training for hills, but none of that actually makes you any better at doing hills. So over the next few months it is time to get out and find some hills.
I reached the first feed station and grabbed a few snacks, a cup of coffee and was standing there enjoying the sun, when it dawned on me that feed stations are actually just wasting time. I had enough energy gels and snacks for the ride. So apart from topping up my fluids for the next section it just lured me in to having a break when in reality I did not feel like one. Looking around those riding with their friends it was a nice social stop, whereas the solo riders were like me just standing there like a prized plum. Billy no mates. Or they were simply topping up and heading off as quickly as they arrived.
Feed stations are much needed and are a welcome sight, but you need to just grab and go. At the 2nd feed station I did this. I grabbed some stuff, topped up my fluids and headed off thinking I will just take it easy while I enjoy my snacks. By the time I had finished fueling up I was 2.7km further on and still felt refreshed and ready to go. (other opinions are available).
I linked up with a guy who was just as fast as me on the hills and like a rocket going down hill. We rode together and chatted for a bit. We were similar in our riding styles which made the ride easier. Chatting with someone just takes your mind off the distance and stops you looking at your Garmin all the time. We got separated when he took a turn a bit fast and rolled off the edge of the track into the grass. I heard him laughing to himself and I rode steadily up the next hill thinking he would catch me up but that was the last i saw of him until we bumped into each other at the castle at the end.
It was about 90km when my cold started to get to me. My nose was sore from the continual running, my head was pounding. I may have been dehydrated but I had been drinking loads. I had only recently changed to a Camalbak instead of bottles for two reasons. The last ride I did my bottles got ejected from the bike because of the rough terrain and I wasted time going back for them, and drinking from a Camalbak is far easier than grabbing a bottle so you tend to drink more. The 1st feed station was at about 60km and I had drunk 2 litres by the time I got there so my fluid intake strategy was working fine. Not sure if having a cold altered my hydration level as I must have lost at least a litre through my nose. Not all at once of course.
It was around 100km and thoughts had turned to bailing out and doing the 130km. I really felt unwell. All my power had gone, the hills were just a grind now and even on the flats I had not got that power that I had early on. The descents were still fast but not like before I was just going through it. Is this what is referred to as the bonk in cycling terms? Just nothing to give. Had I hydrated enough, had I taken enough fuel on board? Should I just grin and bare it, after all I was still on target for my time and distance. Then i started to think about the what ifs. What if I carry on past the split and do the 200km and it all went wrong. I did not set out to be a liability to myself and also to the organisers of the event. So after about another 15km I had decided to bail and head back on the 130km route.
It was the right decision, and after the split when the trail turned downwards all the way to Keilder Lake it felt absolutely the right thing to do. Had I failed?
Had I failed……
Yes, but only in my preparation for the event. I had failed to loose enough weight. I had failed to climb enough hills. I had failed in my preparation, but I had succeeded on the day. Yes I had a cold and that played a part in taking the shorter route. I had succeeded in riding 80 miles off road on a bike with no suspension. I was on track with my time and distance. I have climbed the most in any single ride that I have done so far. I have taken part in the Dirty Reiver, and I will be taking part next year as well.
and finally……
Not forgetting this ride is part of my training. This is not the end game. This is a major stage in my training. This ride was always to see how far I have come and to gauge how far I still need to go, and that makes it a great success.
June last year I was 3 stone heavier riding about 10 miles a week around Cannock Chase. Now if I ride less than 100 miles a week it feels like I have had a week off.
So my charity ride is now about 90 days away. Time to adjust my final 90 day plan, get myself on track to ride from Staffordshire to the summit of Snowdon in 1 day. 

from my blog

Staffs to Snowdon Update: Moors & Shores

Sunday I entered an organised ride in and around Dalby Forest near Scarborough. It was 100km long which is 60 miles, which just happens to be half the distance of my next challenge on the 22nd of this month.

The decision to take part was a last minute thing and with a 3 hour drive to get there I decided to leave on the Saturday evening at about 8pm and get into the forest area before grabbing a few hours sleep in the back of the car. I found a hidden away car park so I was nicly hidden from passing forest staff. All was good until the event staff started turning up at 4am and i relised i had parked about 6 foot from the road, the car park road had doubled back on itself and all that separated my quiet spot from the road was a couple of trees and a grass bank. So the first lesson was sneaking in late at night to a forest that you have never been to before is not such a good idea. So after the 7th car had illuminated my car I decided to head up to the event field and get myself ready.

Registration was from 6:15am, I was the first one to register, which is not surprising really, then i just had to wait for the coffee stand to open.

This ride was going to be a great way for me to test my bike set up and see what was working and not working before my longer rides. The terrain was a mixture of road, gravel track, moors, coastal path and forest red route. A bit of everything really. I had decided to ride towards an average speed of 20kph and an average cadence of 80 rpm (revolutions per minute). This means I should have a total riding time of 5 hours and I had allowed upto 1 hour for breaks, giving me a total ride time of 6 hours.

They set the riders off in groups of 20 and I decided to join the 2nd group and stayed at the back. this put 39 riders in front of me and got rid of all the fast hero riders. I settled into a nice steady pace but had to resist trying to ride with other people. It is crucial that i ride to suit my speed and fitness. I know it takes me about 30 minutes to settle into the ride and I couldn’t waste any energy at such an early stage.

I did pass a few people early on and I settled into my average speed quite well. It was only about 4 miles in when I had my first issue. Riding on a flat gravel track and just going through a few minor pot holes, so minor I was amazed that my water bottle in my brand new rear of my seat holder fell out. So I turned round to recover it and have all those riders i had passed fly by me. Grabbed the bottle from the floor only to discover the bottle cage had broken, not very impressive and I was a bit annoyed. i had to rejig my stuff to make room for the bottle. In the other cage was my tool kit in my new tool carrier, this was wedged so tightly in I had no worries of that falling out. So back on the bike and now i was in hunting down mode to make up the ground I had lost, and to recapture those riders that were now long gone. But it is not a race they said at the start line…… Yeh, right!!!

My next issue was just at the end of the moors section which in itself was a challenge on my thin gravel tyres, Peaty wet mud and 38mm wide tyres do not go well. The final grassy descent was a bit slippy as well. But now I was back on gravel and i could make up some ground. I was heading down a long track in the right hand rut, riding on the drops and going fairly fast, so fast infact that I did not see those big, long deep pot holes. There was an almighty crash and bang and i though my ride was over. I was almost to scared to look at the bike as i felt like I must have broken the frame or buckled the wheels. But all that had happened was my water bottle from my downtube had fallen out. So it was back up the track to the offending holes and start the search for the bottle. i eventually found it about 12 feet to the left and 20 foot forward from the holes. What a jolt that must have been. I got back on the bike and again went into hunting mode after my 2nd delay. Little did I relise that my tool kit had also been ejected from my bike.

I was about 10 miles from the pot hole number 2 spot when i thought about my tool kit and I reached behind to make sure it was okay. Gone, oh bugger, shall I stop and go back to find it? not bloody likely, the chances of finding it were so remote I just put it down to a learning curve and took some comfort that somebody may benefit from my loss. But now I was riding with no tools or spare tubes, with about 40 miles to go. I did have Stans in my tubes so now is not the time to worry, just keep on going.

I reached the 2nd Feed station and was chatting to a guy about how our rides had gone so far, I had just mentioned my lost tool kit and one of the guys on the feed station said that someone had just this second handed it in and he produced it from under the table. the guy that handed it in had just left and I would have loved to thank him so can only hope he reads this one day so he knows how thankful I was. Although I was also quite excited about having to buy more bikey bits. I also decided that i had had all the bad luck stuff happen and I was going to finish the day without any more issues.

The coastal path was great, all very slightly uphill but smooth, and fast. The rest of the ride was pretty much great riding from there on to the end. I had totally relaxed with riders passing me and passing other riders, I had entered my zone and was feeling good. Finally i was riding my race with me, and harmony was all around.

A couple of conversations with other riders who were also doing The Dirty Reiver so we chatted about that and everyone kept on about saving some energy for the final ascent.

So we were back in the forest and the end was getting close. from my calculations I was going to be close to my target time of 5 hours, but how close I did not know. I started the last ascent and being totally honest it was only as steep as one of the training hills on Cannock Chase. A hill I had come to love over the last few months. So i settled into my usual pace and started reeling in other riders. i past a total of 14 riders on the hill (but it is not a race) giving them all words of encouragement, which is the last thing you need when your heart is beating outside your chest and your toungue is dryer than sandpaper. Come on you can do it!!!! lol.

A final bit of single track and some gravel roads, then the finish line. To be greeted with a medal and the girl said I was the first epic rider back. I knew she was wrong but she insisted so I smiled for the camera and basked in my moment of glory. I collected my official time print out which said 5 hours and 9 minutes. Gutted and happy at the same time.

You can watch my ride here:

It wasn’t until i got home and checked my ride on Strava that I saw my ride time was in fact 4 hours, 59 minutes and 40 seconds with only 39 minutes rest or issue time. I had achieved my target time. I have invaluable info on how the big feels over a good distance on different terrain. I have a good understanding of how my body reacts to body position on the bike and loads more stuff that will make me more efficient on future rides.

Just a 3 hour drive home then I can relax.

from my blog

Staffs to Snowdon Update: My 100 Mile Review

It has been a long winter in the saddle and I have not posted on here for ages so here is an update of how things are going.

I set myself a target distance of 100km (60 miles) a week and have hit it most weeks since the new year. I have missed a few, but overall allowing 100km a week I am on track for my 2017 goal of 5200km (3250 miles).

Fitness wise I still get worn out and my heart monitor beeps at me most rides telling my heart rate is to high. However my average speed has increased from about 17kph to 23kph which can only mean that I am getting fitter.

Last Tuesday I set out to ride 100 miles (161km) in a single ride. This is a bit of a landmark target among cyclists, and a goal that this time last year I had never even considered achieving. So on Tuesday Anne took the boys to school and was on standby to come and rescue me if I had any issues.

I set off with the intention of getting to Bakewell in the Peak District. Why Bakewell, for a piece of Bakewell tart of course. It is amazing that it is the silliest of things that inspire me to ride these distances.

I started at  8:18 and headed on the road to Uttoxeter, my planned route was:

  • Rugeley to Uttoxeter – 1 hour
  • Utoxeter to Ashbourne – 1 hour
  • Ashbourne to Bakewell – 1 hour
  • Bakewell to the end of the Monsal Trail – 1 hour
  • Monsal Trail to The High Peak Trail – time ???
  • High Peak to Ashbourne via the Tissington Trail
  • Ashbourne back to Rugeley
I reached Bakewell in under 3 hours and was on track. From there I new the end of the Monsal Trail would take me to my furthest point away from Rugeley, and having ridden 101km (60 miles) before I knew I had got that distance in me. So near Buxton after 82km (51 miles) my thoughts turned to heading home. The question was how far could I go before my body gave up. At this point I was feeling good but became aware that my short rests where taking longer.
The Tissington Trail was as nice as I thought it would be. From the minute I started heading South the trails were all mostly rolling with me so pedaling felt easy, especially after the gentle uphill gradient of the Monsal Trail.
The end of the trail and a cafe just outside Ashbourne, and I did not need any excuse not to stop for a coffee and a Flapjack. Back on the bike for what turned out to be the worst section of the ride. Worst section for road choice and hills with a flagging energy supply.
I was 115km in and heading towards the hill on the A515 heading out of Ashbourne. I just did not have any power left in my legs, I was not tired and could sustain my average speed of about 22km, but on the hills I just had to get off and walk.
There are 3 hills on that piece of road that I know I could ride up, however on that day after that distance I walked them all. Once I crested the last major hill it was back on the bike as my next concern was the fading light and how long would my lights last.
As I rolled into Rugeley I had run of of water, gels, snacks and energy. The hills that defeated me are etched into my mind, but the feeling of success was growing. I though I would be a bit short of the 100 miles so I added a few longer bits on as I got ever nearer home, knowing if I pressed the ‘end ride’ button on my Garmin to be told I was 1 mile short would have been a greater pain than the one in my legs.
As I got closer to home and patted myself on the back for riding 100 miles I also started to think of how the ride had gone. What worked, what needs improving, how I can improve, how far can I actually go. 
I did this ride on very little sleep, bad nutrition, 2 litres of fluid and a number of other silly mistakes that I already know not to do. So as long as I can iron out the creases and do it right the next big ride should be better.
The ride including stops was 9 hours and 19 minutes of which 7 hours 34 minutes was riding. I had a total ascent of 1,637 metres (5370 feet), and the final distance was 164km (102 miles).
So what is next?
On April 22nd I have a 200km event up near Scotland in the Kielder Forest. Between now and then I am going to focus on improving my hill climbing ability. I may also be doing a couple of shorter events and probably doing another big ride towards and into Wales for some Welsh cakes.

from my blog