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Thoughts and Opinion

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Looking Back, Moving Forward

I would try and write an ode to my year like Eloise but frankly it would take me another year to try and make it all rhyme so I'll stick to my usual ramblings on this occasion. It's been a pretty busy year by all accounts and I can only envisage 2017 getting busier still, but before I get to what lies ahead, I decided to have a little look at what gone on this year

Go Hard or Go Home

The title of this blog is probably fairly misleading in all honesty. I am going to talk about going fast or 'hard' in this blog but probably not as much as i've made out. The fact is i'm now three months into the year and on a completely different trajectory in teams of training and structure compared to previous years. Last year I was focused on getting in as many miles as possible without a care in the world how long they took or where they took me as along as I was having fun. This year however i've settled down a little and structured my training so that I can build up some speed and leg strength and get back into racing. So given we are now just about three months into the year i've had ample time to think about whats different to last year and how going long distance has differed to going short and hard for me so far. Admittedly, what I've found won't apply to everyone though as I know some guys that can go the distance and maintain some phenomenal speeds outside of the pro ranks. So just what is different or even just the same over the two years?

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Well, firstly the required recovery has changed massively for me since I upped my game. When all that matters was the miles it was fairly simple to maintain a nice steady rhythm that didn't really stress the legs, lungs or heart and tap out mile after mile whilst taking photos and at the end of each day I wouldn't really be too tired. Therefore a hearty meal and a good nights sleep was all that was needed. The recovery level was sufficiently quick enough that I was able to do some months without a day off the bike at all and in July managed 1,607 miles in the month. However, come 2016 and the training has intensified and my legs, heart and lungs are working much, much harder as I try to go faster and build speed in our training sessions. Now I can't simply roll home and eat a good meal otherwise my body feels weak and undernourished so I regularly take a protein shake immediately after my rides to help repair the muscles in my legs - a big shaker of SiS Rego does the job most days and then some overnight protein too just to be safe. Equally, I have to have actual full days off the bike now too which is a bit of a novelty to me in some ways but if I didn't i'd probably have no legs left.

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Secondly, the food consumption has changed quite drastically. Normally on a long and steady ride i'd just eat some bars and have a nice hearty cafe stop to help me along the way following a nice pasta dish the night before. Long distance cycling for me requires more carbs than fast burning energy. Now however I'm forced to leave the pork pie at home and take gels and energy bars on my rides to see me through the hard sessions where I really need to get the energy in me as quite as possible after a tough effort; these tend to be the normal SiS gels for me on the whole with the sneaky 150mg of caffeine laced gels for those real last gasp efforts at the end of the day! On the whole though I still eat everything in super human proportions and baffle Sarah on a daily basis as she tries to figure out what on earth to add to the shop to keep me full. It turns out protein yoghurt does the trick.

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There is also the pain that comes with training hard. I'd completely forgotten what it felt like to hit 193bpm and taste blood in your mouth whilst your legs fill with lactate and the man in front of you just won't slow down. That hurtS a lot and doesn't stop hurting even after the ride either - DOMS! Again, last year I didn't really get any of those problems as I never really pushed hard enough to make my legs hurt as I needed to them to work every day. I have to admit though, I secretly love the burn that comes with pushing your body to the limit as you sure know you are alive.

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The final thought or more probable fact that i've noted is i've piled on the pounds quite literally since I changed my training. I don't mean in a bad way either as I still get told I'm a twiglet and too thin so I can only guess i've put on muscle weight. 6kg of muscle weight, which when you consider that i'm now 72kg is quite a lot of extra weight to be carrying around (10%!!) so that's been an interesting challenge and means i'm maybe a tiny bit slower uphill but a million times faster on the flat. I'm not really sure why it's happened as I'd have expected to put on more weight last year as the carb happy plodder but I guess that was more of a fat burning exercise than now.

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So in a nutshell it's more painful, harder to recovery and you have to think closer about what you eat if you're me. I'm quite enjoying getting back into 'race shape' and it's now only three weeks until my first race, which is more than likely going to be in London, so watch out down south, Yorkshire is coming to get you! Until then I better get on the protein, have a few days off and weigh myself to make sure I'm not a track sprinter all of a sudden.

P.S - As every it's only polite to point out that the protein and the gels are kindly given to me by SiS. Without their help i'd probably be in a ditch somewhere trying to take energy from grass or something!

Lakes and Lanes for Holidays

It's been a pretty tough start to the year over at Ward-Marsden HQ. We've  both been extremely busy with work and with training since the start of the year and neither of us has had the opportunity for some proper rest and relaxation. So when we both saw a gap in the diary in early March we decided we would get the time booked off and find somewhere to go and relax. We decided we wanted to stay in the UK too given how much of a faff going abroad last minute can be, so instead we decided we'd head to the Lake District for a week. Most of us can recall that over Christmas the Lake district was pretty badly hit by flooding and a lot of places badly damaged so to most people it might seem like an odd choice of destination. However for us it's the perfect destination. Okay, so there might be some flood damage and a few road closures but the fundamental natural beauty of the lakes, lanes and mountains were all still there and thats why we would be going anyway.

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Sarah was in charge of booking the retreat as I'm too indecisive and would end up booking a cave or something. Thankfully Sarah found us a nice bed and breakfast in Bowness on Windermere for our holiday. It's a cosy little place and ticked all the right boxes - full English on the menu with real sausages, wifi in the room and a cosy bed. Realistically it's all we were going to need anyway; we're outdoor folk that can't sit still for longer than five minutes so a swanky four star hotel would be wasted on us!

Bowness was a perfect little base for us right on the edge of Lake Windermere and only a minute from the main road through the Lakes that would get you to almost any destination. Oh, and it was definitely open for business. As we found the only issue that could possible stop us was that the A591 was closed north of Grasmere but there are plenty of pretty alternative routes.

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As I mention above we're pretty active but also extreme cake lovers so we would be guaranteed to make our way around the Lakes either running or riding over the week. So first things first I headed off around Windermere for a leisurely evening ride taking in a little clockwise route as the sun set behind the surrounding mountains. At 27 miles for the loop it wasn't the longest ride i'll ever do but the lake edge was beautiful and showed no signs of flooding. In fact, as I rolled back into Ambleside and stopped for a photo it couldn't feel any further from the chaos of Christmas, or infact our own life away from work.

Obviously I'd worked up an appetite on the ride so we hunted down some good local food and found a little place just a few miles away called 'The Watermill Inn and Brewery'. Yes, you read right - a pub with it's own brewery! That's a win straight away for us, but what was even better was the food. I had a steak and ale pie using the in-house beer and Sarah had the beer battered fish and chips. It was amazing. So much so that we went back there on our final night in the Lakes to sample more beer and food. It's well worth a visit that's for sure.

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Second day in the Lakes was our only rainy day of the whole week - definitely a oddity in the Lakes but we weren't going to complain. Given it was a little wet we decided to continue our culinary tour of the Lakes in style so headed up the valley to Grasmere to find the infamous Grasmere Gingerbread shop - so tasty! So fuelled on gingerbread and with our boots on and jackets zipped we decided to do what everyone in the Lakes does and walk. Not just in a random direction but up Helm Cragg to a beautiful view over the village. It was only four miles long but it's a Wainwright walk and thats all that matters. Once again a massive appetite worked up we headed to Ambleside to the burger restaurant for some homemade burgers and stuffed ourselves silly!

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Wednesday came around far too quickly and was big ride day at last. I decided to meander up and down the valley rather than tackle any serious passes as I needed to save my legs for racing rather than punish myself. I accidentally discovered Duddon Valley which is just amazing but also means you can cheekily pop out in-between Hardknott and Wrynose to avoid the brutal climbs. Perfect. The rest of the ride was mainly rolling around the lakes again on pretty peaceful roads. In March the roads are quiet as everyone forgets that places can be beautiful outside of summer. The food in the evening wasn't one to shout about so I won't.

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Thursday was our final day in the Lakes so we swapped valley and dropped into Coniston so that Sarah could do a recovery run and myself a recovery ride. Only 18 miles around the Lake but on the eastern shore there is a little jetty which walks you out into the Lake and it truly a beautiful place to see the Lakes regardless how much you want to keep on riding. We stopped for some lunch in one of the little cafes and suddenly forgot about recovery so decided to walk up some of Old Man Coniston. It was 2pm and we swiftly realised the entire climb was a little bit more than a few hours in the afternoon no matter how fast we ran up hill. Oh well, the view from half way up was still fantastic. The climb started on a road called Walna Scar Road - more than 33% steep but definitely a challenge for any cyclists - are you tough enough?

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So there we have it; the Lakes are definitely open for business and we've not had a single problem across the week. It's out of season so not every restaurant and shop is open but the ones that are seemed to be running like clockwork and happy to see some customers walking through the door. So if you're looking for a short break in the UK why not pop to the Lakes? They're calm, quiet and beautiful and realistically no more than a few hours drive from most people.

Rest week over. Back to the daily grind!

More or Less in the Mind

Last year my sole goal was to hit 10,000 miles on the bike throughout the year so I was taking every opportunity to ride the bike as often as possible, regardless of the speed so that I would hit the mile counter each week. The consequence being that my legs were pretty tired for most of the year as I was consistently averaging over 300 miles a week. Fast forward a couple of months and I've set a new goal of getting back into racing in 2016 and things have changed; now I have to do less miles to make the most benefits. The problem is, that doing less miles is something I mentally struggle with quite a lot. In the back of my mind the more I ride the fitter I will get surely? Well not exactly. I have convinced myself over the years that riding lots and lots of miles will make me fitter and stronger and as such when I miss a day on the bike I get frustrated that I must be getting less fit by the day and so always want to ride my bike no matter how far.

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The idea of riding everyday was fine when I was trying to beat a mileage goal but unfortunately when it comes to gaining speed and racing you need to knock back the miles and focus on the intensity and structure of the miles you do instead. So rather than riding 300 miles a week i'm now doing closer to 200 miles a week and spreading these miles out over the week a lot more so that I can have a rest in-between each session. Equally, rather than riding at a steadier 16mph i'm consistently putting out averages about 20mph now.

Again my mind struggles with this concept of a rest day. Riding 20mph averages over any distance isn't the easiest day out and is guaranteed to tire you out but for some reason I think i'm a robot that can avoid this and still want to ride every day like I used to; this is something I need beating out of me I think!

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The point being, it's really difficult for a lot of people to convince themselves that having a day or two off the bike every week won't hamper their progress but instead will more likely benefit them massively as they are less fatigued when they ride so will be able to go faster and further than they would if they rode everyday. It's okay to do less as it really does give you more!

So how have I convinced myself that more is less? Well i've started wearing my heart rate monitor again and renewed my subscription to Strava premium which unlocks the 'Fitness and Freshness' graph on your dashboard that can be used to give you a rough insight into how fit or fresh you are on the bike in an easy to follow graph. I've followed the graph over the last few weeks and seen that riding every day really does add to your overall fatigue and slow you down, but when you rest for a day or two your fatigue drops really quickly but your fitness barely moves at all.

It's still hard to tell myself I can do less and get fitter but it's working so I might as well carry on, no matter how much my head argues with me! I've seen some great improvements but I don't think i'll ever quite convince myself it's the right thing to ride less.

Do you find yourself trying to train more and more?

Rest Day Rambling

January is always a busy time of year for me as I travel between clients as an accountant and inevitably some of these clients are a little bit too far away for me to be able to commute by bike, and so i'm forced to take the car to work a couple of times a week. It's great for recovery and making sure i'm not riding too much but I'm really not a fan. I really struggle with the concept of a rest day. I mean, who wouldn't be riding seven days a week all year around if they could right?

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Well, seeing as I can't ride seven days and week and really do need to take rest days to relinquish my winter warrior status, I've had to suck it up and take to twitter to moan instead about driving instead of riding. The problem with not riding though isn't just my moaning on twitter, it's just generally being that little bit more grumpy so watch out!

This got me thinking of the ten things you think about when you can't ride your bike...

  • You wake up on a morning excitedly planning your ride for the day in your head then suddenly get hit in the face by the diary entry that means there is no bike today. First thought - I can totally ride 50 miles in an hour and not break a sweat right? No. Are you sure? Definitely. Well today is going to suck.
  • You then walk to the wardrobe and begin to pull on your favourite lycra in a hazy daze of sleepy only to realise that your colleagues probably don't want to see you in your fancy dress at the desk. Well, I guess the boring suit will do today!
  • After eating too much breakfast and realising you didn't need all the carbs you'll jump on the train and cuddle up to the other million souls stuck in your carriage and dream of getting sweaty on the bike rather than skin to skin with that dude in the corner playing candy crush! Somebody save me please!
  • You arrive at the office with a pristine shirt and immediately precede to the shower. Stop! You're clean, it's okay, we don't need a shower today.
  • Ooh, a second breakfast? Yes please. Hang on a minute, I can't really, I haven't ridden to work today. I want to ride my bike and until I ride my bike I hate you all. The hate has set in.
  • I'm really hungry today. I swear I get more hungry when I don't ride. What is this cruel trickery that is making me want to ride and eat everything even more? Please stop, I can't ride. I could cry.
  • Oh god, not the legs too! Please stop shuffling around. You really don't need to remind me how lazy I feel today, and why am I still so hungry? Seriously, I've barely lifted a finger today.
  • Amazing, it's 17:30! Home time! Wait, you mean I still have that 10,000 page report to finish? Oh, okay fine lets get that sorted really fast then I can go home and ride! It's 20:30... Maybe not. I hate everything. Can I have pizza too? I want pizza.
  • Ooh, the trains a bit quieter now! If the train is on time maybe I could just sneak out for half an hour. It's not much but maybe I could do a sprint or something! At least the signal problems couldn't possibly stop my master plan? Yeh right...
  • Finally I'm home. Bike ride? No chance. I need to eat all the foods and comfort myself in a tub of Ben and Jerry... Maybe tomorrow I'll ride my bike....

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I guess not everyone meets the man playing candy crush but I bet most of you miss your bike on rest days, so what do you think when you're not riding?

 

Setting the Scene for 2016

So we're now a few weeks into 2016 and most people have set their goals for 2016. Unfortunately I hadn't as I just couldn't make my mind up what I wanted to do with the year. Last year I spent my time aiming for 10,000 miles of riding and eventually ended on 13,000 miles which was pretty satisfying. Since setting that goal last year I've learnt that doing that many miles comes a compromise to speed; something I love on the bike. This meant that this year's goal would need to be something that meant I could ride my bike, only faster. So, after a few weeks of chatting to various people I ride with and assessing my options for the year ahead I've finally settled on one simple goal for 2016 - "To get back into racing and try and obtain my Cat 2 Licence". This should give me the perfect opportunity to get my need for speed but also focus on what I love most more closely, to assess where I can improve and add to my speed on the bike.

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For those that are not familiar with racing in the UK the racing is split into categories from Elite (E), Category 1, 2, 3 and 4 where a category 4 rider is the newest to the racing scene. To advance up each category you need to obtain a certain number of points in a season. It's 12 points to go from category four to three and then another 40 points to get from category three to two. Thankfully I already hold my category three license from when I used to race (you keep it for life) so I need to make 40 points this season.

That doesn't sound like many points right? Well, most races near me are raced as category 2/3/4 or 3/4 with the winner picking up 10 points and the top ten riders being rewarded but when you live in Yorkshire, a cycling hotspot home to many of the best cyclists in the UK, it's really quite difficult to get those points, especially when you can't sprint.

So with that goal set and the potential difficulties on the horizon already, I've decidedly buckled down in the first few weeks of January to try and get my body back on track for shorter races rather than monster miles. To do this I've shortened my commutes to a total of 30 miles a day and ride these single-speed; this generally means that I have to work hard on the hills but can't over-exert myself on the flat or downhill making for perfect interval style commuting every day, or a steady pootle on others.

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Furthermore, I've stopped riding extra miles on an evening during the week. Riding fast doesn't need masses of miles, it needs structured miles. The only exception to this is a Tuesday evening. On a Tuesday I ride pace-line with the guys a my local race team, FTR, which is effectively a team time trial for 25 miles with 30 second turns on the front then rotating. This enables me to build on my speed (the last one was 24mph) but also get used to riding in the bunch again and working with other racers: a pretty pacy session overall that means I can build my threshold a little and wake my legs up.

Weekdays covered and it's onto the weekend. These are the two days where I have the most time to fit in a good training session. For the last three weeks I've been joining the local 'Buckden Run' which is a 60 mile tempo training ride with about 50 other people including pro riders Tom Moses and the Brownlee brothers. It's not for the feint hearted, as tempo to these guys means about a 20mph average, but it's another great way to built fitness early in the season. This is effectively base building in January - preparing the engine before we fine tune it. Sundays then tend to be something steadier again to ease the legs and recover; cafe rides are pretty good for this and mean I can catch up with cycling mates too.

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Overall I'd say training is going pretty well so far and I'm feeling sharper already than I did at all last year which is hopefully a good thing. It will be nice to see how fit I am next week when the reliability rides start in Yorkshire but I'm not too worried about those, as they're just another fast training ride really!

All in all, things are going pretty well so far then, and I'm feeling faster. The focus now is on getting fitter and faster until March when racing starts for me!

Hopefully there will be some exciting news next week as well. Everyone loves to ride for a team, right...?

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The Winter Warrior

It's January and the middle of winter here in the northern hemisphere. The roads are wet, sometimes icy and all too often it's a tad too cold to go outside without at least three layers. Many riders are inside on the turbo and those that are not quite often head back to their local club to join the cafe rides that head out on a weekend or get involved with some base miles to keep the legs ticking over for the still distant race season. It's at this point in the year that most riders are taking it easy but still training their way through winter. However most club riders will have encountered the infamous 'Winter Warrior" - these fable riders step forth into the snow covered roads with their heads held high and their gleaming bike ready for action as they break free from their autumnal hibernation in the pain cave. It's their time to shine.

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You set out onto a base mile ride where the aim is to keep things steady and the winter warrior will head to the front, dial into their Garmin, head down and slowly but surely raise the tempo of the ride. Within the group come murmurs of " you're riding pretty well for winter" and "keep it steady". The winter warrior fails to recognise this and rides ever faster. In the distance is a 30mph sign - the old school sprint to the village - off goes the warrior into the distance, head down, heart rate high and full power into the village. He waits on the village green to gloat about his amazing sprint success again not realising that his friends didn't even contest the sprint.

The group back together and the warrior gleeful he'll slide into the group to recover once more. Everyone else breathes a sigh of relief - he must have realised it's winter. Unfortunately they find out it's quite the opposite. The road rears up and into the hills now. Typically in winter the group keeps a steady tempo to the top and works together in the cold but the winter warrior must forge his own path to the top. Suddenly from the back of the group he'll sprint to the outside, darting passed the riders and away up the hill to the top, glancing over his shoulder to check he's got the gap to become "KOM" for the day. Everyone else sticks to the group and sighs. Another gleeful gloat at success and the winter warrior slides back into the pack.

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At the end of the ride the winter warrior has a whole host of personal records when his friends have none. He sits in the cafe smug about his successes.

Winter comes to an end and the winter warrior is feeling happier than ever as the cold, dark days turn into summer. In his head winter training has gone well and he's far further ahead than his friends think. At this point his friends have started real training and racing and all of a sudden on the same climbs and sprints he's getting dropped - what's gone wrong he wonders? Well, everyone else was resting over winter and now they're getting fit again. He's mis-timed when he needs his fitness the most. Suddenly it's pretty glum going out on those training rides and races and the winter warrior retreats once more until summer is over, convinced of a second peak later in the year.

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Everyone knows a winter warrior and I'm sure they have great fun racking up the miles and the speed in winter but for most people it's a time of rest, recovery and rebuilding their riding so it's worth trying to factor in what your goals and aims for the season are and when you need to peak. There is nothing worse than peaking in December when your key focus is July.

I have recently been involved in some pretty big mileage for the Festive 500 and some training with my friends down at the new club, FTR. Unfortunately for me I'm finding myself a little further ahead than I want to be, so rather than risk being the winter warrior, it's time to reel things in, relax a little and make sure i'm firing all cylinders when they are too.

It's not to say don't ride hard in winter, or that you should ride less necessarily, but sometimes you need to take into account where you are and where you want to be. If you're training for something in summer, why not take a step back, slide into the group and enjoy the steady amble to the cafe for some cake?

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The Big Bike Build

Okay, so it's been a little while since I last wrote a blog; unfortunately work has kept me pretty busy and i've been making the most of my spare time out on the bike. As some of you will already know I commute to work everyday with a few other guys that live nearby, and one of them, John, has been quietly working a way on a bike project for the last couple of months with another local chap and owner of Aurelius Cycles, Marek. Their project - to build a steel bike made to measure for John. So inevitably when John unveiled his bike build plans during the commute and invited me to go assist in the bike build I was pretty keen to get involved; there is always N+1 and this could be some bike inspiration!

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The bike frame itself is pretty inspiring. John has chosen a "Columbus Spirit" steel frame which is one of three grades of frame that Marek offers at Aurelius. The frame has been chosen in size to fit John as perfectly as possible and has been sprayed in great detail to match the club colours. Naturally whilst John was admiring his finely finished paintwork I was busy eyeing up the "KVA" steel frame - a fantastic mix of polished silver steel with perfect gold weld; I think my wallet might hate me one day.

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Inspection complete and it was time to build the bike, although only following a cup of coffee and a slice of the bike tribute cake John had made. Mighty fine cake! During this coffee break we were able to have a look at John's amazing postcards and sure enough back in May were the first thoughts and sketches of the Alba Bike that John wanted to build - a little bit of proof that you can buy a your dream bike after all.

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All fuelled up and an inspection of bike parts complete Marek turned his focus to the build of the bike and throughout the entire process took the time to explain each individual detail from why we were building parts in a certain order to the tools we would need to have a go ourselves.

When someone with many years of experience builds a bike it's over in a flash and only took a couple of hours to go from a pile of boxes to a fully built bike. However it's not over yet - once the bike it build it's the important fine tuning that matters most of all. You can build the best bike in the world but if the gears don't shift properly you'll struggle to ride it. Of course to Marek this is a mere few twists here and turns there and we're finely tuned. If only it was that easy at home!

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With everything complete it was easy to see John was itching to take the postcard bike of dreams for a spin... So we made him wait a little longer and grabbed a couple of photos before unleashing the newly named "Acciaio Rosa' upon the world! The name - a tribute to the local cycling club AlbaRosa from which the design of the bike frame was born intermingled with the Italian heritage of the frame.

It seems Marek had definitely hit the mark because getting John back inside the workshop was pretty difficult and the bike was already being earmarked for future rides, including a maiden 80 miles the following day. Even if we had managed to keep John off the bike we might have struggled to keep others away as a steady stream of club-members had visited throughout the day to see the frame that now held the clubs name so highly.

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Marek has worked in the bike industry for a great many years and originally worked with the now owners of Orbit Tandems. He was kind enough to invite us into his workshop in Leeds for the day to see just how a bike mechanic builds a bike from scratch and really took us through the detail. The shop, Aurelius Cycles always has a supply of frames and I'm certainly looking forward to choosing mine one day and hopefully building a bike with Marek himself.

John has now cycled into the distance on his new bike and is yet to be brought to a halt, racking up mile after mile on his new bike.

Me? I'm just jealous... I want a steel bike now.

 

A ride with Ed Clancy and 9Bar

Ed Clancy and Greg Whyte don't really need any introduction. One of them is a four time world champion and two time gold medalist and the other an ex-Olympian and celebrity fitness trainer that famously made Davina McCall cry during a Comic Relief challenge. So it's fair to say that when their sponsor 9Bar nutrition invited me to ride with both Ed and Greg for the day I instantly said yes and then started to worry about whether I would be able to keep up for the day, given the ride would take place in the hills of the Peak District.

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Thankfully, 9Bar assured me that the ride would be nice and steady with plenty of opportunity to quiz both sportsmen, and with a question and answer over lunch. On the day I arrived in Hope with plenty of time and whilst signing on made sure to collect plenty of 9Bars for the ride, just in case things suddenly turned pro on the road. Whilst we all signed on, Ed and Greg mingled with the other riders, introducing themselves ahead of the ride.

Once we were all signed on, Ed gave us a briefing on ride ahead; 25 miles, 4000ft of climbing and lunch half way. In true pro style Ed had written the route on a sheet of paper stuffed in his pocket so we were certain we would get lost. Greg opted for a slightly more physical introduction and in true personal trainer style took us through a brief warm up in the car park.

Muscles ready, we set off down the valley into the glorious later summer sunshine, forming a tight group behind Ed as he led the way. At this point we started to take it in turns to rotate past Ed and Greg and have a chat with them both. When I pulled alongside Ed we started chatting about the season so far and catching up about the riders we both knew from around Yorkshire already. Having seen Ed at the hilltop finish on Hartside in the Tour of Britain recently I also took the opportunity to poke fun at Ed's hatred of hills and also ask him about how he recovers from such intense races. In true Ed style, he told me about how on rest days he just sits at home on the Xbox playing Grand Theft Auto because he dislikes recovery rides. All of this was said whilst Ed pulled a wheelie up the next hill on the route just to prove he can ride uphill after all.

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As expected, Ed's scrap of paper soon got us lost and no wheelie could solve that, so he stopped to consult the local farmer on the best way to the pub. Deep Yorkshire accent translated and we were back underway and rolling along to the pub.

Before long we had arrived in Bakewell and settled into the local pub for a two course lunch and question and answer session with Greg and Ed. The riders had definitely been deep in thought on the road as questions came flowing to both men, Ed receiving questions on his power outputs, training regimes and life on the track. He gave some very insightful replies to all of his questions and a very honest take on his love of cycling- it turns out that he can push approximately 1,200 watts and actually spends more time in the gym that on the bike as you need the explosive power to be able to cope on the track. Although it turns out Ed can't quite leg press as much as Chris Hoy and can 'only' push about 250kg normally...

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Greg then took his turn to answer questions about training celebrities and fuelling your training. We were all told how important it was to keep fuelled during rides to stop so it was just as well we'd all eat our 9Bars and demolished our two course meals for the return journey. Greg also told us a story about when he trained David Walliams to swim the Thames, and how he had been forced to stay in the freezing water for an hour after David finished so David was on the camera; that's pretty dedicated training!

Once lunch was over we all ambled back outside to contemplate the return ride full of food; hopefully it would be flatter to get home. Whilst we prepared to head home some of us took the opportunity to take a photo with Ed and Greg so in typical 21st century style I thought i'd grab a cheesy selfie instead!

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After checking the now crumpled piece of paper, Ed began to lead us back to Hope along the valley and towards the famous Monsal Hill which is home to one of the most famous hill climb races in the country. Thankfully Ed assured us that we would be going down this hill instead of up it leading a lot of people to breathe a sigh of relief given their slightly full stomachs. Unfortunately Ed forgot to tell us all that we would instead be going up a 25% climb at the other side of the valley and so without warning we were confronted with pretty tough section of road where Ed again took the opportunity to shirk the claims about his climbing and wheelie to the top.

Climbing done for the day, we were able to talk again and Ed decided to tell us all about his retirement plans which consisted of opening a cattery on a countryside farm. According to Ed's it's the perfect retirement plan because cats just need stroking and that makes people happy anyway. So when Ed's JLT Condor team suddenly become 'JLT Cat-dor' we all know what's happened.

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The day ended with a two mile descent back into the village and this gave Ed and Greg the opportunity to show everyone a masterclass in descending as they swept from the hairpin turns with ease and breezed down the road. Once we all caught up again we had arrived in the village and Ed took the opportunity to thank all the riders for coming for the day and take a few more photos.

At this point a few people went for another very quick loop with Ed but unfortunately I had to ride back to Sheffield so grabbed a few more 9Bar from the van to fuel me home. At the end of the day I had ridden 65 miles and 5000ft so was pretty thankful for the fuel to get me home. Thanks 9Bar for the opportunity to ride with Ed and Greg!

10 Things in 10,000 Miles

Just over a week ago I hit the goal that I'd given myself a whole year to complete; ride 10,000 miles in a year. However, thanks to some great weather conditions I've managed to finish a lot earlier than expected but I've learnt a few things along the way. 1. Feeding me is a full time job and doing it is harder than starting work as junior doctor. At least this what Sarah keeps telling me each week as she tries to find a shopping trolley big enough to carry all the food we need... I was always hungry no matter what the time, and genuinely couldn't eat enough food each day. The great thing though had to be being able to have a full English breakfast every morning!

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2. You really can't race everywhere no matter how hard you try. I'm a big fan of trying to beat people to the top of the hill or be first person home from training but after so many miles you suddenly realise it's actually easier to pretend you really don't want to race, and take it easy, or your legs demand a refund on their existence. Although secretly I still want to race everyone...

3. Yorkshire is a seriously pretty part of the world. I mean, we already knew that Yorkshire is the best place in the world, but when you slow down a little bit it's amazing what you suddenly see beyond the slightly scratched stem that clouds your eye-line everyday. I even managed to find a road along the way that I've passed every day for three years but hadn't noticed until I slowed down!

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4. People make the world of difference, even the grumpy ones that think a cafe stop is boring. Without people I think I'd have grown a beard and grabbed some sandals on my way to finding peace and harmony on a bike with one gear or something. Having people with you for the many miles makes time fly and you chatter away the day and leave your legs to do the work in peace.

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5. Cake. Cake is seriously important for anyone riding 10,000 miles. My consumption of cake has increased approximately 1000% this year as I discovered the many cafes and cake shops around the county to use as pit stops for all the miles.

6. Coffee. With every cake comes a coffee and all 'pro' cyclists will tell you that you should start your ride with a coffee. As time went on and the mileage increased I found that I really needed the coffee to get me going in the morning otherwise I was far too tempted to go back to bed each day. It turns out coffee is also highly essential on a rainy day, as I found out when a cute little cafe in Thirsk gave me and my friend Nick a free espresso to warm us up when we needed to do another 40 miles to get home in the howling wind and rain.

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7. Kit counts for a lot. If you're not comfortable then riding that far can really hurt. I used to use a carbon fibre saddle for racing and training, but quite quickly found out that they are quite painful after a few hundred miles and my future children might not be so future if I kept using it! I think my bum fell in love with me when I finally found a good saddle to ride on, and it sure makes a difference to how long you want to ride for.

8. Riding somewhere different makes sure you don't get bored. My heat map for this year makes it look like i've never been in work judging by all the different lines and places I've cycled in so far! Riding in so many different places meant I never got bored of riding as the terrain and views were constantly changing. The great thing about Yorkshire is it has some pretty hilly routes in one direction but endless flat in the other so you can have an 'easy' day or a 'hard' day depending how you feel.

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9. You have to be prepared for everything from the potential discovery of dinosaurs to multiple punctures. Okay, so maybe I won't find many dinosaurs, but multiple punctures were a thing and meant I had to break my own dear rules and buy a saddle bag which I now don't mind. Having a saddle bag meant I had free pockets to stuff with gels, energy bars and cake money which I needed to get around the endless miles I did each day.

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10. When you eventually take a week off the bike you'll suddenly realise just how tired you really are and proceed to eat everything in the house and complain that your legs hurt and you'll never ride your bike again... Until next week.

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I'm currently in the middle of a two week resting period but it won't be long before I'm back out on the bike again looking for my next adventure!

 

The Tour of Britain

Two weeks ago I won a competition for me and a guest to join the Tour of Britain for a day as VIP guests, which included a day in convey of vehicles that support the tour. We won the chance to join the stage from Clitheroe to Colne. Our experience began with a free overnight stay at the Stirk House hotel in Gisburn just a few miles away from the start line where we spent the afternoon soaking up some later summer rays over a gin and tonic whilst discussing what we thought might happen the next day. It's quite tricky to imagine where on earth you would fit into a peleton of over 120 riders, team cars, motorbikes and camera cars without causing chaos. This was something we really didn't want to do, so we stopped considering the endless possibilities and in true sports fashion washed down a burger or two and settled down for an exciting day ahead.

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Monday came in a flash and before long we were on the road to Clitheroe. Worryingly the weather had closed in over night and the valley was shrouded in a low lying fog that threatened to engulf the days hilltop views.  We arrived in Clitheroe really rather early and the organisers were still finishing the bunting for the day as the children scurried back to school. After some brief hunting we found the VIP area and settled in for a coffee and breakfast, only to discover the head of the UCI, Brian Cookson (OBE) was also there. Too much of an opportunity to miss I had a brief chat and got my cap signed.

Time to spare, we had a nosey around the team buses where Team Wiggins and Team Sky were by far the most popular teams on the road before watching the team presentations. Madison Genesis accidentally jumped the queue for the stage which raised a few laughs. Presentations over we had our safety briefing and the real fun began.

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Every vehicle in the peleton is given a number for the race with the number one car being the very first police motorbike and every car after this being in a semi-confluent convey. We were in guest car number four for the day. The guest cars ride ahead of the peleton for the day until a break forms that is big enough for us to sneak into the race and join the real action. This is a three minute gap that must form to allow us in. Fingers crossed for the day!

Our driver for the day was Philip Leigh who is the ex Ireland cycling high performance director and ex team director of Recycling.co.uk (now JLT Condor Presented by Mavic) and he informed us of the time gap that we would need to achieve and the likelihood of the break happening during the day and gave a great insight into the day ahead. We also found out that not only is Philip good on a bike, he's also good a driving a car and could probably have a fair shot at some rally stages.

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The day started off fairly steadily as we climbed out and away from Nick O'Pendle Hill (Category One) and along the valley with no real breakaway action but plenty of in-race knowledge being shared with me and Sarah inbetween the crackle of the race radio. Race radio gave us another brilliant insight into the day as we were told where the riders were, the time gaps and the breakaways as well as live results of the sprints and king of the mountains. I expected all of the race radio to be full of technical information but there were occasional random facts and brilliant one-liners from the race control which included "We are over the top, they've ALREADY dropped some riders guys" and "We are now in the very middle of Great Britain, right in the middle". 

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Around about two hours into the day we suddenly got told over race radio we were good to jump in. Pete Williams of One Pro Cycling had opening up a five minute break and was flying down the road. We pulled off immediately and watched him fly past before joining directly behind the team car and race director. Now we were in the mix and watching Pete work hard. However before long Alex Dowsett decided he wanted some of the action and sudden had broken away from the peloton and was catching Pete at a rapid rate. Radio once again told us to get out of the way and before I even had chance to get a picture of Alex he was through and I was left only to admire his bum on my camera - one for Sarah to enjoy I suppose?

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Two riders together we once again pulled alongside the One Pro car and soaked in the atmosphere, taking pictures when we could and listening to Philip tell us everything we needed to know about what would happen, what the rider would be thinking and when things would change.

Change happened fast. Suddenly the lead of five minutes disappeared into two minutes and we were told to move and pronto! This meant flashing past the leaders at quite some speed on a country road without knocking them off. This is when we learnt ex cyclists make great rally drivers as we skirted round the countryside at great speed past riders whilst motorbikes swung past our other side with two wheels in the mud - I think Philip misses cyclocross.

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Sadly after nearly an hour in the fray we were out the other side and no breaks opened up again during the day. This didn't matter though as throughout the entire day the crowd were waving us through and all the schools en-route had come out to cheer the tour through which made the atmosphere amazing.

We arrived in Colne with minutes to spare and dashed to the finish line with watch everyone cross the line which was fantastic after following everyone throughout the day. It's great to see that when the riders cross the line they really have given it everything for the day and look shattered as they cross the line. Riders really are human.

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The overall experience was fantastic and gave us a real insight into the race and how things work but the experience was definitely made all the better when driven around by a driver that's done it all before, even if Sarah was asking some funny questions en-route.

If only I could do it everyday!

Winter is Coming

It's that time of year again when everyone starts to mutter those infamous words "Winter is coming" and the talk on the road turns to the best mudguards and lights. I can safely say winter has already arrived in Yorkshire and twice this week i've found myself with more water in my shoes than my bottle. Whenever it rains whilst i'm on the road the same thing always happens to me and I think the same things:

"Oh my god there is a cloud over there! Is it heading towards me? Can I ride faster than I cloud? I think I can ride faster than a cloud so i'll do that and everything will be okay."

"Hmm, It's getting dark now, maybe I can't out run that cloud after all? No, I can out run the cloud still so i'll just ride faster."

"What was that? Was that rain? No, no it can't be rain. I'm faster than the rain. Wait, that is rain, that is rain! Okay what do I do now? I'll keep riding away from the rain."

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"Hang on a minute. Is it chasing me? It's definitely chasing me, and it's getting heavier. Must re-evaluate my options. I can turn home now or carry on and out ride the rain. Yes, that's the best option; I can still outride the rain."

"My feet are all soggy and cold now, why didn't I just turn home? You can't turn home, you're faster than the rain! Oh yes, yes I am. Forwards!"

"EVERYTHING IS SO WET! WHY AM I DOING THIS? I should definitely have gone home earlier when the rain started following me. It will definitely stop soon though and I'll be dry."

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"It's not stopped yet, why hasn't it stopped? I want to be dry! Dry! If I pedal some more the rain will stop and I'll be dry."

"Okay, just twenty miles to get home now and I will be dry when I get there! I can still beat the rain"

"It's raining even more! Is that even possible? I hate the rain and I hate my bike. Imagine all the cleaning I'm going to have to do... Unless I leave the bike in the rain. Rain shower."

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"That's my house! Finally my house! I'm still wet though and the rain is still chasing me. I am definitely faster than the rain though and I will win next time."

"I think i've flooded the house; Sarah will never know surely? Oh no wait, I think that's a fish swimming towards me"

"My shoes smell now but next time I will win!"

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There are only going to be more soggy rides as it gets closer to winter so I should really stop trying to out ride the rain and maybe start carrying my rain jacket too. Can cyclists swim on their bikes?

Inspiration - The Yorkshire Dales

As most people that follow me on Twitter will know I ride a considerable number of miles each week in a combination of training, active recovery and socialising. Covering over 300 miles each week could quite easily become monotonous and boring if the roads you're riding on lack the views or twists and turns needed to make each ride unique. I live in Yorkshire, the training ground of many of the UK's top triathletes and cyclists, and home to the Tour of Yorkshire three day stage race following the legacy of the year the Tour De France visited our region. Yorkshire is great in so many ways, and with such a vast expanse of area you are never short of new roads to train on or the perfect route to recover. I live in Leeds and whichever way you ride you're able to get some vastly varied routes. To the north you will find the Yorkshire Dales, to the south you find the urban roads of Huddersfield, to the west the sharp and steep climbs of Haworth and finally to the east you find the flatlands of the York Vale.

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I find have such a great choice of locations helps to make training so much easier as no matter where you go there will always be something different. Typically I will head north if I want a good training session as the Dales give a great rolling landscape in which you can really test your legs and lungs but also admire the surroundings without feeling too guilty about having a quick rest. However, if I want a nice social ride with my other half or with my club I prefer to go east into the Vale so that we can actually chat and ride as a group on the flat rolling roads without splitting up as a group on any hills. The west and the south are less visited by me but great for the seriously tough days out when I want to throw myself at hill after hill.

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So many people keeping asking where it is that I ride owing to the photos I take, so I thought I would share one of my favourite routes for people to try next time they're up north.

The first is an 80 mile ride from Ilkley, home of the Cow and Calf and takes in both the Dales and the Vale. Starting in Ilkley the route winds it's way along the country lanes beside the A65 that are popular with nearly every cyclist in Leeds over the weekend that's guaranteed to give you a wave as you pass, dropping you into the market town of Otley; from here you take another quiet road up to the Official Top 100 Climb - Norwood Edge. This climb is steep,straight and tree lined at the bottom but once past the half way point opens up and snakes through the open expanses of the moors for some truly awesome views of the valley. Once at the top and with your breath back you descend down to a reservoir for some perfect photo opportunities.

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Once you climb up from the reservoir you climb into the stone wall enclosed roads of the Dales once more and sticking with the country lanes head for Pateley Bridge. This is where my favourite part of the route starts - an epic five miles of descent to Laverton and a fast flowing flat section to Ripon. This is a road to savour and really opens up the option to unleash the legs. The descent is on smooth tarmac with the view down the road as far as the eye can see and views all the way across to White Horse Bank. Another perfect photo opportunity, or even a picnic stop.

I though prefer to take my stop in Ripon at the Sun Parlour Cafe next to the spa baths and gardens. Bacon sandwiches, cakes and coffee can all be found here and the mini-golf makes for some great lunchtime laughs and "cross-training".

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Cafe stop over, the route takes a very different route home across the flat roads towards Boroughbridge before snaking west back towards Leeds. This is where things get quite interesting. There is a little road called Limekiln Lane that starts as a beautiful new tarmac road but suddenly turns into a sort of single track style lane. This seems impractical on a road bike but in all reality is perfectly good fun and safe for the bike as it only lasts 100 metres at most before the precious tarmac starts again - impromptu cyclo-cross skills lesson. However this isn't the last of it as for added adventure you then have to carry your bike over a wooden stile to reach the next stretch of real road. To the hardcore cyclist this would make them cry because the wheel might get muddy, but it's well worth the fun.

Muddy wheel making over, you join the main road and circle around the edge of Harrogate taking in one last little short climb before descending all the way down to Otley and retracing your steps from the morning.

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The route has a little bit of everything, and at the weekend my five unsuspecting friends were subject to the route themselves and loved it. If you feel the desire to visit Yorkshire definitely get in touch so I can find you an awesome road but for now here are some details on the epic little loop:

Route: https://www.strava.com/routes/3102440

Cafe: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g209973-d5891993-Reviews-Sun_Parlour_Cafe_in_Ripon-Ripon_North_Yorkshire_England.html

 

 

The Dunwich Dynamo

It’s now been a little over a month since I drove to London to take a part in the even more popular Dunwich Dynamo night ride a 200km (120 mile) ride from London Fields in Hackney to the sleepy east coast village of Dunwich. The ‘Dun Run’ as it’s affectionately known is an unofficial, unorganised ride that takes place each July on the weekend closest to the full moon and attracts every possible kind of cyclist – I saw tandems, Brompton’s, racing bikes, elliptical bikes and possibly even one Boris bike, although it gets harder and harder to tell the darker the night becomes. My knowledge of the Dun Run was non-existent until my friend Nick got in touch to ask if I wanted to go down and ride through the night on a slightly mystical adventure. In true craziness I agreed I would ride the 200km to the beach. The only problem with this was that it left us on the east coast and needing to get back to London. There were buses back to the city but I decided that we would ride back too and make it one of the longest rides I’ve ever done – all for fun.

I’ve never started a ride in the dark before but have ridden overnight so wasn’t entirely sure on the best option in terms of planning the preceding day. Luckily my other half Sarah was also going to London the same weekend to run a relay in Windsor so we decided to drive down on the Friday evening to stay with Sarah’s running friend Steph who made us very welcome for the weekend. As all the runners were getting up early on Saturday morning for Park Run we quickly turned in for the night. I decided I would get up with everyone else on the Saturday and head into London for lunch and a walk with an old friend which meant I wouldn’t be going back to sleep until at least Sunday lunchtime. This was possibly my biggest mistake for such a long ride as I’d find out later on.

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After a day of dining, walking and generally chilling out I went to collect my bike and prepare for the 8pm start in Hackney. I decided to opt for most of my usual long distance comforts – gels, energy bars, warm clothes including arm warmers for the middle of the night, and then about £25 to enable me to buy any essentials en-route. The biggest thing to remember for the ride were lights – lights that would let me see throughout the night for at least six hours of darkness. Once everything was attached to me or the bike I was ready to go. It was at this point I realised it was 7pm and I felt a little bit tired from the day’s activities so far.

The trip from Putney to Hackney was uneventful but my arrival to London Fields was quite the opposite – a sea of lycra clad cyclists lay in front of me as I arrived at the pub where the ride starts. So many different kinds of rider all excited for the night ahead. I thrust myself into the sea of lycra and set about finding Nick ready to start the night ahead. Once found we started to gather a small group that would stay together for the night ahead.

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We left London fields just after 8pm well aware that there were about 600 cyclists already up the road to light our route through the night. The first 15 miles are mainly spent trying to escape London and whilst not the most exciting miles of the ride allowed everyone to say hello and have a good chat to get spirits high before the night ahead. As we wound our way out of London and into the countryside we watched the sunset behind us lighting up the sky in a vast array of deep red and orange. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect with clear skies, a full moon and temperatures never dipping below 17 degrees Celsius.

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Once we were into the countryside we settled down, switched on the lights and began to set a nice steady tempo for the night ahead. We must have a different meaning for the word tempo as we suddenly looked behind to find we were towing about 100 riders behind us. It’s always a nice feeling to be in such a big group with no real rush. The problem with no rushing however, was the sudden wave of tiredness that washed over us just after 10:30pm when we suddenly realised we were going to be up for a very long time. Thankfully no need to worry as the first pub of the evening we came across was open to sell coffee to all the riders. The pubs and shops along the route stay open all night to fuel the riders for the one night of the year.

After a stop we set off into the dark and silent country lanes that lay ahead, following the twisting, snaking line of red lights that stretched into the very distance of the road ahead. The county lanes lit by the dappling moonlight casting shadows across the road. There was always a feint murmur of chatter and whirring wheels in the groups we passed on the road. This is a ride to savour not to smash.

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Around 1am, maybe a little bit later we arrived over half way through the route at a fire station which was holding an overnight BBQ for the Dun Run – the ample opportunity to grab a burger for a good cause. The only downside to this was the massive queue for food as everyone had the same idea. That burger tasted ace though and was worth the rest. Food stop over we set off around 2am and passed a closing nightclub with everyone staggering home – a reminder of our night still to come.

2am onwards is a bit of a blur in all honesty until the sun came up and gave the most beautiful sunrise possible. The ride has stretched out significantly at this point and we were on the road in our own solo group admiring the countryside and sunrise simultaneously whilst checking the Garmin to realise there wasn’t much further to go. The aim of the ride is to reach Dunwich before sunrise but that doesn’t matter at all. We arrived on the beach around 5:30am, an hour after sunrise.

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The beach is a spectacle itself – hundreds of tired and drowsy cyclists sat on the beach wolfing down coffee and breakfasts from the one and only café by the beach that opens to feed the hungry cyclists. Obligatory photo stop over, we headed into the café to grab our breakfast then admire the beauty of the morning. Stopping in the warmth of the café hit us hard. We were seriously tired, and all a little bit too drowsy to start the ride home now. Oh well, more coffee it was to be. I took the decision to take a 10 minute power nap at this point to help perk me up a little. Surprising how much 10 minutes of sleep can save you.

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That’s the Dun Run done. Now for the return trip, this time home via Ipswich to drop Nick home. There were three of us on the ride home. Me, Nick and Eric. The sun was shining high in the sky and we set off home in great spirits soon setting a pace around 18mph and in a bee-line for Nick’s house. Around 10am we arrived and realised we were a little bit hungry and rather dehydrated by the warmth of the morning sun so stopped for 30 minutes to refuel. When we stepped into the house it was sunny but when we stepped outside there was a sudden monsoon. Damn. Pride over sense we didn’t head straight to the train station but hopped back on the bikes and set off in the pouring rain towards London.

At this point we still had 100 miles to ride and were absolutely drenched to the bone. When you’re wet and riding you use energy faster as you try to keep warm and ride so I was eating like a Trojan to keep my body going whilst setting a tough tempo to get back as fast as possible. This was another 100 mile blur in the day where me and Eric took it in turns to set the pace as we fought our way back to London.

By early afternoon the weather had thankfully brightened up and Eric had guided us back inside the M25 with his local knowledge and along to a 1 mile off road section of road on our road bikes. Despite what most people tell you it turns out your road bike can handle fire track well and once we’d climbed up the gravel section we were greeted by a view of London from high up on a hillside. This could only mean it was downhill back to London. So down and down we rode back towards the towers of London, eventually arriving around 2pm.

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Eric kindly passed on his knowledge of London to allow me to find my car, and Sarah who was now bored whilst camping in my car awaiting my return. 10 miles of sleepy riding and finally I was back. Bike into the car, inhale all the food and drive out of London for a nap before the longer drive home.

It’s hard to convey just how much fun the Dun Run really is. Riding through the night following the lights, making new friends and seeing the sunrise at 4am. I thoroughly recommend the ride though. It’s worth noting that you don’t have to ride home; there is a bus service each year with bike transport to get you home leaving around 9am on the Sunday morning back to London.

Distance: 250 miles (120 miles of Dun Run)

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/339670288 (Click on the fly-by – it’s cool!)

 

Coast to Coast in a Day

Following months of preparation 30 of my friends and club mates jumped on a bus to Seascale ahead of the Coast to Coast sportive - a 150 mile, 14,000ft of climbing sportive across northern England covering the Lakes, Yorkshire Moors and Yorkshire Dales all in one day. The chatter on the bus was mainly around the time everyone wanted to achieve and the tough climbs of the day. We arrived in Seascale early Friday evening and signed ourselves into the event and collected our timing chips. No turning back now. Once signed on we headed out to try and find food and carb load for the day ahead. There are not very many places to eat in Seascale but the local church group put on a fantastic spread of pasta and cake for just £5 to raise money for the local parish. The food was amazing and really hit the spot and I was thoroughly recommend eating here if you do the event.

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Fully fuelled we took the eight mile ride to the Wasdale hostel for the evening. Accommodation is plenty in Seascale but quickly fills up with over 1000 riders in the event so we had to travel a little further out than normal. The hostel were expecting bikes and kindly dedicated a room to storage and provided early morning breakfasts for those leaving at 5am. The view over Wasdale was immense.

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When Saturday morning finally arrived the youth hostel was buzzing with cyclists at 4am preparing for the day ahead, checking their kit, packing their gels and making sure the spare tubes were all tucked away incase of the dreaded puncture. There wasn't much chatter so early in the morning as everyone was still slightly groggy but there was certainly an air of anticipation for the day ahead - would we make it up the heavily talked about Hardknott climb just 12 miles into the ride?

The Wasdale YHA is 8 miles from the start in Seascale and the perfect opportunity to warm up the legs before starting the ride, although carrying our bags back up the start line was a frightening prospect. Luckily three very kind cyclists with their car offered to take our bags to the start line leaving us the opportunity to take a more leisurely ride to the start line and say hello the the local Bambi en-route.

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Upon arrival at Seascale Open Cycling volunteers happily pack your bag and ship it away to Whitby leaving you free to roll down to the beach and begin the day ahead. I was in a group with five other friends and together we lined up on the promenade and 'dibbed' our timing chips on the start line. Without a moment more hesitate we rolled up and off the beach and onto the coastal road ahead.

The first 12 miles of the ride are simple and follow a gently rolling road along the coast before carving into the lakeland valleys. It is at the end of this 12 miles that the first challenge of the day begins - the infamously gruelling Hardknott Pass; a 1.6 mile climb with two 33% switchbacks that are guaranteed to warm the legs for the day ahead. We approached the climb steadily and holding back as much as we could for the latter half of the climb. Once all riders were successfully over the top we took a moment to glance at the stunning views around us before descending into the valley below and into the second climb of the day, Wrynose Pass. Thankfully Wrynose is slightly easier but certainly no less tiring just 14 miles into the ride and with an average gradient of 8.1% over just 1.1 miles. 2,500ft climbed in 15 miles - ouch!

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So with the first two climbs successfully ticked off we began the ride to the ferry. This section of the route is fantastically planned. A selection of quiet winding roads that lead down to the ferry crossing and really let you increase your average speed. We picked up some of our early bird starters here and as one big group swooped along the road with a tailwind behind us. Once you arrive at the ferry you dib your timing chip to stop the clock and board the ferry across the lake. Out of the other side the timing starts again and it's all uphill to the first feed station in Kendal.

30 miles down and the first food stop is a welcome sight. We choose not to stop for food but a quick refill of the water bottles given the searing heat of the day. Timing chip 'dibbed' and back on the road for the next tough climb out of Kendal. The next 20 miles of the ride after this climb take the valley floor through the Northern Dales towards Hawes and present some spectacular views to help you forget the pain of the day so far. This section is again fast flowing and in no time at all we were in Hawes at the second food station. A fabulous spread as always but once again as men on mission we grabbed some snacks, filled our bottles and set back out on the long road ahead.

60 miles down and feeling fresh the third 'section' of the day was fantastic and despite any major climbs was my favourite section of the day. Leaving the valley floor there are two steep but short climbs out of Wensleydale and onto the tank road to Catterick. The road is long and straight and with a westerly wind all day meant the group was steaming along at nearly 30mph watching the miles simple disappear without too much effort. In no time at all we were in Tunstall at the third feed station of the day and in a style true to the day so far we stocked up on Jelly Babies and bottled water then back onto the road.

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This is where the fun, or pain depending on how much of a masochist you are, starts again. A reasonably flat section to start with takes you to the foot of the North Yorkshire Moors in Osmotherley there are the first hints that there is more climbing to come as the road steadily rises for a few miles before dropping you back off the edge and onto the main road. This is the opportune time to make up some time and TT along the long stretch of road ahead. My friend Andy took this as the opportunity to begin a 30mph TTT and rip my legs off. Thankfully only a few miles after this is the final feed station. This food stop can only be described as heaven.

When you're 120 miles into a ride that you started so early in the morning it's easy to feel far too tired to carry on and so finding a feed station full of pork pie goodness can only be awesome if even Suzie Richards recommends them! Two pork pies later I was certainly feeling a lot perkier and ready for the final 30 miles.

30 miles of hell. That is the only way to describe the final 30 miles of the ride. 3000ft of climbing in 30 miles is enough to make even the hardiest rider want to cry. Down to to just three riders by this point we decided to take this section steady and spin up the climbs before making up the time on the descent. I might have accidentally soloed away up most of the climbs at this point in true Ward style but decided it was slightly unfair to leave my mates behind given the 60 mile tow I had just received so hung back slightly so that we could all ride together to the final climb of the day. Final climb of the day....

The organisers must have planned the final climb of the day after several pints of beer and with a love of pain because a 33% climb after 140 miles is one of the single most painful yet beautifully balanced challenged i've ever faced on a sportive. It turns out you can't do these climbs sat in the saddle so after managing to lift myself from the seat I hauled myself to the top of the final climb.

10 miles to go. The section is the perfect end to what has to the most scenic of sportives. A rolling ten mile section of country roads where after every little rise you're searching for a peek of the North Sea as it taunts you, hidden behind the trees or the small rises ahead. Only with five miles to go do you finally glimpse the deep blue hue of the sea below. The adrenaline kicks in at this point as suddenly there is just a few miles to go and it's all downhill.

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Down the hill, around the roundabout, left, right, left and onto the sea front. The crowd is just up the road at the finish cheering you on as you fight for the best time by dibbing in first. We dived into the finish line flailing our arms to get the timing chip finished. We celebrated the evening in true sports style with a beer and Whitby fish and chips in hand before retiring to the YHA Whitby hostel for some hard earned sleep.

Total time - 9 hours 21 minutes. Gold time. Beer time. Bed Time.

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/334115799

C2C Whitby

 

The Rules - Re-Written

At some point in your life as a cyclist you will undoubtedly have "The Rules" thrust in your face like a bag of sour grapes by self professed god of cycling that believes everything he read in a book. These guys are great fun to wind up, especially when you "break" the rules. So I wondered what it would be like to re-write 'The Rules' and make those poor gods cry in their sleep at night! I decided to take a look and some of the rules and add my own little twist...

1. Make the rules that make you happy.

2. Breach the rules! Help people break the mould and make the purist shiver.

3. Any reason for breaking the rules is a good enough reason to break more.

4. It's all about the ride - no really! Having a bike helps but so does having legs too!

5. Sit down, have a cuppa and soften up - you'll make more friends.

6. Free your mind and your legs will follow - We agree with this one! Get outside and have fun! Leave any stress on the doorstep.

7. The funkier the tan line the better! IF you don't look like a neapolitan ice-cream you've not bought enough kit or seen enough sun.

8. Pink tape, white saddle, black tyres - the more you mix the easier it will be to sent the righteous cyclist running in the opposite direction. Customise and surprise.

Pink Bike

9. If you're out in bad weather you're an ass. Period. Pull back your leg, check the bike is firmly propped against the wall and allow for a wry smile to spread across your face as you tuck into some cake.

10. It gets easier - just don't go faster. Why do you need to? Enjoy the view.

11. Family comes first. I guarantee the bike won't run away with the next door neighbour but your partner might.

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12. The correct number of bikes to own is PN+1 where your partner gets one bike for each new purchase you make . Guaranteed to keep them looking just as sexy as you.

13. If you draw the race number 13 you've already unlucky - shouldn't that be order number 13, coffee and cake?

14. Shorts should be black... or red, or purple? Maybe they should have some polka dots or stripes and a little tussle that bobbles up and down as you pedal.

15. Be a leader and wear matching kit - it's clearly cool or the pro's would all look like they had been to a charity shop.

16. If you want to be Wiggins then go for it. We all know you didn't win the jersey anyway so why does it matter? We still respect the true winners of the white and striped bands.

17. Team kit is for members of the team - as cyclists we're all on the same team so wear that kit loud and proud. Team cyclist.

18. Know what to wear. Anything really, as long as it means you're pushing the pedals.

19. Introduce yourself. Another rule we do agree with. Be polite and chat to the guys you ride with, say hello and if, heaven forbid you commute give them a salute.

20. There are only three remedies for pain. Gin, beer and wine. Each should be taken moderately whilst discussing what a fantastic ride you had.

21. Cold weather gear is for when you're cold. Dress like the Michelin man and whizz past the pack if it means you're toasty.

22. Cycle caps are for cycling, but why not wear them in the sunshine to remind everyone how proud you are to be a cyclist.

23.Tuck only after reaching escape velocity. Tuck into a chocolate bar that is whilst you recover from the mind numbingly awesome ride you're on.

24. Speeds and distances shall be referred to in miles and feet otherwise no-one else in England knows how far you've really ridden and that would be terrible.

25. The bike on top of the car should be worth less than the car otherwise you'll never reach the ride you're heading to.

26. Make your bike pornographic - handlebar tassels and a big horn should do the trick.

27. Socks and shorts should be like goldilocks - kept clear of the porridge and not too hot or too cold for you. Long socks in winter or short socks in summer.

28. Socks can be any damn colour you like. Another rule they got right - that's three so far!

29. Saddle bags have no place on a road bike, and are only acceptable on mountain bikes in extreme cases. Wrong. Every bike has an extreme case for a saddle bag - the bigger the bag, the more food you can fit in your pocket and well all know cyclists love more snacks!

Pink Food

30. No frame mounted pumps unless your pockets are too full - but of course they'll be full because you'll have so much cake to carry.

31. Spare tubes and multi tools should be stored in saddle bag - remember you need cake space.

32. Shave your guns - you're girlfriend will be skeptical to start with but will soon realise this means she can get a little bit stubbly too!

33. Visors are cool. Wear it like a boss and hunt down the rider up the road. Robo-cop would be jealous.

34. A bike ride may be preceded by a swim or followed by a run. These people might be mad but they'll look a hell of a lot better by doing it. Admire them.

35. Position matters - make sure you're always at the front of the queue at the cafe stop just incase they run out of your favourite cake.

36. Slam your stem - gently into place making sure it's comfortable for you. There is nothing worse than looking like a hunchback to be cool as a kitten on your bike.

37. Bidons should be big - in fact, the bigger the better. Nobody's going to give you a kiss if you resemble salt lake city at the end of your ride.

38. Keep your kit clean and new - there's nothing worse than a face full of bare bum on your ride. It might be fresh but it's certainly far too funky.

39. Mocha or full fat hot chocolate. It is only appropriate when cyclist to drink the heaviest possible coffee to keep you going on those long rides. Espresso is for small cyclists only.

40. Like your guns your saddle should be smooth... and soft to the touch. A little bit of padding never harmed anyone and it's good to take care of the delicate areas or you'll not get that different kind of ride.

41. Never get out of the big rings - it's really cool to snap your knees and walk with a stick.

42. No food on rides under four hours... with the exception of one soreen, two cakes and a coffee consumable every four minutes.

Pink Bike Cake

43. Lift that bike over your head - celebrate your success and have some fun.

So get out there on your bikes with soft saddles and fluffy handlebars and show the world that it's cool to ride regardless of how sharp your tan line is or how tight you top is when you've only eaten once in four hours. Go break the rules.

 

A Million Miles an Hour

It's been a little while since I last wrote a blog due to my exams but in that time i've spent a lot of time on the bike trying to clear my mind in between revision. In that time I had to reduce my training load to make sure I was fresh enough to read through a text book each afternoon. Reducing the intensity of my riding allowed me to relax slightly and look around a little more at the roads I was on to appreciate the views around me rather than staring at the statistics on the screen. This got me thinking - In todays fast moving and time pressured world, do we still find the time to appreciate what's around us or do we have to make the most of the time we have and keep looking the stem? Like most people I have a job that means i'm out of the house from around 7:30am each morning and not back until at least 6pm when you take into account commuting to and from work. This means that the time we get to spend on the bike is often squeezed during the week into an intense training session on an evening after work attempting to get in as many miles as possible in as little time as possible. Then on a weekend things don't get much easier when you're trying to spend some time with the family or catch up all the jobs that didn't get done during the week. Throughout the entire process the squeeze always happens to the hobbies and fun things we want to do in life.

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The problem squeeze on time is that you don't get the opportunity to look around you whilst on a ride or run to admire the backdrop and gaze across the valley or through the trees that line the roads and tracks we follow. Instead, our eyes remain focused on the road ahead or constantly glancing down towards the grey screen of our Garmin's as we push ourselves to go faster to get home before the time runs out.

The sad part of this is that we often miss the best views around us including those on our doorstep whilst we focus on our day to day life. Having the time to spend taking things easier for a week showed me this and make me realise what I was taking for granted every day with some great views around me in the Yorkshire Dales.

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Once a week, or even once a month it's great to get out on a ride without a target speed, or a timeframe and ride to enjoy riding, looking at the views around you and getting to know the countryside around you instead of looking at the darkened tones of your stem. It's tough in the lives we all have now but it's certainly worth a try even if it means your average speed for the week drops by a mile an hour.

So I challenge everyone to take one ride in June and relax, look around them and maybe take  photo of what they're missing. I've included a selection of photos i've taken below that made me remember why it's not always about the bike, but sometimes is all about the ride.

Sometimes just stopping in a farm gate has the best views...

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Or the climb through the trees when you go 2mph slower....

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Sometimes when you wouldn't normally stop for a break...

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It's worth taking a kitkat...

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So get outside, take your phone, and snap a photo!

Restless Recovery Weeks

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how important it is to have a rest week and to take things easy sometimes to ensure you don’t get run down. I’ve looked back at my own training log for 2015 so far and realised I’m probably not following my own advice enough having only had one real rest week in March, that was enforced due to illness. I will have a rest after Monday once I finish the 150 mile ride I’ve got to do, but it reminded why I seem to struggle to rest. If you said to most normal people to take a rest week and cut back on the intensity and amounts of sport they were doing they would probably leap up and down in happiness and sit on the sofa with a bottle of wine and some cake watching the X-Factor, but to the more sporty amongst the population doing that is almost harder than running that marathon or riding 100 miles. Athletes just don’t want to sit down and rest. Like most other people I have developed this irrational fear that a week off the bike will render me fat and a million times slower than the week before and that I’ll fall behind my targets for the year whereas in reality I would repair those muscles, freshen up and probably go further and faster. So why is it so hard to rest for a week?

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Normally I rest for five days so that I can ride at the weekend. Monday is normally my rest day anyway and involves the most exciting task in the work of cleaning my house and bikes so the start of the week is never too difficult to use as rest day and I’m normally still tired from the weekend anyway. So day one of the week and I’m pretty happy to put my feet up and watch some trash TV.

Tuesday is where things start to get a little bit restless. It’s training night on a Tuesday and with an array of chaingangs heading out onto the road it’s really hard not to just pick up my bike and head out to tear my legs to pieces. After all, if everyone else is training and I’m not then I’m definitely getting slower right? Wrong. After about an hour of convincing myself that I could better use the time sobbing into my bike cassette I’ll settle down for the evening and begrudging check Strava every five minutes and cry a little more because I didn’t ride my bike. We’ve all been there.

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Wednesday is even worse. It’s now the middle of the week and despite not riding for two days you’re guaranteed to still have the appetite of an elephant. Everything you see you want to eat but suddenly you’re crying into that cassette again because you’re mind tells you that you’re going to get fat from all this rest so if you eat that family sized cake for four you should probably ride your bike. Wrong. Instead finish the family size cake and maybe one more then rest your legs again. The eternal urge to ride the bike is strong now but the force is with me – well the force of the cake pushing me into the sofa is.

Thursday doesn’t seem too bad. It’s over half way through the week now and after not riding for three days things don’t feel to bad anymore. Until the realization that once again it’s training night and I’m sat at home again. The legs feel a lot better by this point in the week so I’m still itching to get outside again. Instead I’m forced to do some odd looking and painful moves that make up ‘yoga’. It’s not the must fun and won’t earn me any KOM’s but seems to do the trick anyway.

When Friday comes around it’s safe to say though that it’s time to put a giant bubble around me and avoid me at all costs. It’s been five days since I last rode the bike by this point and I’m on the edge. Even a bike passing by might tip me over the edge. The feint whisper of random bike works in the head pushes me towards the bike but I can rest knowing that on Saturday I can get back to riding the bike and hopefully give the riders around me a bit of a painful ride around the Dales.

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Thankfully the weekend comes around quite quickly and I can head back out on the bike knowing that despite the anguish from sitting at home resting I’m probably a bit more well rounded for doing so; even if I had to endure torture to get there. It’s important to take rest despite fighting the urge to ride and unlike me, you can still ride but cut the distance right down and really do stick to zone one of your heart rate zones to get the full benefit. It might feel counterintuitive but it works.

So, with just two days to go until I attempt another rest week, it’s more than right time to pray I make it through this terribly difficult week of rest and recovery.

Riding In Tandem

Riding a road bike can be difficult enough sometimes on the twisty, damp roads of Yorkshire so when we got the call that we were invited to have a go on a Tandem it was fair to say me and Sarah felt a little apprehensive about the idea of the two of us riding one bike together. We haven’t ridden together on our own bikes very much before either. It was fair to say we headed to JD Tandem with two thoughts in mind. Firstly, would we actually survive the day and not accidentally kill each other and secondly, could we satisfy our Strava addiction and grab some gold cups together on a ride.

 Orbit 1

When we arrived at JD Tandem with our nervous faces and helmets in hands we were warmly welcomed by the owners John and Ruth and colleague Jamie who are all big enthusiasts of tandems. After some quick introductions we were told to choose a tandem that we wanted to test. Again we looked slightly nervous given there were at least fifty different tandems in the room; it’s like choosing your first ever road bike all over again. Thankfully with a little guidance from Jamie we ‘chose’ one of the own-brand Orbit Tandems with a more relaxed position to test ride first. How hard can it be?

The answer is pretty hard to start with but things quickly fall into place. We were taken outside and given a tutorial on how to ride the bike by Jamie and it very quickly became clear that as the pilot on the front of the bike I was very much responsible for keeping poor Sarah the stoker upright on the back before we had even set off. Tandems work with the stoker, or rear rider clipping into the tandem first and then presenting the pedal to tell the pilot they are ready go. Sarah was ready to go but sadly I wasn’t and the next ten minutes followed with me wobbling around the car park trying to steer the bike whilst Sarah clung on for dear life begging me to pedal. Not a great start but at least we were still alive. As punishment Jamie took me around the car park on the back and showed me just how scary it is being wobbled around.

 Orbit 3

Eventually after much patience and guidance from Jamie we were unleashed onto the main roads around the Yorkshire Dales to hone our newly developed skills and trust in one another. It’s so important to talk to each other and anyone going past would have thought we were crazy shouting “Pedal” and “James stop shaking” at each other but before long we felt like we’d mastered the tandem and were happily pootling along down the back roads avoiding sheep and buses but still telling Sarah to keep pedalling. I’m assured she was but I’m still not sure.

Confident we were now master tandem riders we picked up one of the Orbit Lightening tandems – a lean, mean racing machine in our eyes that could power it’s riders into Strava bling. Once we had the hang of things it was certainly slick out on the road and we could finally stop shouting at each other and settle into a rhythm, even having enough confidence to attack one of the QOM’s at over 28mph and our fear had turned into some great fun on the road.

 Orbit 2

Riding a tandem was never something I had considered to be so much fun but they are great once you get the hang of riding one and do leave you with the urge to go back and ride one again. It was a great way for me and Sarah to be able to ride together even though on our own bikes we are very different in terms of speed and power on the road and gave us something funny to talk about later that day when discussing who was to blame for not pedalling or making us wobble.

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Tandem can often be seen as something for someone slightly older but I disagree. I had great fun riding a tandem with Sarah and I’m told we’re already saving up for one in the future. We were invited to review Orbit Tandem but any views expressed are my own. It’s also worth adding that whilst I write this JD Cycles currently have a team out on the road trying to break the Tandem Lands End to John O’Groats Record.

Sporty Couples

Like most sporty individuals out there I happen to be dating someone who is equally as crazy, if not more so than me about the sports we do. It's inevitable that you'll be attracted to someone with similar interests to you and in my case the common ground is most certainly sport. This got me thinking about the things that only sporty couples will truly understand and why it's that little bit different from a normal relationship.

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Firstly, your weeks are most definitely not about staying in bed until 11am because you've got a hangover from Friday night. You will almost certainly be up at the crack of dawn preparing for the days training. Quite often I will get up at 7am and head out for a nice 100 mile ride into the Dales whilst my other half Sarah will be doing a park run or something strange called a "Brick session" - She is a triathlete so we let her off most of the time.

Secondly breakfast becomes quite a large occasion in the household. In fact, every meal becomes a mountain of carbs, protein and general munching. It is impossible to not spend a small fortune on the shopping as a sporty couple and it's guaranteed to be full of the good stuff to get you through the week including a lifetime supply of pasta and coffee. It is extremely important that sport couples have coffee, especially if one of them is a cyclist, as coffee is the holy grail of the sport and must be sipped prior to any large ride.

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This leads neatly onto the the third sign that as a sporty couple you're slightly different. Once you've been out on your ride, run or other adventure you will want to come through the door and instantly crash on the sofa with a tub of Ben and Jerry's, a cup of tea and every other snack you can find. I guarantee it won't look pretty as you devour everything in sight but you'll both be doing it and have that mutual understanding that without immediate snacking you will not survive.

It therefore becomes totally acceptable to spend entire afternoons slouching on the sofa after intense mornings of sport. However, this won't be spend watching TV or a movie but will instead be spent pouring over the unlimited amounts of data and segments that you passed through on Strava. It's essential that you both check who you beat that day and to find a reason why your run or ride was slower that you though. However never suggest any reasons to your other half or war may break out.

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Once the afternoon of data consumption is done and the next million calories have been consumed it'll be the end of the day and you'll head to bed. Most sporty couples will appreciate that you're both likely to have a pretty hot body from all the sport you've been doing but you'll never get to appreciate that in the evening as you're just too tired from all the other activity you did during the day. I suppose there is always the rest week.

Those sorts of days are guaranteed almost all year round as a sporty couple and despite everything you'll get on just fine because all the stress was left in the sport you play and there is never any ironing to do as you live in lycra. Being in a sporty relationship is cool and quirky but you can guarantee your non-sporty friends will never quite appreciate how different it really is.