Competitiveness, an urge to do your best, is within human nature, a part of all of us. But in the drive to further yourself, there are steps that you need to take – only the very few are born with a natural ability at any sport, and even for them there’s time to be spent and effort expended in order to hone skills and enhance physical attributes. Cycling is not immune; indeed, there are not many sports where the amount of time you put in so clearly has an impact in the amount you get out. So it behoves you to spend time in the saddle if you want to improve, and part and parcel of that is that there are boundaries to cross in your long personal voyage of self-improvement. I’ve just crossed two of them – my first sportive, and my first half-century.
The event was a new one – the Rawlinson Bracket commemorates the untimely passing of Nick Rawlinson, who passed away in his sleep at the shockingly unfair age of thirty. A keen cyclist, Nick was training for the Maratona dles Dolomites and his first season of racing – accordingly, his friends and family put together the Rawlinson Bracket to allow riders to experience some of the roads Nick knew well and loved to train on, but also to raise funds and awareness for Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. Whilst not a county particularly noted for verticality, Warwickshire nevertheless boasts some fairly beastly climbs along the Edgehill escarpment, and although the more leisurely 24 mile Bottom Bracket would give them a swerve, the 50 mile Top Bracket would utilize these and other climbs to the full.
Registered with British Cycling, online registration and entry was simplicity itself, and a couple of weeks before the event, my event number and on-the-day instructions hurled themselves through the letterbox. The day itself dawned grey and distinctly chilly, but at least it looked dry with no precipitation – parking at the Heritage Motor Centre, however, there were undeniable flakes of snow tumbling from the slate-coloured sky, although we were blessed to have nothing heavier fall during the event. Signing on was just a matter of turning up and signing your name in the appropriate place before heading out into the cold to get kitted up, and one thing was becoming very in-your-face apparent; although nothing was falling from above and the roads were dry, it was painfully, blisteringly cold. I was pretty well prepped, but in a moment of jaw-dropping stupidity, I’d left the winter gloves at home in favour of some slightly cooler* handware, cooler in both senses of the word. With Team NTG pedalling nervously to the startline, my fingers first started to protest, then yell angrily, then finally start to fall silent – and numb.
The briefing was cheerily delivered, useful and to the point, and before we knew it, we’d been set free and were off and running. From the start, the key note of interest was our fellow participants zipping past us at great pace and then disappearing into the distance – Team NTG’s scratch squad were a fairly fit bunch but they were carrying a hybrid-mounted great pudding in the form of your correspondent, and although I had been prepared for Vince, Jon and Steve to similarly make themselves very small on the horizon in no short order, I was very grateful to them for riding at my gentle pace. For the first mile or two, we followed the B4451 towards the amusingly-monitored Bishop’s Itchington and although traffic was by no means heavy, there were a few cars about – once we turned onto Knightcote Road, however, we were into the lanes and the remainder of the ride was blissfully quiet.
It was still flat, though, and digits were definitely on the chilly side. Riding two by two, we pedaled along in amiable fashion, honking about the cold and hoping for a hill to warm us up – Vince was on a box-fresh spanking new Specialized Allez bought only the day before, settling in and reveling in the step up from his Apollo hybrid.
It wasn’t long before we were passing Northend Manor, which meant Burton Dassett and the first serious climb of the day wasn’t far off. Burton Dassett is a lovely piece of parkland that normally calls on you to be shoo’ing sheep out of the way between heavily-gasped breaths – this time there were no sheep in the road as we passed, although my companions made like mountain goats and quickly dropped me. I wasn’t bothered; although tactics hadn’t been discussed, I’d half had it in mind that they might scoot off and ride at their own pace, which wouldn’t have bothered me – I knew that 50 miles would be quite a test for me, and that I couldn’t afford to try and match an unachievable pace, but if they wanted to test themselves, I certainly wouldn’t begrudge them. I also knew from riding with Jon that my modest climbing pace was uncomfortable on his steeper-geared Genesis Croix De Fer, so I was unsurprised that the others would ride away from me when it got steep. What was pleasing, however, was that the others took it steady on the ride away from the top, and it wasn’t long before I was back amongst them.
In companionable fashion, therefore, we proceeded along the way chatting as we went, the next challenge being a climb up through the village of Shotteswell. This led us to the B4100 which runs from Banbury to Gaydon and forms a part of my regular commute, so I was overjoyed to launch myself down the familiar Warmington Hill in spite of the biting wind – by this time, even my trendily-attired fingers were adequately warm…
Turning west before the military camp, I gulped down a gel before we hit the B4086, turning south to aim at Knowle Hill. Knowle Hill is a proper climb, not too long (little more than half a mile), and the guys again worked their way ahead of me as we hit 14% – I’d done a recce a couple of weeks before, as I knew it to be an awesome piece of downhill tarmac, so I knew I was capable of riding up it in the middle ring, but it was still a bit of a shock to see dismounted riders pushing up the hill. My sense of inferiority born of taking a lowly hybrid to the start line against a sea of proper road kit diminished with every revolution of the granny ring.
Our ascent of Edgehill marked an approach on the halfway mark, and the rest stop at the top of the hill gave me time to assess – I felt ok, pretty good after a banana, and in my head there was only one more serious climb left. I’d had a bit of a play along Edgehill prior to the event, and thought I had things covered, but although I felt strong on the restart, once we’d descended into the picturesque village of Tysoe (there’s a great downhill on the way in – I unclipped the inside foot into a hairpin left just to be on the safe side, and my team members were asking if I was worried about impacting the scenery on the outside of the turn. Pff – bunch of old women). Tysoe led us onto Lady Elizabeth Hill which was a comparative long grind, at the top of which I struggled to make the time back up to the rest of the squad – I was definitely starting to lose strength. Just to make things more tricky, I managed to pull out an energy bar on a flat section shortly afterwards, but struggled to open the beast – as a result, I ended up trying to chomp on chocolate and orange as the road swooped up and down, turning the simple act of eating into a tricky prospect.
As we got to Compton Winyates Hill, passing the 35 mile mark, my legs had definitely got it into their collective head that they’d more or less had enough of this pedaling lark. Vince had to stop right at the foot of the climb to locate an errant gel, but came past me at a blistering pace on his way back to joining Jon and Steve – I was indifferent; by now it was all about trying to make the finish, and my legs felt like mush. Trying to generate extra power was like pushing water uphill.
The route then rejoined at the top of Lady Elizabeth Hill, and I sped gleefully down back into Tysoe before rejoining the lads just a couple of miles before Sunrising. I knew Sunrising of old – as a family we’d been driving up it on the way to Silverstone since the Seventies, and since I’d worked in Banbury, Sunrising had been a frequent part of the commute if I couldn’t face the motorway. I’d only cycled up it once, but it was and is the steepest hill I’ve cycled up so far. That was the end of January, and I’d managed to hold the middle ring, but on the day, little more than three weeks later, I had to drop to the granny ring almost as soon as the climb started; it seemed almost endless, but my bloody-minded spinning eventually had me round the top corner and at the apogee of the hill. From there I knew the route home – we’d cleared all the serious climbs. It was an overwhelming experience.
Once atop the escarpment, I put in some effort in aero mode to try and catch the rest of Team NTG, but we were through Edgehill before I rejoined with them. By then we were poised over Edgehill, a hill I’d ridden down a couple of times before and with my gravitational potential energy advantage, I managed to open a small gap on the rest of the team before we started to span the plain to Kineton. Putting in a turn to try and catch a couple of riders ahead of us, I gave it a dig before Vince took over, dragging us past them but also separating the team, the new Allez giving free expression to his prodigious ability. Steve gave vain chase as Jon and I worked our way more steadily home, but there was no doubting who finished with the most ammo in their legs.
Still, 50 miles, done; my first half century, and first sportive. It was a brilliant feeling just to finish the event, and it ranks high amongst my thus far meager athletic achievements. But complete it we did; cheerily run, the event was fun from start to finish and with over £4000 raised for SADS, there was a clear correlation between the fun had and the funds raised. No-one I spoke to had anything but praise for the event, and there was a pleasing finale when Steve and Jon looked to donate. When they went unsatisfied in their hunt for charity buckets, they asked a SADS-t shirted lady who advised them that there were no buckets, but they could leave contributions with her. In jest, Steve asked if they could be sure that contributions left with her would be safe and she smiled as she said that yes, they would be safe, as she is Nick’s mum. I thought it symbolic of the quality of the event that Nick’s family were there to pitch in, a year to the day after his untimely passing.
Nothing that I saw or heard leads me to conclude that the event was anything other than a complete success. I’ve no idea if there are plans to make it an annual event, but if there are, sign me up now!
*Coolness, of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but for me, the gloves I wore were as cool a pair as I own.
For more information SADS (Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome) visit: www.sadsuk.org.uk
To learn more about Nick and details on The Rawlinson Bracket event visit: www.the-rawlinson-bracket.co.uk
Great news, funding for the following project has been approved, which means Electric Pedals are off the Malawi early next year! Woo Hoo!
A meeting with Elspeth Waldie founder of Purple Field Productions the other week has sent us off on yet another adventure….
Purple Field Productions is a charity that makes films and videos for educational and humanitarian purposes. Their mission is to not only increase awareness and understanding, but also to give people a voice.
A few months ago, Elspeth and team just happened to be out in Kisoro, Uganda making a film about protection of the environment and improving livelihoods in the face of climate change, and bumped into our old friend Denis Agaba from the Wild Life Clubs of Uganda. We met Denis in 2009 having handed over our first prototype of the Field Cinema to support the conservation work he and GAFI were doing in the surrounding schools. Denis gave Elspeth a demonstration of his field cinema and talked about the good work it was doing (see Purple Production’s director having a pedal above). Elspeth and her team were excited at the prospect of using this system in some of the regions they support in Africa. They currently take their films about HIV/AIDS, disability awareness, cerebral palsy, agriculture/food security and the environment to Malawi, Ghana and Rwanda and beyond.
For each project Purple Field Productions works in partnership with a collaborator – usually a small charity or NGO who work in the field and see the need for a film, but cannot afford to make one themselves. At the moment many of the educational films end up being shown on a TV powered by a petrol generator. The equipment is heavy, and fuel for the generator is not always available. One of Elspeth’s potential partner groups in Malawi sent this statement and pictures:
“This last year we have found it has been an extremely difficult year with regards to running mobile film shows, there has been (and there still is) a fuel crisis in Malawi, obviously we cannot run film shows without fuel as we use a generator to power it. Our staff have been walking to reach projects when we do not have fuel.”
We met Elspeth and talked through some ways we could solve these issues. One of the things that was clear was that our Electric Pedals bicycle generator and bicycle combination was not the solutions. They felt that it was just too cumbersome and heavy. So we needed to devise a energy generating unit that was fit for purpose; light, efficient, rugged and ultra portable.
It’s early days yet, we’re meeting with Purple Field Productions again in a few weeks to continue discussions and iterations of this new design. We’ve tested the kit and it works brilliantly and at a mere 7kg, you can put it on you back and climb a mountain with it. Fingers crossed we’ll start sending these out to Africa next year to continue the great work the field cinema started.
Aside from anything, it’s been ace working with my dad on this project, who I have to say has been a legend…thanks Dad.
This weekend, professional cycling brothers, Dean and Russell Downing, will host “Out of the Saddle – An Evening with the Downing Brothers” on Saturday 20th October 2012 at the Carlton Park Hotel in Rotherham.
Last year’s event saw numerous stars from the cycling world join the Downing brothers, and this year is no different. Team Sky rider Ben Swift and new teammate, as of next season Cycling Shorts very own Jon Tiernan-Locke, the overall winner of the Tour of Britain are amongst the stars.
A number of Dean Downing’s teammates from Rapha Condor Sharp will also be there on the evening, including the winner of the Tour of Britain mountains classification, Kristian House, Olympic Gold Medalist Ed Clancy and Directeur Sportif John Herety.
David Harmon, the voice of cycling, will be the MC for the night, interviewing guests as well as announcing the raffle and charity auction. All proceeds from the charity action will be going to support Brothers on Bikes (http://www.brothersonbikes.org.uk). Sam (aged 15) and Ollie (aged 14) have recently completed the John O’Groats to Land’s End ride in memory of their Uncle Malcolm, who passed away with cancer in November 2011, and will be in attendance along with their father Andy Turner.
Other professional cyclists of note include James McCallum, Graham Briggs and Pete Williams. Endura Racing team manager, Brian Smith will also be there on the night, along with Matt Stephens, former pro cyclist, now cycling television presenter.
Dean Downing said: “It’s great that our friends in the cycling world come and support our event. It makes it even better that most of them are current or ex team mates of mine and Russ’s, so I know it’s going to be a bit of a party.”
There will be a charity auction on the night with some very special prizes. Amongst the items on offer are various cycling jerseys including Jon Tiernan-Locke’s signed Tour of Britain gold overall winners jersey, Kristian House’s KOM winners jersey, Chris Froome’s signed Vuelta jersey, and Ed Clancy’s signed Olympic kit. Also up for auction is a signed Olympic photomontage of Tour de France winning Bradley Wiggins and a Jeff Banks bespoke suit. A raffle will also take place on the night, with the first prize being a pair of Festina ladies and men’s watches from Festina UK.
Tickets to the event are now sold out for the event itself but you can show your support by purchasing from the Out of The Saddle range at: www.outofthesaddle.org.uk
Episode 1: Adventures of a Would-Be Cyclist…..or How I Ended Up Getting a New Bike
How does a calm “fun ride” on a hot humid day turn into a meeting of steel and skin on the road?
Well, I found out yesterday when I rode in our local Fourth of July bike ride. It started off beautifully. My husband rode the first bit with me, until my 25-mile course went one way and his long course the other. We both did what we could to ride together–me trying my best to keep up, him attempting to go slowly enough for me to follow. It was fun–hilly and HOT!!!! But I did it, and was proud of myself for just getting up so early and riding.
All went well as I rode the final miles by myself, until within 500m of finish, suddenly I got crashed by a woman who decided that mid-corner was a good place to just STOP! I didn’t even have time to think WTF. As I was flying in the air, I did have that thought I’ve heard so many riders talk about on TV, the slow motion moment when you think to yourself, “Oh, @#$% This is definitely gonna hurt!”
Now you have to know that I ride a Specialized 29er. The thing is steel framed, a monster, and the wheels must weight 5 pounds each. But now it’s trashed–wheel bent, derailleurs gone. Though maybe it’s a good thing the bike is a tank–it took the worst of it. Fortunately, I came away with just a rainbow of arm bruises and an impressively bloodied knee.
But truly, I should have known better! This was not the Tour de France, no teams here–it’s each rider for themselves out there! Not that anyone was timing the darn thing! So I learned: Keep your eyes open, you never know who is going to do what, when.
Now, I know the woman-whose bike was unharmed-was sorry, she even offered to pay for my bike, which was very kind of her. She asked me later what she should have done differently to have not cause it. I had to stop……and pause the requisite 5 seconds, so I wouldn’t say the first thing that came into my head. I mean seriously, my first thought was, “Hello! Maybe next time it would be good to not stop dead in the intersection!” No, I said something nice (something not completely truthful either), but something polite.
Now rather than dissuade me from riding, it’s pumped my enthusiasm for cycling and riding my bike. Not the crash or the road-rash, of course, nor the fact that it was hard and it was hot, but the excitement of seeing riders ahead of me, of trying to catch up and to pass them. Not to beat them, but to just see if I could just get there. And with my old bike in a few pieces at the bike shop where I left it, I have a new bike in my future. I might just be able to do that catching up and passing a little bit easier now and most definitely in better cycling style.
So now with some more work and a few Kilos lost (both from me and a new lighter bike), I’m going to my set sights to ride the next “local” event. Maybe next time, I’ll even try the 44-mile ride . But my first lesson is learned: “Just like the Tour de France, it’s a jungle out there……even on the charity ride circuit!”
Theres something about saying ‘200 kilometers’ which causes my gut to flip. We’re going to ride all through the night until our bodies can take no more, then the sun will come up. And we will ride some more.
My teammates lights illuminate me from behind, throwing shadows of pumping calves onto the road. Cadence high, we plough into the night, four strong, towards the half way point tea stop. I drop back and let another take the lead, tucking in behind his back wheel and revelling in the silent vacuum of the draft.
Let me explain. Silence is something I’m not accustomed to. Since age 5, I’ve not left the house without a walkman/discman/MiniDisc/MP3 player and at least one spare set of batteries. The crowd in my head was so loud, the only way was to drown it out. The noise and the craziness in my head led me to some dark places in life, sitting homeless aged 14 with a needle in my vein, tasting oblivion in its rawest form. Even having got clean, it led me down a path of self destruction, over and over. Drugs, drink, sex, gambling, computer games. Over and over, I gathered myself and took a strained step forward, heavy with the guilt and shame of my past. I had to escape – but with each way of escape came a new low.
When, last August, I was looking for a new bike to replace the steel mountain bike I’d run into the ground, little did I know the changes it would bring with it. I was 17 stone 2 pounds, with zero self respect and a tendancy to think about throwing myself in front of buses. Things were not all good. Once again, I made a decision that things should change. And change they did.
I got up off my butt and started taking action. Therapy, a new sponsor in recovery, doing what was recommended for those in my situation. I got a temp job, and I needed to ride to work. Why I went for a road bike I don’t know, but once I’d got it home, I knew I was in love. Clips, cleats, helmets, lycra – this was all new to me. I’d stepped into a big bold new world, full of weird looking middle aged men, and I didn’t care. I’d found something I could enjoy. I rode to work. I rode to AA meetings. I rode to see friends. I rode everywhere I could ride. It wasn’t long before my boyfriend started to see the pounds shed. People commented on how ‘healthy’ I was looking. My legs went from things that sat under my desk to defined slabs of muscle.
Then, I did London to Brighton. The first time I’d ridden more than 15 miles in one go, and I cried in pain. But the pain was good. It was me, my music and the pain, and I kept going until I could go no further. Then I freewheeled the rest of the way into town. Riding in the open, out of the city, became my new favourite thing. I’d book tickets out to Reading, ride to Oxford and back and catch the train home. Then Cambridge, and then Brighton again. All the time, gaining in speed and distance and loving every minute of it.
The facebook group of the Dunwich Dynamo drew me in. It was some months away, it seemed fine to sign up to. I booked coach tickets, and then realised that I’d committed myself to the most physical exertion I’ve ever done. Anticipation, Fear, readiness to prove myself, a desire to succeed, so many emotions spent months going around my head. I was as ready as I would ever be. I was a healthy 12 stone, with quads capable of keeping going no matter what.
Somehow, on the night, I made it to London Fields. I didn’t know anyone and faced a night of lone riding. My fear of failure stirred. My ego is unfaltering in it’s desire to see me fail, to remind me of all the times where I’ve failed in my life. To tell me that I will never achieve anything. It was working full force that evening.
Suddenly, I hear someone call my name. Someone from the facebook group recognised me. The rest of the evening is complicated to explain, but involved a lot of waiting around for people. In the end, 6 of us set out from London Fields at about 9:30pm.
The ride out of London was hectic. Too busy to think, the only focus was on staying alive. When we gathered ourselves, we had lost two. Four rode on. Crossing the M25, we were surrounded by nature. Trees and fields as far as the eye could see. The sun setting, we stopped into a petrol station for a quick release of internal pressure, and we were off again.
I can’t pinpoint when it was, but something clicked and I flipped my headphones down around my neck and revelled in the sound of freewheels buzzing, of cranks pumping, the crackle of tyres on worn asphalt. Peace surrounded me as we rode on, cutting through the wind like a knife through warm butter. Eddies formed in my ears, the cool air an alien feeling, but the cans stayed off.
The simple pleasure of maintaining cadence and following the red lights took the internal noise away.
At some point shortly before Sudbury, we lose two more. Despite looking up and down, we can’t fine them. Two remained for the second half. We silently plough forward into the night.
I came to realise, this isn’t such a big deal. We ham it up, talking in kilometers to make ourselves sound like Gods of the road, to the uninitiated. We scare ourselves into jelly when all we need is the simple pleasure of pressing down with our calves and quads, over and over.
This is not a battle with the clock, or with the bike, or the road. It is a battle with ourselves. It is a battle with our fear. It is not a test of strength, endurance or ‘Rule 5’. It is a test of Courage, a test of resolve.
The Dynamo changed me before I even rode it. But having ridden it? I can laugh at anyone who says ‘you can’t do that’.
I can do anything.