Going Really Long!

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Final Thoughts

Today dear Mr Grok and I made our way back up the country and are now staying only a couple of hours from home at a very quiet campsite at Tummel Bridge (I spoke too soon we've just been buzzed twice by four F15s - this has however made plane-spotting Mr Grok's day) - we are here until the end of the coming weekend.  I'm really in need of some rest and a chance to switch off completely.  The last ten days have been something of a whirlwind combining emotional, mental and physical fatigue.

Driving back has reminded me of many moments during the ride down as we passed various landmarks and I want to share some of those thoughts now as a final post on this blog.

This adventure started nearly a year ago when I read an advert in Cycling Weekly.  It was only days after my then 17 year old daughter very unexpectedly disappeared from home and moved to England leaving with one year left to go of her A levels and a letter which made it very clear that she would not be returning.  Something about the RAB Challenge called me, and looking back I think it gave me something positive to focus on during the very dark days, weeks and months that followed her departure.  I'd also had a taster of end to ending a few months before when I rode with Peter King on his penultimate leg of his LEJOG; he was certainly inspiring and the seed was planted I guess!

11 months on and I've now completed the cycling Challenge but it has also provided me with a more personal closure too - an unexpected gift.  Living so closely with 700 or so people as they either tackled the challenge solo, in teams or were there supporting those that were, gave me a unique insight into the whole range of what is the human condition. I think this has given me a much more realistic perspective!

On the physical side I'm very pleased with my 'performance' not that it was a race of course, but I was able to ride day after day by keeping in the aerobic zone where possible - my training certainly paid off and that's always a good feeling.  I did develop a sore knee and Achilles half way through but with management through physio and stretching it was OK.  These are overuse problems and everyone appeared to suffer to some degree. Spending several nights in my tent at home certainly gave me a good feel for how the camping side of things would work and taking a camp bed made all the difference although it certainly made the twice daily 'bag drag' somewhat heavy!  But a small price to pay.

On the nutrition side of the house I'm really pleased.  I rode this challenge 'Primal'.  For those that have not been following my story Primal eating means low carbohydrate (ie only from vegetables - not potatoes or legumes, some fruit and nuts), high fat (animal and unprocessed - ie not polyunsaturated vegetable oils) and moderate protein from eggs, fish and meat.  This is how we evolved to eat over 100,000s of years.  I've been eating this way - ie I stopped eating any grains, minimised added sugars and processed foods since the end of November last year.  At home I have less than 100 g of carbohydrate a day and have changed my body composition quite dramatically - I'm now 7% less body fat although my weight has remained the same.  During the RAB I ate up to 200 g a day and didn't have any problems with fuelling.  In fact I felt well, avoided the bug that went around and didn't have the intestinal distress that many suffered due to the sheer quantity of sugars they were consuming following the 'expert's' advice.

My daily eating was as follows; breakfast - scrambled eggs, some fresh fruit (strawberries/blueberries) and where they had provided it, natural full fat Greek yoghurt.  For the designated Pitstops they provided me with cans of tuna, meat and cheese, sometimes some natural yoghurt and apples if I wanted them.  During my cycling I consumed between 4 and 6 Nakd bars - these provide around 14 g of carbs per bar from raw compressed dried fruit and nuts.  At the evening meal I ate the meat/fish dish with vegetables (no potatoes) and salad drenched with olive oil.  On arriving back after each day I snacked on some nuts and very dark (85%) chocolate.  When I weighed myself on Monday morning I was exactly the same weight as when I set off although I've dropped a kg since so I'm busy eating as my body repairs itself.  I've also developed some impressive abs, must be leaner and all that climbing helps too!

Highlights of the route include the spectacular Glen Coe range which we rode in splendid sunshine, great views of Loch Lomond and of particular note I found riding over the Severn very emotional.  I think this was mainly due to the connections I have with the view as I cycled across the vast expanse.  It brought back many happy hours spent on the flight deck of a C-130 Hercules whilst Mr Grok was navigating; the only time I have been able to see him 'at work' as we flew up and down the Severn estuary.  It also marked a turning point on the route where we finally finished heading south and turned right!

Seeing my parents on the Clifton Suspension bridge was very special too, and they surprised me at the end of that stage by being at the Base Camp and yet again first thing the following morning when they were waiting at a junction only a few miles into the next stage from Cheddar to Launceston.  It was lovely to see them so excited, bouncing about like 5 year olds and sharing the buzz of the event.

I really enjoyed riding through Cheshire as well, not an area I know at all and was surprised to find myself in Wales at one point for a few miles!  I think a local was even more surprised when I asked if I was in Wales, I was answered with a rather perplexed 'yes?'!

Obviously an adventure of this size and duration was bound to have some low points, and I guess that is what provides you with the chance to grow and understand yourself better.  From a cycling perspective a couple of things spring to mind.  Firstly being sent a circuitous route to take in the Long Mynd was really frustrating as it was unrideable by 95% of riders and meant taking in a very dangerous descent as well.  I don't think this will appear on next year's route.  Another frustration was a diversion which was brought in at the last minute which required a huge amount of difficult climbing for several miles to reach the Pitstop only to retrace your steps back to the main route ... practice bleeding as Mr Grok would say and it really knocked the stuffing out of the slower riders - an apology was later offered by the route master at the end of that leg.  To be honest the route to Lands End from Penzance was equally, unnecessarily punishing given we had by that point ridden almost 1,000 miles and climbed in excess of 72,000 feet.  However, I guess it did add to the sense of achievement!  Got to look for the positives.  My only real sadness was hearing from many 'non' cyclists how they never wanted to see a bike again.  I think it's a shame that the route was such that many came away with the impression that cycling was hard, gruelling and not for them. 

The biggest low was Dave becoming ill at the beginning of stage 7.  Having had a day riding solo as he time-trialled stage 6 our plan was for us to ride together again from there on but one look at his face across the room in the breakfast queue was enough for me to know that plan was not to be executed.  He rode solo struggling with the diarrhoea and vomiting bug that made it's way through a number of the riders, staff and volunteers.  He did complete the stage but in a very slow time and was completely unable to even contemplate riding stage 8.  Having spent so much time together over the last few months training together, and having already ridden five stages in each other's company I truly understood how this made him feel.  I guess the silver lining of the added miles the route had taken meant that he was able to cover well over the minimum End to End distance even though he missed riding the penultimate stage.

Stage 9 proved to both of us just what the challenge is really about and it has nothing to do with how long it takes, how fast you go, where you finish in the pack.  It is about camaraderie, compassion, friendship, about overcoming adversity and being the best you can be with the cards you are dealt.

Out on the road and around the basecamps I've met a wide range of people.  Of special note are Michelle who was often out on the road in excess of 12 hours a day but got up every morning and rode again, the Halfords guys who worked their socks off to keep everyone rolling and still found time to be on the finish line to cheer in the last finishers, The Reddish family - Tim, the blind Chairman of Paralympics GB and his wife Jean (thank you so much for the resupplies of nuts and dark chocolate!), and his tandem pilot son and all the volunteers who made life more bearable when you were tired and sore!  Then there were the 'elites'; I can honestly say they are a breed apart, to see them power past you on a hill is something else.  James Cracknell is just the most focused individual I think I've ever met - I guess that's what makes a multiple medal winner and the sight of Rebecca Romero whizzing past me in her white world championship skinsuit will stay with me for a long time!

And then there are the 'Kelda support team', the wonderful Mr Grok who makes it all possible, is always there for me and drove his own JOGLE in Elly to deliver and collect me, my parents who were responsible for raising most of the £700 for Paralympics GB and who made my day by appearing on the Bristol leg, my brother and sister-in-law, equally excited who appeared at Lands End to see us finish - Gavin that striptease was amazing, you are a credit to all Groks, sorry if I didn't make more of it but I had just ridden 1,000 miles LOL!  And of course all my friends who've followed me on this amazing journey - you know who you are!

And a particular mention for Dave - nuff said eh!

I have met a huge range of people during the last few days, observed some selfless and some selfish behaviour and have finally found some peace.  For me, and I think for Dave, we really do know now what matters and will both have a fresh outlook on our lives.

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The motto to take away - don't look back, what is behind you has passed.

Grok on :-)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Lands End

Well, what a final day!
Total statistics for the trip - I rode 1,013 miles in 9 days in 66:42 an average of 15.2 mph over the hilliest possible route between John O Groats and Lands End! Dave rode for 60:47 and covered 896 miles (more than the minimum JOGLE distance despite being unable to ride Day 8 due to illness) so in my book that makes him and End to Ender whether he accepts it or not! Wear that jersey with pride Dave :-).
For the purposes of the 'Guess the time competition' we are are giving Dave my ride time for the day he was too ill to ride (as we would have ridden together that day and we think this is the fairest was to work it out) so his total is 67:08 so our grand total is 133:50. We did however have one 'kind' soul who guessed - '1 didn't finish' and I suppose technically speaking Dave didn't do every leg so Gerry wins a Gordon and MacPhail poloshirt! The other winners are Jean Page (+15 mins) £20 Tesco Voucher, Rachael at SS (-1:14) Walkers Hamper, Sally Ross Mowat (+1:20) Hair Cut with Jean Page (!) and Kev Hastie (-1:24) Swimming entrance credits!
Yesterday for me was Mission Get Dave Home! I was very relieved to see him up and dressed for riding first thing and he managed to get a decent breakfast inside him before we set off at 7 am. I was fully prepared to take 12 hours if necessary to nurse him home but fortunately (for both of us!) that wasn't necessary. We bowled along quite well until the first pitstop at around 25 miles but by 40 miles he was out of gas (hardly surprising since he'd been so ill during Friday's ride and had slept for most of Saturday). So for the next 55 miles it was a case of helping him along on my wheel and keeping the pace sensible so he could keep up without being too stressed or feeling he'd never get there.
For the most part the route was good, rolling hills without too many horrid climbs. However, the route master had his final twist of Sadism 15 miles out ... Dave and I stopped at a cafe in Penzance just to savour the moment quietly and refuel a bit with some coffee. And what a good job we did, Dave certainly needed the caffeine hit just a mile up the road ... we came to a T junction which indicated Lands End 12 miles to the right, however, our RAB sign took us left. By now we knew that could only mean one thing - to make the route as hard as possible by taking us up another vertical climb - and low and behold just around the corner was a massive, long climb. We both made it to the top but it really did use up just about all Dave had left. From there we followed the 'scenic' route into Lands End and by far the most difficult approach with lots more sharp inclines.
Finally we could see the Finish and with great relief and much emotion we crossed the line. Both my brother and his wife and Adrian were there to meet us.
A truly epic journey for both of us on many levels. We have met many amazing people, seen the very best and the worst of human nature, observed some truly appalling driving, atrocious road surfaces, some of the best scenery you will encounter anywhere in the world and have a memories which each of us will cherish and never forget.
We rode as one for much of the time and garnered many positive comments from fellow riders and I hope did justice to our Forres CC kit (we wore some part of the kit every day)!
Grok on and over and out from Kelda and Dave :-)
For the Surrey sweepstake my third fastest leg was leg one!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Nearly There!

The epic journey is coming to a close. Today's leg was excellent, I would call it a fair course, it had testing hills, but rideable with the reward of long swooping descents with sufficient viewing to enable you to really take advantage of them, I really enjoyed this stage although as usual it was further than advertised and the last 5 miles were really testing. I rode so well in fact that I finished in around the first 40 riders. I've now clocked 920 miles. Passing into Cornwall was a real buzz!
Today's stats are 8:04, 14.6 mph, 131 bpm and 131 watts. Dave clocked 9:03 yesterday but was unable to ride today. He does look a lot better now though and will ride tomorrow. We'll set off at 7 and see how he goes, I rather suspect he'll be riding off my wheel for a change.
This has to be the best sport-related adventure I've had and I can't really imagine topping this! There is such a mix of people from very fit keen young cyclists to much older people clearly stretching themselves in a challenge of a lifetime finishing long after the majority and yet plugging on day after day - totally inspiring - often clocking 12 - 13 hours a day. We also have some paralympians riding and a tandem with a blind rider - such lovely people.
The vast majority though I would say are mid-life middle class males! Many bringing with them notions of being 'paying customers'; there's nothing like camping night after night and having to queue for the portaloos to bring many down to earth.
There are numerous volunteers here too and they are the true stars of this endeavour, they man the pitstops, the info desks, physio students and providing massage services and many Deloitte employees have given up time to support where required.
Special mention to the Halford boys who have been totally awesome, and have worked late into every night to keep everyone on the road even lending parts from their own bikes where required.
I don't know when I'll blog the final episode as clearly major partying is on the agenda tomorrow.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me, and Dave, in our venture, I think we've raised around £1,000 between us.
Next stop Lands End, Grok on ...

Friday, 18 June 2010

A Fantastic Day!

Much cooler today and a wonderful route. I rode really strongly and was back in the first third or so of the riders. Crossing the Severn Bridge was just amazing; I have a painting at home that hangs over the fireplace which is a view of two Hercules flying over the bridge! Incredible to be cycling along looking at the view having once flown over it.And to add the cherry to the cake Mum and Dad were at the Clifton Suspension Bridge and then again at the finish, lovely to get a hug after a week amongst strangers so to speak. Unfortunately though I was riding solo as Dave has come down with the bug, he did struggle round in a very slow time but won't be riding tomorrow and is very unwell and now in the isolation area. I can't tell you how sad I feel for him. Hopefully with a day of rest he will be able to complete the journey on Sunday. Now I just have to hope I can avoid it for another 2 days.The Halfords shorts worked well and the laundry have produced a clean set of clothes too. So things are looking up on the attire front!There is always so much to do every day. I had hoped to get back and write a longer blog but somehow between eating, showering, dressing crash injuries, massage etc suddenly it's bed time.The last two legs will be tough as we travel through the Mendips, through Devon and on through Cornwall. Mick - I'll be saving up for a triple and a 12-27 for our Raid next year :-)Can't believe it's coming to a conclusion, it really is like some kind of alternate reality at the moment. Sorry, forgot the stats ... 7:26 and 111 miles, 133 watts, 15.7 mph and max of 45 mph - that's a record for me! Grok on ...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Sense of humour failure!

I had a lovely day for 90 miles, great scenery, rode at recovery pace and pulled a big train of guys along which suited me just fine. I've begun to realise just how bike fit I actually am when guys sit on my wheel and are on their limit - when a chap came up and along side to ask if he should take a turn, he was sweating profusely and was finding it hard to speak ... My answer ... No that's OK, I'm just taking a recovery ride and working off my power meter, fill your boots in the train behind, LOL!At 90 miles we hit the biggest hill in world, I walked, in fact I found it hard pushing my bike up it, never mind riding. Then the descent was REALLY dangerous. And they added 5 miles to the advertised route!Anyhow I made it again as did Dave (although he didn't make it up Long Mynd either - says he said he has the wrong gears, James Cracknell claims he broke his chain ... Excuses, excuses!). Dave had a good solo finishing in 6:38 for the 110 miles. I rode a 7:41, average speed 14.4 heart rate 129, 123 watts - a good recovery ride.All for now, Grok on!

Another day - another crash (Actually Blog for Wednesday 17 June, posted late for technical reasons!)

To start a stage going straight up the Kirkstone Pass IMHO isn't a great idea, especially when you have already ridden 460 miles in the previous 4 days and that has included multiple climbs of varying lengths and gradients!Now I did my research back in April and rode the Pass, with a suitable warm up, and made it to the top at max heart rate so I always knew today would be testing. Factor in the fact I crashed late yesterday and already had a sore knee (this is called 'getting the excuses in early' ...) I opted to ride until I reached a specific heart rate and then unclipped and walked to the top! As a consequence, for those following our progress with an eye to the total time sweepstake here are some stats - note separate times for Dave and I (we are always quoting rolling time).7:29 (me) 7:23 Dave. 114 miles, average heart rate 131, average watts 123. Both Dave and I have a sore knee so we took today steadily. I've had my war wounds dressed and the physio has worked on my knee so fingers crossed.Tomorrow we aim to ride separately as Dave wants to push on faster than I can hold his wheel so we'll have very different times to report. We always planned to ride Day 6 this way.Dave managed to clip my wheel today and he went flying but was uninjured. Halfords were unable to locate shorts today, not sure what I'll be wearing tomorrow!Must close, getting late - always so much to do when you get back.Grok on

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Halford Heroes

What a day, 131 miles, 7:57, 132 bpm heart rate, 127 watts, 16.6 mph. Beautiful sunshine and the first section was fast. At the first pit stop my right cleat broke so I had to ride 35 miles with one and a half legs! Halfords Bikehut guys have been totally awesome and got a new cleat to me at the next pitstop. My food wasn't at either stop today other than cans of tuna ... Fortunately I carry my own nutrition bars but having something different really raises the spirits and trust me there is only so much tuna you can eat from a can! All appeared to be peachy until some massive climbs ensued and both Dave and I are now suffering a bit with sore knees. At 130 miles we managed to crash; we think it was weed that caught in my wheel, but whatever the cause we both fell and I now have road rash left hip and bashed knee (which will scar). I now truly look like a pro rider with plasters all over the place! Biggest issue is I wrecked my remaining good pair of shorts so I'm now short-less pretty much as the unwashed ones have yet to dry properly! Food is excellent at this stop. The base camps are leap-frogging one another, and this set up has the best chef. Both bikes are having running repairs for crash damage but should be good to go in the morning. Having a great time, and all this on one hour's sleep. We start at the base of Kirkstone Pass tomorrow ... :-) Grok on ...

Monday, 14 June 2010

A truly Epic Day

From Fort William to Glasgow through the spectacular Glen Coe range, skirting Loch Lomond in glorious sunshine. The last 25 miles were brutal with lots of climbs and very poor road surfaces. Dave and I have always planned to ride an extra 5 miles to take us over the 1,000 for the trip as re-routing has meant the total is officially 995. What we hadn't intended doing was riding those extra on the toughest day of the trip with 129 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing ... However, and you perhaps can guess where this is going ... one sign wasn't visible and we, along with a number of others, added 5 miles to the route! So today's stats are as follows - 134 miles, average watts 128 watts, average speed 16.2 mph and average heart rate of 133 bpm. The event is a massive logistical feat and things are coming a little undone at the seams now three days in ... The laundry service was a disaster, mine was unwashed and Dave's partially disappeared, others completely vanished, end result I wore a lesser pair of shorts this morning, 134 miles in lesser shorts has it's consequences, LOL! There were rather a lot of poorly people (for those from my IM circle - probably don't need to say any more!) at the end of today's stage which I think is stretching their resources to the limit; with no screening in place on entering the event there are a number of people who really shouldn't be attempting this ride. Tomorrow is another huge leg taking us from Glasgow to Ullswater as we leave Scotland and enter England, some 130 miles again ... fingers crossed. Grok on :-)

Drowned Rats!

Hello from Fort William! It rained heavily today (and as I blog it is hammering down again on my tent - what with wet clothing draped around and my little bed it's rather too cosy). Fortunately at least there was little by way of headwinds. I didn't sleep last night so wasn't quite sure how I'd fare today. My metabolism was in overdrive, I suspect the decaf wasn't and there were more carbs than I expected in something I ate at dinner! Couple that with spending too much time over threshold and a sleepness night ensued! Lessons learned. Anyway, we set off and quite quickly picked up a passenger, after a long climb only a few miles in we enjoyed a good descent and found a train had formed behind us, again. We've decided to take this as a compliment although after about 15 miles of pulling about 16 along behind us at 22 mph we decided to be more forthright and pulled over and indicated someone to come through! We then took a break for a few miles before taking the head again as no one else was playing ball and the pair at the front included a female working hard. After the first pitstop we headed off and remained as a solo pair mostly. Today's route took us along Loch Ness, through Fort Augustus on much busier roads than yesterday so riding single file was the order of the day - this meant I took Dave's wheel and we bowled along at a fair lick. For those unfamiliar with cycling there is a considerable benefit to be had from sitting in the draft and it means that Dave and I can work at equivalent effort levels as he is a much stronger cyclist than me. We finished today in 6:06 for the 99 miles so quite an increase in average speed on yesterday, and with me keeping at a more sensible effort level. We were one of the first in and were complimented on our riding prowess as a 'pair'! Tomorrow is the first of the two biggest days so I need to sleep tonight, fingers crossed. Grokking on; in waterproofs!

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Fair's Fair!

Well the weather certainly wasn't' for Day 1! We were piped off from John O Groats amidst strong winds and persistent rain. For the first 40 miles it was headwinds all the way with periods of driving rain. Once we began to turn south though we picked up some great tail winds and the weather cleared somewhat, we even noticed a shadow for a micro second! So the weather wasn't fair, and neither are some of the riders! Dave and I found ourselves pulling a train of riders on several occasions none of whom where taking their turn on the front, so after 10 miles or so we took a jump from them up a hill and made a gap! We gathered several others at various points but none were taking turns - interesting - this week will certainly show what characters people really have! The facilities at the base camps are amazing considering they are just fields! We have power, water and amazing food! My tent is bijoux and it remains to be seen how I fair under canvass tonight, but my bed is all set and just about fits! Today's stats - 7:18 rolling time - 104 miles. Average heart rate 144 but there were some sections where I was working a lot harder than that (and harder than I should). For those interested I ate 6 x nakd bars, had scrambled eggs plus blueberries for breakfast, had 2.25 litres of water with 1 sugar cube in each plus two sachets of diorylte so 100 g carb plus dinner of roast lamb, various vegetables and salad - I would estimate 150 g total for the day. Grok on, next stop Fort Wiliam.