Sunday, 13 July 2014

Foremark Sportive....and the dreaded Bonk!

We'd enrolled onto a Sportive event organised by British Cycling, a 58km route around Derbyshire and the National forest. The description said it was an easy ride, gentle through beautiful countryside - it sounded ideal. I decided to ride from home, meeting Gaz just outside Ashby and riding up through Ticknall to the start point at Foremark Reservoir. This entailed an early start and a 20 mile ride. I was up at 5.30, checked over the bike, filled a bidon and set off at 6.30am for a slow spin to the meet point. It was a warm morning, close, humid - there had been talk of a possible shower or two but the sky looked clear enough - i didn't bother with any rainwear.

Gaz and I pushed on to Ticknall and along the Repton road to Foremark, the reservoir was built in the 1970s to supply water to the East Midland region, it covers 230 acres and is regularly used for walking, fishing, bird watching and horse riding. It has a smart cafe and picnic areas and the view across the water as we sat drinking a coffee was stunning.

We signed in at the start point and set off at around 8.45am - i expected more cyclists, it seemed relatively quiet. Barry the Bell had joined us for this one and we enjoyed a long roll out from the reservoir towards Milton, before a short, sharp upwards stint towards Bretby. We were pushing along, 24/25mph were we could and made quick progress to the feed station, soon after the route split, we followed the signs for the longer route heading towards Lullington and Netherseal. The sun was strong now and we were all feeling the effects of the heat.

As I approached 50 miles as my total so far for the day, I became aware of an overwhelming feeling of tiredness. As we pedalled up a hill I felt weak, I was overtaken by quite a few cyclists who seemed to be spinning up much easier than me - i didn't think too much about it, I carried on and caught up on the downward stretches - at the next hill - quite a steep but short rise I was looking down at the road and found I couldn't raise my head to look forward - my shoulders and neck were tingling with fatigue - I couldn't quite comprehend this and forced myself onward. I'd lost touch with our group now and was crawling along at about 6mph. I saw Gary waiting at the end of the road - We rode on for another mile or two - I felt a cramp in my right calf, then one in the left, then both thighs - all at the same time, the pain was intense. As we came to the end of the road I had to stop. I got off the bike to sit on a bench. I was light headed. I felt the need to sleep. I had to close my eyes. When I opened them the grass around the bench was bright fluorescent yellow - as I looked around all the colours were intense and there were pulsating spots of yellow and purple - it was like some drug fuelled acid hallucination circa 1968. There was no way I could ride - I couldn't swallow, I couldn't talk - it felt like everything was shutting down. I managed to chew and swallow a couple of energy sweets I had in my pocket and Gary gave me the contents of one of his bidons. I sat there in a trance like state for what seemed like a few minutes but was in fact about 20. I started to feel better - my vision returned to normal and I walked around - I still felt extremely tired and slightly sick but thought I could carry on - we weren't far from the finish so I was determined to get there at least.

We made it back to Foremark and I grabbed a seat and a cup of coffee - i felt okay by now - the effects of Gary's water bottle and the couple of sweets had been enough to get me here. I ordered a sausage roll and double egg and chips from the cafe and sat in the shade. The food along with another couple of bidons of orange squash seemed to aid me further - I felt a lot better now and decided I could make the ride back home - 20 miles.

It was a slow ride back but I picked up a bottle of lucozade and a chocolate bar and used those for additional fuel. By the time I got home I was feeling okay - still tired and a little weak though. I had a shower and a lie down and then did some research.

I'd hit the wall. Or, as cyclists sometime call it, suffered from 'The Bonk'. Essentially this is a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles - it manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy. It's seriously debilitating - and quite simply makes it more or less impossible to do anything. I know exactly what I did wrong - I'd been to the pub the night before, a few pints, so probably some dehydration. I'd set off without eating any breakfast at all, I didn't fuel my body anywhere near the required amounts to sustain me over a ride of that distance at the pace we were doing - it's as simple as that. The bodies store of glycogen will only last 60-90minutes during a hard work out - after that energy levels drop fast!

Hopefully I've learnt a lesson - and so should any of you reading this - make sure you fuel up properly before any long rides - and just as important, take a supply of food/supplements to keep those levels topped up - The Bonk is horrible - I don't want to go there again!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Tour de France, Harrogate

We made the journey up to Yorkshire on Friday night - the route wasn't too bad in terms of traffic and we were pleasantly surprised that we made it to Harrogate in good time. We were staying 'Le maison Beryl' - a good friend of the blonde and willing to put up with us for the weekend (thanks Beryl). By 9.30pm Gary and I were out on the route, searching out a suitable spot to watch the riders pass by. The Ripon road into Harrogate undulates continually and there were many good vantage points.

We followed the route into Harrogate having walked about two miles, everywhere was decorated with bunting, bikes sprayed yellow, little knitted shirts in the tour leader colours, yellow, green, white and red and white polka dots. Shops had joined in too - most of them exhibiting some sort of Tour flavoured display amongst their wares. A dead elm tree located close to the world famous 'Betty's Tea Rooms' had been carved into a sculpture to mark the occasion. The town was busy as expected, various areas being set up ready for the next morning. We struggled to find a pub, finally we wandered up a street with a series of large, loud bars - people spilled out onto the pavements, music blaring and the world cup on big screens inside. This would have to do, and it was okay - the atmosphere was street-continental - it was warm and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Inside were a group of tough looking men, dressed in black, shaven heads, possibly Vladimir Putin and his entourage over to watch the racing we thought.

Walking back was out of the question after four pints of whatever flavour lager we were drinking - plus we had no idea of the route - thankfully there were plenty of taxis - we chose the one driven by a relative of Lewis Hamilton - we were back at Beryl's almost before we set off.

Saturday morning and the weather was good - we decided not to bother with umbrellas and raincoats - leaving more room for beer and wine. After a hearty breakfast (thanks Beryl) we headed off to claim our spot. When we got to the road there were already people there - Tour fever was beginning to manifest itself. We pushed into a corner on a stretch of road next to the 3km marker - the riders would be moving fast on this slightly downward section. We set up our chairs, positioned our bags, generally got comfortable. There were lots of people out already, gazebos set up, blankets on the grass verges, lots of cyclists riding up and down the course. I went off for a wander towards town to pick up a newspaper, a walk of about three miles there and back. People were arriving in a constant stream now, some carrying nothing at all, others laden with cool boxes, tables, barbecues etc. I heard that the local bus company was 'using every spare bus we have, including school buses'. Walking past a car dealership they had set up a tiered grandstand overlooking the road - and there were a number of houses with scaffolding gantry's built to provide a perfect view over the crowds. There were thousands of cyclists dotted around and many million pounds worth of bikes. I picked up a newspaper and started the journey back, the gaps roadside were filling up, the barbecues were lit the atmosphere was friendly and party-like. I dropped into a roadside pub where there was a big screen showing live coverage of the race progress - the photography looked stunning, the aerial shots of Yorkshire were a massive showcase advertisement for the county, beamed to a global audience of billions - the crowds were consistently big and then there were the yellow sheep! As I left the pub to continue the walk back there was an argument developing on the pub car park - a family had arrived and parked their car, one of the staff from the pub had walked over
"£25 to park here today"
"What? - you're having a laugh"
"Nah, it's £25 - Tour de France and that"
After some shouting, animated arm waving and a nose to nose stand-off the people got back in the car and left.

I walked back up to our spot, no spaces roadside now, just a continual snake of people, families, bikes, chairs, gazebos, barbecues and coolboxes - it was like one massive picnic and everyone was enjoying the atmosphere, just chilling, chatting and making the most of the beautiful weather. I got back to my chair, Gary was drinking a can of beer and chatting with the people around us. There was a steady stream of police motorbikes and various 'official' vehicles. People were waving at everything that went past. "That's the first time I've waved at a policeman using all five fingers" said the guy sitting with us - a wiry scot dressed in a polka dot King of the Mountains shirt.

By now we had established contact with mission control back in the Midlands. Gary had Val on the iPhone, she was relaying news of the race to Gary who then shouted it out for the benefit of those around us.

"Val says 15 kilograms to go....."
"....and the one at the front has lost his mate"
The crowd laughed and cheered. Bless.

The caravan
The Tour caravan had now arrived - a continual procession of around 750 vehicles, lights flashing, horns blaring, music, people throwing samples into the crowd - there were cars that looked like mobile fruit shoot bottles, haribo bags, McCain oven chips..... everyone is whipped up into a frenzy of anticipation, we're all on our feet now

"4 kilograms to go" we hear from Val and then the helicopter comes into view, the advance outriders arrive, more police, cameramen, and then they're here, just in view at the top of the hill, a solid mass of colour moving fast towards us - whoosh - it's all over - they've gone in the blink of an eye, incredibly fast, probably 40-45mph maybe more. I just recognise the colours of Mark Cavendish's team at the front of the peloton, his ride out train to the finish has begun. There are a few stragglers rolling past now to appreciative applause from the crowds - there job is done, they have exhausted themselves pulling the peloton along and now its a steady coast to the finish.

The peloton arrives - Mark Cavendish's team at the front
The blonde calls me - she's watching the race on TV and relays the action - and it's the worst - Cav is down and hurt - the race is over the big German Marcel Kittel has won - no news on Cav but it looks bad she says, maybe a collarbone or broken shoulder.

That's it then, we all start packing up - I sit for a minute trying to pick up news on the iPhone, and reflecting on the day - it has been so good. Much more enjoyable than the experience of watching the final stage last year on the Champs Elysee - that's because we were prepared this time - we knew what to expect and were happy to sit around all day waiting - just like they do in France. We wished we were here for the second day but unfortunately not - its the drive back home now. One thing we noticed as we walked away, the crowds had gone now and there wasn't a scrap of litter to be seen. No mess at all, you'd never know there had been thousands of people along these roads a few minutes ago. We're learning how to present and take part in these large scale events and it's comforting to see.
Our roadside companions