Sunday, 15 September 2019

Daily photo - 15: More cyclocross at Crystal Palace

The second part of my double-header weekend took place in my local area - at Crystal Palace Park. Contrary to the previous day where I had to cycle over to central London and catch a train to the home counties, today I just did a 10-minute ride up the hill. It was nice to take things leisurely in the morning.

The sketchy descent that caught many people out 
Where last year the course was based around the upper terrace of the park, this year the area used was lower down, around the area where the Tuesday summer circuit races take place. Given that this section of the park is on the sloping part of the park it meant the course was a distinct step up in terms of skills and strength.

My memory of last year's course was of long fast straights over gravel and a few short sharp climbs and descents, including one descent and climb where many people had to dismount. This year's course had a similarly tricky descent and climb, but it was not the hardest section.

There were some very testing climbs that people ended up walking/running up. There were also a few sections that had loose terrain. One such are was on a steep descent immediately after a steep climb, and contained a couple of tricky bends.

The top riders were able to ride it, albeit slowing right down to negotiate the turn, but the for the rest of us we were really caught out on it. Some people dismounted from their bikes at the first turn. Then there were others like myself, who very gingerly went around the turn, but had to try and get round those riders who had dismounted and were walking down the slope. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough there was a stake and taping to clear as well. So it was all a bit of a mish-mash. Needless to say this was a popular area for spectators, of which there were many.

The Crystal Palace round of the London and South-East cyclocross league is a popular event as it is a very nice venue, set in the historic park. The train station is right on the edge of the park so it is easily accessible even without a car. As it was a sunny day and many visitors to the park, there was also a fair amount of people out on picnics and curious onlookers. Furthermore, with lots of cafes and restaurants nearby in the Norwood Triangle riders can head up there for their post-race celebrations or commiseration.

On one occasion on the infamous descent I failed to clear the tape and just rode straight into it, snapping it in the process and almost coming off my bike. That probably provided some entertainment for people watching, and given this was my local area people recognised me so I couldn't hide behind any anonymity!

Sharing the podium with Tracy Wilkinson-Begg (1st) and
Elaine Owen (3rd) (Photo: Caroline Reuter) 
At least I wasn't alone in breaking the tape. The course marshals were kept busy constantly having to fix and re-fix this section! But hey ho, when you're so tired and heaving and dribbling you are beyond embarrassment or caring to apologise!

I ended up sparring with a woman called Kath from Dulwich Paragon. She was physically stronger than me, but I was able to pass her on the technical sections. In the end, she got the better of me on the last lap.

I think the combination of racing at Milton Keynes the previous day, plus running sessions on Saturday evening and Sunday morning had begun to take their toll on me. It was a good match though, even if I did get lapped by the winner, Kath's team-mate Caroline Reuter. The pleasant surprise was that I won second prize in the women's vet50 category.

It was nice to win back my entry fee. That money can go towards a sports massage. I damn well needed it after a weekend of putting my body through the mill. Looking forward to the next one!

Related posts
Cyclocross at Milton Keynes

Cyclocross is boss at Crystal Palace

Weekend at Cycle Expo Yorkshire, doing cyclocross and running 

Saturday, 14 September 2019

Daily photo - 14: Cyclocross at Milton Keynes

The first part of my double-header weekend of cyclocross was at Milton Keynes Bowl. I cycled up to Euston train station and made the half-hour train journey up to Milton Keynes. Getting to the Bowl was just a 5-minute cycle ride through South Loughton Valley Park and past the Teardrop Lakes.

Pain faces on one of the numerous climbs each lap  (Photo: Keith Perry/Central Cyclocross League)
This was the first round of the Central Cyclocross League, so a lot of people had come out to play and the fields were big. There were 50 riders in the women's race. That's the sort of number you get in the National Championships! We even had our own separate race, which doesn't often happen in local league races.

There was a wide variety of levels too - from experienced National Trophy contenders down to newbies. Some had only raced on road, so were getting used to the whole off-road thing. The course was not massively technical though, and was wide enough to allow for overtaking. It was just a bit bumpy on the grass!

Given that I have never raced in this league before (I usually do the London League) I hadn't expected to be gridded, but they found a place for me. And surprisingly, it wasn't right at the back! On the sound of the whistle we all charged up the hill and tried to get ahead of as many opponents as possible.

The course was over a wide area of parkland set on the side of a hill. There were so many switchbacks that it made me dizzy. Also some of the tight turns on the descent were tricky and the ground was slightly loose so you had to try not to let your back wheel slide away. At one point I got over-confident after I passed a few women and thought I could throw the bike around the bend, but I completely misjudged the corner and almost came down. Thankfully I rescued it, but I did lose a few places.

There was a bunch of around five or six of us who all played cat and mouse between ourselves. Some were stronger on the bends, some where stronger on the flat straight sections, others dismounted and remounted at the hurdles very efficiently. One woman was able to bunny-hop them. My strength was probably on the hill as I was able to stay in the saddle and spin a granny gear and then have something left to negotiate other challenges.

Cyclocross is so taxing, as you are constantly at almost 90% effort (or at least I am) throughout the 40-minute race. It also makes it difficult to have the faculties to do much else apart from pedal and breathe very loudly. As time went on and I became more tired it was difficult to focus and see which way the course went. All I could see was a mass of course tape glistening in the sunshine, and at one point I completely missed a turn and went off course, breaking through some loose tape. More time wasted. But it was all good fun, and was a good sparring match with the other women.

I met Jules and Nancy, a mother and daughter who were racing, and we were all around the same level. They were from London too, but because they're in the North-West that puts them in the Central Region. So I am not sure when I will see them again, unless I suddenly decide to turn up at Regents Park for some 6am laps - something that club cyclists North of the River seem to do a lot. Hmm.
Great to catch up with Fran from Velobants
I crossed the line between Nancy and Jules, and just in front of the young lady on the pink bike who had been bunny hopping the hurdles. It was good to get a competitive race, and not get lapped by the leaders, which included Velovixen Fran from Velobants. The only thing was that because we weren't lapped we ended up doing more than 40 minutes. I recorded almost 48 minutes of racing on my Garmin. No wonder I wanted to drop when I crossed the finish line!

It was a good day out, with music, refreshments, commentary, and crowd support - all the stuff that makes for a fun event, especially after a good work-out.

Related posts
Getting back into cyclocross

My cycling year so far - cyclocross

Notts and Derby League cyclocross race at Bakewell

Friday, 13 September 2019

Daily photo - 13: About last weekend in the Forest of Dean

Local residents at Whitemead Forest Park at Forest of Dean
After my cyclocross race in Gloucester Boating Lake I went back to the Forest of Dean mountain bike trail centre for another quick blast.

I had hoped to try some trails that would be more challenging than the family trail.

One of the local riders told me about some blue trails that had berms and bumps near Ellwood. So I parked up near Cinderford and then rode through the forest as my warm-up to head towards Parkend and then on to Ellwood.

En route I passed this area, Whitemead Forest Park. It looked quite inviting, but I was keen to press on to find some trails. However, I couldn't help but admire these free-roaming sheep. I managed to snap just two of them, but there were around 15 in the flock.

Who knows, they might have been on their way to the nearby Woodman Pub - which is probably where I should have gone because not long afterwards I bonked (ran out of glucose). My efforts in the cyclocross race and the riding around the forest began to take their toll.

A Sunday roast and a glass of beer would have hit the spot nicely!

Related Posts
Mountain biking in the Forest of Dean

Getting Back into Cyclocross

Ride London to Brighton off-road - the easy way

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Daily photo - 12: Liv Avail Review published

My review of Liv Avail as seen on the front page of Cyclist magazine
My review of the Liv Avail women-specific road bike has gone live on the Cyclist website, so all can now read my thoughts on it when I tested it.

It's always get a warm feeling when I see my work published to a wider audience. There's something quite satisfying about how something that just started as a few words on a Word document eventually comes to life in a magazine online or in print.

It is something that I have done for 10 years and something that I don't get tired of. Some years ago I wrote articles and reviews for Cycling Active (an old IPC Media/Time Inc magazine) and Cycling Weekly regularly. Sadly Cycling Active closed, so I just do the occasional article for Cycling Weekly. Recently I have written for Rouleur online and Velovixen women's blog. Sadly, other women's publications I have written for have not worked out so well. Sportsister hardly had any budget, and Total Women's Cycling folded when its parent company went into administration.

Maybe it works out better if women's cycling articles are included within a unisex cycling magazine, given that women's publications have not had the best track record.
That is a debate for another day, but for now I want to soak up the satisfaction of having produced something that can hopefully inform, educate and/or entertain a reader.

Related posts

The Frontline Club

Bye bye Factory Media

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Daily photo - 11: Learning languages and talking Italian

Today I spent time working on my Italian. I have always enjoyed learning foreign languages - not that I speak many.

The couple of languages I speak give me a lot of pleasure, satisfaction, and also the confidence that I can get by in those respective countries.

French is a language I learned when I was at school. I got through 'O' Level French, but in reality all we learned at school was enough to pass the exam rather than for it to be of use in France!

So my French practice came from going to evening classes and doing an 'A' level course by correspondence.

It was only when I went to live in Paris for over four years that I put my learnings into practice and learned more stuff that you don't find in books!

That was almost 30 years ago. Although I returned to the UK in 1996, I have not forgotten my French and I still use it when I visit.

Because I enjoyed speaking French I decided to add Spanish, and more recently Italian to my language-speaking repertory.

The process with these latter two languages has been slightly slower because I didn't live in the countries for a long time.
I have travelled around South America and Cuba for a few months in the past, and I lived in Italy for 18 months. I get by in those languages but I would like to get to the stage where I dream in those languages.

So in an attempt to maintain if not improve my level in Italian this Hugo book has been my friend for a while. I am old fashioned about these things and don't really go for all these new-fangled apps or computer software that people talk about. For me, it's just good old grammar books with exercises plus watching news clips and trashy soap operas on RAI television. Un Posto Al Sole is my go-to television show. I also like to read newspaper articles or even the odd novel.

What I must say about language learning/speaking is that it has a very positive effect on my brain. It's like another part of my brain is opening up, and it puts me in a bright place. It's not exactly like when doing sport and you get endorphins. It's just like jumping onto a different ride at the fair, or playing a different game. Because languages have different rhythms and sounds it could be like playing a different instrument. Whatever it is, that change does me good. 

So even if I didn't travel abroad I think I would still practice languages just to exercise that part of my brain and experience that bright feeling.

Related posts
Burns Night - so more cycling poetry

Books and writing

A bit of cycling poetry

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Daily photo - 10: Marathon preparation running on Farthing Down

As the New York marathon, which takes place on November 3rd, draws ever closer I am getting increasingly focused on getting in enough running. So today I did some trail running in and around the south London beauty spot, Farthing Down.

Farthing Down, managed by the Corporation of London
I am really keen to get in enough training to get me round the five boroughs and the bridges of New York City without too much problem.

Marathon training is always tricky for me. On one hand it's about getting in the miles, speed, and strength in my legs so that I feel ready when I reach the start line. On the other hand I have to be mindful about not over training or injuring myself during training.

Things I do to avoid injury are:
  • Getting in lots of stretching between runs
  • Cross-training, i.e. regularly cycling and swimming
  • Doing a couple of yoga sessions a week, more specifically hot yoga
  • Deep massage every few weeks
  • Alternating my long runs between road running and trail running
So today was an off-road run that started from Farthing Down car park and then went down to Happy Valley, up to Coulsdon Common, and then round some other trails past Surrey National Golf Course, Chaldon Church, Netherne-on-the-Hill, and back to Farthing Down.

It was a very scenic 12km (7.5-mile) run and once again a chance to discover new places. The village of Netherne-on-the-Hill is very quaint and orderly village. It was previously the site of a progressive psychiatric hospital, known for its use of art therapy for the patients. The hospital has since closed and is now a residential village, still exhibiting a distinct calmness about the place.

After leaving this village I was once again back on the rolling downs completely in the middle of nowhere. It felt completely remote and looked so scenic. Who would have known that this was around 15 miles of Central London.

In short, going off-road is good for the legs as well as for the soul. The good thing is that you don't have to travel so far from a city to find these calm, peaceful places.

Related posts
Running on the South Downs

Benefits of Hot Yoga

Trail running in Cheshire, Yorkshire, and Bellagio Skyrace too!

So how is my Paris Marathon training going?

Monday, 9 September 2019

Daily photo - 9: Motorway welcome break

When I was younger and I drove to other parts of the UK for the weekend, I didn't think anything of setting off at 9 or 10 o'clock at night to drive back to London. I would regularly do this when I drove up to Yorkshire to visit my family. Night driving was maybe less interesting due to not being able to see the countryside, but you were generally guaranteed a clear run. It was always good to breeze through North London and Central London to get to my home in South London in the dead of night.

Now that I am a bit older I find that I can no longer do that. I am starting to get tired easily. If I am driving after 10 pm it just becomes risky business as I start to doze off. I don't even need to have been driving far.

Turning the radio on really loudly makes no difference either - I have been known to fall sleep soundly in a night club or during an opera!

Marsh Farm Hotel
So, in short I have decided to avoid long drives late at night. That means I will get to know the hotels along the different motorways.

I guess it's a bit of variety from getting to know what's along the different rail trails!

Returning from my trip to Gloucestershire I found a very pleasant place to stay, the Marsh Farm Hotel. It was just off junction 16 of the M4, at Wootton Bassett.

I could have stayed at a Holiday Inn nearby, but it's more pleasant to stay at independent places. Also, this place was a couple of miles from the motorway so it was still fairly peaceful.

Considering that it was a Sunday night, there were still quite a lot of people in the hotel - mainly people from Abroad - a group of German motorbikers, and some Belgian Tourists. I'm not entirely sure what they would have liked about Wootton Bassett. It's a somewhat morbid place associated with the armed forces and solemn parades through the town when a soldier gets killed in service.

Given that they were of a similar age to me, I am guessing they are going through the same sleep issues as myself after 9pm. 

It's happening. We are getting old. The struggle is real, but thank goodness for motorway hotels!