Mille Cymru 2: The Two Coasts

Today is the do-or-die day. Where I find out whether I would make the whole trip or not. It’s understandable, I suppose, that I’d wake up stressed a little early. 3:15, to be precise, with my heart thumping like it used to on the mornings before actuarial exams. After trying unsuccessfully to get a bit more sleep for an hour, I gave up, got up, and got going. My alarm, set to go off at five with the sound of crickets, went off three minutes after I started, with me thinking “why’s my bike making that noise?” before realising what it was. So, on the road at 5, then, heading roughly Northwest initially. Over the pass to Llanwrtyd Wells (where the full ride would have a sleeping spot for the first two nights), and then West towards the coast at Fishguard. Once again, beautiful scenery – through forests, over mountains, down valleys – and there were far more photo opportunities than I had the time to stop for. Such as this one – sunrise over the Usk river.2018-07-26 06.14.13

Or this, by the river Towy (again, you can see how low the water levels are here):

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It’s a long slog into Fishguard, with some 10,000 ft of climbing done by that point, and knowing that the others who stayed at Abergavenny were overnighting there played a few tricks with my mind. The next stretch down to St Davids was terrible – it felt horrendously long, and despite the good scenery along the coast, the road was busy, and it was a continuous up and down steep coastal valleys which never gave one the opportunity to gather any momentum. No free miles, as I’ll explain tomorrow. Also, having to work into a headwind for much of this wasn’t pleasant either.

But rounding the corner at St Davids made all the difference – for the first time in the day, I was actually heading vaguely in the direction of where the endpoint was. And having less than 50 miles to go made it feel doable, and I finally had the wind behind me. Sort of.

I did have to do some serious self-motivation to keep moving from this sort of thing, though. Sundowners on the beach. Hmmm:

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Thankfully, the last few miles were mercifully flat, and the house was easy to find, and on the route itself. And what a house it was – one of those old Georgian-style mansions, with four storeys, each with it’s own function. Kitchen / entrance rooms, then lounges, then bedrooms, and who knows what on the fourth floor. Yes, I had to climb two flights of stairs to get to bed, but a soak in a Victorian bath, and comfortable mattress, and I was out forty minutes after arriving. Sixteen hours of travelling, with fourteen and a half of actual cycling, and using 14,500 calories – by far the most work I’ve done in a day, ever.

There’s no video today – the limit is 12 hours, not 10 as I thought previously.

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Mille Cymru 1: The Fellowship of the Ride

The day started at 6, packing up and heading out to Upton Magna for the start. I was quite surprised to find that there were only 8 of us doing this ride, out of only 12 to sign up. Given the popularity of the full Mille Cymru Audax (which does the same route in 75 hours), I would have thought that there would be more interest in this. But anyway, the main thing I took from the initial chats was that I’m the only one doing it in 4 days. Therein is the first clue that I’m either just a little bit insane, or seriously overestimating my abilities.

In case you’ve never heard of Upton Magna, the following signpost should mark it out near somewhere you probably have heard of:

The first 5 miles or so were ridden all together, but given that some were heading to Tintern (a mere 202km), there was a natural split off for those of us staying the night in Abergavenny. I found myself a little hampered by the initial slow pace, and ended up alone for about 30ish miles, before being caught by James. Who is an old hand at these things. He’s done the full ride before, did the Kidderminster Killer at the weekend (on a single-speed bike, no less), and is generally out of my league. However, we stayed together all the way to just before Abergavenny, where he headed off to a camp site.

It was a bit strange for me to have company for so much of the ride, but we got along pretty well, and I think I’m going to miss the mutual assistance we gave each other.

Anyway, the ride today had two things in spades. Beautiful scenery for one, and brutal climbs which enabled you to see the scenery for two. Such as these views:

This was 20% more hills than my 215 mile ride the other day, and it was only 150 miles! A new record for me on the climbing stakes for a single ride. The weather was also good – no rain, decent heat hitting 31 degrees at one point, and a gentle breeze to help one keep cool. I realised what it was that I forgot to pack yesterday, though: suncream. My shorts tan line is now admirably sharp, if a little on the red side. You can see the effect of the recent warm weather on the Welsh countryside, though – it’s remarkably dry. Richard Llewellyn would have to find a different title for his book now…

The major climb was Gospel Pass, which is the highest road in Wales. Here’s a pic or two en route (that’s James just in front of me there):

This one is closer to the top, and you can see the road snaking around in the middle of the frame, before heading left.

The worst moment of the day has to be at this point, where we saw a sign for Abergavenny only 4.5 miles away. We turned left, got to Tintern, and then turned back to the Northwest, only to reach Abergavenny 45 miles later. Heartbreaking.

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The ride from there, though, was special. I’ve done part of it before – the stretch from Monmouth to Tintern. It follows the Wye river, and is a real treat. Forest-lined roads alongside the river the whole way, before opening up to Tintern, with a view of the ruined abbey. The road back to Abergavenny wasn’t too bad either, with more uphill, but all manageable.

I said yesterday that today was a key determiner of tomorrow. The riding today took 11 hours. If I leave at 5:30 tomorrow, I’ll have 16 before a decent arrival time of 9:30pm. That translates to an extra 5 hours for an extra 55 miles. It feels doable, I think, but much will depend on the road from St David’s to Carmarthen. It looks flat on the elevation profile, but is apparently full of ups and downs through coastal villages. That’ll slow me down a lot. We’ll, all according to plan so far, so let’s see how it goes tomorrow.

Here’s the video of the day’s ride, which includes a few more photos.

 

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Mille Cymru: Prologue

The day is finally here. When I booked the ride, it was months away, I had plenty of time to do loads of training, and the thought of fundraising hadn’t even crossed my mind.

Now, I’m in an Airbnb room in Shrewsbury, feeling more than just a little bit inadequate. I haven’t done all the riding I thought I might, I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten, my bag is heavier than I’d like it to be, and the ride here (which was supposed to be an easy tootle) was into a stiff headwind the whole way. The one success is the fundraising, which is a small step away from £600, which, when my company’s matching contribution is added, puts me well past my target. Thanks again to all for being so generous!

The ride up was mostly uneventful: beautiful scenery through Ironbridge and Coalbrookdale counteracted by a few sections on busy roads at rush hour. There was one detour of made, when I spotted the National Cycle Network route 45 signposted to Shrewsbury. I’ve been a big fan of the NCN since this ride, although the romance wore a bit thin when it redirected me back to the main road as I entered Shrewsbury.

Anyway, the next two days are the crucial ones. Tomorrow, because it’s going to be hillier than anything I’ve ever done before, and I have to keep enough aside for Thursday. And then Thursday, which is the one I’m worried about finishing on time. My Airbnb room is in the house of a little old lady and I don’t want to keep her up too late, poor dear. If I’m still in the running after those, then only a mechanical issue will get me down.

Relive took longer than usual to give me a video, but here it is now. You probably won’t get many more of those as the free ones are limited to rides of under 10 hours.

So some photos instead:

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My Gear Cable is Smarter than Me

At the beginning of the year, long before the mad idea of cycling around Wales came to fruition, I signed up for a few local Audax rides. One of these has the very inviting name of The Kidderminster Killer. It’s 210km of hilly roads, totalling 3,750m of climbing. I’ve been wanting to ride it for a couple of years, but never get around to it (given that it’s at a rather busy time of year).

The only fly in the ointment was Wales – as much as I wanted to do the ride, going all out four days before the trip was probably not going to be a good idea. So when it rained the night before, I thought it might make a good excuse if it carried on. No luck there – nice and dry in the morning. And the scoffing of a colleague at the weak excuse of another that announced he was pulling out due to a party the night before put paid to any similar ideas on my part. So, it was with a bit of misgiving that I set out early this morning, heading for Belbroughton, But my bike had other ideas – six miles out, the gear cable snapped.

A limp home, a bit of repair work, and it’s back to being good as new, but with a little less mileage on it than expected, with hopefully a commensurately higher quantity of miles left in the legs.

This does mean that my training distance isn’t as great as I was hoping for, but I should still be in good enough nick to make it through next week alive. Now for a couple of days off, and then Tuesday sees me ride to Shrewsbury for the start early on Wednesday morning.

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Is it really coming home?

Gosh, where have we seen this before? Only at nearly every major international football competition over the past, say, 50 years. England turn up, either with high expectations (because they’re obviously the most brilliant football team in the world, ever), or with no expectations (because they’re the most overhyped diva-esque footballers in the universe, ever).

In the first case, they struggle against a mediocre team (they’re just warming up!), beat a really weak team (see, told you they were great!), and then muddle through until they’re beaten in the knockout stages. Usually in a penalty shoot-out.

In the second case, they scrape a win against a somewhat reasonable team (hey, maybe they’re not that bad after all), beat a really weak team (not bad? they’re getting good!), and then muddle through, raising expectations up into a frothy lather with every half-baked, misfired goal until they’re beaten in the knockout stages. Usually in a penalty shoot-out.

This time, it’s the latter case. Young, inexperienced team, with nobody really giving them a chance. Scrape through against Tunisia. Thrash Panama. And suddenly, up comes the froth. It’s coming home! Colombia! They’re going all the way! Sweden! They’re unbeatable! Even the loss against Belgium was just a plan to get to the easier half of the draw.

The question is, do they actually have a chance? Granted, the victory in the penalty shoot-out against Colombia was out of character, and the win against Sweden was bordering on the impressive. And something about the tabloid headlines this time has a different character. There’s genuine pride in these youngsters, and Southgate and Kane between them are almost entirely unlike the holders of their positions in the past.

What I do know is that it’s going to be a lot easier living through the next week as an outsider: for the die-hard England fan, it’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster.

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How to Fix Football

Well, I just managed to last through a full 90 minutes of a World Cup football game for the first time this tournament. England 2 Tunisia 1. Yay. The atmosphere at work tomorrow will be positive and productive, and there won’t be too much complaining about the rugby tackle Kane suffered which didn’t lead to a penalty.

One good thing: Football has finally joined the 21st century and is using video replay for penalty and goal decisions. More than 25 years after Cricket did so. Not that it makes that much difference, or that it’s being used consistently – from the evidence of this match, and the France / Australia one earlier, they still have a lot to learn about how to make the most of it. But at least it’s one step closer to a more enjoyable game. But there’s still a long way to go.

So here are my suggestions, as I’m obviously a world-class authority on the sport, and my opinions should be heeded forthwith:

  1. If a player is judged to have dived in an effort to win a free kick / penalty, it’s a yellow card offence.
  2. A yellow card is penalised by a 10-minute suspension from the field. Two yellow cards remain a red.
  3. Let the video team be headed by an official, experienced referee.
  4. If a player argues with the referee, play moves 10m closer to the goal. If the player argues again, it’s a yellow card.

That should remove the acting, pretending to be mortally wounded, the rolling on the ground, the time wasting, and the endless remonstrating. I mean, one of the Tunisian players held up the game for about two minutes after getting a ball kicked into his ribs. Seriously?

Actually, here’s an extra remedy: All footballers should be forced to play 80 minutes of rugby at the beginning of each season to find out what it’s like to play a real contact sport. That might reduce the amount of time they spend as cry-babies.

Edited: And another idea, as a tweak of something that was tried in the 1994 World Cup: any player remaining on the ground for more than 10 seconds after the whistle has blown will be required to leave the field: either to be substituted (if they’re genuinely injured) or to undergo a mandatory 5-minute medical examination (to ensure that they’re not).

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Things to Do in Wales When You’re Dead

There is a well established practice of charity fundraising here in the UK. Not only is the country one of the few in the world that lives up to the foreign aid target of 0.7% of GDP (much to the disgust of the Daily Mail), but its citizens are notably generous as well.

I don’t know the reasons for this (Post-colonial guilt complex, anyone?), but it’s very common for people to raise money on the back of running marathons, or half-marathons (or 10k runs (or 5k runs!)). Or skydiving, abseiling, or the like. Personally, I’ve struggled with this a bit – it feels like a bit of a cheek asking people for money on the back of doing something I fundamentally enjoy. So my 5 or so 100 mile sportives have gone unsupported in this way. I did a 150-mile ride which was organised by a charity, and so that kind of forced my hand. But I’m not very good at this asking for money thing, and only brought in about £40.

However, in a quest to find something more challenging this year, I came across one that is so far beyond what I think I’m capable of, that I think it deserves to serve for a bit of fundraising. It’s the Mille Cymru Audax ride around Wales, covering 1,000km in 4 days. (I couldn’t get a place on the ‘proper’ one which does it in 75 hours, but this is the next best thing I could find.) The route is as follows:

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It’s that elevation profile which scares me the most. That works out to an average of 11,000 ft of climbing a day – where the most I’ve done is just under 9,000. And I couldn’t do much the next day that time. It’s going to be brutal. There’s more than just a nod to the old Andy Garcia movie in the post title…

So, to make that pain worthwhile, I’ve set up a Just Giving page here, where you can donate to the Alzheimer’s Society. Dementia affects something close to a million people in the UK at present, and it’s significantly underfunded compared to other diseases. Even if you don’t donate, it’s worth finding out about it – become a Dementia Friend, or read this excellent book.

I’ll probably do one or two more blogs on the training schedule (as anything that includes a ride called the Kidderminster Killer is worth writing about). And of course the ride itself will be covered (even though I just feel like I’m giving you advance notice of posts to ignore).

 

 

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