If You Can’t Beat Them…

Over the last year I have written a lot about riding with my wife.  I thought I’d get Robyn to share her perspective with you.

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My mother tells people that I ride my bike because otherwise I wouldn’t get to see my husband. He’s alright my other half, but I’m not going to invest huge amounts of time and energy just to stare at his backside or hope that he might actually talk about anything other than average speed, cadence and how mentally prepared I am!

At Uni I always rode a bike and later on when I lived in Dublin for 5 years it was my main means of transport. Moving to Sydney, working, getting married, having children and just the noise of normal life just seemed to take priority over anything else.

I have watched at close quarters Ben’s midlife crises; first the running, then I lived through the subsequent damaged knee and finally laughed our loud when he first appeared in Lycra. The reality was that I ended up living with somebody who was happy to parade around in public with the anatomy of a Ken doll.

Mostly I was just pleased that he seemed happier and had something to occupy his time. We still managed to do all the things we wanted to do as a family so I let him get on with it. Then one day he suggested that I should get a road bike.

Why not I thought and I picked up my shiny new bike in November 2013. At first it was a novelty being on something that was sleek and fast. I enjoyed learning to ride it, how to use the gears and waddling around in in my cleats at the café like all the other Lycra clad wanabees.

We’d get up early on a Sunday, ride for a couple of hours, I’d get to see the city from a different perspective and always felt I had earned my breakfast.

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Then one day at the start of 2014, at one of our favourite café stops, Ben asked me what my goal was.

“To get home, do the washing and have a quiet afternoon”, I replied.

“No what’s your cycling goal?”, he asked.

“I don’t have one, do I need one?”

“Well why are you riding at all?”

This stumped me a little, I rode my bike because it was fun. It was also very easy for me, all I had to do was agree to getting up at 6am on a Sunday with my delighted husband who was genuinely pleased that I’d go for a cycle with him. He did everything else I just pedaled.

Now at 8am on a Sunday morning over my latte and mushrooms on toast I’m getting interrogated about my cycling vision. Somewhat reluctantly and just to shut him up I settled on the concept of getting fit, Ben’s eyes lit up: he had a plan.

Little did I know that over the next 2 years my metamorphosis from occasional social rider was going to entail serious amounts of time in Lycra, see me take my bike on our family holiday’s and acquire an extensive wardrobe of bike related clothing that is even better than my husbands. It has culminated in me riding the Peaks Challenge at Falls Creek a few months ago, a 235km ride in a single day over some big mountains. A result that I am proud of and well worth the time and effort.

Once I uttered those fatal words, “I’d like to get fit”, things changed. Here are the key revelations that I made along the way.

Make The Time For Yourself

Remember to do your own thing!

Remember to do your own thing!

My initial fitness regime involved “Turbo Time”. Sounds impressive but basically it means sitting in the spare room on a turbo trainer for hours pedaling. Ben had discovered some approach which required me to ride at a certain heart rate (MAF training or something, I’ve never cared what was behind it just loved the fact that it got me fit and I lost a lot of weight in the process). It might sound dull but compared to cooking, running the girls around or other boring chores I soon learnt this was my time.

The wonders of modern technology meant that I could spend the hour long sessions watching my IPad and completely disconnected to whatever was going on in the house or around me. Downtown Abbey, Gavin and Stacey and all of The Game of Thrones were consumed in my quest to build a base.  A couple of these sessions a week and a ride or two at the weekend and I was ready to take on some bike challenges.

Play The Bike Card

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How many bikes does it take to…

Linked to making time for yourself is the wonder of “The Bike Card”. If your husband is a certified bike nut who takes great delight in not only his exploits on his bike but yours as well then you find yourself in a very powerful position. The normal delineation of duties around the house can easily get reassigned if there is an urgent bike related matter. For example if the girls need a lift and I haven’t been on my bike yet, then clearly my bike session needs to take priority and Ben has to step up. You just need to work out what you do and don’t want to do around the house and play the bike card.

Own Your Goals

As I got fitter and enjoyed the time on my bike we began to look for some events to participate in. Rather than a gentle first event mine was a 165km lumpy ride, The Fitz’s Classic Challenge, in Canberra. I had ridden enough to know I would get around, it was more a question of how I would feel and in what shape. We had a great day and I was delighted to finish in a respectable time and to feel a sense of achievement at my first big event. With this ride under my belt the thought of riding the Peaks Challenge was discussed. Ben had done it twice before and had really enjoyed it, it would be a big challenge but if I trained he felt I could complete it.FC14M__2116_1P

As part of our training we did The Fitz’s Classic again a year later. This time I was considerably faster but crossed the finish line feeling completely underwhelmed. Unlike the year before, where just getting around was an achievement, this time I had high expectations for how fast I could go. As I talked this through with Ben we realised that unintentionally he had been pushing me as he was trying to get me ready for the Peaks Challenge. Rather than owning my ride I was trying to please him and not communicating how I was actually feeling; which was knackered and disappointed, despite going faster.

I realised that I had to own my training and rides from then on. My goal became to get myself in the best physical condition I could so that I could enjoy the Peaks Challenge. Ben would plan our rides and then I would be responsible for altering them based on how I was feeling. On the road I was to communicate exactly what I wanted him to do. If I felt good we would go faster. If I needed to, he would slow down. I didn’t need to be motivated or screamed at I just needed to know that he would do what I felt I needed to get round and enjoy myself in the process.

Prepare To Be Surprised…

One of the side benefits of getting into cycling with my husband has been how attentive he has become. Not so much to me, after 19 years of marriage some things you don’t need, but to my bike and my wardrobe. I have never once had to clean my bike , fix my bike or do anything other than just ride it. He takes care of it all.

The normal household budgeting policy has also gone out of the window if new bike kit or new bike parts are required. The more I have pedaled the fitter I have become and the leaner I am. I need a new wardrobe. Not a murmur from the Household Treasurer.

And then for my birthday last year something very expensive turned up, something round, shiny and delivered in some serious packaging. In fact 2 of them, brand new carbon fiber wheels, custom made and personalised to match my bike with my name on them. If you asked me 19 years ago if that would have been the perfect birthday present it might have been grounds for divorce. The reality is he absolutely nailed it, my very own little black numbers!

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Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy…

Nobody makes me ride my bike. I do it because I want to and because I enjoy it. I enjoy being fitter, I enjoy the time I get to spend doing something for myself and I enjoy being able to achieve the goals I set. The Peaks Challenge was just the result of doing what I love, riding my bike. I am fortunate that it is also the thing that my husband loves and we can indulge together. It’s something that I will continue to do and will continue to get excited about where and what we can ride. There is talk of doing the other Peaks rides and also a trip to Europe next year. Yes, it will be something to do with the Tour De France and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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His and Hers

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“A sense of achievement, relief and a sore bum”, is how Robyn described how she felt at the finish line.
There is something immensely satisfying about setting a goal and then working hard to achieve it. Particularly when the goal is to ride 235km and climb three big mountains in a single day to complete the 3 Peaks Challenge.
Personally this was physically and mentally the hardest of my three 3 Peaks rides. It’s the longest I’ve spent in the saddle and having to think and stay conscious of what Robyn needed and not to just take care of myself was mentally draining.
Normally I just ride my bike. Yesterday I was Robyn’s Super Domestique.

These events are not the sort of thing that you can do on a whim, it’s just too far and too strenuous. It takes preparation, planning and a strategy.

Our race strategy consisted of a number of principles.

1) Start slow and finish fast

We positioned ourselves at the back, the very back, of the 1,950 starters. This would allow us to descend the 25 km down from Falls Creek in relative safety and control.IMG_5121 So at 7:15 am after passing a few riders we effectively had the mountain to ourselves. By the time we started the first real climb of the day, up Tawonga Gap we had already started to pass the back markers. Our plan was to ride through the field for the next 12 hours. Our feeling of calm and control was disrupted when the Lantern Rouge riders came merrily past us. There is a time limit for this event, you have to complete it in 13 hours or you don’t get your finishers jersey. These are the guys you must beat at the end of the day and they were riding to a predetermined schedule which had them go out fast on the anticipation that the back markers would all be finishing slowly. We took a deep breath, stuck to our plan and spun up the first climb without breaking into a sweat.

2) Conserve as much energy as possible

After riding around for six months looking at my back wheel and my backside, another 12 hours wasn’t going to hurt Robyn. She was to stay tucked in, drafting behind me as I towed her around. IMG_5128This was working well until 20 km before the second big climb. I had a rush of blood to the head. I thought that I had dropped her as we got caught up with another large bunch of riders. Given that our first rest stop for the day was just before the start of the climb I set sail to get there as quickly as possible, so I could get everything ready for when Robyn arrived. I cranked it up with a few riders sitting behind me getting a free tow. Having to ride within myself is what makes this physically and mentally demanding for me. Having given myself permission to cut loose it was game on. The closer we got, the faster I went. Then all of a sudden Robyn appears next to me, hardly able to speak she screamed for me to slow down! She had been following my instructions to the letter and had been hanging on to the back of the bunch for dear life. I immediately sat up, she tucked in behind me and normal service was resumed.

3) Stick to a carefully planned nutrition strategy

IMG_5123If you want to, your approach to what you eat can become all consuming. Low fat, high carb, protein rich, electrolite full, a whole industry has grown up to support the fanatical endurance athlete. Our carefully thought through strategy was to eat whatever you could carry and enjoy.

IMG_5124Thickly spread Nutella on flabby white bread wraps, cheese and salami panini, whatever tastes good is on the menu. This is augmented by countless energy bars and gels and an energy source not found in any well read cyclist magazine. It’s amazing what a tin of baked beans and some Homebrand rice pudding can do for tired legs.

 

4) You do not walk!

It doesn’t matter how steep or how far you have ridden, you do not get off and walk, you just have to keep on peddling. The final climb of the day is after 200 km. In total it’s a 25km climb back up to Falls Creek. The first part is a 9 km ascent at an average gradient of 9%. IMG_5119By the time we arrived at the climb we were now riding with lots of other cyclists. It was carnage! People were pushing bikes, sitting down and occasionally just stopping in the middle of the road unable to go any further. It’s a bloody hard climb. Trying to ride this with Robyn was just not possible. Different gearing means that up the steeper parts I just have to climb at my own pace. Every couple of kilometres I’d pull over, stop and wait for Robyn. As I’d look expectantly down the mountain a procession of cyclists would drag themselves past me. It wouldn’t be too long before Robyn would appear riding at a consistent tempo with her game face on. I know it was hurting but she wasn’t going to show this to the other riders. Robyn did not stop once.

The Result

Our strategies got us round in 11 hours and 48 minutes. We are now the proud owners of matching his and hers finishers jerseys. There has already been talk of next time! Sub 10 hour matching jerseys really would be a unbelievable achievement.

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Post Race Celebration – Beer and Chips!

The Butterfly Effect

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I was riding so slowly up a mountain road that a butterfly landed on my handlebars. It stopped, looked around and then flew off.

It was a welcome distraction and started a train of thought that had me beaming from ear to ear as I continued to climb.

The family has been down in the Victorian High Country over the holidays. Maybe holiday is not the right word as Robyn and I spent most of our time riding up some mountains prior to our joint attempt at the 3 Peaks in March.

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Up a Mountain

My butterfly encounter happened as we travelled from Bright up to Falls Creek. Robyn had taken the day off her bike and was driving over with the girls so I took the opportunity to ride up to Falls, over Mount Hotham and up the Back of Falls.

We have been training so much together it was strange to be out on my own. As I have written before, I like riding with my wife. She is good company, doesn’t moan and just gets on with it. Robyn is also very resourceful and for this I am very thankful.

For the most part cycling is a simple pursuit. If your bike works and if you are prepared to work, then you just have to point and peddle. For 99.9% of the time out on the road this is the case. It’s only when things go a little wrong that you are forced to live with the impact of seemingly previous inconsequential decisions.

We had already climbed Mount Hotham together earlier in the week. We had set off early from Bright as it is a 100km round trip with a long climb of 30km. It’s challenging, very picturesque and for Australians one of the must do climbs.

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Robyn powering up Hotham

Riding up it was not a problem. Robyn has peddled enough over the last year to have the fitness and the mental strength to climb anything put in front of her. She amazes me because she just keeps going, if it gets steep she goes a little slower, if it flattens out she speeds up. It took us just over 2 hours to get to the top but seemingly it was job done. A steady decent back down and a well earned lunch.

After getting knocked off the previous week, I was a little apprehensive about the decent. Once you have come off you can’t help but ride a little more cautiously, especially when you are still wearing and feeling the bruises.

As we set off, I was leading the way and Robyn was following behind. We had only gone a few km’s when I heard a loud pop and I discovered a front wheel puncture. Not a slow one! A complete flat when I was doing 45 km down a steep mountain pass. I gingerly applied the brakes to try and stop myself and began to snake across the road as the front wheel squelched without any grip.  I did not want to fall off again and with only my back brake either producing a child like skid or having a limited impact on my speed, I actually started to think about which side would hurt less if I fell on it.

I like to think it was my bike handling skills, but truth be told it was my instinct for self preservation that keep me upright as I managed to stop. I got off the bike and laughed like a maniac with sheer relief.

Robyn stopped beside me, “Did you see the size of the rock you hit?”

I hadn’t seen any rock, but if that was the cause then I was even more lucky to have stayed upright. On closer inspection my front tyre had been slashed. There was now a 4cm hole where the inner tube had come through and effectively popped like a balloon. This was not going to be as simple as just replacing the inner tube, I’d have to patch the tyre.

I have ridden around for the last 5 years with enough spare equipment for an event like this, new inner tubes, bike tools and a good old fashioned puncture repair kit with great big rubber patches .I had also not fixed a puncture in 5 years. It’s a bit of a flaw but I’d rather spend the money on a new tube than invest the time fixing a puncture. Well that had been the case until a few days before. We were at the in laws for Christmas, I had some time on my hands so I actually fixed a puncture. The thing I hadn’t done is remembered to put the puncture repair kit back on my bike with all my other spares.

This was going to be tricky. We tried to fix the tyre with some lightweight patches that Robyn had. We got the tyre inflated and I gingerly set off, but the hole was just too big and after about 500 meters I was again careering down the mountain with a front flat.

View from the Lookout where we sere stranded

View from the Lookout where we were stranded

We had made it to a lookout so we could safely get off the road. Robyn and I discussed our options. There was no real chance of ringing anybody to get us, we could either flag another cyclist down and see if they could help or try and hitch a lift down the mountain.

Whilst we were talking a great big camper van pulled into the Lookout. Robyn’s face lit up at the young couple who were now parking their van to take in the beautiful vista.

Robyn was now striding over to the van. Her approach was pure class…

“Hello, isn’t it a lovely day?”

“Er, yes it is”, said the man, who sounded like he had a French accent.

“Are you going to Bright?”

“Yes”, the foreign man is now looking very confused and sounding a little bit unsure after being greeted so enthusiastically to the Lookout by a middle aged lady in Lycra

“Great,we are staying there as well.  Your van is also lovely, do you think a bike would fit inside it?”

The gentleman looks at his van and back at Robyn and has to agree it was big enough.

“Marvellous, can we hitch a lift to Bright?”

Game, Set and Match, what could he say? We had a ride.

Now I like to think what Robyn did next was out of pure generosity of spirit not because she didn’t want to ride her bike the 50km back down the mountain to Bright. She gave me her front wheel, saying I would be quicker on the decent and it was the sensible thing to do.

“Are you going to be alright”, I asked her.

“Well the statistical chances of shredding a tyre and getting abducted by foreign tourists are remote, so yes I’ll be fine. Please watch yourself on the decent and I’ll see you in Bright”.

Before I could argue she handed me her wheel and loaded her bike with my wheel into the van. She hopped in, waved goodbye, then as the door slid shut I was left on top of a mountain looking at the back of a camper van, being driven by complete strangers, that my wife had effectively hijacked.

As the camper van started the decent, I scrambled to pull all of my bits and pieces together and to set off in hot pursuit. It was a big van so I managed to keep up, only when the road kicked up at various stages did I loose them and then I descended like crazy to catch them again. This happened for the next 30km’s as I chased them down the mountain and then as we passed through Harrietville for the final 25km into Bright I lost them.

I put my head down and rode hard for the next 45 minutes. When I arrived back at our place in Bright I could see Robyn’s bike outside; she had not been abducted. As I approached the house I could hear her talking to the girls about how her new friends Ben and Sandrine from Martinique had been delighted to have her on board and she had answered all sorts of questions about Australia, from the Tax system, to the health care system and public education.

The butterfly on my handlebars had bought all this back to me and as I slogged away I was truly lost in my own reflections.

I was bought back to the present by the sound of a car behind me. Instinctively I moved over to the side to let it pass but it started to slow. A quick look behind and there was my own support vehicle. Robyn was again beaming away and Milly and Alice were  hanging out the windows shouting encouragement.

I’m not sure what events conspired for Robyn and I to meet in the pub in Dublin 20 years ago but the impact continues to amaze me.

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Proof we were up a in a ski resort. Where else would you find one of these?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clean Slate

bicycle sign on the road, bike lane

 

Statistically it was always going to happen. If you ride the kms that I do, in a city like Sydney, then sooner or later you are going to be taken out. As an early Christmas present I got “doored” this morning. It was about 7.30am and we were heading home along the northern beaches when a ute door was just flung open right in front of me.

As with all incidents like this, time slows, I remember thinking I am not going to avoid this and then next thing I knew I was on the deck. Fortunately there were no other cars on the road and Robyn was far enough back to be able to stop.

Laying spread eagled on the tarmac is one of the worst places to be. Fortunately the adrenaline kicks in and instinctively you want to get up. If I can stand then surely nothing is broken. I could just about stand, my bike looks to be in one piece, now where’s the idiot driver.

It is fair to say I unloaded in his direction as I hobbled off to the side of the road and was still shouting obscenities at him when my legs gave way. Robyn said I looked like a cross between a new born deer trying to stand and the exorcist as I ranted and raved at the driver. He looked genuinely concerned, he just kept apologising, saying he was completely at fault and he just wanted to make sure I was OK and  to do whatever it took to try and fix this mess.

You could argue this was the least he could do, but his approach almost floored me as much my injuries. I think I probably expected a fight. The media produces so much rubbish about the hostility between cyclists and drivers I was expecting to get abused for hitting his ute!

Fortunately my bike was working and I could still move everything. I stood up and looked at the driver, he asked if I was alright before apologising again and again and again. He then offered to drive me home.

Strangely enough all the anger and frustration I was feeling just disappeared. In fact he looked white and shaken up himself, so much so I actually asked him if he was OK. Yes he was at fault but it was an accident and these things will happen. Fortunately, for both of us, I could ride gingerly home.

I know he learned a lesson and I’ll take it on the knee, leg, arm and hip.

I ride cautiously anyway and I follow the road rules when out on my bike.  I was once asked by a new cyclist, who had come out with me for a ride, why I stopped at all the red lights and wasn’t careering through like many of the others. My explanation was that it was more for the benefit of other cyclists. I may be alright if I jump the odd light but from my experience it creates anger and resentment for the average motorist and that’s not good for the next cyclist they come across.

People hold grudges, they carry the resentment around with them. This work both ways for drivers and cyclists alike and it just adds to what can already be a dangerous environment. 

So if you drive or cycle my advice is that every time you get in your car or on your bike, wipe the slate clean. Leave whatever angst or previous experiences you may have behind you. Neither of us are the enemy, instead focus on safely enjoying your day and helping those around you do the same.

 

 

Please dad, don’t…

John Deere Tractor Racing Team

Please dad, don’t….

a)      Wear that in public

b)      Dance like a fool

c)      Drive that thing

d)      All of the above

It would seem that teenage girls are genetically programed so that after a certain number of days on this planet they reboot. One day they just wake up and realise that their funny, joke telling, Lycra wearing, energetic old man, with the moves like Jagger, is not cool at all, in fact he is a complete prat!

The other benefit of this teenage reboot is that they also inherit the wisdom of the universe. Overnight they know everything, you can’t say, do or ask anything without being told that “I already know”. The result of all this is that they are now very clear about how they should be bought up and what is and what isn’t acceptable parent behaviour.

In our house, the rebooted teenagers are also placed under increased pain and suffering because apart from dad being a complete embarrassment, the other part of the dynamic duo, she who can normally be relied on to keep him in check, has not only joined him in his Lycra clad lunacy, she is even more excited about this Billy Cart Buffoonery than he is.

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It would seem that as you get older you long to be younger and when you are young you can’t wait to be old.

And so there is a certain degree of trepidation in our house as the weekend of our Red Bull Billy Cart race approaches. The girls are not sure how this is going to play out. Robyn and I are very clear how it will go. We are ready to rock, roll, boot scoot and descend the course (with no care for life or limb) in our beautiful John Deer Billy Cart Tractor.

It would seem that the Billy Cart concept, aside from being excellent marketing for Red Bull, is really all about feeling young.

The concept of building your own vehicle has the same effect now as it did when you were a kid. The moment you make a plan, start scavenging for bits and pieces and get the tools out you are transferred back to simpler times. To a time when the only screen you were interested in was making a window screen so you didn’t eat all those bugs and flies as you raced down the hill at the back of your house. 

In a recent interview for the local press I was asked what my motivation for participating was. I would have loved to have offered something a little more profound, but the reality is it is purely about having a good laugh!

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So the race weekend will be a chance for all of us young and old to have fun and to create some memories.

As embarrassing as it may be for some, I am sure that in the future we will all sit down and reminisce about the time Mum and Dad went Billy Cart Berko.

Here are some videos which plot our journey to the start line:

The Build Part 2

The Build Part 1

Application Video

Elvis Has Left The Building

Elvis in Bondi

Elvis had been on the back of a ute for 3 hours, singing away to the elite runners, then the serious amateurs and then the rest of the 80,000 participants in the City 2 Surf.

We were in the last group of back markers,  5 adults and 5 kids also dressed up as the great man himself and he was delighted to see us as, much as we were to see him. On a sparkling Sunday morning in Sydney, we had a slightly surreal moment. A dozen “Elvi” of various shapes and sizes crammed on the back of a ute, singing along to GI blues and loving every minute of it.

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We have participated in the City 2 Surf for the last 6 years. For the last few years we have been dressed up.

Vikings

It’s always a fun day and a great way for us all to catch up. There are 4 of us that went to school together in the UK. In fact Fiona and I went to the same playgroup and then to the same primary school with Richard. We met Emma when we all went to the same secondly school.  So we have known each other for all our adult lives and most of our childhood.

Old Friends

There was never any master plan for us all to be in Australia, it just happened. It works well, put us all together with partners and kids and we are a surrogate family which makes it easy and enjoyable to catch up throughout the year. Like family it can be easy to take for granted the friendship and the fact that there are people around you that care about you and you can rely on.

It is also nice to know that even as the years progress there are others who are only too willing to grow old in style!

To my Elvis family, thank you very much!

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Time

The time you enjoy wasting, is not wasted time!

I was delighted to read this because over the last 2 years I have spent 969 hours on my bike covering a total of 24,361KM.

This started 2 years ago when I completed the Three Peaks Challenge down in Victoria. This is a one day ride covering 230km and climbing 3 big hills for a total days climbing of over 4,000m.

In 2013 I went over the “easy route”, because of fires on Mount Hotham, this year I was back there riding the proper course.

You have to complete the event in less than 13 hours to qualify for a finisher’s jersey. In 2013 I was happy just to get around as it was my first real attempt at climbing some serious mountains. This year I went gone down with the intent to go under 10 hours. This is significant because you get a special jersey telling the world this is what you have achieved.

I have always ridden my bike for the sheer pleasure and have enjoyed getting fitter and faster without the need to think about my performance in relation to times and average speeds. I am just happy to be out and about seeing the countryside.

When you target a time it all changes. The same thing happened when I ran my one and only marathon.  I got a little too focused on a time and haven’t really run since due to the resulting knee operation I had to have.

So as this event got closer and the training intensified I was aware that a similar pattern was playing out. Being on my bike was no longer the escape that it used to be, with schedules and fitness to monitor it took on a bit of a different demeanour.

I am not sure if taking your bike back to the UK over Xmas counts as commitment or stupidity. I even took a turbo trainer with me and it didn’t register at the time that getting up in the dark at 6.30am on Christmas Eve, to sit in my sister’s garage for an hour, pedalling in the cold and listening to the rain was slightly bonkers.

Last Sunday I got to see if all the training was going to pay off. I had gone down to Falls Creek trusting that I had done enough work and to enjoy myself regardless of the result. If all went well then a sub 10 hour should be achievable.

3 peaks profile

So at 6.45am on Sunday morning I found myself waiting with 1,850 other for the day to start. Even though I have ridden my bike for nearly 4 years now I still feel a little out of place with the rest of the Lycra clad bunch. When I am riding on my own it feels very natural, riding with a group of people is a little  more taxing for me as I have to concentrate. On a day like today, where working  with others was going to be critical to get a good time, doing my own thing was not a good option. So I positioned myself in the middle of the 9-10 hour group with the intent of giving it a red hot go.

I can honestly say that for the next 9 hours, 6 minutes and 4 seconds I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were times when it was tough, but no harder than other days on the bike, and all I could think about was how fortunate I was to be able to indulge myself like this. Even on the last climb of the day, which comes at 200km and is 9% for 9km, I just kept pedalling away knowing that it was going to flatten out at some stage, it always does.

My time was way beyond my expectations and puts me well inside the top 10% of finishers. This in itself is a bit of a surprise given I only ever consider myself as a keen, middle aged codger, who likes going out on his bike for a pootle around.

The weekend’s effort can be nicely summed up by a couple I met out on a training ride earlier this month. In their 50’s, she was a retired Iron Woman and he was an Ultra Marathon runner, their philosophy was simple, “The race is the reward for all the time you spend training”.

I loved their approach and adopted this mentality on Sunday, maybe that’s why it felt such a good use of  my time.

3 Peaks Strava1

Marriage Guidance

How do you measure the strength of your marriage?

Do you have open dialogue, date nights, do you invest in quality time to focus on the positives and how you complete each other?

Personally I have found spending 273 hours and riding over 6,000km with my missus this year has been a good test.

It started in January when Robyn rode her push bike up Mount Buffalo. This was a 20km climb with 1,000m of climbing and could be seen as an achievement, even if it did place her 1467 out of 1492 on the Strava leader board.

For those of you not in the know, Strava is a website that allows you to compare your bike data to others. Don’t join, it’s a pain in the arse. What used to be enjoyable rides, where you just appreciated being out on your bike, become drag races as the red mist descends and you pursue PB’s over a range of different segments. It is an addiction that once you start you can’t give up and I noticed the other day Robyn had that glazed look as she took off up a hill for what looked like no apparent reason, the look of a person with a Strava habit!

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A couple of weekends ago Strava was not on our minds as we turned up to Stromlo Forest Park near Canberra at 6.30am to participate in the Fitz Challenge. A sportive of various distances and a challenging ride. We had selected the traditional 165km route with 3,000m of climbing and though there weren’t any real mountains, there were some steep hills with 9-12% gradients. This was the culmination of all those hours on our bikes. It’s fair to say that we had done our homework, in fact we were so prepared we had ridden the bigger climbs twice that year. It really does make me wonder if we have too much time on our hands.

The course was not going to be a surprise, riding in a big group ride would be a first for Robyn. The people who turn up at these events always fascinate me. Predominantly there are a lot of middle aged men of different sizes. There are a few ladies but they are definitely in the minority.

The bike is a great leveller and the styles range from those dressed like professionals in their club outfits, the Rapha poseurs trying to look cool in their overpriced kit (we fit in here and all I can say is it is very comfortable and washes so well!), to those still getting good value out of their cycling kit bought back in the 90’s! This crowd are my personal favourites as they are the hard core of the cycling community, often riding some old steel bike, they are the purists and normally display a large amount of facial hair to go with it (the men and the women).

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This chap was not playing by the same rules as the rest of us. Dressed in a safari outfit he could climb, he put many Lycra clad warriors to shame.

So after a safety briefing that talked about the perils of going too fast down the hills, telling us that the police would be on the course and that there was an 80kmh speed limit of the Fitz Hill descent, to which he also remarked “good luck with enforcing that”, a gun was fired and we were off.

There is always lots of nervous chatter at the start of these events as the bunch sorts itself out. It’s only when you hit the first hills you get to see the different levels of rider, those who can climb take off and those who are a little underdone start to puff. We were in the last third of the pack, a deliberate effort not to go off too fast and then have to limp home. It was going to be a hot day so we were going to try and pace ourselves.

It was all going very well, then I had a puncture. We had only been on the road for 45 mins so by the time I had fixed it even the slowest riders had passed us. We were now the last pair on the road. Like the seasoned domestique that  I am I hit the front and with Robyn tucked in behind and we set off to catch the field. By the time we hit the first real climb of the day we had collected a few back markers and by the top of the climb had found our rhythm.

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In the middle of nowhere the devil appeared

The big challenge of the ride is Fitz Hill after about 75km. Its steep at a 10.5% avrg for 2.5km and it was getting close to 30oC when we arrived. We knew it was going to be tough and as agreed I took off to see if I could get a PB (damn you Strava) and I would wait for Robyn at the water stop at the top. Half way up people were already off their bikes, having to push them the rest of the way as they couldn’t physically manage it. I got to the top and watched as every shape and size of Lycra clad looney summited. I didn’t expect to see Robyn as soon as I did and as she came towards me I could see that she was literally towing half a dozen very red face blokes behind her. Clearly a little challenged by being out climbed by a woman they were clinging to her back wheel as if their life depended on it. A few even put in a supreme effort to go past her at the top so they were not beaten. As they fell in a heap at the water stop, Robyn just sailed past them and kept going.

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And so it was for the rest of the day, starting literally from the back meant that we spent the rest of the day riding through the field. The joy of riding your bike over 6km, 16km or 160km is that you always get to test yourself. All the hours of training were paying off and as we rode beyond the 100km mark Robyn was riding at the same pace as when we started and hovering up the field as we made our way around.

The organisers of these events go to great lengths to tell you it’s not a race and then give you a timing chip and publish your position. Robyn was 253rd out of 479 starters. A great effort and a demonstration of her endurance, strength and her all round ability to ride a bike.

Robyn was rightly pleased with her achievement and the discussion on the way home was around what her next challenge was going to be. I had wondered if she would stop riding her bike with such commitment after this event, it goes to show after 20 years of living with somebody you can still be surprised and delighted.

Robyn FItz 2014 Data

Bland, Dull and Boring

Robyn’s mum and dad’s farm is at a place called Ungarie, in Bland Shire, NSW, Australia. I love our escapes to the country and had never really registered the Shire’s name until the Bland Shire was recently twined with the towns of Dull (Scotland) and Boring (US).

We are back for a week over the school holidays and with time on our hands we have been following and inspired by all our Northern Hemisphere friends who have been enjoying summer and their bikes. There are people cycling the Tour De France route, others spending their leisure time climbing big mountains and a few new recruits to cycling riding further than they ever had before for very good causes.

It doesn’t matter what they are up to the photos always look fun and inspiring.

Rural NSW,  is so different to where I grew up, open spaces, great big skies and normally hot. We do have winter in Australia and it can get cold,  yesterday Robyn and I ventured out into it.

Robyn has been training hard over the last 6 months and we are taking every opportunity to put some km into her legs for her big ride in October. It’s amazing how quickly you can adapt, we had ridden our planned 200km route 10 weeks ago when we were last back on the farm. At that time it was a significant achievement for her, this time round it was not quite so daunting.

This part of “The Bush” is relatively flat and uncomplicated. Our route needed us to make a mere 6 turns in 200km of cycling! Not a navigational challenge, but one of mental stamina as you basically just sit on your bike for 8 hours pedalling.

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Just Like the pro’s

In warmer weather this is quite pleasant, yesterday the Tour De Bland, as Robyn christened it, lived up to its name. The novelty of having a short winter means that I don’t normally mind rugging up in my winter cycling paraphernalia. The reality is that if it starts off cold it will normally warm up and you end up stripping everything off as you get too hot. It can be difficult to plan for this as temperatures can go from just above freezing to 18oC in a couple of hours. You don’t want to be carrying too much gear so you layer well and if anything prepare to be a little cold first thing as compensation for not having to lug it all around for the rest of the day.

Yesterday’s forecast was to start out just above freezing and peak at 16oC. Well they got the temperature for the start right. Greeted by cold dense fog we set off at 7.30am. I felt great waves of nostalgia for all those winters growing up in the UK. Robyn and I pedalled along deserted roads side by side discussing this and our time we lived in Dublin, concluding it was a tad too dry to be what the Irish call a “soft day”.

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Having just made this observation the grey mist surrounding us turned into drizzle. Half an hour later and I was secretly questioning if we should just give up and go back. Nostalgia is only good for remembering not re-living.

Cold hands and toes now reminded me of why I moved 10,500 miles in the first place. I had a good look at Robyn, if she was thinking about going home she didn’t show it. So I did what any dutiful domestique has to do, I hit the front, took the pace up a little to try and keep warm and we rode in a grey cacoon for the next 80km.

90km on a flat straight road in a wet mist, staring at my arse demonstrates Robyn’s commitment to the cause. We arrived at Condoblin just after 11am. The local cafe had the fire going so we took up residence in front of it.

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One for the Rapha catalogue
Condo Cafe, roaring fire and City meets Country.

It was  obvious the temperature was not going to get out of single digits for the day. Everything had warmed up but our toes were still a problem. I concluded we needed oversocks. The $16 we spent on two pairs of Size 12-14 workman’s socks was the best money we have spent on any cycling kit. We squeezed them over our cycling shoes and sat on the floor in the newsagents using a borrowed knife cutting holes for our cleats.  The locals were very interested by now and what followed was a quick demonstration of cleat technology to a small collection of the Condo women’s institute before we were waved off into the mist.

Back on the road, now with warm toes, life was getting easier. A tail wind for the next 70km and we flew to our next stop, Tullibigeal.

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Best $16 we ever spent

Tullibigeal has a cafe and seemingly the only spot of sunshine in the whole district. We refuelled and headed for home. No sooner where we back on the bikes and the sun disappeared, the low grey cloud appeared and we made our 5th turn of the day into a headwind.

I had recently noticed that Robyn had made the final transition into a tragic cycling bore when she started to get interested in her cycling data. We had made good time, we were 1.5km per hour faster than last time we rode this route. It may seem insignificant but over 200km ride this adds up to big chunks of time. The headwind was going to threaten this.

Now was Robyn’s chance to learn to draft properly. The idea was for her to sit as close as she could on my back wheel to keep out of the wind while I bought us home. I was to keep the pace up and as an added incentive I wasn’t going to stop if she couldn’t keep up.  She could either work hard, hold my wheel and fly home or work hard and pedal into the wind on her own as her average speed plummeted.

What an incentive! Robyn now has no qualms about drafting, she was so close she could see the stitching on my shorts.

A final right turn and the 3km finishing straight had the Tour de Bland nearly completed.

Robyn held my wheel as I gave it everything, then like Mark Cavendish she pulled out and rocketed past the finishing line, doing its best farm gate impression.

Cold, grey, damp and miserable is how I had described the Tour De Bland when we were in Condo. A warm shower, a few beers and all the downsides of the day are being forgotten about. Sometimes the journey itself may not be the most interesting,  what you do along the way, who you meet and the final destination make it all worthwhile.

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Normal Service has been resumed. The view from next day’s recovery ride

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200km does not look like much of an effort given the size of Australia