The Only Place Success Comes Before Work Is In The Dictionary

I climb out of Elsecar, knowing I’ve hammered it round today. I’ve not used the granny gear once. I tried to keep in the big ring as much as possible, aiming to maintain momentum right from Harley to Nether Haugh before the climbs up to Upper Haugh, Hoober and up home.

Let’s be fair – this is only a short route but it’s enough for a workout. But look at the time and my segments. I did a PB on every single one.

But what’s so different? After all, as I’ve said previously, I’m not on good a form as before, and my weight has creeped up a bit, so why the speed? Apart from the obvious – on the drops when pushing it on the flat, tucking my elbows in on sprints and descents, improving my cornering, etc… I did two other things.

One was technical; quite simply I pushed up hills in a gear harder than I normally would. The idea behind this was two fold: one, I wouldn’t be suffering that much more and two, a higher gear means more speed, so less time suffering. I’d already tried this approach up Lundhill on Thursday, and it worked then. In the past I’ve been dropping down low and keeping the cadence up but that doesn’t appear to be working for me all the time so I’m mixing things up a little.

The other thing that was different tied in with my hill climbing approach was I seemed to be able to ask more of myself. Hill climbing never gets easier, it just gets faster, as the adage goes – but my legs didn’t seem to seize up when I wanted to push a little more. Why this is I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m going to keep an eye on.

The task over the next week or so is to get back into the bigger mileage, the 20 and 30 milers that I was starting to tick off on a regular basis previously. By slowly cranking up the miles I’ll be able to keep it manageable. Last Friday’s 25 miler was great, I felt really good on the Saturday afterwards, and I’m sure that good feeling (the ‘itch’, as I call it) will come back.

Let’s see what the next ride brings. The competitor in me wants to ride over to Stainborough and give it a good hammering. We’ll see. I’m on a bit of a positive, upward trend at the moment and I don’t want to lose that. Perhaps next week we’ll see me reclaim past glories.

Push It

A ride on a familiar route saw me and Tom head out to Sprotbrough and Cadeby. 25 miles of trail and road, some bits quite challenging in places (riding up to Cadeby just saps the life out of you), and dotted around with plenty of ramps to keep us on our toes.

The GT is much quicker now that the hybrid tyres are on it – and yet when things got a little rougher they seem to cope pretty well. I really do need to clean it though. It’s covered in a film of what only can be described as ‘crap’ whilst the chain squeaks like I’ve got a budgie attached to the bottom bracket. This is all down to how dry and dusty the trail has been over the last few weeks – as well as my lack of cleaning effort. It’s probably a job for this weekend…

I did put the hammer down on a few occasions – there seems to be a growing determination in my mind to see what I can actually push myself to do, rather than going for the easier option. This meant riding some harder gears uphill and on flats – the amount of times I was in the big cog was impressive.

Tom’s never been that far really – we’ve been to Sheffield and back, down the Don Valley, which is of similar distance, but is pretty much flat from Ecclesfield on the TPT. Whereas this part of the trail is a much more challenging affair around Conisbrough, but we managed to hammer it. The most tricky part is the descent down the side of the old Conisbrough viaduct, a really broken up, gravelly steep section that needed a bit of full attention.

We stopped at the Cadeby Inn for a quick packet of crisps and a drink. Cadeby is a fantastic little place, the Inn has new management and they’ve redone the beer garden, which makes it even more one of my favourite places to stop for a drink! They’ve got a selection of Belgian beers too, so it’s even more appealing for a lover of the continent like myself.

Things did get tricky on the way back, probably down to the fact that Elsecar to Harlington is pretty much downhill, on average, so it’s a climb on the way home. By the time we got back to Tom’s we were both creaking, although Tom did appear to go for a new PB on the Cobcar Street climb!

Overall we were 10 minutes quicker than I’d been before, and though I felt a little stiff in the evening, it was a good feeling to know that despite letting things go a little bit, I wasn’t completely back to square one distance wise.

The First Step Back

My last post was basically me telling myself off. Let’s get over that, and move on.

Today’s ride was a short, quick blast around nearby pit villages. I wanted to push myself a little bit whilst making sure I didn’t kill myself, as I’ve got a long ride planned for tomorrow.

Strava tells me I’ve done a PB down Pit Tip Straight at Hemingfield. In fact this is 2 seconds slower than Dean Downing’s PB. Dean Downing is a professional cyclist. This is some feat!

The climb from Lundhill Tavern to Roebuck Ridge would have been a lot quicker had my chain not got stuck for some reason at Hemingfield. I’d absolutely torn up Lundhill as well, 2 gears harder than I’d normally go for but with perhaps equal effort required. I was tempted to go along the Parkway after Roebuck Ridge, it would have been a chance to get some TT-style riding in my legs but with tomorrow in mind I turned back for Hoyland and home.

Most of my rides around here are concerned with avoiding potholes. The roads around Brampton and Platts Common are the worst; they’re barely roads, just a patchwork of infills and gravel in some places (in fact, the worst road I’ve come across so far is from Hood Green to Birdwell – it just looks like someone’s thrown tarmac at the floor).

I read once that after the floods in South Yorkshire the cost to improve the roads would be millions and millions of pounds – well, that’s peanuts in contrast with the £50+ billion it’s going to cost to build the HS2 railway line. Is it so much to ask for a smooth bit of tarmac?

I tried a new energy bar today – SIS Chocolate Fudge. I’ve tried the Berry one, which was very good, this one didn’t really taste that different to be fair, despite the ‘flavour’! It came in handy though, and I’m sure with it being made of fruit and seeds rather than processed crap like a Nutrigrain bar it’ll be better for me. The best one I’ve had so far have been the Nutrixxion ones, though they’re from Germany and have to be imported (!).

I did see a recipe for home-made energy bars though, and I might give that a whirl. The SIS bar costs £1 for a small size, which is a bit steep, and you don’t tend to get much saving on buying multipacks. I fancy myself as a bit of a cook so it’s probably time to don the apron and give it a whirl!

Lastly – I got a letter from Weston Park telling me in all they’d received £174 of donations for my Big Pedal ride. That’s very nearly £5 a mile, which is impressive. I’m definitely going to do another charity effort next year, it was a good feeling to know I’ve done my bit, and to keep doing it will be even better.

Back Into Being A Big Man Back In The Saddle

I’m going to hold my hand up here. I’ve really not been dedicating myself to this project over the last few weeks.

Sure, I’ve been cycling quite regularly (apart from going away last week), but that wasn’t the sole aim of all of this. I’ve put weight back on, I’m drinking big time again and yes, hello caffeine and fizzy pop.

In my line of work it’s easy to slip into bad habits, This is purely on the basis that for 8 hours a day your mind is 100% focused on thinking that when you’re out of that zone it’s the last thing you want to do – or at least be mindful of what you’re doing. This obviously means that if you’re not consciously paying attention to your actions then you can very quickly let things go, and that’s exactly what’s been happening.

The fact is I’ve not been doing the things that got me in better shape in the first place. So let’s start piecing that all back together. Looking back over the blog and trying to find some patterns, they were the following:

  • Logging food and activity electronically (My Fitness Pal/Strava/Map My Ride)
  • No booze
  • No fizzy pop
  • Cycling as frequently as possible (getting the ‘itch’ back)
  • Making conscious actions

The last one sounds a bit vague but the ‘conscious’ bit is important. I’ve got to start thinking – ‘what are the consequences of this?’ – is it OK to have this ice cream? Will I burn it off later? Do I really need to have that pint?

Take last night for example. I could have quite easily had a pint when we stopped at The Furnace on the return leg. Really fancied a pint – had to consciously go for the blackcurrant cordial option, even avoiding the Diet Coke option (I’ve read recently that diet drinks wire your brain to expect the sugar that comes with ‘full fat’ options, so you crave sugar just as badly).

It sounds very trivial. But it all matters. It’s all very good being able to cover 30 miles without thinking about it but doing that on the flat (to Shafton and beyond, say), is very different from over hill and down dale (like up through Hood Green and beyond) – and the latter is what I want to be able to do. There are few better senses of accomplishment that taking on a big hill and going straight up it in one go (probably daft in some readers’ minds but it’s true).

Anyway – here’s a metaphorical line in the sand:

I’ve got a few weeks before I’m back at work – plenty of time to recover ground.

I guess one thing that’ll help is getting my ‘spiritual guide’ goals done – I’ve done one, the other three are definitely achievable and I can’t wait to get them done. I need a little more work first though. Starting today.

Oh, and Eid Mubarak for those who it matters to.

No fun, my babe, no fun…

This was the plan. Cycle to Birdwell, drop down to Worsbrough, turn off towards Wigfield Farm, through Stainborough, attack Lowe Lane, drop through Hood Green, up to Thurgoland, back through Wortley, and either try Hermit Hill and Pilley Hill or nip through Howbrook and Tankersley back to Hoyland Common, then home. Easy.

This is what actually happened. Cycle to Birdwell, drop down to Worsbrough, turn off towards Wigfield Farm, through Stainborough, COMPLETELY BLOW UP (TWICE) up Lowe Lane, drop down through Hood Green, take a left turn on a whim to Crane Moor, completely sh@t it on the descent through Crane Moor, come to a T-junction that I didn’t recognise, take a wrong (left) turn, climb, climb, climb and climb some more, only to find myself back at Hood Green and facing a decent back down to Stainborough that a) is as scary going down as it difficult getting up and b) covered with enough potholes to say ‘goodbye Mavic rims’. After that it’s another (easier) climb and descent through Rockley and then a long, monotonous climb back to Birdwell then home.

I blew up on Stainborough because I’ve not been out as much recently, and I’ve put a bit of weight back on. I got about a third of the way and my calves were screaming. If I’d have been in a group I’d have probably gone further, but today it wasn’t happening. The second time I blew up was at the bus stop for the Northern College – this was probably due to me losing my momentum on the first stoppage, so I just couldn’t get going.

Why I turned left down to Crane Moor, lord knows. The intention of today’s ride (apart from Lowe Lane) was a nice leisurely affair, not too steep, lovely scenery and a chance to get some exercise before going away on Sunday. That left turn made it a serious, intense workout full of sharp climbs, blind turns and grinding brakes. Lovely.

What I could, and should, have done, was to go the other side of Barnsley, up to Shafton and beyond. The gradients are easier, the roads are wider but the traffic is shocking at times, I just wanted a quiet run out.

Silly me. Oh, and my seat was too high. I just can’t seem to get it right on this bike. It meant I had a bit of a strain on my hips as the ride went on. Not good when you’re trying to ‘ride with them’ as Steve says.

I’ve learned my lesson. If I want to go round Wentworth Castle and Wortley, I’ll go as a group. Oh, and know where you’re going.

Despite all this, I managed to deal with all but one (Lowe Lane) of the climbs without stopping, and my descending is improving – if I had the disc brakes of my mountain bike on the road bike I think I’d be a lot more confident, the brakes on the Dolan aren’t as responsive, and my ‘carriage’ means they’ve got to work even harder. That said though I’m cornering better, carrying speed more and learning which lines are best through turns. One step at a time, I suppose!

The funniest thing about today? As I was descending through Crane Moor, a tractor came up the hill in the other direction. The look on his face was all ‘what the hell are you doing???’.

My mind was saying exactly the same thing.


Come Back To What You Know

Tonight’s ride was unplanned, but I was getting fed up of a combination of soaps and speculation about the royal baby, I wanted to ‘detox’ my head from work now I’m on holiday, so what better than to hit the road?

Strava app started, Elsecar hill successfully navigated (I’m still really cautious dropping down onto Church Street), and I’m off along Wath Road, already feeling a little bit better. The Dolan bike does ride a lot smoother, but also I’ve got to make sure that I look after the wheels – Mavic Aksiums are not cheap, and I promised I’d take care of them.

The problem is, the road from Elsecar to Wath is about as smooth as a farm track; I probably double the distance I travel weaving around potholes, pissing people driving behind me off and looking like something out of a Norman Wisdom movie. Still, by the time I cross Wath roundabout and go on towards Dearne Valley College the tarmac is smoother than the royal baby’s bottom.

I could have just pootled along the Dearne Valley Parkway, but a old, hilly favourite route came calling; left to Brampton, down to Wombwell, up over Lundhill, and then a climb pretty much continuously up to Jump and Roebuck Ridge. It killed me, but I’m now 3rd on this route on Strava (THIRD!) and I then used a long stretch back on the Parkway to ease off the lactic acid and warm down, really.

Out In The Sticks

I’ve been in Edale, camping, this weekend. It’s been great, a very chilled but rather drunken (!) affair. Edale is an amazing, peaceful and beautiful part of the world, in a vale tucked in between Mam Tor, Lose Hill and Kinder Scout. Apart from the Sheffield to Manchester Railway, it’s quiet, scenic and luckily, the site of two cracking pubs! There were plenty of cyclists out there, including a Wiggle Sportive taking place up Mam Tor out of Barber Booth.

To put this in context, pretty much the hardest climb I’ve done (without getting out of the saddle) so far is Stainborough up to Hood Green, probably 10% on average with a steepest section of around 15%, for a mile. Mam Nick, as the climb is known, has about an average of 15%, steepest section at around 20% for a mile and a half. I’m tempted to drop the bike in the back of the car, ride from Hope as a warm up and then go for it. My calves would probably explode, but what a feeling of accomplishment it’d be. There’s only one problem though. How would a complete wuss of a descender like me get back?

Tour Reflections

Allez Froome Dog. It wasn’t in question once Alpe D’Huez was done with. The Sky team are too good to be blown apart more than once; for Froome and Wiggins last year, read Porte and Froome this. Potentially Sky have three GC contenders next year (not counting Sergio Haeno too!) for the ‘Yorkshire’ Tour, and I’ll be very interested to see the Vuelta team announcement.

Also, bravo Nairo Quintana. I’d got my eye on him at the start, and the way he dealt with the mountains was remarkable. If he can get his time trialling a little better, he’s a nailed on Tour winner. We may see him in the Giro next year – if so, he’s got to be a favourite.


I’ve said for a while now – if it’s a boy (which apparently it is), it’ll be called Arthur.

Sweat Baby, Sweat Baby…

Despite being of a partly Middle Eastern heritage, in terms of coping with heat the Yorkshire part of my heritage kicks in and I’m burning under the slightest rays of sun, sweating in temperatures over 15 degrees celsius and feeling the early signs of heatstroke in the summer months.

I’m exaggerating slightly, but still, this last fortnight’s weather has been brilliant, but it takes time for me to adapt. Part of the problem is the muggy, humid air. When I’ve been away to places like Tunisia and Mexico, the dry heat is almost a pleasure. But in Britain, we tend to get quite muggy summers, meaning that the air is heavy and thick – resulting in sweat, no matter what one does.

I wasn’t planning to go out today, as we’re going away tomorrow and tonight is packing time, but with everything in the car, clothes sorted and the house tidy, there was a window. So off I went…

…to sweat, sweat, and sweat some more. I really did go for it tonight, pushing the pedals as hard as I could and keeping the gears high. Strava tells me I got a PB up to the Marquis and did a top 20 descent down Packman Road to Brampton crossroads. By hammering it, I got an average speed of 15mph, which is pretty good considering the terrain around Barnsley and Rotherham.

By the time I’d got back, my heartrate was booming, I was dripping in sweat and my body felt like it was on fire. Even a cold bath couldn’t stop me perspiring still. I suppose that’s part and parcel of exercising in heat, it takes time for the body to adapt.

One thing annoyed me today. I didn’t beat yesterday’s time up Cobcar Street. HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE??? I don’t actually know. One thing I can guarantee though, my rides next week will coincidentally take me up there as much as possible, so I can try and get into the top 3!

Tour Reflections

Today’s stage was incredible. There were about 3 different races going on – one for the stage win, another for Froome to try and maintain his yellow jersey position against Contador and Kreuiziger, and finally for Quintana and Rodriguez to try and shake things up. The race for the stage win lit up on the second ascent of Alpe d’Huez when Tejay van Garderen started to lose energy and Christophe Riblon recovered and zoomed past. Froome blew up, to be quite honest, and did cheat by getting some food from the team car – if he didn’t manage this, it would have been game over and quite possibly he’d have lost the yellow jersey. Even so Contador and Kreuiziger appeared to blow too, whilst Quintana and Rodriguez took advantage to get their feet in the podium door.

The atmosphere was incredible, I would love to just watch the Tour at Alpe d’Huez, riding up there is another matter indeed! Unfortunately today’s stage will be the last one I’ll see live for this year. But it’s been an amazing tour. I’m sure I’ll be able to find a place to watch the final stage Sunday, fingers crossed for Cav to get 4 in a row up the Champs Elysees!!!