Not all about me

It’s been in the back of my mind for quite a while that as well as the fun and exercise I get from cycling events I could, perhaps even should, be using them to raise funds for charity as well. A couple of things which have happened this year have prompted me to actually act on this rather than keep forgetting about it or putting it off.

Over the last 12 months both Yoli’s and my mother were diagnosed with breast cancer. Both of them have had to undergo some fairly harsh treatments, but it’s been an enormous relief that the outlook for both of them is now looking very positive. Even with the advances in modern medicine that have significantly boosted the survival rates, early detection is still  one of the most important factors. The Pink Drive is a South African charity which aims to help with just that by providing access to breast cancer education and screening to women in disadvantaged communities.

The other fund raising motivation came about through our friend Marleen. For the last couple of year’s she’s tried to get together a charity team through her work, but for one reason of other it hasn’t quite come about. This year though she managed to mobilise people much earlier, and contacted me a few weeks back asking to add my name to their charity group entry for the 2013 Cape Argus. Anyone reading this blog will know how much the Argus means to me, so I immediately said yes to Marleen’s invite. The charity which they have chosen is The Pebbles Project, raising money for disadvantages kids in our area.

Over the course of a couple of months I’d gone from a vague notion that maybe I should be pedalling for a cause to having two that I felt personally connected with. This created something of a dilemma for me: I’ve no qualms about asking friends and colleagues to sponsor me for a good cause; but I didn’t want to canvas the same people twice in quick succession with pleas for support. It took me a little while before the obvious dawned on me. Rather than raise money through one or two cycling events, why not make the scope bigger and roll all of my planned cycling events for the next year together into one big cycling project. The choice of which of the two charities to sponsor would then be left to each individual according to which they feel the most desire to support.

So that’s how the “2,000km for something other than just me” project came about – raising money for both causes through riding in the following events over the next year:

  • 14 Oct 2012: PPA One Tonner, 156km
  • 24 Nov 2012: Coronation Double Century, 202km
  • Feb 2013: 99er, 110km
  • 10 Mar 2013: Cape Argus Cycle Tour, 108km
  • 28 Jul – 2 Aug 2013: London Edinburgh London, 1418km

As anyone who cycles will know, 2,000km in a year is not actually very much – less than 40km a week, which is not much more than an average commute to work. But of course the above are just the actual events. Training rides over that period may well come to another 10,000km of cycling on top of the actual events – or to think of it another way, the distance from here in Cape Town back to London. So sadly I won’t be taking it easy on the couch between the above rides.

If you’d like to join me on any of the above rides – it’d be great to have some company along all those kilometres. But regardless of whether cycling is your thing, I’d really appreciate you supporting one of the two causes I’ll be raising money for:

2,000Km for Pink Drive
2,000Km for Pebbles Project


What the LEL?

“You’re seriously going to enter that?”

Hent’s view on my audaxing interests had mellowed a shade from his comment about me being mad at the beginning of this blog. He and Lanie were over for dinner last Saturday evening and our conversation had moved from cycling in general, to some stunning Joberg2c footage which had been used on a recent Avis TV ad. Hent raised an eyebrow at the 900km in 9 days schedule which prompted me to mention my intention to enter LEL (London-Edinburgh-London) next year. As we talked more, it dawned on me that I haven’t really mentioned LEL here on the blog.

Two or three months back Yoli and I were having dinner at one of our favourite restaurants, Taste just outside Somerset West on the R44. For a day or so I’d been wondering about whether LEL would be a good idea, but I knew there was no point considering it unless Yoli was comfortable with the idea. Given that we have work, family and friends in the UK, it’s not a difficult trip to combine with other things and no shortage of things to do whilst there.

A few things had sparked my interest in LEL. First of those was the distance – at 1,400km it’s actually longer than PBP albeit with an extra day allowed to compensate for that. The next attraction is that it is two years before the next PBP event in 2015. Whilst that may make it a tad ambitious in terms of my training, it will give me valuable practical experience of what a long audax event entails, allowing time to improve and refine my ideas on equipment and preparations before PBP. And finally, there is the question of whether I am made of the right stuff to complete these long audax rides. Hopefully LEL will help me answer that question before committing myself to the qualifying brevets and the final stages along the road to PBP.

Luckily, Yoli is extremely understanding and tolerant of my cycling addiction and immediately grasped the logic of adding LEL to the DC as training stages towards PBP. Although maybe the candlelit ambience, Anton’s excellent food and Ed’s superb wine helped get the idea across too.

So that’s how LEL came into the planning of my journey to Paris, and hardly a day goes by without some aspect of the going through my mind. The most often areas I find myself contemplating aren’t actually the cycling at all – I can train for that. The trickier parts to gauge are what a workable sleeping and eating pattern will be. I know from reading many accounts of PBP experiences that, aside from injury, over tiredness and lack of nutrition are big dangers as the hours and days wear on. An average speed of 20 KM/h sounds easy until you think about doing it five days in a row. Actually for LEL the real average is closer to 14 KM/h but you need to get out ahead of that speed to eke out time to eat and sleep, not to mention contingency for mechanicals.

For now though, it’s all about building the kilometres towards the DC. It’s been hard at times to get out training lately, especially with some very wet riding. But the looming prospect of a tough team 200km ride in November and needing to make a final decision on LEL by Jan 5th 2013 have served as more than enough motivation to keep cycling.

Hel’s Hills

This weeks particular torture served up by the autumn and winter training programme was hill intervals. Suffice to say, that my first attempt at these resulted in a lot of sweating, gasping, and a peak heart rate of 175bpm. In theory that is 2bpm more than 100% heart rate, assuming of course that you believe the standard age based calculation of 220-age.

Anyhow, back to the hill laps – I devised a nice little circuit that I have called Hel’s Hills. It loops around various angles of the hillside on which we live, the Helderberg.  The benefit of being local is that I’m training almost as soon as I leave the gate. The downside is, well, the circuit! Parel Vallei road starts out with a decent climb, steep but manageable. As it swings into Silwerboom road though the gradient pitches upward sharply  and it’s a battle even on the small blade and 25 tooth rear cog to keep any kind of momentum going. First lap around I was sucking in gulps of air and battling pretty much all of the last and steepest section in a standing climb for. Second lap around I managed better, staying in a seated climb for most of the hill, with just an occasional standing surge to stretch out and keep my speed above a crawl.

I decided my legs needed a more gradual ascent between laps to loosen the legs before the next assault, so threw in a short loop down to Old Stellenbosch road and back up Irene avenue. The extra section making each lap into a figure of eight, and adding a nice gradual hill that you can steadily work up a good pace on. The only part of the circuit I’m less than sold on is the tearing descent down the other side of Irene, very steep and a badly placed 4 way stop and left turn mean that instead of running down it at speed, I end at the bottom with seriously over heating brake blocks. It’ll do for now though, 11km per lap and 300m of climbing, this week’s session being 2 laps making for a respectable start of 600 vertical meters for my first week of hill laps. Hopefully over the coming weeks I can speed up each lap and build up to 3 and 4 laps in the time clawed back from each faster lap.

This week had a few other cycling related highlights too. The hub forum served a considerable amount of interest in LEL 2013. It seems quite a number of SA based cyclists have an interest in taking part, one of whom also lives in Somerset West which could tie up nicely for training sessions. Also via a thread on the hub, it looks like we have the makings of a team for the Double Century in November. Our group will be meeting for an inaugural ride together on 22nd April.  More on these in future entries as they develop.

Winds of Change

“These are the hard kilometers, the ones that count.”

Those were the prophetic words of encouragement from my trainer about the difficulty of training through winter, as the weather slowly deteriorates and there are no organized weekend road races to help focus the mind.

Andri’s advice came back to me this Saturday as I battled against the howling South Easter, known locally as the Cape Doctor. Like all medicine, it’s tough to swallow. As it blows, it blasts away smog and pollution, leaving fresh clean air and draping the mountain tops in thick duvets of white cloud. The beauty is tough to appreciate though when you’re slogging at the pedals to try and get through it.

This training ride was unusual for me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t normally do any road riding after the Argus until better weather arrives in Spring and thoughts turn towards Die Burger. Also, at 95km it’s a much longer route than I normally ride for training. I’ve wanted to ride from home to Franschhoek for a while, but probably due to the longer distance have never got around to it. Now, with the need to keep my training up and do longer rides it seemed like the obvious choice. The final unusual aspect was going riding mid afternoon on a hot and windy day. But over the four or five days of a Paris-Brest-Paris you don’t get to choose the weather, so I need to get used to riding in whatever conditions nature throws down. That’s not to mention the idea of doing the even longer London-Edinburgh-London in 2013, which has only recently occurred to me.

Without the water tables and other support facilities of an organised 95km ride, it’s inevitable that you need to stop at the very least to get extra water. That’s fine though, audax riding is all about self sufficiency, and your target speeds are much lower than road races. A good target speed for audax riding is an average of 20km, which allows plenty of time for stops. So it was an expected and much welcome relief when I pulled into the Pick and Pay car park having battled down the wind into Franschhoek. As it turned out, I should probably also have bought some food along with water and Powerade. I hadn’t really factored in the mid-day ride, and not eating much in the morning. My energy levels seem low already at present, so without enough fuel on board I, paid the price badly on the way back.

All was initially fine as I headed back. A graphic example of the strong wind was the difference in speed as I left Franschoek. On the way in I had been struggling to average 15km/h, on the way out I was coasting along at 40km/h hardly needing to turn the pedals. Trouble set in though around the 70km mark, just before turning opposite Allez Bleu and heading up through Pniel and over Helshoogte again. The engine stuttered and my legs started to cramp badly. I’m not quite sure how I managed to keep pedaling up through the pass. At times, I was on the verge of quitting and calling home for a lift. Fortunately, it turned out to be a considerably easier climb coming from the Boschendal side of the hill, and somehow I crested the top and freewheeled back into Stellenbosch.

I was pretty sure the wind would also be at my face again on the last few kilometers home, so I pulled into a garage for an extra water bottle just in case. My neck and back totally seized up as I dismounted, I guess from being hunched over punching into the wind. Setting off slowly and stretching to try and loosen up, I did at least discover a new favourite cycling snack though: dried mangos. Nice and soft to chew, sweet and tasty without being as sickly as most of the energy bars. It didn’t add enough energy to really help the last painful few kilometers home, but it made me feel quite a lot brighter for a while as I cycled through backstreets of the lovely old town.

The final ignominy was having to get off and walk a hundred meters or so of Yonder Hill, something I haven’t had to do since my first year of cycling. I was beat though, and at least after that I managed to stay in the saddle for the last small climb up Irene Avenue to home.

All in all, a ride that I will remember more for the lessons painfully learned than for being an enjoyable few hours in the saddle. At least my average speed of 18.6 km/h was close to what I need to achieve on audax rides, I just need to be able to manage that over much longer distances, and have enough energy to enjoy the scenery more in the process. Andri wasn’t wrong about these being the hard kilometers.