The Fear Factor

So hello!

It’s been a long time since I last blogged. A very long time.

What stopped me? What stopped me riding my bike for over a year?

The fear factor.

Having got hit by a car in Claygate, Surrey when working for Sigma Sports, got hit by a pedestrian and a car whilst riding to Herne Hill then stacking it going downhill through Cobham; it took a while to build up.

Gradually I rode my bike less. Took the car too often. I tried to race cx a couple times whilst injured/ ill. Wasn’t happening. That coupled with depression and anxiety took it’s toll.

I won’t try and guess what people thought, it’s all in the past now. But the snidey comments, unwillingness to be inclusive of a lot of people took it’s toll.

I guess I was living in a cage of fear of my own making inside my head. Took a while to realise that. Took a while to realise that not every person is a decent human being. A lot of people quote the “be kind” mantras doing the rounds on Facebook or Insta without truly understanding what kindness is.

Anyway.

I stopped wanting to ride my bike. Realised that I was never going to measure up to some peoples ideas of me fitting in. Started getting wary of traffic revving behind me. Got even more wary of people around me on bikes. Got scared of riding on my own. The what ifs flying round my brain scared the living fucking hell out of me. They boiled down to a baseline. I don’t want to get hurt.

Fear is a powerful factor.

Try and force me to do something, likely I’ll baulk like a stubborn donkey. Tell me I can’t do something, I’ll prove you wrong.

A chance few words sparked that fire a couple weeks ago.

“But you don’t even ride a bike do you?”

True. I’d pretty much given up. No, wait. I had given up.

Today. Today I wanted to go out. Out came the Cannondale Super Six Evo. Dug through a pile of stuff. Out came the silver Giro road shoes. 30 mins of trying on kit because I couldn’t remember which shorts were the nicest to sit in or which jersey wasn’t too short. Eventually found my Kask helmet and my Lezyne back light. Stuffed stuff in my jersey. Realised when I got home I forgot a mini pump.

Checked tyre pressure. 95 will do today thanks. Speed sensor dead so that came off. Wahoo Elemnt a quick 5 min charge – man alive does it hold it’s charge well! Clipped in rode off.

Quite literally a pootle. Legs protested a little for a minute or two (that’s a first for me!) then stopped to pick up Verity.

A 14 mile social chat ride. Uffington, Shellingford, over the main road, into

Stanford in the Vale and back out and up the main road, turn right to Baulking Grange, then a left toward Kingston Lisle.

Honestly didn’t think I’d get up Common Hill. Just took it steady and actually paced myself. Only died a little in the last fifth of the hill but super chuffed I got up it as easy as I did. Then home for a cuppa.

As soon as I was out riding, the fear went away. Chatting absolute rubbish with my best mate the whole way around.

Maybe. Just maybe. I might go out again tomorrow.

Sorry bikes. I’ve missed you.

#keepsmiling

P.S I wrote this sat in Costa, still slightly splattered with grease and wearing those amazing funky neon Castelli socks with orange On Running trainers. Haven’t felt this happy in a long time!

Advertisements

CX Nats 2018 Statistics…

Heading up to Bradford on Friday night after a full day at work, it looked like I’d timed it right until the M1 started flashing up as closed a few miles ahead. A quite literal eye roll, and I pulled into the unmarked services to check my options. A diversion via the M18/M62 was the quickest and duly landed me at my cousins. 

Roughly 5 hours sleep, 1 coffee and half a can of Red Bull and 2 hours driving finally got me to Hetton. I briefly got out the car, then decided staying inside it for another hour was a better idea! Talk about a bitter wind!

Anyway… 

Miles driven: 650 ish
Coffee consumption: 5 – considering I’m trying to cut down, that’s a win!
Hot chocolate: 7 – total fail 😂
Riders pitted for: 5 (Gary Worton V50, Sam Murray U16, Ellis Murray U14, Keith Murray Vet40, Keith Murray Senior Men)
Riders/ Pit Crew helped out: 2 (Lydia Brookes – must remember to get that pedal in the right place😂😂 and Ewan/ Luke GM – honestly I don’t do this just for the cake!)
Times Keith was *told* his tyres were too hard: 4? I’m sure he said he wanted 18 on Saturday… and Ellis’ were over 40 😂😓😂
Cake consumed: 6! Thanks Ewan!

Bike changes: 8 or 9. Wasn’t muddy enough 🙄
Friends caught up with: Lost count, not enough.
Arsehole older men encountered in the pits barging through: 4. I might stick knives in my elbows next time.
Crashes witnessed: 2. One in the V40s. One kid faceplanting over his bars.
Finishes seen: none.
Starts seen: U23 Mens when Ewan was gridded front row.
Layers worn: 5.
Jackets changed: 5
Wheels swapped: 8. I’m so pro, I can’t undo through bolts (trapped nerve and Keith does them up too tight 😂)
Radiators sat against: 1
Houses stayed in: 3
Abuse/ heckling shouted at Keith: not enough.
Abuse handed out to Tommo: Also not enough. I mentioned distracting him so Keith could beat him, but it didn’t happen.
Bodge jobs: 1. For my phone charger in my car.
Texts received about seeing me on TV: 5. Damn. I was meant to be incognito!
Messages received: 431. Mostly from Medway Velo.
Winners congratulated: Just Helen Wyman! Tommo winning the Tommo/ Murray battle doesn’t count.
Bikes ridden: 0.
Hours slept: Unfathomable.
Best person in the pits: Ok, not a number. Lydia Brookes!
Favourite person to cheer for: Ellis Murray. Scott Chalmers.
Number of times my power steering failed: Twice.

The above is fairly accurate…
Cracking weekend all in all! 

#keepsmiling

Cyclocross: Back On The Bike 

Having not sat on the bike since September, I literally had no idea how I would feel going for a spin around Swinley with Caroline.

Sunday dawned bloody cold, although we seemed to have more frost in Oxfordshire than over there at Swinley. Deciding what to wear when you haven’t been out finessing the art of what lycra to wear at which temperature isn’t easy! 

Setting off at 10.30 with an easy spin up the road, off onto some gravel and onto a very short climb in amongst the bare trees, I think we were both soon warm enough!

Off up the boardwalks through the marshes, somewhere I used to hate getting my front wheel up onto, or dropping off the other end. Experience and good coaching has taught me how to ride these without giving it hardly any second thought, except to mention to Caroline how much I used to be bothered by them! The boardwalks are usually slippery, but as long as care is taken, I’ve never minded riding along them.

Today was not about working hard on every section. Today was about remembering how to enjoy being on our cx bikes on a fine, cold day.

We did ride around the training loop on the fire roads, with plenty of runners, cyclists and dog walkers out and about. The Strade Bianche section wasn’t too bad, but the next section had been done up. A shallow orange sandy mud, that actually was great fun to ride on! Unfortunately my legs started to empty near the end, so I chose to not do another half loop, but rather to head back for a much needed cup of tea.

It’s a hard decision to cut short a ride, but as I said to Caroline, I’d rather end on a happy note, than ride the section home feeling like shit.

It’s done me the world of good to get back out, and now I need to work out how to work training into the hours I work, so I can start again. I’ve had a much needed mental break from it all, and feel like I can start again now.

Kit worn 

Specialized Women’s SL Pro bibtights, Sportful 2nd Skin LS baselayer, Castelli winter jacket and the Castelli CX over trousers. Castelli Gregge 12 socks, Viva headband and a BMC cycling cap… in actual fact I was a little on the warm side, either that or I need colder weather! Usually I’d opt for Castelli Nanoflex legwarmers and Roubaix/ fleece lined bib shorts, but the legwarmers are a little on the big side (insert shock horror face)…

The temperature held steady around 0 to 1 degrees with a rather cheeky biting wind. Perfect CX weather!

CS Cycle Coaching has helped me no end. Giving me the time I need to find my feet again after a big change in jobs and lifestyle. Thank you Caroline!
#keepsmiling

Cross Is Coming… 

With CX season nearly here, and me missing several months of riding the cross bike, tonight was a chance to restart. Yeah, I’ve left it late, but now I’m out of Surrey and back in Oxfordshire/ West Berkshire, I’m more comfortable being back on the bike.

This evening we met at Palmer Park, where Chris Macleod was in charge of coaching, backed up by my coach Caroline Stewart (apologies, I’ve forgotten the third coaches name!)

A nice little course was laid out, with plenty of corners… or chicanes… in fact tonight was all about cornering.

I’ll freely admit I had absolutely no confidence going around to start with, and only when Chris went through cornering techniques, did I start to remember what Helen and Stefan Wyman had said earlier in the year. I had remembered to keep pedalling through the corners, but as Caroline had pointed out; I was going in too sharp and coming out too wide.

When Chris, with the help of Callum, showed us actually how much grip we had on the grass with the tyres, and about shifting the weight around, did a few things start to fall into place. 

I started to hold a few people off on corners, those faster than me, and gradually rode more fluidly throughout the course. It might be a minor milestone, but it’s a step back in the right direction. Having a group of people to practice with from all ages and abilities is a huge help!

Lastly we had a Devil Take The Hindmost type race, but with every lap, having to wait by trackstanding in the start box. Hugely good fun, and I was out through my failure to trackstand rather than being slow!

A couple of crashes out of the start box

Massive thanks to Chris and Caroline for this, it’s really made my week!

#keepsmiling #crossiscoming 

Riding In North Wales

Having not sat on a bike for about two months now, deciding to ride in North Wales might seem like a fools errand. I’d persuaded Dad to bring his old road bike up, and had it in my head to ride along the coast road from Barmouth to somewhere… 

Checking the forecast, I knew it’d be headwind all the way heading north out of Llanaber, but we were just planning a steady ride. Not too warm or too cold, but with that cheeky NNW wind, there was a slight nip in the wind when we set off at 10.00.

I know the main villages well along this stretch, many years of staying up this way has drilled the names (and pronunciation) into my head.

Talybont, Dyffryn, Llanbedr.

Dad tells me things he knows or has seen along the entire route. We both know the Ysgethin Inn in Talybont, and the Vic in Llanbedr. 

‘Used to be three petrol stations here.’ He tells me as we pass through Dyffryn. I vaguely remember one of the others, up on the left where some kind of merchant has set up shop.

‘We went in this chapel here a few years back and signed the guest book. Only to see my uncle had been here the week before and signed it too.’

Dad isn’t a 100% where the chapel is, or was, and it was back in the 60’s he thinks.

I love the history we have tied in up here, our family many generations ago owned the Cwm Bychan valley.

‘We can go this way into Harlech.’ Dad stops me and points at a sign to Llanfair. I’ve been sat on the front into that cheeky headwind the whole way, so when we start heading uphill, I overheat so badly I have to stop halfway up and get rid of my gilet.

The road suddenly crests, with the Afon Dwyryd and the estuary in front of us. One hell of a spectacular view, people on the beach smaller than ants, Snowdon veiling itself in the clouds and rain battering down out toward Cricceith at sea.

We drop into Harlech, only to find a dead end – so we scramble down the footpath in the park and come out at the back of the castle.

‘The steepest hill in Britain is here,’ Dad points and shows me the 40% sign. I half hesistate as we start to make our way down, finding the top tube is a better place to sit, until I hear a car behind me and have to scoot into someone’s driveway. We look at each other and laugh, before Dad starts walking down the side of the twisty road. Not knowing the road, and seeing some of the bends already, I scramble down the next bit to the corner. We stop and laugh again, before Dad tells me he thinks the next bit will be fine (I won’t mention that it got so steep coming up to the corner that Dad had to run across the road and nearly crashed into the wall opposite!)

I swing my leg over and clip in, wondering if this is wise after seeing Dad skid – actually skid – to a stop and the back end of the bike rise up off the floor. Then I think ‘ah sod it’ leave one foot unclipped and sit on the top tube as I wend my way around the corner and thankfully find it flattening out enough to get back in the saddle!
This leaves us at the bottom of Harlech Castle, somewhere I definitely will go next week, I may even try riding down the hill again!

We head on towards Penrhyndeudreath, and find a lovely cafe for toasted teacakes and tea, before I persuade Dad we should head on to Cricceith. 
A quick stop in Porthmadog, and then at my insistence, instead of heading through the country roads, we head up the main road, mostly on the footpath as the road is rather busy. 

It’s been good riding today. Perfect weather with a knackering headwind, 99% respectful drivers, astonishingly smooth roads and great company with my Dad!

A Black Dog

Some of you will know, some of you won’t. I’ve dealt with depression the last few years.

A closed book

Unfriendly

Miserable

There’s fewer and fewer people that actually get to know me these days. My confidence in everything has been crushed and eradicated beyond belief. And I mean everything.

That sardonic smile I’ve become too well known for, the fact that wearing my heart on my sleeve hurts too damn much these days.

It’s odd really. Those who’ve seen past the withdrawn facade of my life, actually don’t see that about me, and are astonished that I have this problem.

I know how people judge, too easily. 

Maybe next time you see my slumped, withdrawn posture, my worried or ‘angry’ face, maybe you should just think what internal battle I’m facing today.

It’s rare I foist my problems onto others. I usually find people just turn away, so I talk less and less. I’ve been shot down in flames so many times I’ve lost count, to the point rejection seems the norm.

I’m too scared to ride a bike on the road these days. I can’t face it alone, and the box hill wellwishers are long gone.

I value my true friends above all else. They know who they are, and I’ve let them already know how hard everything is for me right now.

I’d rather be a shapeless face behind a camera/ social media these days. 

Aber Cycle Fest brings me out of that place I mentally retreat to. I actually feel valued, the people I deal with are genuine, direct and yet more relaxed. It helps save me from the yawning abyss that calls everyday, putting my life on edge 24/7.

I’m too conscious of bothering other people, if you don’t share stuff with me, that’s fine. I don’t pry, if an answer isn’t forthcoming, then it’s none if my business.

So thank you Aber, Shelley and Nia especially. It helps heal some of what is too broken inside.

#seethesunshinethroughtherain 

My Review: Scott Solace Disc 10

I’m not one for usually falling in love with a bike, but having already booked a trip to Flanders with unfinished business, the opportunity to take this for a test on some of the toughest pavé in Europe was too good to pass up.
A lovely bright, standout colourway, far brighter than the listed ‘red/ black/ grey,’ sloping geometry and disc brakes all ticked my boxes for a bike to tackle some of Europe’s roughest pavé.

Prepped for cobbles, although I did drop the bars a fair bit

The tough sportives of Paris Roubaix and Flanders already over, I headed back to Oudenaarde with this awesome looking bike to see if it could stand up to the billing.
I know what I need from a bike like this, and it’s got to be stiff enough to give back the power being put into it over the famous bergs in Belgium. I also didn’t want it to be a rattly carbon monstrosity that’s uncomfortable to ride for more than a couple of hours over the rough roads.
An easy spin out from Oudenaarde and over shooting the entrance to the Koppenberg had me wondering how it would react to the cobbles. It rode like a full carbon bike should do, fast and responsive, and the geometry didn’t feel like it was lacking.
An about turn, and a run up, and I was soon on the cobbles. Quickly running down through the gears as the gradient rose, this bike was giving every bit of power back to me as turn by turn and cobble by cobble I clawed my way upwards. The false flat giving me a slight breather before tackling the last rise.

We were in no rush to do the route my friend had planned, but this was an easy descent, with me quickly in top gear and astonished how fast it reacted, I was soon diving off down the unfamiliar road.
A long run into Ronse, a wind through the town and then the climb of the Kruisberg to tackle. Whereas before on cobbled climbs, previous bikes had been too flexible and unable to give back what I was putting in, this again was stiff enough for the power to flow through it, making the climb more of a pleasure than I thought possible.

Riding up the Kruisberg

The road climb of Hotond was next, before a long fairly straight down the cycle lane of the N36 saw me flying but cautious, a quick turn onto the Paddestraat and we were suddenly at the bottom of the Oude Kwaremont. Turn by turn, I was surprised how quick I was up and over the steep section and onto the false flat. Straight back in the big ring, and the immediate responsiveness nearly caught me off guard. I put everything into tempo and worked hard to the top. 

The Paterberg was up next, and it’s easy to see how a stronger rider would get the most out of this bike, I got a lot further than I thought possible!

Still to conquer the whole climb, the Paterberg is a monster!

Sunday was back to France, and down to the Arenberg. I’d yet to conquer this section of pavé, due to crashes in the sportive previously, and I was determined to tackle this hard. Spring greenery blooming fast, it was a different Arenberg to the one I’d been to a couple of weeks earlier. Thankfully the pavé was still dry, although no less fearsome!

We got a clear run onto the famously brutal cobbles, and aiming for the speed that lets you go over cobbles (rather than into them) I rode hard, passing my friend Phil well before the bridge and pushing to get the most out of it, I was soon well away from him. A glance up every now and then as the rise out of the trench began, showed how quickly the barred end of section was approaching. 

‘I couldn’t catch you!’ Phil told me with resignation at the end of the Arenberg

A trip up to Chereng, and the bikes were quickly back out and we headed into a strengthening southerly wind. Warm and dry, and with knackered legs, we headed out over Sector 3 – Gruson and down onto the 5* section of the Carrefour de l’Arbre. This is a section I know the best, and with a strong wind, it makes it harder. A brief trip out to sector 5, and we were soon back onto the cobbled hell of the Carrefour. The midsection is the worst. 

Don’t think! Just pedal hard, the crown isn’t easy to stay on here, and the last slight uphill section with a nasty crossword was nearly unbearable as energy levels dropped so quickly. It’s the love/ hate of the cobbles that brings me back every time, I couldn’t wait for it to be over, yet can’t wait to do it all again. 

Carrefour de l’Arbre

The bike tested is as billed on the website here

My changes were only the tyres, to my own Continental GP GT 28mm, as I love these on the dry cobbles. 
It’s absolutely perfect for hard long rides, and would be in it’s element over the full hard-core routes of the Paris Roubaix Challenge and the Flanders sportive. The more relaxed geometry is perfect for hours on the bike, yet the surprising stiffness let me power quickly away from a stronger rider. The hydraulic disc brakes just add, rather than take away from this bike with fast, precision braking.

The 11-32 cassette is spot on for climbing the bergs of Flanders, never leaving you with the feeling that you’ve run out of gears!

It’s great to have the feeling that everything you put into riding this bike is reflected straight back. That last push to get over the brow of a hill, could seem sloppy with another bike, but due to the bi-zonal construction, it’s easy… and fast!
I’d happily ride this bike all day, every day.

Huge thanks to Phil Booth for driving, organising routes, smashing cobbles, being a great photographer and being such a damn awesome friend. This trip was excellent, and much needed after my sorry state at Flanders with a wrenched back! 

Also many, many thanks to Keith Murray. You, my friend, are a legend!