Thursday, April 28, 2011

Epic Rides - Exmoor Execution

Epic Rides is a new blog feature where i will detail some amazing rides that i have discovered and ride and give you all the information about the route, location, good bits, bad bits, where to stay, where to eat ect, ect.
These rides will be big, tough rides as the name suggests so if you do decide to try some of these rides for your self then be prepared for a long hard day in the saddle. Let the riding begin!!

Many British based riders long to live in exotic locations such as France or Italy because they feel that the riding in these foreign countries is so much better than what we have in the UK, well in this firs installment of epic rides i have set about proving these single minded riders wrong and showing that the UK can offer rides that are easily as comparable to those on the continent in terms of beauty and pain!!

With a family getaway booked over the Easter weekend down in the stunning location of Woolacombe bay, North Devon, i saw this as a great opportunity to plan an epic ride to do whilst i was down there and also conquer some infamous climbs which i have always wanted to do ever since i clipped in to my first road bike, Porlock Hill and Lymouth Hill but more on these later.

Ride Details
Start Location - Woolacome Bay Holiday Park, Sandy Lane
End Location - Top of Sandy Lane
Route type - Loop
Terrain - Very hilly containing very very steep climbs
Difficulty - Expert Ride, for experienced riders only
Distance - 100 miles (160km)
Total Ascent - 11500 meters
Estimated riding times - 5.5 to 6.5 hrs not including any stops

Here is a link to the route on Bike Route Toater -

The Ride

My overall aim when planning this ride was to head out to and ride the 2 biggest and steepest climbs in the area, these are located on the north coast in Exmoor National Park. The first in Porlock Hill which is located in Porlock and the second is Located in Lymouth and need to be ridden in the direction heading back towards Woolacombe. This means that i had to plan a route going out Minehead and then looping back and heading up the coastal road taking in the climbs and taking me back to the starting point.
I set off fairly early in the morning after a hearty breakfast of fruit and fibre and 2 slices of toast and jam, yummy. I new this would be a tough ride but i feared i may be making it harder due to the fact i felt pretty tired when i pedalled away, i just hoped that i would open up and feel better later on.

The roads leading out of woolacombe are nice and rolling with a few long shallow climbs which allow you to get in to a nice rhythm. the road surface id a bit hit and miss with some roads being lovely and smooth and some leaving a lot to be desired. The A3123 and the B3358 which took me out to Challacombe and Simonsbath seemed very safe and not at all busy even on this bank holiday weekend.
Even just an hour in to the ride i was coming across some amazing picture postcard villages that just make you feel good to be on the bike.

Riding out from SimmonsBath put you on the B3224 which leads you in to the Heart of Exmoor National Park which is essentially Barron moor land but yields a distinctive beauty all of its own. At this point on the ride i was feeling much better and the sun had burned off the early morning fog that was hanging low over the fields. I feared that i may have over dressed due to it being pretty chilly when i set off but now warming up to around 19 degrees. I had to stop after about an hour and a half to remove some clothing and cram it in to my already over flowing pockets. Keeping on this same road, the begins to turn left back in towards the north coast which eventually leads you to the seaside town of Watchet and after turning left again onwards to the neighbouring town of Blue Anchor Bay which is like something out of Popeye!


These are stereotypical British seaside town bustling with early season holiday makers and surfers who were making the most of the unusually warm April weather. The fresh Devon air quickly turned to the smell of fresh fish and some not so fresh which is the stuff that was being deep fat fried in the local chip shops. This is the point were the roads started to get a little bit more busy but still nothing to worry about. as i rode out of Blue Anchor bay and onwards towards Minehead, my though began to turn towards what lay head in the form of viciously steep tarmac, but this was still a good few miles away yet.

On the way to Minehead the roads began to get noticeably more full with Holiday traffic as this road is one of the main roads that leads to Woolacombe bay. However, i only got stopped once or twice and managed to keep good pace even through some of the jammed up spots. The other reason why this area get busy is because its home to Dunster Castle which sits on the hill side overlooking Mine head and the coast line. This is a great place to come and visit and a nice place to stop on route if you fancy a breather. I decided against doing this as this ride was still a training ride so i just pressed on and shoved some food down my throat whist i was still spinning the pedals.

The Pain of Porlock
Heading out of Minehead i spotted my first sign for the village of Porlock which meant only one thing; Porlock Hill was not very far away. you may have noticed that i keep talking about this climb and if you haven't heard of it before you may be wondering why. The reason this climb is mentioned over and over again is because i am shit scared of it and its making my stomach churn as i ride in to it, i have never ridden this climb before but i have been up it in the car and even with a 2 litre engine it was a bitch of a slog. The road climbs approximately 1,300 ft (400 m) in less than 2 miles (3.2 km) up onto Exmoor: a very steep hill with gradients of up to 1 in 4 and hairpin bends. this is a great example of a steep Devonshire climb and just the kind of incline that this area is known for.
Porlock Hill Signs
i get a few minute to gather my thoughts and prepare my legs as i ride through Porlock which is pretty bust at this time of day, plus i get stuck behind a bus which is trying to negotiate a very tight turn in the village, just what i need, more time to think about what coming up. I soon get going and before i know it i am past the last warning sign which uninspiringly states "Cyclists Advised to Dismount", and i am starting the climb and before i can say "this is steep" i am already in my lowest gear which today is a 39x25, right now I'm thinking i should have put the 27 on! As i begin to take the first right hander which is where the road pitches to well above 20%, every ones worst fears are realised as a learner driver stalls on this kick and is now trying to do a hill start on a 22% gradient. Nice. Eventually she get going and i can carry on with no more worries.

I have been out of the saddle from the start and my arms are really beginning to ache, i try sitting down to get some respite and just about manage to turn the pedals over. Ahead i can see the infamous left turn where the road pitches up to just above 25% whilst it hairpins round, this means the steepest point is onMartyn Hicks' picture showing the steepness of Porlock Hill the inside of the turn which is on my side of the road. As i approach, i jump out of the saddle and attack the corner as if i was making a race winning move, i stay over to the white as much as possible and look to wards the point where it eases back. To my surprise it didn't actually feel as bad i thought it would, although a car full of lad coming down the hill still had there opinions of me when the driver shouted "YOU MUST BE FECKING BARMY". After this steep pitch there is still no time to relax as the road stays steep and keeps going for a long while taking you up on to the exposed moor land.

This open moor land is essentially what Exmoor is know for and is home to a huge number of wild ponies. You can stop and approach the animals and will generally be safe due to them being so used to humans taking an interest. you will also notice that a lot of the land is parched and blackened, this is because many fires that have been started accidental over the years due to fags been discarded with out thought, this has basically scorched most of the area and fried much of the foliage. Riding over the moors is a great experience, with the sea to your right and rolling hills to your left, you cant help but be inspired. Just be careful as the cars get get quite a spurt on along here and it can be very windy due to it being so exposed. It took me about 30 minutes to ride over the moor land before i started the decent of Contisbury hill which leads you in to the famous town of Lynton and Lymouth, this is another very steep 25% road so be cautious when riding down this as you go a lot faster than the cars.

Lynton and Lymouth is an amazing place to visit and if you are taking this route gently and taking in the sights then you must stop here and take a look around. This town is famous for a terrible incident that took place many years ago when the who place was essentially wiped out by a freak flood. It killed 36 people and all but washed to town away. Since then the whole structure and lay out has been changed in order to prevent it ever happening again, this hasn't in any way detracted from the areas charm as even though most of what you see is man made, it still retains a very natural feel.

Legs, Lungs and Lynmouth Hill
I resist the temptation to stop for a cider ice lolly as i am determined to make a good time so i press on. It takes about 30 seconds to ride trough the village before you put at the bottom of Lymouth Hill which is the other climb that has been on my to do list and also on my mind since i began this ride. The profile of this climb is pretty savage, its about 1.5 miles long but features a quarter mile section at 25% whilst the rest doesn't drop below 20%. The worst thing about riding this climb is that having just descended Contisbury hill, your legs have been lifeless for a few minutes and this is just how they feel when you start climbing. Again i am out of the saddle and in to the 39x25 almost straight away and again I'm wishing i had a few more gears to reach for. Remember that you will have done a good 60-70 mile by this point so if you have neglected your fueling then it will come back and bite you in the ass when you try and ride this climb.

This baby is steep and it never seems to end, i refuse to use the cheaters trick of weaving from side to side in order to reduce the steepness yet i am weaving anyway just due to the way i am trying to force the pedals round. I keep looking ahead hoping to see it ease back but it just keeps getting steeper, by ow my arms are burning to point of needed an ice pack and my legs are beginning to tire. It gets to the point where i am essentially hips forward and and down in order to keep the pedals going round. This is without a doubt the hardest climb i have ever ridden, possibly because f what came before it but still, it one savage climb.

After a few more minutes of hip thrusting and grunting, a combination that caught the attention of many a passing motorist, i was finally at the top and eased of the pedals and sat back in the saddle. Thank the lord that was over and i could Begin to get the feeling back in my arms, safe in the knowledge that the hardest parts of the ride where over and no matter what i came up against from this point it would almost always feel down hill comparison to what i had just done. well almost!!

Now it was just a case of following the road back along the coast which offers a choice of routes back home. If you are tired then you can just follow A39, A399 and A3123 back to woolacombe which is the fastest route home, or if you are still feeling good then you can head towards the seaside towns of Combe Martin and Ilfacombe which extend the route some what and allow you take in some more fantastic British seaside view, As i was feeling good this is the route that i took. Its always nice riding when you know the hardest parts of your route are done and your arn't to far from home, this always gives me a moral boost and i begin riding as if i was at the head of a race, soloing towards the finish with a big time gap. Along this road you are treated to some nice winding descents which lead you through Combe Martin, which i remember well as its the point where my Garmin died on me! Its also a nice place to stop on the ride or on holiday if your are driving around.

From here you ride past Watermouth Castle which is a family theme park and activity center before taking you in to the bustling town of Ilfracombe. This is probably the biggest town that you will pass through on the whole ride although i only got stopped by one set of traffic lights and managed to keep good pace whilst riding through the town. Like most towns on this route, in order to get out of the place you have to tackle a hill and ilfracombe is no different except that this climb is nice and gradual and allows you to stay seated, grips the tops and pedals a smooth gear all the way up. This climb goes on for quite a while before spitting you out on to hills of Lincombe where again you can choose to take the route back along the B3343which takes you back directly or you can head towards Mortehoe. This is the route i took which takes you along the main road through Woolacombe which can be very busy on a hot day, this then leads you to the final obstacle which stands between you and caravan full of holiday food and drink, This obstacle is called sandy Lane.

Sandy Lane may sound like a sweet little lane but trust me, it is far from it. what it is is a bitch of a lane which pitches up to around 25% and stays there for the pretty much the full mile which the climbs drags on for. This road is only single lane but it pretty good condition, just be careful of the traffic that comes down it as you may have to jump in a bush! Thankfully i was feeling good when i did this climb and managed to ride it at a good pace but boy was i happy when i saw the top especially because i knew my caravan was a few minutes away which meant one thing; Chocolate flavoured recovery drink and mixed berry muffin. jobs a gudden.

overall i can say this this has been one of the best rides i have ever done, not just in the UK but also compared with rides that i have done in France. Being able to compare a UK based route with ones that i have done in the south of France taking in the legends of cycling folk law such as Mont Ventoux and Alpe d,Huez is quite a feat, but very true. This was my first experience of riding in Devon and it was a very good one, the roads are generally pretty good, the traffic is minimal even on what was the bank holiday weekend, the routes are endless, the climbs are challenging and the scenery is spectacular. My advice: Go there, take your bike, take your mates and ride, just ride.

Where to Stay
North Devon and Woolacombe in particular are a British holiday makers Paradise, therefore there is no shortage of places to stay if you are looking to come here for the weekend or longer. Me and my family stayed in a Caravan which cost us £170 for 3 nights. this was the cheapest of the caravans that the park had to offer as they were the dog friendly ones, you can pay much more, up to bout £400 and get a bigger van with a balcony and better fitting but our pad did the job and did us proud.
There are many caravan sight around Woolacombe, most of them belonging to the same company called Woolacombe bay Holiday Parks. The park which we stayed in which is where i planned the start of the ride from is called Woolacome bay and sits at the top of Sandy lane, you can walk from the park to the beach in less than 30 minutes so its a pretty ideal location.

All of the parks have loads of activities to do such as mini golf, tennis, swimming, arcades and nightly shows in the club house.
Eating wise there is again loads of choice. you can do what we did and take our own food, you can order a takeaway from the many places in the town or you can venture out and try one of the local restaurants or pubs that are abundant in this kind of place. Overall, locations wise Devon is perfect with everything you could want or need including all of your usual home comforts.

Essential Information
Like i have said before, this is a tough ride and one that is suited to experienced riders. One thing i would say which goes for any ride is take more food and drink than you think you will need because if you bonk on this ride, you will pay a nasty price due to the up and down nature of the route. Take some money as well as there are plenty of shops in the villages where you can get more grub if you need it.

If you have any spare room in your pockets then take a few layers for different conditions as like anywhere in the UK, you cant trust the weather. Mobile phone, tools, pump and inner tubes are all standard kit that you should take anywhere so i would expect you to remember these anyway. Gear wise depends on how string a rider you class yourself as. The climbs are very steep and i consider my self a good climber and i was just about ok with 39x25 but if i was to do it again i would put on a 27 just make some sections a bit less of a grind.

In Conclusion, i think that this ride proves the UK has just as much to offer in the way of riding as the continent. So if you have a free weekend and are looking to do a few days of riding, you don't need to to head to southern France to get in some hard hours in the saddle, come down to Devon and hit up this route. I can guarantee you wont be disappointed, although i cant guarantee the weather will be good

Ride Safe

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Overcoming Injury and Illness

Well i had originally planned for my next post to be about my great and very successful day at my second road race of the season, the Bill Jinks Memorial which was the first round of the West Midlands Road Race League and one of my season goals. Unfortunately i never even got the chance to race or consider racing, in fact i never got got the chance to ride all week thanks to coming a cropper of the day after the Evesham Road Race and ultimately fracturing my right Clavicle (Collar Bone). Painful? yes, very. A new Experience? No, definitely not. This is the 3rd time i have fractured a Collar bone in the last 4 years so i consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to knowing the tricks of how to deal with the agony that accompanies such an injury. With having just done my first first road race in 8 months since the last time i broke my collar bone only the day before, this was more of a mental challenge than a physical one and something that i have managed to deal with pretty well considering.
So rather than  not write anything at all i thought i would share mine and other professional advice about how to deal with the physical and mental trauma that goes with having any injury or illness when participating in sport.

August 2010 - the second time i
broke my Clavicle after being
hit by a car whilst training in France
As Athletes, injury or illness is always present in our minds, we may not consciously realise it but every so often when you have a close call or suspect the worse those fear rear there ugly head. This is because as serious and committed athletes we devote 90% of time trying in every way to increase or improve our athletic performance. This could be getting up at 5am to squeeze in training before work or simply elevating your legs as much as possible in order to aid recovery as well as every thing that goes in between. we work hard, very hard, unbelievably hard and most of us do it as a hobby with no real reward except what we perceive as success for our selves.
Yet, with all this effort it is a very scary thought to think that a silly little incident or mistake could render all of that hard work useless, at least for the short term at least. Injuries such as fractures can take anywhere from a few weeks to many months to completely heal and even then it can still drag on due to other physical issues that can remain apparent for a long time after the injury such as aches, pain and niggles all of which can further disrupt your training and every day life.

There are 2 main areas to discuss when considering how to overcome an injury and how to go about getting to your post injury fitness or performance level, these come in the form of the physical issues i.e directly dealing with the injury itself and aiding the healing process as quickly as possible. The other is possibly the harder aspect to deal with which are the mental issues that exist when trying to overcome forced rest when you sustain an injury. i consider this the root of all of the issues that go with this subject, get this wrong then whole recovery process will take a lot longer, this is why i will tackle this aspect first.

The first and most important step is accepting that the injury has taken place and that you may be out of action for a weeks, the sooner you can get around this fact then the easier everything else will come. This can be very hard at the time, especially if things were going well and you had been training hard or getting good results in races and its very easy to be saying this if you are not the one who is facing a few weeks of the bike. However, one way in which i have managed to get over this initial issue to approach it from a different angle. i do this by finding a positive within the situation and focusing on that rather than the negatives, the one thing i always tell myself when injuries occur is that they happened for a reason and if you try hard enough you Will, always be able to actively convince yourself that yes, this did happen for a reason. When ever i break a bone or get a really nasty virus, it always comes at a time when maybe my training or racing isn't going so well or i am having hard times dealing with other issues in my life. therefore, this injury could have happened as a way to force me rest in order to recharge my batteries and refocus on my goals as i may have been steadily tracking in the wrong direction for a while, or maybe its happened as a way to force training down my life's priority list and allow me time with no other distraction to sort out other personal issues in my life, therefore making training easier and more efficient when i do return to riding.

Athletes never have any trouble when it comes to training hard enough, give them a ridiculously hard workout and most will jump at the chance to challenge and push themselves beyond the realms of pain and suffering. yet tell them to have a few easy days in order to allow there bodies to repair and adapt and you may as well be flogging a dead horse to most of them. Many Committed athletes only feel they are doing all they Can to improve if they are gasping for breath or struggling to walk up the stairs after training and the vital recovery process is ofter over looked in the pursuit for higher levels of performance.
As mentioned above, less serious injury or illness can create a great opportunity for athletes to take an enforced rest period during which there bodies will finally get the Chance to fully recover and shed the deep underlying fatigue from weeks and moths of the vigorous and consistent onslaught of intense training. This is the time when the body can also enter the sacred state of over-compensation where by the body rebuilds its self stronger and fitter than its pre recovered state, this process can take alot longer than most athletes will allow so rarely gets the chance to finish miracle work on your body which is why most athletes struggle to reach there full potential. Use it as a good excuse to have break from training as the chances are you need one but just realise it, 9 times out of ten after a week of the bike you will come back stronger and fresher due to allowing your body to fully recover from the constant training load.

down time is a great time to look at what you have been doing both i regards to your training and everything else in your life. Looking back over the season whilst looking ahead to upcoming races and events, you may find that you have strayed off course and need to reset your sight on the objective or possible change that objective. Those with training files and past training data can look back and review there training and see whether they really have been training effectively and making the kind of progress that they know they should be. I always that a forced lay off from training enables me to wipe the bad habit slate clean and go back to the basic principles for a few weeks, sometimes we get so focused on all the advanced stuff that we forget the fundamentals of training and let them rot away. you will be amazed at how much your riding will be refined by working on the simple things for a while. These include cadence, pedal stoke, position, handling, gear selection, braking and even practicing eating and drinking whilst riding.

Like i mentioned in the previous paragraph, i use down time as a way of putting a full stop in to my training and then starting a fresh afterwards. I never drown in my sorrows when i am injured, i look ahead towards new or existing goals and refine and clear the path that i wish to take in order to get there. I will sit down and plan out the next few month of training from the point where i estimate i can ride again, i devise new training session and workouts in order to Target specific areas, i make various spread sheets on my computer in order track a variety of metrics and i plan new recovery strategies and nutrition plans in order to give me the best response from training. I always find that doing this me huge amounts of motivation and excites me about resuming training. just be careful to make sure you don't get over enthusiastic and dig your self in to a hole of fatigue with in the first few weeks of been back on the bike. Again, look ahead towards the bigger picture.

This is an area that i am not going to dive too deeply in to, i am no doctor or medical professional and i have no qualifications or experience in medical science. However, what i will say having had broken many bones and suffered various illnesses over the last few years, one conclusion i can take from going through the process of recover again and again is that everyone heals and recovers at vary different rates. different breaks and fractures repair at hugely differing rates and virus clear at different speeds. only you will have the best idea of how your recovery is going and how you are feeling, one piece of advice i will give you is that you need to be honest with your self when thinking about recovery time. It is way to easy to convince your self that you are ready to go when deep down you know you are trying to run before you can walk, I have done it myself, various times. i have been so desperate to resume training that i failed to listen to what my body was clearly telling me and would you believe it, i ended up back at square one with in a few weeks having stressed my body when i should have still being rested.
Ignoring doctors orders is one thing that we are all guilty of and for athletes its even harder because when they give you standard answer of 6-8 weeks, you sit there telling yourself that his man knows nothing about you or your sport as he is no athlete. Yet, it might be worth considering how that man got to sit behind that desk with DR in front of his name and that's because he knows what he is talking about so take his advise on board, even if its just as a rough guide line. Another thing i have learnt to do or not to do in this case is to set a date for when your recovery process should be complete. this is the most emotionally destructive thing that you can do because you cant put a n accurate date on when you will be ready, too many factors can influence your recovery and you are simply setting yourself up for a huge disappointment if you aren't ready when you though you would be. It takes as long as it takes, all you can do is be as good to yourself and your recovery as possible. With broken bones you can begin to track your progress by how you feel from day to day and you know when you are ready to again. With colds and viruses the old age tip remains true; when you feel ready give it another day. If you hit training hard as soon as you feel good, you are simply suppressing your immune system which will allow the virus to develop again in a very short space of time.

When you are finally ready to get back on the bike remember to begin with baby steps and build up. The injury may still be sensitive and fragile even though it feel fine. When i broke my Collar Bone for the second time, i was informed that although the bone will be strong and fully functional after 8 weeks, which it was, it would tale up to 18 moths for the bones to fuse completely back to how they would have been before the break! 18 months is a long time.
Although i wont go in to huge amounts of detail in this post about the effects of reversibility on fitness and muscular atrophy i will give a brief over view. Keep in  mind that if you have been completely in active for more than 2 weeks you will have lost some fitness and if you have a limb immobilized by a cast or brace then you can expect to see a reduction in the size of the adjoining muscle but Don't panic, this isn't lost for ever and you will get it back.
If you are an experiences athlete and been training for many years, you will find that you will have maintained most of if not all of your basic endurance and muscle memory, this kind of thing becomes en grained in to our bodies and motor functions after years or training and is very hard to loose. The things that you will loose are you top end speed and power and muscular strength and size. however, with steady and progressive training these will return and you will generally find that they come back a bit easier that when you had to develop them first time round, almost as you have some kind of blue print left behind which your body uses to get back that little bit faster.

As it is commonly stated, it is always easier to prevent an injury or illness from taking place than it is to deal with it when it has occurred. If you find that you are getting injuries or illnesses often and they seem to be happening in a recurring fashion then it may be time to address the underlying problem rather than keep treating it when it crops up. Stress fractures, strains, sprains, aches and niggles can be down to something as simple as bike fit so it may be worth forking out a bit on a full bike fit session with a professional fitter. it could also be down do an old injury that you had many years ago that is becoming aggravated by the training you are doing, this could mean that you would be best seeking some professional help in the form of a sports injury specialist or physiotherapist.
If you find that you keep getting bogged down with a runny nose or sort throat or similar virus, you should consider getting some blood tests down as you be lacking in some of the essential vitamins and minerals that keep your body and immune system working at full capacity. these kind of issues could be dealt with simply taking a supplement to top you back up.

Hopefully there are somethings that have helped you in this post and if you have been recently injured and come down with a nasty virus then i wish you a speedy recovery but remember, don't panic as you will be back on your bike in no time and the chances are you will be back in a better frame of mind and and refreshed and ready to go

Train Smarter, Ride Faster. Simple