|Cobbie's Selected Race Results
Raid du Massif Central - 6 days, 562 miles, 16,300m ascent, 46 hrs Report
Aug - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:12; 60/301. Report
July - Raid Pyrenean Report
May - Chester Tri West Coast of Scotland Cycling trip ... 300 miles in 3 days. Report
Sep - Scilly Swim Challenge, 11 miles of swimming in 5 stages Report
June - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:33; 25/275
March - Gin Pit Marathon; 3:59:26. 14/39
Became a dad
Oct 2011 - Feb 2012
Travelling the world
Nepal - Annapurna Circuit and Chitwan
S. E. Asia and trekking in New Zealand
Trekking the 'Circuito del Dientes de Navarino'; Chilean Tierra del Fuego
Sep - AXTri - Report
June - Chester to John O'Groats cycle ride with the Tri Club; 637 miles in 9 days
Sep - ÷ TILL ÷; 14:19; Report
Nov - Pembrokeshire Coast Challenge; 78.6 miles. Day 1 - 5th in 4:39. Day 2 - Retired with ITB injury after 15 miles
Oct 4th - Sandstone Trail 'A' Race; 17 miles, 1750ft 2:19:15; 29/156
Aug 8th - Norseman 14:57; 81=/230 Report No1 & Report No2
June 28th - A Day in the Lakes HIM 5:55:18; 68/309 Report
June 17th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 29:12; 13/100 Report
May 31st - Pontcysyllte Aqueduct Cyclosportif 107 miles, 3000+m ascent; 7:20:26
March 28th Cheshire Cat Cyclosportif 105 miles; 7:04 Report
March 21st - Chester Tri Runners vs Kayaks; Llangollen Canal 32.4 miles; 5:22 Report
The year I was a fat bast@rd
Atlantic Coast Challenge 78miles; About 18 hrs Report
Norseman 17:05 Report
Etape du Dales 110 miles; 8:40ish with puncture
Nov 17th - Penmaenmawr Fell Race (11 miles, 1500ft); 1:35:23; 50/220
Bala Olympic Tri 2:14:00; 217/773 (AG 61/203) Report
Hathersage Hilly - 1:22:34; 19/169 and AG 4/43 ; Report
July 11th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 23:16; 15/76
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 1:25:02; 59/3800ish finishers AG 5th Vet ; Report
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages Half Marathon 86:52; 152/1570
Nov 18th - Penmaenmawr Fell Race (11 miles, 1500ft); 1:31:42; 24/237; Report
Oct 8th - Pentland Skyline (16.2 miles, 6,200ft); 3:30:54; 79/150; Report. Blisters
Oct 1st - Sandstone Trail ďAĒ Race (17 miles, 1750ft) 2:15:14; 14/135 3rd V40; Report
Sept 24th Ė South Shropshire Sprint 1:23; 28/234
July 23rd - TLD Bike Relay 5:52:38; Report
June 7th - Dee Mile, 2000m OW swim. 28:47; 24/97
June 4th - Bala Middle 4:47:39
May 7th - Fred Whitton Challenge 112 miles, 4,150m of ascent, 8:18:52; Report
March 19th - Edale Skyline Fell Race 21.3 miles, 4,620ft; 3:48:25, 100/260
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 92:55; 52/3283 finishers AG 6/521; Report
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages Half Marathon 85:43; 152/1655
Oct 30th - Snowdonia Marathon 3:54:50; 265/961
Oct 2nd - Sandstone Trail ďAĒ Race (16.8 miles, 1750ft) 2:17:41; 29/111
Sep 18th - Bala Olympic Tri 2:20:31; 83/433 (AG 17/100)
Sep 10th - Helvellyn Tri 4:17:38; 43/331
July 24th - The Longest Day 11:00:25; 40/150
June 5th - Bala Middle 4:39:54; 92/318 (AG 25/87)
Mar 15th - Wuthering Hike [31 miles 4400 ft] 5:35
Jan 29th - Tough Guy 93:49; 161/3,500
Jan 22nd - 4 Villages half marathon 90:39; 256/1504
Survival of the Shawangunks - 5:29:45 35/120
Wolverhampton Oly 2:19:50
The year of illness and poor motivation
Powerman UK 3:47
HIM Llanberis 5:09:40
HIM Llanberis 5:38
|All about Cobbie
Joined: 02 Aug 2005
Interests: Red wine and cakes
2017 Review & Plans for 2018
Mon Feb 12, 2018 8:21 pm Cobbie
2017 was a record year for me since I started in multisport.
Record high bike mileage Ė 5241 miles, just under 101 miles per week
Record low run mileage - 35 miles over 11 runs
Record low swim mileage - I think about 3000m (not counting splashing with Henry)
Bike stats in more detail (includes turbos):
146 rides; 2.8 / week
84500m of ascent; 1625m / week
350 hours in the saddle; just under 7 hrs / week
The bike target was 100 miles a week and I was very happy to hit that, mainly down to getting onto the turbo in the hotel when I was working away these past few months. The Raid du Massif Central was a real high point in my cycling life but, with the benefit of hindsight, doing my one big event at the end of May led to a very low key second half of the year. I was up to 3000 miles after 5 months and only did one ride of over 80 miles after that. Still, the main thing was that I enjoyed it all and so long as I can keep on doing that, life will be relatively un-heavy, which is the ultimate aim.
I expected to mix up my summer activity with swimming but never felt the love. After my first 2km river swim when I got back from France, I got back in the following week but turned back half way and that was the end of that. There will come a point when I want to swim again, itís just not now.
Running has been underwhelming. I ran in 2 blocks during the year, 6 runs in Jan/Feb and 5 in September, all under 4 miles. I keep hoping that things will suddenly get a bit easier but once I get over 3 miles, the ankle starts to hurt and any attempt to run twice in a week results in more pain than I want to deal with. I suspect that I could push through this if I really want to Ė when I first started running after my accident, I would be barely able to walk for 1-2 days after a race or hard training run. In comparison, the pain and stiffness now is very mild but the determination is just not there. Little things like giving Henry a piggyback up or down stairs become difficult when the ankle hurts and I worry about falling and him getting hurt, so it just seems easier to give it a miss.
So, basically, Iím a cyclist for now. The secret for me has been to vary my routes as much as possible, whilst maintaining some continuity in order to see myself progressing as Iíve got fitter. When I look back to my tri training, I had a very limited range of routes which I think reflects that cycling was very much my least favourite discipline. I think 2009 was a previous high point and I added up the total distance to about 3,500 miles Ė however, what Iíd never appreciated fully was that once Norseman was over in early August I only cycled a couple of hundred miles in the remainder of the year.
I avoided Strava for a long while but signed up in a very low key way during the summer and have to say itís been well worth it. Whilst some of the data is a bit naff, I can see where on rides I could work harder and have made things a bit more structured as a consequence. Seeing other peoplesí training has also given me ideas to keep my own routes fresh. All in all, helpful for the type of pedalling I do now.
For 2018, my main target is to beat my 5241 miles cycled in 2017. Iím also going to try and hit 100km of ascent. The first 6 weeks have gone well so far and motivation is high Ė long may it continue.
I have signed up for Raid Corsica at the end of September, which should keep me motivated all summer Ė itís a bit less hilly than my previous two trips but distance per day is further, 1000km in 6 days! Going further always seems harder for me than more ascent so I expect this to be a decent challenge.
Iíve also signed up for Coast-to-Coast in a day which at c150 miles will be my longest ever ride. Quite a few from Chester Tri are doing it so should be a good day out. Also on the list is the 100 mile Forest of Bowland sportif as a warm-up and I might do the 103 mile Peak District epic as well.
All in all, should be a busy year.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Walking the Nantlle Ridge
Sun Jun 18, 2017 10:23 pm Cobbie
The Nantlle Ridge is known as an unsung gem of Snowdonia with many rating it the best ridge walk in the National Park, no small praise when the world renowned Snowdon Horseshoe is literally one valley across. Of course, that probably explains itís relative lack of traffic and notoriety; that and the fact that itís a bit tucked away, doesnít have any 3000ft (914m) peaks and being end to end, requires a fair degree of planning. It has been on my to-do list for close on 30 years but for various reasons Iíd never got round to it Ö until now that is.
My friend Woody (Ian) moved up from Wiltshire to Abergele last year and we started talking about doing it. Then Woody broke his foot and what with winter and his recovery it was only last month that we seriously started looking for a date. Thankfully, once we got serious, that didnít take long.
Our friend Trev drove up from Coventry and the three of us shared a few beers the evening before driving over with a target to start walking before 10. Woody directed us through the small village of Nebo down a single track road and practically the end of the final descent at the western end of the ridge Ė result. With my car dumped we drove north, then east through Nantlle village and a spectacular valley that Iíd never visited before. We were aiming for Rhyd Ddu, a village I know well, lying as it does on the Snowdon marathon route and the old Llanberis half ironman bike route. In the end we found a layby about a km before the village which was the perfect place to set off from.
The first hill is one of several Y Garnís in the area. At 633m, about 450m above the valley floor, it is the lowest peak on the ridge but being the first, involves the most climbing.
Y Garn - From the start of the walk; on a rocky section, just before the summit plateau
First impressions showed it to be shapely and with the hint of a path snaking up its flank. The fact that, from below, it was all green, with no sign of serious erosion of flagstones was a clear indication of the lack of traffic. We set off earlier than weíd hoped, at 9:35 and showed our combined years of experience by taking it very steadily Ė a pace that feels slow but you know you can keep it up without having to rest. There were foot holes in places and exposed rock on steeper sections but in the main it was never too taxing. Higher up we curved round and hit some scree before reaching the summit plateau and great views north and west.
View north west from the summit
All the subsequent peaks had their summits in the mist and it was rolling over the ridge, clearing briefly and then rolling in again as we had a bite to eat. The next peak, Mynydd Drws-y-coed is the most impressive to look at, with its sheer north face. The third, Trum y Ddysgl was hidden behind it slightly but we did get occasional views of the monolith on top of the next, Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd.
Mynydd Drws-y-coed, you can see the monolith on the far right of the picture
This in turn hides the fifth and final peak on the official ridge, Craig Cwm Silyn which is also the highest at 734m. We were intending to carry on to Garnedd-goch, which comes before the descent path and if time allowed, to Mynedd Graig Goch which would extend the route a fair bit.
The map here and a detailed altitude profile and route description are from this weblink:
Mynydd Drws-y-coed is approached via a wide, flat ridge which soon narrows and steepens into rough scrambling, not hard but requiring a little care to pick a good line.
Scrambling up Mynydd Drws-y-coed
The climb is short, only about 50m of ascent but even so, we were in the cloud at the summit, needing to drop down a little to see the fantastic ridge leading up to Trum y Ddysgl, essentially the a second high point on the same northward facing cwm.
Trum y Ddysgl; looking back at Mynydd Drws-y-coed and Y Garn
Itís easy walking to get there before a longer descent to a col and the short climb to the monolith. The col is a fairly narrow tongue, quite impressive to look at but with the mist I didnít really get a good picture. Itís easy enough to negotiate before an easy climb up to Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd and more great views out west.
Happy Cobbie; Woody; the misty tongue at the col beneath Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd
The climb up Mynydd Tal-y-mignedd; Trev at the monolith on the summit
Up to now, the walking had been really very easy but the climb to Craig Cwm Silyn was longer and harder. Woody stuck to the ridge all the way, whilst Trev and I started out on a lower path, to avoid an outcrop, only then realising that this larger path avoided the lower section of the ridge entirely, ho hum.
Craig Cwm Silyn; the slog up to the ridge
It was a bit of a slog up the hillside and back to the ridge about half way up where we waited for Woody.
Great shot of Woody on the ridge
From here on we were properly in the cloud almost the whole time. Cwm Sliyn has a couple of decent crags on its north-west flank but it was foolhardy to try and get a peek at them with such poor visibility. The descent was actually quite rocky and being damp required our concentration. After things flattened out, we ran up against the top of an outcrop and took a bearing to make sure we were on the right track, it was a pretty featureless plateau.
The climb to Garnedd-goch was along a very gently sloping saddle, a mix of tufty grass and shattered rocks until we hit a dry stone wall which we followed to the summit cairn.
The summit of Gernedd-goch in the mist
From here it was a gentle descent to the path which took us down northwest. We bumped into some chatty blokes and an old man of the mountains who regaled us with tales of his obsessive peak bagging, all based on different definitions of how much vertical ascent was required for a peak to be called a peak. Marilyns, Hewitts and Nuttalls; I had no idea there were so many different ways of classifying them. Iím relieved, obviously that I have no interest in such trivia, in fact we had been laughing earlier on the walk about how Iíd refused to walk over the newest of the Welsh 3000ers because it wasnít a real peak, just a bump on a ridge.
Anyway, Trev had slightly twisted his knee and was finding the going harder and I needed to get home for a date night so we struck off downhill on what was a surprisingly small path but well marked with cairns. Once down onto the gentle ridge that you can see middle right in the final picture, we ambled along a faint path, past cotton grass and then the dam wall of the reservoir in the picture. All in all a lovely day out, recommended. Total walking time for us was 4 hours, including stops.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Sat Jun 10, 2017 3:19 pm Cobbie
Raid Massif Central; 28th May to 2nd June 2017
After completing the 100 Hour Raid Pyrenean last summer, I was keen for more. Knowing that I needed a challenge to keep motivated for fitness, Lynn was amenable so I looked at my options. I was keen to do a logical point-to-point journey akin to the Raid Pyrenean, travelling as it does from Atlantic to Mediterranean, but wanted something a bit more varied in nature. Two options stood out, these being the Raid Corsica (which circumnavigates the island) and the Raid Massif Central which traverses several regions in south-central France, from Lyons down to the edge of the Pyrenees. In the end the choice was made for me as none of the Raid Corsica dates were feasible.
I was a lot fitter for this, having ridden through the winter for the first time, typically 2 rides a week, increasing to 3 from March; I wasnít much lighter but was a lot stronger. This trip was a step up so I needed to be; 6 days instead of 4Ĺ on the bike and hilly all the way. In total, I cycled about 1000 miles more than pre-Raid in 2016.
Travelling out from the north of England was just as awkward as in 2016, not helped by Flybe cancelling suitable flights from first Manchester and then Birmingham. In the end I flew both ways with BA via Heathrow and decided to travel out a day early and spend a morning sightseeing in Lyon before a lunchtime transfer to the start in Roanne. It wasnít ideal but turned out to be a good choice due to the BA baggage system failure which meant 3 cyclists arrived a day late.
Once at the hotel, with bike built, there was plenty of time to get to know a few people. Some were clearly very strong, others like me more interested in having an experience on a bike. A very pleasant evening saw us all getting along well and it was a happy group of cyclists who lined up for the team photo in the morning. It was clearly going to be a hot first couple of days so I made sure I slapped on plenty of cream.
Here is the altitude profile for the trip. This is the original profile before the route was modified so it's not quite what we did in the last couple of days but it gives a pretty good idea of what the trip is all about:
Note that photos with the Marmot logo were taken by our excellent guides, Gavin and Tim
Day 1 Ė Roanne to Issoire; 96 miles, 2900m ascent, 7:40 ride time
The first day had a tough first half; 2000m of climbing in the first 50 miles and 4 cols, rising to the Col du Beal at 1390m. The weather was lovely and we passed through vinyards and open countryside on our way up the first climb, the Col du Bouchet (752m). As we got higher, we moved into the trees which provided some shade as the temperature hit 30įC before lunch (and touched 40įC in the afternoon!). Things opened out at the top of the Col de la Loge and Col du Beal but in a very pastoral way; this was very much an aperitif through the foothills. I made sure I kept a lid on my power after going a bit too hard on day 1 in 2016. The gradients were very steady, 5 to 7% mostly and only once did I see anything over 8% on my Garmin all day.
Left to Right - Ready for the off, fields early on, one of the early climbs
War memorial, castle, high point of the day,
My main memories are of the lovely villages we pedalled through and I made sure I captured a selection with my phone; I was a lot more organised for photos this year, keeping the phone in my bar-top box made for much quicker snaps. The afternoon was mostly downhill, with our first proper Ďcontrolí in the small village of St Dier díAuvergne. All the shops were shut but the guides managed to find an old lady at a filling station who stamped out carnets in her front room. After one last small climb, we reached our hotel in Issoire which was great. There were a few classic British red faces, arms and legs on show but everyone seemed very happy.
Two more rural views; riding with Andy & Say
Day 2 Ė Issoire to Salers; 105 miles, 3100m ascent, 8:30 ride time
Day 2 started with a long, steady climb to the Col de la croix St-Robert, at 1426m, our high point of the day. This was actually the only significant col, the large amount of climbing being made up of many small ups and downs. It was hot again and I pedalled with Andy and Say. Weíd been joined by 3 more cyclists whoíd arrived late because of the BA baggage problems so there were now 12 of us. The pattern of riders on the road was also now clear. There was a group of 4 at the front (Ian, Jem, Simon and Aidan), followed by David and Lucy who would set off later than everybody else and overtake all bar these. Diane, Ianís wife, was very strong on the climbs and would move forward and back through the group depending on how often she stopped. The remaining 5 of us (myself, Andy, Say, a second Ian and James) and Diane would generally see each other multiple times depending on how we were feeling. With all bar one having been on a Marmot trip before, we all knew the drill with van and cafť stops so they were much more efficient than I remembered from 2016.
Moving into volcano territory; cows
The scenery up to the Col de la croix St-Robert was beautiful and we got our first views of snowy peaks and rocky cliffs. I was generally slightly behind Andy and Say due to the photos I was taking but we were always close and I discovered over the col that I was somewhat faster on the descents. We re-grouped at the bottom and turned into the town of Le Mont-Dore to buy food for a picnic lunch. Lumpy riding took us to a small village where a cafť was open; they were happy enough for us to buy drinks to have with our food and the guides laid out some fruit. It was pretty hot by now and we still had a lot of riding to do but we definitely all lingered in what was a very pleasant spot.
View on the long climb; on the Col de la Croix St-Robert
Back on the road, there was only one significant high point, the Col de la Basseyre which we made soon after lunch; the sign was in a shale bank, listing and looking somewhat forlorn. After that I just remember lumpy riding until a left turn with 15km to go put us onto a nasty climb with 200m steep ascent, followed by a more gradual 200m ascent. I think we all found this tiring so late in the day and once at the top I just spun my way back the final few miles to the rather lovely village of Salers, where we were staying.
Sculpture; Farm building, the unloved Col de la Basseyre sign; Salers town square
Day 3 Ė Salers to Aumond-Aubrac; 89.3 miles, 3200m ascent; 7:55 ride time
This was undoubtedly the hardest day of the trip, with 5 cols over 1000m, all before lunch! The weather had changed too, being overcast and threatening as we set off and with thunderstorms forecast.
The first col (Col de Neronne) was a 300m climb, nice and gentle, with ever improving views. Until now, the colour palette of the trip had been predominantly green, today it changed to feature more and more yellow gorse. The terrain reminded me a lot of North East Wales (although with longer climbs!); a feeling of being slightly remote from the modern world, small communities in a fairly harsh landscape.
After a short descent, we were onto the Pas de Peyrol, without doubt the toughest climb of the trip, a 400m climb over just 5km. I fiddled about at the bottom to video the climb which started easily enough but then reared up for a very steep final 2km at 13%. I put a foot down a few times to prevent myself overheating as it was pretty muggy, even this early in the day and I was definitely feeling fatigued from the cycling Iíd already done. It was one of those climbs where you glimpse the road ahead, high above and note how little distance there is between where you are now and where you have to go! Initially in the trees, we soon pulled out onto barren terrain, made ethereal by mist blowing in over the col. The fast boys overtook me, mostly stomping away out of the saddle and certainly making it look easier than I was. However, it wasnít that long a climb and soon enough I was at the summit.
2 views of the Col de Neronne; at the bottom of the Col du Pas de Payrol;
Approaching the Col; At the col
After a quick photo and carnet stamp, I headed off down into a misty valley, made interesting by a herd of cows heading up to their summer pasture. The old dude leading them was as crusty a traditional picture of French peasantry as you could hope to see. That brief interlude aside, we were soon down in the valley where a left turn led onto the next climb, the Col de Perthus, about 400m ascent. An old French cyclist stopped and told us that the climb was steep but not too long and he was right.
Setting off up the climb there were 8 of us together, though not for long as the fast boys pulled away. I started to find the going tough and dropped back a bit, regaining contact at the summit where the van was a welcome sight.
The volcano Puy Mary pokes out on the descent; cows heading up to pasture; two views of the steep climb to the Col de Perthus
The sun had come out on the climb but now the sky darkened and it started to spit on the descent, turning into a full scale rainstorm by the time we reached a lessening in gradient and a left turn onto a main road. I took my glasses off but the rain was stinging my eyes so much that I had to put them back on again. Finally resigned to the fact that this was going to last, I stopped in a lay-by and pulled of my cagoule. After 5 minutes of fighting with the zip, it stopped raining and the sun came out Ė I took the cag off again without having pedalled a single revolution. Several of the team had passed by this time and I might have been bringing up the rear so I got going again, keen to make it to the restaurant on top of the 5th and final col of the morning, the Col de Prat de Boc, which at just under 1400m was the second highest of the day. The climb was10km long, 500m ascent at mainly 6-8%; it was pretty steady all told and less humid after the rain. A pretty village low down was followed by open meadow as we moved back into more pastoral scenery. I remember chatting with the younger of the two Ianís who was always splendidly turned out but thereís no doubt that I was in real need of a decent lunch. My col selfie is definitely more of a grimace than a smile but a decent burger and frites soon had me going again.
3 increasingly tired col selfies!
I remember very little about the afternoon, the few photos I took just show green fields akin to the scenery on days 1 & 2. There was a long 40km descent, followed by a very gentle 30km climb where I started to get a lot of foot pain. Andy & Say kindly waited whilst I took my shoes off to stretch; I think this was a combination of feet swelling in the heat, pushing hard on the pedals during the climbs and general fatigue - I kept the tension on the dials lower from then on which helped. We made it to the pilgrimage town of Aumond-Aubrac in good time, well before my target of 6pm at least and were rewarded by the sight of hikers in a variety of garb on their way to Santiago, some in traditional brown robes. I had time to wash some kit and it was an early night all round; I wasnít the only one who felt whacked.
Day 4 Ė Aumond-Aubrac to Mayrueis; 101 miles, 3000m ascent; 8:25 ride time
One of the best few days Iíve ever had on a bike, the scenery was so stunning that I took about 90 photographs and my Garmin shows that I was not moving for almost an hour all told. I started out on my own in misty conditions past several short climbs, through small villages and a combination of forest and cow pasture, the cow bells clanging away merrily. Before too long, there was a descent into the sizeable town of Mende where we had to navigate our way through roadworks and past an impressive cathedral. Straight after, there was the very stiff climb up the Cote de la Criox-Neuve, 2km at 12-15%. I was feeling much better after a good nightís sleep but even so, I was surprised to make it up without stopping. Annoyingly, there was no col sign, just the cross that I presume gives the climb its name.
Church in the mist; gorse and woods; bottom and top of the Croix-Neuve
The descent here was very steep, with a particularly nasty sharp right hander that was very easy to miss. I tend to put my Garmin on map view for the descents so I saw it coming but apparently someone did crash on the first Marmot trip last year Ė not nice.
At the bottom, it was straight into the 1200m Col de la Loubiere, a nice steady climb through the trees, with another cross at the top. Tim caught me on film with a couple of good shots on this climb (thanks ) Ė Gav was my normal contact in the rear van but I was going strongly enough this morning to see more of Tim.
Two views of the Col de la Loubiere
The main col of the day was now upon me, the 1541m Col de Finiels, around 600m of ascent up to a high upland plateau. It was beautifully bleak towards the top and then an amazing descent down through a rocky landscape, reminiscent of Dartmoor, to Le Pont-de-Montvert for lunch. Here we landed at the slowest restaurant I can remember (outside of Argentina obviously). The madame visited our table several times without taking our order, despite us being quite pushy after a while. Eventually I did get some chicken and tagliatelle and very nice it was too before setting off into the Gorges du Tarn.
Ruins, steep section low down on the climb; at the col; on the descent
The last 70km of the ride were spectacular all the way with superb rock scenery down the gorge for about 40km before a left turn over the bridge at Saint Enimie took us onto the Col de Coperlac.
The Gorge du Tarn, turning onto the Col de Coperlac
This was one of those climbs that you can see contouring along the hillside ahead with spectacular views in all directions. The views back down into the gorge were particularly good and only improved as we got higher so we were all pretty happy when we met the van at the top. It was only 907m but a perfect late afternoon climb.
Gorges du Tarn from high up; at the col
It took me a while to get my col photo so I was alone by the time I set off, along a very straight road across a plateau bordered by poppies, a total contrast to what weíd just seen but equally lovely. I was slowly catching those in front but another small climb took me to the top of the Gorges de la Jonte and more spectacular rock architecture Ė I stopped and took more photos. Whizzing down the gorge to our hotel was simply amazing, a lovely way to end a fantastic day.
Poppies; two views of the Gorges de la Jonte
Day 5 Ė Meyrueis to Lodeve; 88 miles, 2400m ascent; 7:05 ride time
The day started in lovely bright conditions and as is often the case I was the first to be ready to go. Setting off though, my Garmin went against the route description. I carried on for a bit, past a roundabout signposted to Mt Aigoual but it didnít reset itself so I went back. After some discussion we all agreed that the directions were not quite right so most of us set out together in the opposite direction, placating the Garmins, back the way we had come to the edge of town, past a wicker horse sculpture and onto a different start of the climb to Mt Aigoual.
One of the features of this trip was that, despite a lot of total climbing, most climbs were 400-600m rather than the longer 1000m+ climbs in the mountains. In fact, only the Col de la Croix-St-Robert on day 2 had been over 1000m ascent. This climb was about 900m so the second biggest of the trip. It was very steady, never above 7-8% and with a little plateau half way up. There were a number of subsidiary cols marked on the route but none were really worthy of note. Instead we were treated to a lovely varied climb, first contouring round the hillside with views of the Gorges de la Jonte, then through woods before breaking out onto a barren plateau for the last couple of km to a proper summit, just off the main road, with a small castle on the top. It was too misty for any great views (apparently you can see Ventoux on a clear day) but still worthy of clambering up the metal steps to the turret viewpoint.
Leaving Mayrueis; two views low on Mt Aigoual; at the summit; the castle turret
It was quite windy so after a few minutes I clambered back down and found the cafť for the carnet stamp before heading off. It wasnít long before I was back in the forest, nearly missing a sharp left turn. The descent was a bit tricky so I didnít rush and James came past although having done so, he didnít pull away. I always find it easier to follow someone but in this case it was quite gravelly so Iím sure he was being careful too.
Descent from Mt Aigoual
It was straight into the next climb at the bottom, a 300m ascent which had hairpins at the bottom and then opened out beautifully. David and Lucy came past at the bottom and I saw some of the others below me as the road came round in a large loop near the top. Then it was a short descent into St Jean du Bruel for lunch Ė my first omelette/frites of the trip in a lovely cafť courtyard. Everyone was having a good day I think so it was a very relaxed atmosphere.
The route worked itís way from gorge to gorge (2 pics); viaduct
After lunch we went through more gorges on very minor roads, under an impressive viaduct at one stage before climbing up through what looked to me like parts of the Yorkshire Dales; small cliffs with a narrow road snaking beneath.
The climb to reach the cirque (heading up and left); on the way to the cirque
As the road climbed I was treated to ever more impressive views before a short flat section which led to the Cirque de Navacelles. This very impressive gorge has an unusual feature, this being a dried-up, ox-bow lake (they normally form on much flatter terrain, Iíve never heard of one in a gorge before), itís bright green surface standing out against the stark background. The descent into the Cirque was via many very tight hairpins.
The spectacular viw down into the cirque with the climb out behind; at the top of the climb looking back down
I passed Diane who was being careful as usual and who of course then breezed past me on the climb back out. This looked steep from the way down and so it proved to be; 11-12% for about 1.5km but incredibly spectacular. At the top it was mostly flat for nearly 20km but into a headwind and I really suffered. The younger Ian, resplendent in a very bright Namibia jersey came storming past but I couldnít hang onto his wheel. My foot pain was back as well so I made the decision to slacken off the tension as much as possible and just took it easy. Soon enough I was onto the 15km descent into Lodeve and our hotel beside a river.
Day 6 Ė Lodeve to Mazamet; 82 miles, 2200m ascent; 6:28 ride time
One thing Iíve not yet mentioned is that the Marmot trip is longer and harder than the Raid requirements, making it more of a balanced and challenging route. This final day was the shortest and least hilly of the trip Ė a change from the original route tested in 2016 which was 50km longer! I think we all agreed that finishing earlier on the final day was a sensible move.
My backside had been sore since day 3 and at times Iíd been finding it hard to find a comfortable riding position. After doing almost all the climbs in the Pyrenees seated last year, Iíd come to the conclusion that I needed to get out of the saddle more to use different muscle groups and this strategy worked really well in the Massif Central. However, settling back into the saddle was sometimes losing me any additional momentum Iíd built, day 3 being particularly bad. Having ridden into the climbing on days 4 and 5, things were a lot better but I was definitely ready to stop pedalling.
Setting off on the final morning; on the Col de la Baraque de Bral
The day dawned bright and cool again and we went straight into the 400m ascent of the Col de la Baraque de Bral. The first climb of the day had typically been lovely but this was probably the best, full of the scent of wild flowers and over too quickly really. The main climb of the day followed 20km later after one small climb and some quiet rural roads.
The Col de líEspinouse was just about 900m of ascent, spread over 20km and for me the best climb of the trip. Periods through forest were interspersed with beautifully open climbing, with great views of craggy rocks and gorse strewn upland. The climb worked its way up into a small forest on a subsidiary peak before descending to the final few km to the top. I was just behind James lower down, a tiny bit faster but with my photo stops, not catching him until he had a longer van stop. It was a very satisfied Cobbie at the top, barring a couple of 100 to 200m climbs, it was now downhill to the finish.
4 views of the Col de l'Espinouse
The last col sign was the Col de Fontfoide, just 100m of climbing and then a descent into Le Salvetat at 85km for lunch. The cafť was in the middle of a road remodelling scheme so we had to walk the bikes there and then watch a completely overwhelmed waitress trying to cope with more than one customer. The poor woman looked new to it all and was obviously struggling Ė in the end the cook came over to take our order whilst she got her head round the fast boys paying separately when sheíd added up the bill for the whole table. After a lovely omelette & salad leaves I set off, planning to ride gently and savour the last 50km. James whizzed by soon after, clearly keener than me to get to the end and soon after David and Lucy.
A profusion of gorse; village cross
I passed by a large lake, about the only one I can recall from the trip and then was onto the last col (Col de la Tranchee), where some guys out on a club ride came by. They were resting at the rather underwhelming summit as I came past, after which there was just one more short climb before a 20km descent to the finish in Mazamet. The traffic there was awful and I had someone overtake me pointlessly, on the outside, on a roundabout where I was turning left (the 3rd exit when riding on the right!). As safely as possible, I made my way gently uphill to the finish which was just on the pavement outside the hotel and celebrated with the obligatory glass of bubbly.
David and Lucy had just finished so we did some photos and savoured the moment. A quick shower and I was down just as Andy and Say were finishing before another glass and then the usual flummox to pack the bike, buy Henry a present and finally sit down for a beer. It was a lovely final evening and to our surprise, the great and good from the Mazamet Cycling club turned up to present us all with a medal and certificate. I drank far too much but did at least stop and go to bed before things got too ugly.
Overall, the trip distance is 562 miles / 905km with 16,300m of climbing in 6 days - harder than the Raid Pyrenean so it was a good thing that I was fitter and stronger. I think at last yearís fitness levels, this would have been quite a struggle. Having a great group of people to cycle and socialise with also helped a lot, it really was a very friendly bunch.
I have nothing but good things to say about Marmot, thereís a real concern about good customer service in general and the guides are great, giving support when needed and leaving you alone when not. With 3 people left behind in the UK due to the BA baggage handling problems, the owner of the company rang round to find alternative flights and help get them out to France the next day. Our guides, Gavin and Tim were excellent and great company.
A final word, this trip is a wonderful journey across one of the lesser known parts of France and whilst it lacks the grandeur of the big mountains, the variety is tremendous. It deserves more attention.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
How Fitbit helped me get fitter
Wed Nov 23, 2016 4:51 pm Cobbie
As I was getting heavier last year and feeling no motivation for exercise, I did wonder whether Iíd reached the end of my sporting life. I was getting up at 6 to get to work, spending time with Lynn and Henry when I got home, after which I was just too tired to train most of the time. The swimming I did and the occasional turbo were mostly out of duty and nowhere near enough. It was a worrying thought so I hunted around for something that might snap me out of my malaise.
Having been working with Bupa for over a year at this time, I was used to seeing people wearing Fitbits and I had a couple of marketing types prod me about getting one. As Christmas drew near, I had a look at the range and put one on the list, without any real sense of excitement. As it was, the Fitbit proved to be a catalyst to a great sporting 2016.
Iíve not looked around for reviews or articles like the one Iím going to write so I donít know if this is already common knowledge. The reason for writing is to put my own feelings and thoughts down on paper. In other words, this is for my benefit; if it helps anybody else then thatís great but this is largely an introspective blog.
What is a Fitbit
I suppose I had better assume that this requires a brief commentary. Fitbits are one of a growing group of sports watches which focus on step counting. This particular brand have a range from basic step counting, through to GPS enabled.
The one I was given was the Charge HR, which measures steps and heart rate, using a light to measure capillary expansion as heart rate increases. As with other devices, it uses this data to calculate calories burnt, steps climbed and length of sleep. It can track exercise in a rudimentary fashion and the software provides the ability to track calories taken in.
In terms of looks, itís a simple black band with one button which activates a display. Itís well designed and fits my wrist very snugly. Each time you press the button it scrolls through the 5 key data items; steps, heart rate, floors climbed, calories burnt and HR. It also displays time and date so you can wear it as a watch. Recharging takes under an hour every 4 or 5 days; I tend to do it in the car when Iím (obviously) sitting still.
Iíve been wearing mine on my right wrist. As Iím right handed and would normally wear a watch on my left hand, it has been knocked a lot. I may change over to my left wrist at some stage and wear instead of a watch but havenít done so as yet for consistency reasons. As you can see itís pretty banged up after less than a year of use; the screen is heavily scratched and the band has delaminated below the disply.
The first thing to say is that step counting is a pretty inaccurate measure and as far as I can see, all step counters are pretty poor at counting steps accurately. Doing the washing up, dancing, cycling; any activity where your arm moves suddenly in fact, adds steps to the total. Iíve heard of people using this to cheat which seems pretty pointless but thatís definitely possible. On the flip side, activities such as cycling on the turbo and gardening clock up very few steps as thereís infrequent acceleration or none at all. All my highest stepping days of 2016 have been century bike rides, each turn of the pedals counting as a step.
Floor counting is worse. Initially, I couldnít work out why a day at home gave me fewer floors climbed than a day at work. The answer was simple when I worked it out Ė at home I have a right handed flight of stairs and tend to put my hand on the bannister; this means no steady accelerations and hence little or no credit. At work, left hand stairs meant the fitbit worked as you would expect. I had a similar experience cycling. Hilly cycle routes clock up a lot of floors climbed but my day on the Tourmalet stands out as being much lower than other days of equivalent ascent; I put this down to the fact that my EIA meant that I took it very gently and hence the acceleration on each pedal stroke was too little to be recorded as ascent.
After reading that, you might wonder why have I found it helpful? I have two answers for this Ė firstly, if you consider steps as a proxy measurement for total activity, then itís not too bad. Secondly, the HR measurement gives a reasonably accurate measure of calories burnt.
The Charge HR optically senses capillary size, by measuring the relative amount of red and green on your skin. So as heart rate increases, higher blood flow is picked up by the sensor. I donít think itís great at picking up short term changes so I wouldnít recommend as a sports solution. However, Iíve had more problems with chest strap sensor accuracy than the fitbit and havenít used HR as a primary measure for sport for over 10 years as itís so unreliable. For use in calorie counting however, itís great. The only problem Iíve had is low HR on the turbo which turned out to be caused by the fan blowing cold air onto my wrist Ö doh!
Within a month, Iíd realised that calories burnt is the key metric to follow; this does pick up non accelerating activities (classed as Ďworkoutsí by the software).
I spent a little time correlating calories burnt against power meter data and was pleasantly surprised at how close they were. I deliberately didnít pursue further as there are so many other factors affecting calories burnt on the bike but thereís a clear correlation between the two.
The sleep measurement isnít something Iíve paid regular attention to, I guess it combines lack of steps and low heart rate to decide. Iíve certainly seen times where Iíve woken early and lain quietly in bed where the device has classed me as being asleep Ö however, given it has no intelligence, this is probably what youíd expect. Overall though, it does seem to be roughly correct and does pick up on Ďrestlessí sleep pretty well. I have used the data to identify that 7 hours seems like a good amount of sleep for me (simple qualitative review of feeling no better after much longer sleep and being more tired after a week of less sleep). Here the data helped by just being proper data. Realising that Iíd never been very disciplined about bedtimes, I have made an effort to ensure that I get 7 hours and I think thatís been worthwhile.
Calorie intake you have to enter yourself. I did this for a month in February and itís hard work; very easy to miss stuff and difficult to be accurate if you cook from fresh. Thereís a decent database of food items on the App but it leans towards processed food. For example, if I cook a chicken Balti, the only processed ingredient is the Balti paste; however, the database really only covers processed ready meals, meaning that I had to add each ingredient from scratch to work out total calories which is a pain and no doubt leads to other errors unless every item is meticulously weighed.
It was helpful to learn roughly how calorie dense various things are, not something Iíve ever done before and I have slightly modified my eating habits as a result. However, now that I know roughly how much I eat, I feel itís enough to judge this against calories burnt and actual weight.
So, given the number of issues, erroneous data etc., why have I found the Fitbit so helpful? Basically, itís made me aware of how active or inactive I am. In the days when I was clocking up 10-15 hours of exercise a week (if not more), this wasnít of any interest. Now that Iím a busy dad, with limited time to train, it means much more.
For the first time in my life, Iím able to judge whether Iím doing enough to keep weight on an even keel. I estimate that my normal day in 2015 burnt about 2300-2500 calories. This year, my average is above 3000 calories. Apart from being generally more motivated, the Fitbit nudges me towards being more active.
At first I started walking up stairs rather than using the lift, going for a walk at lunchtime and just generally being more active. Once we got into March I started cycling again and Iíve kept that up and enjoyed it all year. I think Henry getting older and more active has also helped.
In terms of weight, I started the year at 88kg (yuk!), was about 78-79kg after the Raid Pyrenean and have settled down at about 81kg since then. 80-81kg has been my Ďsteadyí weight since my peak exercise years so thatís fine and will no doubt drop as we move into next spring and I clock up more miles on the bike as things warm up.
One last thing to point out before a few graphs. The continuous nature of the Fitbit data is quite different to what Iíd consider to be coming from a sports watch. Itís very much about life in the round rather than just sporting activity. Basically, this is not a sports watch, itís a life watch.
First up letís look at resting heart rate. You can see your HR trend over every day and a breakdown of HR zones during that time which can be pretty helpful. For example, after the first day of the Raid Pyrenean I noticed that my HR had been higher when cycling than I wanted, up above 140 bpm for over 3 hours. I think this was down to me being well rested and also the very hot weather we had that day. I made a very clear decision to be more conservative Ė looking at the data, I spent the rest of the week working between 120-140 bpm. In this instance working to HR would have helped but given that I donít, the Fitbit gave me access to data which was actually pretty useful.
Iím not entirely sure about the science behind resting HR, my take is that itís a consistent number from day to day which gives me something to use as a comparative measure. The graph shows how this dropped from around about 57bpm until March, down to roughly 52-53 bpm until late September as I got fitter. Since then itís been a bit higher as Iíve had low level autumn lurgy of one form or another for a couple of months.
You can see two very obvious peaks around my two big cycling trips. This was somewhat unexpected and I think is simply over-reaching; the impact of multiple hard days without recovery.
Hereís the calories burnt graph. You can see how closely it correlates with bike rides; of course it would be much the same with other exercise. You can see clearly how my build-up in distance is reflected in energy usage and how this has dropped off as Iíve gone back to typically two weekly rides of 30-40 and 50-60 miles. My focus has moved to maintaining effort over flatter rides and this has also dropped the total calories compared to the spring where most rides were hilly. Itís also worth pointing at the difference between now and the start of the year. Iím still having plenty of 2500-2600 calorie days, but there are also lots of days above 3500 calories. This is where cycling works really well, the longer exercise time allows for more calories to be burnt, even if the cals/hour is lower than for running. So long as I can continue to find the time amongst other commitments, I think my weight and fitness should continue to improve.
The graph for steps is very similar in profile to the calories graph, as you might expect. However, the relationship between steps and calories burnt is not that great for all the reasons Iíve mentioned.
You can see that there are fewer low days and more high days since the start of the year but the overall profile basically shows when Iíve been cycling.
Finally, to remove the noise, Iíve graphed my weekly average calories burnt. This is now pretty much the only thing Iím tracking regularly, as I aim to maintain an average of 3000 calories burnt per day.
Since the start of April Iíve been above this every week apart from four; the weeks before and after my Raid, a week at the start of October where I was pretty active but didnít get time to exercise and last week when I was ill. Pretty happy with that.
I like my Fitbit, itís been a great addition to my life and Iíll certainly continue with it into 2017. I do wonder whether the battering itís taken will cause itís demise before 2017 is out but itís not showing signs of electronic wear, just physical bumps.
Things I would suggest you think about if considering getting one:
ē Calories burnt is the important number, a step counter without it is money wasted IMHO (i.e. get one which measures HR)
ē Great for recording life outside sport
ē Recording calorific intake is time consuming and inaccurate. However, worthwhile for a period of a month or so to learn how calorific different foods are and how to make sure your calorie consumption is sensible
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
Mon Aug 08, 2016 4:02 pm Cobbie
Focussing on cycling over the spring meant no time for anything else, being a dad definitely limits things in that regard. However, in the back of my mind I knew that Iíd have a couple of weeks to do at least some swimming after the Raid Pyrenean.
In the end I managed to do a couple of sets of 1500m (3 steady sets of 500) in the pool on two separate occasions as I recovered from the cycling. By not pushing too hard and not worrying about speed I was surprised at how well I was swimming after pretty much zero pool time in 2016.
With a week to go I had a decent 2km swim in the river with full-on angler anger Ė why do these people think they own the river? Then crap weather meant I did another 2km two days before the race, nothing like a bit of last minute cramming.
The Dee Mile has grown massively over the years, over 300 people started the 2km race last weekend. When I first did it, back in 2001, it was basically 50 odd triathletes dodging rowers and that was a big improvement on the days when wetsuits werenít allowed. Itís a funny thing but allowing wetsuits has led to far more non wetsuit swimmers, even before the boom in open water swimming of the past couple of years. I even did it non wetsuit once myself back in 2004.
Anyway, these days swimmers walk from the finish to the two starts (thereís a 1km race as well), all very civilised. Once in the water thereís loads of canoe cover and red and yellow buoys to mark both sides of the course. I swam hard and must have paced it reasonably well as I was still going strong on the final sprint to the finish.
Great shot of the business end of the race - massively foreshortened
Overall, finished in 60th position, just in the top 20% - times are largely irrelevant as the amount of current varies from year to year. That compares to 25th in a slightly smaller field (top 9%) two years ago when I was swimming regularly. At least I now know the value of more training!
All in all, a lovely outing on a beautiful July afternoon. Top efforts from all the canoeists, volunteers and organisers. For me this is what swimming is all about.
A short film of the start
Some general photos here:
From the Dee Mile facebook page
Dee Mile artwork
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016
100 hour Raid Pyrenean - July 2016
Sun Jul 17, 2016 3:14 pm Cobbie
At the start of 2016 I was the heaviest Iíve ever been and totally down about sport. I needed a challenge and a 3 day Chester Tri club ride in Scotland at the end of May seemed to provide it. 300 miles in 3 days would be hard for me at the best of times, let alone now, with no cycling for 2 years and pretty much nothing but swimming in 2015.
In the first couple of months of the year I became more active; going to the gym a bit, doing a small amount of running, some turboing but mainly walking more. Several kg had dropped off by the time I started taking the bike out as spring approached. Then, by a series of unexpected conversations, the Raid Pyrenean raised itself as a possibility and I signed up at the start of April; the Scotland trip had become an appetizer for the main event!
For those not familiar, the aim is to cycle from the Atlantic Coast to the Mediterranean, over the Pyrenees in under 100 elapsed hours. Here's the map:
My training was limited to 2/3 rides a week but went really well. I had some longer rides in all weather conditions and the Scotland trip was incredibly successful; great riding in unbelievably good weather. A final century with nearly 3000m of ascent 10 days prior to the Raid, plus a fast, flat 70 mile club ride left me feeling I was in decent enough shape. I was weighing in at 80kg, higher than I wanted but still 8kg down on the start of 2016, had done 3 century rides and 4 more 70-90 milers. Given the time available, I couldnít really have hoped for better.
Getting to the start from the north of England isnít simple. Iíd picked Marmot Tours for support and have nothing but good words to say about the support I got prior to leaving and from the two guides, Graham and Gary, during the trip. They recommended flying out to Bilbao and back from Barcelona which worked out OK. From Bilbao airport you get a bus to San Sebastian and then a train to Hendaye. The ticket office wouldnít sell me a ticket to France (they even made out that the train didnít go there!) so I paid about Ä2 to get to Irun on the Spanish side of the border and stayed on the train Ö integrated border crossing this was not. Graham gave me a lift to the hotel and I had a relaxed afternoon building the bike and getting ready with a light spin over to the beach for a snack. My aero set-up drew several surprised comments from the other 7 riders in the group; I pointed out that this was the only bike Iíve got but Iím not sure that really registered with some, nor the fact that Iíve been up and down an awful lot of hills over the years. Such is life.
Day 1 Ė Hendaye to Lurbe St. Christau
101 miles, 2200m ascent
A generally uphill day with a couple of small cols. We pedalled gently over to the official start at the coast, with obligatory photos in the Atlantic before the official start at 9am.
Rolling out of Hendaye up the first hill, I found myself 5th of 8 but only Mark was pulling away from the rest; he basically did his own thing all week in a cheerful way, easily the strongest cyclist. After 40km we stopped for coffee and I teamed up with Neal who was just ahead of me for the bulk of the day. The scenery was unremarkable but we rode through many very pretty, small villages. It got very hot and humid by the afternoon and the ascent of the 500m Col DíOsquich I found tough Ė it was in the trees and full sun so I sweated my way up to land at the top in an undignified heap. Thankfully, this was forecast to be the hottest and most humid day of the week.
Our hotel was in the middle of nowhere but had a pool so I dipped my legs in as recovery and got an early night after a good evening meal.
Day 2 Ė Lurbe to Bagnerres
90 miles, 3600m ascent
This looked to be the biggest day of the Raid, with both Aubisque and Tourmalet to climb. It was cold and misty setting off, downhill at first, then gradually uphill to the foot of the Aubisque at 30km. Weíd been following brown ďRoute du FromageĒ signs up to now, from here on it would be much more up and down.
I realised very quickly that Iíd forgotten to take my asthma inhaler but the cool weather meant it wasnít a problem and I thought Iíd just grab it at the first stop after 30K; of course I forgot which had a big impact in the afternoon. I set off up the Aubisque, knowing Iíd be steady at best and I took regular stops whenever the view looked good enough for a photo. I met an Australian about half way who was cycling up after having had both knees replaced Ė chapeau Ė and after some while emerged without drama at the summit restaurant for my second omelette & frites in two days. I was second last at the top but it was clear that one of the team had been pretty freaked out; heíd been grumbling when passing me just before the summit and then complained of having reflux problems over lunch. I suspect the scale of challenge got to him as he pulled out at this point; hopefully some more training will give him the confidence to try again.
It was still very misty for the descent so it was on with the arm warmers and jacket (my old emergency fell running jacket in fact) for a short descent and climb to the subsidiary col du Soulor. I had to walk up a small rise to get my bike against the sign here which lodged some mud in my cleats so I did the main descent with my left shoe unclipped. I stopped at the first village and removed my jacket, whilst digging out mud from my cleat with the arm of my sunglasses. We were due to meet the van at 80km at an animal park but having arrived at the summit a little later than the others I didnít appreciate that I might need more detailed instructions. By the time I realised Iíd missed the stop, I was at the bottom of the Gorges de Luz so I pedalled up to Luz St Saveur where I met Graham and bought a cake and a coke.
By the time the rest of the team rolled in, I was nearly ready to go. My Symbicort was now on its way to the hotel so I made do with Ventolin which I only use for emergencies these days; its effect doesnít last long and tends to make me feel worse once it wears off. There was a certain sense of foreboding as I set off as it was now very hot and humid, the worst weather for my asthma symptoms as well as for sporting performance. I stopped every km or so depending on shade to drink, take a photo, squeeze sweat from my helmet and generally count down the kms to the climb being over! The Tourmalet might be famous but itís not a very nice climb, for me the least good of the big climbs on this trip. At least an occasional breeze sprang up as I got higher and near the top we moved once again into the mist. Support from Graham and Gary was great and I managed to keep smiling, at least until the last km which kicks up to 10% average. I was barely moving by the top but eventually I rounded the final bend to see the famous sculpture and get some very atmospheric photos. There was no point in hanging around, just get my carnet stamp, wrap up warm and set off carefully down.
With visibility down to about 50m it meant brakes on for a large part of the descent; at one point I stopped in order to put my Garmin onto map view so that I knew roughly when bends were coming up. Gradually visibility improved and I was able to speed up, until a left turn at St Marie de Campan where we headed away from the Raid route for 10km to reach a modern hotel. Iíd been on the go for about 11 hours, 8:45 riding time for 90 miles. A blast of Symbicort showed my lungs to be well down on normal capacity which was worrying but I was hopeful of an overnight recovery and decided to ride with the inhaler for the rest of the trip.
Day 3 Ė Bagnerres to Massat
108 miles, 3200m ascent
As hoped, I felt much better in the morning, although my legs were a little tired, to be expected of course. I gave the bike a quick hose down following the wet roads of the day before and set off a little before 8, ahead of the others who I knew would catch me. There were 3 big climbs to do, the Aspin & Peyresourde back to back in the morning, followed by the steep Col du Portet díAspet after 70 miles.
It was grey all the way up the Aspin, which was a lovely steady climb. My breathing was back to normal so I was a very happy Cobbie and the team descended in a loose group.
At the bottom, I pushed on up the lower slopes of the Peyresourde where the sun broke through to give me my best photos to date. This was another lovely climb, busy with other cyclists and with a great view to the col in the last 2km. We reached the top to find the Tour setting up for the finish that Froome won 2 days later and I had yet another Omlette / Frites for lunch in lovely sunshine.
Then the best descent of the trip, fast and open to an excellent road at the bottom with lovely views to mountains ahead. We had to negotiate the small Col díAres (800m) which was memorable because of roadworks which we had to dismount for, the hot tarmac sticking to my tyres. At the top there was a cafť where it was ice cream and coke all round. By now the weather was warm but not too humid, as good as I could hope for. I found out here that Doug had abandoned Ė heíd crashed badly on the Peyresourde in 2015 and having descended successfully today and banished his demons, decided to stop. This meant I was likely to be lantern rouge on the climbs, not that I minded.
10km of riding from the descent of the Ares and we reached the Portet díAspet which Iíd been psyching up for all day as it contains sections of 14%. The average gradient was 10%; basically the ramps round the bends are very steep with the straight sections around 8%. I passed the monument to Casartelli low down Ė Iím sorry to say I was so focussed on cycling that it barely registered. Then it was just a case of pedalling steadily, out of the saddle on the steep ramps and with the occasional stop to take on water and squeeze sweat from my helmet. In the end it wasnít as hard as I expected and with only 5 steep km, nowhere near as tough as the Tourmalet and I wasnít even last as Michael dropped behind me. Thereís a sheltered horse trough at the top which I guess must be famous in these parts; some of the guys dunked themselves but I was fine so just had some fruit and a drink.
The climbing was now done for the day but we still had 60km to go. The first 30km was downhill and Michael surprised me by coming past after the descent, going like a train and way too fast for me to keep up. I wondered about the sense in that but presumed he knew his body well enough. Anyway, I was going fast enough for little effort so just settled down on the bars and enjoyed the views.
With 30km to go (145km) we stopped at a cafť in St. Girons to get our carnets stamped and a bottle of coke. We were all knackered and a couple of the team had a beer. I was feeling very frazzled and not looking forward to 30km more, gently uphill. It was really tough, I was too tired to keep up so had to plough on alone along what would have been an easy road at the start of the day. Most was along a wooded gorge, quite pretty probably! Finally I reached Massat and nearly had to stop on a tiny incline into the village. Our hotel was beautifully situated with a large veranda for beers and later a huge beef bourginon. One more hard day to go I thought as I drifted off to sleep.
Day 4 Ė Massat to Prades
90 miles, 3400m ascent
For all the accumulated weariness, I felt better again today. The weather looked set fair and once again I set off a bit before the others, through the village and straight onto the Col du Port. This is a lovely climb, averaging 5-6% for 10km, then dropping off for the last 2-3km. It was misty low down, then I broke through above the cloud and near the top had views of distant mountains.
After a quick stop at the van, I headed off as the others were arriving. After the descent, itís gradually uphill on a busy road to Ax-les-Thermes where we stopped at a cafť for a bite and to buy a sandwich & drink for a picnic atop the upcoming Col du Pailheres. We were joined by Gary the guideís wife in a camper van (they run a B&B in Ax) and she provided added support on what I think was the toughest climb of the Raid. Thereís a few steepish bits low down but lots of shade, followed by a couple of easier km. After that however, itís 10km of mostly 9-10% and very open; thankfully it wasnít humid. As previously, I took it nice and steady, stopping for a drink regularly and gradually whittling down the miles. After passing a small lake and ski station, thereís a series of hairpins before a long drag up to the col which seemed to be doubling as a horse sanctury. I was still smiling at the top, some way behind the front 4 whoíd already polished off their lunch under the camper van awning. Michael was still climbing so his friend Richard rode back down for company, a nice move.
One sandwich later and I was raring to go again; the descent is long and very twisty, hairpin after hairpin before some intricate route finding and then straight into the final 3 cols of the trip. I had these to myself for the most part and they were very pretty, with more flowers and a different feel to the air. Crossing the watershed at the Pailheres had brought a Mediterranean feel to the Raid and at mostly 5-6%, the next two cols were very enjoyable.
The Col des Moulis is actually a subsidiary of the higher Col du Garavel but at 1100m still worthy of the name. Itís only a short descent before the higher climb which has a lovely summit and tricky descent through a gorge. Then itís a straight into the Col du Jau, the final major col and at 600+m of climbing, no pushover. There are sections of 8-9% but it never felt that hard, which probably means I was getting used to it. Itís mostly in the trees, which was helpful in the heat of the afternoon and it was very noticeable how much tougher things got on the few occasions when the road moved out of the shade. I had a real sense of achievement at the summit, this was easily my toughest cycling challenge and barring accidents, it was in the bag.
We still had a very long descent to get to the hotel, however, so concentration was needed, especially as there was fresh gravel on some of the bends. It was narrow and technical for the most part and quite bumpy, not what I needed after another long day. The views were fantastic though, we passed through a beautiful village and then a fortified one which I should have captured on film but the road was very steep and twisty which meant I just took it in as I passed.
After that I was practically down, just some intricate route finding on the outskirts of Prades before reaching the hotel where the proprietor handed me a glass of sangria on arrival. That evening was very relaxed, we knew all the really hard work was over.
Day 5 Ė Prades to Cerbere
59 miles, 600m ascent
It was a wet start and for me, some disappointment as Michael decided he wanted to ďsmash itĒ to the coast, meaning that the vague agreement to stay as a group today failed before it began; such is life. I pedalled off but only made it 1 mile before stopping to get my rainproof off, Pyrenean rain is a lot warmer than Welsh rain! The riding was gently downhill, first on the main road to Perpignan, then back to quieter, more scenic countryside. I passed the Col du Ternere (233m! but someone was proud enough to put up a sign) and was going strongly before disaster struck in the form of a puncture going through a small village. You have to ride the final 95km before 1pm to complete the Raid in under 100 hours so the margin for error is small. I used all my Andy Wilkinson knowhow and got the tyre off without levers for the first time ever, at the same time calling Gary in the van whoíd only just passed me Ė I had a CO2 canister but a track pump is much more reliable. I couldnít find anything on the tyre so forced myself to carefully check again, still nothing so back on with the new tube, again no levers needed and Gary returned just in time to use the pump. He then stayed behind me for a couple of miles to check all was OK which I was grateful for and once again I started to relax. I was maintaining 30kmh and even with my most pessimistic projections I had 3Ĺ hours to do 60km, under 20km per hour.
The route follows a couple of ring roads round small towns and the sun came out as I approached the coast. I was confident enough now to stop for a couple of minutes to eat a cereal bar in a lay-by where there was a lovely view over fields to distant mountains before hitting the first coastal town and mad traffic / pedestrians. It was still pretty fast to the resort town of Argeles where the traffic was snarled up behind a furniture van; I ended up on the cycle path dodging beach balls for a bit here! The next section got a bit complicated and saw the only real error with the Garmin route, both Mark and I heading separately up a steep little hill instead of skirting round through a port road. I remember thinking I could almost certainly carry on to re-join the route but bottled it and went back, there might be no immediate time pressure but it wouldnít take much to change that.
The final section along the coast involved a couple of stiff little climbs and was lovely in a very different way to all that had gone before; twisty roads contouring the coastline. Mark overtook me with about 5 miles to go, still pedalling effortlessly and I upped my own power to keep him in sight round a couple of headlands and then onto the final descent into CerbŤre and the finish line at our hotel at about 12:20. The Marmot crew had set up a finish line banner and we got our photo taken before getting the final stamp and official recognition that weíd joined the 100 hour club. Graham poured us a glass of champagne and I sat down feeling very content. Neal and Alex rolled in at about 12:30 and Richard and Michael with about 15 minutes left, with Michael clearly exhausted Ė theyíd stopped for coffee which allowed me to overtake without realising.
I had a steak for lunch and a couple of grande pressions before packing up the bike and watching Froome win over the Peyresourde, more special having pedalled over it myself. We had a final group meal, a huge paella and Michael told me that when he saw my bike before we started, he thought there was no way Iíd finish. I suppose it was a backhanded compliment of sorts but given itís a high quality road bike, just with different handlebars, I was left bemused as to why heíd think that. Rather than get annoyed, I bought him a beer.
Next morning, I had a very early start at 6am to start the journey home. Gary gave me a life across the border to Portbou to avoid the challenge of crossing the Ďopení border on a train. It turned out to be a relatively easy trip, just a change of train in Barcelona to get to the airport and a flight back to Manchester.
Overall, the trip distance is 450 miles / 720km with 13,000m of climbing in 4.5 days. A week later Iím still buzzing about it so it looks like this type of thing might be my sporting future for a while, letís see.
Almost back to being an athlete in 2016