Cycling abroad

Have you ever cycled abroad?  Interested to do so?  Not sure where to start?  I have seen many posts recently about cycling holidays and training camps and ended up in a discussion with some on Instagram about a recent trip I had to Sweden and got on to the subject of other countries I had been to, which prompted this post.

My husband does triathlon and this often means travel abroad with bikes.  There is a lot involved with a trip for something like this so with registration, race briefing, practice swim, shake out run I often take my bike and use the time to cycle.  So I thought I would do a round up of where I have been.

  • Dubai – very busy main roads in the city centre itself near the Jumeirah beach area (with some places actually illegal to cycle) we got a cab about 30 minutes out to visit the Al Qudra Cycle Track.  I didn’t actually take my bike on this trip but at the start of the track there is a Trek hire bike shop so a quick stop and we were on our way though advance booking of 72 hours is recommended.  The track is 86km in total though you can do just part of it and don’t have to ride the whole thing – there are options of a 50km loop from the Trek store, you can add a 20-30km extension or do a 16km out and back.  We were there in January and it was hot, as expected, but there are sporadic shelter stops – not cafes but areas that you can stop should you need to.  Some of the track is like a false flat but otherwise it is flat. The scenery is pretty much just desert but the dedicated track is such an awesome thing to have and is popular with many cyclists and you may even see some camels as you ride, which is not uncommon!

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  • Austria – we drove (I won’t be doing that again – was very long!) as this was for my husbands IronMan in Klagenfurt near Lake Worthersee that is pretty much not that close to any one airport.  Although people think this is flat (I have heard many comments on this) bear in mind there are a lot of ski resorts which means hills and sometimes mountains.  It is absolutely stunning though, jaw droppingly beautiful and somewhere I would return in an instant.

France – we got the ferry which meant no dismantling and rebuilding of bikes which was a welcome change.  I cycled in Chantilly and it was relatively flat with some undulating sections.  Gorgeous scenery and so many chateaus that we passed.  A number of streets with cobbled sections, especially in the middle of the road which mean care had to be taken on corners.  I am sure most people head to France for the hills, which I cannot comment on as I have no personal experience but cycling in this area was beautiful.

Sweden –  possibly my favourite so far.  I have done the Vatternrundan, that leaves from Motala, twice now and this year also the Tjejvattern and Halvvattern, which you can read about here.  I also took part in the Ironman Jonkoping 70.3 this year.  Sweden has a huge cycling culture.  Another interesting fact about Sweden is that approximately two thirds of Sweden’s land area is covered by forest and there are so many lakes too so wherever you cycle you are likely to be greeted by gorgeous countryside views and landscapes.  My experience here is mostly flat, some undulating parts and one mountain but that is just my experience.

Lanzarote – my experience here has been training camp at Club La Santa with Havering Tri, which you can read a bit more about here.  It is hilly! And windy – wind like I have never experienced before.  Always tough riding but feel so much stronger when I return home (though tired too).

If you are looking at a cycling holiday I would advise the following:

  • What sort of riding are you intending to do; road, mountain biking, touring/bike packing and then plan accordingly as different locations may be better for one or the other.
  • Do you need to hire a bike?  If so research local rental shops and book in advance knowing if you need/want to take your own items for example if I was hiring a bike I would take my own pedals and helmet.
  • Are you going for an event – this is often easier as the location/date/time/distance etc is set for you.
  • What sort of training are you looking to do; routes that are flat or hilly and pick a location accordingly ie I wouldn’t advise Lanzarote if you are looking for flat routes.  You may also wish to change your bike set up if going to a climbing destination for a cassette with an easier gear ratio more suitable for hill work.
  • It sounds silly to train for a training camp or cycling holiday but in my opinion, given my experience, if I were to go somewhere hilly I would train on hills in advance to ensure I got the most out of the trip and the routes available.  Also a cycling holiday or training camp more often than not involves long days and back to back days in the saddle that you may not be used to so the more training in advance the more pleasurable your experience will be.
  • Research what routes are recommended.  Some rental shops will help with this and there are often routes online or once again from others who recommend or have personally tried them – we have shared our routes in Lanzarote before.  This is especially important if you are cycling self guided and not with a group.  Once you know your routes you can plan your trip accordingly for example you wouldn’t start your cycling trip with the hardest route on the first day.
  • Get advice from people who have been to the destination beforehand as personal experience and recommendations are invaluable.
  • Insurance is important and you will need to make sure you are covered if you have an accident as cycling abroad can be classified by some providers as an extreme sport and cover needs to be adequate for your needs.
  • Kit is key depending on destination.  You don’t want to pack for every occasion but weather can change so being prepared with the essentials will help.  Even when I have been to sunny destinations for cycling I have taken a gillet and arm warmers for example in case it is windy or there is a shower – you’d be surprised how cold you can get after some rain and it can affect the remainder of your ride.
  • Nutrition is good to plan – what will you take and what will you buy on arrival.  Is there anywhere to buy nutrition?  If a hot country you wouldn’t necessarily pack something that could melt when having a long day in the saddle.  But do plan especially if you are having long days in the saddle or climbing a hydration and fuelling will be key.

If you travel with your bike like me then investing in a good bike box is key and I love my Bike Box Alan, which although not cheap are worth every penny and if you travel regularly it is worth the cost as it pays for itself after a few trips rather than paying for hiring all the time.  I wrote a blog post on travelling with a bike you can read here.

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I welcome any recommendations of places I should add to my list too – nothing better than a personal recommendation to go by!

Where to Ride For Cake in Essex

Why do you ride?  Earlier in the year as part of the British Cycling campaign One In A Million, a campaign trying to get one million more women on bikes by 2020, I shared a number of stories from inspiring ladies I knew who cycled.  Whilst doing this I got to understand the main reasons why some of them cycled.  The three main reasons that kept coming up were the sense of freedom, personal challenge and the social aspect and I think it is safe to say this is not just limited to women either!

When looking at the social aspect I could relate to this personally.  I like to ride with others, I enjoy being part of a club and I, like many others, am more than happy to ride for cake!

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I am based in Hornchurch in Essex and so my rides are all to destinations I can get to from close to home and I thought I would share some of my favourites:

  • Blue Egg – Great Bardfield – this is super popular with cyclists in the area and the place itself is made up of several different companies but the cafe is Knead Food.  The route I have for this ride is around a 90 mile round trip and a stop here could be breakfast, lunch, snack or cake.  The full English is fab and I can recommend the carrot cake  and the quiche too.  Sadly closed on bank holidays.

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  • Andrewsfield Airfield – Great Dunmow – not too far from the Blue Egg (is actually about 2 miles on the route I take).  They do a nice breakfast and also lunches and main meals.  Take cash though as they do not accept card payments.
  • Bakehouse – Chelmsford – this is a regular stop for many cyclists in the area.  There is also one in Maldon though I have not yet been there.  Again this is a popular stop for cyclists especially in summer months.  Both indoor seating and a pretty courtyard to seat in too with lots of bike racking available.  I can recommend all the food – been her for breakfasts, lunches, cakes and more!
  • Blackmore Tea Rooms – Blackmore – this is another regular stop and another popular choice with many a local cycle club.  It is not that far from the Bakehouse.   Really lovely scones, cream and jam.

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  • Tiptree Tea Rooms – Tiptree – famous for their jams and really tasty homemade cakes.  They also sell mini bottles of tiptree gin (not for when riding obviously but small enough to fit in a cycle jersey!).
  • Paper Mill Lock – Little Baddow – the tea rooms are on the canal and popular in the summer with lots of outdoor seating.  And after you have eaten you then have the delight of North Hill to cycle up!

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  • The Snug – High Easter – really tasty freshly baked cakes and super friendly staff.
  • The Booking Hall – Rayne – great red velvet cake!  Such a quirky little place that used to be an old train station.  Lots of bike racks here too as it is another popular choice with cyclists.
  • Hanningfield Cafe on the Water – Hanningfield – it is as the name suggests with the cafe overlooking the reservoir.  Lots of bike parking and large area on the decking to sit and eat.
  • Hall & Co – Ramsden Heath – the first time I visited here I cycled round the back to the garden area and it was full of pink, black and grey as the Rapha club had cycled out to here.  Food is always great and staff are brilliant.  Freshly made cakes and yes in the picture that is a cadbury cream egg, wrapped in chocolate cake and dipped in chocolate – need I say more?

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  • Butts Green Garden Centre – Chelmsford – found this little gem when on an organised Specialized ride and honestly I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of stopping at a garden centre and yet they have the best cafes, just like this one!
  • Nerissa & Claires – Ongar – great hot chocolate!
  • Norton Heath Cafe – Norton Heath – delicious all day breakfast though limited where to leave bikes.
  • Peterboat – Leigh on Sea – note a cafe but a pub that has become a firm favourite especially after the London to Southend bike ride.  Loads of seating outside with plenty of space to leave bikes and a huge menu.
  • Liana’s Tea Shop – Hornchurch – this is a little gem I discovered only recently, recommended by some friends.  It is not far from where I live so tends to be a stop at the end of a ride and something nice to look forward to.  All the cakes are home made and the flavours differ from one week to the next.  I am a sucker for nice china and a teapot and this place did not disappoint.  Very welcoming and as it is in the courtyard on Langtons there is ample space to leave bikes too, with seating both outside and indoors.

Happy cycling and if you know of anywhere else I should visit on my cycles please let me know.

How I am dealing with a knee injury

Are you a good patient?  I am not normally ill and (touch wood) don’t generally suffer from injuries but since an injury a couple of years ago in my left knee, every time I feel a niggle I panic.

I was taking part in the Birmingham Velo 100 mile bike ride in 2017 and very shortly into the ride, with a lot of pain, I was on the floor and out of the event.  You can read more about that here.  But the long and short of it was I had displaced my kneecap, torn my medial collateral ligament and had crepitus – not the most fun news to hear after my scans but could have been worse.

This year for me has all been about the bike and heading toward the middle of the year the niggles got worse to the point that on a ride about a month or so ago I had to get off and after having a little moment carried on but a lot steadier.

So whats the deal?  Well I am seeing an amazing sports therapist and he thinks I have bursitis and chrondomalacia.  Bursitis is  a painful condition that affects the joints – bursae are fluid-filled sacs that act as a cushion between bones, tendons, joints, and muscles – when these sacs become inflamed it is called bursitis.  Chrondomalacia patellae, also known as “runner’s knee,” is a condition where the cartilage on the under surface of the patella (kneecap) deteriorates and softens.  I am yet to have a scan on it but will do if only to confirm what he thinks and find out how bad and if there is anything else I should know.

I have been having regular ultrasounds on the knee, acupuncture and getting it strapped and it is helping but it is still not right.

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When swimming I do breast stroke and the nature of the movement would not be good for my knee so I am avoiding that and I had intended to start a run/walk programme but was advised against that.

So I’ve rested and been icing it every day too.

My training was quite full on so to go from training 6 days out of 7 to nothing was frustrating.  I started on the bike when I had the go ahead to do so with an easy flat ride whilst taped up and again that did not feel right so I went back to resting again.

I didn’t like it and was super grumpy about it.

But there was work I could do and so I  added to my home gym a new gym ball and a step.  I started with exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee and my glutes, which control the movement of the knee.  These include:

  • Clamshell exercise: lay on your uninjured side with your hips and knees bent and feet together. Slowly raise your top leg toward the ceiling while keeping your heels touching each other. Hold for 2 seconds and lower slowly.
  • Straight leg raise: lay on your back, bend one knee and place your foot flat on the floor. With the other leg remaining straight, raise it to the height of the opposite knee.
  • Side leg raise: lay on your side. Bend your bottom leg for support, straighten the top leg and raise it to 45 degrees. Hold for 5 seconds, lower and relax.
  • Step ups: place one foot on a step bench, keeping your pelvis level, bend your knee and slowly lower the opposite foot to the floor. Lightly touch your toe to the floor, then rise back up.
  • Glute bridge: lay on your back with your feet on the floor and the knees forming a 90 degree angle. Now press yourself up into the bridge position by contracting your glute hard. There should be a straight line from your upper body to your knees.
  • Banded walks: loop a resistance band around the bottom of your feet, squat down slightly and walk sideways.
  • Bear squat: start in downward facing dog keeping your heels on the floor, sit back on your heels keeping your hands on the ground.  Move back into the starting position by completely extending your legs and putting your heels back on the floor.
  • Squat hip rotations: stand with feet slightly wider than hip width, squat down with feet flat on the ground and bum not quite touching the floor.  Rotate one leg outward, going up on the outer ridge of that foot.  Pause for a moment and go back to the starting position.  Rotate the same leg inwards until the knee touches the ground next to the other foot.  Pause, go back to neutral and repeat with the other leg.

In addition to the above regular stretching and yoga.  I will also look at some easy leg spinner sessions on the turbo trainer and have been on some steady rides outside.

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I fully planned on being on the start line of the RideLondon 46 miler the weekend before last, even though I needed to be sensible and adapted my ride to take it easier.  (I have done the 100 mile several times so it was nice after my main events to do the shorter route for the first time).  It didn’t go totally to plan as I reapplied my tape on my knee myself the day before and clearly I am useless at it as it peeled off about 4 miles in!  I also stood up as I went over a speed bump and the impact on my knee was rather painful.  However, I finished the ride and all good.

I am now doing HIIT and strength training, which may sound crazy but again I am being sensible and I am doing all the modifications necessary and aside from being tough its all good.

Injuries take time and aside from the exercises to get stronger I also need to find some patience from somewhere!

And what is that smell you ask?  Jointace!  I constantly smell of jointace now ha ha

 

Ride London 46 Review

I have taken part in the Ride London 100 mile event four times previously and if I am honest I was gutted not to be doing it again this year, however, with my ongoing knee issue I think this was actually a blessing.

I did get a place in the 46 mile event and thought well why not – something new, minus the hills, easier on my knee and I still get to finish and celebrate with my fellow Romford CC club friends.

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One thing about the 100 miler is that depending on what start time you get it is more than likely to be an early start – one year I went off a little after 6am and had to be up at 4am.  You are assigned a wave and colour and this determines what start pen you load.  Each wave has a load start and finish time and this is an hour or so before your actually start time so there is some waiting around.  The same process is followed for the 46 miler and I was in my pen for 8am and not setting off until 9:16am.  All things considered a lay in compared to my friends doing the longer route!

I found this review hard as I have done the longer both when the shorter was not on offer and when it was and there is noticeable congestion when the routes merge.  This year I was on the shorter route and saw it from the other side than I previously have and it was like suddenly there were cyclists everywhere at the merge point as there are more on the 100 mile route than the 46.  There was also a 19 mile route on offer though I didn’t see any riders from that but it was congested and I was lucky to finish without having to walk over the finish line as I saw many do a little while later.

The route goes out through Richmond park following the same as the 100 miler but instead of going to the Surrey Hills it heads back into London and again meets the longer route again.

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So what did I think?  The route was lovely and it is fast.  There was a wave that set off before me that had some obvious non-cyclists in it.  I have no issue with this and I don’t want to come across as a cycling snob but there appeared to be a lot of people who were not aware of any sort of cycling etiquette and this is dangerous for all involved.

I actually had an argument with a man in Richmond Park who was dangerously moving across the path.  The general rule is stay to the left, overtake on the right, be vocal and considerate of other cyclists and road users and let them know of your intentions ie shout out ‘on your right’ as you overtake (not in an aggressive way obviously).  This gentleman thought I just wanted to overtake and go faster than him so I tried to explain but he was not happy and thought these were my rules.  I explained this was common cycling etiquette and follows standard rules from the Highway Code to which he told me he didn’t need to as he was on a push bike.  I despair at this!  Yes it was a closed road event but if you are a road user, in any capacity, you follow the highway code and this applies to cyclists and not just cars!

My other bone of contention is with the Rider Safety Captains from Continental.  This initiative is to have pairs of riders on the course at different intervals to assist other riders.  This does not mean you have been given a jersey and a whistle and are a pro rider for the day shouting, whistling and racing in pelotons.   I am sure many took this role seriously, as it was intended and were a huge help to others, but it would be interesting to have chip times checked and see the obvious ones who possibly selfishly took a place with the wrong intentions!  I saw a lot of this as did many others on the course.

I was also stopped seven times to allow pedestrians to cross.  Perhaps I was unfortunate but that seemed a lot for a 46 mile ride on closed roads.  It was also dangerous as volunteers suddenly walked across with ropes to allow people to cross as you are approaching at speed.

The finish this year went past the horse guard which is new and then joined The Mall.  Short ride up to get your medal and you are done.  Was also lovely to be there to then cheer on friends.

The atmosphere is fab and I had a blast.  I realise I have a few gripes here but overall I would recommend.  There are logistic issues and I have no suggestions short of changing the schedule to overcome this and that comes at a huge expense so probably unrealistic.

There were issues on the day with crashes, delays and lack of medals but I didn’t experience any of that so can’t comment.  I also didn’t use any of the rest stops so can’t comment on those either.

Ride 46 done!

Specialized Tarmac Pro Review

If you follow me on my social media you will have noticed that earlier this year I got a new bike.  It was a little bittersweet as it was a necessity following my previous bike being written off after being hit by another cyclist and the carbon frame cracking.  This would be my fourth bike since I got into cycling four years ago.

My first bike was a Trek Lexa and is now by commute bike.  My second bike was a State Bicycle single speed, which I still have.  My third bike (the one that got written off) was a Trek Silque SL.  My husband is a huge Trek fan and this was where I started and I loved those bikes.  They were comfortable and saw me complete many personal challenges and cycling events and whilst I loved Trek I was not stuck on one particular bike manufacturer.

I am a road cyclist so that was what I was looking for – a new road bike.  I had an amount I wanted to spend in mind and I wanted something comparable or better than what I had previously.  Unfortunately the Trek I was looking at was a Madone 9 and was out of my budget and didn’t give me enough bike for my money.

I had looked at some Canyon’s I liked but as there is no physical shop I wasn’t comfortable to pursue this further without trying it and seeing it for myself.  Then when on a Specialized ride with my friend Laura, we returned to the concept store in Chelmsford and I started window shopping.  This was how I came to decide on the Tarmac Pro.  I didn’t actually get it from Specialized, I ended up getting it from Cycle Surgery in Romford and I got a bargain for the price!  It was a custom order for someone who didn’t return and so became this bike I would casually return to the shop for other things and check it was still there.

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I am not too proud to admit one of the first things I was drawn to was the Specialized bright pink decals (I am a sucker for anything pink – I know not all women are but I am just speaking for myself) and the paint job on the frame that changed from green to purple to blue to pink with flecks of glitter making it shimmer.  I am not saying this is how you should pick a bike but when it looks pretty and is attractive to you it is a good start!

I had checked the spec with my husband and to begin with he thought I had got it wrong as I was getting a lot of bike for my money.  A lot of bike!

Groupset – my previous bike had Shimano Ultegra Di2 and so this was something I was looking for on my new bike.  Di2 is electronic gearing and as I had moved from my first bike with mechanical gearing to second with Di2 I had experienced the ease of use, and more smooth and efficient gear changes and I wanted to stick with what I knew and the tarmac had this.  In fact it had an upgraded version the Shimano Ultegra r8050 Di2.

Wheels – well they are generally the first thing most cyclists will upgrade on a bike and so I wanted to make sure that I either got a bike I could use my Fulcrum Zero wheels on or that had better wheels and I was in luck!  The tarmac came with Rovals – CL50 Rapide to be precise.  These would be my first deep rim wheels and with my first trip being to Lanzarote (the windy island) I was a little nervous that deep rims and wind don’t mix but I survived (with a few melt downs).

Frame – the tarmac has a carbon frame, which was what I was looking for.  Carbon frames are typically lighter in weight and I personally found a huge difference in the ride quality from an aluminium bike compared to a carbon bike.  It was also my size.  I was a 54cm frame on my Trek bikes and I was measured for the Specialized bike and the same size fit in fact when I had a bike fit very little needed to be changed just some tweaks on the handlebar and seat height and positioning.

Technically my tarmac is a men’s bike, however, it is important to note that whilst there are many male and female specific bikes (my Trek Silque was one of them) that the design of these are intended to cater for the difference in body sizes.  The potential flaw in this?  We all come in different shapes and sizes whether we are male or female.  Experts may have found that most women have longer legs and shorter torsos but that will not apply to all.  This is just my opinion and so whatever bike I got I wanted to try.  So despite the fact that Specialized have recently adopted a process that tackles shared geometry for performance bikes like the tarmac I still tried it and was still intending to get a bike fit.

My biggest question was looking at what events I had planned for the year and would the tarmac be the right bike for it?  You can get MTBs, hybrids, road bikes, endurance bikes, time trial bikes and the list goes on.  One of my main concerns was that the tarmac bike is known to be a climbing bike.  I am not a climber.  I don’t naturally seek out events or ride with a huge amount of climbing so was this the right bike for me?  In fact my biggest ride was 186 miles at the Vatternrundan in Sweden so I could argue that I should have been looking at a specific endurance bike.  I read reviews and decided on the tarmac pro and I can hands down say it was so comfortable on all of my events.

I have since upgraded a few things:

  • saddle to the Specialized Mimic female specific saddle – getting the right saddle is so important for me for comfort!
  • new cassette and chain – purely for asthetics as it is the same oil slick colouring as the bottle cages and stem cap that I got from Supacaz
  • new bar tape – again purely for asthetics that I got from Supacaz
  • pedals – not technically an upgrade but kind of essential for the bike use and again I went with what I knew and stuck with Shimano SPD-SL pedals
  • new handlebars – I upgraded these based on a recommendation to Specialized Aerofly II handlebars

Any negatives?  Yes I would say I am an average cyclist as in I am not the slowest but I am not the fastest and I am still getting used to the bike and wheels which at times feel a little quick for me and so I am trying not to break too much when not necessary.  I also found that the wheels made climbing feel a little harder but that could just be me not being the best climbing.

So what do I think of the Specialized Tarmac Pro?  I bloody love it!  Would I recommend it?  Absolutely!  I got this bike in January of this year and I have done over 3,000 miles on it including rides that are social, training, racing, sportives and an endurance event as mentioned earlier so a wide variety.

Don’t Be Shit – Ironman Jonkoping 70.3 Relay

I have just returned from another trip to Sweden for another event. Another bike event but as part of a relay in the Ironman Jonkoping 70.3 triathlon as part of a relay team with my amazing friend Gemma.

Gemma is a fantastic runner and I cycle and so when our other halves, Brett and Marios, signed up for this triathlon we figured why not team up and do it too but as a relay team. This saw the creation of team Don’t Be Shit. The saying don’t be shit is something we say at events to lighten the mood as a joke to friends we are supporting.

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So who was going to be our swimmer? Well Gemma decided that after completing her Abbot World Marathon Major series that this would be her new challenge and she’s trained so hard for it too. I have so much admiration for her for doing this and admit it didn’t even come into my mind to do the same or even offer to take on that discipline!

We arrived in Gothenburg and after a drive (about 1 hour 20 minutes) we were checked in and went straight to register, meeting up with other team mates from Havering Tri who were also taking part in the event. We were laughing as they’d printed our team name on our participant bands and also our numbers – brilliant! This was followed by the Tri club parade through the town with a brilliant atmosphere.

After bikes being built and test rides were done we had a wander round town and checked the swim start and transition area. Bike racking took place in a downpour of rain and a lot of hoping that race day wouldn’t have the same weather!

On race day it was a late start at 9am so not the usual 4/4:30am alarm, which was nice and everything seemed calm despite nerves and weather looked like it would be dry until late afternoon so I was hopeful that my bike leg would be dry! Once everyone was in their wetsuits the heavens opened! Not quite the plan!

Gemma on the swim: I seeding myself into 42 minute wave and I was a nervous wreck. Standing in the cold, wet and in puddles on the gravel roadside in complete silence. I could hear the cheers along the start line for the swim entry. Taking a deep breath Marios grabbed my hand and said it’s ok- I nearly started crying. It took 40 minutes to get to the swim entry, with 4 people going in every 4 seconds, and off I went, knowing Marios was directly behind me in the following wave of swimmers. As soon as we entered the water, the sun came out lighting the way for us.

The water was lovely and I found my groove straight away/ compared to the day before!  I trained for all weather conditions rain – hail- sun – storms and trained for cooler temperatures and mass starts with Havering Tri. However, I couldn’t have imaged that people would have seeded themselves in the earlier waves to do breaststroke from the start (due to strict bike cut off times). This made it impossible to swim around or through.

Marios was my rock during the swim and made me realise that 5 months ago I couldn’t do open water swimming and now I am able to swim comfortably and take the time to assess the best route for overtaking slower swimmers. I loved every minute of the swim and would recommend going in the earlier wave for what you expect.

I would have liked a better time, but happy I was well above the cut off time and more impressed I managed to run the 0.8km to meet Lisa in the relay exchange box!

Me on the bike: After Gemma passed me the timing chip I tried to run through transition but running in cleats on wet cobbles is not that easy! Plus I was freezing by this point as I had stood in the exchange box since the swim start in the rain so know for next time if it’s the same weather that’s not a good idea. I also needed the toilet the second I got there but couldn’t get in transition so had to hold it.

I was soon over the mount line and on the bike. I had 56 miles to cycle, a distance I can easily do but for some reason I was super nervous and this is the third time I’ve done a relay and knowing someone is waiting for you is added pressure.

Prior to the event I had heard from many people there is a horrible hill at the start and that pretty much the first 10km was uphill. I’d been told the big climb was really long and really steep and that last year there were so many people walking. I’m not good at hills. I can do them but slower than most and with a knee injury I knew I had to spin up easy – pretty much my plan for hills without an injury. I knew once of the commentators would be at the base of the hill so when I saw and heard him with the customary Swedish Heja Heja Heja I knew I’d reached the hill. Just keep spinning, smile at the supporters, pretend it’s ok. Another member of Havering Tri overtook me and gave me a thumbs up and I said is this the hill and he shouted yes and that we were about a third of the way up. Not so bad I could do this. I rarely say a hill was not as bad as I thought but it actually wasn’t – it was twisty and more gradual but at almost 1,000ft definitely a hill still. Here is my face about three quarters up (ha ha).

And the difference once I realised I was at the top – oh ok not so terrible.

The rest of the course is rolling and on the downhills and straights I was really able to overtake a lot of people and knew this is my strength and to use that.

There were three aid stations, all of which were either at the top or bottom of hills. As I wasn’t doing the run I had my nutrition I needed on the bike and didn’t need to stop for anything else.  I did stop at one aid station as I needed the toilet too badly but the queue had five people in it – five people taking on and off cycling kit that would also be wet like mine could be timely so I abandoned that idea and got back on the bike – I would have to wait!

At about 40km in the heavens opened again and for about 25/30 minutes I got soaked. I was wiping my glasses with my gloves and accidentally knocked them off so had to stop to get them back. The rain also made me overly cautious on the brakes on some of the downhills that I would ordinarily fly down. There were also some sections that were really windy and trying to power through those takes a toll on the legs and makes the effort that much harder, especially after a really narrow and tight turn point was just headwind up the hill you’d just flown down.

There was a section from 76-78km that it is forbidden to overtake as the road is narrow and winding and this was frustrating as I got stuck behind a group who were going much slower and had to wait until after to be able to pass them.

Your number is on your back for the bike and on your number is your team name so I had some fun as people giggled at Don’t Be Shit. I did the same to a man on the bike I passed whose team name was Loser Buys Burgers.

About 20km from the end I knew where I was and this was back on the Vatternrundan route. On that ride there is a stop at Jonkoping so I knew it wasn’t long until I would be passing Gemma the timing chip again.

After dismounting my bike and trying to run in cleats again I made my way to Gemma in the exchange box, little celebration dance, brief hug and she was off! As she left I had a swift hand down my bib shorts as my heat pad I sometimes use for back pain had slid down to my bum and it was on fire! Classy as always.

I finished the bike in 3:06 and will admit I was disappointed with my time – on a different course I’d previously done 2:56 and whilst I’m the first to say every course is different and you can’t compare and that it’s the conditions on the day, I really feel with better weather and no knee injury I could definitely have done that on this course too. Though I did get a lovely compliment as someone came up to me and said man you can bike! This lady told me she tried her hardest to keep with me but couldn’t get anywhere close and she said well done and left me with a huge smile on my face!

Gemma on the run: I had an absolute blast on the run, met some lovely people and gave them encouragement along the way. I felt like I needed to support everyone as they had just come of the bike and had jelly legs, mine were relatively fresh in comparison. It was a nice 3 lap course and loved seeing Lisa after 2 laps.

Again it was great fun knowing other tri members were around the course. Happy with the 2:09 for the run, considering the conditions – after the rain the sun came out!

However much I wanted to finish my Ironman journey with Lisa, I was absolutely gutted we couldn’t, but like we said we understood the Ironman rules.  It was lovely finishing with Marios and it really made it a unique experience for him.

I had the best time and would definitely consider it again. I would love to inspire anyone who thought the Ironman journey is unthinkable and say break it down and take on one discipline at a time …. it was just a natural progression for me, I have loved my world running journey …. so why not take on a new discipline.

I was able to get to behind the finish line to see Gemma and Marios finish, which was amazing.

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Everyone from Havering Tri were safe and done!

We found out we came third place in the female relay and so it was suggested to attend the awards ceremony. Being called up on stage by presenters who were laughing too much at our team name was funny and resulted in extra kudos and fist pumps.

We both had a fab time and coming third place was just the icing on the cake and made us realise our training had paid off! Team Don’t Be Shit – Team Freaking Awesome!

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Sweden has a special place in my heart so I knew before I got there I would love it but so many were commenting on the bike especially and how beautiful it was. Both winners of the event, male (Elliot Smales) and female (Claire Hann), were from Great Britain (amazing) and said it was the best bike course they’ve done. It was also European Tri Club Champs and will be for the next two years so if you are considering a middle distance triathlon would definitely recommend!

To top it off there was 27% women who participated in the event, which is a world record participation for an Ironman event!

Travelling with a bike

I am so used to travelling with a bike now that I still find it odd when I am at the airport and get such funny looks like I am walking through the terminal with such an odd item in tow.

There are a few ways you can travel abroad with a bike.  I know some people who ship their bike and certain events partner with companies who will take and deliver your bike so you don’t have the need to take your bike apart in any way.  I know some people who wrap their bikes or use cardboard boxes -yeah not for me!  I know some people who use a soft bike case and again this is not something I am keen on and I also know some airlines and even airports will not take soft cases for bikes.  Then there is a hard bike box, in my opinion the sturdiest and safest option.

I have a Bike Box Alan case and made the purchase a couple of years ago after looking into options for hiring one and realised that with some people charging £50 to £80 per week for box hire that if I was planning more than a few trips the investment to buy would absolutely be worth it and so that is what I did.  My husband already had a Bike Box Alan case and so I knew that they were sturdy and really good quality.  I mean I love my bike so want to know it is being transported in something that will get it there in one piece and not damaged.  There is always that nervous moment when you take the bike box to the oversized baggage area at the airport and watch it go through, then you might catch a glimpse as luggage is loaded onto the plane and it can make you a little nervous – be careful with it please! It is also a popular choice for our Tri club Havering Tri too!

You also get a 7 year guarantee with this box and the reviews speak for themselves, which you can read here.

So I recently got asked about how I pack and unpack the bike box and will admit I was a little embarrassed to admit that I don’t.  My husband is called Brett and I often joke that I have a Brett for that for quite a few bike related things.  He put Di2 on my old bike, not me, he packs and rebuilds the bikes when we travel, not me, and does all the bike servicing and maintenance, not me.  So I figured well it’s about time I probably learned how to do some of this and as I am always offering friends to use my bike box I figured ok we are travelling again soon so I will be paying attention.  Brett laughed but he humours me and so next time I will pack my bike – yep me!

What do you need to do?  I have a road bike and this is what we did:

  • remove the pedals, which we sometimes put in a little plastic sandwich bag and put in the box (there are some small straps in the box and you can use them to hold the pedals in place)
  • remove the chain, which you don’t have to do but we have always done and again put in a little plastic sandwich bag strapped in the same way as the pedals
  • I don’t need to undo the seat post on my bike but depending on your height if you are tall you might need to do that to lower the seat post to fit in the box – if this is the case make sure you mark in some way where the seat post was so you can easily put it back in the correct position when you rebuild
  • deflate the tyres completely – some people say you don’t need to do this though they could expand with the pressure in the hold on the plane, so it is always worth deflating and then pumping back up when you build the bike again
  • the tyres fix to the lid of the bike box using wheel skewers (I also lent mine to a friend who has disc brakes, which I don’t and she did need different skewers to fix in the box properly) – the box comes with a padded panel that sits between the wheels and the rest of the contents of the box
    • remove the handlebars and stem from the forks
    • the bike frame is secured in the box using the straps that are attached
    • we always pack our cycle shoes and helmet in the bike box as well as nutrition if weight allows (in my helmet bag I will always pack my heart rate monitor and garmin
    • I put some of my nutrition like gels in my bottles – saves gels exploding and going over everything and saves space
    • there is an anti crush bar to stop the box being damaged and in turn the bike

    Here is a time lapse video of the bike being packed.

    Happy travels if you are going away with your bike being boxed up and I hope this was a little useful for those who had asked previously!