Grand Finale, Part 2

Day 4 Rugby to Nettlebed

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By day four I was beginning to feel like I had almost completed this challenge – just 80 miles to ride today, and with plenty of company to keep me going I was hopeful that we might even finish during daylight for the first time! There were two sections to the day, the first was about 50miles from Rugby to Milton Keynes where we would have a quick stop by our old family home. The second section was 30miles and took us to Nettlebed, the Oxfordshire village where my Mum grew up and where her ashes are buried alongside her parents.

Today we had some extra riders with us, (half) Iron Woman Lucy Black was joining us through to the finish and my sister Jen had come to join us for the day too.

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Lucy, Cat, Me, and Jen ready to roll!

Jen was a bit nervous as she had never even ridden a road bike before! These two alongside me, Cat, and Jon meant we had a proper team of riders alongside the support car. Me, Cat and Lucy rode the first leg out of Rugby – 25 miles of rolling hills through beautiful countryside. The weather wasn’t great but spirits were high and it was a lovely bit of riding. To be totally honest I spent most of the time listening to the girls chat rubbish, sing ‘songs’ (I’m not sure “the wheels on the bike go round and round” counts!), and giggle. Again, it was fantastic to be sharing the experience.

 

Jen joined us after the first rest stop for the ride to Milton Keynes, she was riding Jon’s bike while he was driving, however nobody had quite realised how poor Jon’s brakes had become – he had worn through his brake pads the day before which meant Jen’s first experience on a road bike was a bit sketchy at times. In fact, it was remarkably similar to when we used to ride as kids – she had to use her feet to stop! Although Mum wasn’t there to tell her off this time!

This section of the route was more or less straight along a busy old roman road to Milton Keynes which made navigation easier. However, NickNav was back as we got to the outskirts of Milton Keynes and I almost took us down a 70mph dual carriageway! There was a large four lane roundabout which was difficult to get round as cyclists. Jen and Cat went first with me and Lucy behind them, as we came off the roundabout Jen shot off and by the time I’d caught up and got them to stop we had to walk a few hundred metres back along the verge and take the next exit down the much quieter (correct) road! Once in Milton Keynes we benefited from the redways -a network of segregated cycle paths across the whole town, although I did manage to get us lost a couple more times on them too!

Eventually we arrived at Vache Lane, the street we used to live on. It was very strange riding along the street, we all have so many memories there and it hasn’t changed a bit. We met Janetta, an old family friend who took some photos for us. This felt like a significant moment in the challenge, it was the end of the longest leg of the challenge (Link House to Milton Keynes) and left me only two more shorter legs to do.  Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for long because we were all wet and getting cold! We ‘hopped’ (painfully and slowly creaked) back onto our bikes and got going again.12196022_906776852740125_2353316830277930551_n (1)

Lucy and Jon were riding the next section with me which would take us through to Nettlebed, a relatively short journey of 30 miles. Somehow, I managed to get us on the wrong road out of Milton Keynes which added about 7 or 8 miles to our route. I’m not quite sure how I managed to take so many wrong turns in the city that we grew up in when I had navigated half the country with barely a problem!

The weather was now getting steadily worse, as it had been all week. We were now riding in steady rain on what felt like a never ending route of villages and lanes. We were counting down the miles and I was feeling pretty chuffed that according to my calculations we could only have a few miles left and it was still daylight! We stopped with the car and Cat told me that according to the sat nav we had another 9 miles to go – I genuinely didn’t believe her or the sat nav. It couldn’t be right…could it? We cycled on, convincing each other that there must’ve been an error – “maybe she’s set it to the hotel not Nettlebed”, or “maybe she has to go round a one way system…” Eventually we saw some road signs that confirmed she was right, and that once again we’d be finishing in the dark!

I knew the finish of this day had a large hill to climb which took us basically to the village and the churchyard, and to be honest I wasn’t sure I would have the legs for it. Since day two I’d been having some occasional issues with my knee, it was flaring up which made putting pressure through the pedals very painful. On flat roads I could get away with using one leg until it eased, but the hills were more difficult. It hadn’t been a great day for my knee so I was dreading this final climb.

We got stuck into it as a trio, but it got steep quite quickly and it became every man for himself! Riding in the dark meant that you were never quite sure how much hill was left. I’m still not sure if this was a good or a bad thing, but the longer it went on the more determined I became that I would finish it on two wheels. It was a really emotional section for me; climbing what felt like a never ending hill in the pitch black;, hoping that round every corner the top would appear; I was exhausted, but finishing strongly by my Mum’s grave was really important to me. I’m not sure how, but I got to the top and actually felt pretty strong towards the end. Jon and Lucy will attest to how hard the climb was at the end of what had been a long day in the saddle. Once we re-grouped we rode the last couple of miles to the churchyard where we met my Dad. It was too dark, wet and cold to visit the grave by then, so we packed ourselves into the cars and headed to our hotel for the evening!

We checked in and got showered before heading out for my birthday meal. Dad had booked us a really nice restaurant, but I don’t think I was the best company. I had my first beer in over a month, followed by some beautiful food and then felt incredibly tired! It was a pretty low key celebration, but there was still one more days riding to do!

Day 5 Nettlebed to Pancreatic Cancer Head Office, Vauxhall

Map 5

Waking up on the final day was a bit of a struggle, the repeated late nights, early mornings and constant cycling had worn me out and the advert doesn’t lie when it says you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep at a Premier Inn! Disappointingly the majority of our kit was still wet, but with the weather that was forecast it wouldn’t make too much of a difference – it was going to be a lovely start to my birthday! The weather is one of my main memories from the last days riding, it started out cold, then got windy, and then it started raining heavily!

I was excited about ending the challenges, and from the start of the day I had one eye on the celebration at the finish! However, there was still 50 miles of cycling to do, and today there were a few more checkpoints to make where we were picking up friends who were joining me on the ride. Anyone who knows me, knows that I had every bit of the day planned out in detail! I wanted to get going to make sure we had plenty of time and didn’t keep anyone waiting at the finish…!

We drove back to Nettlebed and me, Cat, Jon, Jen and my Dad visited Mum’s grave. It felt like the perfect way to start the final day.  My friend Big Guns (Chris Eley) met us there and had very kindly offered to take some photo’s for us, we took a few outside the churchyard before setting off!

We picked up one more rider for the peloton in Henley; Lucy’s fiancé Mike. The next checkpoint was 17 miles away at Dorney where we met Gareth and Rhiannon. It was on our way there that the weather got really bad, we were soaked through quite quickly and the wind was making riding hard work and certainly making me very cold.

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Picking up Gaz and Rhi & trying not to shiver too much!

The wind got so strong at one point that we were forced to lean into it to prevent being blown off!

 

Once we had Gaz and Rhi with us we were now a peloton of 6 – next stop West Drayton 13 miles away for the final pick up! We started to slow down a bit on this section as the roads became more congested, and we struggled to get everyone through traffic lights and across junctions together. We got ourselves to West Drayton with no mishaps, although by now I was very cold – we were soaked through to the point where we could wring the water out of our gloves! In hindsight it might not have helped that I hardly ate anything on the final day except a few cups of coffee! We had a longer than planned pit stop at West Drayton – each time we went to leave someone else needed the toilet or a 12227572_10153657811844788_2983920427398033035_nnew water bottle. I put my last dry coat on from the car and we set off with Chris and Tim joining us.

We were getting updates on the fundraising total each time we went past the car. It was climbing all day. Each time I heard it had gone up again it gave me a boost, it was the perfect reminder of why I was doing it. I was not expecting, and to be honest I didn’t believe it, when I heard that someone had made a £1000 donation. We spent the next 20 minutes debating whether they actually said £1000, and if so who it would have been from. Obviously I am very grateful for this huge donation, it was an anonymous donation so I won’t give away their name here but they know who they are, so thank you very much.

We now only had 20 miles to go to the finish – I could almost taste the beer! I knew once we got south of the river we’d be on the final stretch (particularly as we knew the route from there). We were a little behind the pace now, but no more than 30minutes which I thought we could make up on the way. It was about now that things started going wrong!

Cat’s bike had been struggling since day 4, but her brake pads were now almost totally worn down, not helped by the wet conditions. She coped extremely well but we did have to take things easy to make sure she didn’t crash (that would have been a terrible end!). Then we lost Chris at a set of traffic lights – he got through but we stopped to check the map and realised we needed to turn off. We had missed a turning somewhere so once Chris was back with us we walked our bikes across two dual carriageways and got back on route. This was promptly followed by a puncture.

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Ferrari style wheel change!

The team whipped into action and changed the puncture in a record 12-15mins! You’d have thought between 8 of us we would have one pump that was vaguely effective. It only seems fair that we got a puncture though – I hadn’t had one since the London to Brighton Off Road cycle back in September!

 

We were now running about 60 mins late, and our final checkpoint was at my office in Wandsworth. We met the cars there and moved everything into one car so that my car could stay there and my brother could cycle the final 5 miles with us. Once again, this seemed to take longer than expected, 14 people and only two toilets might not have helped! We all put our PCUK cycle tops on the outside of our jackets but as we were leaving Chris realised he had a puncture. Fortunately we had a proper pump in the car so Chris set about changing his inner tube, only to find his spare was too big, and his other spare had a hole in too! Luckily we have bikes in our office which Chris borrowed and we set off, however were now running about 2 hours late!

The final 5 miles were amazing. I tried to take some time to appreciate what I had achieved. It was a huge personal achievement and there had been many times in both the build up and during the final challenge that I wasn’t sure I would ever finish it. I took time to reflect and take it all in. Riding along with my wife, my brother and my friends was something I won’t forget. I’d had so many great experiences on this challenge, and I had learnt a lot about myself, my wife, and my friends. We’re all a lot stronger than we think we are, if you can laugh you can pedal, and strong coffee is a lifesaver! It was also a good opportunity to reflect on the 30/30 Challenges as a whole, but that might have to be for another blog.

As we neared Vauxhall station everyone made me, Cat, and Jon ride ahead. We came off the roundabout and was trying to explain to Cat and Jon where the finish was. Then I heard a cheer and saw the crowd, it was surprising and amazing just how many people were there considering we were two hours late (I also remember the very confused jogger who happened to be going past the crowd as they cheered our arrival)! As we stopped and got off the bikes, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do!! I’d spent months concentrating on reaching that point, but now I had done it I was at a bit of a loss as to how to react! There were so many people there, and I couldn’t quite believe I had finished the challenge, and the challenges!!! I gave Cat a big kiss, said hello to everyone and then realised my Dad wasn’t there. He arrived shortly afterwards though – the car had got stuck in traffic. He had a magnum of champagne for us which we opened up all over the spectators! We also presented Pancreatic Cancer UK with a cheque for the amount we had raised at that point.

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the people who stood in the cold and the rain waiting for us for over two hours! It was an amazing end to an amazing week and year, so thank you to each and every one of you. Apologies also to those who I didn’t get to see and share a beer with too. In true 30/30 Challenge during our quick trip to take a shower we managed to get lost, separated, and missed the support car! This meant not only were we late to the finish, but we were then also really late to the pub too. Sorry if I missed you!

The day ended with a brilliant party in the Black Dog in Vauxhall, and if you weren’t there then you missed out!

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Posted in adventure, Cancer, Challenge, Charity, Cycling, endurance, exercise, Fundraising, London, Pancreatic Cancer, Training | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Grande Finale, Part 1

It’s taken me a very long time to get round to writing these final couple of blogs. I had very good intentions of doing them straight away, but to be honest it’s been pretty nice having a break from the challenges and chilling out a bit! It’s also given me a better perspective to write these from – I can look back fondly now, which might not have been the case immediately afterwards!

I wanted to make sure the final challenge brought things from the year of challenges together, it needed to be a tough challenge but still involve plenty of people and finish with a bang! And for anyone there on the final day I think we managed it!

So to recap, the 30th challenge was a multi day run and cycle from the Lake District to Pancreatic Cancer UK head office in London. The ride joined together the key parts in mine and my Mums life; we started at Distington Crematorium where my Mums cremation service was held and ran 15miles to Link House which is the B&B Mum and Dad bought after Mums initial treatment. We then cycled south, to Milton Keynes which is where we grew up, then onto Nettlebed, a small Oxfordshire village where Mum grew up and where some of her ashes are buried alongside her parents. From there we cycled into London to Pancreatic Cancer UK head office to make a donation for the amount raised so far!30th Challenge route

Getting Set
I’m genuinely not sure what was harder, organising this challenge or actually doing it! It was a massive task to get all the logistics for this challenge sorted. On top of working out the route and how we would navigate for over 400miles we had to work out where various cars would be and who would be in them and with what food/equipment. Throw in friends joining along the way, trying to find places to stay, and organising a party at the finish it was pretty stressful! It took about 3-4months to plan, and despite that we were still re-routing ourselves on the second day!

Day 1 Distington Crematorium to Link House, and Link House to Burton -in-Kendal

Once all the planning and preparation was done it was very exciting and quite emotional to get started. It was an early start (it’s always an early start!) as myself and Cat drove out to Distington Crematorium to start the run. Cat was going to be with me all day which was great, it meant that I wouldn’t go flying off at the start and tire myself out before we got going, and more importantly that I could share this unique experience with her.Map1

In my head this was going to be a nice simple run, 15miles at a gentle pace through some beautiful countryside. I’d got 12/13 mile training runs in beforehand so felt pretty confident. 887424_905262412891569_8087211055120957015_oHowever, almost from the very start I didn’t feel comfortable. Looking back I think I was still quite tired from the martial arts training and the stress of getting ready for this last challenge. We plugged away though and slowly ticked the miles off – I was glad we had to take regular breaks to check the map as it was a good excuse for a rest! If I am honest I began to doubt my ability to finish the final challenge during the run, I was really struggling and I think both myself and Cat relied on each other to get through the hardest miles. On top of this we made one costly error with the navigation; just after checking the map we missed a turn off and ran about 1.5miles downhill on the wrong road and then had to turn round and run back up again! This was extremely disappointing and also put a bit more time pressure on us too. Once back on track we finished the run with only a moderate amount of moaning about how much our legs, feet, and backs hurt.

A quick change and refuel (now I’m an athlete I ‘fuel’ instead of ‘eat’) and we were back out on the bikes. We wanted to ride at least 50 miles on the first afternoon, this would make the remaining distances more achievable and also get us out of the hilly Lake District National Park. We started well again, Cat conquered the big hill that she’d been worried about, the riding was beautiful, and we were pretty happy at each of our rest stops – my Dad was now driving the support car. We were still under a bit of time pressure, we didn’t want to cycle at night and in November the light fades very quickly. Unfortunately, we made a wrong turn and ended up cycling down a dual carriageway in the opposite direction we wanted to go! By the time we realised we had gone wrong it was dark and we now had 6 or 7 miles of cycling left. We decided to call it a day there and called the support car to pick us up, it had been an extremely long day and we were disappointed not to reach our end point for the day, but as it was only the first day we thought it prudent not to push too hard or risk riding on a fast dual carriageway in the dark.

Day 2 (somewhere near) Burton-in-Kendal to SandbachMap2.png

After another late night and early morning I was back on the bike by 7.30am and set about making up the missed miles from the day before and the 100miles I’d set myself to do too! 12208540_905697452848065_5139537598738510855_nIt was just me on the bike today, Cat was in the support car so it was going to be a fairly long boring day for us both. It can sometimes take me a while to get going in the morning, but this morning I felt particularly tired. I couldn’t get my legs going and felt like I had no energy at all, it was like I was cycling uphill through treacle! After a very long hour I reached Burton-in-Kendal where we should have ended the day before, and decided to stop for a quick break and get some more energy in me. I got myself going again and as I was riding out of the village I noticed a very familiar car and bike rack – Cat had decided to see me there before our first scheduled stop, if I’d have cycled two mins more before stopping I could’ve got some nice hot coffee and conversation!

One thing that had concerned us was how we were going to navigate for the whole trip, neither of our phones would be able to run sat nav all day so we were following google maps and memorizing sections as we went. This did mean the occasional diversion but on the whole it worked pretty well. Google uses any path or road that allows cyclists, which includes tow paths. I’d put some thicker tyres on my bike in anticipation of this, and it paid off as we went through Lancaster. Navigating in towns and cities was much harder as there were more roads and more chances of getting lost! In Lancaster I was able to ride along the tow path straight through the town with no chance to go wrong, perfect! In fact, 80% of the days riding was planned to be on the tow path so I was feeling pretty happy as I headed on towards Preston. As we left the city the path became muddier and grassier until it basically disappeared altogether. It was hard work keeping out of the canal on one side and the bushes on the other, and my average speed was dropping. I knew how fast I needed to go to finish the day in daylight, and I was well off the pace. I finally decided to give up on the tow path shortly after a cow witnessed me slide dangerously close to the canal, before over correcting and riding into a thorn bush!! After pulling the thorns out of my gloves and handlebars I turned around and went in search of some roads! I managed to re-route myself without going too far out of the way.

As the day progressed my average speed picked up on the roads but it became inevitable that I’d be riding in the dark. I wasn’t looking forward to this but I had lights with me and didn’t want to fall behind the overall schedule any further! We were also staying with Cat’s cousins and I didn’t want to turn up really late. As it got dark I knuckled down and pushed the pace to try and finish as quickly as possible. Everything was looking rosy until I stopped to check my phone to find out where to go next…I’d taken a wrong turn a few miles back without realising. This was the last thing I needed, I was getting cold and didn’t have much food or water left with me and I’d now extended my ride by another 45mins (and uphill, again!)!!

Eventually I got to Sandbach – the finish for the day, met Cat and got to her cousin’s house for a well deserved bowl of pasta (thank you Karen and Rob) whilst I re-planned the next days route to avoid any more tow paths! Special thanks to Henry who let us sleep in his bedroom for the night whilst he shared with his brother George, although we were under strict instructions not to touch any of his toys!

Day 3 Sandbach to Rugby

Map 3.pngDay three started the same way the first two had, up early to get on the road as soon as we could. Cat was doing the driving to start with as I rode onto Stoke where we met my brother Jon. 12193590_906074706143673_1116276998250911823_nEach day we split the ride into twenty mile sections, at the end of each section we’d meet the car and refill our bottles and have some food – this broke the day up into manageable chunks and meant we didn’t lose the plot trying to contemplate how we’d ride 100 odd miles each day! We’d perfected it on some of the earlier challenges, it also meant less stress for the driver – they didn’t need to try to keep pace with us and hold up traffic all day!

Today we had 90 miles to get through which I thought should be easy compared to the 100+ I’d done yesterday. I was confident we might actually finish in daylight, and really looking forward to having some company on the bike. There isn’t much to say about the majority of the days riding, the directions were simple to follow (apart from in Stoke), the pace was fairly good and I felt pretty good considering how much we’d already done. Having someone else on the bike made such a difference to my spirits, it was so much better being able to share the experience too. When we met Cat at the first rest stop there was an extra car in the layby, and I was very surprised to see Cat’s Uncle Bob and Aunty Sue. They live nearby and had heard we were passing through so jumped in the car to come and see us. It was fantastic to see them waiting to cheer us on and to get the extra support (and an extra donation) and talk through our adventure so far. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for long so it was some sweaty (me not them!) goodbyes and me and Cat got back out on the bikes.

We pressed on and the day passed by without any real issue. I clearly remember the final 10 miles or so though, I was riding with Jon who was on his second session of the day with me and we had been working hard to get into Rugby before it got dark. However, with about 10 miles to go Jon started slowing down and getting dropped (left behind when cycling at the back) a lot. Initially I tried to urge him on to keep up the pace, then we spoke about whether he should get in the car and swap with Cat, but each time I offered he refused and pressed on – he was determined to finish the leg. I realised that it meant a lot to him too so I stopped worrying about the pace, strapped some lights and helped him get through the next 5 miles. Jon had to dig really deep to finish this day, and I vividly remember feeling both humbled and very proud of the effort he made to be part of what I was doing. As we were welcomed into Rugby by a moss covered sign Jon saw the car and went to pull over thinking we were done, he wasn’t best impressed when I told him we had to ride to the town centre before we could stop for the day – in fact he used some fairly choice language about my parentage!

I have to give a special mention to our hosts on day three, we were staying with my old school friend Jake, his wife Stacey, and their daughter Olivia. They cooked a great carbonara and let us take over the ground floor of their house to sort all our bags out. We even did some much needed washing of some of our kit – apparently I was getting pretty fragrant!12208872_906326636118480_8568762396051953054_n

 

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7 Days Training with Mr Payne & Mrs. Atkins!

The penultimate challenge for me to complete was ‘a week training with MSMAS’, for those that don’t know MSMAS stands for Mid Sussex Martial Arts School and is a martial arts school ran by my Father-in-Law. It’s also where my wife Cat escapes to three times a week! In hindsight this probably shouldn’t have been done the week before I tried to cycle the length of the country!IMG_33008719968020

This was a challenge that daunted me in a few ways but it’s difficult for me to describe why! Cat, her Dad (Roger) and his students take their martial arts very seriously, they travel the country and the world training and practicing in various forms and are very good at what they do. Cat’s been training ever since we’ve been together and over the years I’ve got to know the people she trains with well, and I have a huge amount of respect for the commitment, skill, and dedication they demonstrate in their martial arts. At MSMAS they train in a very traditional way that focuses on the ‘art’ as much as it does on the sport. This in no way makes it easy, quite the opposite – they try to replicate the traditional training that the Japanese would do, which sometimes makes it hard to comprehend to people on the outside. I felt some pressure not to let down Cat and her Dad, I wanted to make sure that I trained with the right attitude and spirit to make them proud.

One of these Japanese traditions is an intensive training period called a Gasshuku. Conveniently, the MSMAS Gasshuku was to take place in the same week I was training with them! This has some definite pro’s and con’s; it did mean a couple of bonus sessions were thrown in, but also all training sessions were open sessions which meant existing students were encouraged to try a new discipline throughout the week and therefore I wasn’t always the only new kid on the mat!

Having watched various training sessions over the years, and seen the bruises and blisters that Cat has home with I knew I was in for an intense and tough week. I genuinely wasn’t sure if physically I’d be able to get through. This was going to be very different to slogging it out on a run or a ride…

Monday – Kendo 11039084_963578980327698_1450114720443672808_n

Training started at 7pm each evening and it was going to be a stretch for me to get there each night from work. I had to eat my dinner on the train home to make sure I had eaten something before training each night. I managed to turn up late to my first session which wasn’t the best start. I got myself changed and joined the mat. After bowing to the Sensei and Kamiza training started with a little warm up. We then did some practicing of how to make a Kendo cut using a Bokken (wooden sword). Fortunately Sensei Bibby let me use one of the heavier Bokken swords to practice with. The cut technique is relatively simple, until you try and do it going forwards and backwards at double speed repeatedly. I don’t know how many cuts we made but by the end of it I could barely lift my arms above my head! This was seriously tough! I’ll admit that I was slightly concerned how I would last the night, let alone the week if it was all going to be this tough. Fortunately we stopped soon after then, the senior stFB_IMG_1446401063837udents put on some Kendo armour and we got to put our drills into practice. We practiced making various hits onto their armour (mostly) using shinai – this is how you score points in Kendo. It was surprisingly difficult to strike correctly at speed and keep moving (otherwise you’d get hit, gently…ish). The session ended with me being asked to demonstrate what we had practiced all evening; I had to make the three strikes/attacks on Sensei Bibby using one ‘Kiai’. A kiai is the yell you make as you attack, we had been practicing these earlier too – a good kiai shows good spirit. So, I had to make three strikes in one kiai (one breath) with everyone w
atching. It took me three attempts but I got there, I felt very pleased to have got it right(ish) eventually.

Tuesday – Judo & Iaido

Once again I was slightly late onto the mat thanks to Southern rail and some extra damp leaves. This was a session I was looking forward to, Judo is probably the discipline I understand the most, but I was also apprehensive as I know it’s one of the more physical sessions and there were two disciplines back to back tonight! As part of the Gasshuku Sensei Payne had organised for an extra coach to come along and work with the lightweight players – I hadn’t lost enough weight to join them, so I got to train with Sensei Bibby again. We warmed up with some (50) press up’s and sit ups, then we did Sensei’s favourite exercise – Bastards. Bastards are two press ups from which you jump up, jump down and do two more press ups and repeat! I’m not sure how many we did, but I don’t think Sensei was joking when he offered to do them all night if we didn’t do them correctly. Following this we did some judo specific conditioning – basically various ways to crawl/wriggle up and down the mat. I found these seriously tough, I was using muscles that you don’t use when running/swimming/cycling, I was pleased when we finally stopped and got to practice some Judo.

I was paired with Mark, a senior student who helped me practice some techniques and different counter attacks too. Towards the end of the session we swapped coaches and were shown the technique the lightweight players had been practising, this was a fairly complicated technique for rolling a player over and putting them into a strangle.

Straight after Judo the Iaido session started. Iaido was something that I wasn’t looking forward too much as whenever I have watched a session it’s seemed quite boring, there is a lot of kata’s (forms) to learn and the small intricacies of technique make it a boring to watch if you don’t understand it! We were again being led by Sensei Bibby and through the session we were practicing the implementation of a kata with boken. This really brought the kata to life for me and was much more interesting than I had expected.

Wednesday – Special Session, Karate

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Wednesday was an extra training session as part it the Gasshuku, one of Sensei Payne’s friends runs a Karate school in Kent and him and his wife came to run a session for us. I finally managed to arrive on time, and I had also learnt to tie my own belt too! I was nervous about this session again, but beginning to get used to being on the mat and where I should stand for different parts of the evening. I was also looking forward to an evening without any kneeling, something you have to do a lot of in martial arts and I find difficult with some old injuries.
Once we were warmed up Sensei Grassom taught us a very simple Karate punch, the footwork was similar to parts of hockey but I struggled to keep the power going forward and not rotate. Once we had mastered (could do it without falling over) the basics we moved onto practicing it on the move with an old bicycle inner tube round our waist being held by a partner. This created a resistance making it harder and in theory making us faster! Finally it was time to get some practice on the pads. I’ve not punched anything since the Royal Rumble in our garden when I was 11 (sorry Jon) so this was something new for me. I found it difficult to try and get power alongside remembering where each one of my feet/knees/arms/hands/head should be.
I think Sensei Grassom read my mind near the end – I was thinking how nice it had been doing a session without any physical con905587_1055278531157742_4686818039305645380_oditioning, when he asked us to get into the press up position. We then did a series of military press ups holding them for what felt like days! Following this we got into Kiba-Dachi stance which is a basic karate stance but for a novice like me it was essentially a torture position. I felt pretty good initially, but I soon realized we were going to be holding this for a while. My ability to endure pain is pretty good after the challenges but after several minutes of moving “1inch up” and “1inch down” my quads were on fire and my legs started shaking uncontrollably- Sensei kindly told me this was called the Shake Rattle and Roll! My legs were still shaking when we finished and were bowing to end the session!

Thursday – Junior Judo & Aikido

 

12038047_1040757862609809_7030426468310435223_nThursday night started slightly easier than other nights as it was junior judo, although I did get some useful coaching points from the 8 year old’s! Following judo it was Aikido, which was taken by Sensei Payne and it was a nice surprise to have a session without lots of physical conditioning – I know my body enjoyed it! Aikido is a very defensive art and is made up of lots of locks and imobilisations, to me it has often looked like it doesn’t FB_IMG_1446401038201actually work – but I can assure you it does! After practicing some basic
balance breaking and working on our break falls we got to try a technique on the wrist. It was such a small and simple technique but was extremely effective!

Friday & Saturday – rest

Sunday – Special Session, Beach Training

FB_IMG_1446401127650Sunday was to be a big session, beach training is the highlight of the Gasshuku for most people. The purpose is to test yourself and learn that you are capable of more than you believe, it’s also a very traditional form of martial arts training. We arrived ready to start training at 7am, and much to Sensei Bibby’s disappointment the weather was fairly mild for November! By mild, I mean there wasn’t a frost on the ground! I could tell there was a lot of nervous excitement in the group, myself included.
I had watched beach training once before so knew it was going to be very tough, but I also knew that I only had a couple of hours left of this challenge. I wanted to make sure I did myself proud and was determined to get through everything. I’m not going to go through things blow by blow – if you’re really interested you’ll have to experience it! But believe me when I say it was tough. FB_IMG_1446401148381

The sand inside the gi ripped at your skin and Sensei Bibby was using his favourite phrase a lot “just one more”! It wasn’t all completely physical, we did a lot of martial arts and even practiced some new techniques too. To fully apply the techniques we needed something softer to land on than the sand, fortunately the sea was available and we finished our session with some training in the water.FB_IMG_1446401089753

Although it was freezing cold I think we were all pretty keen to get in and rinse the sand out of our gi’s!

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We finished with an impromptu Shakespeare passage which was very fitting. The beach training had been great fun, and although it was tough I enjoyed it, much the same as the whole week.
Through this challenge I developed a greater understanding of what my wife and her Dad do in the dojo and more importantly why. It’s one thing seeing something but experiencing it gave me a greater understanding and appreciation.
I want to finish this blog by saying a huge thank you to the teachers and other students at the dojo who helped me out. It was very daunting for me to step on the mat but everyone made me feel welcome and it was enjoyable tool! They took time out of their training to help me out and give me a fantastic experience. We also managed to raise £250 through the week which is quite incredible, so thank you to everyone at MSMAS who donated.

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Fred Whitton Round in Double Vision

From the Bike (by me, Nick);
I had six days rest before I was back on my little red bike again, this time for what I considered to be one of my toughest challenges, the Fred Whitton cycle. The Fred Whitton is an 112 mile cycle around the Lake District taking in 12 mountain passes, and has 15 categorised climbs. It’s said you’re not a true cyclist until you enjoy climbing – it’s safe to say that even after this one, I am still not a true cyclist! The average time for the event is 8hrs:45mins, I was doing it with Cat and my brother Jon but not as part of an organised event, Jon and Cat would take it in turns to cycle with me whilst the other one drove the support car.

From the car (by Jon);

Due to a delay in starting a new job, I was still living in the Lake District when Nick and Cat arrived for the Fred Whitton challenge, and I couldn’t really not take part. Following a similar pattern to the start of the Three Peaks challenge, the night before was spent making sandwiches, preparing water bottles, checking over bikes and planning the route. An early start was required to make the most of the daylight, so alarms were set.

On the morning of the challenge, Nick seemed very nervous. He hadn’t seemed this way during any of the other challenges I’d been a part of, and Cat told me he was particularly nervous about this one, and with good reason. The Fred Whitton is rightly regarded as one of the toughest sportives in the country, 112 miles of riding over the 6 largest passes in Cumbria, as well as another half dozen of smaller climbs. Cat and I had the role of support rider and driver, shared between us.

We set off at first light from Keswick with me and Cat riding, the first few miles were stunningly beautiful. 12112511_898337853584025_2319579018734111099_nWe had the road to ourselves and the sun was coming up over the mist covered lake, it was amazing. Then we came up against our first mountain climb, Honister Pass. This was one of the big six for the day, and it was massive – 326m high and over 3 miles of steep climbing. We got up the early slopes but it wasn’t long before both me and Cat were off our bikes and walking as the climb steepened. I had a worrying moment when I couldn’t pedal any more but couldn’t un-clip my pedals either…I was aiming for a soft piece of grass to land on when I finally managed to get my feet free! Once the ascent eased off we got back on and cycled over the top and past the slate mine before starting the descent. The descent was almost as tough as the climb, it was very steep, windy, and wind-y which meant you had to keep on top of the speed to prevent flying off the road.

Now, I could take you through each and every hill we climbed, but my story telling skills aren’t that good, and it would make a pretty long and boring blog even longer and boringer! Instead I’ll give you a few highlights. A few miles after the first climb we faced our second serious climb, another mountain pass called Newlands, I just about managed to heave myself over this one (in my head it was now 1-1 between me and the mountains!). The final climb before the first scheduled break was Whinlatter which was relatively easy compared to the others (2-1 to me!), although still had several miles of out of the saddle climbing!12079289_898337903584020_1337403219545904485_n

Cat would take the first shift of riding, and then we’d switch after 25 miles. Fortunately for me, the first shift of riding included 3 of the 6 passes (Honister, Newlands and Whinlatter) so I had the pleasure of avoiding those. I did, however, feel a pang of jealousy, as they had clear roads, and some of views across the valleys were stunning, with the early morning fog yet to lift.

When we’d been planning our shifts and looking at the route the night before, my first shift had looked relatively easy. It looked pretty flat (for Cumbria), and I was looking forward to riding. The first twenty minutes were fine, we cruised along at a decent pace and I felt good. Then we hit the first significant climb, and I realised that whatever fitness I’d built up over the summer had long deserted me and Nick quickly left me behind. I struggled on for awhile, feeling fine until there was an uphill section (there’s lot of uphill sections). Eventually I had to swallow my pride and get back in the car, as Nick was well ahead of me and I didn’t want to hold him up. I did jump back on the bike for a few miles before we reached the village at the bottom of Hardknott pass.

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I reached the first scheduled break point and quickly re-filled my bottles and scoffed half a jam sandwich before jumping back on. We were about an hour behind schedule – the mountains had really slowed us down and we weren’t able to make the time up on the descents either! I didn’t want to be out riding too much after it got dark so knew that we needed to push on a bit. Jon joined me and together we ticked off a few miles at a good pace on some slightly more gentle roads. 12141625_898337933584017_4625499078312108421_nIt was nice to sit in his wheels and get a bit of a rest for a few miles, it also gave me a chance to look around. The Fred Whitton has to be one of the prettiest rides as well as one of the toughest. We had a couple of larger hills to get over which slowed Jon down, although his lack of self preservation meant he usually caught me on the descents! About half way through this leg I lost him altogether whilst climbing a particularly long section. Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to stop and wait too much because of the daylight/time pressures. He eventually came past me in the car with Cat, it was a relief to see he was okay but I did feel guilty for leaving him behind.

12074569_898337983584012_7923866503731642316_nDad and Bridget met us at the next scheduled stop with some fresh supplies. I had some more jam sandwiches and some strong coffee before setting off.
The next leg was without a doubt the hardest bit of cycling I’ve ever attempted, it included the infamous Hardknott and Wrynose passes. Hardknott reaches 30% gradient in places and the route directions recommend getting off and walking for most people! The next 10-15 miles nearly broke me, and I’m not sure what kept me going.12106943_898338053584005_5645881199451720368_n Once I reached the foot of the climb I tried to stay positive and just keep myself moving without over exerting myself. However, I was off and walking after about a mile, the steep switchbacks proving too tough for me. I did get back on briefly but once again had to get off and walk. This was a monster of a climb. I had to take breaks from walking up it, and at points was sliding down backwards as my cycle cleats gave me no grip at all (2-2)! This was all accompanied by the smell of burning clutches from the cars trying to get over too!

As if Hardknott wasn’t hard enough, after descending for about a mile, and a couple of miles of cycling into a headwind you get kicked in the nuts by Wrynrose. 12115837_10206998477953926_2778222866525295196_nIt looked like an achievable climb, not to long and only a couple of very steep sections however I hadn’t had any chance to recover from Hardknott and I was off and walking pretty quickly (3-2 to the mountains). I was pretty high up in the mountains now and getting cold, I walked up Wrynose as fast as I could and started the descent, I was dreading this as I was already shivering and cycling downhill for a few miles wasn’t going to warm me up. 12107158_10206998682079029_7543253646754452123_nOur radio’s had stopped working and I hadn’t seen the support car for what felt like ages! Then just as I was resigning myself to descending I saw the two cars and some furious waving – thank god!
I got some warmer clothes and pushed on again. I was now about 70 miles in.

This was where we’d agreed that my bike shift would end, and Cat had wisely opted not to ride over Hardknott pass. So after a quick jam sandwich and refilling bottles, Nick set off for Hardknott pass, which was quickly followed by Wrynose pass. It’s difficult to describe just how steep some sections of Hardknott are, but it was challenging enough driving over it, let alone attempting to ride it. We parked up just after Wyrnrose pass and waited for Nick to appear over the top of the pass. In retrospect, we perhaps should have waited at the bottom of the descent of Hardknott, as none of us realised how cold and exposed it was. We’d been lucky with the weather, so Nick had left his jacket and gloves in the car at the last stop, which I think he could have done with. Just as we were wondering how much longer we’d give him before we drove back to find him, he appeared, looking very very tired and very cold. Rather than hang around at the top of a pass, he put on some layers and pressed on. And then we lost him.

We’d followed him for a period, but with cars behind us we had to overtake. We followed the route instructions (which Nick also had with him) and decided to wait in a village for him to appear. After twenty minutes and still no sign of him, we turned around and followed our tracks. We knew Nick had the names of a few towns and villages he had to pass through memorised, one of which was Ambleside. We realised that Nick had followed the signs for Ambleside, rather than follow the route instructions. Nevermind, we thought, we’ll catch him in Troutbeck at the scheduled stop. We drove on to Troutbeck without seeing him, and reached the bottom of the Kirkstone Pass without seeing him. The two way radios were out of battery, and we both had patchy signal. Neither of us knew what to do, having driven back and forth through the village a few times, checked inside the pub (it was Nick we were looking for after all). We both kept trying to call him, until eventually we decided the only option was to assume he was ahead of us somewhere and to drive on. Just as I was preparing to burn out the clutch on his car, my mobile rang. Turns out Nick hadn’t noticed he’d gone through Troutbeck, and had made it halfway up Kirkstone pass without noticing. We eventually caught up with him at the bottom of the decent of Kirkstone, and he was finally able to have another jam sandwich. At this point Cat got back on the bike. There was just one more climb to go as they headed north towards the A66.

I had no idea that the support car had lost me, until I couldn’t find Troutbeck! I followed signs for Ambleside, then checked my phone quickly to make sure I was on the right road to Troutbeck (I was!). The road sign said 2 ¾ miles to Troutbeck, this sounded good to me as I was hungry and wanted to get some more food and drink before I tackled the final big climb, Kirkstone Pass. Those 2 ¾ miles seemed to take forever, the hill just kept going up. I checked my phone once more and it looked like I was on my way to Troutbeck still (those of you that read previous blogs such as Three Peaks, and Dartmoor hikes will realise that my navigation skills aren’t always perfect) so I pressed on and upwards. I stopped for a comfort break and checked my phone and then realised that I had missed Troutbeck altogether and was now on my way up the Kirkstone Pass. This was a bit of surprise to me, and there was no way I was going to turn round after doing half the climb, I kept trying to call Jon and Cat and eventually got through, we arranged to meet on the other side. Kirkstone was a bit of a slog, it didn’t get steeper than about 18% but it just went on and on and on. By the time I started the descent I was empty, my motivation was pretty low and I had no energy at all (3-3 between me and the mountains, seems a fair result!).

Having Cat join me after the next stop was such a boost (that and the three cups of coffee!), I now had someone to chat to and help keep me motivated. I thought I was doing okay until we hit a little incline and I dropped right off her wheel – I just couldn’t keep up! We were now climbing towards our final checkpoint but I was really struggling. At one point I had to call Cat back as both my quads cramped up – I couldn’t get off my bike to stretch either! We eventually reached the final checkpoint and were joined by Jon for the final few miles.12109040_10206999433057803_7613764145474893955_n

We’d arranged with Dad to meet at Troutbeck (a different one) and as the sun began to set, I got ready to join the two of them for the final ten miles back into Keswick. The A66 is a very fast road to drive on, and turns out it’s also a fast road to ride on. I was at the front, and had to slow down a few times to let them both catch up. Normally I’d resent missing out on the opportunity to ride fast, but since Nick was about 100 miles in by that point, and Cat had done quite a bit more riding than me as well, I was happy to go at their pace. We cruised into Keswick, I got us a little bit lost and we had to walk our bikes through the centre of town before riding back to the pencil museum (no really, it a museum about pencils) where’d we’d begun the challenge at dawn that morning.

The final ten miles were along the A66 and I was really struggling, it was mostly downhill but I was still having to work pretty hard to keep up with fresh legged Jon! We decided to ignore the directions and go our own way through Keswick, following Jon’s directions. I think he managed to take us past every pub, restaurant and fish and chip shop in the town! We finally arrived back at the start, I’d cycled over 100 miles in around 9.5hrs. It was a relief to know it was over, and to be honest I was so tired by then I didn’t really get to enjoy the finish. All I wanted to do was get home, get warm, and eat!

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I’ve no idea how Nick finished that challenge. I know he’s in pretty good shape as a result of this year of challenges, but it’s hard to convey just how hard the Fred Whitton is. This was the last major endurance based challenge before the final challenge, which is another one in which I’ll be riding and driving in support of.

Fred Whitton challenged me to my limits, and probably pushed me further than I’ve ever been pushed before. I was pretty close to tears walking up Wrynose Pass, but I got through it and completed it. It’s a relief to have this one ticked off, not many left now!!

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It’s (almost) ALL about the bike…!

Since the summer I’ve been focusing on ticking off the cycling challenges, so this blog gives a short summary of each of them, but like the bike rides it is quite long too! Some of them have been very tough and involved a serious amount of mileage and hours upon hours in the saddle! I really enjoy riding my bike, but some of these have really tested that love!

The first cycling challenge followed the Three Peaks Challenge and the London to Paris cycle. The challenge was to cycle to work and back in a day, uifortunately I live 35 miles away from work so it meant a total of 70 miles to be ridden with a normal day at work in between! There were basically two sections to the ride, the quiet country roads out from East Grinstead, and the busy London streets up to Wandsworth, these were split by a giant hill at Woldingham! I had allowed two hours for the ride, but things didn’t go too smoothly for me! I got a puncture in Whyteleafe which is almost exactly half way, then had to stop again and re-inflate the new tube a few miles later. I eventually got to work at about 10am dripping wet! When I got my bike to ride home, it had a flat tyre again so I had to walk to the shop and get a replacement tube before setting off. This meant I would be riding in the dark, and whilst I had lights suitable for lit roads, they weren’t the strongest and were probably not appropriate for the unlit Sussex countryside roads. Riding home was a proper slog, I was tired from the morning ride, and the hill nearly finished me off! Then about 10 miles from home I felt like something was slipping around on my bike – I thought maybe my rear wheel had come lose after I changed it earlier. I pulled over and checked the back wheel – nothing wrong. Then I noticed that my pedal shaft was moving from side to side, essentially my pedal cranks appeared to be undoing themselves! I had no idea what to do about this and was just preparing myself for a long, dark walk home when a hero arrived! The only passing cyclist for miles pulled over and using his bright light helped to work out the problem, and then fixed it for me! He then escorted me for the next 6-7km allowing me to make use of his lights! I finally got home at about 9pm, had a shower and went straight to bed!!! Not sure I’ll be repeating this challenge, certainly not in one day!

A couple of weeks later I was back on two wheels having not been on a bike since the last challenge. I was to ride the BHF London to Brighton Off Road 75 mile cycle with JC, an old friend from university. To make things a little tougher for me I was riding a borrowed bike which was slightly too small for me, and in addition to this I had a strict cut off time for completing the ride as we had tickets for England v Wales in the Rugby World Cup! 11951939_889078094510001_7598019393919259248_nTo ensure we started as early as possible we stayed with Grazby and Sam in Tooting and got ourselves over to Roehampton for about 6:30am. The ride was really good fun, there was some decent sections of off road but generally we were riding on bridleways and tracks which allowed us to go at a decent speed. There was a comedy moment when I got the wrong line and ended up cycling through some deep rutted puddles, having got through one the second went half way up my forks before stopping me in my tracks. Cue very wet feet and plenty of laughing from the other riders! It wasn’t long before we arrived at the aptly named ‘Tourettes’ Hill, the off road version of Ditchling Beacon (you swear all the way up it!). We knew this would be the final climb before we could descend into Brighton, so gave it our all….and then got off and walked!!! To be honest there were only 3 riders I saw cycle up it, the ground was very lose and very steep which meant keeping any traction was extremely difficult. Once it eased off we got back on and cycled up to the top, well almost…I got another puncture about 50 metres from the top! Once it was changed we were on our way and had a decent descent off the Downs into Hove, we then had a not too enjoyable 2-3 miles along the seafront into a headwind to the finish. It was a really enjoyable cycle, and a great way to catch up with an old friend! If anyone is considering it I would recommend riding as early as possible as I wouldn’t have liked to have been the 2000th person through some of the muddy sections we went through!  (sadly the rugby wasn’t as successful though)

There was no rest for me, the following weekend we had the Team 30/30 Park Run which was a huge success – as many of you know! We had over 30 people get involved and run their local 5km Park Run to help raise funds and importantly awareness too. Thanks to everyone who took part, especially those who came and ran with me in Haywards Heath – all the photos are on the facebook page.12109141_891975357553608_3466248214176346878_n 12141661_891975204220290_6146372701743883862_n

Special congratulations to Kier O’Doherty who won Bromley Park Run and Matt Dowson who won Barclay Park Run (on his Park Run debut). 12088133_891974924220318_5637633839431085947_n 12144872_891974820886995_9118731792396581443_n

I was only a few seconds off a PB despite the man flu I’d started developing! EXTRA special thanks and congratulations to my Dad & Father-in-Law who both completed the Park Run’s a great achievement for them both.  I love Park Run and I will certainly be back to run a few more next year!
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The man flu meant that I didn’t get any further training in before my next challenge, which was the Box Hill 100 mile Epic Sportive the next weekend. Once again I had some friends joining me, Cat, Rhiannon, and Anna were all cycling a shorter route (which still included the three main climbs), 12068516_895494180535059_5267775954027418987_oand Gaz ‘Hooch’ Turner joined me on the Epic distance! I was slightly nervous about this one as I had never cycled over 100 miles, and the serious hills were bothright at the end too – this was going to be a tough day. Once again it was an early start, with me and Gaz leaving Dorking at 7.45am. 12143291_895494040535073_4397117004904527007_nWe left the girls sorting out Anna’s bike after she forgot the skewer for her front wheel (the skewer keeps the wheel attached to the bike!) – “oh Anne!”.  First up for me and Gaz was the infamous Box Hill -but we were up and over it without really realising! It has a very gentle incline and although we knew we were climbing we were both surprised how gentle it was! Although there were three main climbs on the route, the whole ride was pretty undulating throughout making it a constant effort for us. Gaz was determined to keep our minds off the size of the challenge ahead and so quizzed me on my challenge top 3’s – top 3 toughest, top 3 easiest, top 3 most physical! The ride was going pretty well, we were keeping a decent pace and ticking off the miles but when we reached the third and final feed stop and realised we were going to be cutting it quite fine to reach the finish by the 5pm cut off time. By this point we had 70 odd miles in the legs and were both struggling. Long distance cycling doesn’t just take it out of your legs, its also your back, shoulders and neck that hurt too! We kept our feed stop as short as we could and got back out on the road, we knew this would be a tough section as it included both Leith Hill and Whitedowns which are serious climbs. We got ourselves up Leith Hill, but as we got to the top we noticed riders that we’d seen at the feed station coming the other way…somehow we (along with about 30 other cyclists) had taken a wrong turn and gone up the wrong side of the climb. Fortunately we hadn’t gone down the other side, so we turned round and got back on route. We now knew that we only had Whitedowns left to climb, and it was going to be a very tough climb. A few miles later we both struggled over what we thought was Whitedowns and celebrated – the climbing was over…only it wasn’t! About a mile later we went round a corner to see an 18% warning sign and cyclists pushing their bikes up the hill! The conversation stopped pretty quickly as the climbing kicked in, I was trying to keep an even pace and felt fairly comfortable (and a little bit smug), then I turned another corner only to realise that we were only half way up and the steepest section was still to come! I don’t know how, but we both made it up and over one of the hardest climbs in Surrey after 98 miles cycling. From there it was an enjoyable descent to the finish! We finished at 5.04pm, 4 minutes after the official end (exactly as I predicted!) and met up with the girls who’d finished their 53 mile ride too.

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The following weekend I had yet another massive cycle, the epic Fred Whitton Round. However, that story is worth saving for another blog!

By this point I had started my month of no alcohol challenge which I’m very grateful that Cat has joined me in. I haven’t been alcohol  free for longer than about 2 weeks since I was 18 so I knew it would be difficult, and seeing Cat drinking would have made it even worse. It didn’t feel quite right finishing a challenge and not being able to raise a glass in the evening, but we’ll have to make up for it at the end and cram 4 weeks drinking into one night!

I also completed my cumulative swimming distance challenge in October, finishing the final 1500m at my local pool after the Fred Whitton Round cycle. I had been getting some serious distances done when swimming outdoors at the local reservoir, however when that closed at the end of summer I was back in the pool which isn’t nearly as interesting!

Finally, I have to say a HUGE thank you to Sportswise, the sports injury clinic based at University of Brighton where Cat is studying for her PhD. They chose to support my 30/30 Challenge and Pancreatic Cancer UK in their annual cake sale – they raised a fantastic £200 in just one day!

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London to Paris; Day 3 & 4

Following on from the first part, here is the final installment of our London to Paris Cycle. By this point we had made it to France and spent a rather rough night in a tent!
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London to Paris Cycle, Day 1 & 2

When Nick first raised the 30/30 challenge idea, I thought it was such a poignant, awesome idea, I was all for it and very encouraging through the whole planning process!  Well, they say that hindsight is an amazing thing!!  But seriously, as we now start to approach the end of the year of challenges now, it’s still quite hard for me to find the words to explain how proud I am of Nick and all his achievements.  Anyone who doesn’t quite understand the level of commitment, sheer bloody mindness, time, blood, sweat and tears he has put into this year hasn’t grasped the enormity of the 30/30 challenge.  For most, running a marathon, or doing a half ironman is a once in a lifetime challenge that would take the best part of a year’s training, but no, not for Nick.  If you speak to him about it, he doesn’t often let on just how much these challenges have taken over our life, but everything we have done for the past 12 months has been done around the challenges or with them in mind.  They have taken so much time, money and effort, the fact he’s still going is an amazing feat in itself, let alone that he has achieved each and every one of these challenges along the way!  Nick has been helped out along the way by so many of our friends and family and it has been both heart-warming and humbling to see the lengths people have pushed themselves too in order to help and support the cause, which has always been at the heart and soul of these challenges.

Nick has been asking me throughout the year to write one of these blogs, and to be totally honest I’ve been dreading it, as I feel I’ll never be able to do the challenge justice with my rambling words.  To my disappointment, I haven’t been able to complete each and every challenge with Nick, but for those I haven’t completed, I have been there to support, so I know firsthand that each challenge comes with its unique set of highs and lows, but none quite so much as this one, the London to Paris bike ride!  We all knew it would be tough, but I don’t think any of us actually let ourselves think about just how tough it could be!  So this is my view of the London to Paris bike ride – I hope you enjoy the read!
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Day 1 – Friday
The challenge started with us driving to Sevenoaks to meet up with Tim.  As we changed into our cycling stuff at Nat’s Mum and Dad’s house, we discussed the plans over a much appreciated sandwich, and the mixture of nerves and excitement were already beginning to show!  We cycled over to Sevenoaks station and got the train to Trafalgar square where we met up with Simba and were finally ready to begin the challenge!  We got on our bikes and left Trafalgar Square about 17:30 on the Friday of the bank holiday weekend!!  I had already voiced my concerns to the boys about cycling in central London, but despite the traffic being heavy, and having to stop at what seemed like every traffic light in London, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the ride actually was.

We rode all evening, only stopping for a quick drink every now and again.  On one particular uphill section of a dual carriage way, from the bottom of the hill, I saw Simba at the top and a rather large bloke pull over, get out his car and start pointing at him!  I thought the worst, but when I eventually caught up, it turns out it was our friend Big Dave (all the way from Dartford)!  He had literally just got back from his honeymoon (Congratulations again Mr & Mrs Clare!) and happened to drive past and spot us!  After some much needed cheer leading from Dave, we pushed on into the sunset.  After a few navigational issues, some rather uncomfortable cobbled streets around Rochester castle and a few discussions of whether the path was ‘closed’ or not, the ride took longer than we thought and it went dark pretty quickly.   The bike lights Nick & I had were….how can I put it nicely………rubbish, so on more than a few occasions we couldn’t actually see the road which made for some interesting riding and some colourful language at various potholes!  We had also google mapped the route, but when you map a cycle route, it takes you down anything that counts as a bike route, like a bridle way for example!  There were a few times we ended up cycling our road bikes up a very muddy bridle way in the dark with no way of seeing where we were going or where the overhanging branches were!!  But, after a few brushes with the local hedgerows, we eventually made it to our destination about 10.30pm that night, after cycling for just shy of 80km.
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At this stage, I’d like to introduce our brilliant support driver Nat who had driven Nick’s fully laden car to our overnight stop in Bearsted so that we had all our bags, airbeds, sleeping bags etc – without her it would have been a rather smelly, uncomfortable evening!  Our destination was our friend Alan (AWOL) ‘s new house and when I say new, AWOL and his girlfriend Sarah had only just got the keys to the house that afternoon, so we really were pushing it by staying with them on their first night in their new home.  I can’t say thank you to them enough for putting us up that evening, it was just perfect, despite us having the mick taken out of us for our bib shorts!! But looking at this photo I can see why!

After a much welcomed dominos dinner and a much needed hot shower, it was time for bed.  Unfortunately, when pumping up our air bed, it became apparent that somehow (I’m not naming names here), but someone had packed the wrong air bed, so instead of our nice new one, we had our old one complete with a hole!!  We knew we were going to deflate in the night, but at that point, I don’t think we cared!

Day 2 – Saturday
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After an alarm that was far too early, we woke up (some of us closer to the ground than others!) and after a quick breakfast the boys rode off.  For me, not joining the boys was the first massive low of the challenge.  The 80km we had ridden the evening before was actually the furthest I had ever ridden and I knew full well that I wouldn’t be able to hold the pace the boys needed to ride to make sure they made the ferry on time.  For those that know me well, I’m sure you can imagine what a delight I was that morning having to admit that I couldn’t do something, so apologies to Nat!!  The boys rode off and Nat & I (after a detour back to Sussex for our other air bed), made our way to Dover and managed to catch the boys riding down the hill towards the ferry port.

After a straight forward ferry crossing, we were now in France!  I took first driving shift, giving Nat the horrible task of having to use a mixture of google maps, find my friends and a good old map book to navigate to various points we could meet the boys.  We made the decision before we left not to book any accommodation for Saturday night, so we could see how everyone felt.  We didn’t want to book somewhere too far away if everyone was tired, but we also didn’t want to book somewhere and make people stop cycling if they wanted to keep going.  We met up with the boys a few times, each time filling up water bottles, giving out new cereal bars and gels and checking everyone was ok.  I was still feeling tired from the day before, so goodness knows how, but the boys seemed to all be doing ok, they were in good spirits and keeping up a great pace, so Nat & I went on ahead to sort out a hotel for the night.  We had found a cheap and cheerful hotel online, but after making our way there, the hotel was closed for a private party!  To make matters worse, a quick look on bookings.com revealed the nearest hotel with space for all 5 of us was over 20 miles away!  With the boys having ridden all day, only 2 seats in the car and the sun starting to set, we started to realise we might be in a little bit of trouble.  This was another low point for me, and seems like a good place to say a huge thank you and big up to Nat, who for the whole weekend, had the thankless task of being support driver.  There was no doubt, the boys were putting in such an amazing physical effort, however, it was situations like this where the stress of being in the support car really came to the forefront.  To this day, I’m still not sure if it was a blessing or a curse to have seen the challenge from both sides, as they were both incredibly hard but for differing reasons.  At that point, to Nat & I, it felt like the whole future of the challenge hung on us finding somewhere to sleep, but that was going to be far easier said than done.

We went through all the guide books, searched the internet, rung every nearby hotel and stopped into everywhere we drove past, but nowhere had space for 5 people that night?!  We decided to face the music and meet the boys to tell them the news, which understandably, they found very hard to believe.  After doing their own quick search and phone around, they agreed there was in fact nowhere with space!  The boys, really wanting a hotel, decided to push on to the next biggest town La Touquet, whilst we drove ahead and tried in desperation to find somewhere, anywhere to stay! The town was absolutely manic, and nowhere had space.  It was now dark and had started to rain really heavily, which is when we started to get quite worried about our situation!  We stopped at a large hotel where the receptionist, who spoke excellent English told us there was a big party in La Touquet and every hotel she knew of would be full, but there was a campsite next door!  As it happened, the boys happened to pull into the driveway of the same hotel and saw us, so we told them the news and watched their faces fall, a heart breaking sight for us.  Luckily Nick and I were going to be camping for a few days after the challenge and had recently brought a new 4 man tent, so we left the boys pitching a tent we’d never put up before in the dark while Nat & I went into town in search of food.  Our string of bad luck continued as every single restaurant and shop in the town had already shut, but luckily the campsite said we could eat there, as long as we had sausage and chips!  The owners of the campsite were lovely and did us 5 plates of sausage and chips, but 1 frankfurter hot dog sausage and a handful of chips each didn’t touch the sides for us, let alone the boys who had cycled all day!!  We asked for the same again, but were told the kitchen had now closed, but we could get some beer!!  Tempting as that was, we decided it probably wasn’t the best idea, so decided to head to bed.  The campsite were particularly helpful by letting us borrow a spare airbed from a member of staff who wasn’t there that weekend, so we had eaten (kind of), had enough space on airbeds and a tent for the 5 of us.  As it was a 4 man tent though, 2 of us had to sleep in the porch!  Definitely not ideal given the huge storm that came overhead that night!  The thunder and lightning kept us awake most of the night, but when it wasn’t that keeping us awake, the wind was so strong it would shake the tent letting some of the rain drip through onto us, so it was a very long, uncomfortable night without much sleep!

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