Last week I found myself watching a documentary with Davina McCall on Menopausal madness and nodding……. a lot.
Although the word menopause may inspire some to exhale loudly and walk the other way it is still worth knowing more about. Why?
50% of you are already knee deep in this delight or will be one day. The other 50% will undoubtedly at some point find themselves face to face with someone who is losing things, forgetting things and shouting at you a lot. So be wise, listen up and if you are the ‘other 50%’ be thankful (well a bit).
So whether this is you or someone you know, these are some of the things you can expect to happen.
You or the other person may forget anything that happened more than two minutes ago, may lose things and in general do crazy things. This week I found orange peel in our laundry bin. I must assume I was the one that mistook the laundry basket for a bin since it was me that tried to put the cereal in the fridge last week.
You or the person going through the menopause will feel moments of rage never experienced before. Think PMT * 100. Forget Mike Tyson or the Incredible Hulk. They are no match for a menopausal woman in the midst of a rage attack. Perhaps I should sign up to that SAS dares wins and channel my anger.
It can lead to a lack of confidence and increased anxiety.
Sudden acute awareness of hormones. You have moments when you think ‘oh and there you are…..’ (the voice of Jennifer Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous springs to mind).
Interrupted sleep. Ah what must it be like to actually sleep through an entire night? I don’t remember the last time I did that. So you or the other person will be a walking zombie for around 5-10 years. No biggy.
So how do we deal with all of this? Well if I had the answer to that I would be a millionaire but below are some things I’ve learnt so far.
Well there’s the medication route of HRT or natural supplements
Exercise (of course I would say this!)
Finding a new goal or purpose. Perhaps one your younger self didn’t have time for.
Look deep into the abyss of those things that make you anxious or scared and do them anyway. Either this will do wonders for your confidence or you will fail spectacularly and have an amusing story to tell.
Accepting it and learning to work with it. I find going off to read a book when I cant sleep quite therapeutic.
Talking to others who are going through the same thing.
I’m sure there are more things that help but I’ll leave the reader to come up with more suggestions.
Out where a friend is a friend. Out where the longhorn cattle feed, on the lowly gypsum weed. Back in the saddle again. Yeeeehah.
What a difference two weeks can make! Just 14 days ago I was sore, completely fed up and ready to lose all hope with my aspirations. Roll forward to today and I’ve seen a different physio and got a second opinion, He got me moving again (ah so mobilisation was the key!). I’ve been cycling, swimming, intend to restart running this week and even signed up to my very own running coach!! I’M SO EXCITED!!
So apparently if you have some inflammation, resting for 5-7 days is fine but after that you need to “MOVE!!”. So thanks to Christos as he has saved me wasting any more time and getting ever more stiff and sore.
So as previously mentioned Ive got my eyes set on doing a ‘really long run’ in Sept 2022. In order to make this happen, given that:
I’m a) not especially gifted; b) tend to injure easily; c) not particularly strong and d) getting a bit old (should I of said older…does that sound better?). Anyway given all of those things I decided that getting advice from an expert might just help a bit and be worth the expense.
I’ve found someone who is a triathlete and will build me a largely multi-disciplinary plan as I realise I’ve always been stronger when tri training and have generally injured when my perceived need to do more running has meant less cycling and strength work. Obviously I will still need to run though but hopefully it will be quality over quantity. Let’s see how it pans out.
It’ll be weird to have someone else dictate what sessions I do and at what pace I do them. I guess this is not for everyone but I’m quite looking forward to it. It takes all the thinking out of it and I think I will get a kick out of it once I see some improvement.
Yup I said it. I’m happy to accept when I’m wrong. In my last blog I mentioned that I’d been doing strength exercises, yoga, stretching, basically everything I thought was right to ‘resolve’ my hip issue. This was because I wrongly assumed that the pain was caused by either tightness or weakness.
So according to the learned Physio I visited last Thursday – turns out there is a third option. Inflammation. Ahhhh. And what should do when something is inflamed? Rest it, rest it, rest it. Possibly ice or heat it and take ibuprofen. Ahhhhh whoops then.
Last week I was happily forecasting that the physio would send me away with a list of physio exercises to do and tell me to stop running for a bit. Well there was no fancy physio list of contortionist exercises or magic wand waving. Just realised. Im glad I didn’t ask my physio if he had a magic wand. Might of taken it the wrong way.
In actual fact the conversation went something like this…
Me: “So should I do some, you know, easy physio type exercises?”
Him: “Nope. I want you to do nothing.”
Me: “What not even cycling?”
Me: “What about swimming, I already booked myself onto two sessions?” (Eyes now twice the size, imploring – reminiscent of the cat in Shrek).
Him: “Hmmm. Well its not ideal.”
Me: “Well I could use my pull buoy (float between your legs) then it would only be an arm workout!”
Him: “Ok. If its only arms then you can do that.”
Me: “I was thinking I’ll keep it short like 20 minutes?”
Him: “And how many metres can you swim in that time?”
Me: “Um a few…..like 1000 maybe”
Him: “Make it 15 minutes max”.
I should explain that the reason he was being so strict about the ‘arm’ swimming is because I went to see this same physio last year with a rotator cuff injury….
Whilst he was attaching me to the Stims machine and letting me know I should speak up if my muscles start to contract too violently….I decided to tell him about my plan to run from John O Groats to Lands End in 2022. Instead of rolling around on the floor laughing (which to be fair would of been a reasonable reaction in the circumstances) he simply said, “oh thats really cool”.
Me: “So you think thats possible?”
Him: “Yes we will get you there. And you can put our name on your T-shirt as you come into the finish line”.
Me: “Whoop, great, I will”.
I think he was kidding and he was probably placating me like a child. Perhaps he will go home to his other half later and sit and laugh at the person who wants to run 1200 miles when they cant even walk right now. “Oh and then she said…..Isn’t that hilarious darling….”
Ok, my imagination is getting carried away with me. I doubt this guy calls anyone darling. And I’m probably doing him an injustice. He might actually believe I’m capable of this aim. To be fair I can walk a mile, thats a start right?
So since last Thursday until the next one I’ve done some front crawl (arms only) but otherwise absolutely zilch. Unless you count teaching my friends some belly dancing and salsa in a back garden after three cans of gin and two cans of wine.
No I know right. I didn’t realise you could buy wine in cans either.
Unfortunately we’ve now cancelled the Ultra end of August and I do feel bad for my husband as this obviously affects him too (we were running as a team). However, its better to admit its not going to happen now and I do feel relieved to not have that immediate pressure anymore. Next year is another matter.
When I will be able to start running again is still a mystery to both myself and the physio. I think I heard him say ‘weeks’ but equally it will depend on progress.
The other bonus about only being able to swim right now is that it is making me get up at stupid o’clock tomorrow morning. This is a habit I definitely grew out of during lockdown in favour of rolling out of bed into my joggers at 6.55am in order to start work at 7am. So swimming is going to help me get back into my old habits. With this being said it means that tomorrow I will get up at 5.30am to start my day. I cant honestly say I’m looking forward to this, especially as I would like to watch Line of Duty tonight at 9pm with a glass of vino. Hmmmm. I’ll let you know how it goes…
A week ago, my husband and I were still planning our Westhighland Way 96 mile midge dodging, hill scaling Jog in June. Sadly on Tuesday I finally had to admit I could no longer ignore the pain in my hip flexors/psoas/lower back (take your pick). I also had to recognise that no amount of buttock clenches, bridges, massage or doing cat-cows or happy baby poses were making a difference.
So we decided to cancel it for now and hopefully rebook this later in the year, provided I can recover from this current ‘hiccup’.
I like the occasional obstacle in life, it allows me to take stock and think ‘how I will tackle this latest difficulty’. Sometimes you find interest in other things along the way. Things you just wouldn’t have seen or done if everything had gone to plan.
However, I would pretty please like a brief intermission from said obstacles. There was the sore back that stopped me running for a full year, 4 years ago. Then there was this little virus that strolled into all our lives.
Last year I pulled my rotator cuff and took three months to get to the point of being able to put my hand behind my back without clenching my teeth in pain (this is not some torturous desire or weekend circus act – but a seemingly necessary task a woman must do every day – think about it). It also made swimming uncomfortable and heavy weights went right out the window. Not literally! I couldn’t lift anything heavier than 1kg for a while.
After that things went hiccup free for about half a year. I felt fit, was running 50k a week injury free, the shoulder was manageable and we were looking forward to the West highland Way adventure and considering running a crazy 72k Ultra in August.
Thats when I fell over and punched a hole in my knee – see earlier blog…. enough said about that.
Amazingly I was up and running just 4 weeks after the fall with the scar, despite its alarming red and raised appearance, healing nicely. At the time I knew ‘don’t build up again too quickly’ your body doesn’t like this. I knew this and yet for some reason I told myself ‘go by feel’ your body will warn you if you are doing too much…..
Two months down the line and the ‘going by feel’ plan failed miserably. I’m now having sports massage weekly, drop and do yoga at the drop of a hat anywhere, anytime (no seriously) and groan like a 100 year old when I stand up after sitting in a chair for any length of time.
I’m seeing the physio on Thursday but I already know what they are likely to say. Do less running, let your muscles recover, rebuild your glute strength and then rebuild your running back up SLOWLYYYYYYYYY…….. but I still feel inclined to pay an expert a lot of money to tell me this. I’m still hoping they will wave some kind of magic wand.
Anyway I have digressed……I was talking about the enjoyment of obstacles. So, as ever, I’m looking for the positives in this latest development. Here are the ones I’ve discovered along the way and based on this latest hurdle.
– I love yoga now – in fact I love it so much, I may seriously consider training to be a Yoga teacher when I retire – are they called Yogis (are they smarter than the average bear?)?
– I take some comfort in now knowing my body really really well including all its flaws and weaknesses. I mean forewarned and all that right.
– I had dropped my strength work to just once a week. This experience has reminded me I need to do strength exercises several times a week (if you want to run long distance with an arched back that is).
– All the ‘breaks’ have given me time to do other things. I’ve enjoyed painting, baking, writing a book and in general just ‘chillin’.
– Having done less running miles in the last week or so I’ve had time to pull the route together for running JOGLE (John O Groats to Lands End) via the 3 peaks. I have had my heart set on doing this for 6-7 years and due to above mentioned obstacles have struggled to get this plan underway. I’ve also barely dared to mention it up to now since it does sound crazy when you consider how often I’m paying specialists to check my hips or pummel my glutes. But recent events have also reminded me how much I want this. There is now a space in the autumn of 2022 for the offing.
– So, having finally decided on the date for this adventure, I intend to arrive at the start uninjured and ready to go. Nothing will stand in my way (I do hope you are listening body). But if you do throw a few more obstacles in my way, I am learning to hurdle now….
For some time now I’ve been sans blog, blog less, in a brain fog with no idea for a blog, figgity foggity definitely not blogging…… you get the idea.
A little over a month ago I thought, I know I’ll write a blog tonight. I’m running 50k a week and our goal of running the West Highland Way in four months time is in sight. I’ll write about that.
I was having this thought whilst running on a beautiful but decidedly muddy ground day. I’d navigated my way over hilly, muddy and rocky terrain and was just on my 21st kilometre, feeling quite tired, when I fell over. I should rephrase that. I caught my left foot on something, my right carried on forwards, my left foot didn’t and I fell forwards and hit the ground hard and slid for a few feet.
None the less, falling is a natural side effect if you run a lot so I jumped up and thought I feel ok, I look ok, all good.
Then I noticed the hole in my leggings and some blood. Ah whoops. On closer inspection my leg looked ‘mushy’ underneath. It’s the only way I can think to describe it. Still I figured, no one gets that hurt out running for the day so I must be imagining it and I carried on walking up the hill. It was only about 3 miles home from there after all.
At this point I phoned my husband and I actually cant remember what I said as unbeknownst to me I’d obviously gone into shock. So I may have rambled. I do remember being determined to walk home though and he kept asking me where I was, which at the time, I found a tad annoying. In the end, he told me strongly to “stay still” and he would come and get me. Wise man.
I’ll save you the bit about how we went home first because I thought a plaster might do it…..
Anyway… a few hours, a visit to A&E and 12 stitches later and my life had changed. Not forever, lets not be dramatic here….but in the short term my running intentions and blog intentions had certainly been stalled somewhat. The nurse told me 1-2 months before I could run again and the latter was more likely. Ah….right then…..
So here I am. It’s 5 weeks later and I’m walking and running again. It’s oh so so slow and I’ve got a way to go to build up my distance again but I’ve made a start and recovery should be faster given my previous fitness.
I’m astonished at how amazing our bodies are. I’m amazed in all honestly at how delicate they are. I never thought a tiny fall would result in such a deep puncture wound and I equally never thought the body could knit itself back together so quickly. It’s kind of cool to see, in a weird way.
Time off running has given me more time to do other things. I’ve spent more time doing Pilates and stretching. I tried some one legged indoor cycling which I was rubbish at. I’m on my third jigsaw puzzle and I’ve started to give the house a good spring clean. Not sure why that feels good for the soul – but it does.
With the West Highland Way we now only have 3 and a bit months to go and I wont be ready to run it all or even 80% of it (as I’d intended). However, I should be able to run half and walk half (I hope). I’ll be happy with that.
Moreover, having some time off has given me more time to mull over my ultimate dream. It’s a running dream that involves covering roughly 1,200 hilly miles. I’ve yet to iron out the details and of course there is the substantial training still to do, but more on that another day in another blog. Watch this space.
Well what a few years its been! A choice on Europe that divided the nation.
‘I think that person voted for Brexit, how could they? Oh dear sniff, that person is a remainer, I mean what else do you expect?’ This was followed, sadly, by people throwing virtual dung at each other over facebook, twitter and other social media. It also went on in cafes, bars and homes too. Once you had formed an opinion on this matter you were either a Brexiteer or a Remainer. Sorry is that label for life? With an irish background, this smacks of the old religious divisions where knowing someones surname would tell you what their religious background was.
Just at the point where we were all switching off the television, for fear that one more word on Brexit, would result in the need for copious amounts of gin and a straight jacket, along came the pandemic.
And so we were all glued to our televisions once again. Every day got more and more bizarre. The pandemic caused fear, illness and tragedy but also caused further division. ‘Have you seen that person wearing a mask under their nose. What do you mean, masks don’t work anyway. I don’t trust these politicians. I don’t trust these scientists. I wont be told what to do!’ I do not exclude myself from such banter. Its how we all live as humans and how we find meaning in amongst this utter madness. We make observations and we make judgements.
However, at times the diverging opinions can turn into further somewhat heated mud slinging; and not the kind that leaves you with a mud mask and glowing skin unfortunately.
And now as we roll towards the 1st January, we are down to the last moments of Brexit. Deal or no deal without Noel Edmonds or the possibility of prize money. And one of the main sticking points seems to be down to fish. I bet the cows are feeling smug right now. They can fill the air with their trumps as we all concentrate on the agreement over the seas.
With the new vaccine we can look forwards to a future without the pandemic. Covid may still exist but life should eventually return to normal, I hope. We can look forward to seeing loved ones and giving them big hugs. We can look forward to holidays or nights out with our friends.
With Brexit its hard to know what the future is but we can bravely face whatever it is together. The pandemic also showed us how we can all pull together. From millions raised for charity, runs and walks from inspiring people, communities helping each other get their shopping or standing behind their local businesses. It has brought us awareness of our local areas and the support we need to show each other.
For 2021 my new years wish would be, that we can put our wonderful diverse opinions aside and look forwards to the future, however hard it is, at least we are all in it together.
The doors slam shut and instantly I feel trapped. There is no way out – no escape.
I try to occupy my mind by reading a magazine but instead I wrestle with the pages, my sweaty hands sticking to the edges of them. I suddenly develop the hearing capacity of a bat. I can hear every breath, every sound, every word of every conversation going on around me. I need to urgently distract myself. I try talking to the person sitting on my left. “So where are you heading?” I try to sound calm and engaging. He doesn’t respond; I’m not sure he even heard me. I feel too embarrassed to try again and instead start to tap my fingers on my magazine over and over.
I realise I’m starting to become somewhat manic so try a routine to relax myself. I clench my hands and release them, tense the muscles in my legs, release, clench my toes, release. It isn’t working. I’m just focused on my tension, which is makes me feel worse.
The steward comes down the aisle and stands near my seat to begin his demonstration. Further behind him a stewardess also waits to show us everything we need to know. They start by explaining how to put on our seatbelts. Seriously if you dont know how to put on a seatbelt then how did you manage to navigate your way through customs? I mean even a walnut whip can apparently set off the baggage scanners.
The simple belt tightening exercise is followed by the inevitable and far trickier ‘and this is how you put on your life jacket’ – “You know,….” if the plane plummets to earth and lands in the sea…… I’m sure I will remember exactly where my life jacket is and how to put it on should such an inconvenient event occur – thanks a bunch.
Finally they finish off by recommending you look at the card in front of you. I’m sure it has horrifying pictures on it, although in all honesty I’ve never looked too closely at it. In all my years of flying I have never wanted to know exactly what I need to do should the plane crash. I dont want to think about that before take off – thanks.
The same people who just delivered the delightful ‘here is what you to do if we crash’ presentation, now proceed to walk up and down the aisles. Have you checked your table is up and your seatbelt is secure? Yes, yes, like a million times already. They start closing the overhead lockers and then all at once they disappear.
The silence is deafening. I hear nothing. Even the earlier loud chatter all around me seems to have abated. Everyone must be very engrossed in their iPad games or books.
Then it comes, the noise. I hear the engines start and the plane starts to move. The plane taxis to the runway. My anxiety steps up several notches as I realise we will soon be taking off and there is not a scooby doo I can do about it. That sense of being out of control, having to do something I really dont want to do is so intense. Yes I want to go on holiday and I knew this was the best way. But now the moment is here, I really really dont want to take off. Agggh, inside my head I’m starting to lose it although it’s not showing on the outside…….just yet.
The plane moves into position and moves onto the runway. The engines roar loudly and I feel the acceleration. The engines get louder and louder and I’m completely terrified. The fear is indescribable. I’m simultaneously aware of happy excited people around me (it must be alright surely?) and at the same time my own breathing is getting faster and faster.
The plane takes off. I start to panic. My thighs start to shake uncontrollably and I can’t stop them from moving, despite pushing my hands down onto them. The plane bumps as it climbs through clouds and I lose it completely.
All self control is lost.
My breathing is now audible to those near me. I can’t stop shaking. I feel like I will die. I can’t keep it together anymore and I start to cry. I’m now gasping and sobbing and the stranger next to me looks at me very concerned. “Are you ok?”
“I’m so so sorry”, I sob, “would you hold my hand? I’m terrified and it would really help.” The businessman looks at me slightly confused but then puts out his hand and grabs mine. “Its ok, it’ll be ok,” he says. “We are nearly up.”
I close my eyes and try to believe what he is telling me. I start to get my crying under control. He is right. We are starting to level out. My breathing starts to slow down and the shaking in my legs has stopped. I’m left feeling like I’ve run a marathon from the sheer physical effort of the panic attack. I start to feel calmer and feel the tension in my muscles start to leave bit by bit.
I let go of his hand and thank him. I try to laugh it off. “Sorry about that, I dont like flying”. Really? No shit Sherlock! Is that the best I could come up with? Surely I could of told him that the last time I flew the engine fell off or something.
It is at this point that I feel a new emotion – embarassment. There is nothing more shaming than everyone seeing you at your worst. I’d like to consider myself a brave person, a strong woman but in this moment I am weak and vulnerable. I sink slightly lower in my chair as I realise I have attracted too much unwanted attention.
The air stewardess comes hurrying along to my seat. I hadn’t realised but the businessman had called her over for me. “Would you like a little drink of something now?” I want to hug her and the businessman! What kindness people show. It makes me want to cry again but I blink and manage to avoid that moment. “Yes please, I would love a brandy. A double maybe?”
Where is this road going? I ride around yet another hairpin as the road snakes up and up, higher and higher. I’m on holiday with my husband in Mallorca. We set out to do a ‘nice’ 50k ride and appear to be lost. At least I assume we are as I’ve been told this route isn’t really that hilly. ‘We must be nearly at the top’ he says.
Don’t get me wrong, I dont mind going up this hill. It’s only 5% and I’m actually pretty good on that kind of gradient. But I’m terrified of steep downhill cycling or downhill cycling with mountain drops to the side and I dont want to do either. What goes up must come down and I’m scared of what is around the corner.
It’s 10 years since the panic attack on the plane. A fear of flying course, some relaxation techniques, an understanding of NLP and the slow reintroduction of some positive flying experiences where I didn’t panic and I’m over it. I truly do not feel afraid now, unless its really turbulent on landing but then who does like that right?
We finally get to the top of this climb after 10k. Hmm, its a decent hill by all accounts. Unfortunately my fear has meant heightened levels of adrenaline for some time now and I’m shattered. I chow down a gel.
We start the descent and my husband pulls away from me. That’s fine I want to go at my own pace. I manage an accceptable yet slow pace on the early sections but as soon as it gets steeper and I can see how high up we are I grip the brakes tightly. So tightly in fact, I could probably walk down this hill quicker. I see my husband ahead. He has pulled over mid descent and is waiting for me. “What are you doing? I’ve been waiting ages!” He isn’t aware of my fear at this point, certainly not the enormity of it. I snap at him and he looks hurt.
Fear makes you do that. When you are lost in a phobia there is no real way to explain it to someone. To them and most people its irrational. If you are terrified and there is no need to be and no one else feels it then how do you explain that? Feeling that scared and yet not being able to convey it to anyone is highly stressful. All you really want is for someone to say “I know this is hard for you”. At the same time you don’t want them to see how scared you are as it’s so embarrassing. I opted to be quiet. In that moment I had to just dig deep and get down the hill.
My husband looks at me and realises that I’m going through something even if its not something he can understand. He pulls in behind me and we move down the hill together slowly in silence. When we finally make it to the bottom I feel many emotions at once. Relief, shame, alone. Physically I have cramps in my hands now after gripping the brakes for 8k.
That was 5 years ago.
Since that time I have taught myself to ride downhill without fear and am getting quicker with every passing year. It took a lot of time and patience. It was not something anyone could help me with. I started with a small hill, then a bigger one and built it up slowly by taking on ever greater gradients and adding more speed, a bit at a time.
3 years ago we went up the same hill in Mallorca and I descended without fear averaging 25 mph all the way down the snaking road with the drops at the side. It’s not fast but I’m none the less very proud; I was able to do this with a smile too. My husband who understood my fear by then waited and applauded me when I got to the bottom.
I’m standing at the top of Kinder Scout. I need to run down the steep hill in front of me.
I look down and decide to climb down the tricky uneven path in the middle. Its really rocky and wet. My husband has taken a small grassy path on the left but its muddy and right next to the drop. My trail shoes are not good on mud and I don’t fancy getting it wrong so close to the edge. I opt to make my way down the stones but they also prove difficult and slippery.
I feel it gripping me – the fear. I take a few slow stumbling steps. Then I have a moment where I stop completely. I am incredibly frustrated with myself. I have run hard today and set a good pace uphill and now I will lose it all taking forever to get down this descent. I have conquered my other fears, why can’t I conquer this one?
It’s no good, the fear simply won’t go. I take one step at a time, sometimes down, sometimes sideways. It takes so long to descend the hill, time seems to stand still.
I take a swig of sweet berry drink from my Salamon soft bottle and a bite of malt loaf from my pocket. The sun is shining but the ground is still wet and glistening from the downfall of rain yesterday. I look briefly down the hill and realise I am so high up I cant even see the bottom from here. I start to run forwards remembering to tackle only what is in front of me. I look ahead to check the next 10 metres, keeping an eye out for holes, roots and large rocks as I go. I switch off my overactive thoughts and focus in, only on this moment.
I start to build speed and feel myself flying down the hill, tackling every obstacle in my way. I’m in control and I’m excited at the prospect of catching someone up in the race and passing them, knowing that I will get to the next checkpoint at the bottom of the hill in good time. The rush of adrenaline is exhilarating. All my fears are gone.
This story is set in the future. I have not mastered this fear yet but I intend to. It’s life’s greatest challenge to take on our fears. I just need to work out how………to make this happen.
“Did you know its 20 times cheaper to maintain a bike than a car?”
With the original plan of doing an Ironman in Mallorca in October cancelled some time ago my husband and I decided that we would like to do some form of bike touring for our holiday instead. 🚴♀️🚴♂️
So following a few evenings of cosying up with mugs of tea, iPads and Google we decided to cycle the Way of the Roses from Morecambe to Bridlington. We would take the train to the start, book the first two nights accommodation and then play it by ear – there were after all lots of murmurings of lockdowns, closing pubs etc.
As this was more of a holiday, enjoy ourselves and have some beers kind of thing rather than an achievement thing we decided to do it in 4 days and take it easy. My husband who is probably capable of cycling the 170 miles in a day left this decision to me. In all honesty, now having done it, I realise I could of done it in the more common 3 days and still had plenty of time for enjoying the ride and the post ride beers.
The route, for anyone who wants to cycle, run or walk it, is utterly beautiful all the way. Its incredibly varied from narrow country lanes, flat roads that wound their way through tiny villages with beautiful cottages, undulating roads, steep hills, some lanes with holes and grit and gravel, some that felt briefly ‘off roady’ and went through the middle of a large field. Every bit of it is however, completely doable on a road bike (even for me).
We arrived on Saturday by train in Lancaster and cycled to Morecambe for the start. The easiest way to do this was via the Way of the Roses cycle path which felt a little silly knowing that we would be retracing our steps an hour later.
After a nice warm brew in a seaside cafe and a quick kiss with Eric Morecambe we set off on our way to Settle.
Day 1 – Morecambe to Settle
Day 1 was possibly my favourite in terms of the cycling terrain. It started off on flat cycling paths but soon went onto gorgeous undulating country lanes, the kind where you can not take enough photos. In fact I remember thinking this is the definition of ‘rolling countryside’. None of the hills were steep or if they were it was only for a few metres where you stood up fairly briefly and then sat down again but it was up and down enough to make it really interesting and give rise to beautiful views which went on and on (a bit like me lol). We saw hardly anyone for miles and miles.
Knowing that day 1 was only 35 miles to Settle and given a shortage of shops directly on this route we decided to simply push on and eat when we got to Settle. I did have some yummy snacks in my front pack including a cliff bar and some mini banana malt loaves. These helped us to keep fed but not stopping was a mistake, by the time we had booked into our hotel and found a cafe it was 3pm and we could of both happily eaten the table we were sat at.
We stopped at the Golden Lion which was fantastic. The room was lovely and the food at dinner and breakfast was excellent. The bikes were stored in a back part of the hotel which is locked up and hidden from view.
Day 2 – Settle to Boroughbridge
This day was hard!! In fact it was the only really hard day, I wish I would of realised this was the only hard day at the time as I might of been able to push myself more. Admittedly I was having a bit of a menopausal down day and feeling quite negative. Its not a nice feeling and it can diminish that normal sense of adventure and excitement and replace it with not only a lack of these feelings but a real lack of confidence too. Suddenly what was exciting and challenging yesterday becomes impossible and annoying today. Knowing upfront today would be quite hilly I tried to suppress this negativity and told myself right just get on with this, cmon Lorna.
With this in mind and knowing a big hill would be on the cards within a few miles we cycled out of the hotel around the corner and turned up a cobbled street which hit 17% almost immediately. Um where was my couple of miles warm up? My calves are still cold thank you very much! This was swiftly followed by a 20% sign and I thought wtf!!!! I tried to stay on my bike and cycle up this hill but when it turned a corner and looked like yet another 20% longer climb I got off and walked. I’m not proud to admit this and I’m sure all you cyclists reading this would be just fine but I had previously only cycled up a 20% hill (just one time) and combined with my state of mind I lost confidence in myself to do it.
Of course once you are off and walking its really hard to get back on again so I continued to push my bike and walk up this hill until it started to flatten out again. After that it became a lot easier and it was also utterly stunning which cheered me up. We cycled across the top of the moorland which undulated for a while until coming to a lovely long descent with glorious views all around. The weather was perfect, cold but sunny with bright blue skies.
Feeling a little more positive, ok Lorna you got this now, I pedalled on. To my annoyance we were then met with numerous 17-20% gradients which tested both my physical ability and if I’m completely honest my mental patience. Further along we came to a particularly tough initial ascent and as I turned the corner I found myself almost coming to a standstill stomping hard on the pedals and muttering expletives (apologies to the people who were walking down the road at this point). I promise you normally I would say hi and smile at you rather than pant, swear and make grr noises. It really was just one of those days!
After this corner I could see more hills ahead and I started to really struggle again mentally. We stopped for a short rest, more to get my mind in gear than my legs. After a brief rest taking some pictures I found the climb I had seen in the distance was not hard at all. In fact the rest of the climb up to Greenhow was simply divine, never difficult, just enough to keep it interesting. Combined with that sense of achievement you get from climbing a hill, I felt great. Hurrah 😀.
Positive me was back woohoo! With this new sense of positivity and also the knowledge that this was the last hill today I flew down the other side of the hill into Pateley Bridge for lunch. Not even the signs saying be careful, ‘16% gradient’ & ‘watch out for cyclists’ could deter me from this sudden increase in confidence and sheer unadulterated joy.
We managed to find a lovely little cafe in Pateley Bridge where we could park our bikes around the back. Sadly the only available table was outside, it was freezing but it sufficed for us to have a short snack of beans on toast and warm mugs of tea.
With Cafe legs we set off from Pateley Bridge. During lunch my husband had set my expectations by mentioning that there was in fact a “small” hill to come but after that it would then be flat until Boroughbridge where we were heading. Hmmm normally this wouldn’t have phased me but on this particular day I simply couldn’t get my mind in gear for this and felt quite p’d off at the roads. Grrr how dare you give me another hill grrr.
It didn’t take long to discover the 19% and 17% gradients. Once again I could not shift my head out of my CBA place and got off and walked. I would love to do this particular section again on a day when I had the right mindset. For reasons I find hard to explain unless you have experienced menopause your hormones can give you really bad days that are very hard to simply brush off. After those last hills, during which I swore at them (lol), there is a lovely long descent from Brimham rocks where it did indeed flatten out and the rest of the ride to Boroughbridge was a rather quick and easy affair.
We passed through Studley Royal, to my surprise, right through the middle of it on the same small path that people were walking, which I found a little awkward so I rode quite slowly and apologised a lot even though its apparently a cycle path. It was beautiful though.
After Studley Royal we passed briefly through Ripon and took an opportunity to have a photo moment in front of the Cathedral.
We stayed at the Crown (Best Western) in Boroughbridge and we would both highly recommend this. The bed was so so comfortable we didn’t want to get up the next day! I think the food was great but in all honesty I must of had a few beers as I cant really remember the evening at all 🤔.
Day 3 – Boroughbridge to Pocklington
I woke up on Day 3 in a great mood. Typical really since todays ride was going to be extremely easy; 40 miles of flat terrain. It wasn’t boring though! The terrain varied enormously and we could of easily used the GoPro to video all of this day if we would of had enough battery to do this. Here’s just one short section which showed the beautiful autumn colours on the trees.
Sometime after this we were passing through a little place called Ouseburn and my husband spotted a sign on the wall. It was a memorial for where a plane came down in 1942.
On this day we stopped for lunch in York. The last mile or so coming into York took us through a park weaving our way along a narrow cycling path and over quite a few cattle grids. It started to rain and my husband started singing ‘why does it always rain on me’ with his wonderful dulcet tones clinging to the air as I rode behind him 😆.
It wasn’t until the last half a mile that you come onto a main road and are then quickly into a cycling lane, through an arch and then facing the York Minster. In fact we stopped at Bennet’s cafe opposite York Minster which was handy and their toasted crumpets with marmalade were to die for! Highly recommended.
After lunch we set off for Pocklington with only 20 miles to go. It was beautiful and eventful all the way with no less than 6 suicidal squirrels running out in front of our bikes as we skidded to avoid them each time. I do have to wonder if they actually lie in waiting and then throw themselves across the road at the appropriate moment.
We stopped at the Feathers in Pocklington and again I would recommend this hotel. The rooms were separate to the hotel (like a motel) but none the less very luxurious. The lady who served us at dinner and breakfast was incredibly friendly and chatty which also made for a nice stay. Again the bike lockup was great, this time it was their food storage area.
In the evening we debated what we would do the next day and decided we would cycle to Bridlington to the finishing line but then cycle back again 10 miles and stay in Harpham overnight. From there it would be an easy cycle to Driffield to catch a train in the morning or maybe we could cycle on somewhere else, we’d leave it open.
Unfortunately our reservation in Harpham got cancelled in the end so after much discussion and a few whiskeys we decided to just get to Bridlington and get the train home the next day.
Day 4 – Pocklington to Bridlington and home
Again an easy 40 flat miles on the last day (hence why I’ve realised with hindsight I could of done it in 3). It was also just stunning views all the way, although this was somewhat marred by the weather which was torrential. It reminded me of a bit out of Forrest Gump (you have to do the voice though 😆) “We been through every kind of rain there is. … And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath”.
Combine this with the fact that I had trusted the weather forecast (yeah I know!) and not taken mudguards and that my “rain jacket” was shower rather than rain proof and the ride was a very enjoyable but nonetheless profoundly soggy experience.
We arrived in Bridlington wet through although I was definitely wetter and muddier than my husband who had sensibly had mudguards and a decent jacket. The sense of achievement, the joy of seeing the sea, the joy of seeing a warm cafe perhaps all meant I didn’t initially notice how cold I was.
After a delicious veggie burger and fries we cycled to the station and I changed into my jeans, sweatshirt, clean socks and shoes. Even after doing this I felt cold and it took me most of the journey home to really feel warm again. My husband stayed in his bike clothes as they’d dried out pretty much by this point.
So yes I’ve already ordered some decent mudguards!
So highlights from the trip?
The climb up to Greenhow and descent down to Pateley Bridge
The views coming in to and climbing out of Settle
The joys of riding in the rain
The gorgeous views
Getting better at descending
Definitely the views
A snickers bar (yes this is a highlight when you haven’t eaten a full sized chocolate bar for years)
Realising I can ride on and on if I ride slowly
Seriously the views 😍
Knowing I now want to buy a bike for touring, practice with panniers (my husband carried ours for this trip) and get properly kitted out for the next adventure 😁👏
Bikes on trains is really easy, just check on some services if you need reservations. (The Journey from Romiley to Lancaster and Bridlington to Romiley was £80 in total for two!!)
The route signage is excellent, well done Sustrans! We used a GPS but you really don’t need to, just follow the roses 🌹
Chris: It all started in Mytholmroyd in Oct 2012. We had just finished Seasons of the Mist Audax and I joined Ant and Ade at a table in a cafe there and the discussion turned to the forthcoming LEL the following year and who could be mad enough to do it…………..right there and then we all decided to give it a go, though Ant never signed up along with a few others.
We had already done plenty of 200K audax and I had done one 300K but the time limit and distance is still daunting.
What did you do in terms of training/to prepare for the event?
Chris: We both trained differently though still did the 200K Cheshire Audax’s together through winter. I had resolved to do an Audax SR series whilst Ade did multi 200k events, sometimes back to back over a weekend. An SR series is completing a 200/300/400/600K series of Audax within a year, I did it in 6 months. I figured that if I could do 600K within 40 hours I could ride anything. In my opinion I got my training spot on, doing the distances and with the bike loaded just like I would on LEL.
My set up was to be efficient as possible but to carry enough stuff to get out of any mechanicals and contend with the UK weather. I had a Carradice saddle bag and an Ortileb bar bag. At the start I was amazed at how little some of the people were taking, it was as if they were on a Sunday 50k ride out. These were the fast or daft ones 😊.
Ade: I also had a Carradice Barley saddlebag, and on the crossbar a Topeak Fuel Tank. This gave me about 8 litres of storage which was enough as we were travelling extremely lightly. I had 3 lights at the front which had about 500 lumens at full power, and more importantly ran on disposable batteries that I could replace at the bag drops. I took clip-on SKS race blades for mudguards.
Can you tell me about the route and organisation?
Ade: Basically audax is an entirely volunteer organisation that has been run for years by organisers who gave up their time to do it all. There’s an interesting backstory to LEL, which I heard about on an audax one time. I was riding on my own on a 300k audax and this mad scouse bloke with long hair (who I’d seen on other audaxes) caught me and insisted on talking to me for what seemed like ages. It was more talking at me as he didn’t stop for breath.
He told me about LEL in 2009 and how badly it was organised but that it was brilliant. There’s a book on Kindle about it – “Barring Mechanicals” which is a great read. Anyway, one of the guys who rode 2009 made a case to the Audax UK club about this being the premier event and, therefore, deserving of proper organisation. What he did, completely with volunteers, was nothing short of staggering. And the route was planned a year or so in advance (as I understand it) with people riding sections of it and suggesting amendments and contingency options etc. The route was published as a set of instructions to be printed for the old boys, and gpx files to download onto Garmins for the youngsters like Chris and I (and I think we were in the younger demographic!).
Chris: The LEL Audax, (not a race though you would never of guessed it), rolls around every 4 years with PBP (Paris Brest Paris) nestled in between. The entry was at midnight on something like Jan 3rd and it sells out incredibly quickly, with worldwide participation. The 2013 version was a 1,418Km ride from London to Edinburgh and back with a time limit of 116 hours.
(We set an internal goal of 100 hours or better for ourselves though). Both myself and Ade signed on and the training began.
How was the event experience and race day start for you?
Chris: Race day was 28th July 2013 and Ade kindly drove down to the start the day before. We were booked onto Debden house campsite but ended up staying in a travel lodge or premier inn not too far away. I remember us having a meal and a beer and getting to bed early only to be woken by a massive clap of thunder in the night, fortunately it had passed by morning. Debden house was the parking lot.
Our start time, was about 6.30am in the morning and we were in the B group. The really fast lot had set off before in the A group. The riders set off 30 mins apart with the last lot not starting until Midday!! You do get to choose your time. You get two bag drops which you choose prior to the event to drop small items at, anything from new kit to gets to chamois cream etc.
It is an Audax, so you have to follow the route as closely as possible and pass through specific controls, these are set out on the route card and Brevet card. At each control you have to get your Brevet stamped and you get fed – for free! Well you paid a £230 entry fee but we ate £230 worth of food at every control 😊. There is also an option for a bed. When we got to Thirsk at 401K we asked for a bed and to be woken up 3 or 4.5 hours later, it was really efficient. The control centres were utterly amazing. The food was excellent.
I remember the first time I spent money on the way north was at a petrol station between Lockerbie and Moffat, we had done about 600K, had a nights sleep and I just wanted a Lucozade for energy as it was a hot day so I got us both one. 600K and I spent £2, not bad at all! The controls are also set up with water/isotonic supplies and mechanics who will fix your bike for free!!
Ade: Beforehand we’d sketched out a rough plan of which controls we were going to travel to each day. (We had a full spreadsheet lol).
Our plan was:
Day 1 – 249 miles Loughton (London) to Thirsk
Day 2 – 189 miles Thirsk to Edinburgh
Day 3 – 184 miles Edinburgh to Thirsk
Day 4 – 187 miles Thirsk to St Ives
Day 5 – 74 miles St Ives to Loughton (London)
The majority of the controls were schools making use of the kitchens and halls and all the check-ins etc were computerised so people following could see the last control a rider had checked into.
Another nice touch was that our rider numbers had our names and country printed on them. There were 33 countries represented and over 1000 riders.
Just to play up to Chris’ stereotype it took us:
Total time taken 104 hours 43 mins
Total distance 885.4 miles
59 hours and 59 mins actual ride time
Average speed of 14.8mph
30,846ft of climbing
Chris: The route is amazing, as you know Audax routes tend to take you on the quiet lanes of the country, far from the madding crowd and this is exactly what it was.
Any incidents you had to deal with?
Chris: TBH not too many, the main one was both of us nearly getting wiped out by a van about 400 metres from the finish line LOL. Our fault too as we were being giddy kippers eulogising about how great we are and prob going too fast 😊. I think we had one or two punctures the whole route but other than that no mechanicals that I can remember. Ades bum sores could be classed as an incident lol.
Ade: Chris and I rode a lot of audaxes together the year before and we just got on well which is hugely important. Also we complemented each other as riders – both a similar standard/level of fitness. There was a descent that was about 15 miles long after Moffat and I noticed that every time I braked my bike would make a grinding shuddering noise. This turned out to be a broken axle (didn’t find out till after LEL though). In the end I just carried on and tried not to use the front brake that much!
Chris also kept me going when my knee was really bad and stayed with me whilst I was riding in the small ring on the flat and one-legged uphill!
What happened with your knee? Any other physical aches and pains?
Chris: Ade suffered with saddle sores and a sore knee going North but was stoic in his approach but I worried about him,when you’re worrying about your mate it adds a different pressure, he sorted his knee though, at about Branard Castle he realised it was the little top bar bag forcing him to widen his knees, so he wasn’t in his natural position, removing the top bag and his pain dissipated, relief 😊. I was lucky in this respect, I didn’t get any pains, I didn’t change my shorts for 1000K, only changing them when I knew the end was in sight and it would take my leg being sawn off to stop me. They were stuck on lol!!
Ade: I started to feel the first pain in my knee on day 2. By the end of the day I was wondering how I could go on with it as it had become so bad each pedal stroke was painful. As Chris says removing the top bar bag helped enormously.
Feelings and thoughts before, during and after?
Chris: Personally I loved it BUT not every minute. There were a few dark moments but it is endurance. I think the single most mentally difficult time was us pushing into a 20MPH headwind for 100k in the middle of the night through the Lincolnshire fens on the way south after about 1200K.
Both taking our turn on the front, secretly hoping the other wouldn’t flick is arm out for the other to come through. That was a very tough 5 hours with only Ade commenting how depressing it was not to have a single turning to break the monotony or a traffic light. We were desperate for a turn in the road lol. Beforehand I was confident, I think we both were, it was an adventure, that’s how I saw it.
Ade: Yes, my low point came cycling up Yad Moss. I had a support on my knee and I just couldn’t think of anything other than letting down all the people who had sponsored me (I was doing it for a Kids Cancer charity). My mind was working overtime and that was when the clarity came – I knew what the problem was and the bar bag and knee brace went in the ditch (metaphorically – I gave them to Paula, Steve’s wife). I still couldn’t sit for long on the saddle due to the saddle sores but at least I knew I’d finish. I’m not sure I would have if Chris hadn’t put in all the work on the front over the previous 2 days.
And what was it like to finish?
Ade: When we got to the end though, it was emotional. We shook hands as we rode in to cheers and cowbells.
Chris: Triumphant! 😆. In all honesty the end is a bit of a blur, I think it was emotional.
Would you do it again?
Chris: Deffo!! Though maybe slightly differently. On the way back at 1,000k we had booked a B&B for a few hours overnight at Thirsk to freshen up. This meant we slept far too long and when we got up my legs were in recovery, it took 100K to get them going again. Although the luxury of the B&B was nice it wasn’t conducive to our sub 100 hours and this made us miss it. (I think we did it in 104 hours).
I would like to say we would do it more casually but I know that would never happen, maybe when we are 80!
Ade: I hope to do it again one day 😊
What average speed and distance would someone need to be able to do to consider LEL?
Chris: Honestly, anyone could do it. If you have a good level of fitness and good mental strength with a few 200s under your belt you could do it. You don’t have to ride it fast. The lowest average speed is 12.5km/h non stop. A friend Becky was gutted as she was just outside the cut off time and didn’t get a finishers medal. She still did it though, just took her 4 hours longer.
Do you have any special memories to share?
Ade: I didn’t like riding across the Humber bridge – they move and I don’t like heights! Head down and ride!
Chris: Going north we went mental! We forgot what everyone said,(don’t go mad on the first day), and went mad. 400k at approx. 29km/h. We were only 30K from the start when some old guy who didn’t even have a map started drafting us. DROP HIM came the cry and then we tried to drop everyone and everything that came near us after that lol. We would do that again though, I just know it.
Ade: Yes agreed we went too mad on the first day. An old audaxer called Peter Bond had told me before that the adrenaline would kick in and he was right. Plus a monster tailwind and we absolutely smashed it for 200 miles. Looking back it was ridiculous.
Chris: Ade going mad 30K from Thirsk going north, pulling a long line of riders along at about 30KMH, it was pitch black and close to midnight. We were going along undulating lanes in a wood or forest and I dropped to the back. I just remember seeing a long line of blinking red lights rising and falling in front of me thinking about how great life is.
Ade: That ride in the dark was amazing. I was determined to get us to Thirsk somewhere near our schedule as we were behind (and that meant less sleep) so I just hammered it. My lights weren’t great and unbeknownst to me I’d hit some potholes so hard I’d snapped the axle in my front wheel. Also, when we came back the same way in the light on the way back I realised how lucky we’d been – a few people had been wiped out on gravelly corners and bigger potholes – but at the time it seemed fantastic. The next morning we were quickly aware of how stupid we’d been the day before when our average speed dropped considerably. It was on this day my knee starting hurting and I started popping nurofen.
Ade: The distance we were covering meant changing scenery and weather which was great. We only went up by 38ft in 62 miles across the boring Fens (only made bearable by the joke Chris made up when we found a guy lay in the road in front of his car – you had to be there really). Also, we went from sunny weather and blue skies to flash floods near Market Rasen where we had to ride on the pavement because the roads were flooding!
Chris: Leaving Edinburgh at 700K going to Traquair, we left at around 5:30 after a couple of hours kip. It was July and it was 5C, bloody freezing but what a route to Traquair through the mountains.
Ade: That ride was amazing, the valley was beautiful. Breakfast at the control was some fantastic cake (Madonna’s cake maker) and a tot of malt whisky!
Chris: The route from there to Eskdalemuir was arguably even better, lush pine forests and car free roads.
Ade: Getting a massage from a blind bloke at Brampton to try to help my knee – his guide dog was sat there as good as gold as all these riders trooped in and out.
Ade: Its stupid really but on the last day it felt like 74 miles was like nipping to the shops. I guess relatively speaking it was.
Chris: Driving home after the finish, we stopped on the services at Birmingham on the toll road, opened the car doors and had to crawl out, we couldn’t move our legs LOL. Some women were watching and laughing at us as we tried to stand up. We must’ve looked bladdered but we just rolled about laughing.
Laughing, we just laughed a lot. There were dark grouchy times, that’s endurance for you but overall a lot of laughing.
There is a fantastic documentary on the 2013 LEL which you can find on amazon prime called ‘London Edinburgh London’ (quelle surprise). See if you can find the guys in it talking about their visit to a pharmacy to ask for “face” moisturiser for their sore bits 😂.