Life, Travel

Cycle Trip: Lincoln to Liverpool – Day 4 (The final day!)

The three of us in front of the Crow's Nest pub.
Last orders at the Crow’s Nest!

John first cooked up this idea last summer. A way to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease research, and to have a bit of a challenge. When he asked who wanted to join the ‘fun’ I foolishly put my hand up . He said it would be about 30 miles a day over 4 days. Something I could definitely work towards.

Well I didn’t work towards it in the way that I would have liked, as life got in the way, and ‘about 30 miles a day’ was a bit of an understatement.

Today was probably the most urban leg of our trip but it ironically turned out to be the most cycle friendly one.

As it was Monday we figured that we’d need to start super early to try and get across Manchester without being mown down by the traffic. So at 7.30 am we wheeled out of the Premier Inn in Denton and got going.

The three of us cycling out of the Premier Inn in Denton
Setting off very very early

Mike has a whizzy woo Garmin computer on his bike but because it’s fairly new, he’d only just got the hang of the sat nav on it this morning. Perfect timing! Instead of taking the main roads that took us around the north of the city, as my Google maps was showing me, it took us the other way and through a gorgeous, green and well tarmacked path around the south that took us all the way to Chorlton.

The birds sang, a few runners, cyclists and dog walkers passed us but hardly any sound of traffic and it was blissful on this re-purposed train-line route.

We made such good time that Chorlton’s trendy cafes weren’t even open as we passed so we had to carry on further for breakfast: to a not so trendy Wetherspoons pub. It was just around 9 am and the full Englishes didn’t touch the sides. It was a little strange to see people actually ordering beer at that time of the morning but a couple of people were and hey, each to their own.

Having congratulated ourselves on a good first stint we carried on further west through Urmston and Irlam, all the way to Newton-le-Willows. We did have to do a little bit of walking around some farmland but generally it had been a lovely day. But we realised, as we stopped for a coffee, that we still had nearly 20 miles to do in under 2 hours and I was flagging in the sun.

Apparently this sun’s been shining here all weekend  but we only just experienced it now. All the way from Lincoln we have had slightly overcast and breezy weather which has actually been perfect for cycling. But now, since coming out of our green idyll this morning it began to get a little warm.

We decided to go down the A580 which would get us almost all the way and hoped that it would tolerable for cyclists.

Well we didn’t need to worry as there was a well maintained cycle path that ran alongside the thundering traffic, which meant we could make really good time, and we happened to be on the shady side of the road. Hurrah!

Our final stop before the end was Sefton Church where we were met by several blokes on bikes and one in running shoes. These were people who had been good friends with Mark and one of those friends had actually introduced Mark to his sister Carole all those years ago!

They will actually be doing a spin off Scotland ride in a week for the same charity. Just one day but 100k over some serious Scottish Hills!!

These fellas became our entourage for the last three miles and brought us in to the Crow’s Nest to rousing cheers and claps from everyone waiting for us there.

John led the way in, as this whole crazy tour was his idea. In fact he will be carrying on in a few days to do a further cycle tour in Ireland with family and friends for the Irish part of this journey so he’s a glutton for punishment but hats off to him.

Mike will be jumping on his super light bike again for the day in Scotland, and I will frankly be putting my feet up for a couple of days and then have to get back into the running fray to get training for my half in 8 weeks time!

Me on my bike in Crosby at the finish
Me and my trusty metal steed

Today we did 50 miles of cycling and a 1000 ft of going up a bit, so no wonder I was beginning to droop by the end. We did 160 miles in total, a little more than the 30 miles a day John reckoned. But all very much worth it.

Our fundraiser link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jack-cunningham7

Life, Travel

Cycle Trip: Lincoln to Liverpool – Day 3

If you’d told me to get on a bike again after the end of day 2 I may have told you that I was throwing in the towel.

My forearms ached, my shoulders were sore and I couldn’t actually squat far down on my right leg before the pain kicked in. I won’t even go into how my backside was feeling.

Still, we had got over some serious challenges and we all knew that the hardest day was done. So this morning, as I was woken (gently) from my slumbers by Maureen, John’s wife, I downed some paracetamol and got into my kit.

Although there were some plumbing issues with our dorm of a room, I would highly recommend the Youth Hostel in Hartington. There are smaller, private rooms if sharing a bunkbed is not your style, as well as yurts and glamping tents on the grounds. The food and bar is pretty well stocked and it’s an excellent location from which to explore the Peak District.

We prepared for our ride with some hearty breakfasts and then wended our way towards Buxton at about half 9

Coming out of Hartington was a bit of an effort. I was pushing my bike twice up some steep gradients before we’d got to the main A515, and I realised that my quads were also grumbling at these excessive exertions.

We had hoped that the main road would be a little quieter, what with it being Sunday and all, but it didn’t feel like that was the case. Many cars were considerate and slowly overtook, giving us a nice wide berth, but not all. Mike said that I looked stronger, going up these hills, than the previous day. There may be an element of working myself into fitness but feeling the woosh of cars and vans whizzing past you can also help to keep you from stopping, and keep ploughing on.

Buxton, however wasn’t too far away and we decided to have a mid-morning coffee break. Another lovely looking town and one that I’d like to explore further. We didn’t get to St Anne’s Well to fill up our bottles with the local water but it’s apparently very tasty.

Originally we were going to stop in Whaley Bridge for lunch but as the boys had had the supersized English breakfast, and I’d polished off a lovely Portuguese tart in Buxton, we decided we would carry on to New Mills which was a few miles further.

The ride out of Buxton was slow going for me. Those hills that aren’t too steep but go on, seemingly, for ages. But plough on I did, and we were eventually rewarded with a fabulous downhill that also went on for ages. Again not so steep to make it scary, but a lovely, exhilarating, rest for a good couple of miles. The scenery too, was stunning, and I would mark this section as one of the most enjoyable parts of the ride so far.

John and Mike pausing a moment to get our bearings with the lovely Peak District scenery in the background
Mike getting our bearings while John and I appreciate the amazing vistas

From New Mills to Denton (east of Manchester) was generally straightforward and we got in quite handy at about half 3.  I definitely feel a lot better this afternoon than I did yesterday evening. Sometimes, it is worth doing a really hard thing just to make everything else feel a little bit easier in comparison!

Tomorrow is the final leg of the journey, and we are really looking forward to having a pint at The Crows Nest, Mark‘s local in Crosby, with family and friends.

Stats: 2000 ft climbing. Around 35 miles.

Rough map of our route from Hartington Hall to Denton
I managed to miss a chunk of activity on my Strava but this google maps pic is fairly accurate for the day.

Our fundraiser page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jack-cunningham7

Life, Travel

Cycle Trip: Lincoln to Liverpool – Day 1

The day before, we were thinking about setting off on the first leg at just after 9. To let the rush hour pass but to make sure that we could get to the end destination while it was still light.

Then as the warm, sunny evening wore on and drinks were had, we thought around 10 ish would give us ample time to make our meandering way to Nottingham.

It turned out to be half 10 in the end, after bacon butties etc, before our gang finally waved us off, and some of the neighbours came out to give us a send-off too!

All the people on the road trip
Full team involved on the road trip including support crew

The morning leg was very picturesque. John lives in South Hykeham which is to the south of Lincoln, so the plan was to hit Newark by lunchtime and then end the first day in Nottingham. We wended past little villages, like Haddington and Stapleford (listed in the Domesday Book), instead of attempting the more direct and the more dangerous A46.

Map from South Hykam to Newark
None of the places I have mentioned are on this Strava map but they are there somewhere along the red line …

It was definitely worth the few extra miles for  the bucolic scenery, although as I admired one old church, John told me that it was completely gutted inside. So, perhaps all a façade, but a pretty one.

Newark-on-Trent, to give it its full name, is a strange town. Definitely lots of history about the place, possibly even as far back as the Roman times, and there were some lovely old architecture and many quirky little alleyways. But it also felt a bit drab, and insular. It’s a fleeting impression and I shouldn’t make such fast character judgements. I did, however, have a very nice spinach pie for my lunch there.

The second half was longer, but it was nice and flat, and the roads, generally, were smooth. We made good time again, although I did have a moment, while traversing a particularly busy roundabout, where my chain came off as I walked my bike across. I forgot to shout out, but luckily, the other two realised that I wasn’t bringing up the rear and came back for me.

Another highlight of this bit, was seeing four planes go overhead in kite formation. Absolutely inch perfect it was. Neither John nor Mike saw it as they obviously had their heads down grinding away the miles, but it was very impressive.

Map from Newark to Nottingham
21 miles ish for this leg. I will sleep well tonight

Our residence in Nottingham, the Jury’s Inn, has been besieged by stag do parties. So much so, that we’ve all be flung far and wide around the edges of the hotel so that we’ll not be too disturbed by the debauchery that will inevitably ensue. I will probably sleep through anything right now though as I am tired. And after exploring tomorrow’s route (to Buxton via Matlock) I need to get all the rest possible!

Today was about 35 miles in total in the flat lands. Easy peasy. Tomorrow I think, not so much.

Our fundraiser link:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jack-cunningham7

Life, Travel

‘Will you cycle with us?’, they said

My idea of getting back to normal after the last few months is to fret about a bike ride.

My bike in the hallway.
My bike when I bought it, all shiny and new. Doesn’t look this clean any more.

It’s the one that had been arranged by Anne’s brother John (sometimes called Jack), way back last year. It was a way of raising money and awareness for Motor Neurone as their brother Mark was suffering from it. Sadly, Mark passed away, back in January, and following that, my Dad got sick with lymphoma and has also now died.

However the ride is still happening, and because I had said ‘I would’, all those moons ago, I’m getting in the saddle over four days, for the first leg which starts this Friday:  Lincoln to Liverpool.

I had written about a lovely ride I’d done with friends, just over a month ago. Nearly 40 miles, into Wales and back. I had intended to get a few more under my belt between then and now but it hasn’t been possible. I’m thinking though, how hard can it be to go from one day’s ride over a month ago, to four consecutive days now?!

I had pondered practising this week but I knew it would do no good, like cramming for your exams the night before, I wouldn’t feel the benefit of it, and on top of all of that, it’s just too darn hot!

So I am fretting instead.

The group of riders, that was initially as high as six has been whittled down to three for various reasons. There is John, Mike (another brother) and me. So that means that I definitely cannot back out.

I’ll be fine once I get going. At least on the first day. But I know that, however cushioned my shorts are, I’ll be feeling it in the backside area when I start day 2.

But I just need to remind myself of the bigger picture. We’re doing this for the people that follow Mark in getting this terrible disease, for which, currently nothing can be done. A few extra pounds to go into the research pot to learn more and hopefully develop treatment and even a cure one day.

All the charities have felt the crunch during this pandemic with fundraising events having to be cancelled. We’ll do our little bit to refresh the coffers of one of them and hopefully get back to Liverpool in one piece.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jack-cunningham7

Running

Cycling, not running

Signpost - left to Chester, right to Hope
What does this say about Chester?

I didn’t run yesterday as I spent a lovely day cycling into Wales with compadres from the running club.

Pensby Runners spawned a non-running child some years back, called PROBs (Pensby Runners On Bikes). They have been meeting, barring Covid lockdowns, once a week on Thursday. As it’s a day time, most of the riders are retired, but they’re not a sedate bunch. Their usual routes are between 50 and 70 miles, and include the odd hill or five. 

Luckily for me this week, a breakaway group decided to do a shorter route, around 30 miles, and so, knowing that I had a charity bike ride coming up, I joined them.

My ride is at the end of July. It’s a family thing, set up by my brother-in-law John, in memory of Mark, who had Motor Neurone Disease. We’re cycling from Lincoln to Liverpool over the course of a few days with each day being around 30 – 35 miles, so my trip with PROBs was a good test of whether I’d reach the end of, at least, day 1 intact.

Cycling by myself to the meeting point in Neston was a little strange, as recently I’ve always had my mate Gary to accompany me whenever I’d gone out. Still, I put my big girl’s pants on and got there just a few minutes before they were setting off, albeit adding a mile or so to my journey as I got a bit lost on the way.

People were just leisurely finishing their coffees as I arrived to an impressive row of bikes, lined up neatly against the walls. There is something kind of cool about cycling in a group. You feel safer (apparently Liverpool and the Wirral are some of the UK’s worst areas for cycle accidents and fatalities) and you are I am less likely to get lost. Plus if you get a puncture, there are people to stay with you to help fix it.

There were 14 of us on this trip, which split into two groups of 7 to keep it manageable, and we took off, once the drinks were drunk, to our lunchtime destination of Higher Kinnerton.

What do you call a group of cyclists? I suppose the obvious is a Pelaton, but it would be nice to have something a little more fun. Birds have ace ones, like a ‘conspiracy’ of ravens, or a ‘murder’ of crows. I’m all for adding a completely new definition, for example, a ‘scandal’ of cyclists! However, I’m no influencer, and it would be less likely to gain traction than the profane epithets occasionally hurled by irate car drivers.

We didn’t have 5 hills today but we did have a couple of toughies heading around Buckley. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. It’s a mantra that I gasped near the top of the second hill to give myself a bit of encouragement. I was encouraged that I didn’t have to get off my bike and push, so that was something.

Luckily there was some excellent route planning to make all the hills happen before lunch so that I could justify my triple chocolate brownie at the café in Higher Kinnerton. There was also time for one of the crew, Jenny, to get a little surprise cake for her birthday.

In a slight variation to the original route back, we stopped to see very cute donkeys chewing the cud in a field. Who knows what things these beasts had to tolerate in their former homes, but, in this sanctuary, they looked very happy.

A donkey in a field
Little Donkey, waiting for me to pull up more grass for it to eat

Then we rode back along the river and through Burton marshes and had a final group stop at the Harp Inn in Neston. There were loads of tables outside which was nice. I looked at my tracking thingy and it told me I had cycled just over 38.5 miles up to that point. I really intended to do the final 7 miles back to home when I sat down for my lime and tonic, but then, as the sun came out a little more, and I got a little more relaxed, I ended up ordering a beer and calling Anne to pick me up. Rome wasn’t built in a day you know!

Running

Bouncing Back

This may be a blip in the continuum, so I’m treating it very cautiously.

However…

Both on Monday and last night, during my first club run in about 18 months, I felt … stronger.

Could my week of squats, plus a random array of other, non-scientifically generated, strength training exercises, already start to be paying off?

I know! It’s crazy talk.

If such results could be got from less than seven days of 10 minute efforts, it would be front page news. So, probably not.

However…

My Monday run was in the evening when I’m not at my best. With looking after Alf all day, I’m usually ker-nackered and, more often than not, likely to recline on the sofa with a glass of wine. But to get my mileage back up after a few weeks of down time, I reasoned that my small, standard but hilly 3+ mile loop was attainable and would mean less panic by Thursday.

I realised, a mile in, that I hadn’t laboured breathlessly in that first few minutes, but I wasn’t crawling either. I felt quite ‘bouncy’ generally, and although it didn’t translate to a huge time reduction, it was quite spritely for me, and I wasn’t even trying.

Tuesday night, feeling a little anxious having not been club running for an age, I let virtually everyone shoot past me and settled in with the back group of injured or relaxed runners. I actually went on ahead and then circled back one or two times as I again felt ‘bouncy’. I circled back, partly because I like to chat sometimes with people and partly because I didn’t know the route. What I thought was going to be a 5+ miler turned into nearly 7 so I’m not quite sure if they knew the route either.

An old windmill, without sails.
An ex-windmill in Neston, now probably serving as posh lodgings.

Still it meant I could take today off from running and just do a cycle. Gary took me on a local, shorter but hillier than usual route, which was nice of him. But, good for me in the long run I suppose! The hot choc and cake in our break by the boat graveyard at Sheldrakes, certainly tasted good anyway, and the local robins took a few morsels to feed their fledgelings, which probably wasn’t the healthiest, but very cute.

I will be continuing with these strength exercises and monitoring my progress. If nothing else, it will be good to have some more indoor moves up my sleeves if I’m back in Leicester next week. My dad is still in hospital but he has his diagnosis at least and begun treatment. So, fingers crossed, it’s the start of an upward curve for his health and he can get back home soon.

The sun is making a bid for freedom this weekend after getting a pummelling from May’s rough winds and some lashings of rain, so I shall see if I can keep bouncing, or at the very least, feel the warmth and the start of summer.

Running

A Curve Ball in the Shape of a Cold

Sunday

I was going to do a little technical post about ‘Base Training’ because I’d had several weeks of good mileage and was feeling quite strong. However, that will have to wait for another time as I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself of late.

Not only had we lost the dog last week but I’d caught a cold the week before at some point, and the back end of it has lingered a bit. Yesterday I attempted 8 miles and managed 5 and a bit as my breathing still felt laboured, with very little effort. Although at the time I felt a bit dispirited, it just showed me how much my body usually works on a run, even though I’m a slowcoach!

Getting the cold in the first place got me a bit worried because, in our mask-wearing world, it should now be a lot harder and if that lurgy had sneaked up on me, I’d obviously let my defences down long enough for the Big Bad to potentially catch me too.

I wondered, initially, if I had got it when I was travelling to my dad’s on the ‘train’! It was the first time I’d used public transport in over a year and I was rather nervous about it. I had trains in fact, as Wirral to Leicester is not the most straightforward of routes. But, although tedious, it actually felt pretty safe as the vast majority of other travellers were also masked up and there weren’t that many of them.

So I was pleased, therefore, to learn that little Alf, who we mind on Mondays was also full of the sniffles so it was most likely that he’d passed it on to me. Plus, now with the home kits that they’re dishing out in the UK, I could double-check that it wasn’t the version of the coronavirus that had thrown the world into mayhem but the old-fashioned tried and tested one.

Tuesday

I have resigned myself to the fact that I’ll have a few weeks of low mileage, especially as I’ll be back in Leicester for my dad next week. However I did get out for an excellent bike ride with Gary today which was the first in about three weeks.

Just under 25 miles in glorious sunshine (most of the time). And we had our coffee break at Nets Café in Burton, which had loads of outdoor sitting areas and an army of sparrows to clean up any lingering cake crumbs. I left them barely a morsel of my lovely slice of banana and walnut that Gary’s wife Wendy had baked.

I will get back on track with my running. I know I’ve had these little dips before which have sometimes turned into big sloughs of despond, but I’m determined to keep the short runs up as and when I can, while upping my yoga and working out more strength training exercises to keep me getting stronger. That’s the plan anyway!

Running

That was the week that was

When so much writing material happens in the course of a week, a consolidation is required.

A corner of the beach with river Mersey behind and Liverpool skyline in the distance
A trip to the seaside on Tuesday.

Tuesday

It’s great to have a mate to go cycling with. Especially when you yourself are not so au fait with bicycle mechanics (I can ‘theoretically’ fix a puncture but I haven’t had to do it in yonks!) or, in fact, decent bicycle routes on the Wirral.

And on top of all that, two is sooo much better than one when you’re contending with some of those who sit behind the wheel of a car. And it’s not always Audi drivers either (not even a joke in my experience sadly). Today a bloke in a Beemer stuck his two fingers up at Gary for cycling in the designated cycle path. The path was fairly new but well-marked and made the road the width of a single car each way as opposed to a wide load. So room for all of us and no requirement to reduce the car speed lower than the official 30mph limit. But I guess there is no pleasing some folk!

However, that small incident aside, we had a great ride to New Brighton and back. A comfortable 20 miles with a coffee break in the middle. Now that the lockdown restrictions have eased somewhat, people can sit outside to drink their drinks in more sociable environs. And the weather was rather glorious for it. The sun was out and it wasn’t quite scorchio, but when you’d worked up a sweat, it was good enough to take a layer off. We happened to spot some other cyclist friends to have the break with, one of whom was 89 and still easily able to knock out a casual 30+ miles on his bike that day! If I can get half of that energy when I’m 89 then I’ll be dancing, hopefully literally!

Wednesday

Good times back at the River Park.

Thursday

Talking of energy, I was getting a little worried about my running mileage. Although the cycling had felt fine at the time, my legs were now feeling tired, even when sitting down and I’d only managed 4 miles running so far since Monday. I realised that I hadn’t been putting some of those Chi Running precepts into practice. Mainly that I needed to slow it down.

I’m not fast by other people’s standards, but an 11.30 minute mile is getting to be a comfortable pace for me. At the beginning of the year it was between 12/13 mins so I am getting a bit faster. But in order to include my cycling and keep my long runs long, I decided to try going slower again and add around a minute to each mile.

It is actually really hard to drop down from your normal rhythm, and you feel like you’re virtually walking. That feeling, ironically, made me smile – this pace was definitely harder at the beginning of the year. I was progressing then! I managed just over 6 miles in an average 12.34 minute miles, and it all felt good. The real test would be to see if I had enough in the tank for tomorrow’s long run.

Friday

Bev wanted to join me today so I thought we’d maybe get about 9 miles in, as she’d not done a long one in ages, which was okay with me. I would just do a bit more at the weekend.

She hadn’t slept properly the night before, having felt something akin to pre-race nerves. But she’d had her muesli that morning and found some coconut oil as her substitute for Vaseline and I’d dug out some Dextrose sugar tabs for her so she was ready.

The pleasant sunny days seemed to be continuing all week and we both had our shades on (although mine sat on top of my hat forgotten, for the most of the run!). We kept it as slow as I’d done yesterday and found some new paths that we’d not ventured down before.

The wonderful thing about long runs is that a little diverging and exploring is quite possible because you’ve got loads of miles to cover and so you’re less restricted. And it keeps it interesting, especially when you’re clumsily trying to climb over a gate and wondering if you’re trespassing!

We didn’t get too lost though and eventually found our way back to our normal stomping grounds without being chased by guard dogs (that has happened to me before!) but it was fun and made the miles go with ease.

I was feeling it by the end to be sure, but when I pulled my phone out and saw we’d passed the 11 mile mark I was ecstatic! And ever so slightly jealous of Bev that she could knock out such a great run with zero build up!

But, honestly, we were both completely buzzing from the enjoyment of it and the result. And my biggest win was the fact that my legs felt fairly fresh again after a few hours and I could go again for another small one the next day.

Saturday

After a sneaky 4 miler to test the legs with Bev in the morning, Anne and I set about organising the garden for our first (in a long Covid while) hosting event, and I would also get to christen the BBQ that I’d bought last year! Gary, my cycling buddy and his wife, Wendy were already coming over. Then my brother was at a loose end that day so he, his wife and my gorgeous tiny niece came later too. The Barbie worked a treat, apart from a small accidental fire at the beginning that was put out without any trips to A&E.

Oh it was a beautiful day. The wine and beer were flowing, the food went down a treat, and Anne had surpassed herself with an amazing lemon curd pavlova to finish things off. Sometimes you just don’t realise how much you’ve craved good company until it actually happens again.

A lemon curd pavlova with pistachios
Anne’s Scrummy Pavlova

Sunday

Watched the ultimate marathon GOAT (Greatest Of All Time in case you’re not sure) effortlessly wipe the floor with the competition in the NN Mission Marathon this morning. The commentators noted how Eliud Kipchoge looked as fresh in the 26th mile as he did in the first. And then acknowledged how much incredible work went into that appearance.

I was tempted by the man to go out for another myself but held back. I’d managed just under 26 miles plus my cycling this week. Which will do nicely.