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dunwich dynamo

It’s that time of year again. The night were Hauling My Carcass and I forego a night’s sleep to cycle from Hackney to Dunwich on the Suffolk coast. Regular readers will know that this is the 3rd time we have done this although for the uninitiated, I shall briefly explain…

Dunwich Dynamo takes place on the Saturday nearest the full moon in July (for maximum overnight visibility). It is free to take part, is organised (by The Southwark Cyclists)  but not supported or marshalled. A group of like minded cyclist congregate in London Fields and a little before 8pm on Saturday, begin to head off through Hackney and then out through Epping and into the shires on their overnight cycle to the seaside.

It’s not a race and although there are some hardcore lycra clad clans desperate to get to the other end (Dulwich Paragon have got themselves a bit of a reputation), it is mostly a mixture of happy cyclists up for a bit of a challenge and an adventure. Lots of road bikes, some mountain bikes, fixies, singlespeeds (including myself and HMC), at least one penny farthing, one participant with his 2 dogs in a purpose built box and (last year at least) one person on a Boris Bike.

The procession of red flashing lights snakes off in front of you for most of the ride and it is the view that  comes to sum up the ride. People stop at pubs and lay-bys on their way to Dunwich to rest, refuel and, in some cases, sleep.

HMC and I have come to adopt a fairly regimented ritual – 3 stops en route at approximately 50km intervals and experience has taught us that plenty of food, plenty of liquid and a change of warm, dry clothes at the halfway point are the best way to tackle it. This year I had a mini panic at about 110kms when I ran out of water. I have never run out before and the thought of about 80km in the dark with no liquid did scare me a bit. Fortunately, a few kms later, we came across a wheelbarrow at the side of the road full of bottles of lucozade sport and an honesty box to pay for it. I don’t know who you are, but the person who placed it there gets my thanks – you helped me through the remainder of the ride in relative comfort. And that, in essence, is why I like the DD – someone thinks to put some emergency lucozade at the side of the road. With an honesty box. And cyclists stop, are grateful for the gesture, buy Lucozade and put the money in the box – even though it would be easy not to. Or to take some Lucozade and the box of money. But they don’t. It is a mutually understood and reciprocated gesture.

In the early hours of the morning, the tiredness and psychological demons take hold and, if you are prepared for it, can be easily combatted. HMC seems to hit his Black Spot before me, so we chat whilst he concentrates on staying awake and positive. Just after the sun comes up, it is my turn to struggle, questioning why I do this each year and struggling to keep going. Motivation from HMC and a Mars Bar gets me back on track in no time and the last 10-15kms are torn up as we both know the finish is in sight.

A brief stop at the beach to soak up the atmosphere and then we get changed and sort the bikes in readiness for the home journey. Southwark Cyclists lay on coaches but HMC and I have, for 2 years running, driven to Dunwich on the Saturday, left the car overnight and then driven home on the Sunday morning. This is, arguably, the toughest bit as you have stopped the physical exertion and are in the relative comfort of a car. And you have not slept for something like 29 solid hours. The drive back to mine is a little under 2 and a half hours but in that short time I had 2 cans of Red Bull, one double espresso and a cake to keep me going and focussed. Of course the upside is that I was back home by 10am and the rest of the day can be used for a shower, eating and catching up on some sleep.

It is not easy but the effort is definitely worth it as it leaves you with a lasting sense of acheivement and the urge to grin everytime the Dunwich Dynamo is metioned.

Same time next year then…


the map is not the territory

“The map is not the territory” is a lovely phrase that is generally used to mean that study is not a substitute for experience. However, it’s literal meaning was also true on Sunday morning when I set off to explore Cycle route 61 from Hertford to London. As part of my training for the European Road Trip in May I though I might get some miles in by cycling to work – 26 miles each way. Google Maps had advised a cycling route that basically follows Cycle Routes 61 and 1 all the way to Tottenham where I would jump onto the road and finish my journey. From the route. It looks plain sailing, if a little convoluted and I decided that I would take the mountain bike just in case the going got a little gravelly.

Which was just as well because about 6km into the ride, the going does indeed get gravelly. Then it gets muddy. Then potholed. Then poorly signposted and veers off at a sharp angle, crosses a road and then ducks back onto the track through a gap in the hedge only to then wind it’s way up and over a hill. By the time I had reached the M25, I decided that perhaps I should head back as I was running out of time. The outward route took me 1hr 55mins. The return route (on the road) took 55 mins.

For a leisurely ride for the reasonably competent cyclist, the route is fine. But as a usable commutable alternative to travelling on the road, it is woeful. Poorly signposted. Not really “maintained” to speak of and meandering – meaning that you cycle much further than you actually need to reach your destination. The terrain means that it has to be tackled on a mountain bike and if your journey is a mixture of cyclepath and road you either ride the road bit on slow, knobbly tires or you take a road bike and risk multiple punctures using slicks off road. I personally have no problem cycling on the road, even in heavy city traffic but I fail to see how a canal towpath with a few red directional signs makes a usable cycle route for day to day use. I would like to think that this was an isolated incident but when I have tried to follow cycle routes previously, I have always come up against similar problems. Or worse – the cycle path that suddenly disappears. Or is 2 metres long. Or is badly maintained, gnarled by tree routes pushing up through the tarmac, bejewelled with broken glass or pock marked with dog shit.

Which is why this piece of news today about massive investment in London’s new cycle routes is long overdue. It is a start and is a massive leap forward from the current “lets paint a blue bit in the road and call it a cycle super highway” mentality. So I am hoping that this is a step in the right direction and a genuine effort to get people using bikes. For it to be successful, the scheme needs to be well implemented and then MAINTAINED. Now we just need facilities on buses and trains to transport our bikes into out towns and cities (even in rush hour) and we can look forward to cycling becoming as accessible and widespread as it has been in other parts of Europe for the last 30 years.

 Soundtrack to this post: Swans – Can’t Find My Way Home


preparation, preparation, preparation…

I almost called this blog post Le Tour De Surrey but decided against it at the last minute…
Last year, Hauling My Carcass and I completed the London to Brighton Cycle ride. We had built ourselves some bikes (him a singlespeed and me a fixed gear) and there was a certain sense of satisfaction to be gained from completing the ride and doing it on something that you have created. Not long after, HMC brought my attention to the Dunwich Dynamo – a 200km, overnight, unmarshalled and unmarked ride to Dunwich in Suffolk from a pub in Hackney. “Not this year, you understand, but we could enter next year…”
Fast forward 12 months and it is almost upon us… 200km on a pushbike is a long way by anyone’s standards. It is longer than many of the stages of the Tour De France. It is also overnight. And we are not, I repeat NOT, finely honed athletes training full time. And we do not have top of the range, super light, race bikes… we have opted to build another couple of bikes and use those. Both are steel, both are at least 30 years old, both are now singlespeed.
We decided that we probably ought to do a bit of training before embarking on this little adventure so a 77.87km bike ride was executed on day 5 of Juneathon, followed 2 weeks later by the 85.98kms of the London to Brighton. It was strange how last year, the focus was on completing the London to Brighton and this year it was relegated to “a bit of training” for Dunwich Dynamo. We decided that we needed an additional long ride, with everything that we would need to take for DD to give us a good idea of what to expect.
At 8am yesterday, I arrived at HMC’s house with my bike in the boot of the car and a massive back pack containing food (lots of food), tools, waterproof jacket, bottle of water, hydration pack and an entire change of clothes. This was what I was planning to take to Dunwich so this is what I would train with. We set off just after 9am and made our way through the undulating Surrey and Sussex countryside, basically heading south. The route was mostly country roads and surprisingly quiet considering the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day. A quick stop around 50kms and then we pushed on to 80kms when we finally stopped for lunch. We perched ourselves on a grassy bank outside a golf club on the outskirts of Ditchling and had lunch. Half an hour later, we were back on the bikes and, now heading East then North and with approximately 60kms still to ride, we decided that we would do two stretches of 30kms each with a little rest in between. At around 115kms we stopped for 10 minutes and agreed that we needed to find a place to buy Coca Cola… strangely we both began to crave it and maybe it was our bodies crying out for liquid and sugar and caffeine. Cola safely procured a couple of kms later, we then pushed through the last 30kms which contained one of the most horrific hills I have ever had the misfortune to have to cycle up. Steep, long and with a surface like an adolescents complexion it was really tough and saw us both dismounting, walking slowly whilst pushing the bikes and cursing.
Psychologically, the last 15kms or so is easy. and it was nice to be back somewhere I recognised and could almost picture how far we had left to go. We arrived back at 5.30 pm having completed 147.76kms. We were both weary but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be (helped immensely by the nice route plan by HMC and the almost perfect weather). Dunwich Dynamo is 50kms further but less hilly. The real test will be cycling through the night, but with under 2 weeks to go, I am feeling much more confident of completing it than I did.


struck down

Doctor, Doctor – But I Had Them Out When I Was A Child – Grim Up North

I hadn’t been feeling right since returning from Lisbon. If the truth be known – since before I left for Lisbon – but I was in a state of denial because if I didn’t admit I wasn’t feeling well, then I must be OK, right?

So after returning to the UK and to work and feeling myself get progressively more sluggish each day, I woke last Sunday with a raging temperature, a headful of some horrific, sticky liquid and the sensation that someone was standing on my eyes. I spent the next 36 hours flitting between short periods of nightmare filled sleep and uncomfortable stretches of conciousness where I wanted desperately to be asleep again. Finally, I managed to get my temperature under control and packed myself off to the doctor to discover that I had Tonsillitis. Sent on my way with a sick note and handful of Penicillin, I spent the next 3 days in and out of bed feeling sorry for myself.

I hate being ill and am fortunate in that it doesn’t happen very often. Since I starting running, I have found that the Migraines that I used to get about once a month now occur only about twice a year and any coughs and colds usually only make it to the initial stages before being banished by my immune system. Also, I assume that the horrible post-illness-shuffling-around-catching-your-breath feeling is similar to the creeping symptons of age+poor lifestyle+inactivity that seems to be becoming more prevelant amongst anyone over the age of about 35. And I want to keep that at bay for as long as possible as I dislike not feeling strong enough to run, cycle, swim, climb etc. whenever the mood takes me.

I haven’t as yet been able to get out and run but did attempt some free-weights today which left me feeling shaky and a little bit sick. Once that wore off, I felt better than I have done for a couple of weeks so will try and get a few more sessions in over the week. I have to spend 1 night this week in the North Of England, which I dislike intensely (apologies to anyone from, or fond of, Manchester – but it is horrible), so have booked myself a hotel 20 miles out of town with a gym and a swimming pool and will use that for a little R&R once the days work is done. With any luck, I might even shake off the lingering cough and get out for a run before the week is out.

Soundtrack to this post: Elbow – Grounds For Divorce



Is Not Running The New Running? – Can’t Do This, Can’t Do That – But I’ve Hardly Muddied My New Trainers

Here’s an interesting concept… a running blog with a post that is specifically about not running. Or more precisely, my current inability to run.
Since Sunday’s pathetic attempt at 13kms and the ensuing recurrence of (suspected) Iliotibial Band problems, I have not run. Instead, I have spent a lot of time thinking how I can begin training again. Whether I leave it for a while and risk being completely unprepared for the Wokingham Half Marathon at the tail end of Feb. Or do I call off Wokingham and concentrate on Lisbon giving me 9 weeks to get sorted. Or do I attempt a much shorter run over the coming weekend (Hauling My Carcass suggested a 1 mile loop close to home so I can run the loop multiple times if feeling chipper or skulk home with my tail between my legs if feeling useless), or do I drag my sorry self down to the local leisure centre and try out on the low-impact and not very exciting running machines, or do I continue with Ibuprofen and the Foam Roller and hope that it gets better? All of the above are possible options but the thought of trying to run and making it worse is annoying me. But so is the thought of not running and being poorly prepared for Wokingham and Lisbon (oh please let me be fit for Lisbon, please, pretty please with cherries on top…). So there has been no running this week but I have tried to walk where possible as that seems to help and also not cause me any pain. Oh, and I am no longer doing that half limp / hop thing when trying to descend stairs.

Also, I’ve had my new front brake for my beautiful home made fixed gear bike delivered but haven’t got round to fitting it yet because I won’t be able to try it out because apparently cycling aggravates the Iliotibial Band too!!! Grrrr…

So if any of you have any ideas about my not running not cycling dilemma, answers on a postcard please…

Soundtrack to this post: Alpha & Omega – Pure And Clean


a little housekeeping

I sat down with the good intention of blogging about my last brief run and reviewing the audiofuel tracks that I was very kindly sent and that have been accompanying me on my recent excursions. But then I got sidetracked – my blog was looking a bit tired and cluttered and I’d already promised that I would get round to updating it, tidying it up and making it more user-friendly.
So my blogging time has instead been spent rationalising the layout. There is now a new page for the races I’ve completed (ticked off – above) and a seperate links page (also above). This should mean that the homepage is a little less fussy and not crammed with the same old information. Over the next few days, I shall be updating the live feeds on the right hand side of this page so that the most recent posts from other running blogs appear on the main page… watch this space


oh, it’s going to be horrible!!

Nowhere To Run To – Mud and Mayhem – The GrimCam

There’s been very little running activity in the past 2 weeks. I’ve been finishing off my freelance work and starting my new “proper” job. Unfortunately, that has entailled trying to sort out about a million things including making 2 weeks worth of travel plans and arrangements. So far this week I have been to the Midlands 3 times and London once. Next week is looking like a day in Lancashire, a day in Leeds and a day in London with Thursday and Friday still unplanned. And as I sit at a desk, or on a train, or behind the wheel of a car, I can feel the fitness ebbing from me which is bad news as, bright and early Saturday morning, I need to get myself up and out to get to the Grim Challenge – 8 miles through mud and puddles and water. And eight months ago it seemed like a good idea. Well not exactly a good idea but at least an interesting idea. And now it is only 48 hours away, it seems like a horrible, barbaric idea and I can’t believe I could have been so stupid. I know that it is going to be one of those events that is horrific at the time but once it is completed will be the subject of many a “do you remember when we did that…” conversation.
Also, my partner in crime for many of these ridiculous endeavours, Hauling My Carcass, has discovered a way of streaming photos live from the event. So any particularly sadistic readers can log on to his blog on Saturday morning from 10.30 and see the two of us run / wade /crawl our way through all manner of messiness. It’ll be like the good old days… Saturday is, after all, Tiswas day.
Once Grim is out of the way and my work begins to settle, I am looking forward to getting back out and running properly. I have a couple of weeks grace before starting to train for the Wokingham Half Marathon in February so need to buckle down.

Soundtrack to this post: Tutu – Miles Davis.

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