Tuesday, 6 May 2014

London to Paris, a blip in the road and my reflections on fate

 After receiving my new Planet X bike I had a decision to make about which one I was going to ride in Lanzarote. I wanted to use Bella Rosa, one because she is sexy may actually be part of the bike porn at an Ironman event. Secondly because if I was confident enough a TT bike can reduce an Ironman bike leg if there are enough downhill and flats to take advantage of when on the aero bars. On the flip side of this it is said that cycling up hill on a TT bike is harder (the tour de France guys ride road bikes for that reason). Another factor was that I hadn't ridden Bella Rosa for a long distance so how would I know I would be comfortable for that long whereas I knew that I had done that distance on my trusty Giant road bike. On this note, I was also told that it takes the muscles 6 weeks to get used to the new positioning of a TT bike. My last concern was the weather conditions of Lanzarote. Ironman Lanzarote is feared for its crosswinds more so than it's heat or mountains. My TT bike has rimmed wheels which means that there is more surface area for the wind to catch and in theory knock me off. So for me it was a case of weighing up all these opposing factors. My mind however was already hatching a plan. The only objective way for me to make the best decision for my performance was to take both of my bikes out there. This way I could assess the weather conditions the week before and trial both bikes climbing and descending. A few phone calls and all was arranged - I was being greedy and taking both of my lovely bikes with me to Lanza. I explained my qualms to my new Planet X contact Paul about just taking Bella Rosa and he understood. By taking both even if I do decide the road bike suits me better then I will not be letting my new sponsors down as I will have many pictures of me riding Bella Rosa in Lanzarote. In an ideal world I will be confident enough to gain the advantage I can on Bella Rosa but time will tell in the lead up week to race day on the 17th May.
 My next 'what bike?' decision I had to make was which bike would I ride on when doing my London to Paris in 24hrs adventure on Monday 27th April. The colleague I was going with was adamant I should take Bella Rosa, and Mark, my coach was swayed more towards my trusty steed road bike. I was sat completely on the fence. I trusted my road bike, she has done many miles and never let me down (bar the rubbing brake pad a few weeks back but that was a minor issue and I forgave her). Bella Rosa was shiny and new but was a risk. Doing 190 miles on a brand new bike which has a different geometry was of course a gamble. However, my main issue was that the tyres were tubulars - basically they are attached to the wheel. This obviously posed another huge risk, if I punctured it would be game over unless I could change it (which I couldn't at that moment in time), was near a bike shop, or had some 'goo' that would ruin the tyre but keep it inflated for as long as possible. Andy, my colleague assured me that along the way there would be a train station that I could stop at if disaster struck so I would be able to get to Paris. I was still unsure throughout the weekend, only finally making my decision the night before we left.

Gearing ourselves up

 Anyway, before I set off on my London to Paris adventure on the Monday I just want to fill you in on my first open water swim of the season. I did this on the Saturday before work. However, this was no normal early morning lake swim before work. I met up with some of the team that I am doing the Channel crossing with. It would be the first time I would ever be open water swimming without a wetsuit and considering it is early in the season and the lakes have only just opened it would be bloody cold. I wasn't wrong.
The water upon entering took my breath away. I was the last one of our 'crew' to fully submerge myself and with the persuasion of Gill I buried my head under the water shortly after entering as opposed to doing breast stroke for ages. I was going to do 2 laps of the 400m loop. I went off ahead of the group as wanted to warm up and actually found it OK after a while. In fact when I stopped to talk to Phil one of the relay swimmers I exclaimed I actually felt quite warm, maybe too warm? I did my 2 laps and then got out. I felt fine and although felt I was talking a little funny didn't struggle to hold a conversation with some others by the pontoon. I wasn't even shaking when outside but knew I had to get into change sharpish. When Phil joined me out of the water he was almost instantly shaking and felt like he couldn't talk properly.

Me looking skeptical on the sidelines 
We both took this as our cue to get changed as I thought I this may happen to me soon enough especially as I had been stood around chatting (what a surprise!). I remember Gill saying previously you have 10 minutes to get changed before the uncontrollable shakes begin. I got changed pretty quick and strangely enough didn't get too shakey. However I did not speak for everyone. Phil was struggling to get anything out of his bag and put his socks on. (I talk about Phil more so because we were swimming nearer eachother and Gill was the only other person non-wetsuit but she was helping others who were brand new to open water swimming). Phil had recently had a serious ski accident last year which caused internal injuries. He has since had operations to solve his internal injuries but was worried he may not be able to swim the Channel with us this year. However luckily he managed to get his medical to swim with us approved. He has though lost a lot of weight and body fat with that due to his hospitalisation, something that is relied upon when swimming in cold water. Women naturally have more body fat than men so it was no surprise I wasn't struggling as much as Phil but his weight loss would definitely contribute to his struggles that morning. I really admire his strength and determination to swim with us this year, an inspiration in my eyes. It makes you think what the body and mind really can push through. Although I said I was fine my feet however were bloody freezing and although I had to leave to get to work I wouldn't have wanted to linger as I was getting even colder and uncomfortable stood around. I got in the car and turned the heating up to high and blasted the fans at my feet. Even after a hot shower at work I still felt like I had ice blocks for feet - they were completely numb until late morning. I was however pleased that I broke the ice (almost literally) and went for my first non wetsuit swim, this officially meant my Channel Swim training had begun. The next test was on the 3rd of May where I was going to Dover for an early morning swim test (this is where we have to go in and out twice).

 On the Sunday I also had work. However, I woke up in the morning extremely upset (I think I may have woke up crying). Today was Rosie's 20th birthday. I kept looking up at the canvas I have of Rosie above my bed and crumbled. I knew this day was going to be hard but wasn't quite aware how much the significance of this day would affect me. On the drive to work I couldn't stop crying and by the time I got there I hardly had any make up left on. The second someone asked me if I was OK I burst into tears again. I ran to the toilet and hid there for a while as well as occupy myself buying a cup of tea. Again it was no use, I sat at my desk attempting to work but my mind was elsewhere and I kept breaking down. My family were all going to Bournemouth to let off some balloons in Rosie's memory and spend the day together. Yet I would be sat at work knowing I would be missing it and not able to be there to support everyone, particularly my sister. After 30 minutes of sniffling I decided I had to talk to my supervisor to explain. She let me go instantly. I tried to explain to my colleague why I was leaving but couldn't get the words out before breaking down again. I drove straight down to Bournemouth and spent a few hours there with my family thinking of Rosie. As you can imagine it was an emotional day but I was and still am so grateful to work for allowing me to go. It meant a lot to me to be there. As my brother in law said it's another first for us to experience.

The 'birthday girl' balloon we let off in Rosie's memory
 When I got back from Bournemouth I had to prepare for my upcoming adventure the day after - cycling from London to Paris in 24hours. Much like on the 6 month anniversary of Rosie's death where I cycled the hardest climbs in Lanzarote this was a tribute to Rosie. Training is what keeps me focussed and keeps me from breaking down so it is only fitting I continue this pattern of challenging myself around these hard and significant moments. The big decision as I mentioned previously was what bike to take? I decided last minute to take Bella Rosa. My main reasons for doing this was that if I didn't get the miles on her now I would never know how I would be on her during the Ironman (if I do decided to use her on the event). This way I can find out if I have any pain from the new geometry. Secondly it would also help me assess my confidence on her. If it was windy the UK and I struggled then it would enable me to make a better decision when in Lanzarote where the winds are a lot stronger.

 On the Monday we had to get a few bits from town. I wanted to get a variety of nutrition to try out as I have mentioned previously I have fallen out with High5 gels. I got some 'Clif' bars and 'Torq' gels which had been recommended to me because of their natural ingredients. Torq also have some interesting flavours such as Raspberry Ripple, Apple Crumble and Rhubarb and Custard. After our stop in town it was time to head back and get on the train to London. We were meeting Andy at Trafalgar Square as this was the official start of London to Paris.

 The weather was lovely and we went for a pre ride lunch. The boys had a beer considering the weather was so nice but I refrained knowing that me on a bike is bad enough! Bella Rosa, which we parked up just outside the restaurant, got many stares because of her colour and I was loving every ounce of attention she got. After a big three course Italian meal we headed off at 3.45pm.
I got about 100 yards down the road and whilst stopped at traffic lights I was getting the attention by being on Bella Rosa. We weren't even out of London and I had a marriage proposal and an offer to exchange my bike for a London bus! If you want attention Bella Rosa is the bike to get! As well as this Andy was wearing a Spiderman outfit and I am sure he broke many young girls hearts that day as he zoomed past them all exclaiming 'Spiderman!'. I was loving cycling through London and brought back many happy years in the capital city. Even when we started going through the more dodgy areas of East London I was still enjoying myself. Dan however wasn't keeping the same pace as me and Andy. I wasn't sure if our pace was maintainable but I was enjoying the experience too much to care. As we began to get out of London Dan was really struggling and then complained of a pain in his hamstring. This was almost disabling him from climbing. I even said to him "You used to beast me up hills and now look" (I don't think he was impressed with that comment).
I got a bit cocky on my new bike and was rewarded when zooming on the flats with a fly in my eye this then resulted in a swollen eye which thankfully died down when I got the foreign object out.
Dan however, struggled all the way to Newhaven with his hamstring and even though we got there in good time at 9pm, without sounding rude Andy and I would've beasted our way to the ferry had Dan had not been struggling so bad. When we arrived in Newhaven it was obvious not a lot goes on there and we were searching for somewhere to eat. We managed to find an Italian that would stay open for us and after a re-fuel of pasta we headed to the ferry. Bikes loaded it was time to try and sleep on the chairs. I couldn't get comfortable at all throughout that 4 hour journey and got a dead leg on many occasions. In total I managed a rough 1 hour sleep - perfect to do 120 miles on!

Mid ride group selfie
Mid ride solo selfie
We made it
All enjoying pasta and beer (I have covered my dodgy eye up with the beer!)
Dan's bed for the night
 Walking out of the ferry at 4am was like something out of Armageddon - it was quiet and eerie but also very exciting even despite the cold. Dan had decided he was in too much pain to carry on and didn't want to hold us up so he got the train from Deippe to Paris (although he had to wait nearly 3 hours in the 4am cold for the train to arrive). I felt so sad leaving him there on his own in the dark and freezing cold air. However, it was onto Paris for Andy and I. Andy's directional skills were amazing, we got on the Avenue Verde which was a paved over train track, this road would be our home for the next 4-5 hours. As expected at 4am it was pitch black and we were relying on my bike light to guide us. Another thing we found ourselves doing was dodging rabbits. They seemed to have a death wish and I was nearly knocked off by one running into my wheel although I sadly think Bella Rosa killed it in the process - sorry!
A quick stop for fuel and of course a selfie
We had 40+ miles on this track and it was lovely riding. It was flat and smooth and the views of the French countryside through dawn was lovely. We cycled side by side for the majority of the way but decided about 10 miles from the end of Avenue Verde we would do some drafting. We were getting into our new found speed, pushing ourselves and me getting on my aero bars until we heard 'psssshhhh'. It was the sound of my heart deflating (as well as my rear tyre). The one thing I dreaded had happened. I tried to fix my tubular tyre with some quick fix foam but it failed.
Sad face!
We then had to do a very solemn 5km walk to the next town and the end of the Avenue Verde. We had expected the town to be a lot bigger than it actually was being the end of the popular London to Paris route and as at the beginning of Avenue Verde there was a big bike shop. I was down but not out...until we reached the town/village and realised the only option for me was to pull out. I had got so close but it wasn't meant to be. Andy decided he wanted to carry on alone to Paris and informed me that the tourist office opened at 9.30am so I had a coffee while I waited the half an hour until it opened and let Andy on his way. I didn't want to leave my bike alone so stayed outside in the cold with my coffee (what a sight). At 9.25am I took the short wander to the tourist office only to tragically discover that there was a sign outside of it exclaiming it was unnaturally closed for the day. 'Oh Shit' is what went through my head and then despair began to sink in. I couldn't feel sorry for myself forever however and although I wanted to call home what could they have done except for start to worry about me and waste my already depleting phone battery I was trying to preserve. I decided to knock on the door of small 1 star hotel and try my French out - which is limited to say the least. I explained as best I could I wanted to get to Paris and needed a taxi to the train station. This sounded like this, 'Le Taxi a le gare a Paris'. I repeated these single words over and over and the poor French man could only gesture at my deflated tyre 'pump?'. I was getting seriously concerned as to how I would get to Paris by this point. He then said he would get one of his guests to come down as he spoke some English and understood French. When I heard a fully fledged Englishman who spoke amazing French who could translate me properly I was overjoyed. I stood there looking like a damsal in distress for a while confused as to what was being said until I was taken towards the Englishman's car, I later found his name was Terry. He then drove me the 40km to the nearest train station which had a direct train to Paris. En route to the station he exclaimed how lucky I was, he had been staying in the small town for a few days and hadn't come across another English speaking person. He also explained how he was just about to leave for the day so had I not have found him when I did I really would have been stuck. Terry told me he was staying there to see where his Dad had befriended some French residents in WW2 and sought refuge. He was then going onto Belgium to see where his grandad had fought in WW1. I told him of my story and he seemed geuninely happy our paths had crossed and exclaimed, "Who would've thought I would be sitting next to an Ironman triathlete today". When he dropped me at the station I was so emotional and grateful for his help and generosity. He wouldn't take any money for petrol or his kindness and just exclaimed he was happy he could help me out. Faith in humanity was restored until the bad side of having an attention-seeking bike was shown - a tramp tried to take his chances by running off with Bella Rosa when I said I couldn't understand his attempts to get money off me. I had a firm hold of all my belongings and went and hid in the disabled toilet with my bike (I even managed to clean her when in there). I only ventured out of my hideout when someone knocked on the door shouting 'Police' - Great! Turns out they weren't but I couldn't go back in despite my annoyance with the Italians who tricked me. I then sat clutching my bike for dear life and eating Haribo milk bottles - was this an ultimate low? To top all this off there was a psychofrenic man who was running around by me stabbing the air. I was so relieved when the platform was announced for my train to Paris and I got me and bike set up for the 1hour30minute journey. I did not let go of my bike the whole way - I was hugging the frame and used the saddle like a pillow, I even managed to nod off even though I was still upset by having to pull out. If you are reading Terry thank you so much for your kindness, I cannot thank you enough.

 I had managed to send a text to Dan before his battery went dead to meet me at that train station but he did not receive which train it was. When I walked off the platform I was overjoyed and so emotional to see Dan and gave him a huge hug. I hadn't told him at the point how I got there as knew he would worry and at that moment in time all that really mattered was that I was safe in the end. I am not going to lie there were moments when I was on my own I did get scared and think what if, but I had to trust my senses and that got me safe. I am sorry to my family as this will be the first time you have heard this story but just remember what you said to me when I finally revealed I didn't actually cycle to Paris, "as long as you are safe now". Safe I was, gutted I was also. I didn't feel like doing anything touristy, I was tired and upset so we took my bike to the Eurostar station, Gare du Nord and bided some time eating and charging our phones. We got back to London at 22.40 and got home at midnight.

A sad selfie waiting for our Eurostar train
On the train home
 So what have I learnt? On the positive side of things I learnt that I am comfortable on Bella Rosa and that even after 140miles of hard cycling with one hours sleep I still 'have it'. I learnt I need to consider all options when it comes to tubular tyres either how to fix them myself or a reliable quick fix. I also did exactly what I intended from the experience and had an adventure one that I will always remember and although I was on the verge of despair at some points it really is one to tell the kids as they say. I will be back to finish off what I started sometime in the near future, maybe I was just meant to complete with Dan. And just for the record I do not regret taking Bella Rosa I learnt more from taking her than not, even if that did jeopardise me getting to Paris on my bike.

 I just want to finish by thanking everyone who was so kind to me when I announced my 'failure' even though many got angry with me for calling it that and preferred the term 'a blip in the road'. All your kind words were really appreciated and I can assure you helped me out a lot mentally as I managed to make my own positives from the experience to take with me on my road to Kona. I am particularly thankful to Sophie Radcliffe (@challengesophie) the woman who gave me the inspiration to attempt this challenge in the first place. She took the time out to email me some words of encouragement. It obviously was a personal email but outlined how it wasn't meant to happen and we learn from these things. As a strong believer in fate myself I believe this too. Now I really will finish on a quote she shared with me in this email, "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because therer is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the trimph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatlly" - Theodore Roosevelt.

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