training

Buttermere and Crummock Water: End to End and Back again… Twice!

No cycling this weekend… but we did make up for it by swimming over 8 miles in the Lake District 🙂

All the advice we’ve had said we needed to do at least one swim over three hours, so we decided that we would do two end-to-end-and-back swims in a weekend and despite the dreadful weather we managed about 5 hours swimming and had a great time! We were very lucky to find an Open Water Swimming shop – Head to the Hills –  entirely by accident next to our B&B in Ambleside. I persuaded Alice that she really did need a wetsuit to spend over 3 hours in water below 17 degrees. Even she ended up being grateful for the added warmth which made all the difference – we’d never have completed the mileage without it!

Saturday was Buttermere (about 3 miles) and was actually a pretty enjoyable experience – we were apprehensive about our first proper lake swim – and although our boat support did their best, we certainly missed Borut’s calm reassurance (from Strel Swimming Adventures)!

We set a very leisurely pace and probably because of this – I was surprised how much I enjoyed the swim. The scenery was absolutely breath-taking in every direction which meant I kept wanting to look up, but for the first time I did manage to get into a reasonable rhythm and actually just began to enjoy the experience – I couldn’t believe how easy it felt! However, (maybe because she thought things were going too smoothly!) Alice made the mistake of removing her wetsuits half way… and ended up nearly blue by the time we’d finished!! It was a valuable lesson to learn before attempting Windermere! Luckily the Croft House Farm Cafe supplied us with copious quantities of “ButterBeer”, a drink I thought only existed in the pages of Harry Potter, but turned out to be a delicious concoction of warm milk, butterscotch syrup (apparently from a secret recipe) cream and marshmallows! It was absolutely what we wanted with our yummy sandwiches we’d brought from The Apple Pie shop in Ambleside!!

As we emerged from the cafe the clouds cleared and we enjoyed the beautiful scenery before celebrating in style with more conventional ale, pie and the most competitive game of Jenga I’ve ever played at the nearby Langstrath Inn 🙂

Sunday at Crummock Water was a little harder… the Weather was worse, the swim was longer and we were already tired, but we (or more realistically our support team – You were amazing guys!!) were committed to at least making a start. We rented a boat from the Wood House, where the owner was distinctly unhelpful, although he did reluctantly provide us with a mop bucket to bail out the water! Getting in was not very appealing, but the promise of a second round of ButterBeer kept us going – we set ourselves a target, if we completed the end-to-end and back in over 3.5 hours we would have to forgo the cakes and drinks – it was clearly sufficient motivation as we completed the five miles in just over 3hrs 15mins! The last hour or so was difficult, my arms were tired and felt a bit like jelly, but we were in a good rhythm again and our wonderful support crew made all the difference – stopping us like clockwork every 20 minutes for isotonic water, jelly babies and carbohydrate gels. Actually given how rubbish our boat was, they probably had a tougher time of it that we did. Alice admitted that she kept herself going by dreaming up new cake recipes… I’m hoping she’ll start making some of them! They sounded unusual but yummy… hopefully I can post some photos soon!

Now that we are back it seems like a bit of a dream. About this time last year a great family friend took us on a wonderful tour around the lakes, and if he’d suggested then as we drove past Crummock water, that just a year later we’d be swimming it both of us would have thought he’d developed a severe case of dementia!! Amazingly though, the fact that we struggled initially with open water swimming makes these little achievements all the more rewarding! We did imagine Daddy looking down on us and felt sure he’d have approved – he always was a massive Water Baby!! We drove home feeling like we’d really made a breakthrough and Windermere might just be achievable after all! Although it was a little disconcerting when we stopped to have look at the longest lake in England and realised that from our viewpoint neither end of the lake was within sight!

Oh well… I guess we’ll just have to take it 20 minutes at a time!! Amazingly we’re actually beginning to look forward to the challenge 🙂

 

 

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All Clipped-In and ready to Go :)

It was a day of firsts… Our first clipped-in cycle, our first mechanical issue, and our first cycle through a thunderstorm!

Having heard that they increase your efficiency by as much as 30%, last weekend Alice and I finally decided to ‘upgrade’ to clipless pedals. It has taken us several months to muster the courage for this. For someone who isn’t all that stable on their bike, the thought of being literally clipped into it was rather terrifying!

So it was with some fear and trepidation we set off on our first ‘clipped’in’ cycle heading for the beautiful cotswold countryside.

It turned out to be rather an eventful 70 miles…

The clipless pedals  were actually much easier than we had expected, although neither of us escaped the inevitable “slow-car-crash” type fall where we forgot to ‘un-clip’ in time at a junction. Fortunately falling in slow-motion was actually painless and we were happy that we had survived the traditional initiation into clip-in pedals and hopefully won’t need to repeat the experience!

About 25 miles in Mummy’s chain came off (ironically as they had been serviced the day before). This was a very minor deal and within minutes Alice had sorted the problem and we were off again.

We had set out knowing that Thunder storms were forecast, but felt it would be good practice as who knows what weather we’ll get in Scotland. We were amazingly lucky with out timings. The storms hit hard while we were having lunch, and we certainly took the opportunity to stock up on calories which seemed more and more necessary as the rain pelted down… This was our second cycle to the Feathered Nest and the food just gets better every time 🙂

We are so happy that they have donated a stay at the wonderful establishment for our Charity Auction in November as their food is amongst the best we’ve ever had and know that Daddy would be so touched! Whenever we are planning a cycle we are always pulled in their direction partly because the food is so yummy, but also because we have such happy memories of meals there with Daddy. He raved about their delicious tomato tart for years! The owners were so sweet and seemed very concerned that we were seriously intending to cycle over thirty miles home through the storm, they were so concerned the kept producing more and more free chocolates to sustain us through the rain:)

but miraculously the clouds parted just as we set off again…

We even encountered some Morris Dancers on the way home. It felt rather surreal; “surreal but nice” as Hugh Grant so famously said in Notting Hill and Daddy would often quote 😉

The rain only returned in force when we were less than a mile from home. Alice was thrilled that we had the experience of riding in a storm and I was very happy that the experience only had to last a few minutes.

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A Croatian Adventure with Strel-Swimming

A few months ago (as panic began to set in) I persuaded Alice that we ought to dedicate a week to full on swimming training. A week with Strel Swimming Adventures in Croatia seemed like a pretty appealing option, but it surpassed our expectations in every aspect!

It was quite possibly the best holiday we have ever had!

The organization, the location, the scenery, the water and the food were all fantastic. Borut had thought of everything, from the vibrant swimming hats and comfy T-shirts, to the pre-swim Vaseline sessions and delicious tea-breaks… dried fruit, nuts and chocolate are just what you want when you are coming out of the water feeling a little chilly!

Hotel Spongolia on the Island of Krapanj was the perfect base, with very few tourists, but absolutely everything you needed, including (most importantly) a gelateria and a local bar/restaurant serving the best Seabass I have ever had!!

Even the water bottles came with motivational messages…

Bottle QuotesIt was amazing how much we were able to fit into our days, without ever feeling rushed or having to worry about organizing anything… the guides had phenomenal knowledge of the area and plans were always flexible to allow for changes in weather, tide and the energy levels of the group, which meant even on the day when conditions weren’t optimal we still had a fantastic swim.

Every day included at least one new Island to explore on foot, two new swims – always with plenty of training tips and stories thrown in. It really was the ultimate adventure where each day was new and exciting, but everything seemed to fall effortlessly into place 🙂  It was just what we needed: a proper workout for our bodies and a complete break for our minds!

We racked up quite a few firsts:

  • Island to Island crossing (3km)

    The Islands we swam between

    The Islands we swam between

  • Island circumnavigation (3.5km around the Island of Krapanj)
  • River Swim (2.5km)
  • Tunnel Swim – to see Hitler’s submarine hideaway
  • Waterfall swim – at the Krka National Park
  • Blue Lagoon swim at Kornati National Park

Borut even filmed us underwater and gave an analysis of our swimming technique, which was really useful (I had no idea I was actually only using half my arm power!

More than anything it was the people who made the trip so special! Clearly a ‘swimming adventure holiday’ attracts an eccentric crowd – we had an artist, a playwright, journalists, a sports engineer and an Egyptologist amongst our group.

Everyone had a story to tell and they were all pretty inspiring! The local spirits made from herbs and walnuts certainly helped us learn more about the quieter members of the group on our night out in Sibenik. I’m not much of a drinker, but no trip to Croatia would be complete without sampling Grahovac and Pelinkovac!

We were also joined by Tori Gorman – the 22nd Australian woman ever to swim the English Channel and swimming with her was completely unreal! (especially as we couldn’t begin to keep up, even when we were wearing flippers…) She radiated passion, enthusiasm and boundless energy – a total inspiration and so generous with her advice and encouragement! We just hope some of her positivity and drive rubbed off on us!

You can really tell that Strel Swimming is a family run business… Borut Strel, founded the business a few years ago, having spent years supporting his father on his record breaking swims around the world. Amazingly it has grown organically from just 4 swimmers in Croatia four years ago to over 140 this year. Over 50% of customers return within 2 years and it is easy to understand why – Alice and I can’t wait for our next Strel Swimming Adventure – we just can’t decide whether we should do Slovenia or Lake Powell, Arizona first!

We are so grateful to everyone at Strel Swimming for making this adventure possible and for all the help, advice and encouragement for our Windermere Swim – we are now more excited and determined than ever! Here is a video Borut made with us at the end of the trip… As you can imagine – we can’t recommend them highly enough!

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Another weekend… Another 83 miles :)

This weekend Mummy and I decided we needed to do a more realistic distance… so on Saturday we picked a favourite restaurant about 32 miles away to cycle to for Lunch and arranged to meet our Grandparents there – we knew we’d need an incentive to go that far 😉 and  we were very happy to know that they’d bring us clean clothes AND provide the option of a personal taxi-ride home if we were too exhausted to continue… Thankfully we needn’t have worried!

We couldn’t have been luckier with the weather, and it couldn’t have been a more beautiful ride! We managed to find a sneaky back route using our new bike Sat Nav (it’s like a miracle in a box!)

The Feathered Nest Inn in Nether Westcote is completely surreal… with panoramic views over the cotswolds, beautifully quirky decor and food that is out of this world! This might have something to do with the fact that the chef trained at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons… as might the fact that the portions aren’t always exactly what you want after a 3 hour bike ride 😉

The Feathered Nest

Despite not being enormous, my first ever experience of Courgette Flowers will certainly be a memorable one… and probably hard to beat! Thank heavens for giant puddings and Pettit Fours… we certainly made sure we got a good supply of calories! We felt VERY spoilt!!

 

Even our Grandparents looked pretty pleased when their chocolate cherry soufflé’s arrived and were almost the size of their heads!!

The Feathered Nest (2)

Its probably rather fortunate that they can’t really use the internet… or i’m sure they’d be rather embarrassed by this photo!

It was also special to visit somewhere we had been with Daddy, both before and during his illness. He had absolutely loved the whole experience and was always coming up with “special occasions” that could merit a trip to Nether Westcote for another delicious meal. He would be so SO touched to know that Tony and Amanda (the owners) are donating a night at their Inn as a prize at our Charity Auction in November!

It was the best weekend we’ve had in ages! Croatia is going to have a lot to live up to!!

The only thing missing was Alice, but as she was visiting her boyfriend in Fontainbleu in France we forgave her 😉

It was such a relief for Mummy to cover a big chunk of our daily mileage without too many ill-effects – although I don’t know why she’s worried – she goes so fast I could hardly keep up. Amazingly the only thing we noticed was being slightly saddle sore when we went out for our shorter loop on Sunday, which is pretty amazing when I look back on how my body used to feel after a long run!

I’m beginning to see why the world has taken to cycling!

 

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Jane’s enchanted Tea Garden worked it’s magic :)

Over the last few weeks our weekends seem to have developed a familiar rhythm. We congregate on Friday night happy to be together and excited for the weekend’s training, but invariably something happens…

Perhaps it’s when we are all together that Daddy’s absence is most noticeable, or maybe we do just all need to let off some steam. Usually I say or do something (totally unintentionally) which makes Mummy cry, and we all go a bit mental for a short period… Then we calm down enough to agree to just get on our bikes and some sort of magic seems to intervene (the endorphins kick in) and within the space of a few miles, we are once again the best of friends…

Jane's enchanted Tea Garden 1

This weekend was no different except perhaps the degree! We had planned two heavy (by our standards!) training days this weekend, 38miles on Saturday and 38 miles on Sunday (incorporating a 1km swim), and as if to match this the emotional outburst pre-cycle was the most intense yet and it was all over nothing…

In fact if anyone has arrived at our house at around 11am on Saturday they probably would have thought they’d entered an insane asylum! It was two months to the day since Daddy’s death and I think the outburst actually helped us release some pent up emotions.

We had a lovely ride to Kirtlington, where we found Jane’s enchanted Tea Garden, which was fittingly magical…

We cycled down a long lane, where there was no suggestion that you might find anything remarkable (we even asked a passerby, just 50m away whether we were on the right path and he had no idea what we were talking about… ) but finally we saw the sign and a gate that welcomed us in, down a little overgrown path… to the most unexpected display of utterly amazing cakes! It was totally different to what I’d expected.

It seemed somewhere between the setting for a circus, a seance and an old fashioned garden party, with a little bit of Hansel and Gretel Magic thrown in…

Jane's enchanted Tea Garden 7

It was a children’s paradise and certainly revived us for the final 15miles of our journey. The steaming hot tea came in a real steel teapot, the cakes tasted even better than they looked and the ice-cream was home-made with milk from Jane’s very own cow, Wendy  (we actually saw Jane milking her as we left!)

The only difficulty was choosing what to eat… the lemon an poppyseed cake was Alice’s favourite, while Mummy favoured the gluten-free rhubarb crumble cake. Personally I thought the scones and cream were hard to beat!  Needless to say we can’t wait to go back! Fortunately it is a good 16 miles away, even going the most direct route – so we figure that we’ll have earned our cake by the time we get there 🙂

I wonder if our neighbour would mind lending us a few cows to make our own ice-cream? They certainly looked cute…

 

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And then there were Three…

And then there were three...

Mummy is now officially part of the team! 🙂

After cycling thirty miles (for the first time ever) with us this morning Mummy has decided that she will join us on the cycling part of our challenge. Now we are even more excited… although it looks like camping might have just gone out the window (sorry Alice ;)) Daddy would certainly love to know that we are all doing this together. I hope he is looking down on us with a smile…

And happily it seems that everything (even lake swimming!) is better when Alice is around!

Our thirty mile cycle this morning was via Queensford lake – a beautiful open water swimming lake near Oxford where Alice and I duly attempted our first ever 750m lap. And although I still didn’t love the cold feeling around my neck – having Alice there certainly made it all seems so much easier. We are thinking this will have to become a weekly activity… (Alice wants to include a wake-boarding session after the swim. Obviously.)

Thankfully the water was cleaner and warmer than the lake last weekend and having Alice meant it just felt like a bit of fun! Clearly I needn’t bother attempting to train without her!!

Queensford

Although I think I will probably have to do one more session before I feel prepared to cope with the swimming leg of Blenheim Triathlon next weekend 😉

I think maybe Alice thought we all needed cheering-up as her post-cycle yoga outfit was pretty entertaining…

Thanks Alice! You certainly made me smile…

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An amazing weekend of Sunshine, Stretching and Slipstreaming with Cycling Plus Weekenders

Last weekend training began in earnest. We had thought it was just going to be a nice relaxing break in the Cotswolds with a bit of cycling and yoga thrown in.

We had NO IDEA.

There must have been nearly 100 seemingly pro-cyclists, with snazzy matching outfits, clip-on shoes and bikes laden with hydration bottles and energy gels and… us with our strappy tops, back-to-front shorts (long story!) and single bottle of unmodified water. We got seriously burnt, seriously hungry and properly exhausted, but we met some inspiring people and had the best weekend we’ve had for ages!

We feel so lucky to have this challenge to train for and focus on. I honestly don’t know how we would have coped without it. Daddy has always been such a massive part of our lives… And the world certainly feels much emptier place without him, but in the midst of everything he continues to be an inspiration. It is really wonderful to be able to continue an adventure, which feels all about him and which he was so excited to help us plan. Daddy, I certainly hope you’ll be watching over us in August…  and making sure the wind is blowing in the right direction 😉

We are very grateful to Cycling Plus for such an awesome weekend at Heythrop Park, which was a perfect venue combining elegance and functionality in a rather unusual way. When we were cycling home I certainly noticed that the drive is exceptionally long.

A few weeks ago I never would have believed that I could cycle 100 (hilly!) miles in one weekend. And by lunch-time on day two, with 25 miles still to go (into a 14mph headwind) It was pretty hard not to ask to be taken home in the van!

But the feeling when we finished was fantastic… Optimistically we are already looking forward to a similar feeling on the 7th September 🙂

We also learnt quite a few things, but most importantly that:-

  1. We have actually been wearing our bib-shorts back-to-front!
  2. Slip-streaming (sharing the burden of a headwind) is a very useful trick. We now just need a string of volunteers to come and lead our daily rides and bear the brunt of the wind-resistance for us – any takers please do get in touch!
  3. We need clip on shoes
  4. There is a reason why all the other cyclists wore sleeves
  5. It is possible to drink and cycle at the same time
  6. Sports nutritionists struggle with the concept of “vegetarian”
  7. If you think you are too exhausted to continue – eat a whole box of jaffa cakes!
  8. Yoga is a life-saver and dreaming of our post cycle session was the only thing that kept us going. Thank you Lorna Chapman for the excellent classes!
  9. CNP, according to their founder (former British bodybuilding Champion Kerry Kayes), is the ‘only’ manufacturer of protein supplements in the UK that has any kind of effective quality control. If you are starving, their lemon meringue flapjack actually tastes reasonably good.
  10. Apparently it is possible to be an endurance athlete without consuming any carbohydrate – using the ketogenic diet… I’m not sure we were convinced by that one…

It was a milestone weekend and we are so happy to have survived it. Apparently the the group leader generously reported that we had “great potential” – Although I’m not sure whether that was meant to be a compliment or a reflection of our current ineptitude…

THANK YOU CYCLING PLUS!!!

We are already getting ‘excited’ (or terrified!) about our 3km swim in ten days time… fingers crossed for another heatwave!

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Feeling more motivated than ever as we start our training in earnest…

It’s been a tough weekend with Daddy seeming to take quite a turn for the worse, but he’s still every bit as much a hero as ever!

The NHS have miraculously provided us with Celine – a “live-in” carer, who couldn’t be kinder – we feel so lucky to have her. But even she has said that she cannot understand how he can still be so alert and considerate despite all he’s going through – always apologising and thanking us all. Despite her 8 years as a carer she assured me that she has never encountered anyone with, “such a strong heart”, as she puts it.

His courage, patience and bravery are an inspiration to us all! And we couldn’t feel more keenly the desperate needs to raise funds to find new treatments for this all too common and all too barbaric disease.

At his insistence Alice and I went ahead with our first ever 20 mile bike ride into the centre of Oxford and back… aside from the hills it felt surprisingly easy – we had arranged to meet some friends for moral support and re-fuelling at the Isis Farmhouse, a really unusual Oxford tavern by the river. We were impressed by the Isis’s Chocolate Beetroot Cake and their scones weren’t too bad either 😉

 

It was good to get some fresh air, a quick endorphin fix and a sugar top-up…  Judging by Alice’s smile it certainly seemed to work for her!

it is magical down by the river and we even saw a few ducklings which plopped into the water one after the other before I got a chance to take a proper picture…

Isis Farmhouse (4)

Tikkun Olam – Our lovely cousin was with us today and he mentioned the Jewish theory of “Tikkun Olam” or the sense of responsibility that we all have to ‘heal the world’  and it just made me think that, while he may not have been religious, throughout his life and still even now Daddy has honoured this principle.

If only the world could heal him back.

 

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So Happy with our New Bikes!

We were pretty pleased with ourselves this evening when we returned unscathed from our second ever bike ride on road bikes (the first being yesterday!)…

It is such a relief to discover that we actually like cycling 🙂 It could have been a bit of a disaster if we just couldn’t get the hang of it!! I can’t believe how much easier they are than the ‘Boris Bikes’, but at least it is a pleasant surprise to find I can actually make it up a hill without getting off!

We had a great chat on our ride this evening (yesterday we were too busy figuring out the gears etc to have the brain capacity for talking!) and we thought about how lucky we are to have something positive to focus on. It is so hard watching Daddy suffer. He is so brave and selfless, but I had no idea that modern medicine was so limited in it’s capacity to alleviate this kind of suffering.

Just getting out of the house for an hour, having to concentrate on learning something new and feeling the wind in our face was the most amazing relief.

We came back rejuvenated and refreshed,  and so much more able to cope. It’s amazing what a shot of endorphins can do! 🙂

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We Have Bikes! Thank You Cycles UK

All the guys at Cycles UK Bow Lane deserve a medal – they couldn’t have been more helpful this morning! And we are so grateful for their generosity.

As it turned out I needed to be at home in the evening to be with Daddy so we made a last minute decision to get up at 5:30am today to try and collect the bikes first thing… it turned out excellently. Despite the fact that we had made an appointment to get all the bikes and gear fitted at 4:30pm today – they weren’t at all fazed when we turned up at 9am.

We were in the shop for nearly THREE HOURS and Dave and Dane were so helpful and patient with us.  They made sure the bikes fit us perfectly – we actually cycled them indoors with the rear wheels raised so that they didn’t move, which surely is something every shop should do – so they can really see if you are able to move properly.

They fitted water bottle holders, bells, padlocks, armadillo tyresmulti tools and saddle bags all without any fuss and constant enthusiasm! We also got some seriously padded shorts (apparently an essential for long distances!) and very high viz jackets. The service was absolutely 5 star!  🙂

Alice even got a personal lesson in wheel removal…

To cap it all – we actually managed to leave some of our gear behind (we were a bit flustered by the time we left as we were in quite a rush to get back to Daddy, but by the time we’d got home Dave had already emailed us to let us know what we’d left and that he was posting it to our home address – amazing!!

Thank you so much Danny, Dave and Dane – We couldn’t be more grateful!

Thank you

I actually managed to do a short test ride this afternoon back in Oxford (my first real session on a road bike!) and couldn’t be happier with the bike and can’t wait to start cycling to work. If you’re thinking of buying a bike we can’t recommend these guys enough!!

Now we just need start working on the swimming… Aaaahhh!

Ps. I showed Daddy the pictures and I think even in his current condition he got vicarious enjoyment from seeing us get our new toys!

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