2014 was a bit of a mixed bag. I started the year with high expectations of building on the huge progress I’d made throught the previous year. But it didn’t quite work out like that. I’m a fantastic, dedicated, motivated cyclist in my head, and the pathway was clear. I’d get in a lot of miles during the Spring, step up my average speeds, and get down to about 12 and a half stone. In reality, I never got close. I’ve covered 7,500km, and climbed 89,000 metres. there have been 151 rides, and 357 hours in the saddle. I was hoping for more.
I rode sporadically through January, but at least I tackled my first night rides, and enjoyed the novelty, despite the strong south-Westerly winds that buffet the coast and force regular curses from chapped lips. It’s not the effort that’s the problem, it’s the damned noise. It’s like riding with headphones playing Motorhead at volume 11. If you try to avoid the wind in this neck of the woods, you’d never get out. I did abandon one ride at the end of February because it was just too dangerous at 30mph. I’ve done other rides with winds like that, but this felt stronger, and there were branches falling across the road.
If nothing, this was good practise for a week I spent training in Lanzarote at the end of the month. I say, training, but my wife thinks it was a ‘family holiday’. Yeah, right. But with a hotel in Playa Blanca at the Southernmost end of the island the daily headwind was extraordinary. A 3- hour ride would mean two hours into the most horrible, aggressive gusts that drove fiercely against you along the pitiless flat plains. The return would mean an hour’s tailwind back, with pedalling optional as you flew back to base. Still it give me a decent start to they year, though the all-inclusive restaurant and bar meant that I came back still weighing over 14 stone.
I began commuting to work in march. It’s only 12 miles there and back but at least I was getting out on the bike. My mileage started to pick up, but it wasn’t until Easter that I managed my first century of the year. One of the best rides of the whole season came in May, when Dylan Fernley led me across some extraordinary, secret, mountain roads from Trawsfynydd to Bala. I was also staying in Bala when I rode the Blaenau 360 for the first time. Now that was an epic 105 mile ride, finishing in driving rain. You could only laugh.
I did my first Audax ride in June – the Anglesey Lanes. Now that was some experience as we rode effortlessly at 25mph in a full road-wide peloton of 50-60 bikes until I got us lost. I was totally confident and insistent that my GPS was right, until 2 hours later, it transpired that I’d been following the previous year’s route. I still haven’t been forgiven.
By now I was still a hefty 13st 9lbs, but nonetheless I managed a new distance record – a 200km ride around Snowdonia in June – that was a long 10-hour day. I had progressed enough to tackle the Etape Eryri Mawr, after riding the Bach and Canol in previous years. I think that was the first time I struggled with motivation. It wasn’t that it was difficult – it was just an 8 1/2 hour drag. I didn’t enjoy it much, and that was a warning sign of things to come.
I began to struggle badly with energy levels. Whereas in previous years I would regularly go for a spin after work, now I just collapsed in a chair, exhausted and demotivated. I tried everything. I trained harder, I rested more. I ate more, I ate less. I went for blood tests, thinking that my fatigue was related to my blood clot problems, but I just couldn’t shake off the lethargy. Finally tests in the Autumn showed that I had low levels of folic acid. I was prescribed supplements and the improvement was immediate and dramatic.
But that was too late for my now regular trip to ride the mountains of the Tour de France. I had enjoyed a solo late evening spin up the Col de Peyresourde but I was humiliated by my 14 year old son on the steeper Port de Bales. He left me spluttering in the foothills and I even had to stop for an urgent rest to avoid collapse. I badly underestimated that one – showing the unfamiliar mountain a lack of respect.
The lethargy and fatigue continued throughout August until at the very end of the month, when a single endurance ride saved the whole season. The Audax Sych it and Sea ride was a blast. A 206km epic across the mountains of Snowdonia and the hills of the Penllyn coast. I rode with my mate Rob, who is a stronger rider than I am, but we belly-laughed in adversity for the whole 9 hours. I felt like that single ride had made the whole year’s training worth the effort.
September brought tragedy and the loss of a popular member of our cycling club. Rhodri Hughes-Jones was part of our group riding back from Llandudno to watch the tour of Britain. We’d had a great day on the bikes, and he was close to home when an accident cost him his life. A fortnight later, we held a tribute ride in his memory along his favourite route from Caernarfon. Reid Rhodri will become a regular event.
Despite a mild October, I didn’t manage to get out on the bike an awful lot. Certainly not as much as I’d planned. I bought a turbo trainer, and while that has helped relieve some of the frustration brought on by our dark nights and mornings, it just isn’t the same as a four hour spin on the road. Family commitments have taken priority on the weekends, which is only fair, as they hardly see me all Summer.
I received a commission in November to write a short book on cycling for Lolfa Press. The Welsh language book, aimed at new adult readers will be published in February. It’s a combination of my personal experience and enthusiasm for the sport, along with some general information for newcomers. As a result of this, Lolfa have asked me to prepare a longer, English language book. This blog will regularly catalogue my rides next year and provide the core material for that one.
I’m writing this on December 23rd, the day before I begin the Strava 500km Challenge. I’ll be riding every day between Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, and hoping to build up some decent form for the Spring. I have vague ideas about taking on the awesome Fred Whitton Challenge in May, and I’ll need to lose a quick couple of stone to even think about it. At least I’m back in the zone mentally, and ready to make the commitment and sacrifices needed for a better 2015. I’ll let you know how it goes.