I’ve always fancied sampling a route that the professionals are going to use and this Audax route promised just that. It followed a stage of the Tour Down Under but in typical Audax style it added a few café stops and some kilometres to make the total distance 200km. This seemed like an ideal way to sample a race without participating and without being surrounded by hundreds of other cyclists with the same ambition.

It started in a 24-hour bakery close to where the actual stage would start. Just like the professionals we made sure that our nutritional needs were taken care of before the five of us hit the road. As we set off the organiser casually mentioned that gorge road, the first climb on the route, was closed for roadworks. We decided to gamble on being able to get through.

TDU (2)

Quality nutrition

We dodged round the road closed sign and ignored all the other signs that suggested that forward progress would be impeded at some point. Instead we enjoyed the feeling of being on a car free road. This must be something like the feeling professional cyclists get all the time whilst racing. It was rather nice not having to worry about cars trying to pass in the most ridiculous of places. Our reverie was brought to a grinding halt by a large man, covered in tattoos and wearing a skull ring on every finger. He was a man with a mission and his mission was not to let anyone pass the hole in the ground. We tried to use the power of persuasion but that was a lost cause. He had orders and a complete lack of compassion. We turned around and headed down, there was another way to get us back on route but that required a bit of climbing

I had been up Montecute Road before but that was on a mountain bike with much lower gearing. It is not a momentously steep hill but it just goes on and on. The others were far better climbers than me and soon they were snaking away into the distance. I knew the road got steeper near the end and that meant I would go slower. I struggled to the turning where the others were waiting vowing to do something about my gearing. The irony of doing this climb was that we now had to lose a lot of the height gained to get back on route. This involved a descent of the aptly named Corkscrew Hill. It was one of those rather scary descents that scares the sensible and that the reckless call fun. I used my breaks a lot.

Now we were at the bottom of the hill we had to gain the height all over again by climbing up gorge road to the reservoir. Yet again the group started to lengthen as those with climbing prowess speeded up and I slogged my way up. I thought that the climbing would be over by the time I reached the reservoir but I was cruelly mistaken. The road just became more undulating. I was able to catch the group on the down hill sections only to be distanced whenever the road went skywards. I started to get the feeling that it was going to be a long day in the saddle.

TDU (1)


The first café stop came as a welcome relief, well it would have done if the café had been open, we had to carry on a little to find a temple of calories and fountain of hydration. Just like the professionals we took care of our needs, unlike the professionals our needs included a bacon and egg roll and about a litre of coke. I was amazed at how much I was drinking. It was a hot day and I’d been dripping with sweat but to go though two bottles and a litre of coke before breakfast was for me, unheard of. At least I felt ready to tackle the next park to of the route.

The route kept its undulating character but now we were in the country and surrounded with fields of ripening corn. It was all very beautiful and for a while took my mind off the many small rises that seemed to appear out of nowhere. I had no idea that long steep hills could be hidden so well in the countryside. We got to the top of one where the views were spectacular, it didn’t even look like a proper hill. It just got steep without appearing to get steep. I don’t like this sort of hill.

TDU (3)

Heading for the hills

We came to a sharp corner, it housed a tree that someone had lived in one hundred years ago. Something like that is always worth stopping for. It also gave me a chance to recover slightly, finish the last of my water and have a stretch. I prayed that the next stop was as close as I though it was. It wasn’t

The next control was in a pub. The first glass of coke didn’t touch the sides. In fact, I’m sure there was some steam rising as I downed the drink. I had some crisps to slow down the flow of the next glassful. Even though I had filled by body with quality nutrition I still felt like I’d gone through the mill. I think it was here that it dawned on me that I was going to have to climb the Corkscrew in the next section. I suddenly felt rather weak.

TDU (4)

We should have stopped here, I needed a cuddle

The way to the bottom of the hill was mainly downwards with a few little lumps. That didn’t make the feeling of trepidation any better. Ive attempted the Corkscrew once before and it didn’t go well. This time I was hungry, dehydrated and tired. There is a whole world of difference between climbing when fresh and climbing with over one hundred and fifty hilly kilometres in my legs. I went as far as I could before grinding to a halt. I stood for a while gave myself a good talking to and them carried on for some meters and stopped again. I repeated this for a while before throwing in the towel and walking, there had been no cars on the road up to this point, now they came streaming passed all of them laughing at my inability to get up a hill. I tried to save face by cycling the last one hundred meters. It didn’t work

I met the others at the top of the climb. The official route took us down the hill to climb up another. There was no way that I was going to climb another hill. If I went down that road I fully intended to freewheel directly to my house and lay in a darkened room for a large number of hours. I didn’t care that it would be the first time I’d ever failed on an Audax. Luckily the others had no intention of descending and knew another route to our final control that involved less climbing.

There was still a lot of climbing and I was slowly coming to a halt on each climb. I lost count of the times I stopped to give myself a very good talking to. I was having a massive sense of humour failure due to the lack of sugar and liquid. This needed to be addressed urgently at the next stop. Two packets of crisps, two large glasses of cola and a packet of nuts later I started to feel a lot more human.

If I was a professional cyclist I would now get onto the team bus, participate in post-race interviews and probably be banned by the commissionaires for taking the wrong route. However, as I’m not I had to make my own way back to the city. It wasn’t far and it was mainly downhill. At last I could free wheel down the twisting road and admire the view over the city.

TDU (6)

Mission accomplished

This was the hardest ride I’d done in a long time and in retrospect I think I enjoyed it. It took a long time and a few bathfulls of water to recover. There is one thing that is certain. I will be glued to the television when the professionals go the same way.

TDU (5)

It took how long?


Racing Roman

Posted: December 24, 2017 in Swimming
Tags: , , , ,
Racing Roman (4)

The start, before the mayhem begins

Roman and I have a friendly rivalry. It started a few years ago but now I have moved to the area it has become more intense. I beat him in the last swim by quite a margin and he was looking for revenge at the Port River Swim.

The course had been changed since last year, instead of a big loop that went under the bridge the course was now three loops in front of the café. I’m not that keen of multiple loops. The race HQ was in a riverside café that served the most wondrous breakfasts. I resisted the urge to fill my face and instead stood outside and made polite conversation with various people. This was interrupted by Roman. It was time for trash talk.

Racing Roman (2)

A truly wondrous cafe

After the race briefing we all filed down the gangway and dropped into the water. It was pleasantly warm but disturbingly there were quite a few jellyfish bobbing about. As we waited for the start the jellies hunted people down and cruelly bumped into people. Every now and again someone would jump out of the way and make jellyfish has just touched me sound. Luckily for us they didn’t sting, they were just slimy.

After a short period of floating about the hooter sounded and we were off. I like to start slowly and build up so I tend to start behind the fast ones and wannabees. I picked my way through the other swimmers and headed for the first buoy. It looked like a long way but it soon came and with it the crush on the turn. I was quite close to the buoy but I wasn’t expecting someone to swim over me as we had all been asked to be nice in the briefing. Roman obviously hadn’t listened. He came storming round and swam right over me. I knew it was him, I don’t think he knew it was me.

Racing Roman (3)

A jelly fish, a wibbly wobbly jelly fish

In a few brief moments I formulated a plan. I was going to draft him for all my worth. He was going to drag me round the course and if I had the energy at the end I was going to swim off into glory. It was a simple plan and that is how I like them. Going down the back straight I discovered that Roman didn’t like his feet being touched. The first time was an accident. He kicked like a wild thing for a few strokes and them resumed his normal pattern. Odd, I thought. I touched them again, the same thing happened. This was fun. He thinks he is trying to ward someone off. I kept touching his feet for at least two circuits. He must have been really annoyed about it as the kicks got bigger and bigger.

At the start of the last circuit he stopped at the buoy, someone had objected to his strength tactics. Managed to not avoid him and swum right over him. I felt it was justified bearing in mind that he had done the same to me at the first buoy. I waited patiently for him to overtake so that I could resume my drafting and annoying.

As we rounded the buoy at the top of the course I knew it was time, I came out of the slipstream and pulled alongside. I could see that he was giving it his all. I upped the stroke rate and pulled away. It felt good. I had about three hundred meters to go and there was no way he was going to catch me. I even overtook a few other swimmers, this rarely happens. I slapped the finish and was happy, Roman was nowhere to be seen. I felt the energy drain from my body. I’d given it everything on the last section and now I was paying for it. I didn’t care. I’d beaten Roman

Racing Roman (1)

Some Industrial Archaeology because I didn’t take a picture of Roman


The Seacliff beach hotel which overlooked the swim and hosted the presentation

There is an open water series of swims in my new adopted home and this was the first one. I was looking forward to competing even though my swimming has been a little poor of late. The event was a 1.6km (1 mile) sea swim. In past years it had been along the coast to a buoy near the jetty and back.

When we set out from hone the weather was looking a little unsettled. There had been storms over the last few days and the forecast for today wasn’t too promising. When we arrived, the sea looked a bit choppy and we were told that there quite a strong current running southward. It looked like my ideal conditions. The current would take me to the buoy and then I could fight my way against the wind and wave to the finish. It would also slow down some of the pool swimmers that only ever swim in flat calm.


The conditions looked either good or bad depending on your view

After registering we went for a little pre-race nutrition or as it’s usually known a cup of hot chocolate and a walnut muffin. As we passed the time of day looking out to sea we noticed that the buoy near the jetty was being moved. What was going on. We could only speculate and all our speculations lead to one thing, the course was being changed.

The truth became known at the briefing. We would now be doing two loops, starting off against the current. I felt slightly cheated by this. I would have much preferred an out and back rather than loops. The rationale was that it would help the weaker swimmers complete the course. I had to reluctantly agree, not that I had a choice.


Somewhere to hide from the wind

The water felt warm to me but others felt that it was nearly arctic. Water temperature is such a subjective thing. We all bobbed around in the water trying to find the idea starting position. I wanted the shortest route but I didn’t want to be caught up in the fast swimmer’s melee.

All of a sudden, we were off. I didn’t here a gun or hooter, there was just a fast surge forward. The swim was on. I started pushing against the current and climbing the waves. This was fun. This is what sea swimming is all about. Every now and then I looked up for the buoy and corrected my tendency to veer to the left. It took a while to get there but eventually I rounded the yellow blob. The sea conditions changed instantly. Now the current was pushing from the side but I was still climbing waves. The next buoy and the next turn came quickly. Now everything was pushing me down the beach. It made things far to easy. I felt relaxed and cruised down to the next buoy ready for the next lap.

The folly of my pre-race nutrition regime hit home a little way into the second loop. One moment I was happily fighting the current and climbing the waves, the next I had the taste of hot chocolate in my mouth. More worryingly I could feel little bit of walnuts as well. I had no desire to make this the first time I’d thrown up in the sea so I swallowed hard and concentrated on making progress. I now had the taste of salty hot chocolate and walnuts in my mouth. The harder a swam the more the feeling rose. It all disappeared as I rounded to buoy. The feeling passed, I felt relieved


The finish, a good place to end.

The final leg went well, the weakening current pushed me all the way to the finish where the only hard decision to make was where to stop swimming and get to my feet. Despite the feeling of rising nausea I really enjoyed the swim. Hopefully the rest in the series will be just as enjoyable.

Moonlight (3)

Henley Beach at dusk

It seemed like a simple idea: gather at dusk on a full moon and then have a short swim around the Jetty before retiring for refreshments. I couldn’t believe that no one in my new group of swimmers had done it before. There were objections, some said that the fish with large teeth feed at dusk, others just felt intimated by the whole thing. There was intrigue as well, this was something new, something slightly out of the ordinary and more than that it was a chance for a little get together afterwards. With a bit of persistence and persuasion I managed to amass a small group to make the inaugural (and potentially only) Henley moonlight swim.

A moonlight swim needs to be done with moonlight and the brightest moonlight is on the full moon. I was lucky as the next full moon was on a Friday. It is always easier to pursued people to do something silly on a Friday. The next problem was that despite the moonlight It is still quite dark. This was solved by a visit to a superstore to acquire glow sticks. I left the store feeling like a teenager going to a rave.


Be safe, be seen

We gathered outside the surf club as dusk fell. I’d checked the moonrise time and it was about now. What I had failed to consider was that the hills in the east would obscure the moon for quite a while after the moonrise. Undeterred I renamed the event a twilight swim and we all carried on regardless.

Julianne had also thought about lighting, she had placed a lamp into her yellow tow float to produce an eerie floating orb. The rest of us were decked in glow sticks.

Moonlight (1)

Preparing the celebration of the golden orb

We wandered down to the sea ready to start our swim under the eyes of a few curious passers-by on the jetty. We must have looked like some weird cult following a golden orb into the sea. The water was cool but not cold, it didn’t take much getting used to. The sea was calm and still and so very pleasant to swim in. Heading out to sea was a beautiful and surreal experience. Every now and again I would see a glow stick rise and fall. Away in the distance the glowing yellow orb showed the way.

Moonlight (2)

The orb leads, the others follow


As we rounded the jetty the lights from the shore illuminated our way back to the beach. We could all feel the current pulling us slowly towards the Jetty. One of us actually swam into it. We all gathered on the beach. Some felt that they had had enough whist others felt that it was so good they wanted to go around again.


Nearly everyone asked when will we be doing it again, I count this as a success.

Murray View

We are going to swim across there

A lot of the border between Victoria and New South Wales is marked by the River Murray, that’s why it’s such a wiggly line on the map. The idea of swimming to another state appealed to me and that was the main reason that I was in Mildura. I was there with a group of masters’ swimmers who were taking part in a swimming gala. They had a tradition of swimming across the river to mark the end of the event and the start of the party.

We started by slipping into the water from the back of the houseboat. For those that had been in a swimming pool all weekend the water was freezing. For those of us who had been standing on the pool deck guiding swimmers to the start and eating junk food it was refreshingly cool.

Murray Setting off

Setting off

The water wasn’t particularly clear, it tasted slightly of mud and dirt. I tried not to think about how much the pelicans had added to the organic matter in the water. We wanted to land on the small bank opposite the house boat so someone did some complicated maths with white boards and rulers to work out that we needed to head slightly upstream, to a clump of trees about ten meters from our landing point. It all seemed to make sense.

Have I mentioned that I’ve not swum for a while and that I’d spent the weekend eating and drinking? Well this was the point where the chickens (or possibly pelicans) came home to roost. For the first few strokes I thought it was just getting used to the water; for the next few I was sure it was something to do with my lack of fitness. Then came the acid indigestion. It felt like lava rising from my stomach and burning in my throat. I was struggling.

Murray Other Side

For a crossing to count you must wave at the photographer

I know when things as going wrong and they were going wrong now. I was lifting my head too high. I was pulling on the water to no effect. I was in the middle of a river, I was crossing a state line. Eventually I reached the other side and stepped into the soft mud. It oozed between my toes and generally felt unpleasant. As this was a crossing we had to follow official crossing rules and touch the other bank. I now faced a quandary. Should I take the four kilometre walk back to the boat by land wearing nothing but a pair of trunks or should I swim the one hundred and fifty meters across the river. I opted for the swim.

Murray Coming Back

Coming back to hot showers and tea

What should have been a pleasant swim back was made hard by complete lack of physical conditioning. This should have been an easy swim but it turned out to be a bit of a mare. I was so thankful to reach the back of the boat, get a hot shower and be handed a cup of tea.

Would you like to see a video of the crossing


cuck 1

Birling Gap Beach, looking west to Cuckmere Haven

This is a serious swim, this is a committing swim, this is a swim that I have wanted to do for a very long time. It starts at Cuckmere Haven and follows the coastline to Birling Gap. On one side, the Seven Sisters rear up and on the other side is the English Channel. Once you start there is no going back and there is no getting out. The cliffs plunge directly into the sea for the two-mile length. At low tide, there may be a small beach but the swim has to be done on a rising tide in the three hours before high water. This allows the water to cover the chalk bar and ensures that the current is running with you.

We had studied the tide tables and identified a suitable day. We needed time to get there and to sort ourselves out, so we looked for high tides in the afternoon. There were only a few weekends that met our requirements. The first possible weekend had been called off for various reasons and that left just one weekend when the tides were right and everyone was available. Plans were made and times set

cuck 9

Five swimmers to take on the Seven Sisters

It started badly, Amy missed her train and then missed the next one by being on the wrong platform. That ate into the contingency I’d allowed. Three of us headed down to Birling Gap and hoped that Cate and Amy would drive like the wind to meet us there. We sat in the café and fortified ourselves with tea and cake. We’d taken a look at the sea and it had looked a little lumpy. Cate arrived ten minutes later. I’m sure that speed limits were used as targets on her journey down. We all piled into her car and headed over to Cuckmere Haven

Three of us were already changed but Cate and Amy needed to do the changing dance in the public car park for the amusement of the passers-by. Once ready we started the walk to the coast. We must have looked a little odd dressed only in swimming clothes as we joined the Gore-Tex clad walkers and Sunday strollers. Time was ticking on and high water was getting closer. I had no desire to swim against the current.

We stood at the end of the beach and shed our outer layers. Cate and I had brought tow floats to carry a few clothes and shoes to the end of the swim. I stuffed mine full of discarded clothes, sealed it and headed for the water.

cuck 2

Strolling down to the beach trying to look inconspicuous

Getting in was fun, the waves were rearing up onto the beach making my usual practice of getting progressively wetter redundant. It was just a case of plunging in and getting on with it. Once we were all in we started heading East. The swimming was fantastic, once my body got used to the temperature I just relaxed into the stroke and enjoyed the surroundings. On one side, the cliffs dominated the sky line. Every now and again I would spot a small dot on top of the cliff that was a person looking down; on the other was just endless rolling sea. I’m sure that I had a huge smile on my face. Every now and then Sue and Pam would stop and take photographs. They seemed to be enjoying it.

cuck 3

Starting the Swim

We had to make sure that we kept away from the cliff, the waves got quite large as the water got shallower. It was wonderful to only see a wall of water at one point and then be on top of our wet world the next. Amy was loving the waves, I could see the big grin on her face every time she got to the top of the wave. This is what makes sea swimming. I was not so sure that Sue was enjoying it as much.

cuck 4

Swimming on top of a wave

It started to go wrong for Sue after about a mile or so. She was not used to swimming this distance in water of this temperature and she had recently lost some weight. She had started to get cold. Once the cold starts to get a grip it is very hard to shake it off. The colder she got the more worried she became. The more worried she became the colder she got. She had started on the vicious circle of hypothermia. She was getting slower, Pam stayed with her and tried to let the rest of us know that Sue was suffering but to no avail. It didn’t help that the swim was taking a lot longer than we had estimated and the chances were getting quite high that we would soon be swimming against the current.

cuck 6

Bobbing along quite happily

From sea level, the Seven Sisters look remarkably similar if you are not familiar with then. Sue had convinced herself that she was not making any progress. She was in a bad way. We tried reassuring her that the we were getting closer to the end, at this point we could see the steps down to the beach in the far distance, but she didn’t believe us. The coastguard helicopter passed overhead, I’d forgotten to inform them that we were doing the swim so I have no doubt that someone had reported five idiots in the water. I half expected Sue to start waving for help.

cuck 5

Up close and personal with the Seven Sisters

The beach starts long before the steps that give access to the cliffs, despite this we all felt that the official end of the swim would be the steps. I have a feeling that Sue hadn’t realised we were close to the beach and an escape from her torment. I was at the top of a wave when I spotted the start of the beach. It was directly below a big yellow spot on the cliff. This gave us a target and gave Sue something to aim for.

cuck 7

Marching Sue to the car at the end of the swim

I made it to the beach first. The plan was for me to get sorted out so that we could deal with Sue as quickly as possible. Pam escorted Sue in a few minutes later. We had her wrapped in warm clothes in an instant and marched her off the beach in double quick time. Having the car sol close to the beach was a wonderful thing.

There was only one thing to do after an epic swim and that was to sit in a warm pub.

cuck 8

Waiting for hot coffee and cold beer

Lee Valley (3)

I jumped at the opportunity of a club session on the Lee Valley Velodrome, who wouldn’t? The chance to fly round the Olympic track was far too hard to resist. The only track that I’ve ridden on is Herne Hill: a four-hundred-and-fifty-meter outdoor track. Lee Valley is a completely different proposition: a two-hundred-and-fifty-meter indoor wooden track. The straights looked short and the banks looked tall. The whole thing looked very intimidating from the centre of the track but I was itching to get on the bike and have a go

After going through the formalities of finding a pair of shoes and bicycle that fitted me we were all gathered together by the coach for the initial safety talk. We all sat through it waiting to be unleashed on the track. Even during the safety talk there were differences. The main one being that slowing down to a halt should take two laps: one on the blue and another on the inside track.

Lee Valley (2)

My steed for the evening

Finally, we were let loose on the track to warm up. The more experienced started higher up the track but I wasn’t ready for that. I stayed down on the blue line until I felt ready to tackle the banking. Slowly I worked up the lines and slowly my confidence grew. By the end of the warm up I was quite happily going to the top of the banking and swooping down at great speed. This track was so different to Herne Hill and it took a while to get used to.

Lee Valley (9)

The medal winning GB sprint team was ‘ere

After the warm up the coach gathered us together and explained the next exercise. We were to set off in a long line and, at the end of each lap, the one at the front would peel off up the banking and re-join the end of the line. It seemed very easy in theory but in practice it was a lot harder. The main obstacle was a lack of consistency in the speed of the line. After a few laps, it started to become obvious that some wanted to force the pace and some didn’t. Whenever a fast one hit the front the line would stretch out and then on the next lap someone else would slow the pace down. This made life difficult in the line as one lap we were chasing all out and then the next we were trying not peddle into the cyclist in front.

Lee Valley (8)

Mark Cavendish was ‘ere as well

As I came off I mentioned to the coach that I’d only ever been to Herne Hill and how different this was. He was very disparaging about Herne Hill, saying that it was not really a track it was more like a ring road. I didn’t share his opinion but didn’t feel the need to argue.

The next exercise was all about gaining a lap. We all set off in a line and on a signal the rider at the front would drop down to the sprinters line and go hell for leather to gain the back of the line. Again, it sounded easy in theory but was hard work in practice. The inconsistency of the speed of the line struck again. One moment I thought I was gaining and then the line would speed up. The coach had noticed. He wanted a consistent fast pace. He was concerned that if it went too slow someone would fall off the track. It took me ages to gain a lap and then, in what seemed like an instant, I was at the front of the line being instructed to gain another lap. I feel that I earned my mouth full of Haribo and slurp of water at the end of the exercise.

Lee Valley (7)

Chris Froome was ‘ere too

Each exercise got progressively harder but it all remained fun. Slowly the fatigue kicked in and the rests became longer. I took to finishing each exercise early as the volume of track work took its toll. I was quite relieved when the coach announced that the next ten minutes were for warming down. Some took this as meaning rocketing round the track at high speed whilst others took this to dawdle. I took a path between the two extremes.

Eventually it had to happen. All through the session the coach had warned us not to go to slow. Up ahead two cyclists were dawdling round, half way up the track. Suddenly the one at the front lost traction and fell off the track, taking the cyclist behind with him. It looked messy and spectacular at the same time. Both lay on the track for a few minutes before gathering themselves together and being escorted to the centre to fill out forms and be assessed for concussion. At least we all know now that we shouldn’t go too slow.

Lee Valley (1)

So was Danny Mackaskill

Despite being unfit due to weeks of inactivity and eating I thoroughly enjoyed the session. It left me with the feeling that I wanted to do more, much more track work. I made a mental note to deal with this.