Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cyclone Challenge and the Giant Miracle

I did have a busy ‘business’ trip this summer; sample this:
Monday 1st June – Landed at Newcastle
Wednesday 3rd – heard about the Blaydon race at the NH3 run
Friday 5th – saw a poster for the Cyclone Challenge at client office
Saturday 6th 4pm – push in a last minute postal entry into the Cyclone race
Monday 8th – Promised a spare number to the Blaydon race & a bike for the Cyclone challenge
Tuesday 9th – Run the Blaydon race
Wednesday 10th – Run with the NH3 at Totem pole’s
Thursday 11th – Pick up bike from client manager’s home
Friday 12th – Get bike serviced & register for the race
Saturday 13th – 62mi ride in the Northumbrian countryside on my Giant Bike
Sunday 14th – Reflect on the busy week that was ;)

Maybe it was nowhere close to being miraculous, but each piece fell so neatly in place and before I knew it, I had participated in a 100k race in what would, eventually be, my bike!!

I never have been a destiny’s child and always had to earn every reward, but this time around I couldn’t have made it without a lot of help.
I would have missed it, if it hadn’t been for a poster at cafeteria at work.
I would have missed it, if, after seeing that the online reg was closed, I did not write to the organizers.
I would have missed the postal registration, if the organizers office was a distance away (with some few hours, no postal service would have delivered the form that quick). It was a mile from my hotel.
I would have missed it, for the want of a bike and Newcastle didn’t have a store where I could hire one.
I would have missed it, if the only biker I knew at work – Tony was at work (he probably has a MTB not suitable for the race). But Tony was on a 2 week vacation.
I would have missed it, if had heard about Tony leave from anyone else but Tim, coz when Tim heard why, he said he could possibly have a bike at home that I could borrow!
I would have missed it, if it wasn’t one of “those bikes with thin tires, and funny way to change gears” (aka road bikes!)
I surely wouldn’t have brought it back with me, if Tim was a biker himself, or if his girlfriend insisted he become one or if British Airways didn’t allow free carriage for sporting equipment, or, most importantly, if Ananth hadn’t told me this 2yrs ago on a Nandi ride!

Presenting… The Bike
It was indeed a “bike with thin tires, and a funny way to change gears”. It was a 2006 Giant OCR3 series – a mid range, budget road racing bike, with triple chain rings in the front useful for climbing. It has an Allux frame, carbon fork, 24speed Shimano Sora shifters, Shimano Sora in the front and Shimano Tiagra at the rear derailleur’s. It’s a XL 58cm and at 10kgs it weighs close to nothing. I did have to spend a bit at Cyclogical to get it road worthy and a little more to pack it later for the air travel.

The pre-race Registration was at Leazus park on Friday evening. It was not quite the gala I had expected but was nevertheless buzzing with bikers participating in the Criterium races clocking those fast laps around the park. For an event that was touted as “one of UK biggest”, the lack of bike stalls was conspicuous. At the counter, a SI-card was strapped around the waist and was to be kept that way till the end of the race. I also got my first bike number - 1835

The Race (link):
I had gone through the Google maps directions using street map, a number of times to make sure I don’t get lost the following morning in getting to the Falcons Rugby Club. Even as I entered the stadium, I saw a peloton riding out of the stadium and immediately felt the adrenaline rush. The start was well organized – some 2000 bikers were starting either the 62mi or the 100mi races in a space of 2hrs. Some 20bikes were flagged off every 2mins after dipping the SI-card in the timing slots. It looked like I was the only Indian rookie around, also arguably the only one in non-skin-tight shorts, without cleats or water bottle, but still carrying a camera!

The plan was to stay with the peloton or paceline behind someone to catch the draft. But the group spaced out in no time. As Leadlegs says in his blog:
“Now and again the small group we started out riding with, …, was swamped by a faster group that zipped all around us like hungry piranha attacking a carcass, before moving on to the next victim. It was a bit intimidating at first but I soon got used to it.”
As soon as we were out of Ponteland we were left with beautiful countryside to deal with. I tried to make small talk with fellow bikers for awhile. There was also a nagging patter from the front of the bike that I attributed immediately to the only critical area in the front – the fork or the quick release. It was just the clattering noise and I hadn’t made up my mind to stop and look for the problem. An Irish biker came up quietly behind me and pointed out to the reflector tapping against the brake cable and welcomed me to the ‘noiseless world’.
And from then on, there were no problems with the bike whatsoever.

My first off-saddle point came as early as 22mi or so, just before the Forestburn timing station. I didn’t shift the gears at the right time and the cadence had dropped putting in too much strain on the quads on a steep incline.

The timing station (which I reached in 1:22hrs) was stocked well, and I gulped down lots of water, a chocolate bar and some bananas. I also pocketed a couple of bars to sustain me till the next station, which according to the map, was about the same distance as the first.

So I had started out expecting to be out of water for about 1.5 hrs. I also knew that this section had the most climbs and very undulating. The 62milers separated from the 100milers about here and there was a much lesser crowd from here on…

I took many of the climbs either very easy or off the saddle, jogging alongside like a loser. After 1.5hrs, I began to expect the aid station sometime and was tapping into the reserves of my body fluids. The combination of no water and jumping off the saddle expedited the incidence of cramps. I can manage calf cramps, but the cramps in the Quads are the worse and I dread them.

After about 2hrs, I had started to hallucinate, looking far ahead to spot any signs of colorful paraphernalia of the water stations. I had started to curse the organizers for not making this clear in the map. It was clearly mentioned that there would be 4. I had started to wonder how close the remaining timing stations would have to be, to accommodate 3 more. The other riders simply zipped by with customary “Are you alrites”, but didn’t wait enough to hear my “not really”s. By this time I had started to question my wisdom of entering into the 62mi event. And the lush green landscape? I didn’t notice much.

The Ryals:
So, in this state of desperation, I look around the bend in the road and there is this “the fearsome climb of the Ryals with its 30% middle gradient” as described by the organizers. There was no way in bloody hell I was going to get on top of that on my bike. My optimistic side was still expecting a water stop right on top like a reward. But barring some photographers (for whom I got on my bike again to get this pic) and some resting bikers, there were none. But I was surprised by the number of bikers who attacked the Ryals, to the top of the first one and then continued on to the top of the second!!

And finally when I had made up my mind to crash into the next pub that I saw, the tents of the timing station at Stamfordhm came to view. I had gone 2:53hrs, the toughest section of the race, without water!

I rested there for awhile and was also forced to rest someplace midway. Although this was the easiest section -12mi and downhill most of the way, I took about an hour to finish in 5:17:47hrs overall.

Post Race:
The final standing put me in position 520 among 825 finishers. Not great, but I must have won the “longest without fluid” category hands down, if ever there was one. I picked up the goody bag and a simple cotton tee, some chips, coffee and the timing certificate and sat down at the exit to enjoy the spoils.

Well, if you thought I did ok, you should check the blog link which I chanced upon… about how 10yr old (yeah 10yr old!!!) Josh finished just 11mins after me. Woah, lotsa catching up to do there, I am about 19years behind!
Time to get back to work now…

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Blaydon Race

Aw went to Blaydon Races, 'twas on the ninth of Joon,twenty hundred an' nowt-nine, on a summer's efternoon;Aw tyuk the start frae Balmbra's, afore the light was fadin’,Away we went alang Collingwood Street, an’ in 42mins was in Blaydon.
Oh lads, ye shud only seen us gannin',We pass'd the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin';Thor wes lots o' lads an' lasses there, all wi' smiling faces,Gawn alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races.
Disclaimer: I didn’t write that. This anthem of Tyneside was written by Geordie Ridley and
eIn keepin wiv da Blaydon spirit, I iz writin dis in Geordie English.
Read on… an' if yous don’t iz gona, try again whun yous iz well.

So, as hit turned hout, I wuz da third in line to get da spare dijits fe da race hat da Hash an' dere wuz 2. I wuz fe real sore to as missed on da fun-race. But, I iz not da one to borrow up easily, an' I had da well kind manageez hat wurk to put up da notice fe da spare runnin dijits.
So, as it turned out, I was the third in line to get a spare number for the race at the Hash and there were 2. I was really sore to have missed on what was promised to be a fun-race. But, I am not the one to give up easily, and I had a very kind Manager at work to put up a notice for a spare running number.

And lo an' behold, on 8th da monday, Steve walks up to me an' tells me dat e could as one an' dat da lad from da club iz gona brin hit on toosday durin grub. I didn’t mind da 10 poonds hat all.
And lo and behold, on 8th the Monday, Steve walks up to me and tells me that he could have one and that a lad from the club would bring it on Tuesday during lunch. I didn’t mind the 10 pounds at all.
And that’s how I came about wearin da bib dijits 682 in Groat market lookin fe hashers hat 5pm on da 9th hof june. da band wuz bein set up in front hof balmbras an' da marshals wuz gettin' ready to blok da traffic.
And that’s how I came about wearing the bib number 682 in Groat market looking for Hashers at 5pm on the 9th of June. A band was being set up in front of Balmbras and the marshals were getting ready to block the traffic.

met lhj, cf, nickerless, woohoo, face-plant, vic & claire not before I had fed meself wiv da six mile sub-way. da nek muscle wuz da only one wot wuz warmed up before da race, wiv all da lookin around (left, east side, up an' down) to do. bwoy oh bwoy.
I met LHJ, CF, Nickerless, woohoo, face-plant, Vic & Claire not before I had fed myself with a six inch sub-way. The neck muscle was the only one that was warmed up before the race, with all the looking around (left, right, up and down) to do. Boy oh boy.

the race started hat 7.15pm in broad daylight an' I fought I wuz ahead hof da pak, bein da club runna, but neva once seun da elite runners. I ran da heavy race, not pushin meself hat any point fe real, coz I had narr feel fe da terrain.
The race started at 7.15pm in broad daylight and I thought I was ahead of the pack, being a club runner, but never once saw the elite runners. I ran a good race, not pushing myself at any point really, because I had no feel for the terrain.

there wuz quite da racket hat da start an' dere wuz bands playin along da course…
“Oh lads, ye shud only seen us gannin',We pass'd the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin';”
There was quite a racket at the start and there were bands playing along the course…
“Oh lads, ye shud only seen us gannin',We pass'd the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin';”
Hit wuz da yorkie experience runnin wiv such da massiv pak hof strong runners. I held da pace an' sprinted da last few meters to da finish line in 42:11 mins.
It was a great experience running with such a huge pack of strong runners. I held the pace and sprinted the last few meters to the finish line in 42:11 mins.

there wuz quillions hof goodies hat da finish line – some luvly eye candy can-can gaals, blak puddin, coffee johnny tee, newcastle brown ale (all part hof da blaydon race tradition). i waited fe da chill fe hashers an' we headed to da blak bull inn fe some blak sheep bea. an' while we wuz re-hydratin, we wuz treated to clog jiggy withit an' sword jiggy withit by da local jiggy withit group. There were loads of goodies at the finish line – some lovely eye candy can-can girls, Black pudding, Coffee Johnny tee, Newcastle Brown Ale (all part of the Blaydon race tradition).
I waited for the rest for hashers and we headed to the Black Bull Inn for some Black Sheep Beer. And while we were re-hydrating, we were treated to Clog dance and sword dance by a local dance group.

Aal togetha hit wuz da dun evenin.
All together it was a beautiful evening.

Moe on Blaydon Race heer
Moe photus heer

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Causey Arch Run

Maybe they didn’t mean it when NH3 bid me farewell at the circle on Run 859, ‘cause I was back to Newcastle, to New Kent Hotel and to NH3 for the first run in June, Run No. 876. The English Summer was in - a heady mix of cool breeze, bright sunshine and intermittent drizzle, near perfect for some long countryside runs.

The Bullocks family were setting the trail in the Durham countryside starting at the Causey Arch Inn & Keko’s Restorante & Pizzeria on Marley Hill. Counterfit offered a lift and we had enough time for some Guinness. It was quite a cold summer evening and I missed my windcheater.
We were about 15 runners and were rewarded right at the beginning – spare balls to pick up! I filled up my pockets with some dimpled balls scattered on the field close to a golf course. The lush green fields and the weather had also inspired some love making along the trail earlier during the day! We piled some miles till we reached the site of the Tanfield Waggonway station.
So there was this railway line that passing under us at the station. Little did I know the history of this line.

Here’s some trivia for you guys - Tanfield & Causey Arch:
The wooden tracks were built in the 18th century to carry coal from the Tanfield colliery to the Tyne side. The wooden wagons were pulled uphill by horses and then gravity carried them to the riverside, the speed being controlled by horses harnessed behind the wagons. Horses then carried the empty wagons back on the bye-way.
930 waggons passed everyday, that’s 1 in 20secs, with some 50yards between them.
Because of friction, the wagons often caught fire and had to be pulled out.
The Causey Arch is the oldest surviving Railway Bridge and was unprecedented when it was built in 1725.

We ran through FRB checks, Molly Pollys, checks, criss-crossing the tracks several times. It took us through some flowery fields to the BS (aka Beer Stop), where we polished off the last drops of some bitter pints.
We joined the walkers in the last stretch to the On-Inn. We warmed ourselves over some Pizzas, I went for the only veggie option – the Ortalano and some more Guinness. The discussions were around the upcoming Balydon race. With the lasses taking the 2 extra numbers that Nick had to spare, would I miss that race narrowly? Did the mountain bikers that we passed on the home stretch, have a prophetic implication? Only time would tell, Stay tuned!
On On
Pics here and more Causey Arch on wiki here.

Saturday, July 04, 2009


I had visited this town on the way to Hampi last year and always wanted to take my parents there someday. It’s perfect for a one day trip from Bangalore, if all you want to do is drive a short distance and still be able to visit someplace significant.

There are 2 ways to get there – via Chikkabalapur on the NH7 and left at Bagepalli or on via Doddaballapur on SH9, through Gouribidanur and Hindupur. There’s nothing to choose between the two in terms of distance, I chose to drive on the NH7 hoping for better roads.

We left at around 9 in the morning after breakfast at home and headed out on NH7 towards Hyderabad. The roads were great in patches, the not-so-good sections were those where we had to move on the wrong side of the road to make way for road widening work. Managed to cover a lot of distance till we reached the Ananthpur check post, just as you enter AP. There are no restaurants on that stretch, if you are used to the likes of Mysore road, you will be in for a rude surprise. We had stocked up sufficiently at Chikkaballapur.

We reached Lepakshi at 11 or so, first visited the Veerabhadra temple, took the services of a guide who in broken Kannada / Telgu went through a lot of historical and mythological significance of the place. The main diety, the lingas, the mural paintings, the kalyana mantap and the suspended pillar depict some fine workmanship. Check the wiki link for more info.
We spent sometime also at the Nandi statue which is the largest in India, followed by Tanjore and Chamundi Hills (that makes 3/3 for me). We were told that the Nandi here was a calf really and from the expressions a timid one.
We drove straight back and were in time for late lunch and early coffee.

Warwick Castle Jog

Work took me to Warwick near Birmingham, UK during the end of April. Workshops were lined up all day at work and the hotel was way outside of town. I managed to squeeze out time to jog the 6-7miles to see the Warwick castle.
I like the uncertainty and mystery around such runs – you have no idea how long you are going to run, what you are going to see, who you are going to meet.
It was a pleasant evening, the sun was out and the rabbits scurrying into the bushes as I passed them. There were just enough people on walks to ask for directions, one of them even letting me know the best place for a view of the castle. Without this bit of info, I would have run to the (closed!) castle gates and would have missed this spectacular view from over the bridge ahead of the castle.