I’m Going to Cycle London to Paris in 24 Hours!

Well, I’ve gone and done it….  I’ve just signed up to cycle between two iconic capital cities – London and Paris.  Most of these challenges are done over 2 to 3 days, so I’ve decided to do it in 24 hours!  This will be my hardest and longest challenge to date with 190 miles to cover.

I’ve cycled in both cities before, but never between them.  I’m looking forward to riding with a group of like minded cyclists challenging themselves with the same goal.  It will be good to see the sights of Paris again, hopefully the traffic will be quieter on the Champs-Elysées this time and I might get to cycle along it.

Paris

The fully supported London to Paris 24 Hour Sportive (approximately 80 to 100 riders) will set off from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich at 4pm on Saturday 30th April, from there we will head out of the city towards Surrey, climbing over the South Downs and onto Newhaven for the ferry to Dieppe.  The ferry leaves at 11pm (we need to be there for 10pm though) it’s a four hour crossing so hopefully allowing a couple of hours sleep.

Once we dock in Dieppe – at 4am because of the hour change – it’s a 120 mile ride through the French countryside, slowly the sun will rise and its onwards towards to Paris – arriving hopefully before 4pm (UK time).

I will be cycling for the Pumping Marvellous Foundation a patient-centric heart  charity focused on improved patient outcomes. Their services and products improve the ability of heart failure patients to self-care, recognising the early symptoms and self-interventions and steps that can be taken to alleviate common symptoms.

Please take the time to read more about the foundation on their website

If you would like to support me and make a donation I have set up a Just Giving page. I’m self funding the ride, so all the money raised through donations will go directly to Pumping Marvellous.

Just Giving Sponsor Me

It’s just over six months before the ride, so the commitment and training starts here…  Keep an eye out for updates on my blog and twitter account @CoeurCycliste with the hashtags #L2P24  #TeamMarvellous #GetOutside

Thanks for reading and please consider donating.

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What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?

I once thought about cycling to work, this would have been sometime around 2009 and before my heart attack, I was living close to Heathrow airport and working in Central London approximately 20 – 25 miles away.

The thought occurred to me on one of my morning commutes – a short drive of about 2 miles to Hatton Cross tube station, park the car, jump on the Piccadilly line tube to Hammersmith, walk to the Hammersmith and City Line (just enough time for a Starbucks Double Tall Latte and cigarette) for another tube ride into Central London (going home was the reverse including yet another visit to Starbucks) – the thought lasted the time it took me to park the car and walk into the tube station. It consisted of the following points:

  1. I live too far away, so it isn’t really an option, what are you thinking
  2. The roads in London are far too busy and dangerous to cycle on
  3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work
  4. Not enough time, I’ll be late.
  5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this…

Thought dismissed as completely impracticable, although with hindsight they aren’t valid reasons not to cycle to work and are just excuses, the lot of them…..

Fast forward five years, post heart attack, it’s now 2014 and I’m still working in Central London once or twice a week, but now I’m living 120 miles away in Worcestershire. By this time I had been cycling for three years, fully addicted to it and looking at increasing my time in the saddle. Then I got an email at work saying that the company had signed up to the Cycle To Work Scheme, the website had a big banner with “Save up to 42% on a new bike!” emblazoned across it.  It’s wasn’t long before that lost thought from 2009 resurfaced, You could cycle to work? After all you always need a new bike – except this time I really did live too far away.

As a cyclist and recovered heart patient, I took the time to find the solutions to all of the excuses on my list and started cycling to work.  If I can find a solution living 120 miles away from my place of work, I’m sure you can to.  You don’t need to be cycling in everyday of the week, twice a week will bring the health benefits – try it you might actually enjoy it and end up a regular commuting cyclist.

Life’s too short for regrets and if onlys, but if I did make a list of them dismissing that cycle to work thought in 2009 would certainly be towards the top – just take a minute to think about the health benefits 30 to 45 minutes of cycling a day would have made to my fitness and health, would I have had a heart attack at the age of 38?

As the saying goes – “Where there’s a will there’s a way” – if you really want to do something you will find the time and the means to do it.

Solutions to the Excuses: – 

1 – I live too far away?

Having moved to the Midlands my journey to work was slightly different now, but it still consisted of a short drive to a train station and tube journey across London.

Cycling the entire distance was obviously completely impracticable and out of the question, but I could ride to and from the stations removing the car and tube from my journey.

That was distance resolved, although it presented another problem with bikes on the train. My normal train would only take a few bikes and it was generally full each day, I ran the risk of getting to the station and not being able to get the bike in the carriage.  I had seen other commuters carrying folding bikes onto the train and their small sixteen inch wheels are a regular sight on the streets of London.   I’ve always been fascinated by the Brompton bicycle, especially watching other commuters folding them in seconds from a full bike to small neat square package.

Decision made I got myself a Brompton on the cycle to work scheme.

Folded Brompton
My Folded Brompton Bicycle

I can already hear the excuses starting – “That’s fine for you, I don’t travel by train to work, I have to drive in” – Well, I’ve thought about this one too and have a solution.  In fact, I even used it myself for six months.  The trains into London were getting expensive, I found it much cheaper (and surprisingly quicker somedays) to drive into London, park outside the congestion zone and cycle the last 3 miles to the office.  Admittedly the Brompton does make it easier to get a bike into the boot of a car.

If you are serious about wanting to cycle to work (you’ve read this far, so I take it you are) look at your current journey, could you park 3 to 5 miles away from work and cycle the last little bit?  As you get stronger and fitter you can start parking further away and cycle more of it, you might even end up cycling the entire distance.  You will also find that you start saving money, the further out of town you go the cheaper the parking charges will be and you will also be using less fuel.

2. City roads are too busy to cycle on.  

Once you take the plunge you’ll find it’s not that much different than anywhere else you ride, but the key is to find the quieter roads, cycle paths and lanes.

Take Oxford Street as an example, it’s packed with buses, taxi’s, pedestrians and set after set of traffic lights.  It was the most direct for me so I’ve cycled it many times and it’s certainly doable, although you do need your wits about you.  If you take the roads that run parallel to it, you will find there’s much less traffic making it so much easier. As you can see from the two Strava rides below, the quieter roads extended my commute by less than a quarter of a mile and just over a minute.

Oxford Street - 3 miles 19 minutes
Oxford Street – 3.2 miles in 19 minutes 28 seconds
Side Roads - 3 miles 21 minutes
Side Roads Parallel to Oxford Street  – 3.4 miles in 21 minutes 37 seconds

If you don’t know the area that well, take a look at a map from Ordnance Survey, check the route on a day off to make sure it’s suitable – you don’t want to find yourself cycling down a muddy bridleway on your way to work, coming home is a different story!

OS Shop

3. I’ll get all hot and sweaty, there’s no showers at work

The key here is to cycle at a slower pace, after all you are commuting to work and not racing for that PB (Personal Best) or KOM (King Of the Mountain) on a Strava segment.  Easing off the pace will still increase your heart rate and be beneficial to your health, you just don’t build up a sweat.  Take advantage of the time, it’s less stressful than driving and gives you time to clear your thoughts before you get to work, take the time and enjoy the ride.

Plan your week in advance, carry a change of clothes with you or perhaps drive to work on Monday with your clothes for the week, cycle Tuesday to Thursday and then drive back in on the Friday to collect your kit.  If you do carry your clothes try to avoid a rucksack on your back and opt for a bike that can carry your bag for you. Doing so stops you getting hot and sweaty behind the rucksack.

You could also try products such as Muc-Off’s Dry Shower that you can use to freshen up when you get to work if you can’t get a shower, you’ll smell of coconut for the day, but that is preferable to the alternative.

Speak to your colleagues and employer, if you can sell the benefits of cycling to work you might be able to convince them to install a shower. If they have signed up to a Cycle to Work scheme they probably already know the benefits a cycling workforce will bring them and may have already thought of adding showers. They might just need someone to show them there’s an actual need for them to do it.

4. Not enough time – I’ll be late

In my case, this just wasn’t an issue.  It was actually quicker for me to cycle the 3 miles through Central London than to take public transport.

One afternoon a colleague said that he could get from the office in Holborn to London Waterloo train station before me by taking the bus.  Unfortunately it was a day that I didn’t have my bike with me, not a problem I said I’ll use a Boris Bike instead (a public hire scheme for bikes in London introduced by the Mayor Boris Johnson). I was a member of the scheme and had my access token with me – challenge accepted! We both left the office by the main entrance at exactly the same time, he headed off in the direction of the 521 bus whilst I walked to the nearest Boris Bike dock in a road behind the office.

I didn’t do anything differently from normal and seven and a half minutes later I was docking my bike at Waterloo and texting my colleague to say I’ve arrived – I quickly got a text back saying that he was just about to cross the Thames and that he couldn’t believe I was already at the station. An easy win for me and the bike.

Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike
Office to Waterloo on a Boris Bike

You will find taking the quieter side roads and cycle paths will avoid most of the rush hour traffic, if you do come across queuing traffic you can normally easily pass it on a bike anyway.

Having said that, you may find that it does take a little longer by bike, if it does the easy answer to this is to get up earlier!  You will better for it in the long run.

5. It’s cold this morning, imagine cycling in this… 

I’ve cycled in almost every type of weather there is, snow, rain, hail, sun, wind and even -3 degrees celsius at 3am in the morning on an overnight 100 mile charity cycle ride.  I can say with confidence that there’s no such thing as the wrong type of weather, just the wrong type of clothing.

Cycling in the Rain
Absolutely soaked to the skin, but loving it! – (Sportive Photo Ltd)

Investing in various types of clothing is money well spent.  The real tip is to wear layers, get a decent baselayer that will keep you warm and then add layers depending on what the weather is doing that day, such as a waterproof jacket if it’s raining.

A cycling adage springs to mind – dress for the ride and not the car park – by that I mean think about what the weather is going to be like once you’ve warmed up and into the ride itself, wrapping up at the start might make you far too hot later on.

I now love riding in the colder weather, it’s amazing how soon you warm up once you start exercising.  If you’re still cold, you’re not pedalling hard enough!

Now let me ask that first question again,  What’s your excuse not to cycle to work?   Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter and I’ll find a solution to it for you!

Identification for first responders

If you had an accident whilst out cycling or running, do you have means of letting first responders know who you are and your emergency details?   Would someone look through your jersey pockets or bags to find your ID?

Given my medical history (see previous posts) its important, no vital, that if the unthinkable does happen to me that any first responders can be made aware of my history, medication and emergency contact details as fast as possible.

Therefore, I’ve chosen to wear an engraved identification wristband, this is far more likely to be noticed before anything in your pockets.

My RoadID Sport
RoadID.com Sport Wristband (brighter colours are available)

All of my information can easily be made available to any first responder by entering my serial number and personal identification number (from the back of my wristband) onto a website or over the telephone.  If the first responder cannot access the internet or telephone, at least the first two lines of the wristband will let them know my name, age and that I have a heart condition.

I’ve had my wristband and shoe IDs for over four years now, hopefully I will never need anyone to use them, but for a small annual fee I have that peace of mind that I and my medical notes can be identified at the road side.

RoadID2
Shoe ID from RoadID.com

Various companies offer these types of wristband, who you choose is entirely up to you, I got mine from RoadID.com for less than £13, including the first years subscription. When you consider the price of most cycling accessories and components it’s next to nothing.

The sport band is unobtrusive whilst riding, I don’t even notice or feel that I’m wearing it, yet it’s easily accessible to first responders.

Even if you don’t have a medical history, I strongly recommend that you have some form of easily accessible identification for first responders.

Riding with a heart condition

First things first, if you have any kind of heart condition talk to your Doctor before taking up any exercise.  I don’t want to put anyone off, but all heart conditions are different and only you and your Doctor know your condition in any detail.  This post is about my experiences and what worked for me, hopefully it will inspire others to start cycling to improve their health, but PLEASE always seek medical advice prior to starting any new exercise regime.  I cannot stress this enough.

If you have read my first post you will know that 4½ years ago I had a Myocardial Infarction (MI), more commonly known as a heart attack, and that I took up cycling again as a way to improve my fitness and overall heart health.

I say took up again, that’s probably taking the phrase too far, as other than my morning paper round in the 1980’s I hadn’t done much cycling prior to my MI in 2011. My most active year on the bike prior to that was 2009 when I headed out just sixteen times over the summer.  This was in a time before the likes of Strava so I recorded my rides in Excel, looking back I had clocked up a wapping 260 miles with an average speed of 11mph.  I did actually ride with a heart rate monitor back then, my averages over those rides were: max heart rate (MHR) 172 and heart rate (HR) 140.

The longest ride that year was the 45 mile Palace to Palace (Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle) in aid of the Princes Trust. My family were shocked when I said I was entering.

Palace to Palace September 2009
A 260lb me finishing the Palace to Palace ride –  Sept 2009

Return to the bike…

I took it easy for the first couple of weeks after being discharged from hospital before I started any real exercise.  Initially by walking around the garden, increasing the distance each day until I felt I could manage a lap around the block. Within a couple more weeks I was walking into the local town centre to pick up a paper and pint of milk.

It was twelve weeks before I felt comfortable venturing out on two wheels, I got the bike out of the shed, the first time it had seen daylight since Palace to Palace almost two years earlier.  That first ride was a venture into the unknown – I don’t know who was more nervous at the time, me or my partner.  I’m thinking, is this the right thing to do and would it bring on another MI, whilst Sue was at home thinking exactly the same whilst waiting for the phone to ring again…..    I cycled 3.3 miles in 17 minutes (average speed 11mph, MHR 155 and average HR 135) probably one of the longest 17 minutes of Sue’s life.

It’s not just about the person who has the heart condition, loved ones are affected just as much, if not more.

For me those 3.3 miles / 17 minutes were the start of my return to cycling, this time it was serious.  Over the next six months to the end of 2011 I was to cycle a further 1170 miles on my road to recovery, culminating in a 62 mile ride around the Isle of Wight (on a cold and windy day in December) in the Wiggle Wight Winter Sportive, details and full stats on Garmin Connect.

Tackling a 62 mile ride just 9 months after a MI might seem a bit irresponsible, I didn’t just decide to ride this distance out of the blue.  I had built up to this distance over time, regularly riding 11 miles during the week and 15 – 20 miles at the weekends.  Leading up to the event I did a couple of 40 milers and a 50 mile ride.

VeloViewer 2011
Distance over time – 2011 (Strava data presented in Veloviewer)

Riding with a Heart Rate Monitor

Obviously I don’t want another heart attack, so the most important item I ride with is a heart rate monitor. I bought a Garmin Edge head unit as I also wanted to record my routes as well as all the other stats.

Just having the heart rate monitor isn’t enough, you need to understand your own heart, so much so that I became obsessed with it.

I set about working out my MHR,  I didn’t know there were so many different ways and views on how to calculate it, having spent ages with the various different formulas, collating all the results and then taking an average of them all my MHR should be 178.6  If you want to know what your MHR is, save all the complicated formulas and just subtract your age from 220.  I’m 42 so my MHR is 178.

Having got my theoretical maximum, I needed to know my resting heart rate.  This is an average of your waking heart rate taken every morning for a week.  Rather than sleep with your heart monitor on all night just to see your waking heart rate I used a great smartphone app from Azumio – all you have to do is put you finger over the camera lens and hold there for thirty seconds.  I have found it to be extremely accurate. Yes, I’ve tested it by wearing my Garmin chest strap whilst taking my blood pressure (did I say I was obsessed) to my utter amazement all three had the same result.  My resting HR is 54

Azumio iPhone Instant Heart Rate App
Azumio iPhone Instant Heart Rate App

Having a resting HR of 54 bpm is normally a sign of somebody who is very fit or a professional sportsperson – prior to my MI my resting HR was in the 70 to 80 range.  I was doing a lot of cycling at the time, but I was still overweight with a 40 inch plus waist, so I wasn’t that fit!  Having spoken to my Doctor my lower HR is a result of my medication,  in this case a beta blocker called Bisoprolol Fumarate.

Before the calls of “doper!”,  I’ve checked all my medication against the WADA prohibited list for cycling in the UK and none of them are prohibited. Not that it matters as I cycle purely for fitness, but it’s nice to know I could compete if I wanted to.  Now, archery is a different matter as the slower heart rate means you gain an advantage as you will have a steadier hand to hold the bow, thereby increasing your accuracy.

I mention the effect of the beta blocker as if it effects my minimum HR I need to consider if it has a similar effect on my maximum.  Therefore and to err on the side of caution I’ve set my MHR at 171.  If you are starting out exercising speak to your Doctor, Cardiologist and/or Heart Failure/Rehab Nurse about what your heart rate should be.

Knowing your min and max heart rates allows you to calculate your exercise zones, I do this through Garmin Connect but there are numerous websites available that you can use to calculate yours.

Garmin Heart Rate Zones
Garmin Heart Rate Zones

When I started out cycling after the MI I would try and avoid going above 153 bpm (85% of MHR) which would give be a buffer up to 165 bpm and I would still be under by MHR.

I probably have too much data on my Garmin training pages, although you will notice that every one shows my heart rate.

My Garmin Screens
My Garmin Edge 800 screens all showing my heart rate

I normally ride with the last page showing the graph and HR in bpm and %max.  I’m quite happy to let it go up to the high 160’s now for short periods of time, but like to keep it below 85% for the majority of the ride.

The point I’m trying to make is I know what my limit is, if I hit 172bpm my Garmin will alert me and it’s time to ease off, if that means getting off and walking up a hill, I get off and walk.  I have no problem in getting off and walking, I would rather get to the top by walking than not at all.   It does not matter what other people/riders think or say, it’s my heart and I would like to keep it.

It’s only a hill, it will still be there the next day and the day after that, just make sure you are still here to attempt it again.

Knowing my limits and training has allowed me to enjoy my cycling and improve my fitness.  By pacing myself and utilising the gears/cadence to stay in the different heart rate zones I can now get up most hills without walking, occasionally one will still get the better of me.

The photo below was taken almost one year to the day after my heart attack, yes that is me 45lbs lighter and climbing Blissford Hill (25% gradient) in the New Forest whilst staying under my self imposed 171 MHR limit.

Me at 216lbs - New Forest Spring Sportive - April 2012
Me at 215lbs – New Forest Spring Sportive – April 2012

As I said at the very start of the post, if you have a heart condition please seek medical advice first, but I hope that my story has inspired you to consider cycling as a fitness option.  Remember you don’t need to be doing 60 mile rides with lots of climbing, a regular easy spin around the block for twenty to thirty minutes three times a week could do wonders for you, just speak to your Doctor before you start.

Garmin Ride Out – 2015

Garmin have held an annual Ride Out in the New Forest with their professional cycling team for at least the last four years.  The ride out is invitation only, after expressing an interest through links on Garmin’s social media channels, every year I have entered and every year I have been unsuccessful.  Its a very popular event and is always over subscribed, this year over 6000 riders applied for one of the 500 places.

This year the rider announcement date came and went with no notification, so I thought there’s always next year to try again.  Then out of the blue in early August I received this email from Garmin:-

Good news – we’ve been able to create additional places at this year’s Garmin Ride Out and you are invited to attend.

I was over the moon and couldn’t wait to sign up!

This year the ride out was on Friday 4th September, luckily I was already on leave from work so would be able to attend.  It was to be an early start to get to the New Forest from the Midlands so I had packed the car the night before.

The alarm went off at 04:55,  I made sure that I had everything I needed for the day, had a quick breakfast of porridge and a mug of freshly brewed coffee.  I was out the door and heading south for the motorway by 05:30 thinking I had plenty of time to get to registration at 08:00.

Turning onto the M5 I saw the dreaded “ROAD CLOSED” signs for overnight maintenance work, I quickly tried to workout a different route in my head to avoid the closure, ending up going down the M42 and A34.  As a result of the diversion and the normal queues in Lyndhurst I was one of the last to arrive at about 08:30, I parked up and headed straight to registration.

Having arrived late the majority of the other riders had already registered and were tucking into the free breakfast (bacon or sausage roll) and a hot drink, so it was quick and easy for me to sign in and collect my rider number, goodie bag and free jersey.

RideOut Jersey
Garmin Ride Out Jersey, supplied by Primal

The jersey is one of the best quality free jersey’s I’ve ever had as part of a give away at a sportive/ride and is now a regular sight around my local training routes.  It’s an Evo custom jersey from Primal and fitted me perfectly – looking around it appeared that everyone else had a perfect fit as well.

After getting my bike ready and having my second breakfast of the day, this time a bacon roll and coffee (5 hours after my first – so it’s not that bad) it was time to gather in the main marquee for the team presentation.

The morning was hosted by Daniel Lloyd and featured interviews with sponsors and the Madison Genesis and Cannonade-Garmin professional cycling teams who would be competing in the Tour of Britain that started on the Sunday.  I only had my phone and now wish I had taken a better camera with me.

Cannondale Garmin - Tour of Britain 2015 Team
Cannondale Garmin – Tour of Britain 2015 Team

After the interviews the raffle was drawn by Daniel Lloyd and Frances Benali (from Southampton FC).  The prizes were fantastic – Garmin Edge head unit, Cannonade Bike, Boardman frame, Southampton FC shirt signed by the entire 1st team to name but a few.  I had bought several tickets, but unfortunately didn’t win.

DL-FB-Raffle
Daniel Lloyd and Frances Benali draw the raffle

Now that the presentations and raffle draw were  complete it was time to take to the road.  With the increase of cycling popularity the New Forest has developed a cycling code to ensure the safety of not only the riders, but equally if not more importantly the wildlife and other users of the Forest.   The code does allow for large organised events of this type, but asks that riders set off in small groups rather than a mass start as seen at other types of sporting events.

Knowing that it would take a while to get all the riders off in small groups and rather than rush to the start, I took a look around the sponsors trade stands and got my bike ready.

At 11:30 I headed off into the Forest on the fully signed and marshalled 47.5 mile ride.  Unfortunately, being one of the last to set off I didn’t get to ride alongside any of the professionals (always next year!) but that didn’t spoil the day in any way.

As it was a Friday the New Forest roads were nice and quiet which made riding on them even more enjoyable.  The route took us to Brockenhurst, up the lovely Rhinefield Ornamental Drive and over the A35 to Bolderwood.

Video taken with my Garmin Virb (sorry I’m slow up hills!)

Crossing under the A31 we soon turned right onto the old RAF Stoney Cross runway, as we left the trees of the Bolderwood Aboretum behind us the breeze started to pick up, causing a headwind to cycle into, why do I never seem to get a tailwind?

Turning onto Roger Penny Way (every time I see that road name I think of the Beatles song Penny Lane – so much so that I’ve now got the tune going over and over in my head) I notice the clouds starting to build and I’m convinced I felt a drop of rain, looking down my Garmin Edge my thoughts are confirmed as I see little droplets of water on the screen.  Luckily, it was just that and the rain did hold off for the rest of the ride.

Garmin Rideout
Riders 353 and 394 on Roger Penny Way @ approx 20 miles (still taken from my Garmin Virb Elite)

From Roger Penny Way it was down through Godshill and on towards Blissford.  Having done several rides in the Forest I was expecting to have to climb the short but sharp 25% gradient of Blissford Hill, however today the ride took the easier route round and up to the feed station.

I decided not to stop and went straight past the feed station as I had an almost full water bottle, a pack of jelly babies and a couple of gels in my jersey pockets – I always end up carrying too much food, either that or I don’t eat and drink enough whilst riding – after the feed station it was a nice easy spin to Ringwood, Burley and then to the finish.

I was very pleased to roll over the finishing line in a time of 2 hours and 55 minutes, as with my current form I was expecting to be somewhere around the 3 hour 20 minute mark.  I had averaged just over 16mph over the 47.5 miles!

You can view the full route and my stats on Garmin Connect 

Overall an excellent day, extremely well organised and supported – I can’t wait to enter next year!

Shimano Neutral Support Car
Shimano Neutral Support Car

If you are interested in taking part in 2016 follow @GarminUK on Twitter and keep an eye out for the details (it’s usually around June) and good luck if you enter.