Long time comin’…

Posted: 05/11/2017 in Uncategorized

April! April? Wow, has it really been that long? I guess so.

This point in the year is usually my “Year In Running” post, so here we go – it’s now been six years since I laced up a pair of shoes and panted and flopped my way around the first run-30-seconds-walk-four-and-a-half-minute sessions.

I haven’t been running much – most of the runs this year have been events, and there hasn’t been enough training, which led to me pulling out of the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra last weekend. Major disappointment, it’s usually the high point end of the year.

I’ve been cycling.


I’ve been cycling to work a fair bit, maybe three times a week on average, I’d guess. It’s not exciting, it’s not seat-of-the-pants-back-of-beyond type of thing that you’d want to hear about. There was some trauma over punctures, but I got over it, and there’s often lots of swearing at bad driving. I bought a GoPro and stuck it on my helmet and now I find I don’t get close-passed as badly or as often as before.

There have been a couple of fun bits – in July I decided that my longest journey of circa 20 miles was a bit rubbish, so I cycled to Durham and back. That was about 50 miles and feels much nicer, thank you. I know it’s nothing compared to lots of other distances, but it’s OK to be going on with for now.

On the August Bank Holiday I tried cyclo-cross. Urban cycle-cross to be precise. Up and down the Ouseburn Valley in Newcastle. It was amazing, very much like fell-running for cyclists if you’re looking for a comparison. Definitely want to do this again next year, and would have had a go at the regular cyclo-cross league if it didn’t happen every weekend, I just don’t have the time to give it a proper go.

I did another GoTri event with Castle Trials at Prudhoe. Transition is the maddest thing and I really enjoy the different disciplines. I would be up for a longer one if I could get my swimming under control – maybe that’s an aim for next year?


Most of the running events have been courtesy of Trail Outlaws – it’s been great seeing them grow over the years – I remember the first Penshaw Pieces of Eight half marathon and the folk I met then and still see about at events now. I’ve already booked on the Kielder Dark Skies marathon next year – it’s become one of the fixed fixtures in the year along with the Blaydon Race and (until this year) the Jedburgh Ultra.

Still definitely trail rather than pavement.


If you send stickers, I will send money. I think that’s pretty true about me, as I discovered when I opened the bag from Restrap and went “oooh! stickers!”. Better than Haribo (I can’t eat them, they’re not vegan) and fundamentally cool, I reckon these are going on the laptop lid.

Anyhow, the fabulousness of stickers to one side, what about the bag?

Since I started looking for a pannier-less commuting solution to avoiding backpacks and discovered the world of bikepacking, I’ve been using the same set of Apidura’s bomb-proof bags on my bike. Come rain, come shine, come gales, come hail, they’ve done canny. The only problem was that I got a new bike in January, a lovely Marin cyclocross bike. The Apidura top-tube bag has quite a high strap to go around the headset, and is tricky to fit around the lower stem of the Gestalt. So I’ve been looking for an alternative, but wanted to find something that would be right, the Apidura bag fits alright, so I wasn’t going to plump for anything in a hurry.

Cut to Restrap – I’ve liked the look of their bags, and after checking that the label isn’t real leather (it’s synthetic – they were happy to confirm) I realised that the strap around the headset is in two parts, and can be mounted at whatever height suits for your bike.

The bag itself looks class – the label tells you who made it, thanks Marco!, and how to fit it. It’s very black inside, which could be fun to find smaller things, but has two mesh pockets running the length inside that helps organise bits. I’ve mounted it on the bike, transferred all my toolkit gubbins, and now just need to ride the thing to from a view. 


Link to the Indian Pacific Wheel Race here
I’ve been watching this ultra-bike race across Australia since it kicked off at the end of last week. It’s an astounding thing, with distances that boggle my mind even after tracking the Transcontinental as it wound across Europe last year.
In the back of my mind I keep coming back to thinking about a coast to coast ride, from Whitehaven to Tynemouth, which is around 100 miles. Is it possible (for me) to just start off and ride it, without breaking for a snooze? Mind, my Strava profile reveals the truth – longest bike ride to date is 20 miles.

Watching the Indian Pacific Wheel Race and the distances covered there day after day I feel a bit of an idiot – clearly I’m not in the same league as Kristoff Allegaert, Mike Hall, Sarah Hammond and the other racers, but it makes 100 miles (say 160km) in one go seem fairly ‘normal’.

Muse… muse… muse… 

I’d love to ride the Transcontinental too, that’s something to aim for.

Dark Skies approaching!

Posted: 20/03/2017 in Uncategorized

Yup, that’ll be a night time Marathon around Kielder Reservoir dark skies park on Saturday. Such a lovely run if we can avoid last year’s atrocious storm.

I reckon I could have trained more, but I’ve been busy cycling back and forth to work, so I’m trusting to the power of cross training.

I managed a comfortable 10 miles a week ago and all went well, so I could even be right.


I did a wee map of the site, fingers crossed people can tell where to go before, during and after the run.

Right, the last thing I should do is eat badly and drink anything, right? No chance of that then…

Fingers crossed.


Let’s call him Spangles.

I honestly think this bike is a reincarnated sheepdog – he has that playful-yet-hardworking, easygoing-but-robust sense about him that wants to drag you out the door and go for an adventure.

Since I started commuting in June 2016, I’ve been a dedicated roadie – me and the little grey Avanti Giro 1 clocked up around 3,500 miles in 2016. It’s been splendid, even the rain, mud, drivers and wind* have not dented the pleasure of turning the cranks most weekdays.

But sometimes I think it would be nice to hit some of the trails I run on around Blaydon and the Derwent Valley. The little grey road bike wouldn’t be up for it, and commuting on the mountain bike takes an age (and it’s old and heavy, too, like me).

So, after a lot of looking and a lot of calculating gear inches, I got myself a shiny new Marin Gestalt 2 from the great folk at Cycle Surgery through the cycle-to-work scheme. I was attracted to the single front ring (known as a “one-by” as is “one-by-ten”, meaning one on the front, ten on the back, but also sounds like an instruction for a sheepdog, eh?) because it sounded like less things to go wrong, less things to tune up and just bit different.

I’ve had it for a couple of months now, and I’ve ridden the usual road routes – which are a little slower than on the road bike, maybe because of the wider tyres, it’s running 30mm at 70psi rather than the road bike running 25mm at 110psi. That also makes it a smoother ride, mind, and when I got caught in the snow and it lay on the road I felt a good bit more secure.

I think I’ve been changing gears more often, which is a bit of a surprise – because there are less on the Marin, ten compared to the sixteen on the road bike, the “gap” between the gear is larger, so logically you’d think I’d be up and down on the road bike for small gains? I *think* it’s because I’ve got into the habit of using the same gear combination on the same piece of road, so don’t think to mess about too much. Also, the Marin has no gear indicator window in the brake hoods, so you can’t see where you are in the range or where there is to go up or down.

Where the Marin really comes into its own, though, is when you abandon the asphalt. The Derwent Walk, party path and part track is speedy and away from the traffic – the Gestlat takes it all in its capable stride, when you hit the hard-packed trail it positively flings along – the only thing slowing it down is me, I reckon – as I get a bit more confident I rack up another PB.

The trail up Blaydon Burn, with some steep gravel and some flat but tree-root knobbled riverside path is a great workout, and I’ve yet to run out of gears even tired on a Friday night, loaded down with a week’s shirts and towels in the saddle bag.

Last week I was heading home, decided to cut into Jesmond Dene, figuring I’d ride through the dene and head back up to Jesmond to re-join my usual route.

I missed the turn.

Not too much of a problem, I took the cycle path through Sandyford to Ouseburn and along the riverside path to pop out at the Tyne. I’ve never cycled over the Milennium Bridge at Gateshead, so I did that too, meaning to cross back over the Swing Bridge and back along the quayside to join Scotswood Road.

Instead, I noticed a cycle route heading down the south bank of the river signposted for the Metrocentre.

That’s the route home (kind of), so why not? Along a fantastic path, then a slightly less fantastic bit of path and I hit the path to the Derwent Walk. Bingo.

The point is, on the road bike I probably wouldn’t have tried an unknown path without getting an idea what it would be like. With the Marin I had no qualms about taking a jump.

I think for dedicated stick-to-the-roads cycling the Avanti has a touch more speed and a lower riding position that pays off. But for bridle path antics, random exploring and bike packing shenanigans I think the Marin is a proper stunner. If I can learn to build a wheel to hook up a front hub dynamo things could be outstandingly self-sufficient.

Rock on Spangles!

* Ok, so maybe the wind a bit – I could cycle in circles and still get a constant headwind, it seems to be the plight of living inland on the northeast coast and cycling beach-wards.

What’s a one of those? Well, it’s a one of these:

I think I heard about Jersey Pocket on Twitter – though it might have been Instagram, who knows?

Anyway, a check of their site and products and I discovered that while most of their products are vegan from the get-go, the fridge bars currently use honey but you can ask for a vegan version that uses agave. One advantage of their handy make-to-order model. 

I think they’re changing over to all-vegan soon, but for now you can write a note on your order, I found them to be really helpful and friendly.

So, to the bars! The fridge bars come in three flavours; chocolate, sweet and savoury. You keep them in the fridge and mine had about a three month best before date on that assumption. 

Consistency is pleasingly between cake and biscuit – like a high-class flapjack? Not squishy and not dry, so good for on the go when you don’t want to get sticky hands but also don’t want to drink a gallon of water to get something down.

The chocolate one had a nice smoky chocolate taste, the savoury one had what I can only describe as a savoury/caramel type flavour that was much better than it maybe sounds and the sweet one had a subtle hint of nut about it. Each was maybe the size of a chunky Kit Kat and pretty much did the job of stopping me feel like I wanted to eat. They range between 240-300 calories, depending on which you go for.

I liked them enough that I’ve now got a full selection box sitting on the fridge of the whole range of products, and I’m going to work my way through those and report back. They work out cheaper than breakfast from the canteen at work and taste better than any other bars I’ve found. From a racing perspective, I stopped using gels a couple of years ago when I realised they were what was making me feel ill in long runs. Since then I’ve fuelled all my longer runs with sushi, but these offer a bit of variety to add into the mix – I’ll have to try them on a longer run to see how they fare with the dreaded digestion. Luckily the Dark Skies night marathon at Kielder with the Trail Outlaws is just around the corner…

It’s been a while… well, two months, I guess.

Saying which, there’s not a vast amount of wild things gone on – I’ve cycled lots, but you knew I was doing that. Lots of miles, just one route.

At the end of October I finished my fifth year of running – five years! It’s been a canny year – after three attempts I finally got to run the Kintyre Way, which was epic, and a truly lovely bit of Scotland – definitely worth a trip and the run is spectacular.

I had my first ever DNF (did not finish) at the end of October, on my favourite run – the Jedburgh Ultra. It was entirely my own fault, I didn’t train enough. I kind of knew I hadn’t, but thought I could fake my way round. I couldn’t. Massive cramp going up the first Eildon that led to something going wrong with my leg and I could barely hobble along. I signed out with the marshal, and slowly walked my way off the hills for an early finish. Gutted at the time, but now I realise it was down to me I see it’s a lesson that I’ve got a bit lazy and should take these things a bit more seriously. A bit less cycling, a bit more running, especially as runs get closer and all should be fine.

I had the norovirus – that was horrid, but it came and went.

I consistently nearly bought a Brompton, but I still can’t quite justify it to myself, I really fancy a cyclocross or gravel bike to take onto the bridleways and tracks, or even to have a go at cyclocross, which looks crackers.

I reckon I’ll have cycled just short of 5,000km by the end of this year, mainly since I started commuting in June. I’m hoping to keep it going as far into the new year as possible, but we’ll see what the weather thinks about that.

Not far to go to 2017, eh, let’s see how that goes…