Tuesday, 22 July 2014

British Heart Foundation South Downs 100 and the end of being ridiculous

It is Summer time in the world of teaching (at least in England it is). Which brings longer, warmer and curiously wetter days. It brings aborted sports days, or ones that run in the full glare of an afternoon Sun. It brings a reduced (by literally mm's) workload due to 'gain time' following school leavers going off to do exams.

It also brings a chance to take stock and do some serious training.


Teaching in a core subject means that even when I loose an examination class (such as year 11) my gain time has always been minimal. For those who don't know gain time is the allocated time on your teaching timetable where you would see a class who has left. So if you teach mostly 6th form when they go on study leave you end up with a fairly empty timetable. For me I have about 6 extra 'free periods' a week due to my year 11's having finished school. The upshot of this is that I have been able to get a lot of my work based tasks done during my actual working day. Which has freed up a lot of time to hit the school gym after work. For longer. More times a week.

Now I am very much of the opinion that the best way to improve at something is to do it. For instance you want to be a good runner? Then go run. Simple really. However this ideology/training program will only go so far. You will (I know I have) see big improvements at the beginning as you go from being a complete novice to a fairly decent middle standard and then a plateau.

Now this makes sense, if you are doing an activity you haven't done before or in a long time you will naturally see big improvements in the first few months of doing that activity. Once however you plateau then it is time to change your training - whether this is seeking the help of people who have more experience than you or trying different training methods totally is up to the individual but if you wish to continue to improve then you have to change what you are doing.

Which brings me to the gym (don't worry I am going to get to the point).

So I initially started going to the school gym as a substitute to longer runs after work. I got a training plan put in place to help aid my endurance and strength on a bike - all with one eye on the BHF 100.

Here is where it all goes a bit awry though. I have never been a fan of the gym, I find it pretty tedious and to be honest there are aspects of it that I still do find annoying. However I have also started to enjoy it. Especially the weight work. There is a very sinister clip from Pumping Iron of Schwarzenegger describing 'the pump'.  However I can kind of see what he means.

What has this to do with anything?

Good question, the short answer is I feel less on an endurance 'athlete' now and more of a shorter burst one.

I don't want to be doing multi-hour events anymore as I just seem to loose focus and get bored of the activity.

A half marathon now is as far as I wish to run anymore. Purely because I am not sure my body really can cope with longer events. I had a really good run of not getting injured but since I started picking up a few niggles it has gotten worse and worse. Maybe this is due to stepping up to quickly or maybe its just that I am not designed for ultra-endurance after all?

All which brings me to the South Downs 100.

Helpfully it rained on the night before and the morning of the event. Now the area of England where the downs is located is mostly chalk rock. This made the chalk very slick and wet - I heard it described as being like glass more than once.

I do not know how many people completed the race but I was at the finish for about an hour after the first few finishers came in (from both the 100 and 35 mile events) and there was less than a dozen people crossing the line.

Anyway back to my event.

I started fairly strongly, the climbs were not too bad and it was hard but fun.

Unfortunately after 10 miles I binned the bike pretty hard on a slick chalk descent. Which was a shame because I had just climbed a hill pretty strongly and was feeling very confident. That is not to say on the descent I was over confident, what happened was there was two routes down the hill. The first was smoother but took a higher and faster line, the second was more bumpy but a flatter slower line. Naturally I took the latter. Naturally the bike went one way and I the other.

My knee following the crash.

I hit the ground pretty hard and didn't really skid, always an indication of being planted on the floor. To be honest I don't remember much of the crash, there was no real 'oh sh*t' moment. Just the ground rushing up to meet me and the sense of foreboding that I was about to hit the deck. I took a few moments out, took on some food and inched my way down the descent. 

Unfortunately the damage was done. Aside from my confidence being shook my knee was pretty sore from the impact. What didn't help was then starting to struggle to put power into the peddles for the climbs and falling off slowly a few more times. This coupled with fatigue and rain coupled together to make the ride pretty miserable. Added to the fact that there was no flat made the whole endeavor pretty horrendous to be honest. 

Climb with no power and in pain, descend gripping the brakes and feeling terrified.  

I made it to the second aid station (about 33 miles in) and I couldn't go on. I was defeated, just under a third of the event done and I had to abandon. Since then the swelling on my knee has gone down a bit and I can walk more freely however my collar bone and shoulder have started to ache more and more. As of today (Tuesday so 4 days after the event) my shoulder is much better but still not 100%. It could have been worse though, the nice man in the injury van with me (much more experienced rider) did exactly the same as me - bin it on the chalk - but had to go have an x-ray on a suspected broken knee cap. 

My Strava of the event can be found here. 

So, what does the second part of the title mean? Well, I have decided that the more mental challenges are to be given up. This year I have gone from training for a 5 mile race to completing a 35 mile ultra event. I have managed to alter my running style and have become much more competent on the bike. However the long endurance events are starting to run thin. I am picking up injuries more frequently and to be honest not enjoying things as much as I used to. 

Well most things.

I love going up the Downs near where I live and smashing some of the trails up there on a mountain bike. We still have our mountain biking holiday planned for the first week on the summer holiday which I can't wait for. 

I also am still absolutely loving being on the road bike - much more than the mountain bike as well. 

From my last long road bike ride.

I have also started trying to restore some old road bikes (see below). Which is fun, and hopefully will be a bit of an earner towards a new bike.

Oh and talking of new bike. One last interesting point to make (I think it is interesting).

When I was last up my parents I borrowed my cousins new ish road bike for a ride. Carbon forks, improved wheels etc it was a very nice bike (and I think my dad might be buying one). However I really could not get on with it. I found it quite twitchy and not as poised as my vintage Raleigh. I think there is something to be said for old school frames - something the man I was chatting to on the train to Leeds raised.

Which leads me to the final point. You Ridiculous Man will be no more as a blog. I aim to set up a new blog on biking - specifically a shorter blog that might be updated more readily.

However that is a task for another day.

Until then thank you for reading - all 3 of you.

(no longer as ridiculous as I was).

Monday, 7 July 2014

Le Tour de Yorkshire part 1.

Excuse the rubbish pigeon French, also excuse the lack of updates.

Actually excuse me.

OK so silly little jokes aside I have not been the best blogger in a very long time. In fact you might say I have been pretty poor at keeping the 3 people who regularly read this updated - sorry Kyle I know I said I would keep going with this.

The truth is blogging/writing has fallen down the list of things that I have been prioritizing lately. Which is a very clunky sentence and way of saying I have been doing other stuff. Namely getting established at my new school and if we are really honest riding/exercising as much as I can.

This is a really important shift actually and something I need to labour a little bit. So sorry and indulge me a second.

As stated before I have lost motivation and enjoyment when running. The training for ultras just did my head in a bit too much and I moved too far away from what it was that got me hooked on running to start with. Now however I have finished the ultra - 35 miles in 7 hours 22 - I have started limiting myself to shorter runs and have been enjoying it much more.

As you can see above I was still pulling a smile at the end of the very painful Ox ultra. Also note how strapped up my knees were. I feel that this was my upper limit in terms of time taken and just sheer physical pounding I could endure. I have no fixed plans to run another ultra for a very long time. I have however not been put off running - as evidenced by running the Heart of Kent Hospice 10km around Brands Hatch.

However it is this piece of exercise that has really taken me over lately.

Which brings me to Le Tour.

When it was announced that the tour was hitting Yorkshire for le grand depart my reaction was 'oh that's nice'. However as I have started to cycle more and as it got closer and closer I began to get more excited. 

In the end a group of us decided we would make the pilgrimage and try to experience the race first hand. Unfortunately for one reason or another everyone started to drop out until it was left as just me. Luckily one of my best friends lives in Sheffield and I had a floor to kip on. 

So the week of the tour roles along and nebulous plans are hatched to rock up to Sheffield on the Friday and head early doors to Leeds via train to watch the start. I would then head to Harrogate on the train and try to catch some of the finish. Another train journey back to Sheffield for the evening. Stop over then head up towards Meadowhall and the finish of stage 2. Back to the car and home late Sunday evening.


I got roped into playing in the year 13 leavers vrs staff football match at school (we won) and so left slightly later. 

It was rush hour/week around London. 

My route takes me along the M1 and past Northampton. It's British grand prix weekend and there are lots of people heading to Silverstone to set up tents on Friday for the weekend. 


Add in roadworks, rain and your usual people who obviously have never driven before and when I finally rocked up very tired on Friday evening in Sheffield I was already dreading the drive home. Still Le Tour and a catch up with old friends will make it worth while. 

The route map claims 3 hours but it took closer to 5 on Friday evening.

*Disclaimer - I am going to write about Saturday now, I will write about Sunday when the photos have updated*

Saturday morning was an early start. Partially to get out of my hosts hair before their children were up and about and to get on the way to Leeds. Mostly it was a combination of not being able to stay on the floor any longer and being excited. 

I took a bus into Sheffield city centre and caught a train to Leeds. Northern rail were running a tour special rail ticket which cost £10 and allowed me to use any of their services for the day. This was excellent as a return Sheffield - Leeds - Sheffield was looking like being £20+. The train started fairly quiet and I wondered how close I might get to the roadside as there didn't seem to be many people. I chatted amiably with an older gentleman who was decked out in his finest (and much more expensive that what I wear) Lycra who was surprised he was able to get his bike on the train.

It took about half of the journey for the train to reach standing room only and then full capacity. For the last few stations we pulled up at platforms but no doors were opened. There was no entering or exciting this train. 

I have never heard of this before but the platforms we passed were rammed and to be honest I don't think anyone was getting off the train before Leeds anyway. 

Upon arriving at Leeds train station the full scale of what was happening hit me. I have traveled from Leeds to the midlands many times as a student. I have seen the station on a Friday night and at Christmas time. I have never seen it this busy. 

I made my way out into Leeds and was amazed by the volume of people and the colour. 

The day had started overcast and raining. I left my sunglasses at home and took a hat just to keep the rain off my face. By the time I was off the train in Leeds the hat was keeping the Sun out of my eyes and my waterproof was rolled up and shoved in my bag. 

I wandered up to the Headrow via Briggate. Now if your not from Leeds those names will mean nothing to you but this was shrewd management of people by the council as Briggate is the main shopping street. It is pedestrianized and has lots of small shopping centres off of it. 

I reached the Headrow and it became apparent that I was not going to be able to get down to the town hall for the start. So I slotted into a good viewing spot where I could and soaked up the atmosphere. 

The atmosphere was like a festival, everyone chatting and chilling out excited for it to begin. Whenever an official or team car went past there were cheers and people waving and honking horns. Even the police - English and French - got in on the action. 

I spoke to the people next to me and they had been there since 9 am. I was still stuck on my packed and delayed train then, the people at the front had been there since 7 am and most with children too. 

I was gutted to hear that I had missed the caravan and with it all the free goodies but I didn't care. I had a good spot to watch the riders from and was in the sunshine. 

I stood for a little over an hour as the crowd built up around me. There was not much shoving or jostling to get to the front everything was in good humour and very cordial. Eventually it started. We could hear the roar of the crowd as the riders approached. A cacophony or cheers, whistles and horns. I could see the flash of colours.

Then it was gone.

The team cars followed by.

Now I know that sounds rubbish. Really I do, I have tried to describe it to people but the best I can come up with is to talk about the atmosphere. That and the just the colour. The atmosphere and the colour. And the bikes. And the riders.

It's tricky. 

Basically what you have is a really awesome atmosphere, elite athletes hammering by at speeds some of my cars struggle with on thousands of thousands of pounds worth of bikes and in incredibly colourful Lycra.

As an event I can't think of much to compare to it or even to match it.

Once the team cars passed I wandered to the Angel Inn (hidden away but worth it if you can find it, cheap and friendly - my favourite Leeds pub) and reviewed my photos.

Oh the photos. I took a lot (nearly a thousand in two days) mostly taken with my phone over my head snapping blindly. Its a good system as I was also able to enjoy the racing!

I cropped and altered a load of pictures but was very impressed with what I managed to get - thank you s5 you did well!

After a cheeky pint in the Angel I wandered down to the train station. 

I was routed back out of the train station to join the queue for the Harrogate train as per my original plan. The queue though was at least a quarter of a mile in length and that is no exaggeration. 

It snaked down the side of the station and zig-zagged through the car park.

I then went to the start and was surprised that within 30 minutes they were already dismantling the start line. I turned my nose up at hyper expensive official merchandise and headed for a train to Sheffield disappointed that I couldn't see a large screen set up in Leeds anywhere.

In Sheffield I headed to the Peace Gardens and set up on there with a coffee to watch the rest of the stage. The atmosphere was chilled out and relaxed and everyone was enjoying the sunshine mainly and keeping and eye on the cycling secondarily. I wandered about the stalls and set up in Sheffield chowed down on a steak baguette and caught the last 30km of the stage on the big screen.

The crowds were epic for it. My friends dad and my friend (different friend not related to the other friends dad) who were both near/on Buttertub (a hill they climbed) both have said that it was an epic area with great crowds - my friends dad actually took his bike up the stage earlier in the day which was impressive.

When Cav crashed there was a huge groan from the crowd, for me though his team lost the sprint earlier by going too soon. They tried to break away with one last rise and too much of the route to go. This I feel cost them and put Cav in a position where he had to try and make something happen instead of keeping his shape and flying on.

Cancellara's solo break to the finish also seemed to disrupt Omega-Phama's pattern as they then had to hunt him down - and Spartacus has history with Cav and also has form for holding on to these final surges.

For me though - I love Cav but feel that his time has gone and I just can't get behind the mechanical Froome (sorry) - the day was all about Jens 'shut up legs' Voigt.

Like most Brits I love a character in sport. Jens is one of those with bells on and to see him hammer at the front on his own for most of the stage and take the KOM (king of the mountains) jersey in his last tour and at 42 years old was something special.

All that was left was for me to wander and meet my friend who had finished work and have a tourist style photo taken with one of the many yellow bikes around the city centre. It was a long start to the weekend but it was amazing, I really enjoyed it even though this day was spent largely on my own.

There is more to come based on the second day but I am waiting for the uploading photos to finish - cloud computing bah! 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

It's been such a long time.

Any excuse for this, anyways it has been a long time since I last posted about anything - running, teaching or science.

I posted a few micro blogs during the Easter holiday but they don't really count and were mainly about my falling out of love with long distance running and my new fixation on cycling, and I think that is the issue.

In the past few months the following has changed;
  1. I have moved jobs to another school and have been staying late to make sure all of my work is done so that I have nothing to take home with me.
  2. I got a knee injury running the Three Forts Ultra and had to quit on mile 20/27. 
  3. I have been taking the fixed frame mountain bike out on the South Downs near where I live and riding the trails I have normally run as well as discovering a whole lot more. 
  4. I rode my first Sportive, loved it but haven't now been back on the road bike in 4 weeks.
So it's been pretty busy all in.

I have another Ultra Marathon coming up this weekend, the Ox and to be honest I don't think I am ready for it. I will still give it my all and should finish - knee injury withstanding - but to be honest I think this is my last shy at any real long distance. 

I love running, I really do but anything over 10 miles now just doesn't feel the same anymore. I think this boils down to the fact that I can go further and faster on a bike. A road bike especially but at the moment I am really enjoying the pleasure of exploring on, lets not mince words here, a pretty shit off road bike.

The Coventry Eagle was purchased off eBay for £20 last summer. The axle on the back wheel has slipped and had to be reset so that the wheel runs straight. It was condemned by Halfords and when I first took it out it was stuck in a single gear. I have since 'fixed' the gears so that now I have 8 - I seem to spend my time on limited geared bikes. It has old caliper breaks which provide minimal breaking - last time out I had to park into a tree as even with the breaks on full I was still accelerating and the tyres are deteriorating at the side wall.

However, despite or maybe because of all this 'character' the rides I am going on with the Eagle are some of the most fun I have had in a while.

There is also the added enjoyment of exploration, finding new lines and trails to go down and not being scared of having to turn back because the route isn't a perfect circle. 

The upshot of all this is that blogging has fallen by the wayside a little bit. I am sure there will be a time when I start blogging again more consistently but at the moment I don't think it will happen.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

End of cycle

One hour over, three hours in total, just under ten miles, not that muddy apart from my mate (pictured) pub now!

Hire bike

Here is todays steed! Should be fun.

Breaking radio silence.

Testing testing. Is this thing on?

Right I have not blogged in what feels like forever. This is not for lack of things to say or lack of time. If I am brutally honest I have just not been bothered.

Sad indication of time I know but even being on Easter holidays has not meant I have sat down and scribbled (virtually) my thoughts and opinions down.

Anyways, time I feel to break radio silence and outline a few things that are going on.

Firstly I have changed jobs, well schools, again. So that has been a busy few weeks and months getting ready for the move. Am very excited but a bit anxious at the same time. Still I get my own lab again and the school has very good sports facilities. Oh yeah and its a very good school to boot!

Right on to the ultra running and sports. The last posts I made were when I was in Afan mountainbiking. Well I started commuting to work on my road bike a few times a week and to be honest I loved it.

In fact, and this needs whispering, I have actually been preferring being on a bike to running. It's a revelation.

Which is bad times as on Saturday I am running my first full ultra. 40 miles of pain. Yet here I am on my way mountainbiking with mates and planning a road ride later on (well bank holiday plans permitting).

Ah well I am sure it will be fine.

I hope anyway.

Nah sure it will be.

Oh one last thing, I have slowly reduced the amount of minimalist running I'm doing and now I only run in my trail shoes, that is when I'm running at all.

As I said enjoying riding much more.


Thursday, 20 February 2014

Afan Trip Day 3

Day three brought a little bit of trepidation. It was on the final day in October half-term that I fell (taking a photo no less) and nearly broke my elbow.

So still fairly full of food I sat down to another stunning cooked breakfast and picked at my food. I was full yes, but I also was a little bit nervous ahead of the day. I wasn't looking forward to more climbs - on tired and worn legs - and I was worried about having escaped two days without major bail that my big crash was due today.

The others were all full of energy, Geoff naturally was excited about hiring a full suspension bike and getting out there and hammering around, Nick wanted to crush everything in site - always a good sign and Paul was returning to something like his normal self, complete with self-depreciating confidence (an impressive feat). After breakfast it was time to clear the rooms and get ready for the days ride. However being so full I suggest to Nick that instead of getting ready for 40 minutes we should do 30 minutes of napping and 10 minutes sorting out.

He gladly agreed.

We were 20 minutes late to reception.

Actually we were late to everything this week, dinner, breakfast, being ready for rides. We were however first in the bar on Tuesday night though. So you know swings and roundabouts.

Fortunately most of the clothes had dried over night so we were not forced into wearing wet gear. It was while getting ready that the toll of the previous days cycling began to become apparent. Small niggles in shoulders and wrists, bruises on knees and shins and half a dozen small cuts and scrapes the causes of which can never be recollected.

Its worth pointing out that mountain biking is a pretty much whole body activity. From your legs up, obviously you are pedaling uphill a lot but when you're going down hill your legs, ankles, knees and hips are all acting as shock absorbers, Your back and core is constantly shifting your balance so they get a heavy workout too and your arms and shoulders are at times doing just as much work as your legs. In fact it is the upper body strain that tends to surprise people the most. This coupled with the CV requirements of lung bursting climbs and adrenaline pumping downhills - that are exciting whatever speed you are going at. All leads to it being a pretty hardcore and extreme sport. This is of course without taking into account two of the biggest features that sap strength, energy and fatigue you. One, mountain biking requires incredible focus and attention. You can't look up and survey the scenery on a downhill, well not safely. You have to be picking your line, looking for loose rocks to avoid and shifting your balance and bracing yourself for descents and drops. This is also affected on climbs when you want to give up and go home so not only is it requiring a high level of concentration downhill but also a high level of mental toughness and resilience on the climbs. This is especially true when your legs and back are burning and the top of your climb disappears into the clouds. Two, this is an outdoors sport on a mountain. The weather can often be rubbish and changeable, very quickly. Keeping spirits up and being positive can be very very tricky as we found on Tuesdays ride. No one, apart from Geoff it seems, can be 100% happy when you are wet, cold, and having to do 'just one more climb' before any end is in a vague sight.

So the packing was done, the changing was done and we were wandering out for our final ride. Having already done 30+ miles in two days and not really being a cyclist my rear end had gone from uncomfortable to full fledged pain factory. I however, like Baldrick, had a cunning plan. Instead of wearing just one pair of padded shorts. I wore three.

Three is the magic number.

While being on the bike would still be slightly sore, there would be much less pain that anticipated and the rest of the day would not be marred by agony every time I attempted to get on the bike.

First we had to check out though. Bar bill paid - a very reasonable amount - we collected our bikes from the lock up and bide the owner fair well, until of course we return. I can't speak highly enough of the lodge and their staff. Very friendly, very welcoming and exceptional value. Even if you're not into biking its a stunning location and a great place to stay just for walks or as I plan to do, go on some trail runs.

OK plug over and discount for next visit secured time to describe the ride.

Geoff cheated and drove the first 4.5 miles because he needed to hire a bike. So Nick, Paul and I cycled over to Glyncorrwg to meet him. We then began the accent to the top of Whites Level. Which unfortunately for me, the non-climber, was the same climb as on Blade the day before.


However determined to suck it up and, in Nicks words 'smash it' I gave it the best I could and ascended much quicker and mostly on the bike this time. There were still moments of 'cyclocross' needed especially as the sodden earth (only 5 non-wet days since December apparently) and high winds had brought down a lot of trees.

It's something I forgot to mention yesterday but there were a fair amount of sections where we had to stop to wind our way past a fallen tree, be that under it, over it or around it - which is pretty interesting on the side of a mountain.

I know I have joked about 'cyclocrossing' but having jumped on and off the bike to run up parts I couldn't cycle - at one point I was walking past Nick while he continued to pedal on - and climb over obstructions I have nothing but respect for people that do actual cyclocross. I would also, one day, like to give it a go as it does look fun, and muddy! Maybe track cycling in a nice warm velodrome first though, yes?

We also stopped a few times for some photos, I am sure Geoff will put them up at some point and I know I will put up the ones I have on my memory card as soon as I can. There was even time to pull a Tyrion Lannister and wee off the edge of the world (mountain) which was very exciting.

Actually a quick word on the photographs, there are some awesome pictures from the break and I will add some too another blog post when I have a chance, we also managed to get photos shared around this time which meant some actual ones of Geoff cycling for a change. Including an epic one of him performing a jump off a boulder (well done Nick). Unfortunately there isn't a single photo of me manualing but there is one of me cycling in the clouds which I really like, swings and roundabouts eh?

So we made our way up the mountain again and reached the summit. Instead of going off and down the Whites Level descents we made a slight detour. Geoff and Nick were too have a go at a Black run (ooooh) and Paul and I take the fire road down to the end to get some photos of them finishing.

The fire road down to the end of the Black run was steep and fast and I managed to get the bike up to a mighty 28mph which is pretty exciting and as fast as I would ever want to go on a bike.



We shall see.

However the end of the Black run looked pretty deadly. With sharp rocks and sheer locking drops I was very glad I had chosen not to give it a go. I don't believe that it wasn't all that bad and it was only the end that was difficult, it is a Black run in the midst of lots of very tricky routes for a reason.

Geoff shot round the end like it was nothing major, standard, and looked incredibly smooth and controlled. Paul got some great photos and afterwards we found that Geoff had rode the last bit on a flat tire. Which is even more impressive. Less impressive waiting for ages for the inner tube to be replaced though.

Nick was up next and made it round and down, unfortunately the camera was playing up and Paul couldn't get footage of Nick finishing. This was made worse by Nick's epic bail right at the end of the run where the bike squirmed to the left of him and he went to the right. Nick ended up face down in the gravel and the bike in some trees. He was ok though, if a little sore.

Once Geoff was back to having two functioning wheels we set off up the fire road, the long and steep fire road. The long and steep fire road where the end was hidden by clouds. This was the time where my striding was just as quick as Nicks pedaling.

However at the top of the fire road was the first descent on Whites.

In order the descents are Windy Point, Energy, Goodwood and New Down.

Looking at the data from Strava I was slower on a few of the downhills than I was in October. Faster in a lot of the places but I think the downed trees and stopping to chat to Nick, Paul and occasionally Geoff meant the overall time was slower.

Oddly this means that being closer to the others and probably quicker generally - I certainly felt quicker and more comfortable on the bike - meant that I was slower in places because we would stop and chat or something.

Maybe the slower sections were from where the rain water had pooled and it was very muddy.

Maybe and this is most likely stats and timings don't matter, I felt much better on the bike and still had an absolute riot. That I think is all that should matter. Yes lets go with that.

If only I was higher on the leader boards though...

So Windy Point was the first downhill, this includes an awesome waterfall and normally the sight of riding under wind turbines. The waterfall was still there but the cloud cover meant even though the wind turbines were close you could not see them.

Windy Point is a short and breezy section (see what I did there) which is a lot of fun to ride with just enough challenge to make it difficult without it being dangerous or hard. There is at the end the option of some jumps. I did not take them on, there are not for a manual but Geoff did and it was here Nick got the quality shots of this.

Energy is in a similar vein, great fun a few strength sapping uphills and the site of my big bail last time.

This time however no crashing and I even went down the big rock at the end.

Nick went first this time so he could set up and grab some photos of us all as we went round, these look good although I was far to upright if I am honest - boo. It did mean, just like with Windy Point, that I was riding near to someone else through the section which was a nice change. I missed Nicks big bail though he pulled the same trick as on the Black and went a different direction to his bike this time landed pecs first on the ground.

It didn't sound pleasant to me either.

Energy finishes on the duckboards through a forest and is very twisty and tight and a lot of fun.

All assembled after the big rock descend we rode off to Goodwood, some faster than others and I must admit I had to 'cyclocross' a few bits of the incline to get there.

Goodwood is a great bash through a wood - as you might expect - with the added bonus that the normal route is still closed. The alternate route (great band name) is along a stream. Which is ace.

This was the closest point I came to bailing. During a small drop (less than a foot) I let the bike go too far forward and ended up missing the saddle and sitting on the tyre.

Fortunately my 8 pairs of padded shorts protected the family jewels but I did manage to scrape the inside of my left thigh. That stung.

Plus my pride as a little jolted if I am honest, I had no rode perfectly but I had ridden - I feel at least - much better than the last time I was at Afan. This felt a bit like a schoolboy error.

Anyways I finished Goodwood to find Nick having burst a tyre. So another change on inner tube needed. Luckily Geoff seems to be well versed in changes. Plus it was marginally warmer on this side of the mountain to the side where Geoff did his rear wheel.

A quick change, some food and drink taken on and a comment on how Paul at altitude was much more sweary than Paul at sea level and we were off to the New Down which is the final section.

The reason why I have gone into a bit more detail on these sections is that they were, by general consensus, much more fun than Blade. That is not to say Blade won't be ace but at the minute it is still new and bedding in. The wet weather has meant that a lot of Blade is too muddy to really enjoy at the moment plus it was a hell of a lot of climbing for two decent downhill sections. Whites seems to have a shorter climb for more downhill parts. Which gets my vote.

The New Down section starts a bit ominously. There is a row of trees (big trees) uprooted by the winds. They have taken down a stone wall as they have fallen and leveled a few smaller trees on their way. The roots of the trees still have soil attached and some of these tree root balls must have been at least 8 feet tall. The voids in the earth where the roots have been ripped out have filled with rain water to give eerie pools of muddy water.

All very reminiscent of the top of Blade which with its tree stumps and marshy pools was very much like a battlefield from WWI.

The descent down to the cafe is on the open side of the mountain. It is steep, it is quick and it is pretty tricky in places. Naturally Geoff was a dot on the landscape, Paul having regained much of his confidence was also pretty rapid and Nick had spent the day 'giving it the beans' and was off.

This was the last section of the last day.

I had made it this far without a bail.

I did not want to bail down the side of a mountain.

I had also completed this section before.

So I went within my limits and within my ability. It was not quick by other standards but it was quick enough for me. Picking lines through loose rocks and over slickly wet boulders with nothing to catch you on your right hand side was enough justification for a cautious approach. As the altitude plummets and the road gets closer in view the temptation was to get confident and start going faster. However the single track is probably about two feet wide maximum. I was not taking and chances. I kept myself low to the bike and did not do anything fancy - until the end when I finished with a manual.

Eventually Geoff, Paul and Nick ceased to be specks on the horizon and were once again fully sized people. The Whites Level was complete and I had not fallen and had not gotten injured. Could I have gone a bit faster, maybe but then I might also have ended in plaster. I enjoyed it, a lot more than on Tuesday. Maybe I was just getting into the swing of it. Probably it was the fact we did less climbing and this was a route I had done before. I don't know if I could have done a 4th day - Geoff said he could - but I don't feel cheated out of time on a bike this time.

Will I be rushing out to buy a mountain bike? Probably not just yet. I have a road bike that I need to ride more and I do honestly prefer trail running to hurtling down a mountain or slowly climbing and slipping on rocks every now and then.

We returned the bikes to the hire centre, got some tokens for showers and cleaned off - 2 minutes each then switched in for the next person.

Then we finally got to eat some Welsh Rarebit - apart from Paul who had jacket potato again.

Bikes on the rack and people squished in among bags and wet clothes and we were on our way.

To Port Talbot to get petrol.

The industrial end of Port Talbot looks like it makes the clouds that we spent most of our days in, it is a grim looking place and worlds away from the Afan Valley which is so near to it and so lovely.

A very long drive home - the only route that seems longer going home than going there - and we were all back in Kent and back to reality.

An amazing few days and we can't wait to go back, though maybe not for just biking next time.

The ride from day three can be found here.

Guys, hope I didn't miss too much out.