Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Back In Training

I can't believe it's been two months since the bike ride! I've still got two dark shaded scars on my backside from the sores, but they don't hurt anymore... thank god!

So, I'm back in training and i'm moving the goalposts a bit. In my last post I set a target of 21 and a half hours for the next return trip in June next year. Well... since I got a new trainer I've been doing better than expected and I'm now looking to complete the whole 255 mile return trip in under 20 hours!

Of course I'll need a new bike to do it, that's the excuse anyway! I'll be dumping the backpack this time and losing all but the bare essentials. Last time, I was carrying just over 100kg made up of me (75kg), the bike (18kg), my backpack (11kg) and water (2kg). I am confident that I can get the over weight down to just over 85kg. A saving of about 25kg on last time.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Challenge 2010

OK, I have set a record of 22 hours and 38 minutes for the return from Leeds to Liverpool on the route of the canal. The challenge now is to beat it!

I am now planning the next event, to take place in late June 2010 with a target of 21 hours and 30 minutes. One hour, eight minutes faster than my current record.

In addition, I'm looking for anyone who is interested in joining me, either for the full return journey of 255 miles or for a one way leg of the event. Of course, you'll need to be fit and I would be more than happy to help in your training between now and next June.

If you're interested in joining the event, email me at

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Record Breaking!

After days of research, waiting, phone calls and emails I am really excited to be able to claim the fastest return bike ride following the route of the Leeds & Liverpool canal. Confirmation arrived this morning that no-one else has recorded a faster time and that my confirmed time / speed is indeed a record.

The total time taken to cycle from Leeds to Liverpool and back, according to the cycle computer was 22 hours and 38 minutes. This is confirmed on my Garmin Edge 305 GPS Cycle Computer, which logs the route, distance, time and speed of each leg of the journey. Unfortunately, someone will probably try and beat this, so it looks like I might have to defend the record next year! Watch this space!!!

Friday, 7 August 2009


On Thursday 6th August, I set off at 5.30am as planned. I had hoped to complete the bike ride in three days but amazingly, I managed it in two. One day there and one back. In the end, my backpack, full with my tent, sleeping bag, groundsheet and other bits and pieces ended up just being 10kg of extra weight that I didn't need. Anyhow, it made the ride that bit more challenging and I learned what I actually needed rather than what I thought I would need. All the details are below. There's some good tips for anyone thinking of doing the ride themselves.

I always preferred to do the ride in dry weather and I was a bit worried that we had had one of the wettest July's on record! It had rained nearly every day and we only had 2 or 3 days of dry weather before I set off. Surprisingly, the entire length outward to Liverpool was pretty dry. There were a few stray puddles (the type that never go away) and some of the more exposed parts of the path were soft, but none of it was particularly muddy or heavy going. Having said that, on the way back there had been some heavy overnight showers and a length of the towpath was quite wet. But still, not heavy or very muddy, just puddles.

Be careful of the sun! Even though it was partly cloudy, I still caught the sun on my neck, face and arms. Luckily, I had packed some suncream and I didn't burn. The breeze when you're moving can disguise the strength of the sun.

On both days, the wind was a light to moderate west/ north westerly blowing at around 7 to 10mph. It wasn't too noticeable heading west until I went over the top of the peak at Foulridge. After that I had a headwind all the way into Liverpool, 82 miles away!

I used my Scott Aspect 55 mountain bike for the ride. It is pretty new and I got it serviced the day before the ride. A service (either carried out by you or a dealer) will make sure everything is working properly and that cables are the right tension, brake pads good etc... It's a good idea to either use an older bike you are comfortable with or if you plan to buy a new bike, give it time to wear in and let your body get used to it. Get to know it well. Carry out minor repairs and learn what to do if things snap or break. Luckily, I only suffered one puncture during the entire 255 journey, and that was only 5 miles from the end! I used a synthetic 'wet' lube that was supposed to repel water and give better performance. In reality, it did the same as basic bike oil. It attracted the dust and gunk and dried out eventually. Next time I won't spend as much on chain lube! Of all the spares, tools and bits I thought about taking, the only things I would advise are,

  • A decent, lightweight pump.
  • Puncture repair kit with metal tyre levers.
  • A spare inner tube or two.
  • A good quality multi-tool (I got the Alien II).

Everything else just turned out to be dead weight.

In fairness, most of the towpath is pretty good for cycling. The worst parts in my opinion are stretches between Crossflatts and Skipton, where the towpath narrows to the width of a bike wheel in places and rocks protrude out of the ground. Other noticeable poor stretches are between Skipton and Gargrave, there is a very rough part near Church in Lancashire (the halfway point), Then another a few miles after Wigan towards Liverpool. But after saying that, I would say that about 80% of the towpath is good enough to get a decent speed in comfort. The built up areas have the best paths and the worst ones tend to be out in the middle of nowhere.

One thing to be careful of are the old bridges. Some of them are very low as you enter and it would be really easy to skid and end up in the canal. Especially if someone is coming the other way! At the time of writing, British Waterways were improving a long stretch of the towpath in Kirkstall, Leeds. There were also signs for closures in Wigan and Liverpool starting soon. However, there are easy diversions signposted. As you approach the outskirts of Liverpool & Leeds (about 10 miles out) the towpath becomes really good, wide and easy to cycle. Depending on the time of day, you can fly along them and make good time.

I originally planned to do the ride there and back over three days but managed it in two.

Day One. I set off from Leeds City Centre, Lock 1 (River Lock) at 05.30. I took a steady pace with 5 minute rests every 30 minutes, half an hour lunch and lost 20 minutes trying to find the canal in Burnley where it disappeared into a tunnel. I arrived at the end of the canal in Liverpool with a total cycling time of 11 hours, 15 minutes. This equated to an overall average speed of just over 11.3mph.

Day Two. I set off slightly earlier at 4.50am (just as it was getting light) and began my journey back towards Leeds. This time, I took less rests and tried to make use of the tailwind to increase my speed. I only took one 5 minute break every hour and had 10 minutes for lunch. I completed the 127 and a quarter miles in 11 hours and 23 minutes. An overall average speed of 11mph. (I would not recommend attempting this without decent rest intervals. See below).

Altogether, my total cycling time was 22 hours and 38 minutes. This was cycling a total of 255.8 miles (the extra mile came from the diversion at Kirkstall in Leeds where the towpath was closed). This equates to an average speed of just over 11mph.

If I'm honest, my personal target was too much. I pushed myself too far and in hindsight I took fewer breaks than I should. At the time of writing this section, I have been home for four hours. I have chronic saddle sores that see me sat on a cushion and wincing every time I move. My knees are aching so bad that It takes me ages to sit, stand, bend or do anything except lie down. My back is not too bad considering the 10kg of backpack I just lugged to Liverpool and back. My own stupid fault for being so impatient. But then again it feels great to have done it in 2 days!

Definitely take at least 5 minutes rest every half an hour and at least half an hour every 4 to 5 hours. Get off the bike, take off your helmet and backpack, sit down, walk about, stretch your calves, thighs, hamstrings and soleus muscles.

As for food, I took loads of energy gels and caffeine energy drinks (Lucozade Sports). As it goes, I stuck to water and muesli bars and felt fine, so the gels were a waste of time! I had a good breakfast before setting off and tried to eat a muesli bar or aot bar at least once every hour for the first few hours to avoid fatigue. A box of 12 bars doesn't weigh that much. It's a good idea to have two water bottles as there are long stretches without shops. I took a British Waterways key (Available at so that I could fill up for free at the water points along the canal (and there are dozens). The key also gives you access to toilets and waste bins. Just look at any canal guide for locations. You can even buy a card that enables you to use showers if you are planning to camp out along the way.

I did stop lunch on the outward leg, but next time I won't have a Burger King as it was repeating on me for the rest of the day! I stuck to snacks with oats, sugar and protein to keep me fuelled up. Chocolate seems to give a quick boost and tastes nice but it's short lived compared to oats and honey. The golden rule is never to wait until you're thirsty to get a drink and eat something at least once an hour. You can't really drink too much, and if you do it just means you have to stop and have a wee!

My bike computer has details of my weight, height, BMI and weight of my bike and backpack. It calculated that I burned 8900 calories on the outward journey and 9250 on the return. That's over 18,000 calories in just two days! So you'll forgive me the Quarter Pounder & Cheese I had when I got back!

Padded Shorts. These are a must! Even if you have the comfiest saddle on earth (like I thought I did), you still need these. I had a comfy saddle and padded shorts but I still have saddle sores (and boy are they called sores for a reason!). If you don't like the tight Lycra ones, you can get baggy shorts with padded inners. They look cool too! However, a word of warning... get used to wearing padded shorts because believe it or not, they can sometimes make things worse. because your bum isn't used to the tightness of them, it can sometimes cause friction burns during long periods of cycling. I got two patches (about the size of a credit card) of very sore skin that blistered and took over a week to calm down. I also wore an Adidas Climalite t-shirt (Keeps you cool and wick away sweat) in white to reflect the sun. Ankle socks and trainers that are comfy to wear. Even though you're on a bike you can still get blisters from ill fitting trainers. (As i found out). Most important, a helmet. I am an experienced cyclist with many years of road and mountain biking. I thought I didn't need a helmet till I heard about a guy who went flying over his handlebars, hit his head losing conciousness, landed in the canal and drowned. GET A HELMET!

Of the 10kg of equipment I was carrying, I could have done without about 9 and a half kg of it! It's a good idea to have a bike computer (Mine is a Garmin Edge 305). Because it gives you information that's useful such as Speed, Distance, Calories, Elevation & Time. It's something to look at when the open countryside becomes just another field! A bell is also a real essential item. It's so much nicer than shouting 'EXCUSE ME!' every few minutes.

Take a change of socks and underwear. It stops the bacteria from breeding and prevents infection from saddle sores, (sorry its disgusting) and makes you feel fresher. A lightweight waterproof coat is good if showers are forecast and padded, short fingered gloves stop you getting sores on your hands from gripping the handlebar. A multi-tool, puncture repair kit and pump are also essential. I also took some anti-bacterial gel, hand wipes, ibuprofen, suncream, lip balm and anti-mozzi spray that all came in useful.

90% of the people I passed on the way were friendly, courteous folk who waved, smiled or said hello. Unfortunately, there were a few who weren't. Towpath people fall into 4 categories:

  1. Other Bikers.
    Usually fly past you without a look, hello, 'alrite or a smile. They seem totally focused on getting wherever they're going as fast as they can. Usually hidden behind their cool looking sunglasses and expressionless face.
  2. The Old Couple.
    Taking a steady walk along the canal. They don't hear you're bell at 30 yards, or 20, or 10, or 5 or even when you've stopped right behind them! But they see you smile, they make way and you say thank you!
  3. The Young Couple.
    Usually hears your bell at 30 yards but although the male stands on one side, the female panics and can't decide between each side or the middle. Then they have to find the dog... "Rover, stay... Rover stay... Rover come here... ROVER NO!!!" Again though, a smile and a thank you as you pass makes it all OK.
  4. The Fishermen.
    Now I'm not a negative person but of the hundred or so fishermen I passed, not one replied to my friendly nod, wink, hello or smile. Not one! Some were sat in the middle of the towpath with rods extended so it was impossible to pass. Several wouldn't even move until you had come to a stop in front of them. I'm sorry, but these people need to show some respect for other towpath users. VERY RUDE!

I'm sorry if I sound disrespectful but as polite as I was, saying thank you and hello to everyone I passed, there were a minority who looked at me as if I shouldn't be there. I never forced my way through and always slowed down to pass people but a minority of people and majority of the fishermen were just down right arrogant. (Apologies to any friendly ones who weren't out when I passed). It was hard to maintain my polite manner but I suppose my advice is to be courteous to everyone despite not receiving the same goodwill in return from some of them.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Off I Go...!

So after weeks of planning, training and research, I've finally set the date for the bike ride. I'll be leaving from Lock no: 1 in Leeds City Centre (The official start point of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal) at 5.30am on Thursday 6th August.

My backpack is full, my bike has a service on Wednesday to make sure it's ready for the hammer it's going to get and I'm keeping a close eye on the weather!

You will be able to follow my progress live on my Facebook profile. I'll be adding photos and keeping you all updated as I go.

If you haven't sponsored me yet, you can pledge on my Facebook or visit and click the 'Donate' button at the top menu.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Sponsorship & Event Timetable Update

I've started distributing sponsor forms this week and have a target of £1000.00 for this event. If I don't manage to get you to sponsor me, please donate online at (clicking the 'Donate' button). Don't forget that all the money raised goes straight to the Motor Neurone Disease Association.

Because I'm doing the ride unaided with no support, I'm planning the event around the weather. Even in summer, night time temperatures over the tops of the Pennines have been known to drop as low as 4C and summer storms can deposit as much as 75mm (3 inches) of rain. To ensure my own safety, and to avoid overly muddy conditions on the towpath, I need a few days of dry, breezy, warm weather followed by at least 3 or 4 days of at least dry weather.
I've been keeping a close eye on the Met Office forecasts and confidence is high that conditions will start to improve towards the end of the first week in August with high pressure building to the north by the middle of August. (keep your fingers crossed!).

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Training Update

It's been about a month since I started training and all is well (so far!). The bike is wearing in well and going in for it's first service next week. I've adapted to the bike really well and it is more comfortable that I had expected it to be.

At the moment I'm doing about 150 miles per week between road, off road and gym biking. I know this is a lot less than the 254 miles in four days but my training is concentrated on interval training and spinning. Interval training involves short bursts of rapid cycling followed by intervals of slower, rested spins. Spinning sessions are where I cycle continuously for 30 to 45 minutes without rest at a moderate speed.

I am starting the next level of training this week which involves cycling with my full backpack. It's strange because the weight of the backpack changes my balance on the saddle and i need to adapt to the extra weight. This is why I have been building my core muscles in the gym to make sure I don't put too much pressure on my back and shoulders, which may not be used to the extra weight.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

5: The Route

The canal was originally 127.25 miles long, and until recently, the first quarter of a mile at Liverpool was filled in. However, the canal has recently been extended right into the centre of Liverpool at Albert Dock. Both ends of the canal are close to the main railways stations of Leeds and Liverpool. It is possible to cycle along the towpath along the whole canal, the only exceptions are the two tunnels, Gannow and Foulridge. At the tunnels I will have to find my way over the top to meet the canal at the other side.

The route itself doesn't follow anywhere near a direct line. It snakes around the Pennines, heading much further north to avoid the highest peaks. From the starting point by the Train Station in Leeds I head north west through Rodley towards Shipley, following the valley of the River Aire and the railway line. I go through the old industrial heartlands of Saltaire, past the mills to Bingley and then climb to Skipton and out towards Gargrave and the picturesque outlying villages of Greenberfield and Marton. After 45 miles I will reach Foulridge and the summit of the canal at just over 487 feet above sea level.

From Foulridge I head down the Lancashire slopes of the Pennines through Burnley, Blackburn and Wigan. From there it's just over 30 miles to Liverpool and my halfway mark at 127 and a quarter miles.

4: Bike & Bits

I've bought a new mountain bike for the event. A 'Scott Aspect' bike. I would have liked to have used my old Saracen Xile but it's over five years old already and I don't think it will cope with the hammer it will get. My Scott bike is a single suspension mountain bike, nothing special and chosen for weight and comfort more than features and style. It has disc brakes rather than the traditional V type brakes so they should cope better with the mud and wet that I'm expecting.

I'll be taking essential repair equipment like spare inner tubes, puncture repair kit, tool set and pump. I'll also have a mobile phone just in case of an emergency. My accommodation consists of a small one man tent with ground mat, sleeping bag and a lock for my bike. I'll have a couple of water bottles which I'll fill at the water points along the towpath (some need the use of a BW key). I have to try and keep the weight down but I need to try and get some extra socks and shorts / T-Shirt in there too.

I'll also have my Garmin Edge 305 GPS Computer. This logs loads of information including miles, speed, elevation, cadence etc so that I can analyse the trip afterwards. Im also taking an extra battery for my iPhone so that I can make live updates while I'm doing the ride.

As for food, I'll have some energy gels and rehydration powders with me, and i'll buy my meals along the way from nearby shops.

3: Fitness

Everybody has varying levels of fitness and different ideas on how you should prepare for an event like this. Most people agree that if you have little or no fitness you should start slowly and build up over a period of time, doing more miles each time until you can manage the daily amount of miles you want to achieve. I am lucky in that I already have a decent level of fitness. During the spring and early summer months I clock up about 100 / 150 miles a week over three or four days. Not a huge amount I know, but regular and enough for what I expect to achieve.

Another aspect is that this ride will be more challenging than a normal road bike ride. Although some of the towpath will be pretty easy to manage, I know that a lot of it will be muddy with long grass and exposed hills with headwinds and steady climbs. My mountain bike weighs 19kg, my kit weighs 10kg, my water bottles about 2kg and I weigh 75kg. A total of over 100kg to pull over the Pennines in what will probably be wet or windy conditions.

There's only one way to prepare for this and that's to try and train in similar conditions. Luckily, the summer hasn't been that hot and sunny yet! As of the end of June I've started back at the gym in order to build up my core muscles and stamina under the watchful eye of my new personal trainer! Hopefully, he can manage my fitness in a way that won't cause any aggravation to my knee.

2: The History

About eighteen months ago I planned to cycle from Land's End to John O' Groats. When I started my training, I developed pain in my left knee after 20 / 30 miles of cycling on my road bike. The problem got worse and I had to go see my doctor and a physiotherapist. The result was all to do with biometrics. Put simply, my left knee is slightly out of alignment with the rest of my leg which causes extra friction when put under the stresses of cycling with my road bike.

I was gutted because I had put so much time into planning the event. Not to be put off, I got my brain into gear and thought of other ways I could use cycling to raise money and awareness for The Brenda Fox Tribute Fund, which supports the Motor Neurone Association.

As a keen canal boater, I saw that some people cycled the length of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, a journey of 127 and a quarter miles. Another thing I noticed was that i didn't get the same pain when I cycled on my mountain bike that i did on my road bike. So the plan came together to cycle the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. I'll be doing a return journey though to make the event a bit more challenging.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

1: The Plan

The plan is to cycle the entire length of the Leeds Liverpool Canal, and back, over four days. It's a total journey of over 254 miles along the towpath of the canal. Some of it will be fairly easy and some of it will be wet and muddy! I'll be alone, without any support or back up. Just me, my bike, a tent and a few essential bits and pieces. I'll be camping out in the middle of the Pennines overnight and using the canal water points for refreshment.