The final countdown

Here’s my most recent post from the Rivers Ride blogs site:

The title might be a cliché, but it really is true. With just one weekend left to go, there is very little time for further Rivers Ride training.
It was with this nauseating thought in mind that I planned my riding for the weekend that has just passed. I knew I needed to do a long stretch out, and that I would really like to do the climbs I’ll be doing on the actual ride. I’m pleased to say I accomplished both of these on my two rides.
I started my weekend with a nice 25 loop from Bassenthwaite, over Newlands and Whinlatter. Whilst this was a short ride, the mixed weather and the two climbs meant it was a very useful ride. And it ticked off two of my Rivers Ride climbs.
On Sunday, I went out on my second ride, and did a longer 50 route which also took in two passes. This time I did Honister and Whinlatter from the other side. This ride was a useful part of my training, and I learned that I can make it up Honister in one go. It is hard – I felt like my head was going to explode at some points, and I’m pretty sure I looked like a balloon blown up to far – but I made it.
I also learned that I really need to get my ride fuel plans sorted. As those of you who have read my Hardknott blog will know, I don’t always manage this and leave myself short.
I did this again on Sunday’s longer ride. The first half was pretty pacy, and a number of new Strava records were set. However, after a lunch stop in Keswick, the second half of the ride felt very different.
I chose a delicious vegetarian mezze for lunch. However, this carb rich meal wasn’t the fuel I needed mid-ride and weighed heavy for the rest of the journey.
I managed Whinlatter itself reasonably well, but after this point I didn’t have much left in the tank. (Other than some falafel and houmous which served only to weigh me down.) Thankfully I managed to crawl (almost literally, or so it felt) to the finish line, with the lesson learned.
So my plan for the ride itself is to stock up on energy gels and bars, which are handy, give you the instant hit you need, and are light – especially when I think of them sitting in my stomach! I will have a carb-rich pasta dish the night before the ride, and a slow release breakfast like porridge on the day itself.
Should I also take a Thermos of soup with me, just in case I really struggle? I could have a picnic halfway round!
In the meantime, I plan a few more cycles out, probably with a couple of hills chucked in for good measure, to hopefully reassure me that I can indeed manage 75 miles and three passes in quick succession.
There’s only one way to find out!
Don’t forget, you can sponsor me should you wish to. Simply visit www.justgiving.com/ian-curwen

Please sponsor me!

I’ve tweeted about this a few times, but a little blog post won’t help either:

I’m doing the Jennings Rivers Ride – Big Ride Out on Sunday 15 September, in aid of the Cumbria Community Foundation, and all the good work they do for community groups in the county.

The ride is a 75 trek through West Cumbria, taking in some of the rivers that flooded a few years ago. The route takes in three challenging Lake District passes – Whinlatter, Newlands and Honister – and all of these come in the last 20 or so miles.

As you may know, I broke my back about six months ago when cycling.

Thankfully, I am now more or less fully recovered, and enjoying my cycling again. However, the Rivers Ride will still prove a challenge for me. It’d be a challenge if I hadn’t broken my back, but it’ll be even more so now.

But it’s a challenge I want to take on as part of my recovery and to support the Cumbria Community Foundation’s great work.

If you would like to sponsor me, please visit this site.

To find out more about the ride and to sign up, visit the CCF site.

Hardknott – the clue is in the name!

I wanted to blog about my recent cycling experience over Hardknott Pass in Cumbria. If only because if I don’t, there is a risk the rose-tinted spectacles will alter my memory.

And as the title suggests, the clue is in the name. Hardknott Pass, really is the hardest climb I’ve ever undertaken, by quite some distance.

Having recently successfully conquered (I’m using that word very loosely) Cold Fell, Newlands and Whinlatter and Outrigg, perhaps I was feeling a little blasé about Hardknott. However, the signs at the start of the pass, and the view as soon as you are on it soon bring you back down to earth!

Recognising it was going to be a difficult ride, my friend and I decided to head straight to Hardknott from Beckermet, rather than a more meandering route we might ordinarily have chosen.

My first error was not fuelling up for the ride. I had a light lunch earlier in the day, long before this evening ride, and all I had to keep me going en route was water and a Crunchie. It turns out that wasn’t enough.

Those who have completed Hardknott, or have attempted to do so, will know that it is split into two steep sections with a flatter section in the middle, for some respite.

I’m pleased to say that I made it up the first section. It was incredibly steep, and had me making some crazy routes across the width of the road to try and make some of the switchbacks. At the halfway point, I felt ok. I deliberately kept myself moving slowly so as to not use the last of my rapidly depleting energy stocks.

However that soon changed, almost the instant I got to the second steep section – which I think is the steepest on the whole ascent. As soon as I started to ‘pedal’ (or stomp on the pedals), I realised that the sick feeling in my stomach was a worrying lack of energy.

At this point, I chose to take a few seconds rest. I say this was a choice, but it wasn’t really – I couldn’t have made it any further.

Feeling in no way refreshed, I set off up the hill and got as far as the next corner. It became apparent at this point that I really must have a longer rest, so I busied myself with taking the pictures you see on this page. It became apparent because I nearly pulled my bike up on top of me, just trying to grind my way up the hill.

A few minutes later, I set off again.

Or I tried to. The steepness of the section I was now resting on made this quite difficult. I almost fell off the bike, but managed to gain enough momentum to crawl to the top.

And that’s when I realised that Hardknott is so extreme that getting up is only part of the challenge!

The way down involved speeds of around 4MPH, applying the brakes throughout. One section of the road has been washed away, with the interesting and entirely sensible decision to replace it with gravel.

That’s actually a good thing, because it scares you enough to slow your speed further, which is helpful for the next section of descent where your bike, amusingly, skid its way down!

And a few corners later, that was it. The Duddon Valley, Birker Fell  and Irton Pike all paled into insignificance, by comparison.

I felt battered and bruised, but I made it through the experience. And an experience is exactly what it was.

I’ve never seen roads so steep, where you need to think not only about how you’ll pull yourself up but also which parts of the road you must use to do so. Get it wrong and it’ll simply be too much of an incline to climb.

The ride definitely gave me something to think about, both in terms of my training and potential future routes, but also in terms of fuel on rides. I left myself short for this climb, and that meant the result was a foregone conclusion!

Rivers Ride in the ‘paper

Apologies to anyone who is sick of hearing my story now (I know I am!), but there is something in Saturday’s News and Star about my blogging for the Jennings Rivers Ride.

You can read the story here.

You can read the blogs on my site, and on the Rivers Ride blog site. There are excellent blogs on their from some of Cumbria’s finest, including the dry wit of Gary McKeating, Rebecca Watson‘s observations and many more. 

Details on the excellent Rivers Ride can be found on their site. The four rides take place on Sunday 15 September and there are options for every level of cycling experience.


I blogged about my experience on here last year – as the months since the event pass by I am even managing to forget just how awful the weather was after about the first two miles.

This year, we hope to enter a team from my employers. We already have the names of thirteen unlucky volunteers, so it’s looking good. Fingers’ crossed. 

#girlsVboysMPG

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take part in a charity event which would pit men against women behind the steering wheel. 

The thought of taking on a rally challenge, or perhaps the quickest lap of an F1 course, or even Maryport go-kart centre got me excited and I agreed.

It was a this point I found out what you have already gathered, that the challenge was actually somewhat different.

Local marketing maestro Michelle Masters had teamed up with the good folks at Stan Palmer Honda in Cockermouth (and in particular their enthusiastic sales manager Gary Redmond) to promote the fuel efficiency of their cars and raise some money for the fabulous CFM Cash For Kids appeal at the same time. The premise was simple enough – four boys would take on four women to see who could be the most fuel efficient on a journey across West Cumbria, only stopping for afternoon tea.

The questions were plenty: would the weight advantage the women have make all the difference? Would the competitive spirit mean that we would abandon the challenge for a straight out race? Would the afternoon tea reduce fuel economy for the latter half of the challenge? And how exactly do you drive efficiently?

In fact, I wondered whether my style of full acceleration combined with fierce braking for junctions, was really best suited for this particular event. Queue swotting up on just how to do it.

So did we do it? 

I am pleased to report that the boys team (christened the ‘bad boys’ by Michelle) managed the narrowest of wins, beating the ‘good girls’ by just 0.4MPG.

I don’t know that much about fuel efficiency, but I do know that is close! It’s fair to say that the second leg of the ‘race’ was a tense and nervy affair – all played out at a maximum speed of 56 miles per hour!

The boys managed a reasonable 45.1 MPG in the Honda CRV, which was matched on the way back by the girls.

However our stonking 63.7 MPG in the Honda Civic on the return journey beat their slightly less impressive 63.1 MPG.

More importantly, we have a fabulous feed at Sella Park Hotel in Calderbridge thanks to their fabulous chef Jon-Robert Fell.

Sorry, I jest. More importantly, we managed to raise a few hundred quid for the Cash for Kids appeal and all had a good day in the process.

My main reason for writing this blog was to formally thank all of those involved who volunteered their time, cars, Twitter accounts, cake making skills and much more, so here goes:

Firstly, thanks to Stan Palmer Honda and Michelle Masters for organising the event.

Thanks to Sella Park Hotel and their chef Jon-Robert Fell and his team for feeding us.

Thanks to the impressive bad boys team who succeeded on the day (Daley Rodgers, Karl Connor, Keith McMean and me).

Thanks and commiseration’s to the good girls team (Anne Sowerby, Vivienne Tregidga, Jess Burt and Suzanne Burgess)

Thanks to everyone who donated and who got involved on Twitter to make the event such good fun.

And if you fancy giving a few pence to the cause, visit the Just Giving site.

If you fancy having your own go at trying to beat our MPGs then why not call Stan Palmer to book a test drive or even purchase one of the cars involved!

Back in the saddle

In my last blog I talked about getting back in the saddle following my accident, and I hoped that it would soon follow. I’m pleased to say that since that point I’ve been back on the bike and have done a number of rides.

I won’t lie, before I set off on the first of these rides, I was a little nervous – What if I fell off? What if I no longer liked it? What if I simply couldn’t remember how to ride a bike?

Thankfully after just a couple of minutes I was well and truly back in the saddle and back in love with cycling and none of those concerns were valid. Even more thankfully, my back suffered no pain at all, and the ride was a reasonably paced meander to help keep my fitness up.

I realised two things when back out on the bike – firstly, that I really do enjoy a cycle ride – both the uphill and downhill sections (though I did those at a much slower pace than was previously the case – lesson definitely learned), and secondly that there isn’t a better way of seeing some of this area’s fantastic sights.

My first ride took in Dent before a coastal jaunt to St Bees; but since then I have cycled through the Wasdale Valley, Ennerdale Valley, Croasdale, the Solway Coast and visited many of the areas small towns and villages – including a memorable stop for a truly giant and utterly undeserved ice cream in the sun at Allonby.

I’m pleased to report that my rides are getting both longer and faster, both of which will be crucial when it comes to finishing the Rivers Ride. At the moment, I feel confident that if I continue to progress sensibly, I will have no trouble completing it.

I should point out that when I say ‘no trouble’, I mean no new trouble relating to my back. The struggle to get up the Lakeland passes will be just as real as it was last year and on every other ride where I’ve experienced them.

In future blogs I might tell you about my laughable bicycle maintenance attempts and my experience of cycling through a ford. That’s if I want to embarrass myself further, anyway.

How not to prepare for the Rivers Ride AKA Where I’ve been

On Friday 15 February, I volunteered to write a blog on my preparation for and experience of the 2013 Rivers Ride. On Sunday 17 February, I fell off my bike and broke a few bones.
I’m no expert, but that’s not how I think you should prepare!

Since then lots of people have asked me whether I plan to get back on my bike, and whether I’ll be sticking to flat routes. I must admit that in the day or two after the accident, I wasn’t sure I would get back on my bike.

However, after seven or eight weeks of recovery, I am now sure that I do want to get back on. After all they do say you should get back on the horse!

I’m not sure yet exactly when that will be, but I hope it isn’t far off – I’ve started cycling again at the gym and it has reminded me just how much I love it. 

Admittedly, it’s not quite the same when the view is the walls of Whitehaven Sports Centre rather than the Eskdale and Wasdale valleys I’d became accustomed to, but it’s certainly a start.
The other big unknown at the moment is whether I’ll be fit enough to do this year’s Rivers Ride, but I really hope so. My gut instinct is that if I follow my exercise plan and take the next few months of exercise slowly and sensibly, it might well be. But I’ll let you know how I get on.

In the meantime – to anyone who is considering taking part in the ride – I would simply say, do it! Despite the weather last year, the event was fantastic, and a great experience for everyone I spoke to. The course is challenging but achievable and takes in some of Copeland and Allerdale’s most striking scenery.

On top of this, you’re raising money to support the fantastic work that the Cumbria Community Foundation itself does to support people in the county.

When you’re struggling up Honister and Newlands – especially if it’s raining horizontally – you’ll be wise to remember that!

Managing radioactive waste safely

I don’t often blog about work. However, next week, my employer – Copeland Borough Council – will take a significant decision on a project I have been involved in since the outset.

This decision, is whether the council should continue to be involved in the government’s Managing Radioactive Waste Safely process, and move to stage four, by taking a decision to participate.

A few colleagues, friends and other people I respect have blogged or commented on the subject, and I wanted to give a few simple thoughts of my own, and point you in the direction of some of these comments, so you can better understand the issue yourself.

The background

In 2008, the government published the Managing Radioactive Waste Safely White Paper. This white paper outlined the government process for finding a home for the country’s higher activity radioactive waste. The home would be a geological disposal facility – or an engineered underground repository for the waste.

As Copeland is home to over 70% of the country’s waste, in interim storage at the Sellafield site, the council expressed an interest in the process, and entered discussions with the government.

Cumbria County Council and Allerdale Borough Council subsequently joined the process and the West Cumbria Managing Radioactive Waste Safely Partnership was formed.

This partnership, which met regularly for over three years, was set up to explore the issues involved in hosting a facility, to help the councils take a decision about whether to formally take a decision to participate in the process. This is the decision point we are at now.

The Partnership developed a work programme and worked to consider a range of issues including geology, impacts, community benefits, safety, planning and the environment and much more.

The Partnership also undertook a wide reaching communications and engagement programme, and it was this element that I was particularly involved in, as a member of the public and stakeholder engagement (PSE) group.

The communications and engagement programme we delivered was one of the widest reaching, intensive and coordinated campaigns ever undertaken in Cumbria.

Activity included a series of newsletters and leaflets; advertorials in the local press; advertising on phone boxes, on buses, and on billboards; public drop-in sessions; displays at public events; question and answer sessions; a website; e-bulletins; workshops; discussion packs; two films; and ongoing work with the media.

This work was successful in raising awareness of the Partnership and its work, and we undertook a robust and statistically reliable opinion survey which provided statistical evidence to support the councils’ in taking a decision whether to move forward. The engagement programme was award winning.

The current situation

In recent weeks, as the point where the councils will take their decisions grows nearer, public interest in the process and the decisions has grown. In addition communications activity from those interested in the decision has increased. This has included the formation of pressure groups, public meetings, newsletters, proactive use of social media and much more.

Much of this communication has raised interest in the work of the Partnership, and the decision the councils will take – which has to be a positive.

However in some cases, this activity has served to obfuscate the issues or even scare people.

Find out more

The main reason I wanted to write this blog was to point people to some useful resources and information on the process, so people can make their own decisions on whether we should move forward or not.

So before you make your mind up, why don’t you read the the following information, starting with the Partnership’s work and report:

The official government position and process:

The views of two Copeland councillors, one Labour, one Conservative:

You can find a lot more views on Twitter by searching for MRWS or nuclear dump or other terms as you see fit!
Ian

Run on, ride on…

As I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve not really ran for some time. So when a friend asked me to run on Wednesday evening, I felt I couldn’t say no.

Despite it being around two months since I last ran (and that run wasn’t one for the record books!), I managed a 6+ mile run.

I have to say, whilst I did find it pretty hard, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I was pleased simply to be able to run that far, after so long absent.

Some facts and observations:

1) I can run further than I think, if motivated and with friends who will run that far. I’m much less motivated and impressive on my own.

2) Run through the pain barrier. I did that, and survived. It’s probably because it was of a mental barrier than an actual physical one. Perhaps it was the laziness barrier not the pain one. Either way, do it.

3) Hills seem a lot steeper than I remember them. Even the little ones that aren’t really hills. Hopefully that will go soon!

4) I will never be a runner. It’s not natural to me, and I always struggle. That said, I’ll keep giving it a go as the achievement does make up for the uncomfortable experience at the time.

The title mentions riding on, that’s because I am thinking that if the weather stays fine, I might complete the end of the Rivers Ride this weekend.

This would mean a thirty mile route from Braithwaite, over Newlands Pass, over Honister Pass, through Keswick and back.

It’s not easy, but it’s the challenge I need to complete, and ideally before the weather turns to winter!

I’ll let you know how I get on.

Incidentally, I lost four pounds at fat club this week. Not bad, but hoping for more of the same this week.

The only man in the room.

The third and final challenge

In my last blog I talked about two of the three exercise related challenges I have set myself this year.

This blog covers the third – my most recent – which I undertook yesterday.

I write whilst the wounds are still raw!

So to summarise:

1) Keswick to Barrow walk (40 miles)
2) Coast to Coast cycle ride (140 miles)

And now to:

3) I undertook a cycling sportive – the Jennings Rivers Ride Big Day Out. This was not something I have previously thought about, it wasn’t on a bucket list, and I hadn’t really thought about it until someone mentioned it.
However, once I got interested in it, it took hold of me until I signed up and started asking for yet more charitable donations.
The Big Day Out is the longest of three rides offered to those taking part. It’s an 85 mile trek around the Lakes, starting and ending at Keswick and taking in three Lakeland ‘passes’ and many more steep hills.
The route was challenging – it was longer than I had cycled in a day before, and included hills I’d not taken on and that were steeper than I had experienced. But I like a challenge.

And that is what it was. The race took place yesterday, and the weather was worse than I could have imagined – especially after a deceptively sunny start. That lasted as long as the first pint after I completed my ride!

The rain could be described as tempest-esque, and there are few words I can use to describe the challenge that lay ahead. The headwind at times made even the flat surfaces and downhill sections a challenge and the wet conditions meant downhill sections that might have been fun because a treacherous nightmare.
I realised how little I was enjoying the experience when thirty miles in – I considered going home! At this point I was 55 miles from the finish line but only 5 from my dad’s house! Despite this I persevered with the ride. 
I would live to regret this when I got a further 30 or so miles into the ride. Having completed the first pass – Whinlatter, I was bracing myself for the second, when I was told by a marshall that they were advising that participants do not attempt the last two passes, but instead take a seven mile detour home.
It was a head vs heart moment. In my heart I wanted to complete the race, despite the challenging conditions, but my head knew that this would be a risky choice for a relative novice cyclist like myself. 
So I didn’t finish the planned route. Despite this, I did manage 63 miles. This was my longest ever ride and in awful conditions.
And I got to understand exactly what my mate meant about attempting such a challenge in awful conditions.
It does mean I’ll have to try it again next year though.
If you’d like to sponsor me, go to www.justgiving.com/iancurwen.
Sorry for such a long blog – I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.
The only man in the room