Running on the Via Verde – Andalucia

At 7.30am in the Sierra Subbética in November, the sun had not yet made it over the hills and the countryside was shrouded in a peaceful half-light, the sky a clear, pale blue. The last day of our holiday had come and we had a run to get in before breakfast and checking out of the hotel – the first “long run” of my marathon training. At just eight miles, it’s not that long, but is the longest I’ve ever run before.

The air outside the sleeping, silent hotel was crisp and cold – I was wearing short shorts and a running vest top under my cycling jacket – one of my favourite items of clothing as it rolls up into a little bag that can clip around my waist (it’s really far too hot for running but with so many cycling jackets I’m loathe to buy a specific running one!) With a banana for breakfast, I clipped on my waist belt with two small bottles of water and we got into the car. Mum drove for around five minutes to the Via Verde at the Salobral lake. It’s an old railway track that runs for 56km through the Sierra Subbética in Andalucia, converted into a hiking, running and cycling route over viaducts and through gorges and a tunnel. The surface is mainly sandy, it’s relatively straight and has no steep inclines. Perfect for running.

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We set off, our breath coming in mist as we adjusted to the cold, running slightly faster than we had planned and enjoying the silence around us. Although Laguna Salobral is nothing spectacular at this time of year, the sun rising above it was. The scenery was, like all the scenery this trip, wonderful, as we ran along the path, above miles of olive groves and through narrow banks.

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Towards the turn around, we came across a bridge that looked as if it was soaring into the sky. A long way below it was a river, unseen by us due to the mist that hung low in the valley, giving the whole area an eerie feel. We stopped for photos and then continued on, running on air across the bridge.

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We reached our turnaround after 4 miles and set off back towards the car. The previous days of hard exercise were catching up with my legs and they felt so heavy – now mum was running faster than me and I was lagging behind. At just the right moment for a break a large group of cyclists out for their Sunday ride came down the path behind us. We stopped to one side to catch our breath and let them pass in a wave of ‘Hola!’s. The mist had cleared and as we ran back over the bridge the river was laid out in all its glory beneath us.

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On and on and it all seemed gradually uphill which was weird as it had all seemed gradually uphill on the way out as well. Where on earth was Lake Salobral? Eventually it came into view and finally we made it back to the car – time for a quick stretch and then back to the hotel for a lovely breakfast of fresh fruit, muffins, granola and manchego cheese.

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Then it was time to set off and leave the lovely Casa Olea. We were taking the long route to Malaga airport, driving on tiny winding roads up and down hills, past many struggling cyclists and Spaniards out for their Sunday walk, until all of a sudden, the lake at Iznajar appeared sparkling before us. The road wound down the mountain side towards the lake, the town itself perched high on a rocky outcrop immediately above the lake. We noticed lots of cars parked up by the side and soon realised the reason when we spotted hundreds of runners making their way down the hundreds of steps from the top of Iznajar, across a bridge, and then along the side of the lake. We parked up to watch them for a bit before continuing our way along to Antequera.

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We drove through the town’s outskirts until we found a place to park and then walked up the narrow cobbled streets towards the castle at the top. Spain does a really good job in keeping their towns clear – every place we went to was sparkling and with such stunningly beautiful cobbled pavements. The view from the top was incredible, out over the white town of Antequera and then the countryside in the distance. We paid the entry fee and went into the Alcazaba. I was so glad we had – it is incredible how much history interacts in Andalucia. The remains of Roman baths to one side of the Alcazaba. The Moorish ruins of their watchtowers and living quarters, some restored, some not. They were sieged by the Catholic King during the Reconquista and eventually the King was able to conquer the Alcazaba and with it Antequera, moving into the watchtowers and eventually building a huge church right next to it. Centuries upon centuries of history overlapping.

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We finished our holiday with an incredible lunch in Arte de Tapas. We stuffed ourselves with delicious and innovative tapas, including mushroom croquettes, garlicky prawns, and a huge pot of soft, creamy goat’s cheese, served almost like a pate. My mouth is watering just remembering it. And the whole bill, including drinks and tip, was less than 20 euro! Incredible.

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Please don’t go to Andalucia on holiday. Or if you do, stay in the tourist hotspots in the coast. Please don’t visit the countryside and it’s untouched beauty. But if you must, stay at Casa Olea, go cycling, go running, eat some incredible food.

Marathon training week 5

It is rushing by… and now it is almost Christmas and my 26th birthday. This feels like a bigger one than last year, I think because when I am 26 I will quite definitely be an adult… which is quite a weird feeling! I managed just over 7 hours this week and got all my runs in, yay!

Run 1 – the interval run

This is usually the easy one. The intervals are fast but short, and the run is on the treadmill so it’s easy enough to set the pace and I then have to stick to it. I watch a David Attenborough programme on my iPad and I get it done.

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This week it was harder. I had cycled to work, a slow 40min cycle through an incredible sunrise and hadn’t eaten anything, so my tummy was complaining of hunger even before I started running. Plus the intervals were double the length at 800m. The David Attenborough I was watching seemed to be all about fish and sharks eating, which seemed slightly unfair when I was so hungry! I didn’t enjoy it but I got them done and then had a massive bowl of porridge with honey, sunflower seeds and dried bananas so all was good.

Run 2 – the tempo run

This was half good and half awful. The plan said 5 miles at tempo pace. It’s just over 6 miles to work so I figured I’d warm-up with an easy mile, run the tempo miles and then have a cool-down at the end. The warm-up was horrific. I was cold and stiff as I’d only woken up to a cold flat 15 minutes before, and my hip was agony. This is the same pain as I had over the summer in my left leg, except now it’s in my right. It hurts whenever I put weight on the leg, spreading down from the hip around the front and outside of my thigh. It hurts most while walking and was horribly painful as I half limped, half jogged my “easy” mile. I then decided to start the tempo miles and see how it went.

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Love the old and the new in the same shot and the sunrise-colour of the sky. London is awesome.

Strangely, shortly after I began running fast, I stopped noticing the pain and stopped limping. So that was good. I was running fast, above the pace that I needed, and it felt good. I was enjoying myself! BUT I imagine the point of a tempo run is to run x miles at a challenging pace without stopping. Sadly, running into work during rush hour meant lots of stopping. There are hundreds of junctions between home and work and I had to stop and wait for cars/check there weren’t any at every one. I paused my watch everytime and it ended up that the time I’d been out for was over 15 minutes longer than my actual running time! So not a great tempo run, even though I enjoyed it.

Run 3 – the long one. 12 miles.

There’s a pattern emerging this week. This run was half horrendous, half great. To put it into context I have to tell you a little about my week….. Tuesday night I worked until 12.30am and then was back in the office at 6am on Wednesday morning. Long days. Thursday night was my work Christmas party – alcohol and dancing and standing up in high heels until well after midnight. Friday night was James’ Christmas party – alcohol and standing up in high heels for over four hours. Not the best preparation for your first 12 mile run on Saturday morning!

The first half an hour was horrendous as my body warmed up. Everything felt sore, especially my hip, my ankles and calves. I think that must have been as a result of wearing high heels for so long last week. Every step was painful, I walked across every junction and then really had to energise myself to make me run again.

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At least it was beautiful

But once past Battersea Park and onto the Thames Path my aches and pains faded away and I was able to keep up a slow pace v comfortably – I had to run a minute per mile slower than my goal marathon pace and I finished just a little quicker than that. But my god it was hard. There was a good hour in the middle but the last fifteen minutes were very difficult, my legs feeling like lead. There was no way I could have run any faster.

So. Good and bad, ups and downs. On the bright side, I ran 12 miles!! Almost a half marathon!! Wow!! Well done me. On the bad side, it was horribly hard and in a few months I have to run an actual whole marathon. Ugh.

Cross-training – as a result of the previously mentioned busy week, I was happy to manage any cross-training. A spin class on Monday morning, a yoga class Tuesday lunch, an upper body conditioning session Friday length, and lower body conditioning Sunday afternoon. Where is the swimming?!!!

In other news – my baby Christmas tree is up and my presents are packed :)

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Marathon training week 4 – a new routine

Marathon training week 4. One whole month of this down. This week I was back at my normal job – back to commercial law, back to Canary Wharf, back to suits, heels, long hours and busy days. So it took a bit of adjustment to an entirely new routine and my exercise/training took a bit of a hit.

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I managed less than 4 and a half hours in total and for the first time, missed one of the runs in my marathon training programme. My cross-training also involved two strength sessions – no swimming or biking.

Run 1: the interval run.
I’d meant to do this Tuesday lunch time until I realised it would be almost an hour on the treadmill so far too long for a lunch time when you take into account stretching, showering and changing! So it got put back to Wednesday morning. 12 x 400m at 11.7kph, although I upped it to 12kph for the last 3 as my heart rate was still quite comfortable. 90 seconds RI in between each run, ten minutes warm-up, ten minutes cool-down.

The time passed quickly, it wasn’t too hard and I quite enjoyed myself. Especially as I was watching David Attenborough’s life stories at the time which is the most incredible TV programme. It’s over now and so I have no idea what to watch on the treadmill this week! :(

Run 2 – the tempo run

This was the one that didn’t happen. 1 mile warm-up, 4 miles tempo (slightly slower than best 10k race pace), 1 mile cool-down. I had planned to do it before work on Friday but went for a drink with a friend on Thursday night and then it was just so horribly dark and horrible at 7am on Friday morning. I didn’t even get as far as thinking about getting out of bed. The light on my Lumie alarm clock came on, I turned it straight off and snuggled back into bed with James for another hour of sleep.

I thought I might take a long lunch break and get it done then – but was really busy. Then I thought I might do it after work. But I didn’t finish work until after 10pm so there was no way that was happening!

->cross-training – more excuses <-

The plan was for a lovely long swim on Saturday afternoon. I was up early on a beautiful, freezing morning to volunteer at Park Run which was great fun – really friendly people and I really enjoyed seeing the top runners come round. In the top ten were three girls – two who looked about 12 years old and one teenager, and a dad pushing a pram who made it look easy!

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After doing our weekly shop and having lunch I was exhausted – a combination of concentrating hard at work until 10pm, being late to bed and then an early start. So it was off to bed for a nap. I love weekend naps. Post-nap I had decided to go to the Giant UK flagship store to have a look at bikes… Long story short I ended up walking out with a beautiful, fully carbon Liv Envié with a Shimano Ultegra group-set. I then had to try to work out how to get home with no bike gear, a massive bulky coat and a handbag! I can’t wait to ride her.

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James and I spent the evening with a roast beef dinner, a bottle of red and Friends with Benefits on the TV – it’s an awful film.

Run 3 – the long one.

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This week’s long run was 11 miles. We are still racking up the mileage before my first cut-back week in two weeks time. I had a lazy morning reading the papers in bed, we had brunch, and then I got ready to head out at about 12pm. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining through gaps in the clouds, although it was still very windy. It was lovely, I thoroughly enjoyed myself, despite the wind. I had some music and some podcasts and half a gel half way through and I felt as if I could run forever. I was running very slowly, although still faster than the pace on my training plan, and so I picked the speed up significantly for the last half an hour.

I was not impressed by the discrepancy between my garmin watch and Strava when I finished though! The garmin said I had done 11.1 miles in 1hr 55. Strava said I had done 10.8miles in 1hr 45! I think that was slightly too fast, probably due to the setting which means it stops when I stop. Perhaps it wasn’t starting again immediately when I did.

I felt like I never stopped all of last week or the weekend – need to get back into being super busy at work mode and hopefully have a slightly more restful weekend with no bike shopping!

November

At the end of November and before I even begin to tot up the numbers I know that this month will have seen a huge increase in running matched by a massive drop-off in everything – except strength and conditioning training. Well it is the off-season.

So in November I….

Swam: 5350m in only 3 swims – need to increase that to at least one swim a week in December.

Cycled: 163.3km – mainly cycle commutes, one weekend cycle in Liphook and one long off-road cycle in Andalucia

Ran: 98.2km(!) (over 60 miles). To put that in perspective, it is just less than my total for August, September and October put together (103km). It’s a lot more than I’ve run before. I am increasing the distance gradually, but it’s the regularity of it – 3 runs weekly, every week. My average pace was slower – 6min13/km compared to 5min53/km October and my furthest distance was 16.2km – my 10 mile run and my furthest distance ever!

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I did also manage 8 strength training sessions, 2 indoor bike sessions, 1 yoga class and 1 hike.

I also read a lot less books despite being on holiday for 5 days – we were too active and then too exhausted to do much reading!

Dervla Murphy – In Ethiopia with a Mule – this really grew on me from my slightly unsure impression at the start of the book!
Dervla Murphy – a Winter in Baltistan. Baltistan is a region in northern Pakistan and this book tells of a winter Dervla spent hiking and living there with her six year old daughter. All of Dervla’s books are awesome.

On the blog there were:

- a post about my decision to train for a marathon
– and 2 further marathon training recaps  (2 and 3)
– a description of a very special bike ride in Andalusia
– some travel blogging with a post about Cordoba and one about running and hiking in Andalusia (there’s another to come still)

My best moments in November were all in my trip to Andalucia with mum. Climbing to the top of the pass on our mountain bikes and looking back down the switchbacks towards the town we’d come from, Luque, sparkling white in the distance. Running along the Via Verde to reach a bridge, floating on air with the mist underneath. Standing at the top of the Alcazaba in Antequera, stunning views and surrounded by history.

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Right now I am…

Reading: William Dalrymple, Return of a King: the Battle for Afghanistan – a history book about the first UK-Afghan war, begun in 1839. I’ve only just started the book but am already really enjoying it, a really well-told history book.

Excited about:
Christmas! Obviously. And a new bike. Although when I’ll be getting it and what it will be I’m not yet sure.

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I’m also excited about my birthday (Christmas Eve), spending time with my family and my mum’s new puppy, and then a few days in deepest darkest Wales with my friends over New Year.

IMG_4996Yes that is a puppy – she’s a Scottish Deer Hound and she is HUGE

Nervous about:

Buying the wrong new bike. I’m looking at the Liv/Giant range as they’ve been really well praised for their women-specific bikes. I love the look of the Envié Advanced 2 and it’s about the right price point for me too. BUT it is very aero and I will need to use it for commuting. Then there’s the Avail Advanced. The 3 is slightly cheaper than I was looking to spend but uses Shimano Tiagra. The 1 is slightly more expensive and uses Shinano Ultegra. I just really wanted the 105. And the Avail uses disk brakes. BUT I can get the envié before Christmas. I HATE making decisions about expensive things. If anyone can help….. Please help.

2015_Liv_Avail_Advanced_3The Avail Advanced 3

2015_Liv_Envie_Advanced_2The Envie Advanced 2

- marathon training. Can I keep going? Can I run faster and longer? Will my legs always feel exhausted? Will my legs just fall off? I suppose the good thing about marathon training is that because you are making yourself do something so extreme, I really do have the fear that I won’t be able to do it which definitely helps motivate me to make the training sessions!

Marathon training week 3

Well this is going by fast!

This week I was very pleased with a total of 9 hours – three runs, 1 swim (4x500m), 1 indoor bike ride, 1 yoga class, 2 strength classes and a short bit of cycle commuting.

Run 1 – the long run. I wanted to make my tempo run Park Run this week, which meant the long run had to be accomplished before work. 10 miles before work? But the pace I had to run was slow, so I gave myself an extra 20 minutes and had no problem at all in heading out the door – despite the fact it was still dark when my alarm went off at 7am :( (yes I am lucky that I can run 10 miles before work and still not get out of bed before 7!) I had a banana but was effectively running semi-fasted, not for any fancy running reason but more because I can’t think of anything worse than getting up even earlier to eat and then waiting in the dark while the food goes down…..!

The run was hard. I knew I was in for a comeback after last week. It was cold. I was stiff and not warmed up properly at first. I was trying out different trainers and my feet felt funny. My legs were heavy from the beginning. It wasn’t because I was running a long way as I was slow right from the start, and I don’t think it was mental as I was only running 1 mile further than the week before. But my body didn’t like it.

I ran to and through Battersea Park, past a number of people dog-walking and on early morning workouts. Then I set out towards Wandsworth Bridge on the Thames Path, going in the wrong direction from the steady trickle of walkers (did any other Walking Dead fans automatically think ZOMBIE then?!) runners and cyclists going past me in the opposite direction. I perked up a little bit and had a few of those moments where I was like “wow how incredible is my body, look what it’s doing, I am literally running with one foot in front of the other for a long time, human bodies are amazing” but along with a few moments of “my whole body hurts why am I doing this to myself can I stop now? Oh wait if I stop I’ll be late to work better keep running……”

I arrived at my office only to discover I’d misjudged the route and still had only run 9.2 miles. Well, I wasn’t giving up so then began a mad dash around St James’ Park tube station, dodging commuters, trying desperately to run EXACTLY 0.8miles in a way that wouldn’t take me too far from work. That final 0.8 was by far the fastest of my run – I was just so desperate to get it DONE!! Overall time of 1hr 41 for a slow ten miles so I wasn’t displeased with that.

Run 2: intervals – On a treadmill after work. Many things conspiring to make it easy for me to sack it off – leaving my iPhone behind and going to an impromtu talk on immigration detention in North London. But I went and I did it and it was fine. The intervals were 3 minutes long this time instead of 1minute long as in previous occasions. But I was okay. I had David Attenborough on iPlayer and so even the three minute intervals went past quite quickly as I watched. My heart rates at the end of each interval were already lower than when I first did my intervals a few weeks ago so that’s good news!

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Run 3: the tempo run

The day before the tempo run two things happened:

1) I looked at the training program in detail up until the race itself. Oh god some weeks are going to be hard.

2) my bike was stolen while I was in yoga.

Bike

I was in such a bad mood – completely grumpy and everything was crap. How on earth was I going to afford a new bike before Christmas? How on earth was I going to afford a month’s travel card before Christmas?!! I would have to get the tube… Goodbye savings… And I have to make the decision on a new bike which is stressful. Yes even the thought of choosing a shiny new bike was a negative in my mindset on Saturday morning!

I didn’t want to get out of bed at 8am. I did. I grumbled to myself about how horrible the run was as I ran a slow 2 miles towards Brockwell Park. I don’t want to run, running hurts, my legs are tired, I can’t do a marathon, maybe I should just give up on it now. Why do I even think I can do it? Running hurts. Ugh park run isn’t going to be fun.

I grumbled and grumbled and then I pressed start on my watch and set off around the park on Park Run with hundreds of other brightly dressed runners. I still grumbled and then I overtook a few people going up the hill and started to realise I was enjoying myself. The sun was coming up and the sky was blue and the second time round the park I looked at the other runners as I made it up the hill and I remembered that I do quite like running really and how wonderful park run is.

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There were people jogging up the hill, people walking, a mum in her 100 park runs t-shirt walking up next to her lanky teenage son in his 10 park runs t-shirt. There were dads with prams and older couples. Towards the finish a tiny little boy jogged along, looking over his shoulder for his parent, but everytime I almost overtook him, sprinting off. He barely came up to my hip. At the last corner a teenage boy in a 50 park runs Tshirt was waiting for his friend, he then joined in and ran with him before peeling off just before the finishing chute – obviously he had finished earlier and was just coming back to support his friend. As I left I heard a woman say “it’s just so much fun”. It’s that but not just that – it is inspirational as well.

Then I took the shorter route home for another slow 1 mile and the tempo run was done. A phone call with my mum later, she had reassured me that at least nobody was ill and extremely kindly offered to get me a new bike or at least most of a new bike for my Christmas present. Plus telling me a story about a parking-fail she had last week where she badly dented someone else’s car which made my sense of self-disappointment about how I’d locked up my bike lessen slightly!

Bad mood banished. I finished off Saturday by sobbing uncontrollable in the cinema to the Imitation Game – GO AND SEE IT – and then stuffing my face with lebanese takeaway from our favourite, Dalila. Yum.

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Marathon training week 2

With two weeks of marathon training under my belt, I entered Barcelona marathon. Now it’s official – I have to keep going. But the training last week went really well – running is awesome I love running. I know there’ll be bad weeks too but for now I’m happy to commit to this.

Run 1: the tempo run, on a sunny morning into work. It was meant to be six miles, 2 slow, 2 tempo, 2 slow, but as the boiler man had been round I was a bit late leaving home and had to cut the last mile short to make it to work on time! My garmin gave up on me meaning the tempo miles had to be entirely by feel (checking my phone to see the distance) – I’ve never tried to run to a specific pace before (except on a treadmill!) so I had no idea how that would play out. Turned out well. I was aiming for 9.16 a mile and ended up with 9.01 and 8.41 so I was happy.

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Run 2: treadmill intervals while watching David Attenborough. Not much to say about them – they were fine. 1 min fast, 2 mins slow. Next week I have to hold my “fast” pace for 3 minutes……

Run 3: the long run – 9 miles.
This was the only one that was mentally slightly difficult to get done – I’m always busy with a million and one things to do on a Saturday and I value my weekend lie-ins so getting up early to get it done first thing wasn’t for me. I went out for brunch with some friends and then spent almost an hour once I got home faffing around in trying to get ready. I also couldn’t help comparing it to my last long run in Spain the week before – running through South London on a grey, rainy November day is incomparable.

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But it never rained heavily and the drizzle stopped me getting too hot. And there is beauty even in south London it turns out!

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I had to run at 6:27 per km and I kept all almost 15 of my kilometres under that except one – I was running an out and back and at the turnaround I took a walk break for a minute which made that km slower. I felt strong, I felt happy, I felt as if I could keep running. Which is good seeing as I have to run a mile further this week and then almost 3 times as much for the actual marathon!

My cross-training involved one long sprint swim session that left me starving and exhausted, and 2 strength sessions. Cycling is really taking a back seat at the moment :/

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It was a wonderful “London” weekend, brunch with one set of friends on Saturday morning, an incredible dinner at a friend’s house on Saturday evening (including scallops, homemade macarons and homemade profiteroles),

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brunch AGAIN on Sunday morning and getting my nails done with a friend.

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This is now my last week working at Liberty doing human rights law before I return to my commercial law firm so I am going to make the most of it!

A very special bike ride

Every cyclist will have a few rides in their lives that are unforgettable. The reasons may vary, beautiful scenery, extremely difficult, something amazing happens or something awful happens. But when you cycle a lot, although many rides begin to merge into one, there are a few you will always remember. I think I’ve had four of these in my first two years of cycling! Undoubtedly some of the memories will fade as other rides become unforgettable but for now, I have four very special rides.

The first was Mount Ventoux in June this year – for the beauty of the mountain, the sheer scale of the challenge, the feeling of pride when we had conquered it – and for doing it with my sister.

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The second was an 80 mile cycle around the Isle of Mull – for the emptiness of the winding roads, the incredible headwinds, the most isolated climb I’ve done and again, the beauty of the island – and for spending a day cycling with my boyfriend. Even if he did keep cycling too close to me and refuse to drag me along the worst of the headwind.

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The third was my first 100 miler – for how incredibly difficult it was, the mental challenge of just keeping the legs turning, overcoming my fear of not being able to complete it, and how ridiculously happy I was when I had finally managed it – and for my uncle and cousins in making it a great day out.

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Finally – 50km half on and half off road in Andalucia last week. This one will stand out for the amazing views, more stunning and beautiful than any I’ve seen while on a bike, the challenge of a bumpy descent on a mountain bike, the huge plate of goat’s cheese we had at the end, and spending the day on a bike with my mum.

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It had been years since I cycled a bike with flat pedals and for the first half an hour of our ride I kept trying to clip out! We rented the bikes from our hotel, Casa Olea, for EUR15 for the day – they were in good condition, not hardcore mountain bikes but good enough for our paths, and to be cycled on the road as well. Brakes and gears worked perfectly. We set off along the road at first, heading from our little hotel to Luque, no clouds in the blue sky overhead and the November sun beating down hard. Within minutes the jacket came off as we worked our way gradually uphill through rolling olive fields and valleys towards Luque. Hot in mid-November, I can’t imagine what it’s like cycling up a hill in Andalucia in the summer – unbearable I imagine!

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After just over an hour, though only 10km (mountain bikes are slow on the road!) we freewheeled down a short hill into Luque, a pueblo blanco set on the steep slopes of a hill with its castle perched on a rocky outcrop at the top. We had to cycle up a very steep and narrow road through the centre of town – where I met a bus driver coming down while looking at his phone so I very quickly jumped my bike and myself onto the pavement whilst he passed! At the top of Luque we manouvered our way past the end of a running race and we were on the Buitreras Path – an 18k path over the top of the hill/mountain running from Luque to Carcabuey.

IMG_5336The road surface was sand/gravel and the path began on a gentle slope, winding its way along the side of a hill away from Luque. Soon we had stunning views back to the town, with the plains rolling away beyond it as far as the eye can see.

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After a few gently kilometres the path began to climb more steeply with a series of switch-backs – we spotted a very steep path in front of us and for a moment had a panic that we had to go up it but luckily this was just a farm track!

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The path flattened out at the top and we went past a small farm before reaching the other side of the mountain (I’ve now decided to call it a mountain as it went up to around 1500m).

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We now had views across the plains to Priego de Cordoba and the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. The sun however was casting a hazy glow over the scenery so it was not quite as spectacular as the other side.

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It was very cold as we started to descend, jackets were back on and I was glad of my short-fingered gloves, first for the cold and also for the vibrations. I went very slowly downhill, having never done it before offroad… and being pretty slow onroad as well! We dropped quickly down the back of the hill into another valley with an olive farm, a group of birdwatchers and a guy walking a huge dog.

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We curved around the hill and came out onto the plains, to cycle through an olive farm which reminded me of vineyards in southern France.

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We were getting closer to our lunch stop at Zagrilla Alta and had been told it was “pretty much” all downhill from here – so we were not impressed to be faced with a 15% climb! Luckily it had a few switchbacks and then was all over, we were traversing the side of the mountain into Zagrilla Alta which was visible in the distance.

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A wonderful lunch later including a huge plate of goat’s cheese, and we had just 10k to do to home. We were thinking it might take an hour given our average speed up to that point, but it turned out the rest truly was downhill and we sped home! To arrive after almost four and a half hours of cycling, 47km and 1000m of climbing, exhausted and happy. A ride to remember.

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If that wasn’t enough… we then set off (by car!) to explore Priego de Cordoba, a town that we were not overwhelmed with it as one of it’s main selling points is the great view – we had just had the same view but better all day! However we were looking for a cafe for a hot chocolate, and ended up finding one bustling with Spaniards that had a whole separate hot chocolate menu. One chocolate orange hot chocolate with whipped cream later I was about ready for my bed!

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