Pan Celtic Race Links

From Sunday 4th July 2021 to Wednesday 14th July 2021, I took part in the Pan Celtic Ultra Endurance Race.

Podcast

I took part in Chië’s ‘Talks Around The Coffee Cups’ podcast and talked a bit about the race. You can listen to it on Spotify here:
Episode 13 Coffee with James

Photos

My photos for the trip can be found here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameshouston/albums/72157719548723259

Sponsor me!

I’m raising money for London’s Air Ambulance charity. If you want to sponsor me you can make a donation here and the money goes directly to the charity. Thanks so much to everyone who has already made a donation!!
https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/james-houston-pcr

Dot watching

You can review my progress here (I’m rider #077 following the red line):
https://dotwatcher.cc/race/pan-celtic-race-2021

Social Media

The Pan Celtic organisation team are all over social media! So if you want to see race updates, help yourself to one of these links:
https://www.pancelticrace.com
https://www.pancelticrace.com/entered-riders/
https://dotwatcher.cc/feature/bikes-of-pan-celtic-race
https://www.instagram.com/pancelticraceseries
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCCaiA87tHCZogFEGoDS-GQ
https://www.facebook.com/groups/pancelticrace
#PanCelticRace #PanCelticRaceSeries #PanCelticRace2021
#PanCelticClan #ClanRider077

My own Instagram account is here:
https://www.instagram.com/jim_london/

Strava

Anyone using Strava can get my daily ride data here: https://www.strava.com/athletes/2075000

6 – Less weight, More gears

Race Diet

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve been dieting to try to shed a bit of weight ahead of the race.

For the couple of months of training I had been doing 1.5 – 2 hours every day before work and a long ride at the weekend, and my weight remained consistent – around 107 kg (16 St 12 lb). Even though I was burning a lot of calories training, I would be getting to work and having cheese and beans on toast or similar – making up those calories.

And whilst I had no issues with that, the weight is definitely more than what I should be, and it would make it more difficult for the race, especially with the amount of climbing involved. Not good for the knees!

So I decided to do something about it, and for about 8 weeks, I have put myself on the Slim Jim Fast Plan™.

Tonight I weighed myself and am 98.8 kg (15 stones 8 lb). I.e. in 8 weeks I have lost 8kg (18 lbs). I’m quite pleased with this as I didn’t expect to lose so much so quickly.

So what is the Slim Jim Fast Plan™? It’s actually really simple. Monday to Friday I skip breakfast, I have a Huel shake for lunch (Black – Salted Caramel is the best, Black / Normal – Vanilla also very good, Black – Banana is terrible) which is 400 kcalories. If I get super hungry in the afternoon I’ll have a snack bar, such as a Nakd vegan nuts & dates bar. And that’s it. Dinners are normal – which is usually a cooked meal at home – sometimes with wine, and sometimes it is takeaway Fish and Chips or Indian. Sometimes there are cheese and biscuits after dinner, or a dessert. I eat until I am full. And weekends I eat normally too, with regular breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

I typically drink a load of coffee (with oat milk) during the morning, and instant decaf in the afternoon. In the office at the moment it’s quite easy. I’m often the only one there, and I just don’t buy any snacks / food, so there is no option for me to have anything!

And whilst I’ve been dieting I’ve also been training less – I’ve been typically going for three training rides during the week and a long ride at the weekend.

Anyhow, with the race just over a week away, I’ll now be eating normally again and taking things easy, so in theory I’ll be well and rested for the start.

More gears

Having ridden with the Sugino double chainring on a long ride, and on a hills ride, I was happy with the performance, but having to change the chain over with either a deft move of the heel (big chainring to small chainring) or using my fingers to manually move the change over is a bit of a drag and a time-suck.

Last night I fitted a front derailleur. It’s not straightforward – there aren’t any Brompton components to acheive this, so it’s a case of getting other components to work. It’s a bit involved, so I will write this up properly, probably with a video, another time.

Anyhow, I’m pleased to say it performed very well on today’s commute. The worst bit was the £4 front shifter – the way the shifter affixes to the handlebar isn’t great and so it’s a little loose. I will try to imprve this. with some packing. I’ll do a few more rides with it, but fingers crossed it continues to behave. It’s great having the huge range compared with the normal 6 speed range (which is good for pretty much everything, but just lacks a little in range for a loaded bike on mountains).

One Week Left

So with a week to go, most people are super organised and ready. I’m still experimenting with gears, and I haven’t thought about packing yet. This is partly because I’ve done it before and so I can just take the same stuff again and know I should be ok. I have a few minor things to buy – such as buying an emergency foil blanket (no idea where my old one went!), check and replenish first aid kit, buy some antihisitamine, paracetomol, ibuprofen, water purification tablets, a small tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, and so on. Considering buying a portable bluetooth keyboard so I’ll be able to more easily keep a diary during the race.

Anyhow, getting excited now as it’s getting close. There is a certain amount of luck in making around, but if I can go in as prepared as I can be, I improve my odds.

There will be a site during the race which monitors all the riders progress, and updates from the Pan Celtic Race team. I’ll publish details next week.

5 – The Bike – work in progress

Over the years I’ve had a fair amount of issues with my bikes; pedal failures, crank failure, handlebar stem failure, rear triangle failure, seat post bolt failure, rim failure, tyre failure, bottom bracket issues, and of course plenty of punctures! Some of these come under expected wear & tear, and some came as quite a surprise.

However, with all of that, I’ve actually done quite a few miles (and lots in the company of other Brompton riders) and the Brompton bike stands up well in terms of reliability against other bikes. And of course it’s great fun to ride, and comfortable for long distances.

I decided it was time to buy a new one – and hopefully this will better my chances of something not breaking during the race.

When thinking about this a couple of months ago, my ‘dream’ Brompton for the race would be one with a titanium front fork, but a steel rear triangle.

The front fork in titanium really helps absorbs the bumps and avoids me getting ulna nerve issues in my hands on long rides. When I rode the TransAtlantic Way Race in 2018, it was months before I had full feeling again in the 3rd and 4th fingers on both hands.

But the rear triangle in titanium doesn’t really have benefit for me besides it being rust-proof. I am not concerned about the extra increase in weight of steel, and I find the titanium a bit ‘squishy’ feeling on uneven surfaces.

Anyhow I wrote to Brompton and also Brompton Junction asking if they could help – I would be happy to pay the full titanium price but for a bike with a steel rear triangle, and ideally the bike would be in red lacquer or red, to work on a Lanterne Rouge theme.. Unfortunately they were unable to assist, or even sell me any kind of bike until July when I made my enquiry at the end of April.

So I turned to Brompton Bike specialists, Brilliant Bikes in Chobham, Surrey. I have been using Brilliant Bikes for years as my first port-of-call for any spare parts. Their customer service really can’t be beaten and the staff are Brompton enthusiasts. They were able to get me a Raw Lacquer Ti bike in M6R configuration with a telescopic seatpost, which I collected at the end of May. I got the train down to the shop to pick it up, and cycled it back to London. Here it is all shiny during its first ride:

For the TransAtlantic Way Race and Pan Celtic Race 2019 I rode a standard 50T M6R bike. This is my preferred configuration for general riding as it deals with most situations well. However, for the ultra endurance events I’ve found it a bit lacking in mountain-y areas whilst carrying a lot of weight. The problem is the range isn’t wide enough – it doesn’t have a low enough gear for the steep uphills, and on downhills I don’t have a high enough gear. Probably the ideal solution would be to opt for a custom Rohloff conversion from Ben at Kinetics. With a disc brake this would also help the problem of the rims overheating on frequent / long / steep downhill descents. Maybe if I attempt another, this is the way to go.

For the interim I’ve decided to fit a double chainring. I’ve had this fitted now for over a week now and it seems to be ok. It’s a 36/52T. The standard 100 link chain seems to work fine, but I had to fit a narrower Bottom Bracket to improve the chainline when the chain is on the big ring. I did my morning hills ride on the small ring and it was very comfortable, and I’ve used the big ring on a 100 mile ride to Kent last weekend, as well as my usual commuting. No problems so far.

Currently to change gear on the front chainring I have to use my fingers. It’s also possible to kick the chain onto the small ring. Whilst I’ve found this is easy when cycling on the flat, I’ve found it tricky to do whilst already pedalling up a hill. Perhaps I need more practice.

Anyhow, I still have three weeks until the event, so I might see if I can get a front derailleur to work. It would be handy to be able to change gear whilst riding along!

Things I still need to sort out on the bike:

  • Fit dynamo lighting
  • Change to SwissStop brake pads (1 week before the race)
  • Put on fresh Marathon Plus tyres (1 week before the race)
  • Fit front derailleur (maybe)
  • Stickers?

For pedals, I’m tempted to try some MKS Lambda Pedals, but I might also just stick with the Brompton ones – I’m just a little concerned about the reliability of the stock pedals having had several pedals break.

Training Update

For the month before the race, I’ve decided to train a bit less.. i.e. not cycle every day. I’m still commuting every day, and plan to do a longish ride each weekend, and a sprinkle of either hill rides or longer flat rides in the mornings. You can see what I’ve been up to here (the data don’t include my commutes):
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/10un6gDrzwi5fgwJ-aIQspymMk6BKoGsouQY0UF8bPaY/edit?usp=sharing

Something I am doing at the moment is eating less! During the first couple of months of training I was eating a lot (e.g. having cheese and beans on toast when getting into work after a long ride). In over two months of riding every day my weight remained the same.

It would help if I weighed less for the race, so what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks (and what I’ll be doing for the next two weeks) is, on weekdays, skipping breakfast, then just having a Huel shake for lunch, and maybe an energy bar in the afternoon. Regular dinner. Seems to be working and it is easy enough to do.

Route Update

Just for fun, I made a page where you can visualise the first 200 km of the route in 3D. Enjoy!
https://www.jameshouston.com/pcr2021-route/

Pics from Pan Celtics Race 2019

I thought I’d better stick up pictures from the past event – it’s been almost two years!

My CMS has destroyed the image quality, but it’s better than nothing:
Pan Celtic 2019 photos https://www.jameshouston.com/pan-celtic-race-2019/

And whilst we’re on Pan Celtic theme, you may enjoy a video I made of a meetup we had in North Wales last year:
Pan Celtic revival video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ4HZn7rPCU

And also some photos I took from the gathering where we visited the Enigma bike workshop:
Pan Celtic gathering Dec 2019 https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.555145332003223&type=3

4 – The route has arrived – what a relief!

The route for the Pan Celtic has been announced, which will be more-or-less the final version save for any last minute tweaks:

I’ve yet to look at it in detail, but will aim to load it into a 3D viewer so I can fly along the route and get an idea of what’s in store. I also would like to make a note of things like towns, camp sites and public toilets along the route! For my previous long-distance races I didn’t look at the route ahead, which keeps things interesting, but sometimes means I’m not sure if there will be anywhere to stop for food and water.

3 – Update / Photo drop!

It’s about 7 weeks to go until the Pan Celtic Race starts.

I’ve been sticking reasonably well to my training plan, which means going for a long ride on Sunday, and doing at least an hour and a half ride before work on the weekdays. This often involves either some hills, or some laps of Hyde Park or Regents Park – the benefit of which being I can get to cycle fairly continuously without having to slow down much for junctions. On Saturdays I usually take a break from cycling and go for a long walk instead.

Here are a few of the longer rides I’ve done recently.

14 March 2021 – Shoreham, Kent loop

50 miles (80 km) / 3,045 ft (928 m) elevation

I haven’t done much exploring of Kent despite living close. This ride took in a lot of nice lanes and a few hills.

28 March 2021 – Windsor

103 miles (166 km) / 4,390 ft (1,338 m) elevation

Cycle to Windsor Great Park and back with Chris and Esmail.

4 April 2021 – Ride to Teapot Island

80 miles (129 km) / 4,777 ft (1,456 m) elevation

Another trip to Kent, this time to visit Teapot Island.

5 April 2021 – Capital Ring

50 miles (81 km) / 1,927 ft (587 m) elevation

A ride around the Southern part of the Capital Ring with the London Clarion Cycling Club.

10 April 2021 – Rapha ‘A Day In Hell’

Rapha’s annual off-road self-supported ride. This time I picked the route out to the Essex countryside. A really nice day.

18 April 2021 – New wheels ride to Kent

79 mile (127 km) / 4,399 ft (1,341 m) elevation

The rims were wearing thin, so I painted some new rims and built new wheels. Photo trip out to Kent.

25 April 2021 – Brighton and back

124 miles (200 km) / 5,899 ft (1,798 m) elevation

Rapha have a coffee van where they serve free coffee to cyclists. They were parked at the Ditchling Beacon so I took the opportunity to cycle down to Shoreham, along the coast to Brighton, then over Ditchling, picked up my free coffee, and back to London.

2 May 2021 – Toot Hill / Great Escape Route

150 miles (242 km) / 6,079 ft (1,853 m) elevation

This week the Rapha coffee van was at Toot Hill, so I took the opportunity to swing by and then continuing on the Islington Cycle Club Great Escape route before heading back. When I arrived in central London I cycled along the Thames to take a look at the bridges which are all now being decoratively lit.

9 May 2021 – Chiltern Cycleway

158 miles (254 km) / 2,291 m (7,515 feet) elevation

Rapha van was in for repair this weekend, but I decided to head out to it’s intended location anyway, which was Ivinghoe Beacon. I headed out on the Edgeware Road which is a fairly direct route. I decided to walk over the peak (it would be a shame to go all the way without going to the top), then I followed the Chiltern Cycleway route (the Westerly half) to Henley-on-Thames. I arrived at Henley at 6pm, so then headed home along the Thames valley.

The bike

My current best Brompton is only about 3 years old, but it’s done quite a few miles in that time (including Pan Celtic Race two years ago), and has had various things break in the last year including a catastrophic failure of the titanium rear triangle, which Brompton swiftly replaced for free. Whilst happy to use as my daily rider, I’m not entirely comfortable with using it for this year’s race as most parts are getting on a bit, so I’ve been on the look out to buy a new bike. My ideal bike would be very similar – an ‘M6R’ specification Brompton. I love the titanium fork as it really helps eliminate getting numb fingers on long rides. When I cycled the Transatlantic Way Race on a steel-forked Brompton it took several months after the race to regain full feeling in my fingers. I’m not too keen on the titanium rear triangle as I find it a bit too ‘squishy’. I wrote to Brompton and Brompton Junction to ask if I could buy a bike with Ti fork and steel rear triangle (at full Ti price), but they weren’t willing to help. Anyhow I’ve given up on that idea now and instead have managed to order a new Ti bike through my favourite Brompton reseller – I’ll share more details in due course.

~ An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach. ~
~ We who travel have stories to tell. ~

2 – Training plan

For my previous two ultra races I didn’t do any specific training; I did have a longer commute, so just made sure I put in 150-200 kms each week that way.

This year, my commute isn’t as long. I also took a break from cycling early in the year due to lockdown, hence I feel it’s necessary to have something more structured, in order to make it to the start line in an adequately prepared state.

To come up with a training plan, I started by plotting the available time out on a spreadsheet and have added in notional exercises into the dates, ramping up from easy to moderate over the weeks. If I have any planned club rides or similar events I can pop those in when I know about them.

I’ve added in the Trans Kernow event as a milestone. It will give me a good opportunity to experience the ups and downs in Cornwall, and ahead of that hopefully a trip to the Isle of Wight.

Anyhow, you can see my plan here:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/10un6gDrzwi5fgwJ-aIQspymMk6BKoGsouQY0UF8bPaY/edit?usp=sharing

Since it’s on Google Sheets, I’ve been able to add some custom script so that when I open the spreadsheet, it automatically updates it with my ride distance and elevation data recorded on Strava. I exclude the rides I tag as ‘commute’ on Strava, since these are just short direct rides between home and office. This allows me to keep an idea of what I’ve ridden, against the plan.

It’s a loose plan, but it’s a plan, and it helps me stay on track and on top of getting physically prepared.

~ An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach. ~
~ We who travel have stories to tell. ~

1 – Introduction

First off, thank you for making a donation towards the London Air Ambulance charity.
You can read all about the great work they do here: www.londonsairambulance.org.uk

This summer I’ll be competing in the Pan Celtic Race – an ultra-endurance bike race, and I’ll be doing it on a Brompton.

The race starts on 4th July and I expect it will take me two weeks to complete the 1,400 mile course. It will be physically and mentally tough, and if I do make it to the finish line I will be very happy. All riders carry a tracker, and their progress can be followed on a website (a pastime known as ‘dot-watching’).

I’ve completed two ultra-endurance races before; the TransAtlanticWay race in 2018, and the inaugural Pan Celtic Race in 2019. Both races were pretty gruelling, but equally amazing experiences. I love cycling, and to ride in some of the most beautiful parts of the UK and Ireland is its own reward. Take a look at the videos on the Pan Celtic website to get a feel for the event.

The Pan Celtic Race routes through the territories that made up the Celtic nations. The route is different each year, but can pass through Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Wales, England, and Brittany. The route is devised to pass through beautiful areas, places of Celtic historical significance, and deviously challenging terrain. The specific route is yet to be confirmed for 2021, but due to you-know-what, will be confined to the UK mainland.

It’s run by an amazing, caring, fun and passionate team who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know a bit through the last race as well as attending a few of the gatherings – get-togethers with other members of the Pan Celtic clan. All the attendees I’ve met have been amazing people. Perhaps it’s that all people have a bit of awesome in them, and this race helps bring that to the surface.

Over the next few weeks I hope to write a few posts on my preparations. I’ve started training (to lose some of those lockdown pounds, and to get myself physically prepared for the race). I’ve popped in a few milestone events to help me along the way. Not sure about the bike yet. I’d like to buy a new one for the event, and make a few special modifications, but everywhere is out of stock! And then I need to get a plan together for my kit. Clothes, sleeping equipment, tools to take, medical supplies and so on. There’s a lot to think about!

Anyhow, thanks for reading. Please feel free to use the comments form to ask a question or share your thoughts.

~ An té a bhíónn siúlach, bíonn scéalach. ~
~ We who travel have stories to tell. ~

Strava art

I made a couple of cycling doodles recently, where I created pictures by cycling whilst recording the route I took. One was for a Look Mum No Hands! competition. I chose to draw a turkey for this as it was thanksgiving. I’ve won a jersey and cap which I’ll go and collect once the shop is open for business again. The other doodle was an adaptation of a route originally cycled by Anthony Hoyte that said ‘Merry Christmas’, which I changed to ‘Merry Crisis!’. Anyhow, a good excuse to cycle around London. Some roads were new to me and others brought back memories.

Knitting project – Nick Drake tribute jumper

“You have to knit something for yourself!”, was the advice from Aneeta and friends at Knitting SOS , after the last few projects were garments knitted as gifts for others. So rather than make something that I might just as easily be able to buy in a shop, I decided to make this one-off Nick Drake tribute jumper. It’s based on a knitting pattern by Katrine Hannibal which I’ve modified to mimic the throw/blanket worn by Nick in a photoshoot by Julian Lloyd in ’67/8.
It’s taken me ages to finish, but my skills have definitely improved. I think I’ll take a short break from knitting to focus on other projects, but I’m already wondering what to knit next, so drop me a message if you have any ideas.
Music is an excerpt from Black Eyed Dog by Nick Drake (19 June 1948 – 25 November 1974).