Reading Half Marathon 2017

Foolish, perhaps, but I decided to run the 2017 Reading Half Marathon.  I wonder that my previous half marathon experiences did not put me off, perhaps they have been blocked from my mind.  This time, I did not run for charity but if you want to make a donation to a charity of your choice then let me know in the comments.

Training this time was a bit hit and miss.  I had two (separate) weeks off with illness, time off to care for my girls who were ill, family commitments, and some problems with my right hip.  As a result, I was not expecting to come near to my personal best (1:58:48 in Reading in 2015).

Sunday 19th March 2017 dawned a windy but dry day.  The air was warm but the wind had a chilly bite to it.  Runners were finding every bit of shelter they could from the wind.  The shopping tents were crowded but not many were shopping and runners huddled like penguins on the leeward side of tents and marquees.  I left it as late as possible to strip down to my running kit and hand in our bags to the kit drop off.   Now only in a vest and shorts, the chill of the wind was even more noticeable.  I found a discarded foil blanket in a bin, removed the only contamination (a banana skin) and wrapped it around myself.  After some warm up exercises and a last visit to the toilets (no queues, amazingly), I joined the throngs en route to the start line.

I was in the green start zone, those of us with estimated finish times between 2:00:00 and 2:05:00.  It was quite a large wave.  While we waited for the start, I was glad of the foil blanket.  There was someone on the PA system trying to get us to do a warm up routine but there was not much enthusiasm for it, at least near where I was standing.  One woman ten feet in front of me was visibly shivering from the cold wind, she did not look very cheerful.

Eventually our wave started.  This time there was no getting stuck behind slower runners so well done to both the organisers and the runners for getting their estimated times correct (that or they all set off too fast).  The start of the course is a loop back to the stadium before heading off around southern and central Reading.  There are more hills than I remember, I think that I may have deliberately blocked them from my mind.  On the plus side, I was feeling really good, perhaps the sickness-enforced rest the week before had done my legs a lot of good.

The wind was both a help and a hindrance.  When it was behind me, I felt like I could run for days but when it was in my face, it felt like running in treacle.  Despite the bitter wind, there were huge numbers of supporters; I lost count of the number of children I gave a high five.  My name was printed on my race number so as the miles ticked by and I started to tire, a shout of “Come on, James!” from the crowd spurred me on.  Cheered on by the crowd, I soon reached the 11 mile marker where we turn and start to head south along the A33.  This is the most soul-destroying part of the course along a mile of dual carriageway with no shelter from the elements.  The stadium at the finish seemed to stay on the horizon and not get any closer.  I could hear the two hour pacemaker shout to his flock behind me, “Remember, the mind is stronger than the body!”  At this point, neither my mind nor my body felt strong but I managed to keep going.  There was no way the pacemaker was going to overtake me, we had started about 30 seconds apart and I had overtaken him part way round the course.

Eventually, of course, I climbed one last hill and turned into the stadium to a wall of noise.  The finish line came at last and I could finally do what my brain and body was telling me to and stop.  After staggering through the medal and freebie bag lines, I was free to make my way home.  My time?  1:59:01 so not bad at all considering the disrupted training.  Strava even suggested I had run an extra 300 m so thinks I ran 1:57:17 for the half marathon distance.  If only I had taken the inside line on every corner…

After the race I was so hungry that I had a Burger King on the way home and an Indian take away that evening.  The next day I saw my physio and had a sports massage too.  My legs felt a lot better after that but it is four days later and I have not run again yet, plenty of cycling though.

No doubt I will tell myself that I will not do it again, until the next time!

Replacing the rails on a Brooks Flyer saddle

A couple of weeks ago I rode through a pothole on my bike, there was a loud bang and I was suddenly a lot closer to the pedals.  The rails on my beloved Brooks Flyer saddle had cracked!

On closer inspection the rails were bent as well as cracked, just in front of where the seat post clamp was positioned.  Googling found plenty of examples of this happening to Brooks rails but mostly with the saddle all the way back on the rails rather than all the way forward (which puts the rider weight more directly over the seat post).  Given the cost of the saddle, I wanted to try and repair it.  I purchased replacement rails and today settled down to repair my saddle.

What you need:

  • The “Flyer bracket and coil assembly” (BYB299) which I got from SJS Cycles.  You can purchase direct form Brooks but I found that shipping was cheaper, especially as I was ordering other things from SJS anyway.  It might be possible to order the rails separately and reuse your existing springs but I thought I may as well replace the whole lot.  If you buy just the rails, the instructions below will still work but you will need to undo the nuts that hold the rails to the springs rather than the springs to the saddle.
  • A 1/2″ spanner
  • A Brooks tension spanner
  • Some time to do the job.  This took me about  45 minutes with a few interruptions so it can probably be done in under 30 minutes.
Parts and tools
Parts and tools

To replace the rails:

  1. Remove the saddle from the bike.  This is obvious, I know, but you may wish to mark the seat post bracket position for tilt with a marker so you can put the saddle back in the correct position easily.  Work on the saddle upside down.
  2. Loosen the tension pin fully.  I am not sure if this is 100% necessary but it looked like it was and seemed to make the later steps easier.  Take note of how much tension is in the saddle before releasing it so that it can be re-tensioned afterwards.

    Nose of the saddle
    Nose of the saddle
  3. Using a 1/2″ spanner undo the nuts where the the coils join the saddle.  The nuts are hard to get at and required some creative angles with the spanner.
  4. Once the nuts are removed, lift up the bracket and coil assembly and flip it 180 degrees so that it is nose-to-nose with the saddle.

    Removing the old rails
    Removing the old rails
  5. Lift the bracket and coil assembly, tension pin and tension shackle out of the saddle.  Keep them all together.

    Tension pin and shackle
    Tension pin and shackle
  6. Place the replacement assembly next to the old one and move the tension pin and tension shackle across to the new assembly.  Make sure that the pin and shackle are in the same position on the new assembly.
  7. Replace the new assembly, tension pin and tension shackle nose-to-nose with the saddle and flip it into the saddle, slotting the coils onto the bolts.
  8. Replace the nuts on the bolts and tighten them.  Again, this requires creative use of the spanner.  It is nearly impossible to avoid scratching the coils with the spanner (at least with mine) but try to avoid it.  The bolts should be tight but not too tight or they will start to dig into the coating on the coils.
  9. Re-tension the saddle to the tension as above.  My saddle seemed a little under tension after this step so I added a little more.  It is possible that that was a contributing factor in the breakage to begin with.
  10. Replace the saddle on the seat post in the correct position.
  11. Go for a ride and check everything feels OK.
  12. After a few rides, check that the bolts are not loosening.

Disclaimer: I am just a home bike tinkerer and not a qualified bike mechanic.  Use these instructions at your own risk.

More shots of the cracked rails.  They should be straight between the bend in front of the coils and the bend up to the nose.

Ride to the garden centre with the iGo Two

I took the iGo Two out for another trial today.  I rode it up to the local garden centre with the two girls on board.  As expected, it was pretty slow but fun and not difficult to tow at all.  The girls loved it again.  Hannah was comfortable enough that she fell asleep on the way home!

WeeHoo iGo Two 2015

For a while now, I have been toying with the idea of getting a bike trailer for my daughters so that we can go out as a family on our bikes or, more to my wife’s taste, I can take the girls out so she can have some time to herself!

I had looked at the Croozer Kid for 2 online as well as looking at my colleague’s single version.  It looked to be the right balance of price and features.  Tempted as I was to go out and get one, my wife sensibly suggested we try a friends’ double child trailer first.  So, I found myself on a chilly January morning pedalling off with two girls loaded into our friends’ Thule Chariot Cougar 2.

As soon as I set off, there were giggles from the trailer and it quickly became clear that the girls were having a great time behind me.  It was the first time I had ever towed a trailer with my bike and I was having to concentrate hard to avoid dropping the wheels of the trailer into potholes or clipping kerbs due to the extra width and length.  We were out for about 30 minutes and by the time I got back, the girls were almost asleep.  The verdict was that towing them in a trailer was a goer but that I was not sure I wanted the extra width.  Also, the best bike rides near us are mostly on unsurfaced tracks so I wanted something that I could take on those rides.

While looking at trailer reviews on the net, I discovered the WeeHoo iGo Two 2015.  It is a type of recumbent tag-along that attaches to the seat post of the towing bicycle rather than to the rear axle.  The WeeHoo website and YouTube have some encouraging videos of the single version of the iGo being used for easy single track mountain biking and on trails so it should be OK on the gentle off-road trails we have near us.  I showed the videos to my older daughter and she was very excited.  She loved the idea of being able to pedal and being able to see all around her.  Having her little sister in the seat behind appealed too.  After daughter and wife approval, I was allowed to go ahead and purchase the iGo Two.

The iGo Two arrived in a large box and was cleverly packed inside to avoid wasting space. After checking the box contents, I set about the task of assembling them into an iGo Two. There are instructional videos on YouTube but the included pictorial instructions were easy to follow. Some parts were quite a tight fit, requiring some hand strength, but they were parts that should be tight. Only three tools were required: a 4 mm allen key (for seat assembly), a 14 mm spanner (for attaching the pedals) and a half-inch spanner (for attaching the rear footrest).

Once assembled, we hooked the iGo Two up to my bike. Fitting the hitch requires you to remove the seat post from the seat tube so measure your saddle height before removing it so you can put it back correctly. The hitch is a solid piece of cast aluminium which rotates around a plastic bush. The plastic bush comes in seven different diameters to fit different seat posts.  The hitch looks sturdy and, as with most trailers and tag-alongs, you can get extra hitches to fit to all your bikes.

Once the iGo Two was hitched up, we helped the girls into their seats to adjust the seat positions, rear footrest position and harnesses.  Each seat has a three-point harness that holds the children securely in their seats.  There are also foot straps to keep the front passenger’s feet on the pedals and the rear passenger’s feet on the footrest.  This is great as it stops little feet going down towards the ground when you are travelling along, something that could be quite dangerous.  Other safety features include handles for the passengers to grip and the ubiquitous safety flag fitted to all trailers.  We found that the girls naturally gripped the handles when riding and the flag does what it should do and increases visibility.

Once the trailer was set up, I took the girls for a few spins around the block despite the cold.  They loved it and came back giggling and smiling (or perhaps their faces were frozen into a grimace).

We even got them to wave for the videos:

After our younger daughter went for a nap, I went out for about 30 minutes with our older daughter on her own on the iGo Two.  When we got back, she couldn’t stop smiling! We had a great time and I cannot wait for more outings with the girls and my wife.

All in all, the WeeHoo iGo Two is an excellent trailer for our needs.  It seems sturdy and well built, rolls well and is great fun.  So far, we give it ten out of ten.

Night-time cloth nappy construction

A colleague is thinking about putting his daughter in cloth nappies at night.  This post is for him and anyone else who wants to use a cloth nappy at night.  The nappy preparation works for our daughter but as all children are different you may have to modify it for your child.

  1. Start with a Motherease Air Flow or PoPoLiNi Vento wrap (or similar).
    Motherease wrap
  2. Place a size 2 Little Lamb double thickness bamboo booster in the wrap.Night nappy stage 2
  3. Place a second booster on top of the first.  We fold this booster in two and place at the front as our daughter seems to wet the nappy more at the front.  This is probably useful for boys too.Night nappy stage 3
  4. Add a Motherease one size nappy.Night nappy stage 4
  5. Add a size one Little Lamb bamboo booster.Night nappy stage 5
  6. Add two cotton boosters.  This helps fast flow from away from the skin to the absorbent bamboo.  Sometimes, we use one size one Little Lamb bamboo booster here.Night nappy step 6
  7. Add the Motherease nappy’s booster with the poppers.Night nappy step 7
  8. Finally, add a piece of fleece to sit next to the skin to keep the skin dry.Night nappy stage 8

Once fitted to the child, it is usual for there to be a gap between the wrap and the thighs of several millimetres.  The wrap should be pulled down the thighs as far as possible.