Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Goals for 2015

The flipping of the calendar over from one year to the other has always been a good time to analyse the year that has been and look forward to the one coming. After a miserable end to 2009 I decided, on New Years Eve, to stop moping around and use the new year as a springboard to better things. Life has got progressively more marvellous since then.

After looking back at some of the events of 2014 I've been giving some thought to what lies ahead in 2015 and what I'd like to achieve. I'm not too keen on the term New Year's Resolution because of the stigma of eventual failure that inevitably follows! These are definitely goals to work towards not things to start doing then stop.


> More winter climbing
By far and away my favourite pastime, winter mountaineering offers up a superb challenge; long days, tough conditions, technical climbing, solitude, a sense of the scale of nature and your relative insignificant place in it and the shared experience between friends.

The reward of reaching the top of a mountain via a difficult route is one of immense satisfaction. You haven't conquered the mountain; you don't conquer nature, you work within the limits it imposes. The mountain has tested you and let you pass.

This year, I'm without my usual winter partner Jonny due to work commitments. However we've got a week in Fort William booked in Feb with 8 people booked in. There's a range of experiences so we aren't going to be pushing the grades but there's scope for a lot of fun introducing people to the playground of the Scottish Highlands in their winter coat.

And the summit whisky!

> Sub 24-hour Fellsman
Ever since my good friend Tim told me about The Fellsman Hike in 2010 I've wanted to do it. He's helped run the Snaizeholme checkpoint about halfway round the 62 mile route for the last several years. I first entered it in 2012 getting 2/3rds of the way round to Cray in pretty poor weather conditions before the organisers (rightly) called the event off due to the number of people suffering from exposure. One chap in our overnight group of four lost his eyesight temporarily due to the cold and I had to walk him off the hill, hand in hand, for 3 miles!

You'd think after this I would be excused from trying it again. However at that 2/3rds point I was still going strong and was keen to finish so this was unfinished business. Overtraining in 2013 resulted in an ankle injury which ruled me out that year and a persistent knee injury put the damper on this year's entry.

I'm feeling confident that 2015 is going to be the year of achieving this long term race goal and am already considering the training plan which will be the subject of another post!

> Adventure Racing / Multisport Races
Race 1 and 2 in the Haglofs Open 5 series have whetted my appetite for more multisport races. I'll be partaking in the 4th and 5th races in the seriesas well as keeping my eye out for more adventure races. Maybe even the odd orienteering, duathlon or interesting triathlon will be considered!

> 2500 miles of cycling
Always good to set a mileage target. I missed this year's target of 2000 miles by 150 miles which isn't bad considering I wasn't cycling regularly for the first half of the year. I also want to do a 100 mile ride sometime, maybe even have a stab at Stage 1 of the 2014 TdF through the top of Yorkshire sometime in September?

500 miles of running
An average of 10 miles a week should be achievable and be enough to keep my running strength up to scratch.

Mountain Marathon
Either the Saunders, OMM or LAMM is going to happen this year, partner permitting!

Write more interesting blogs
I'm not sure if this is "more interesting" as in more of the same or that they should be "more interesting!". I'm enjoying blogging as a way of organising my thoughts and I've got a couple of longer posts I've been working on. Trying to write creatively is a fun challenge :)

More camping and walking with the kids
Trying to indoctrinate the youth into believing the outdoors is fun! This year we are going to climb an actual mountain (not sure which one) and have lots of fun in tents.

More Wainwrights!
I've only ticked 14% of them but every time I go to the Lakes I have a great time so any excuse to return regularly is fine by me!

Learn to play the ukulele
Lastly, possibly the biggest challenge of 2015. Having never had any musical training or experience or any ability whatsoever I have decided to learn to play a musical instrument. After chatting to my Dad (a very musical chap) I've elected to learn the ukulele in 2015. I'm sure I can fit in regular but short practice sessions into my week just by cutting down on the number of times I check Facebook!

This is going to be difficult as I've got pretty much no idea how to read music/tabs, how to play chords or even where to blow into a ukulele*. I'll be twanging out some tunes before you know it and irritating L and the kids.


So, come just after midnight, after I've mumbled my way through the bits of Auld Lang Syne that I know and hugged a few people, I shall sneak off to a quiet corner with a single malt to toast the year gone, the one to come and all my friends and family.

Then back into the party to hoover up what's left of the canapes. I'll burn it off later.

Make it a good one, yeah?

* I know, I know... you blow across the big hole right? ;)

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

2014 In Review

Well, 2014 worked out to be quite a good year overall. Our first year of L and I living together in our own house, general adventures, fitness ups and downs, many weddings, good holidays, Le Tour de France passing through Yorkshire... Yep, not bad at all!

The house has needed minimal work this year, mostly painting, and insulating the loft. The garage got re-roofed with corrugated metal sheeting and is now waterproof. L brought the front garden up to scratch and we grew many tomatoes, raspberries and other flowers. It looked smashing when it was in full bloom.

The weather last winter was not conducive to much winter climbing and we only got 6 routes done all winter, none of which were in particularly fantastic condition. Highlight was probably the Aonach Eagach ridge with Vix and Jonny in what turned out to be lovely weather and doing Stag Route Direct with the Puppy - hardest ice pitch I've ever done. I felt slightly traumatised at the top!

The only other climbing trip I've managed so far was the club trip to Wales. This left me slightly traumatised at the bottom and deserves it's own write up some time.

I suffered a knee injury after the Rombalds Stride fell race which put me out of contention again from The Fellsman. Third time of entering and the furthest I've got is 2/3rds of the way round. Once. Next time... I eventually decided that rest wasn't going to cut it for the knee and sought some physio treatment.

The first physio in Saltaire misdiagnosed my injury and gave me the wrong excercises (quads) to do which only made things worse! Then I went to see Katherine at Bodyfix Physio in Silsden who diagnosed knee hyper-extension and weak hamstrings as the issue. After working hard on my exercises and K-taping my knee to relieve the pressure on it I was back cycling and eventually running in time for my first triathlon in October. I'm now back on it with the fell running and also taking my first and second steps into Adventure Racing.

We had an awesome holidays in Iceland with friends. One of the highlights of the trip was swimming in the most amazing pool at Seljavallalaug nestled right underneath the volcano of Mt Eyjafjallajökull - the one that erupted in 2010 and stopped all the flights in Europe.

The arrival of the Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire was definitely one of the highlights of the year. We cycled out from our home in Keighley on both days to see it. Saturday we went up to the Cote du Cray with a group of friends from KCAC. A fantastic day riding on closed roads with bikes and bikes and bikes everywhere. Keith from work snapped us climbing the Cote on our tandem, the photo doesn't capture the vocal encouragement we were getting from the crowd at the time which was quite hair raising!

We got stuck in a bike traffic jam on the way back down so adjourned to the pub for a fortifying ale before the long ride back to the pub and a friends house for chilli and to watch the highlights on TV. Sunday saw us head up to Oxenhope and then back to a friends house for a BBQ. Fab!

We had loads of weddings to go to this year and they were all fab do's for fab people - congrats all.

John and Kate - outdoor wedding in Belfast in April, suprisingly nice weather
Stef and Andy - running friends who had a fancy dress wedding day fell race
Oli and Nicole - lovely church wedding
Nick and Kate - very cool village green wedding in the Peak District
Sher and Jo - a feast in a field
Tim and Carmen - best man for Tim!

I also bought a mountain bike which has been the key to lots of interesting night riding, adventure racing and generally falling off.

Cycling stats for the year, most of which has been regular commuting on Frank The Tank

2014 has been a good year. 2015 promises new challenges for us but I'm sure it will be a good year!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Haglofs Open 5 - Carlton-In-Cleveland, North York Moors (2014)


After last months adventure race (AR) in the lake district I was definitely looking forward to doing the next one in the series. I checked out the OS map of the area and was immediately struck by the interesting terrain - lots of contours, bridleways and criss-crossing paths was going to make for an interesting event. I contacted Emma to see if she wanted to share a lift up but she hadn't got a partner sorted out so we decided to enter together in the Mixed Pairs category.

The weather on Sunday morning wasn't great with a wet front passing over and more behind it. However the forecast for the area was promising with sunshine predicted along with a fresh, cold breeze on higher ground. Loading up the car in the cold, Sunday early morning rain wasn't the most inspiring activity I've ever done but we were soon on our way.

Emma and I chatted on the way up about everything from sexism and gender through to how we best worked when on these events. Having done plenty of these races before she has a good idea of what keeps her going and motivated when she's tired. Thankfully Emma is a good communicator so I knew exactly where we stood.

Being mostly a solo competitor in such events I had no idea how I'd get on in a team as I generally look after myself. I know from climbing that it takes a while to build up trust with a partner through shared experience so expecting teamwork miracles on our first event together was unrealistic. However we get on well so no personality clashes were expected!

The 7P's

We all know that Prior Preparation and Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. So the first thing to do is have a good old look at the map. This is where Emma's AR experience came through and it made me realise how poor my route planning was given a time limit. I think in the Lakes I had winged it a bit on the ride and run timings, doing it by feel and intuition rather than a calculated approach. By contrast, Emma was doing distance/speed calcs in her head and quickly coming up with suggested routes. I felt a bit stupid; this calls for a spreadsheet!

This data, along with some technical map measuring tools (I'm thinking about a bit of string here) should make planning the route on the next event much easier! As Emma observed, you have to be a bit of a geek to do AR...

We kitted up with waterproofs on from the start to combat the cold air, lining up at the start at 1004. Emma said she preferred to run first so, as I had no strong preference either way, that was the plan we went with. We aimed for a 2.5 hour run and 2.5 hour bike. Read on to see how that unfolded...


We elected to run clockwise so that the westerly wind would give us a push up the steep Carlton Bank to get access to the hills. We bagged the relocated CP22 (after the owner of the nearby farm smashed the original beeper with a hammer) and slogged up the hill to get onto the Cleveland Way. Emma was setting a good pace and I was probably running about 80~85% effort to keep up, not doing much nav at this point other than trying to stay on her heels and not die! ;)

Up the hill to 30, the narrow track with sun blasting straight into our eyes to 31, back onto the main track and down the slippery stone stairs to 34. Setting off towards 35 we took a wrong turn, ending up somewhere that looked and smelled like it had just been napalmed. I did look around for the crashed alien craft but nothing was in evidence. We retraced our steps once we realised the landscape no longer fitted where we thought we were on the map. This cost us 8 minutes.

Another uphill slog on a zig zag track from 35 to 37, then along the ridge with a breeze as epic as the views to bag the cunningly hidden control at 38. We then retraced our steps and headed for the road, getting caught in a 15 minute blizzard rolling straight towards us. Last uphill slog to the top of Carlton Bank along the Cleveland Way before the descent where our navigation became unstuck.

Instead of taking a bearing on the next CP and following the likely-but-unmarked-on-the-OS-map-of-LIES path straight down to 23 (yellow line above) we decided to follow the contouring path and then pick up the path below. This was OK but because the CP was positioned above the path we ran straight past it and then wandered round in circles for a bit before half figuring out and half spotting other competitors heading for the right spot. We probably lost around 20 minutes due to this error, putting us nearly half an hour behind where we wanted to be. On the plus side, Emma's original estimation of 2.5 hours would have been about spot on (she's good at that). I'm still kicking myself for not concentrating as much as I should have done on the map.

It was at this point that I realised that we hadn't come up with a pithy team name for our entry. I had come up with the phrase "disappointed by spinach" after a meal the week before (thought it would make a good song title for the next Half Man Half Biscuit album). After explaining this, we have been very unofficially christened Team Spinach.

Back onto the road, tag the control nearest to the finish and into transition with a total of 3 hours on the clock. 2 hours to make an impression on the bike...


Feeling good, energy levels good, legs reasonably fresh. Changed shoes, helmet on, quick look at the map, dibbed out of transition and off we went.

Our original plan was to make a loop south to 1, west to Chop Gate and then back along the road. After seeing the state of some of the low lying bridleways when we got to 3 Emma suggested, wisely, to stick to the road and make out-and-back excursions to pick up the controls.

The slog up Carlton Bank to 6 was bottom ring all the way; tough climb. Our original plan was to carry on the road, pick up 12, 13, 11 and 5 but time was not on our side. So we shot back down, past the start to the roads. The descent back down was grin inducing even if it gave me a terrible ice cream headache after neglecting to put my buff on! Road to bag 5 and 11, then back down and back up the (steep, again) road to 13. We eventually found the right picnic bench and headed back. Some guys that got to 11 were just arriving at the end of the bridal path as we were heading down the hill indicating that the road was indeed faster in this instance.

My bigger wheels and cycling conditioned legs put me on windbreaking duties with Emma trying to stay in my slipstream. We experimented with a tow off my rucksack strap but it wasn't long enough. Next time we'll fit a proper boingy tow for the bike stage should we end up racing together again.

We made it back 1 minute late resulting in a 2 point penalty, which wasn't too bad considering. Nav on the bike was fairly straightforward so no worries there. We downloaded our results from our dibbers and went in search of warm clothes and dry socks! 388 points overall.

Post Race

Tidy up gear, get changed, chocolate milk recovery drink (I wonder if I could be a Yazoo sponsored athlete? I'd have to get sponsorship by Ginsters whilst I was at it) and back into the centre for a jacket potato and a brew. Lovely. Time for a quick round of what Emma calls "Fantasy AR" (think "Look what you could have won... a speedboat!" in a Bullseye/Jim Bowen voice).

A quick look at other routes that we could have taken suggest that we scored quite well for the amount of time we spent out. Take away out nav error and we could have got extra controls on the MTB and pushed for the podium spot. Next time! Anyway we got announced in 6th place in the mixed pairs out of 24 which I was fairly happy with.

We set off home straight after the prize giving (I'm still hoping to win the raffle for the Haglofs jacket sometime) and had a steady run home chatting about work, politics and life in general. Thank you Emma for putting up with me all day :) Go Team Spinach.

Overall the event was well organised and run, thanks to the marshals, volunteers and course organisers for a fun event.

Went to bed with a sore stomach, probably eating jelly babies with mucky hands after changing my shoes in transition. It persisted for a day or two afterwards so I'll probably put some alcohol hand gel in my transition kit next time.

I hadn't sweated much during the race due to the temperature but I had only drunk 1/4 of a 2 litre camelback over 5 hours so I was a bit dehydrated. Not enough, drink more next time! Food was jam sandwiches, golden syrup cake and jelly babies, all of which worked just fine and I didn't bonk at any point which means I got the fuelling about right!

Equipment all worked well, my Haglofs Gram 15 rucksack is perfect for events like this as it doesn't bounce around all over the place on the run. Ronhill winter tights, Sealskins socks and a Rab MeCo baselayer kept me warm and a Montane Minimus kept the worst of the weather off but I could probably have managed with a good windshell for the small amount of snow that we had. I stuck my Montane Prism gilet in the bag in case I needed some more insulation but as with all fast and light outdoor events in winter its a compromise between weight and warmth. Got it right this time.

Amusing Names From The Day's Map

Race Analysis

Using Open Adventure's very handy race analysis tool you can see how you stack up against the competition. It seems that everyone who scored higher than us managed to bag more MTB controls. Maybe that means next time we need to focus more on the bike than the run? What is the magic balance between the disciplines? Perhaps 3h bike and 2h run is the most efficient?

It was fun racing in a team, especially with Emma's experience. For a first go as a team I think we did well. Goodness knows what Emma thinks!

Lessons Learned

  • Be an active participant with the navigation!
  • Take 5 seconds to confirm the next navigation leg at major junctions, saves time in the long run
  • Red chinagraph pencil works well on wet map. Blue less visible.
  • Mark checkpoint scores using thick end of a Sharpie marker for increased visibility.
  • Fit yellow lenses on the bike glasses to deal with low sun
  • Fit a bike tow next time, but practice with it first?
  • Drawing a line on your thumb makes for an excellent pointer when thumbing the map
  • A timing/pacing card and a measurer for route planning would be useful
  • Hand gel on hands between Stomach pains afterwards

Other Strava-ites

Chris Hope (he's the Daddy)

Rosemary Byde

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


I love bread. Bread of life, putting bread on the table, bread of heaven, this staple is ingrained in our lives and culture. We all deserve to eat good bread and it is a real shame that 91.5% (a very precise made up figure) of the bread available to buy in the shops is so shit. It really, really is disappointing stuff especially when you buy it again after a long stint of good homemade bread loaves.

Our country has an odd relationship with the old loaf, especially when compared to continental bread. I read that Gregg's (the "bakers") is now stopping selling bread in some of it's stores, not that I would associate Gregg's with anything bread like, I always think of cheese-and-baked-bean pasties in soggy pastry.

We were very lucky growing up in our family because Dad always made his own bread. We only ever had shop bought white bread when visiting friends' houses. Dad's bread was, and still is, a tasty and versatile loaf. It makes good sandwiches and great toast and played a significant part in helping me and my brother grow into the massive people we are today. Needless to say he doesn't have to make an oven full of bread every 6 days any more since we moved out. I think he's quite glad really.

Given the baking pedigree in the Pawson household I'm surprised just how long it has taken me to start making my own bread. I've done my own pizza bases for years but never taken it that step further.

Fuelled partly by the Great British Bake Off and partly by having a nice shiny new kitchen to play in after moving house, I decided that I should have a go at making my own bread. I borrowed Dad's copy of "How to Bake" by that silver fox himself Paul Hollywood and started working my way through the recipies.

The first results were pretty successful but the wholemeal and malted breads suffered from a lack of rise.

I think the book that has had the most impact on my bread making is Andrew Whitley's "Bread Matters". He has a strong philosophy on breadmaking and is the founder of the Real Bread Campaign. In fact his book, in the first part, is a look at the state of modern "baking" and an analysis of the processes, chemicals and additives found in modern supermarket bread. It makes for scary reading and from then on I promised myself that I would do my best to always make our own bread for L, the kids and I.

So, after a year of making my own bread I've pretty much got the recipie how I like it and got the process down so that I can make two loaves in an evening with minimal fuss. I eat a lot of bread so I end up baking about once a week. More when the kids are round - now I know how my Dad felt!


Healthy Supplies are a good place to buy nuts and seeds from - large bags, more economical

Doves Farm flours always seem to produce good results and I use their strong white and strong wholemeal flours below. Strong bread flours have the right amount of gluten in to get a good rise (11% to 13% I think). If you use plain flour it will fall flat. I made bread in Iceland when on holiday and the flour there was STRONG at 14-15% gluten. Good rise!


For two large loaves:

650g strong white bread flour (I use )
650g strong wholemeal bread flour ( again)
10g dried yeast
10g salt
1 very large tablespoon of Lyle's Black Treacle
950ml warm water (hot bath temperature)
Some fat for greasing the loaf tins, like Trex

1 handful brown or golden linseeds (flax seeds)
1 handful poppy seeds
2 handfuls sunflower seeds
3 handfuls pumpkin seeds


After reading Tim Hayward's Food DIY book (I like it, it makes me hungry) I've experimented with the level of hydration in my dough. The more water, the stickier the dough but the better rise you get in a shorter amount of time. Plus when you put it into the oven the steam created really makes the loaf pop up and gives it a great

Put the yeast and treacle into the water and mix well. It will turn a very attractive mid brown colour. Weight the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl, add the seeds and about 90% of the liquid. Loosely combine with a spoon and then get your hands in there to mix up the last bit. Keep adding water until the dough is quite sticky and you've got all the bits of flour off the sides of the bowl.

The amount of water is the hardest bit to get right and you might find you need to add a bit more flour or water to get it just right. This gets easier with practice.


If you've never kneaded bread before then there are loads of instructional videos on YouTube. You might find the Breadmaking Basics series useful especially the ones on mixing/kneading and knocking back/shaping.

I don't use flour on the worktop so there is always a bit of sticking initially (because of the wet dough) but as it comes together it becomes less so. It's easy enough to unstick the dough from the worktop using a scraper.

I stretch the dough, fold it back and then turn it through 90° repeating again and again for about 2-3 songs on the radio. You can feel the change in the dough when the gluten is stretched enough. If there were no seeds in, I'd only knead for 2 songs as the lumpy seeds interrupt the formation of the gluten strands. You should be able to take a small bit of dough and tease it out into a slightly translucent window when the gluten has formed enough so that the dough can be left to rise.

Kneading is a great de-stress after a day at work so enjoy it.


The kneaded dough goes back into the lightly oiled mixing bowl and gets covered with an elasticated shower cap (unused!) to prevent the top skin of the dough drying out and retarding the rise. Because I often make bread in an evening I don't have time to let the bread have a long slow rise in a cool kitchen. So I perch it precariously on top of the combi boiler for a bit of warmth and set the timer for 2 hours. The loaf tins also go on there to pre-warm them.

Go and do something else for a bit.

Knocking Back & Proving

When the original dough has doubled in volume I empty it out onto the worktop. I'm not too concerned about knocking it back too hard to get all the air out of it because that slows down the proving stage. Besides, handling and shaping the dough has this effect anyway.

I shape it into a long sausage and cut it approximately in half with the scraper. The long sausage shape makes it easier to estimate where halfway is. Shape into loaves and pop into the GREASED loaf tins. Do not forget to grease them otherwise it will stick and you will say rude words when you can't extract your loaves. Put a shower cap on top of each one. A spot of oil coating the inside of the cap will stop them sticking.

Turn the oven on. 200°C conventional for preference or 180ºC fan, rotating the loaves halfway through cooking otherwise the one next to the fan can turn out overdone.

45 minutes proving should be OK for a quick bake, don't worry if they haven't risen much beyond the top edge of the tin.


Make a 1 cm deep slash cut longways in the centre of each loaf. This will allow the top to expand when it bakes and stop the sides of the loaf from splitting, Straight into the hot oven for 35 minutes. Pop them out of the tin and give them a tap on the bottom (ooer). Stick back in for another 5 minutes if it doesn't sound firm and hollow.

Failing to take the shower cap off before placing in the oven means that you will have a bad day and no bread.


The bread is ready when it goes a deep golden brown and sounds hollow-ish when tapped. Leave to cool for as long as you can stand the smell. Cut at least two slices and eat them both. Make crumbs everywhere.

Adapting the Recipe

Obviously you can leave the seeds out or the treacle. You can rub some hard fat into the flour before adding the liquid to give the loaf a bit more shelf life but I don't bother as it always gets eaten in our house before it goes off!

I use a similar recipe for pizza bases but omit the seeds and treacle. I scale the flour for 250g per 13 inch pizza base and add a large measure of olive oil into the mix. I like the flavour of the wholemeal flour in the base, definitely not to Italian standards.

If you change the ratio of flours then you may need more or less water. Wholemeal absorbs more water per weight than white flour.

A pure white loaf will result in a silky smooth dough that will rise really well. Maybe try this first if you've never made bread before.

Now, go forth and bake.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Bike Lights and Headlamp

I do a fair bit of cycle commuting, in volume if not distance, travelling to and from work (almost) every day. Its only 4.5 miles which is an easy distance to do even when tired and pretty flat by West Yorkshire standards. Obviously at this time of year it entails a lot of cycling in the dark which means lights. I'm baffled by cyclists with one tiny flashing light, you need more that that in rush hour!

I use the superb Cateye TL-LD1100 on the rear of the bike - two independent bars of LEDs allows you to set all kinds of constant and flashing modes. The light is quite focused so if you are in the beam pattern you can see it a long way off at the expense of off-axis performance. So, I roughed up the lenses on the bottom row of lights with some wet and dry sandpaper. Looking at the spread of light on the inside of the garage door shows an improvement in the spread of beam.

On the handlebars I've got a Cateye HL-EL315 which is a good, compact "being seen" flashing light but it isn't great for "seeing" on dark roads. The batteries seem to last forever and a slightly lower than usual flash rate is a nudge to change them.

I decided to fit a head torch to my helmet because:
  1. it puts light where you are looking e.g. going round a corner, at the car that is about to pull out on you, etc.
  2. they are fairly cheap to buy/replace
  3. you potentially can take it off and use it for other things
  4. it gives you a light above the level of cars/traffic making you more visible
L bought me a Topeak Headlux as a present and, whilst her inentions were good the light turned out to be rubbish. The first one developed a fault within a week (it wouldn't easily turn on or off, probably a button malfunction) and when we eventually (I'm looking at you All Terrain Cycles) got a replacement that stopped working after a rain shower.

In addition, the battery life of 2 x CR2032 coin cell batteries is just not good enough for any serious commuting / distance. Wasteful as these batteries aren't rechargeable. Plus, you end up looking like a Tellytubby with it sat on top of your helmet. It's only defence was the selection of flashing modes was good but that's it. Avoid.

The first thing to do was to put some elastic headband clips onto the helmet using some Sugru... What do you mean you haven't heard of Sugru? It is marvellous stuff! I've been a fan since before it was cool (Hipster!) and met Jayne who invented it at a Maker Faire in 2010 in Newcastle. I'm really pleased to see it's popularity go from strength to strength.

My Petzl climbing helmet has simple clips to hold an elasticated headband in place (see below) so I shamelessly copied the concept onto my cycle helmet.


A single 5g packet of Sugru is enough to make the two decent sized clips and I relied on the lip at the back of the helmet to retain the battery pack of whichever head torch I was using.

I found myself leaving my headtorch on the helmet more and more until it became a fixture. So I bought a second Alpkit Gamma, chucked the strap away and cable/zip tied it onto the helmet for good!

The Gamma is a great torch. I usually just have the smallest white LED on when riding on the roads, but the large 1W LED comes into it's own when off road on the MTB or on unlit country lanes on the road bike. It is cheap, light and after, two years on the helmet through all weathers, surprisingly water resistant. The bonus is the rear battery compartment that houses a red LED (flashing or constant) so you get a rear-of-head light too.

Access to the twist fit battery compartment is OK when cable tied is easy but that is because of the geometry of the rear of my helmet. Your helmet may well vary. Also, I have broken one Gamma in the past by being too rough with the battery compartment lid when refitting it but that was my own fault. It is fixable temporarily as demonstrated here but take care and you need not worry.

The light pattern from the rear light is handily offset to point into the traffic rather than into the kerb. Bonus!

Front light pattern for the low and high beam are shown below

I normally keep the light on low beam for commuting as it is bright enough as a "being seen" light. You still can't account for drivers not looking though, even when you point it right at them! The high beam light is good for mountain biking at night as an addition to my main light. The Sanyo Eneloop AAA batteries are good enough for a couple of weeks of commuting before needing a recharge too.

So if you are after a headlamp for cycling, you could do a lot worse than a Gamma.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Tales From The Morning Commute

It felt like the first proper day of winter this morning. Overnight temperatures dipped below freezing and it was about -1 to -2°C outside this morning. Thankfully the lack of wind made for a pleasant commute on tired legs after last nights Insanity class but I did have to put on my heavyweight merino top, woolly hat and a Wrag (a Buff but not a Buff) around my neck.

A mist was hanging over the canal as I cycled along the towpath, the ducks sheltering on the opposite bank. Grass, leaves and icy puddles rustled, crunched and cracked underneath the tractor like tires of my 29er. Some chaps were filling in the potholes on the towpath by dint of tipping gravel into them and jumping up and down on it. You've got to keep warm somehow I guess, although a whacker plate might be more effective lads.

The sheepdog was out at Lower Holden Farm and came over for his usual morning fuss. As I reached into my pocket to get my phone for a photo he must have been expecting a TREAT and went nuts, jumping up and then rolling around on the floor. Caroline says I have to give him a biscuit next time to make up for teasing him so.

Loads of blackbirds were lining the trees which set me thinking, what is the collective noun for blackbirds? According to Wiktionary it could be either a cloud, flock, grind, or merl. I quite like "a merl of blackbirds".

Just at the corner of Belton Road you get a nice view down the valley. Today was no exception. I love the shadows on the frosty fields but I wonder what the view would have been like 5 minutes earlier with the sun a bit lower.

I'm pleased to report that the new phone is great and the camera seems to produce good shots in not simple lighting conditions. It'll be nice to take some proper photos with it whilst I'm out and about. Also, lets hope for fewer Strava crashes in the future.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

No Bedlam. What About Insanity?

Unfortunately this year I'm missing out on the Bedlamite night race series because I've started taking my daughter to the KCAC juniors. She loves it as she gets to run round in circles with her friends and generally wear herself out. Patrick the coach is a good lad and they always seem to be having lots of fun.

I saw some mention of the "Insanity in East Morton" exercise class pop up on Facebook after some friends from running signed up. L used to do Boot Camp after work but the classes were cancelled due to lack of interest. So I thought this would fill the gap for her and give me some much needed core muscle workout and cross training. Plus we can do it together and it's just round the corner from JP Towers.

This is the first time I've been to an organised fitness class and I wasn't sure what to expect. All I had to go on were the usual stereotypes of loud music and people shouting at me telling me what to do. Thankfully it the music wasn't that load and both Clare and Sarah didn't shout too much.

The workout format seems to be a warm up, three blocks of three rounds of different exercises (making nine blocks in all) and then a cool down / stretch. Sounds easy eh?

I have never sweated as much doing a workout. Comedic amounts of perspiration overloaded my technical T-shirt leaving the floor slippery after I laid down during one routine. Some of the routines were easier than I thought (running and cycling muscles obviously helped here) but some were really really difficult and I couldn't do the full minute.

The instructors said to aim for 90% effort. My core muscles, well, I feel like I've certainly given it that and I'm still enjoying the endorphins as I write.

Same time next week? Assuming my muscles have recovered by then!

Fellow Cyclists Of The Aire Valley...

...or "observations on fellow cycling commuters what I sometimes see when I'm on me bike and that"

A recent survey said that over 40% of cyclists use the bike for commuting. These are some of the ones that I see...

"Brompton Man"
Not in fact the missing link between homo erectus and homo sapiens but a chap on a small wheeled bicycle (probably not even a Brommie) with a large neon bag on the front rack. Not a nodder but always well lit.

Karl W
Colleague and mountain biking partner who lives further down the valley. Travels in later than me so never actually seen on the commute.

"Chap who Looks Like Andy M"
The most often spotted. Red jacket, road bike, rucksack. Looks very much like climbing acquaintance Andy Makison but it isn't him. I think. If it is you Andy, hello! Always a friendly greeting.

Bob W
An ex colleague, talented outdoorsman/cyclist/climber and all round nice chap. Mostly seen in his Skipton CC jersey. Always a nod hello and a greeting. He has a blog that is always interesting.

"Other Skipton CC Man"
Seen once or twice, easily confused with a Bob. Hellos.

Patrick McSinglespeed
Not often spotted as we both tend to be cycling in the same direction. First noticed a while back before I found him using Strava's Flyby stalking tool. Rides a blue singlespeed and has a Rapha jacket. Obviously into the whole cycling thing. Managed a couple of hellos.

"The Canal Accountant"
Gets on the canal by the golf club in Utley and rides to Silsden. Chatted to him but have forgotten his name. He rode into a hedge on our first meeting. Inauspicious start.

"Mrs Squeaky Bottom Bracket (and/or) Pedal"
Seen a couple of times near home. Friendly hellos. Bike in need of an oil or tighten as it does creak loudly with every pedal rotation.

"Happy Chap"
Well lit chap with a bike that looks suspiciously like it has a basket on the front. Always a big smile (grimace?) but no return nods.

Mark G
Another colleague and mountain biking partner who lives just down the road, mostly seen from behind as he powers off into the distance. All round nice chap.

"Hi Vis Man"
Rides a generic mountain bike, massive hi vis jacket and black beanie hat (no helmet). Not a nodder.

"Mr Double Back Roller"
Road bike with two Ortleib Back Roller pannier bags (to my single). Generally a hello as he is being overtaken.

"That's Odd, She Looked Just Like Lorna From Running Club But I Thought She Lived In Cononley So It Can't Be Her And My Shaky Facial Recognition Doesn't Work When Out Of Context Anyway I've Only Seen Her Mostly On Night Fell Runs"
Actually was Lorna from running club. Sorry I didn't realise!

P.S. After writing this post, everyone I've seen has been suspiciously freindly...

Thursday, 13 November 2014

A Tale Of Two Runs

The First Run Walk

As part of the drive to indoctrinate the kids that walking and being outdoors is fun we went for an "adventure", defined in this case as "exploring somewhere that we've never been." The place in this case was Glen woods and Sunny Dale reservoir on the hill above East Morton. I've walked, cycled and run around the area but never on this particular path.

The path followed the top edge of the woods with a steep in places drop to the stream in the valley bottom. There were still a few autumnal leaves clinging to the trees and the floor was a mushy orange carpet hiding slippery wet tree roots and squelchy puddles. Perfect terrain for small welly boots and those of us breaking in our new B3 winter boots.

The woods were beautiful in their autumn coat and the twisting path winding round the contours of the valley gave new views and perspectives on a regular basis. Nice to stand around eating a sandwich and listening to Blue Tits arguing in the trees above.

Pottering along we stopped to look at anything that took our interest - rotten tree stumps, waterfalls, bridges that trolls live under, rocks that look like giant brains and more fungi than you could shake a stick at. We know, we tried.

We dropped out of the woods and along the dam of the reservoir and down past the old stone built terraced cottages into East Morton village.

Looking for fish in the reservoir

From East Morton we snuck along the back of the allotments, dodging nettles all the way. I like the way that allotments look so chaotic and yet oddly organised. From there it is only a short drop back down the hill into Riddlesden via Bury Lane.

We all agreed that this was a good walk.

The Second Run

Many of the paths we walked on that day are part of my usual running routes around the local area and I wanted to try the path through the woods at speed. So the next evening I put on my headtorch and fell running shoes, setting out to follow the exact route we took on our walk.

I've always loved off road running at night. The landscape changes dramatically with views replaced with twinkling lights in the distance. Not that you notice as much because your attention is drawn inwards and focused almost entirely on that small spot of light from your torch cast on the path in front of you.

The track did not disappoint. The constant undulation, the twists and turns, off camber sections studded with wet tree roots, fast and flowing it left me grinning from ear to ear.

Things we saw the previous day appeared like single frames from a film; a fallen log where we'd counted five different fungi, the brain rock, the tree stump, the slippery bridge. They came and went in an instant, familiar but fleeting, like looking through a series of photo we'd taken, recognisable object but lacking some kind of context.

I was more aware of sound on the run through the woods. Startled birds flying from their roost, an owl calling further down the hill, running water, ducks splash landing in the reservoir.

I used to be terrified of the woods at night and these unexpected sounds still make me jump. This time I'm merely uneasy, nervous, trying to dismiss thoughts of what might be lurking behind the dark trunks, attempting to restrain my imagination whilst my legs thump along, the adrenalin from this unseen threat powering my flight. Emerging from the woods I almost felt like I'd survived being eaten or caught but I'd managed to outrun the danger.

A steady track downhill into East Morton past bemused dog walkers and a man trundling a wheeled suitcase up an unlit road - I wonder what they think of this odd ball of light jogging around?

Last but not least is the descent down Bury Lane. Steep with the rocks from tumbledown dry stone walls lurking under the leaves. Running this path is easier than walking, floating over the obstacles rather than stubbing your toe on them. Again it all goes by in a smooth flowing rush, reminding me again why I choose to run off road at night.

A Tale Of Two Runs

It has been interesting to compare the run and the walk like this. I enjoyed each but for different reasons. The speed, adrenalin and feeling of flow and motion from the run. The relaxing walk with the family, discovering things, seeing things from a small persons perspective and stopping to savour autumn and the changing season.

Running is great, but to really appreciate the surroundings we should dial back the speed and look around. It's nice outside.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Bike Light Controller Re-Design

It's not often that I finish the various small projects I undertake. Tesla coils, mass spectrometers, automated tomato plant watering systems, homebrew heaters have all been conceived and sometimes parts bought and assembled with some even making it as far as working. This project however made it all the way to finished.

Torchy Oriole Bike Light

I wanted to do some night mountain biking on the moors above my home and for that a light was required. I bought a Torchy Oriole for £40 from Mr. Torchy's shop on eBay based on the strength of some reviews I'd read and the price; £££ of Hope or Exposure lights was a bit out of my budget. I'll be writing a mini review later once I've had more chance to test it in anger.

Torchy Oriole bundle (image courtesy of Mr. Torchy)

The main issues I had was the on/off/mode button was not debounced - switch contact bounce caused multiple button presses to be registered by the controller. So a single button press can cycle through two/three modes. Annoying.

Also, the "strobe" mode on the light was an epilepsy inducing 8-( super bright flashing mode that would only serve to annoy motorists and have no use on the trail. Also annoying.

Existing Controller

This PCB was inside the handlebar mounted button. A 2 layer PCB (no insulation between bottom layer and anodised aluminium housing), some kind of micro with the number removed from the top (probably a PIC), 4 LEDs driven direct from the PIC pins (no current limit) for battery level indication, a transistor to buffer the on/off PWM output to the SMPS in the light head and a tantalum capacitor.

Initially I tried to add a capacitor to ground from one of the button pins to debounce the switch but in doing so I managed to break the controller. More annoying. Time to roll my own!

New Controller

Thankfully the control output from the micro to the light head is a standard 3.3V logic PWM signal so making a replacement controller involves no reverse engineering. Spec time:
  • Single push button to select modes
  • Lighting modes
    • 100% constant
    • 50% constant
    • 15% constant
    • 15% constant with a 2Hz, 100ms, 100% flash strobe AKA commuter mode
  • Fit into existing button housing
  • High and low battery warning LEDs
  • A debounced button input
The strobe-plus-steady lighting mode is very effective at catching drivers eye's when commuting; I think Exposure lights have this lighting mode. It has the effect of providing the super birght flash to make you noticed without blinding people whilst providing a steady light so that your speed can be judged more easily.

I've got lots of experience with the Arduino platform which is great for quickly lashing things up but even the smallest Arduino based solution would be too big for this project. So, having designed with Atmel AVR microcontrollers before I chose one of the smallest ones for this job, the ATtiny25. The 2kB of program memory is more than sufficient for this application and an 8 pin SOIC package should fit on the board OK. Programming was handled using the AVRISP MKII and code was written using the excellent Codevision AVR C compiler.

Schematic of the new controller

Surface mount components had to be used to fit everything into the available space which was a bit of a squeeze. I made my own circuit board by taking some copper clad board and hacking grooves in it with a craft knife. Crude but effective.

I used a 78L33 regulator to get the DC supply for the micro because it has inbuilt over current protection and a 30V max input voltage - many smaller regulators only had a 7.5V maximum voltage and could have been damaged by a fully charged battery.

The ATtiny25 can drive up to 40mA direct from the pins, more than enough for an LED. The voltage divider from the battery line was calculated to give 2.56V (same as the internal reference) from a 10V battery (higher than the worst case LiPo voltage for the supplied battery). The actual voltage levels vs battery indicator type were taken from measurements made on the original controller.


Programming connections were a bit of a nightmare to attach

The finished controller

Everything fitted nicely inside. Cable entry (2 o clock), battery voltage divider (3 o clock), voltage regulator (4 o clock), LEDs, 8 o clock and microcontroller (half past 10). I reused the button from the original controller as it had a small profile and worked with the existing mechanics well. Overall diameter 22mm.

With diffuser in place and button ready to screw on top


The software was crude but effective. I don't do enough coding to write elegant, super efficient code which is why I like Arduino so much as the pre-written functions make life so much easier. As a result delays are brute force for (;;) loops and the debounce code will probably make grown men wince. But it works which is the main thing. Click here if you want to have a look.

The built in PWM mode of timer 1 is used to produce a 120Hz PWM to drive the lamp SMPS controller via the green wire. The controller also steps down the maximum PWM to 15% if the battery voltage goes below 6.7V as a "get you home" mode. The battery voltage monitoring function has some hysteresis in the level thresholds to prevent constant flipping between modes. To make life simpler, the ADC output is only the 8 MSBs of it's 10 bit range so it can be mapped to an unsigned char rather than an int type. This is done by setting the ADLAR bit.

When entering strobe mode, the strobe flashes straight away to provide clear visual feedback that the button press has been registered. Also, when the battery is initially connected the indicator LEDs both light and the main LED pulses up to 15% as a self test of the system.

Conclusion and Possible Improvements

The new controller works great and is a vast improvement on the old one.

I'd be tempted to add a more sophisticated hysteresis function into the battery level monitor as it does trip between "green" and "red" LED states with every strobe pulse when in strobe mode but that's a small complaint.

Also it could benefit from a transistor to isolate the PWM pin from the main LED controller during startup as the LED turns on full brightness until the micro boots up and initialises the outputs correctly. This isn't a massive issue.

Time to get up onto Ilkley Moor on Herman for more of this!

Baht 'at, but with helmet and a reet big lamp!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Haglofs Open 5 - Low Wray, Lake District (2014)

21 miles of mountain biking and 8 miles of running in 5 hours whilst orienteering? Sounds fun!


My friend Emma (an experienced adventure racer) had told me about adventure racing back in the winter of 2012/3 and since I'd only just started fell running at that point it all sounded a bit crazy. Cut to 2014, I'm much fitter, I've just bought a mountain bike, and I had a good time doing a sprint triathlon in October and wanted to keep the multisport theme going. So adventure racing it is then and I entered the Haglofs Open 5 Lake District race.

Getting Started

There was a big queue of traffic coming into the National Trust Low Wray campsite which wasn't moving as they were struggling to find parking spaces for all the competitors. So we pulled in by the farm and I fished Herman out of the boot and cycled in so Louise could escape to the shops.

Registered, got my numbers and map and fiddled about putting the homemade map board on the bike (old house for sale sign which worked rather well) before heading for transition. I was wondering how the couple on the MTB tandem were going to do and thinking how Louise would feel about doing a bit of racing. Time moves quickly whilst getting everything ready and before I knew it I was punching the start control and being handed my control description card.

First thing was to cross out the missing controls (5 each on the MTB and run respectively in this case) and then I wrote the points value of each control on the map (waterproof map, Sharpie marker). This makes the route choice more obvious as you can decide which controls are worth going for and how to link them all together. Scratching together a route using highlighter (doesn't work too well on the map) it was time to go!

"Breasty Haw" - 8-)


Taking care to head off in the right direction (getting out of the car park is always the bit I get wrong) I set off on my first adventure race. I was uneasy and nervous at this point but as soon as I saw other racers heading in the same direction as me and checked the first control the nerves settled.

Along some slightly sloppy bridleway and fording a stream to the first control then (mostly pushing) up a steep wet leafy track to the road into Hawkshead. Bridleway to the next control on a forestry road and then some rocky singletrack and boardwalk downhill to the next control.

35 points for the control on the singletrack, well worth the effort!

I was feeling very slow at this point with wobbly arms and the slightly technical nature of the track knocked my confidence a bit. However I remembered the lessons from my MTB Improvers course with Iain from MTB Cycle Yorkshire started to kick in and, improving my attack position and looking well ahead on the trails I suprised myself by getting through sections I would have normally pushed. Well worth going on the course!

I ignored some of the controls above Grizedale and just bombed straight down the road to Satterthwaite instead reasoning that time was more important than 25 points worth of controls for maybe an additional 20/30 minutes of cycling. I'm guessing that this is what makes the difference in this type of adventure racing; the trade off between points and time.

The rest of the controls were ticked off with some speedy forestry track (fun!) and slippery rocky singletrack descents (more fun!) and I became more and more confident on Herman as the day went on. Nice finish up the coast of Windemere and back to transition.

Strava log of the ride


After marking off the controls on the run map (old hand at this by now) and bagging the nice high value control nearest the start point I shuffled down the coast of Windemere towards Latterbarrow hill keeping up with a lad and dad pair to the summit and to be rewarded with a view of the Lakes in its autumnal glory. The combination of brown bracken, slate grey rocks, green trees and silvery threads of streams is totally bewitching when combined with the epic majesty of the fells. It's a marvellous playground.

A tussle trying to find CP33 (wrong location, it was 50m too far down the wall) lost a couple of minutes and then my alarm went off telling me I had half an hour left to get back before the 5 hour time limit was up - fook!

Thankfully I made good time after a gel and some fig rolls to perk me up and had time to check a control out on a bit of a spur. The campsite was in touching distance but there was no access across the fields turning a 1/4 mile crow flies line into a 1 mile race to the finish. Shame to see a male pair ignoring this rule and heading straight across the field back to the campsite - bad form chaps, it's not as if it wasn't clear on the map!

Strava link for the run.


I made it back 10 minutes under the 5 hour limit so no points docked for me!

Collapse in heap. Put on Buffalo. Drink chocolate milk. Eventually realise that I'm not going to get warm lying in a field so go to download results and get a brew and order a wood fired pizza - yum.

I spotted Rosemary of Planet Byde fame at the end of the race. I'd been reading her excellent blog to try and get some tips on the Open 5 series and some of them stood me in good stead today. It was nice to chat to her and say thanks for the advice.


I scored 400 points which I was reasonably happy with, not knowing if this was a good score or not. When the prizes were being given I realised that I was going to be top half of the table in the Male Solo category. I was very suprised to find I finished 25th out of 70 in my class, my best ever race result and not bad for a rookie! Emma finished 5th in the female pairs and her friend Ben (who I'd seen several times around the course) collected his 10,000 points award for the Open 5 series.

What was most impressive, as Emma pointed out, was that 1st and 3rd overall was the Mixed Pairs and female solo respectively showing that the women are just as fast as the guys - go girls.

Thanks to all the organisers, volunteers and marshals for making the day great fun for this first timer. It's a great community feel.

Lessons Learned

  1. Write down your start time in the corner of the map. This way you know exactly how much time you've got left.
  2. The control might not be exactly where the map/description says. Keep your eyes open.
  3. Evaluate all routes between controls e.g. the road might be longer but faster overall
  4. Better to stop for 30 sec and check your nav instead of running off in the wrong direction (thankfully I didn't do this... this time)
  5. Time moves quickly at the start, in the middle and especially at the end. Minimise faffing at each control and in transition.
  6. Practice navigating with a 1:50k and 1:25k map - I never use 1:50k normally so it took a bit of getting used to the distances/pacing on the MTB stage.
  7. There is a really good community spirit amongst all the organisers competitors which makes for a great event.
  8. Homemade map boards are suprisingly effective :)
  9. Take a camera next time, the views are often spectacular!
  10. You can get mud in places you didn't think it was possible...

In Conclusion

Thanks for talking me into it Emma!
Would I do it again? Definitely.