Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Men At Work

We left our hotel in Paris with a massed group of 60 riders. Safety in numbers meant we'd have much more chance of making it out of Paris safely. At least, that was the plan. One of our riders had gone over the handlebars within the first mile. As he took photos of the Paris sights on his smartphone, the traffic came to a sudden halt. Looking up from his phone too late, he slammed on the brake with his spare hand. Unfortunately, his spare hand was on the front brake. He locked up the front wheel and performed an artistic somersault. Proof, if ever it were needed, of the dangers of using your phone on the road. I felt our chances of getting out of Paris in one piece were reducing by the second.


Team DWF at the first water stop on Day 2. Matters went uphill after that.

For all of their reputation for somewhat mad antics, French drivers are remarkably considerate towards cyclists and we made good our escape, including cycling around the Arc de Triomphe, without further incident. Outside of the city, cycling in a group was a revelation. Before I started training for this adventure, I'd never even owned a road bike and the furthest I'd ever cycled was around 40 miles on off-road tracks on my mountain bike. Getting to ride in a chain gang was a completely new experience. You get in a group of, say four riders, each taking it in turns on the front, while the other three ride in his slipstream. The benefit of "drafting", as it's called, is amazing. While the rider on the front is often working really hard, the riders in his wake are flying along at the same speed for a fraction of the effort.

The French scenery from Paris to Amiens is fantastic. I should know, I saw 16 miles more of it than the rest of the group, thanks to some villagers nicking the route markers. Similar antics also occurred on Days 2 and 3, on both sides of the Channel. I’m sure it seems funny in the abstract, but it’s less amusing when you’re clocking 110 miles, uphill into a headwind, in 29 degree heat. You can imagine how pleased I was to see Amiens cathedral coming into view over the final hill of the day.

Mass pile-up or waiting for the ferry?

Day 2 of the Arc to Arch challenge started with mercifully cooler weather than Day 1, but the hills and the headwind more than made up for that. Although we were working really hard, I was enjoying it more and more. In the morning session, I rode with the Irish Olympian, Giro d’Italia and Tour de France veteran (and stage winner), Martin Earley (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Earley). Not only a fantastic cyclist but a really nice chap. It’s not every day that you’ll get to cycle with such an accomplished athlete.

Craig suffers for his art on a cross-channel ferry.

Rolling into Calais at the end of Day 2 was some achievement. As if the hill-climbing wasn’t enough, the headwind meant that we were even having to pedal downhill. Craig read from his trip computer and noted it was the first time he’d gone downhill at less than 10 mph. Normally, you can easily maintain 15 mph on the flat. By the time we made it onto the ferry back to England, Craig and I were feeling pretty spent. Still, with just one more day to go, there was no way we weren’t going to finish.

Welcome home.

My lasting memory of Day 3 is almost certainly going to be the hills. Oh, and the cold. From 29 degrees to 6 degrees in a little over a day. Living in Cumbria, we’re spoiled for hills and mountains, so I never really gave Kent credit for the number of hills it has, and how steep (and prolonged) they can be. Even when we made it into London and the rendezvous at Blackheath, the final climb at Shooters Hill felt big. Once all of the riders had arrived, we set off in convoy to Marble Arch and a well-deserved celebration with our friends and family. Fortunately, there was no repeat of the Parisian handlebar somersault and we made our way serenely through London’s sights – past the Shard, over Tower Bridge (to applause and photographs from the pedestrians on either side of the road), past the Tower of London, Embankment, Trafalgar Square, Admiralty Arch, the Mall, Birdcage Walk, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park Corner and, finally, Marble Arch.

Victory pose.

The Arc to Arch adventure has already raised £100,000 for Marks and Spencer’s five charity partners: Breakthrough Breast Cancer (see www.breakthrough.org.uk), Action Cancer (see www.actioncancer.org), Marie Keating Foundation (see www.mariekeating.ie), Action Medical Research for Children (see www.action.org.uk) and Prostate Cancer UK (see www.prostatecanceruk.org). This figure is bound to increase with M&S’ Bike24 Endurance Challenge (see https://www.facebook.com/BIKE24EnduranceChallenge) in just over a week’s time. I’ll join several hundred others at Rockingham race circuit for a 24 hour endurance race. Teams of four will take it in turns to cycle around both the circuit and the clock. I’ve not told my legs about it yet. They still haven’t forgiven me for the Arc to Arch. Bring it on!

Many thanks to all of our kind supporters, not least our shirt sponsors:

2 Hare Court (see www.2harecourt.com)

Carrley Business Consulting (see www.carrleybusiness.co.uk)

Crown Office Chambers (see www.crownofficechambers.com)

Datamere (see www.datamere.co.uk)

Elior (see www.elior.co.uk)

Marine Harvest (see www.marineharvest.com/scotland)

Tangle Teezer (see www.tangleteezer.com)

Wilson Gunn (see www.wilsongunn.com)


You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, at www.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Hilary Garrett (hilary.garrett@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.

Friday, 7 June 2013

French Revolutions

Today's blog comes from my colleague, and fellow Arc to Arch cyclist, Steffan Groch. I hope you’ll tune into our blog updates throughout the Arc to Arch event. You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, atwww.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Hilary Garrett (hilary.garrett@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.

After what seemed an endless series of queues and briefings yesterday Tean DWF concluded the evening at the aptly named 'Pari's Cafe'. Dunc was first to depart so Robin and I made it our mission to ensure Choppy Chaplin only had one beer before hitting the sack. Mission accomplished. 

I personally then spent most of the night thinking "when am I actually going to fall asleep?". This blog was partly written listening to the sleeping rhythms of Mr Watt.

Breakfast in the Ibis was then followed by an emotional reunion with our bikes....sad I know. Fellow cyclists out there will know the feeling of anxiety you feel knowing your bike has been cared for by another during long distance travel. #controlfreak

Choppy Chaplin is right when he described me yesterday as a coiled spring. Could not wait to hit the French roads. Rode for most of the day with a former pro cyclist who won stages at the Tour de France and the Giro D'italia. We rattled along nicely....although he made me work hard.

Any charity bike ride is meant to be fun yet challenging. It was mostly the former even though temperatures today reached 29degrees Celsius! Team DWF, comprised predominantly of northerners are now sporting true cycling tan lines with beetroot red faces. Not a pretty sight.

We're now off to dinner and will resist the temptation to drink anything alcoholic....more news on that tomorrow.

As Craig said yesterday, please give generously for these worthy charities and to make team DWF feel a little better.

2 Hare Court (see www.2harecourt.com
Carrley Business Consulting (see www.carrleybusiness.co.uk
Crown Office Chambers (see www.crownofficechambers.com
Datamere (see www.datamere.co.uk)
Elior (see www.elior.co.uk
Marine Harvest (see www.marineharvest.com/scotland)
Tangle Teezer (see www.tangleteezer.com
Wilson Gunn (see www.wilsongunn.com

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Drugs Don't Work

This week's blog comes from my colleague, and fellow Arc to Arch cyclist, Craig "Chopper" Chaplin. I hope you’ll tune into our blog updates throughout our preparation and the Arc to Arch event itself. You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, at www.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Hilary Garrett (hilary.garrett@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.


Today is the non-cycling day of the trip which leaves us all slightly tired and frustrated. Groch (BA) is like a coiled spring. We had thought he'd gone all romantic when he suggested a pootle round Paris this evening but it turns out he has never gone this long without exercise in the last 5 years. The trip Doctor has advised that, if he doesn't cycle tomorrow, he will literally explode in a blast of testosterone like an indoor firework.


The view for the rest of the field tomorrow...
Many thanks to our sponsors: 2 Hare Court, Carrley Business Consulting,
Crown Office Chambers, Datamere, Elior, Marine Harvest, Tangle Teezer, Wilson Gunn

So we've met, been briefed, met some of the 60 or so riders who have so far raised £100k for the various cancer charities. We are now on the Eurostar travelling to Paris. We'll have a hotel transfer, some dinner (being a veggie in Paris will be interesting) and a further health and safety lecture. After some medicinal red wine, it's an early night followed by a 6.30am start.

Demonstrating our sleeve sponsors, or Tiger Feet dance routine (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKgGfiOpojc)?
You be the judge...

As we've done nothing much today, it has been a time for reflection for me personally. Five years ago, I was on a very similar trip to this in Spain when I learned that my brother-in-law had sadly passed away at the age of 39. He had battled against lung and brain cancer for just over 5 years enduring 9 bouts of chemo, 2 lots of radiotherapy and brain surgery. Vince embodied everything that was fun about life. At his funeral, they played "The Drugs Don't work", "Think I better Leave Right Now" and, rather predicably, "Pinball Wizard" at the graveside. His coffin had a sign saying "This Way Up" which my sister had to argue with the undertaker to put on as it was one of his wishes. They said it was in bad taste. I think that was Vince's point, it was his taste.



Whilst through deliberate undertraining I will suffer for the next 3 days, nurofen and a beer will make me feel quite normal. Vince suffered horribly for several months prior to his death and never had a normal life from the day he was diagnosed. Cancer is a disease that rips families apart, as well as bodies. It was only Vince's humour and humanity and my sister's mental strength which stopped that happening.

I have been relatively lucky with Cancer in that Vince is only one of 3 people close to me who have been affected. Another chap I know is dying of prostrate cancer and he still beats me up the hills on a bike. The last time we were out, we rested at the top of a hill and looked out over the view. "There's a very dark cloud on the horizon", I said. "Aye", said Charlie, "that'll be the Cancer".

So, here's the deal. Supported by very generous companies and individuals, I'll do something I enjoy doing and I'll also monitor Steffan so that he doesn't explode. Mad Dog Duncan will plough through the miles with the efficiency of a runner and Robin Watt will discover whether the time crunched training has helped at all. If you haven't donated already then now is time to do so.

Tomorrow we ease into things with a 96 mile scoot. Bring. It. On.

2 Hare Court (see www.2harecourt.com)

Carrley Business Consulting (see www.carrleybusiness.co.uk)
Crown Office Chambers (see www.crownofficechambers.com)
Datamere (see www.datamere.co.uk)
Elior (see www.elior.co.uk)
Marine Harvest (see www.marineharvest.com/scotland)
Tangle Teezer (see www.tangleteezer.com)
Wilson Gunn (see www.wilsongunn.com)

I hope you’ll tune into our blog updates throughout our preparation and the Arc to Arch event itself. You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, at www.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Paula Ferdinales (paula.ferdinales@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.




Thursday, 16 May 2013

Paris Sera Toujours Paris


Welcome back to the Arc to Arch / fivemarathons blog. This latest thrilling instalment comes only three weeks before we head to Paris to start our Arc to Arch cycling adventure. I'm looking forward to being back in the City of Light. The last time I was there, in January, I came back engaged to be married. This time, given that I'm rooming with Chopper Chaplin, I'm hoping that there's no repeat.


Proudly wearing my Macmillan jersey in the starting pen, before the Philadelphia Marathon (November 2012)

My training continues to progress reasonably well and the miles are rolling by. Over the bank holiday, I put in about 85 miles on a return trip from Menstrie to St Andrews. Belatedly, I’m beginning to realise the importance of checking, before you set out: a) the gradient profile; and b) the prevailing wind. Otherwise, you’ll rattle off the out lap in record time, only to realise you’ve been going downhill with the wind at your back. The 3 hour 10 return leg was in stark contrast to the two hour out lap.

Steffan making it look easy

Last week, I spent the day volunteering at Grove House Hospice (see www.renniegrove.org) in Hertfordshire. Grove House has been supporting people affected by cancer and other life-limiting illnesses in St Albans since the early 1980s. It provided the first Hospice Care Team for St Albans, with the aim of providing specialist Macmillan Nurses for the area. Regular readers will know that Macmillan is a cause close to my heart and is, with the Christie, one of fivemarathons’ supported charities. Not that I needed any reminder, Macmillan's vital work was brought home to me with the care Jayne’s Mum received during her recent battle against cancer.

My Olympic torch comes home. The nurses looking after Jay's Mum pose with the torch (Macmillan was the reason I was nominated to carry the flame).

My particular skillset is obviously best suited to less cerebral pursuits and I spent the morning cracking rocks as I dug the foundations for, and concreted, a platform for a garden bench within Grove House’s superb gardens. Very much against the odds, and in true Ground Force style, we managed to complete the platform, lay the paving flags, and have the bench installed in time for afternoon tea and medals. The photo of the spirit level, below, reflects our incredulity that the bench was relatively straight.

Feeling suitably smug with ourselves at Grove House

Tommy Walsh would be proud

Volunteering at Grove House was every bit as fulfilling as, and much less gruelling than, the days I’ve pulled on my Macmillan jersey to run one of the marathons. You get a real insight into the great work that the hospice, and Macmillan, are doing to help our loved ones when they need it the most. Speaking of jerseys, this week, we’ve finalised the shirt sponsors for our Arc to Arch cycling tops. Many, many thanks to our corporate sponsors, whose logos we’ll be proudly sporting as we tear out of Paris (and crawl into London two days later):

2 Hare Court (see www.2harecourt.com)

Carrley Business Consulting (see www.carrleybusiness.co.uk)

Crown Office Chambers (see www.crownofficechambers.com)

Datamere (see www.datamere.co.uk)

Elior (see www.elior.co.uk)

Marine Harvest (see www.marineharvest.com/scotland)

Tangle Teezer (see www.tangleteezer.com)

Wilson Gunn (see www.wilsongunn.com)

I hope you’ll tune into our blog updates throughout our preparation and the Arc to Arch event itself. You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, at www.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Paula Ferdinales (paula.ferdinales@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Down And Out In Paris And London


This week's blog comes from my colleague, and fellow Arc to Arch cyclist, Craig "Chopper" Chaplin. I hope you’ll tune into our blog updates throughout our preparation and the Arc to Arch event itself. You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, at www.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Hilary Garrett (hilary.garrett@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.


It's 6am on Thursday 2nd May. Literally 5 weeks to the day before I leave for Paris on this two wheeled adventure. Sat here tucking into an unhealthy panini, I am reflecting that my preparation to date could have been better. I'm behind on everything....the training schedule .....the weight loss....this blog...and time does not stand still. It was comforting to read that Robin was deliberately under-preparing also. What's the point in a charity ride if its a breeze? Donors expect expect sweat and tears (and ideally blood) and we shall give them what they want.


Destination Paris

Don't get me wrong, I have seen off similar challenges previously with a couple of Etapes (see www.letapedutour.com) under my belt but that was after some serious training under the watchful eye of my physio and cycling mentor Rob Harris (mates rates available - see www.harrisandross.com). Left to my own devices, I stay away from the hills and move closer to the fridge....not a good combination. This diesel has 15 stone to lug 300 miles in 3 days and whilst he is good at topping up his tank, his power to weight ratio has been better. This is when you turn to your team mates for support....and fortunately for me we have the A Team.

If we are the A Team then what is MY role? Whilst I would be an obvious contender for the Face Man Robin has bagsied that spot early doors (damn his boyish good looks!) and there is an obvious mad man Murdoch on board in Duncan (five marathons!). Steffan has promised to get a Mohawk if we manage to raise £10k and is exhibiting certain BA traits such as garish fashion sense of the bling variety (his bike gear is, ironically, less loud) and a certain singlemindedness, "I ain't sharing no room!". Just like BA, Steffan is clearly the strongest of the group and, just like Hannibal, I am clearly the most intelligent. More than that, I have the lung capacity of a 50 year old cigar smoker so it's a perfect fit. I love it when a plan comes together.....

"BA" getting to grips with a 7am gym session. "I pity the fool.. etc"

....And together it will come. I woke up a week ago feeling the fear and have been on my bike every day since (and have already had 2 punctures). I've upgraded my saddle for comfort and my wheels for a nice smooth ride, I've bought protein shake, gels, energy bars and a bike computer. One day soon, I'll even fit it to the bike. Today, I'm heading to Spain for some altitude training....unfortunately, the specific altitude I will be training at is sea level...but there are lots of places where I can hydrate with carbohydrate based energy drinks called "bars".

Two wheels good, no wheels better. "Murdoch" forgets his bike in San Francisco

The next 4 weeks will be intense. I plan to drop a stone and ride myself fit. The process has started and I'm not looking back. Commuting to work on two wheels will help, as will a couple of 6am starts so I can get some miles in BEFORE work. Hopefully, once I have nailed Paris to London, I'll go for my hatrick of Etapes. Thanks to physio Rob (Yoda) for his guidance, my colleagues for tolerating my monologues about training and weight loss (lack of) and Mrs C for being as (more?) committed to the cause than I am.

They are great charities, lets raise some cash and make some memories....


Friday, 19 April 2013

A Tale Of Two Cities


This week's blog comes from my colleague, and fellow Arc to Arch cyclist, Robin Watt. I hope you’ll tune into our blog updates throughout our preparation and the Arc to Arch event itself. You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, at www.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Hilary Garrett (hilary.garrett@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.


When I was first asked if I could participate in the "M&S Arc to Arch" I was absolutely delighted. As a new father, I was privately relishing the prospect of me and my bike and the open road. As a keen cyclist, what could be better? Cycling up the Champs-Elysees in a peleton with crowds roaring us on (maybe not the crowds bit) and all in the name of charity.




After the initial excitement of the invitation, I have to acknowledge that it has not been as easy as I had anticipated to get my training regime in gear. The first challenge has been to find my bike which went into retirement after my Lands End to John O' Groats cycle! The amalgamation of many sleepless nights, nappy changes, and a house move has meant that training has had to take a back seat.

I had been rooting around trying to find my ergo trainer when my wife casually dropped in that she had sold it on ebay 2 years ago so the majority of my training so far has taken place at the gym.



My training app tells me that there is now only 8 weeks until the big event and now that the nights are stretching I am looking forward to increasing the outdoor miles. The prospect of the cycle is daunting but I feel privileged to be taking part, am excited about the challenge and hope that you will support us and the great charities M&S are supporting......

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Arc to Arch

This new blog describes preparations for the Paris to London cycle that I'll be undertaking with four colleagues in early June. I hope you enjoy it!

Hello and welcome to the opening blog for DWF’s Arc to Arch fundraising page. On Friday 7 June, four solicitors from DWF’s Retail Sector Group will set off from Paris to cycle to London. Starting at Marks and Spencer’s flagship Arc de Triomphe store on Paris’ Champs-Elysees and finishing at Marks’ flagship London store at Marble Arch, Craig Chaplin, Steffan Groch, Robin Watt and I will cycle nearly 300 miles from “Arc to Arch”. In doing so, we’ll be raising over £20,000 for Marks and Spencer’s five charity partners: Breakthrough Breast Cancer (see www.breakthrough.org.uk), Action Cancer (see www.actioncancer.org), Marie Keating Foundation (see www.mariekeating.ie), Action Medical Research for Children (see www.action.org.uk) and Prostate Cancer UK (see www.prostatecanceruk.org).


With Craig, Steffan and Robin, I’ll be in very good cycling and fundraising company:

Craig is no stranger to long distance cycling through the French countryside. In 2010, he took part in the Etape du Tour, following the route of the Tour de France from Pau to the Col du Tourmalet and raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support (see www.macmillan.org.uk). Hopefully the Arc to the Arch won’t have anything like the gruelling 4300 vertical meters of climbing that Craig put in during the Etape’s 109 mile stage.

Steffan surveys the enormity of the task: Paris, March 2013

Last summer, Steffan successfully completed the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon (see http://www.alpetriathlon.com) to raise money for The Christie ( www.christie.nhs.uk/the-christie-charity.aspx). This endurance event consists of a 1.5 mile swim in a glacial lake, a 90 kilometre bike ride which finishes with a climb up the famous Alpe D'Huez and then a half marathon at the top of the mountain at altitude.

Robin should also be particularly well prepared for the challenge. In May 2009, he cycled from Lands End to John O'Groats in just 10 days, raising over £5,300 in the process. After almost 1,000 miles, the 300 miles from Paris to London should be a breeze. Robin’s efforts were in support of the Edinburgh Headway Group (see www.edinburghheadway.org.uk), where he is a volunteer.

You can read more about Robin’s challenge at www.lejogers09.blogspot.com, which features this photo of Shap Fell, possibly the highest point on the route.


Robin must have cycled straight past my house, as I live in Shap. As a result, most of my own training rides have been through the mountains. A recent Sunday outing took me on a round-trip to Carlisle. On the outward journey, I was absolutely flying and appeared to rattle off the 30 miles in no time at all. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t owned a road bike before, as I convinced myself that I was obviously a natural. It was only on the return journey that I realised I’d been cycling mostly downhill and with a generous tailwind. That brought me back down to reality with a bump. Still, it wasn’t quite as surprising as last Sunday’s training ride from Liverpool to Southport via St Helens and back. At about mile 40 of my 65 mile journey, this happened:


See if you can spot the obvious error. You can imagine my happy demeanour as I unclipped my shoe from the pedal, in readiness for an approaching roundabout, and the entire crank arm fell off. Having a bike that falls apart like a circus clown’s is not top of my agenda in preparing for Paris.

Until now, my own charitable endeavours have revolved around long distance running, so getting to sit down as I exercise has been a welcome change. In 2009, I ran five international marathons (Barcelona, London, San Francisco, Berlin and New York) for Christies (see www.christie.nhs.uk/the-christie-charity.aspx) and Macmillan (www.macmillan.org.uk). You can read more at www.fivemarathons.com  (www.fivemarathons.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/standing-on-shoulders-of-giants.html is as good a place to start as any).

I hope you’ll tune into our blog updates throughout our preparation and the Arc to Arch event itself. You can support our endeavours, and these great charities, at www.virginmoneygiving.com/DWF or contact Hilary Garrett (hilary.garrett@dwf.co.uk / 0161 603 5000) to hear more about our corporate sponsorship packages.

NYC Marathon, 2004

NYC Marathon, 2004
NYC Marathon, 2004