300

For anyone who doesn’t live in the UK, there’s a popular challenge going around at the moment. The idea is straightforward; run 5k, donate £5 to the NHS, and nominate 5 people to do the same. Of course, in an ideal world our health service would be funded properly and such things wouldn’t be necessary, but you’ll be relieved to hear that’s not to be the subject of this post. I was nominated twice and had to decline due to an annoyingly persistent foot injury. Having seen some of my less athletically inclined friends struggle through the run, I decided to do something as a forfeit that would provide me with an equivalently gruelling challenge and hopefully raise some funds in the process. This came in the form of three consecutive century rides in deepest, darkest Devon.

Throughout my cycling career I’d completed a few multi day trips and events. A couple of forays to the alps, some training camps in Mallorca, Land’s End to John o’ Groats and of course the Tour of Wessex. What I hadn’t yet attempted, was a fully solo adventure. Due to the lockdown, these rides would have to be completely self supported. That meant carrying enough water, carefully planning a nutrition strategy and stocking my saddlebag with all the tools I’d need to fix any mechanical problems. Add to that the task of planning the routes, and there was quite a lot of work to be done in the 5 days between coming up with the idea and the planned start date.

As anyone who knows me might expect, I still left most of it till the last minute. The day before the first ride was mainly spent making industrial quantities of chicken korma, my favourite recovery meal. After that, I turned my attention to bike setup. If you’re not a cycling geek, feel free to skip the next three paragraphs.

Day 1: The calm before the storm.

I toyed with the idea of doing the rides on my trusty Specialized, but eventually decided that speed was more important than comfort and went with my Scott Foil instead. Ordinarily there’d be a few places to stop along the way and refill water bottles, thanks to the lockdown that wasn’t the case this time round. I went with a 950 and 550 ml combination, giving a total capacity of 1.5 L. Ideally I’d have carried more, but the weight weenie in me couldn’t face making the bike any heavier. Having not been organised enough to order energy gels, my on bike nutrition consisted primarily of jelly babies, with a few granola bars thrown in.

I will admit to having had several moments of paranoia the day before the first ride, each leading to another ‘essential’ addition to my saddlebag. Normally the thought of a chain breaking or a cable snapping wouldn’t have crossed my mind, I’ve had both happen to me once in 7 years of riding. Yet, if something were to go wrong on one of these rides there was no support van. For obvious reasons, I wanted to reduce the risk of needing to be rescued as much as possible. In the end I bought the following.

  • Hand pump
  • Spare inner tube
  • Tyre levers
  • Tyre boot
  • Multitool
  • Rubber gloves
  • Quick link
  • Chain tool
  • Quick link pliers
  • Sticking plasters
  • Spare gear cable
  • Packable waterproof
  • Arm warmers

All in all, I was equipped to deal with anything excluding a catastrophic mechanical failure of the kind that would probably result in a trip to A & E. Unfortunately, all these tools added rather a lot of weight and the massive saddlebag didn’t exactly improve the look of the bike. My svelte race machine had been turned into a packhorse, which wouldn’t be especially helpful on some of the climbs.

Whilst I could very easily dedicate an entire post to each ride, I have an MSc thesis that I should probably be writing instead, so here are the highlights.

Day 1: Dartmoor

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I decided to tackle the hardest of the three routes on the first day, the idea being that it would be best to complete it whilst feeling relatively fresh and enthusiastic. In other words, I wanted to get it over with. Dartmoor is a beautiful place to ride, however, as in most spheres of life, great beauty is accompanied by great risk.

The day started out well, I even managed to leave the house on time, having wolfed down a massive bowl of porridge accompanied by a strong coffee. It was perfect weather, bright sunshine with a cool breeze. The first 20 miles were relatively flat and mostly on quiet roads, on an aero road bike it was a piece of cake. I was bought back down to earth upon scaling the first major climb of the day. Haytor Vale is one of those that lulls you into a false sense of security; not especially steep for the most part, but dragging on for a good few miles, with a couple of false summits thrown in for confusion. My instinct was to push on and power up it (Okay, it wasn’t, until someone overtook me halfway up the climb), but I restrained myself, knowing that worse was to come.

Miles 25 to 50 were pleasantly uneventful, mostly downhill from the summit of Haytor to the town of Ivybridge. This being day one, I’d adopted a very conservative pacing strategy, by which I mean I was more concerned with taking decent photos than increasing my average speed. After a week of being cooped up in the house, it felt great to be out on the road again.

10 Miles before my sense of humour failure.

The climb out of Ivybridge didn’t turn out to be as bad as I’d feared, it was a long drag but the gradient was very manageable, especially with an 11-28 cassette fitted. At the top, I noticed a slight crosswind but didn’t think much of it, after all it was much more fun to consider the prospect of tucking into the banoffee pie I had sat at home in the fridge. A few miles later, things started to get harder. After a couple of short climbs I reached the highest part of Dartmoor, fully exposed to the elements. If you want a road that can challenge your fitness and bike handling skills in equal measure, look no further than the B3212 on a windy day.

There’s no hesitation before I say that in 7 years of cycling I’ve never encountered a stronger headwind. It was incredibly demoralising, looking down at my garmin and seeing that whilst putting out what I’d estimate to be around 300 W on a flat road, I was managing a speed of 7 miles per hour. Worse still, there was no chance to rest on the few brief sections of road that weren’t heading straight into the wind. With my bike sporting 45 mm deep rims, the crosswind threatened to blow me over several times. I sometimes think that the weight training I force myself to do twice a week is a waste of time. On that day, I was beyond grateful for the extra upper body strength.

With 35 miles to go, I stopped and considered my options. My legs were hurting, the cold air hadn’t done wonders for my lungs, my garmin was low on battery, and I was facing at least 10 more miles of that evil headwind before the next major turning. Borrowing a phrase from my late Grandfather, I looked up at the sky and shouted “GODFORSAKEN BLOODY WEATHER”, to nobody in particular. After a few minutes of venting my frustrations in a similar manner, I resolved to carry on.

The last leg of the ride seemed to take forever. Despite the last 20 miles being relatively easy, the physical and mental fatigue was really taking it’s toll. Tiny rises that I’d barely notice on a normal ride might as well have been mountains. As Chris Boardman would put it, endurance sport is the art of trying to keep going with an engine that gets smaller and less powerful as time goes on. I’d like to think that at the beginning of the ride, I had a decent V6 with a performance air filter, by the end it had been reduced to a diesel two stroke.

Day 2: Exmoor

Like day 1, but better.

I woke up at 5AM, it felt as if someone had come along in the middle of the night and tried to put my legs through a meat grinder. I seriously considered taking a rest day, but eventually reasoned that it would be better to at least attempt the second leg in good weather rather than wait until later in the week when it was forecast to deteriorate. After treating myself to a double breakfast consisting of porridge followed by eggs on toast, I set off with a great sense of foreboding. Luckily, the ride was heading in the opposite direction to the previous one, as far away from Dartmoor as possible.

Inevitably, my legs felt sore and stiff at first, the short climb out of Exeter was harder than it should have been and I questioned whether carrying on was a sensible idea. Fortunately, after the first 10 miles I began to feel better, much better in fact. The sun was shining, the road was flat and refreshingly traffic free, and I was making good time. I had another 15 miles of relatively easy terrain before the first big ascent of the day.

I knew that miles 25-50 would be very slow going, once you get onto Exmoor it’s all up and down. Well, mostly up judging by my average speed over that section. I’d edited the route so as to take in Dunkery Beacon, a contender for the title of hardest climb in the UK. Having lived in Exeter for four years and never gotten round to riding it, the time was right. In the absence of the headwind from hell, I could properly relax and enjoy some of the scenery in the run up to the climb. I knew that this was the calm before the storm, but that failed to detract from the serenity I felt on those moorland roads. It might as well have been different world up there, far removed from the depressing headlines that have characterised the past few weeks.

Enjoying life on the long and winding road to Dunkery Beacon.

After a rather scary descent on roads that should probably have been reserved for the gravel bike, it was time to tackle that famous climb. The first section was very manageable, steep but nothing out of the ordinary and soon levelling off. However, the latter half was a different ball game altogether. Rising up out of a wooded section, it started off steep and only got steeper, with no sight of the approaching summit to motivate me until I at last came around the final corner. At the top, I decided that I’d never ride up it again. Having now seen the appallingly slow time I posted, I’ve reconsidered and resolved to tackle it again someday, at a more respectable pace.

Don’t think anybody told these guys about social distancing.

The last 50 miles of day 2 were probably the nicest of the three day venture. Having paced the climb carefully, I had enough in my legs to raise the tempo a bit. With a nice tailwind I could, quite literally, breathe easy in the knowledge that the hardest part of the ride was over and done with. In the end, I even had enough left in the tank to put in a good effort on the final climb back into Exeter. In sharp contrast to the previous day, I arrived home in good spirits, confident that I’d be-able to manage the upcoming final leg of the ride.

Day 3: The Blackdown Hills

By Devon standards, this counts as a flat route.

“I thought you’d been very organised this morning”. My housemate remarked, as I prepared to leave set off on the final stage of the journey. I had, except that I’d completely forgotten to charge my phone overnight. Unwilling to take the risk, I had to delay the start by half an hour. With the temperature set to rise to an unusually high 22°C in a few hours time, the wait wasn’t ideal. When I’m tired from consecutive rides, I’ve found that the heat can be a real killer.

I’d left the easiest route until last, less spectacular scenery was an easy price to pay for well maintained roads and far fewer climbs in comparison to the previous two days. With no ride planned for the following day, I didn’t have to worry about saving my legs and could adopt a faster pacing strategy in the name of trying to set a decent time. Honestly, my main motivation to speed up could be found in the prospect of being able to order the takeaway pizza that I’d been craving all week upon getting home.

One last climb.

The standout moment came at mile 20. Having briefly stopped at the outskirts of a small village to take on food and water, I happened to glance to one side and see a noticeboard. My eyes were drawn to one particular headline, written proudly in bold were the words: “Have you seen the asian hornet?”. Reading further, I learned that a few had been spotted in the surrounding area. I should mention that following a childhood incident, I have an extremely strong dislike of anything that flies, buzzes, and stings. I looked up from the article, and was greeted by something small and yellow that appeared to be making a beeline (please excuse the terrible pun) for my face. In a brief moment of panic, I frantically tried to bat the creature away, loudly uttering something unrepeatable in the process. Once I came to my senses, I realised that all the fuss had been directed a completely benign fruit fly. Let’s just say that the next few miles were ridden rather quickly.

Thereafter, things settled down and my legs found their rhythm. It was quite possibly the most painless century I’d ever ridden. No mechanical issues, strong headwinds, muscle cramps, navigation problems, unexpected climbs, or dodgy drivers. Practically unique. When I reached the top of the last big climb with 35 miles still to go, I began to wish that I’d picked a longer route. Despite this, I decided to put the hammer down in the pursuit of pizza. Aero bikes really come into their own when you want to go fast on rolling roads, it might only be about 10% easier to maintain a given speed but it makes a very noticeable difference. For the last 25 miles of that ride, I was grinning from ear to ear.

It goes without saying that I was happy and relieved to arrive back in one piece that day. However, another part of me was sad that it was all over. In the midst of so much uncertainty, planning and completing those rides had given me something concrete to focus on. In cycling, I’m lucky enough to have found something that never fails to keep me sane. In the words of John F. Kennedy, nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike.

I’m going to end by thanking everyone who provided messages of support during the challenge. A few words of encouragement can make all the difference when the going gets tough. I’m not sure how much money was raised in the end, but thank you if you donated.

Thanks for reading.

Rule 32

It’s Easter, or at least it was when I started writing this a few days ago. Traditionally a time of hope, renewal, and optimism, it’s been a little different this year. Each day is accompanied by a new set of depressing headlines; record death rates, crashing economies, and, worst of all, healthcare workers forced to put themselves at risk because protective equipment is in short supply. Most of us are largely confined to our homes, often with little to do except wait, watch, and wonder what on Earth is going to happen next. Truthfully, keeping my spirits up at this time has been rather challenging. Taking a leaf from the book one of my heroes, Columbus of Zombieland, I’m embracing rule 32 and trying to enjoy the little things. If you don’t understand that reference, go watch the movie – it’s guaranteed to be much more entertaining than reading this.

Whilst I’m not going to lie and pretend that I’ve enjoyed the lockdown, it has to be said that there a few silver linings to be found. It might be tricky to get hold of tinned tomatoes, however, on the flip side, desserts are often to be found on special offer. I would highly recommend starting your day with a slice of passionfruit cheesecake. I should probably put in a disclaimer at this point: If you came to this blog in search of nutrition advice, it might be best to look elsewhere. If dessert for breakfast isn’t enough, more happiness can be found in justifying a takeaway habit in the name of social responsibility. Why risk venturing to the local supermarket, when you can get a large pizza with two sides delivered to your door, contact free.

With very few official work commitments, the daily routine has become pleasantly flexible. I must admit that it’s rather nice to ‘occasionally’ not set an alarm, roll out of bed at 11, and spend most of the day in my dressing gown. After all, I’m sure I read somewhere that being in a comfortable environment can enhance productivity. My thesis is, in fact, coming along surprisingly well. Better still, there’s time to get all of those small jobs done, the ones that inevitably get left till the last minute most of the time because there’s always something more important to do. I’m not necessarily doing any of those chores, but it’s nice to have the option.

Anyway. As per usual, I’ve managed to go off on a completely irrelevant tangent. “Where’s the Cycling stuff!” I hear you ask, in indignant tones. Fear not, my increased level of cheesecake consumption has to be compensated for somehow, I haven’t stopped riding, i.e. committing the usual acts of ineptitude that might be vaguely entertaining. I must admit was starting to get worried; my training was going well, the bikes were all rideable, and I hadn’t succumbed to the temptation of any cycling related impulse purchases of late. How very boring. Luckily ,there’s a substantial dose of irony to be found there, in that the one time I prepared properly for the racing season, there won’t be any races. All those wet winter interval sessions, gruelling spring endurance rides, and careful weight loss efforts, were in fact completely unnecessary.

In an effort to make the most of the hard-earned fitness, I’ve decided to go out and chase some Strava KOM’s. Over the past couple of seasons, quite a number of the precious few that I held have been lost. It goes without saying that all the riders who beat me must have been riding e-bikes and been lucky enough to catch perfect tailwinds. Nonetheless; it remains a sore point (before you ask, yes, I have discussed this in therapy). There’s one particular segment that I’ve long since wanted to add to the collection, an 11 mile unofficial time trial course that conveniently starts only a couple of miles away from my front door. Yesterday, in the name of giving my neglected time trial bike an outing, I decided to make an attempt.

You’ll be pleased to hear that I didn’t go all out and put my skinsuit on. Though, it did occur to me afterwards that the sight of it might have helped persuade people to say indoors that day. No, taking a TT bike was overkill enough. Having not ridden mine for months, the first few miles of the ride were a bit of a learning curve. Those machines are very good at going fast in a straight line, sadly they fall short elsewhere. When it comes to certain things you occasionally have to do, such as; stop, go round corners, go up hills, go down hills, and avoid hazards, the TT bike is not your friend. Mine is currently sporting a rather nice pair of 90 mm deep, full carbon rims, fitted with a pair of super slick tyres. Fast as those wheels are, they’re a bit terrifying in anything other than perfect conditions.

The steep descent before the beginning of the segment did a perfect job of getting my adrenaline levels up. I can only apologise to the passing driver who may have heard some of the language I used when, due to questionable braking, I entered one particularly sharp bend a bit more quickly than I had intended. There’s something especially gruelling about a full on TT effort, especially when you haven’t done one for a while. I have a theory that the main reason why people often go on to ride more TT’s after their first one is that the brain forgets the extent of the pain shortly after the experience, as some kind of psychological defence mechanism. Half way through the effort, for the umpteenth time, I vowed to never again try to get the KOM on any segment more than half a mile long.

It’s hard to put the elation that I felt upon eventually taking the segment by 15 seconds into words. At the time, I simply imagined that I’d just won the TT stage of the Tour de France. Punching the air, and shouting “YEEEESSSSSSS”, at the top of my voice felt entirely justified. I have a feeling that the startled family, who happened to be walking on the path beside the road at exactly that moment might not have felt quite the same way. Should this post ever reach them, let it be known that I got my comeuppance on the way home. Having completely exhausted myself, on the final climb of the ride I was overtaken by a man on a hybrid.

To end on a slightly more serious note, if you’re still able to cycle outdoors, please do it responsibly. Listen to the experts; avoid group rides, stick to routes you know, and stay as far away from pedestrians and other riders as you possibly can.

Thanks for reading.

The COVID-19 One

It was all going so well. A phrase that I suspect will be on the lips of a large proportion of the world’s population at the moment. Being the chronic overthinker that I am, I came up with a great number of scenarios in which things went wrong in 2020. A global pandemic was not among them. It’s surreal to think that a few weeks ago, in the UK at least,  coronavirus was only a distant black cloud on the horizon. A problem in a far away corner of the world, that would never trouble these shores. Oh how wrong we were. I’m writing this five days into an unprecedented national lockdown.

So far, I’ve been very lucky. Whilst it would be very easy to fall into self pity over my research being suspended and not being able to see my friends, it’s important to have a sense of perspective. I’m young and healthy enough that my chances of survival, should I pick up COVID-19, are essentially 100%. I haven’t lost my income, had a vital operation postponed, or seen a loved one succumb to the virus.  In a world that tends to favour extroverts, it’s a good time to be an introvert. At this point, I’m itching to launch into a rambling anecdote about the value of self reflection and introspection. Having read some truly terrible ones over the last few days, and concluded that it’s hard to write such a thing without sounding like a sanctimonious narcissist, I’ll desist.

If you’ve read this far without closing the browser window with a sense of exasperation, kudos. I haven’t forgotten that this is supposed to be a blog about training, racing, and all things cycling. From this point onwards, I’ll try to stay on topic. Luckily, unlike in France, Italy, and Spain, ‘recreational cycling’ is still permitted over here. Where I live, it’s just about possible to go for solo training rides without breaking social distancing regulations. I’m pleased that bike shops have been deemed essential and kept open, lest we forget that millions of people, including a few healthcare workers, rely on the humble pushbike to get to and from work everyday.

If things continue as they are, the chances of the racing season going ahead are slim to none. It goes without saying that it’s very annoying to think of all those wet and cold pre-season training rides going to waste. I’ve been unusually good at keeping to my training program, having decided that things needed a rethink following a rather disappointing 2019 season. My trusty gravel bike has been bombproof, surviving floods, hidden potholes,  black ice, and just about everything else the roads of rural Devon could have thrown at it. One particularly memorable ‘highlight’, came when I had to shelter under a tree for 10 minutes due to a freak hailstorm occurring halfway through a 3 hour endurance ride.

I could go an all day about adapting training sessions, adjusting goals, and home workouts. It goes without saying that, within the weird and wonderful bubble that is the world of endurance sport, such things are important. Truthfully, in the midst of these uncertain times, it seems trivial to dedicate a post to the technicalities of interval training or a critique of periodisation models. Rather than improving my power output or reaching my race weight, my motivation for waking up and heading out on long, hard training rides is that of keeping up semblance of normality.

In a cruel twist of fate, when we’re only allowed the leave the house once a day, we’ve been treated to a couple of weeks of unusually warm weather. I’ve avoided a lot of my usual training routes, mainly out of fear of running into people with no regard for the distancing regulations that have been put in place. Sadly, there have been quite a few still wandering around in large groups. Instead, I’ve stuck to the remote lanes of Dartmoor. After a couple of hours riding around there at the best of times, you could be forgiven for thinking it was uninhabited. It’s been fun to re-discover some hidden climbs, test myself against block headwinds, and negotiate twisty descents, with only sheep and the odd pony for company.

Joy can be found in those brief moments; when you’re pushing as hard as you can at the top of a climb, letting go of the brakes on a descent, or simply getting lost in your surroundings. For a few precious seconds, you’re exclusively focused on one thing and one thing alone. You can forget about the problems facing the world, silence those nagging voices in the back of your mind, and experience a level of serenity that it’s difficult to reach by any other means. Of course, reality rapidly returns afterwards, often in the form of your legs running out of steam when there are still thirty miles left to ride. Anyway, you get the picture.

Thanks for reading.

Crosswind caper

I’ve often thought that cycling, for those unfamiliar with the sport, must seem like a very strange pastime. On a few occasions I’ve made the mistake of using cycling terms in normal conversation and received some rather strange looks. It’s all too easy to forget that phrases such as “I had a massive bonk” and “I’m trying a different sort of lube” may have alternative meanings. I have a few friends who still can’t quite get their heads around the fact that everybody wears lycra voluntarily. I suspect that my love of time trialling is especially perplexing to outsiders aka normal people. Truth be told, I can understand why. Riding along dual carriageways on bikes that usually aren’t easy to steer and don’t brake especially well, probably doesn’t constitute most peoples idea of having fun.

I rode my very first TT on a whim three years ago. I ‘attacked’ the local 5 mile course on my road bike, put simply, it was horrible. Most of the time in road races the pace is very much on and off, either it’s easy or you’re going into the red. TT’s are different ball game, the effort is relatively constant throughout, pacing it correctly is harder than you might think. Anyway, on this particular occasion I got the pacing spectacularly wrong. I started off at breakneck speed, felt good for the first two miles, blew up halfway round and rode the homeward leg embarrassingly slowly. I resolved never to ride a TT again. That was until I saw that I’d only been beaten into fifth place by a handful of seconds. I came back the following week, paced it better, and went twenty seconds faster. From then on, I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve invested huge amounts of time and money in the pursuit of personal bests. I’ve acquired all of the usual paraphenalia; TT bike, skinsuit, aero helmet, deep section wheels, etc. Recently, I’ve been eyeing up a pair of rather expensive aerodynamically optimised overshoes, guaranteed to save a whole ten seconds over a distance of 25 miles. I’ve changed my diet, experimented with various training strategies and even tried out some mental exercises in the name of shaving a few seconds off of previous times. You probably get the picture by now. During the last couple of seasons, I’ve travelled far and wide in search of fast courses. Conveniently, the fastest 25 mile TT course in the country is ‘only’ a couple of hours away in Wales. It was there that I found myself last weekend.

It’s fair to say that the trip didn’t get off to the best of starts. The hotel we’d booked at the last minute turned out to have been the only place with rooms available for a very good reason. It took us several attempts to find the place, with the satnav initially trying to send us along a footpath. We arrived to find something that can best be described as a welsh version of Fawlty Towers. Our room had an overpowering smell of bleach which I suspect was designed to cover up the subtle underlying odour of mildew. Having been travelling all afternoon, we were starving hungry and in need of a good meal. Eons passed before the decidedly mediocre meal arrived. Lastly, we discovered that the walls were paper thin. Thank heaven for ear plugs.

It won’t surprise you to learn that I didn’t get much sleep that night. After an early start, we escaped as soon possible and ended up having breakfast at McDonalds. As pre-race nutrition goes I can tell you that it was far from ideal, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Just like last year, it started raining shortly before we got to HQ to sign on. By the time I got on my bike to warm up, I wasn’t in the most cheerful mood. After the century last weekend  my legs weren’t feeling brilliant and, to add insult to injury, the skies turned ominously grey again as soon as I took to the start line.If I hadn’t travelled so far to get there I’d have pulled out then and there.

Mercifully, once I got going my legs seemed to remember what they were supposed to be doing. Apart from an unusually high heart rate things seemed to be relatively normal. The first mile of the course was well sheltered from the wind, once I passed the first turning and got out onto the main road it was a different matter. In six years of cycling, I’d never encountered such scary conditions. The 90mm wheel I was running up front proved itself to be a very effective sail, it was all I could do to keep the bike going in a straight line. It’s the only time I’ve ever looked forward to uphill sections in a TT, the reason being that it was slightly less difficult to stay in control at slower speeds. One particularly vicious gust almost put me directly into the path of an oncoming van, apologies to everybody in the surrounding five mile radius who heard the resulting 18-rated scream of terror. I’m eternally grateful that it didn’t rain properly until I’d finished, had the roads been wet I’d probably have retired early.

Suffice to say, the first 15 miles of the course were not especially enjoyable. I breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the turning point, knowing that the wind would mostly be behind me from that point onwards. The return leg was relatively easy, by that stage I’d settled into a good rhythm and could just tick off the miles as they came up on my Garmin. I finished, exhausted but satisfied that I’d given it my very best shot. My final time of 53:48 with an average speed of 27.9 mph definitely wasn’t what I’d hoped for, however, crucially it was still a PB. The weekend hadn’t been a total waste.

Inevitably, I’ll be back next year. The maddening thing about time trialling is that there’s always going to be something new to aim for. Personal bests, then wins, then, if you get really good you can start targeting course records. I suspect that I’ll still be hurtling along those dual carriageways in forty years time.

Thanks for reading.

Don’t try this at home.

A fortnight ago, I was sitting in a rather nice restaurant in France, enjoying a spectacular meal washed down with a pint. That day’s ride had been easy, we’re talking that rarest of situations, a flat route with the benefit of a tailwind. The sun was shining, the company was good, and my bike didn’t need cleaning. You get the picture, it was a nice day that had put me in a good mood. Discussion turned to the upcoming club century ride. It’s been going for a few years now and is probably the most popular ride of the year. The route is relatively easy, the feed stations are well stocked and, with so many riders participating, it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll find a group going at a suitable pace. Every time I’ve ridden a century, I’ve climbed off the bike at the end and vowed to never do another one. My last one was back in March, therefore, by the time that fateful evening arrived I’d had adequate time to forget how much my legs hurt and had reached a point where I was open to another 100 miler.

An idea popped into my head, in my contented state it was all too easy to let rational thought fall by the wayside, and convince myself that it would be fun to try and ride the route of the club century alone, trying to set a solo course record. Even more stupidly, I let the plan slip to couple of people – making it next to impossible to take the sensible option and back out of the ride the day before. Of course, once I got home from France and had a couple of rides on the potholed, muddy, and narrow UK roads, I realised that the task lying ahead of me was not exactly going to be an easy one and would require careful planning. If you’re a normal person i.e., not a cycling geek then feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.

First and foremost, I turned my attention to bike setup. I was torn between an aero road bike and full on time trial setup. The former would have been more comfortable and quicker through the corners but in the end I decided on the latter, opting for straight line speed above all else. So far, the furthest I’d ridden that machine was a mere 56 miles a couple of years back. Earlier in the year during a 25 mile TT, I realised that the saddle needed changing – without going into too much detail, the old one wasn’t doing wonders for my chances of being able to have children later in life. I hoped that the one I found on eBay for £15 would do the trick. The bike was set up with a very aggressive riding position, prioritising speed over comfort. I can just about hold that position for an hour, the prospect of doing it for at least four and a half didn’t bear thinking about so I swallowed my pride and raised the stem by a couple of centimetres. Things were made more complicated by the questionable weather forecast. In the interest of safety, I swapped the 90 mm carbon wheel I usually run on the front for a 45 mm carbon-alloy hybrid.

In typical last-minute fashion, it occurred to me a couple of days before the big ride that the bike didn’t have any bottle cages fitted and offered nowhere to store food. Fortunately, I’d hung onto the aero bottles (yes, that’s a thing) that I used to use for triathlon. I borrowed a top tube bag from my father and found that it would just about accommodate the essentials; four energy gels, pump, puncture repair kit, phone, car key and bank card. On the day, I taped a couple more gels to the top tube just to be safe. If there’s one thing you really want to avoid on long rides, it’s running out of fuel. Finally, I thought long and hard about the best kit for the job. In the end I went with a skinsuit, not exactly flattering to look at but, from an aerodynamic perspective, much faster than an ordinary jersey and short combo. Rather than a long-tail TT helmet I opted for a aero road model, knowing that I’d struggle to hold my head still for such a long period of time and, therefore, fail to reap the full benefits of the former. Anyway, enough of geeky stuff – onto the actual ride.

I woke up early, wolfed down a massive bowl of porridge and loaded my bike into car. I wanted to set off as early as possible, I told my family that this was because I didn’t want to get entangled with any large groups  which would be tricky to get past. In reality, it had rather a lot to do with making sure nobody was subjected to the sight of me in my skinsuit. At first, the signs were positive. My legs felt fresh, the sun was shining and, mercifully, the first 5 miles were almost all downhill. On the main road out of town I was confident that my decision to ride a TT bike had been the right one, riding in the aero position made it easy to maintain a fast pace.

At mile 5, things began to get a bit trickier. TT bikes are infamously difficult to handle and I had to concentrate hard to navigate mine through some narrow, twisty country lanes. Inevitably, I took a couple of wrong turns in the process. It didn’t help that there had been some heavy rain during the preceding few days, leaving mud and debris on the roads. A large stone, well hidden by a patch of mud, put a spanner into the works at mile 25. The 23mm slick tyre I was running on the rear was no match for the stone in question and, inevitably, I punctured. In theory, I was well prepared and properly equipped to deal with it. Sadly, the reality wasn’t quite as straightforward. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a patch to properly adhere to the inner tube. Worse still, I hadn’t had enough space on the bike for a spare one. In the end the only solution was to knot the tube and hope that it would hold. Luckily, the first feed stop was only another mile up the road. I had no choice but to wait there until the groups started rolling in, hoping someone would have a spare tube that could be adapted to fit my deep section wheel. Ever reliable, my father had a spare that worked perfectly. I’m never going to hear the end of that one.

Thanks to that incident, I completely lost the benefit of my early start. Truth be told, I was feeling very irritable. On a more positive note, the roads soon improved and once again I could get to work on raising my average speed. That was, until it started to rain. At that point I came very close to bailing out, I’ll admit that a few close shaves in the past have made me quite nervous about riding a road bike in the wet. Keeping going became a mental test rather than a physical one. I was able to hold off the fast group until mile 50 when they came flying past. Getting caught was inevitable, despite my aerodynamic advantage, a well coordinated group of quick riders would always have been faster. Nonetheless, the sight of the group vanishing into the distance was demoralising. Suffice to say, the first half of the ride had not exactly gone according to plan.

I’ve always found that, from a mental perspective, miles 50-75 of a century are easily the hardest. Your legs feel fatigued from the sizeable distance you’ve already covered but there’s still a long way to go. You’ve got to be careful not to listen to that little voice in your head that pipes up, telling you that you won’t get round. I can say with honesty that that particular segment of the ride was a real struggle. I’d been in riding in TT position for much longer than I’m used to, my neck and lower back were loudly protesting. In typical UK style, by mile 60 the rain had stopped and given way to bright sunshine in the space of about half an hour. This phenomenon was very much a double-edged sword, the roads had dried out but the heat came into play. I only had enough room to carry a litre of water in total, which I was now having to carefully ration. Completing the ride was not a foregone conclusion.

With 3o miles to go, the fatigue really began to kick in. I broke the ride down into 5 mile segments, a strategy I learned during my running days. My nutrition plan had worked relatively well, and I just about had enough energy gels left to get me through the final leg. Small climbs that I wouldn’t have noticed during the first 25 miles now required what felt like herculean efforts. Desperate times call for desperate measures, having not bought a pair of headphones with me I put my phone on full blast. It probably wasn’t the best idea to ride through all those sleepy little villages with heavy metal blasting out of my top tube bag, however, at the time I really didn’t care. Thanks to the combination of heat, tiredness and dehydration, I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. I can’t deny that my grandmother would probably have fainted if she’d heard the language I used when I arrived at any particularly steep climbs.

With 10 miles remaining, I briefly pulled over to take my final gel and check on my average speed. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I’d been going more quickly than I’d thought. That quick glance at my garmin, coupled with the thought of a cold recovery drink followed by a shower, gave me the mental boost I needed to make it home. The last 5 miles were almost entirely uphill, in some ways I was relieved because it gave me an excuse to get out of TT position and ride on the base bar – by that point my neck was on fire. The sight of the town sign that signified the start of the final two kilometres genuinely bought a tear to my eye. I’ve rarely been so relieved to have finished a ride. Having been cycling for a few years, I’m used to pushing myself, this ride took it to the next level. I was pleased with my time of 4 hours and 54 minutes, giving an average speed of 20.4 MPH. It wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but, factoring in the puncture incident, rain, and everything else, I decided to take it as a win.

24 Hours later, I’m writing this sat on the sofa where I’ve spent most of the day. I can testify that pretty much everything hurts, including a few muscles I didn’t know I had. I’ll take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped organise yesterday’s ride, without their continued investment of time and effort, it simply wouldn’t be possible for it to take place each year. I’m going to end with the following, just in case you ever think that a solo century is a good idea. It isn’t. Don’t do it. See sense. Save yourself.

Thanks for reading.

Back in business

I’m back. To the three or so people who regularly read this thing and must have been waiting with baited breath for the past several months, in my head anyway, I can only apologise. To say that it’s been a busy time, would be a serious understatement. I’m going to try and sum it up in this post, kudos to anyone who gets more than half way through it without falling asleep.

First and foremost, I graduated, miracles do indeed happen on occasion. After three years of blood, sweat, tears, coffee and beer I came out of University with a BSc in Sports Science. I’m probably going to spend at least the next ten years explaining that it was ‘very nearly a first class’ followed by a series of exquisitely crafted excuses as to why it wasn’t. Like many students, I’ve become strangely fond of the University lifestyle and developed a phobia of getting a real job. To that end, I’ll be heading back in a few weeks time to start a research Masters.  Now that’s out the way, I’ll try to make the rest of this post about important stuff, by which I mean cycling.

I’m sorry to report that no new bikes have been purchased since the writing of the last post on here. In fact, I’ve even managed to sell a couple. Before you judge me too harshly, know that the loss of those bikes has been punishment enough. After six years of faithful service, the time came to say goodbye to my beloved cannondale supersix. Together we shared many happy memories; my first century, completing the ventoux cingles challenge and getting the KOM on a local climb after two years of trying, just to name a few. Unfortunately, with my homemade gravel bike now performing winter training duties the cannonade simply wasn’t getting used. With a heavy heart, I sold it to a friend of mine. Consolation came in the form of the pair of carbon wheels I bought for my TT bike with the proceeds of the sale.

A couple of months later, it was also time to say goodbye to my mountain bike. I’d had a lot of fun on the local trails in the past eighteen months, however, with an off-road biased gravel bike I simply couldn’t justify keeping the MTB. In about twenty years time, when I manage to scrape the money together, I’ll get  a more up-to-date full suspension model. This time round, the proceeds went toward a very nice SRAM carbon chainset, I’ve justified this particular buy on the grounds that it’ll save me a vital two seconds or so in time trials. That’s left me with four and a half bikes to my name, the half being the 1980’s peugeot that’s still sitting in bits in the garage. Fortunately, I have managed to spend a bit of time riding the remaining quartet.

The highlight of April was a week in Mallorca. I’m going to save some time and summarise it by saying that, for the most part, it was much the same as last year. However, there are a couple of noteworthy exceptions. Specifically, I’ve spend a lot of time basking in the glory of having been the first one in our group to make it up a couple of the big climbs this time round. I’ll concede, however, that my victory may be have been partially related to me not having ridden 100 miles the day before, unlike my ‘competitors’. Typically, the trip happened to coincide with the deadline for handing in my dissertation, most of which I characteristically left until the last minute. Sadly, a couple of days of the holiday had to be spent trying to finish it and I missed out on some of my favourite routes.

Thereafter, things took a turn for the worst. The combination of exam season, an unshakeable cold and dominoes pizza probably did a good job of counteracting the fitness gains I’d made in Mallorca. I managed a couple of club 10’s in late April but that was it, my racing season was not set to a be a particularly fruitful one. Having just about survived my last term at University, by the time June came around it was time to try and get back on track.

Thanks to a strict regiment of calorie counting, interval training and long rides with a minimal number of cafe stops I managed to get back to something vaguely resembling race fitness. Beating last years time at a local open 25 mile TT by over a minute provided a much needed confidence boost. My annual attempt to return to road racing went much the same way that it usually does. In my defence, I did get into a perfect position to attack on the final climb – sadly, it was a lap too early. Once again, I’m cursing myself over a lack of tactical awareness / common sense. I’ve reached the conclusion that, if I really want to do better next year, I’m going to have to subject myself to some local crit races in order to hone my skills.

That brings me to a rather surprising event that happened a couple of weeks ago. Already, I’m planning on boring my grandchildren to death with this story at every possible opportunity. It was the end of graduation week, the hangover had only just worn off and I’d only turned up to this particular time trial on a whim. Miraculously, my legs felt quite good. I’d ridden the course the previous week and was at least 90% sure where all of the turns were. It goes without saying that all time trials are hard, some, however, are harder. This particular course was characterised by a hideously steep climb in the last kilometre, set to dash the hopes and average speed of those foolish enough to ride it. If I do say so myself, I paced it to perfection – riding at 95% during the first 9 miles so that I had just enough in reserve to tackle the last climb at full tilt. My final time was only five seconds quicker than that which I’d posted the previous week. However, it was enough to beat the thirty other riders who had turned up and finally bring home that allusive win. I know, it was only a club ten and I only won because nobody faster could be bothered to turn up. Nonetheless, it was a very sweet moment, after six years of riding I’d reached the point of being able to challenge for victory.

After a few days, it was time to set off for the second cycling holiday of the year, a week in France. I could easily have dedicated an entire post to that trip but in the interests of time (laziness) I’ll keep it short. You really can’t beat the roads in that part of the world; smooth, grippy, quiet and pretty much devoid of dangerous drivers. After a hectic few months, a few days spent riding along at an easy pace was exactly what I needed. Due to my competitive nature, that didn’t happen. You can take the man out of time trial season, but, you can’t take the time trialling out of the man. Inevitably, one day I decided to ride solo and complete the sixty mile route in as little time as possible. As you might imagine, this made the final two days of riding rather hard work.

I was further rewarded for my impulsive smashfest by getting dropped on last sunday’s club run. I didn’t even have time to tell everyone about my sensational time trial victory before they were several miles up the road. True to form, I’ve spent this past week recovering and contemplating my decision making skills. As I’m writing this, it’s blowing a gale outside and tipping it down with rain, which makes the club century ride on Sunday a particularly unattractive prospect. In short, it’s situation normal.

Thanks for reading.

Here Comes the Sun

It’s Spring. Finally the long winter seems to have come to an end; it’s hot enough to wear shorts on the bike, the roads are clearing up and it’s nearly time for the racing season to begin. As always happens at this time of year I’m breathing a sigh of relief.

In comparison to the shambles that was last years off-season training this time round it couldn’t have gone much better. Getting the balance right is always a challenge, there’s a fine line between getting yourself fit enough for a season of competition and overdoing it to the point of burning out. In previous years I’ve experienced both ends of the spectrum. The 2017 season didn’t get off to a fantastic start due to having spend most of the winter doing monotonous endurance rides that did very little for my speed or motivation. In 2018 I had the opposite issue, I’d have a strong start in races following a lot of high intensity work but crack later on due to a lack of stamina.

Finally I think I’ve found the right formula, aiming for four sessions per week. Two interval sessions, starting off with very short ones and building up the length plus an endurance ride lasting at least three hours. In order to help break up the structured training I try to make the 4th session a fun one; if I’m feeling good I’ll ride hard and try for some KOM’s, if not it can take the form of an easy cafe ride. Time permitting I do my best to get in a couple of weights sessions as well, keeping my upper body in decent shape and building core strength. That leaves one rest day on which to get other things done.

Off-road riding has become a key part of my training, it’s something that I couldn’t recommend enough. It’s inevitable that you’ll end 95% of rides covered in mud due to the condition of the roads anyway so why not hit the trails instead? Unfortunately I’ve had to sell my Mountain Bike but my homemade gravel machine is doing the job very well in it’s place. This bike is perfect for winter riding; big grippy tyres, disc brakes & decent mudguards make it fun and more importantly safe to ride in all weathers. Indoor riding just isn’t my thing. In previous years there’s often been no other option but to hop on the turbo trainer and put myself through hard interval workouts that I haven’t remotely enjoyed. Now I have a much better alternative.  From a mental perspective I find off-road sessions much easier to get through , time files when you have to keep your mind wholly on task for fear of falling afoul of a wet root or well hidden tree stump.

The question is what to do with this unexpectedly decent level of fitness. I haven’t completely given up on trying to qualify for the National 10 and TT’s will certainly be the big focus. Sadly the final year of University has to take priority for a while and I won’t be-able to fully commit to racing until early June when my exams will be over. Until then it’s going to be a matter of finding the time to do the occasional mid week club 10 and possibly a few crit races to keep things interesting. The thought of an impending trip to Mallorca in a few weeks time is currently what’s keeping me motivated. Whilst I loved riding over there last year my low fitness level made it impossible to make the most of the training opportunity, hopefully this time round I’ll be better prepared.

In short, it’s all going pretty well for a change. Hopefully I’ll finally manage to take it up a level this year.

Thanks for reading

 

Never again, again.

Hey folks, welcome to the latest installment of my two wheeled adventures. Truth be told nothing much has happened since I wrote the last post. After a long winter I’m very much enjoying the gradual improvement in the weather and quality of the roads. In other words I can start taking my road bike out on a regular basis again. Don’t get me wrong, I love riding my gravel and mountain bikes but nothing quite compares to the thrill of flying along on a carbon fibre thoroughbred.

I decided to mark the end of my Winter training with a new challenge. The century is one of those rights of passage for every cyclist, the idea of riding 100 miles seems completely absurd to most people and honestly I think they have a point. Why on earth would you want to sit on a bike for about 5-8 hours, gradually getting more and more fatigued and hoping you can make it home where a hot shower and massive amount of food awaits? I’ve spent years coming trying to come up with an intelligent and logical sounding answer to that question. It won’t surprise you to learn that I haven’t managed it yet, I come to the same conclusion every time – you want to do it simply because you can. Well, that and it makes for good bragging material.

I’ve done several of these rides throughout my Cycling career. My first one was an experience I won’t ever forget; I was 16 and still carrying a lot of extra weight having only been riding for about six months. Fortunately it was a flat route and we were well supported with feed stations. As century rides go it was probably about as easy as it gets. Of course I didn’t think that at the time – in fact the strongest memory I have of that day is that of an overriding desire never to to do it again.

Of course, after a while I forgot how much it hurt and decided to do another one. Before I started racing I’d usually have a long sportive as my season goal. This culminated in riding the three day Tour of Wessex a few years back, 330 miles covered in three days. Without a doubt I can say that the last stage was one of the hardest rides I’ve ever done. 108 miles on an uncharacteristically hot day, featuring 8,000 feet of climbing and a bike equipped with a 53-39 chainset making it much better suited for flat terrain. That’s one event I won’t be doing again for a long while yet.

Anyway, back to the present. One thing I hadn’t yet attempted before last Saturday was a solo century ride. I’ve always had at least one another person with me. It’s a long time to be alone with your own thoughts, as much of a challenge for the mind as it is for the body. It was with that in mind that the idea popped into my head. It’s an uncertain time at the moment for various reasons and truth be told it’s taken a toll on my mental health. This ride was about proving something to myself. Few things will challenge your resolve as much as 100 solo miles in the hilly Devon terrain.

Inevitably my bike was in need of some attention beforehand. Cutting short a long story which I’ll discuss in another post it’s needed a new BB and rear brake. Bearing in mind my trusty Specialized is now 5 years old I can’t really complain. I toyed with the idea of going home and getting my race bike to tackle the ride but decided against it. For all its good points that machine is not ideal for long rides, the position is too aggressive and I’m deeply afraid of it getting damaged. My old faithful on the other hand is perfect for the job.

As per usual there was a mad dash to get everything ready the night before. With rides of this length you need to be well prepared. I made sure my light was charged, loaded the course onto my GPS, packed my saddlebag with the essentials, checked my tyres for flints and finally stocked up on gels and bars. After a surprisingly good nights sleep I awoke to the sound of my alarm at 7AM signalling that it was time for it to begin.

After wolfing down the mother of all bowls of porridge I set off. The first 15 miles were on familiar and fairly straightforward roads. My legs felt okay but far from their best, having only recently finished a three week training block this wasn’t unexpected. Unsurprisingly the weather was a bit of a concern, for the first half hour or so it looked as if some serious rain was on the horizon. It’s tricky to describe the magnitude of  the feeling of relief I experienced when the clouds finally cleared.

Soon it was time to turn off, having plotted the route using some fairly rudimentary software I had no way of knowing what the roads ahead might hold. As it turns out, potholes. Between miles 15 and 30 I longed for my comfortable gravel bike with it’s 35mm tyres and disc brakes. A particularly nasty surprise came in the form of a long, steep climb which turned out to be much worse than it had looked on the route elevation profile. Heavily exerting yourself too early on in a long ride can spell disaster but when you’re presented with a 25% gradient you don’t have much choice.

I’ve always found miles 25 to 75 the hardest from a psychological standpoint. You’ve gone far already and can feel the tiredness gradually creeping in but don’t yet have the consolation that there’s not far to go. My favourite strategy is breaking it down into five mile segments, thinking only about those next five to as greater extent as possible. This is also where the boredom tends to set in. You can never tell quite what’s going to pop into your head. This time round it was a variety of thoughts and feelings; everything from surprisingly intense anger about something that happened a few weeks back to trying to come up with the ultimate takeaway pizza order (texas BBQ with extra jalapeños and a stuffed crust if you’re interested). Focusing on these thoughts rather than the ride in question sometimes helps, making you forget the pain in your legs.

At mile 60 I hit a spot of bother. It had been a while since I’d covered any decent distance on a Road Bike and my back was seriously protesting. It was a slightly surreal experience, stopping in a lay by and spending five minutes doing stretches to try and get everything back on track. That, alongside taking on some extra food seemed to do the trick. The next ten miles were some of the most challenging of the whole route, more narrow and poorly maintained lanes. Progress felt agonisingly slow at times, every time I crested one hill the next one came into view. It’s the small, sharp rises rather than the long climbs that really take it out of you.

Mentally, the real test came along at mile 72. At this point I could have very easily cut the ride short by 15 miles and taken the straight, flat road home. Somehow I managed to avoid the turning, I’d made a point of telling a few friends about this ride in order to give me a degree of accountability. I didn’t want to have to explain that I’d given in. What came next was a serious physical challenge for my tired legs, two long climbs that I hadn’t quite fully anticipated when planning the route. It was the perfect storm, a strong headwind coupled with what would have otherwise been a very manageable gradient made it much harder going. Fortunately, having cycled up a fair few european mountains I knew how to pace these kind of efforts. In my head I broke the climb down into kilometre long segments. Rather than using power or heart rate I rode on feel alone, the only fields I kept an eye on were distance and cadence – trying not to let the latter drop below 80 rpm so as to spare my knees.

Once I crested the top of the last big climb things got a bit easier. The weather brightened up at precisely the right moment which did wonders for my mood. Being a Saturday afternoon the roads were relatively quiet by this stage and mercifully they’d flattened out. I ended up taking a wrong turn and riding on a busy main road for a few miles, fortunately it had a decent hard shoulder and disaster was averted. Miles 85-98 were relatively painless, returning to familiar surroundings. Unfortunately there was a sting in the tail, a steep hill that was completely unavoidable aside from the option of a long detour to get back into Exeter. Going up the other side of it at mile two was very easy, at mile 99 it was a different story. It took an age to summit and I had to tap into the very last reserves of strength remaining in my legs. Nonetheless I just about managed. Never has getting home felt so good.

Having had a while to recover and take stock I’m feeling quite proud of myself. It’s taken a lot of work to get myself to the stage of being physically and mentally capable of taking on such a task. Having a ride like that in my legs will certainly help when it comes to racing season which at the time of writing is just around the corner. As per usual I’ve promised myself I won’t ever attempt a century again, I give it about three months before I forget how much it hurts and start thinking about the next one.

Thanks for reading.

Welcome back

Hey folks. It’s been a ridiculously long time since the last post, you can thank a combination of Uni work, training, stress from various sources and of course the usual dose of laziness. During the last couple of months it’s been a bit of a whirlwind, to call it challenging would be a spectacular understatement. The main positive to take from it is that somehow or another I’ve gotten myself back into decent shape.

I’ve barely touched my road bike since last November. The condition of the roads in Southwest England seems to get worse every year; we’re talking potholes that you could learn to swim in, half-inch thick mud coating the lanes, deep floods and on one memorable occasion a load of snow & ice. For that reason I’ve trained mainly on my trusty gravel bike.

                                    

It’s in bad conditions that off-road inspired tech really comes into its own. Disc brakes that work in the wet, wide tubeless tyres that can be run at low pressures to enhance grip without the risk of a pinch flat and 1x drivetrains that are easy to clean & maintain. Add mudguards and you’ll have a machine that can cope with pretty much anything. I’m proud of having only had to resort to the turbo trainer once this winter, putting that bike together was a big investment of both time and money but it’s very much paid off.

Traditionally I’ve done my long winter rides on the road but this time round I’ve taken to long MTB sessions instead. At the risk of offending all the roadies reading this I have to say that personally I find these much easier to get through, it’s very hard to get bored on the trails – if you switch off you’ll probably end up falling over a tree stump. My £375 hardtail is a very long way from the high end mountain bikes  you see on magazine covers but as a winter workhorse it’s done a brilliant job. If nothing else when you’re used to climbing on a 15 kg bike with knobbly tyres and small wheels it feels amazing when you get back on a carbon fibre thoroughbred.

Somehow or another I’ve still managed to squeeze in a couple of gym sessions each week. Following my initial skepticism I’m very much a convert to weight training and would suggest it to any fellow Cyclist. I’ve worked on my lower back strength which lets me ride in the drops for longer, trained my core to improve power transfer on the climbs and finally gotten full strength back in my right shoulder having injured it a couple of years ago. I have to admit that the aesthetic effects are also very pleasing, I’m no Arnold Schwarzenegger but have succeeded in putting on some upper body muscle which means I no longer have the physique of a stick insect.

With all the time commitments that come with the final year of University I’m focusing on quality over quantity. Realistically I don’t have more than about eight hours a week to train, the key is making the best possible use of it. Unfortunately it means a lot of hard interval sessions, like the majority of sane individuals I can’t say that I always enjoy them but there’s no doubting how good high intensity training is for your fitness. PR’s have been coming thick and fast and with the time trial season starting soon that’s very reassuring to see. This newfound fitness coupled with the carbon wheels I’ve managed to get hold of having sold my old winter bike should hopefully lead to some decent results.

It’s very likely that these words will come back to haunt me but I’m optimistic that we’re through the worst of the winter. Already the roads are starting to dry up, it’s just about warm enough to ride in shorts and it won’t be long before the evenings are light enough to head out without fear of having to get home in the dark. That brings us neatly to the very memorable ride I had yesterday.

If I’m honest then there’s no getting around the fact that the few days preceding it had been very difficult. I won’t discuss the details on here but it can be summed up as series of unexpected problems of both personal and professional nature. There’s something uniquely comforting about waking up to sunny weather, especially when it happens as rarely as it does in this country. That morning it was particularly stunning; blue skies and a warm breeze. I decided to take my Specialized out for the first time in well over a month and head to the beach.

In my experience the best rides tend to be the ones you decide to go on at the last minute, this one took things to the next level. I’d forgotten how it felt to ride a light, fast & nimble road bike – powering up the climbs and descending as quickly as my nerve would allow. Unusually for a Saturday morning the roads were quiet, the sun stayed out and the traditional block headwind didn’t manifest itself. It was warm enough for a mid-way cafe stop. I felt happier than I had in a long time, sat there eating a very nice slice of carrot cake whilst looking out over a calm sea. It bought on a feeling of calmness, a sense that everything was going to be alright and that my bad week was very much in the past. I could talk all day about the fitness benefits and competitive side of cycling but in reality it’s the thought of that feeling that gets me on my bike.

Thanks for reading.

Not another one

I’m back, which is to say I managed to survive the first term of my final year of University. Having unpacked, eaten at least double my bodyweight in chocolate and survived the hangover resulting from the obligatory end of term night out I can finally turn my attention to Cycling.

Truth be told I haven’t given a great deal of thought to the 2019 race season yet. I know better than to put a lot of pressure on myself to perform well at this stage, much like last year I suspect the best races will come towards the end of the season once the University year has ended. Realistically my original goal of qualifying for the National 10 might be a step too far. I’ll be happy with going under the 20 minute barrier in a ten mile Time Trial and hopefully winning some mid-week club events. I’ll do a few road races if I feel like it but they won’t be the priority.

Over the last few weeks my training has been inconsistent to say the least. Bad weather and deadlines are not especially conducive to getting out on rides. On the flip-side I haven’t struggled with the repeated colds that made last winter such a disaster. I’ve done what I can; gone running when I haven’t had time for a ride or it’s been too wet, made time for two weight training sessions every week and done my best to get some riding in when circumstances have allowed. My overall fitness level isn’t bad but there is still a lot of work to be done on the bike in order to get racing fit again.

My homemade gravel bike has well and truly proved it’s worth. I’ve had some bad experiences with Schwalbe tyres in the past but can’t praise the G-One enough, the 35 mm tubeless setup hasn’t missed a beat so far. Somehow these tyres manage to be fast rolling on the road but grippy enough to handle muddy bridleways and even stand up to being taken down the odd Mountain bike trail. At some stage I’d like to make the switch to hydraulic disc brakes but for the time being the trp spyre cable operated ones that I bought second hand on eBay have done a perfectly decent job. I’m not convinced that 1x drivetrains are the future for road bikes but for gravel riding they make perfect sense. The clutch mech on the rear paired with a narrow – wide chainring has performed flawlessly, the chain hasn’t come off once despite all that’s been thrown at it. Investing a considerable amount of time and money to put that bike together to a very exact set of specifications has turned out to have been a good decision – winter rides are no longer a chore.

Now, speaking of bikes. It’s time for something of a confession. With a mountain bike, TT bike, road race bike, winter road bike, summer road bike / spare race bike and finally a gravel bike I’d decided that enough was enough. The N+1 rule had reached its limit. Maintaining all those machines has been a real headache at times, both financially and logistically. I’d even toyed with the idea of selling one or two of them.

That was before I made that classic mistake of having a casual look on eBay.  I couldn’t help but see it. A very unloved 1980’s Peugeot; down tube shifters, threaded headset, 5 speed with 27 inch wheels – the works. Worse still it was only £35 and located 10 miles away from where I live. I repeatedly told myself that it was a stupid idea. Restoring this bike would probably cost more than the worth of the finished product. It would involve a lot of elbow grease; stripping the frame down having to remove various seized components in the process, painstakingly repainting it and finally having to source compatible parts to complete the build. Overall a bad idea. The bike is now of course sat in my garage awaiting the overhaul it probably should have had 10 years ago.

I’m now in the process of making up various excuses to justify the purchase. It’s hard to beat the look of a classic bike from a time when power meters hadn’t been invented yet and nobody had heard of aerodynamics. With time and patience there’s no reason why the bike can’t be bought back to it’s former glory. Hopefully I’ll learn a few new skills along the way which might well come in useful at some stage in the future.

So in short it’s all business as usual. A slow start to my winter training, continuing to discover the joys of gravel riding and taking on another project bike. There’s a distinct possibility I won’t get round to writing another post till the new year so to that end I wish all readers a happy Christmas and good 2019.

Thanks for reading.