Baptism of Fire

The definition of a truly epic ride is not universally agreed upon. To my mind in order to qualify for the accolade at least two of the following criteria must be met.

  1. Bad weather – Extreme heat, Snow, Rain and/or block headwinds.
  2. Equipment failure – Mechanical problems or GPS going on the blink.
  3. Climbs – At least one thats over 20%
  4. Distance – 1o0 km minimum on a road bike.
  5. Suffering – Preferably conducted whilst tired from a previous ride, or if you really want to push it there’s always the hungover option.

Over the past six years I’ve done a fair few of these, ones that stand out include last years birthday century, the third stage of the 2016 Tour of Wessex and my foolhardy MTB trip in the snow this spring. Last Sunday such a ride unexpectedly took place. Here’s the lowdown.

I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t get off to the best of starts. I’d planned this ride with a Uni friend which meant driving down to Exeter. Despite driving carefully due to having my best bike in the back of the car I succeeded in having a minor collision with a bus about 500 feet from my destination. Attempting to put my left wing mirror back together with gaffer tape in a car park wasn’t my idea of a fun evening.

Not for the first time I cursed the weather forecasters for lying to me the following morning, a cloudy but dry day had been promised. Waking up listening to that telltale sound of raindrops on the window that every Cyclist learns to dread sent a chill down my spine. This wasn’t going to be plain sailing. Matters were further complicated when I managed to get lost on the way to meet my friend at his house, despite having lived in Exeter for the best part of two years I have yet to learn how to successfully navigate it.

Following the obligatory pre-ride coffee we set off. I must admit to having had a few misgivings about planning a ride on Dartmoor. The weather up there is notoriously unpredictable even at the best of times and more often than not there are tricky hazards to negotiate; cattle grids, cows and ponies in the middle of the road, lanes that haven’t been resurfaced in twenty years and some very steep and narrow sections that you can’t afford to switch off on.

Anyway, with this ride long overdue we weren’t going to give up that easily. Getting out of the city was straightforward enough and soon we were heading out on the road to the moor. The B3212 is one of those sections of tarmac that I have something of a love/hate relationship with. It’s good fun on the way out, mild climbs and some wicked descents, yet on the way back on legs that are inevitably tired that road has nearly killed me many a time. On this occasion it was pretty neutral, we rode at talking pace and admired the spectacular Devon scenery that really comes into it’s own at this time of year.

The first stop came 15 miles into the ride at the town of Moretonhampstead. Clouds were looming overhead, ordinarily this wouldn’t have worried me but when it comes to Dartmoor rain showers tend to be accompanied by very high winds. Rather foolishly I’d opted for deep section wheels which can be very tricky in those conditions. With a growing sense of dread that I tried my best to conceal from my companion I broke out the packable waterproof.

Sure enough things soon turned… interesting. Within five miles we were riding along in driving rain accompanied by a relentless headwind. This served to remind me that despite it’s beauty Dartmoor is a place that demands caution and respect. It’s no wonder they built a prison up there. By mile 25 I was seriously considering turning back. Had I been riding alone I probably would have done just that but as it was we soldiered on, preying for the turning that would take us out of the wind.

Fortunately the rain stopped very soon after we’d turned off, the road was more sheltered and we no longer had to fight the wind. My thoughts now turned to the hard climbs that we were soon to encounter, Dartmoor contains four of the top 100 climbs in the UK and this route took in two of them. We started off with Dartmeet, beginning with a brutal 20% section with a bit of a false summit this climb can play some nasty tricks on you. I decided to bend the truth a little at this point, telling my friend that none of the climbs still to come were going to be as bad as this one. I decided not to try for a PR and instead save my strength for the rest of the ride (best excuse ever for setting a really slow time that one).

It was only a few miles later that we encountered Widdecombe. This climb always brings back a few memories, two years ago it came up at mile 70 of a 100 mile ride and I don’t think I’ve ever found a climb so unpleasant as I did on that day. In all fairness this time round it could have been a lot worse, my Scott climbs very well and rarely have I been so grateful for it. I did my best to keep up my “worst is over” charade, knowing full well that the real suffering was yet to come.

After some flattish miles we came back into Moretonhampsted. We treated ourselves to a cafe stop, the caffeine hit a very welcome boost after having survived trial by rain and hills. Unfortunately this resulted in an unexpected problem, my Garmin threw in the towel. Rarely does that device let me down but when it does it’s a serious nuisance. That meant I was going to have to navigate the next few miles by “instinct” which in my case really means “haven’t got a bloody clue”. You won’t be surprised to hear I took a wrong turning and lead us up an unnecessary climb that we then had to come back down before heading up another similarly unpleasant hill to get to the correct turning. It’s a wonder my friend has since agreed to go for another ride.

A few mercifully easy miles followed, if you discount the particularly treacherous lane on the way to Kennik Reservoir, those potholes could swallow a man whole unless carefully avoided. That particular rant is for another day. We soon began to descend, this should have bought joy but I must admit it was bittersweet. The upcoming climb would have been challenging at the very beginning of the ride, eight miles from home it was going to be a killer. And kill us it did. On the flat you can hide from the fatigue to a certain extent, once you’ve built some momentum sustaining it is relatively straightforward. When it comes to steep climbs it’s another matter. This one was especially cruel, going up in short but very steep increments with flat in-between. Three times I thought we’d reached the top, there’s nothing more demoralising than a false dawn.

Finally we reached Haldon forest, the point at which we’d turn for home, it was a mutual decision to go with the slightly more direct route, we’d both had enough pain for one day. Returning to the outskirts of Exeter bought a big sigh of relief, we’d survived. It was then that I decided to deem this ride epic, having met four of the five criteria above it was worthy of the title. I ought to mention here that it was the first properly long ride my friend had ever done, I’m slightly in awe of his level of mental toughness. This was truly a Baptism of fire into the world of Cycling.

Thanks for reading.

 

Time to go

It’s taken a few days of reflection to get out of the inevitable downbeat mood following last Sunday’s somewhat disastrous performance. I’ve decided to forget about running for a couple of weeks and go back to doing what I know best, namely riding my bike. The sole upshot of a bad race is the surge in motivation that tends to come along afterwards. It’s time to redeem myself; get lean, ride hard and eventually get fast again.

I’ve committed to riding at least six days a week and already I’m starting to see a difference. Short commutes do a surprisingly good job of loosening the legs up, making it much easier to persuade myself to get out for training rides after work. Having a summer job I enjoy coupled with no exams and deadlines to worry about has put me in a good mental state, one in which I can really focus on training.

For the first time in a long while I genuinely look forward to the challenge of riding hard, today’s effort has gone some way to convince me that there might yet be some good performances in the pipeline this season. A 21 MPH average with a KOM taken in the process and a normalised power of 297 Watts indicates my legs haven’t forgotten what to do just yet.

Having enjoyed off road riding over these past few months I’ve decided to take the plunge and enter my first MTB event, a local off-road sportive. Nothing particularly challenging but I’m expecting it to be a big learning curve nonetheless. My trail riding skills still leave rather a lot to be desired and getting round without a few cuts and bruises would be something of a miracle.

After a few frustrating afternoons in the garage all the bikes are pretty much up together and ready for the summer ahead. My mechanical skills finally seem to have improved to a point where I no longer have to resort to the bike shop at the first sign of trouble (famous last words?).

My ever faithful Cannondale has been given a very thorough clean and put away until late September. The 50/34 chainset it’s currently sporting is ideal for hilly Devon but the flatter roads of Dorset call for a bike with harder gearing.

Enter the Tarmac. This might not be my fastest steed but it’s very often the one I find myself taking out of the garage. Having gotten round to giving it some long overdue replacement headset bearings I have to say it’s a superb ride. I’ve long tried to replicate the riding position on my other machines but I have yet to manage it.

After the torrid weather we were subjected too over the winter I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have had a few weeks of sun. For me the best part of this has been seeing the condition of the roads improve to the extent where it’s safe to take the Scott out without fear of getting it scratched. I’m itching to use it in anger and target a few local KOM’s during the coming months.

It’s been a long while since I’ve gotten out on the TT bike. Having decided last year that Road Racing wasn’t for me  its the time trial scene that I want to focus on this time round. At the moment I’m sad to admit that a major barrier to this is needing to lose 4-5 Kg so as to be-able to fit into my skinsuit without fear of ripping it.

My MTB has definitely suffered the after effects of being ridden multiple times in blizzard conditions over the spring. It’s needed new brake pads, a bottom bracket replacement and a fresh chain. Having sorted that out the fork is now feeling rather lacklustre and the noise coming from the headset doesn’t fill me with confidence. I’ve admitted defeat and booked it into the local bike shop for a service.

Last but not least project gravel has gotten off the ground. Following a respray it’ll be time to fit the bottom bracket, headset and forks to the frame – soon followed by some wheels. Already this has presented a few challenges but more on that in a future post.

In short I’m looking forward to a Summer of Cycling. I dare say there will be highs, lows, triumphs, disasters and the usual series of funny moments. Stay tuned for more.

Thanks for reading

DNF

There are good events, there are bad events and then there are those events that you’d really like to forget. It’s been a very long time since I last recorded a DNF (that stands for did not finish for anyone who doesn’t know). Unfortunately, for various reasons I ended up adding another one to the list today.

Like so many things I’ve signed up for over the years it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’d managed to get round the Yeovil Half Marathon  and set a new PB for the distance in the process. In the aftermath of that success I made the decision to sign up for the real thing. To a Cyclist 26.2 miles doesn’t sound like a big deal, on a bike I could do that in my sleep. I failed to realise just how much of an ask it is to complete that distance on foot. Error number one.

Looking back at it the timing of my chosen event was far from ideal. Back in March exam season seemed a long way away, in reality the deadlines and revision meant that I had far less time on my hands to train than I would have liked. In training my longest run was a mere ten miles, this would have been fine if I was training for a shorter race but sadly as I later found out there truly is no substitute for getting in the mileage when it comes to the longer ones.

I’ve written plenty about how much of a mare this last winter turned out to be; bad weather, mechanical problems and illness all made it very difficult to maintain let alone increase my fitness. Fortunately these last three months have been far better and I’ve been making steady progress toward getting back to the level I want to be operating at. The one thing I haven’t yet succeeded in doing is getting back down to racing weight, I’m still 5kg heavier when compared to this point last year. While it really doesn’t help with cycling it’s running where that extra baggage has been most evident, with hills being far more taxing than they otherwise would be. Sadly your feet don’t have a granny gear you can use to spin up a steep incline.

Unsurprisingly the psychological side of things also had a big part to play. It might sound very strange if you’re not familiar with the weird world of academia but let me tell you that exam season really takes it’s toll on your mental resilience and it takes some time to recover from it. With the benefit of hindsight I can safely say that taking on such a tough physical and mental challenge that I’d never faced before as a first post-exam event was a bad idea.

You’re not going to be surprised to hear that I did exactly what I’ve advised against doing many, many times on here. Namely letting the ego get in the way of my pacing strategy. I had a target time of 3:30 in mind originally, had I stuck to it I might well have managed to get round. Sadly by mile five I’d decided to stick with the group of runners I’d found myself in, at first the pace was very manageable. With a Half Marathon PB of 1:32 I’d have thought that a pace delivering a first half split of 1:40 wouldn’t have presented any major issues.

For the most part I felt good during those first eight miles; settling into a decent rhythm, sticking to a tried and tested nutrition strategy and not getting any complaints from my feet and ankles. A combination of the various reasons above were responsible for what happened next. At first it was a slight twinge in the my right calf, it wasn’t long before this started to get progressively worse. By mile ten my feet were seriously protesting, I’d have thought nothing of it in a Half Marathon but with 16 miles still to go it was a big worry.

Coming to the end of the first lap and running straight past the site of the finish line was very demoralising. It was at that point that for the first time I properly understood just how difficult running a Marathon actually was. I’ve got a new found respect for anyone who can simply manage to get round a 26.2, let alone run one quickly. By mile 14 my feet were so painful that I was forced to change my footstrike modality, giving my forefeet at rest by heel striking. The relief from this was short lived, almost immediately my ankles began to ache.

At the beginning of mile 15 I began to think it might be game over, unfortunately once that thought gets into your head it’s very difficult to get rid of it. There is nowhere to hide if you overdo it on a run, no option of spinning home at an easy pace. With body and mind telling me in unison that it wasn’t going to happen I did my best to push on, hoping that it would pass and I’d manage to find my feet again. Sadly this was not to be, following a steep hill at the beginning of mile 16 my legs gave up the ghost. I was completely spent.

The relief of stopping soon gave way to disappointment and frustration, getting rescued from the roadside is not the way I’d pictured finishing the event. At the moment with the episode still very fresh in my mind it’s very hard to see the positives. In many ways it could of course have been much worse. I’m hurting but not injured to the point of needing to take a lot of time away from training.  At 21 years of age I think it’s safe to say that there will be plenty of opportunities to redeem myself and tick a Marathon off the bucket list. Next time I’ll know exactly what not to do.

I’m planing on having a couple of weeks off from running. For the latter half of the 2018 season my focus will be on cycling time trials, getting back to something I’m more familiar with and hopefully boosting my morale with some good performances in the process. If nothing else ‘field testing’ a TT setup should lead to reclaiming a few of the KOM’s I’ve lost over the winter. Onwards and upwards.

Thanks for reading.

 

It’s Over

Folks, we’ve made it. After what I must admit has been a very challenging few months in all sorts of ways it’s unbelievably satisfying that my friends and I have made it through the second year of University. In the interest of honesty I’m writing this whilst nursing the mother of all hangovers having let off a serious amount of steam last night following my last exam.  I’d like to offer my heartfelt thanks to the friends and family members who’ve made that time bearable. To all of you who’ve put up with my complaining and helped keep my mind in the right place trust me when I say that it’s very deeply appreciated.

In the interest of getting a decent set of grades when results day arrives in a few weeks time I must admit that my fitness has fallen by the wayside. Sadly a diet based largely on convenience rather than nutritional value has lead to some weight gain. I’m not going to let myself feel guilty about that this time round, constantly striving for perfection in all aspects of life simply isn’t a good way to live in my opinion. Instead I’m looking forward to the challenge of getting faster, stronger and leaner over the next three months before it all starts up again.

In order to keep myself busy I’ve come up with a summer project that I’m hoping will give me some useful new skills. I can feel family and close friends rolling their eyes at this when I say that I’ve gone and bought Bike number six, or at least the beginnings of it. Let me explain. Having now ridden both road and mountain bikes I can testify that each is good fun for entirely different reasons. Road bikes are fast, nothing compares to the adrenaline rush of descending a mountain at 45 Mph. With MTB it’s the terrain that makes it interesting, developing the technical skills that needed to tackle rocks, roots and whatever else the local trails might have in store. It goes without saying that each also comes with disadvantages, spending hours on the road can be very monotonous and hauling that heavy MTB up steep climbs is never an enjoyable experience.

That begs the question, there must be a place for something in-between? A bike that can be ridden to the local trail centre at a reasonable pace, used to tackle some of the easier off-roading on offer and then ridden home again. For any non-Cyclists reading this I’m talking about gravel bikes, at first glance they look like road bikes with bigger tyres and in all honesty that’s not a bad description. You usually find them with disc brakes, clearance for large and possibly knobbly tyres and a long wheelbase to make the handling as stable as possible. Here’s something to illustrate it.

Left to right; Roadie, Gravel bike, MTB

It’s a common argument, one that I’d probably agree with, that the concept is actually nothing new. Gravel bikes do much the same job as early MTB’s did 25-30 years ago. That one got me thinking, instead of buying an expensive modern gravel frame why not pick up an old MTB frame and convert it? There are a number of advantages besides lower cost to doing it this way; I can build the bike to my exact specification and not have to worry about changing stock parts, I’ll learn a lot of new mechanical skills along the way and at the end of it I’ll have a completely unique machine.

Here is the starting point, a 1997 Merlin frame that I bought for £55 on Ebay. If you’re not a Cycling geek you can probably skip these next few paragraphs.

I chose it for a few reasons. It’s surprisingly light for a 20-year old frame being made of Aluminium rather than Steel. The hub spacing on the rear is more modern 135 mm rather than 130, that means it’ll accommodate an 11 speed freehub. The frame was originally designed for 26′ wheels but the clearance is wide enough that it can take 650b ones instead, making it faster on the road and easier to handle on the rougher stuff. Better still it’s designed for a 1 & 1/8 inch steerer, making it easy enough to source a modern fork that will work with the frame. Likewise it’ll accommodate an up to-date shimano hollowtech II bottom bracket, saving a great deal of headaches.

What’s the plan then? It was hard to tell what condition the paintwork was in from the photos alone, once it got here it was apparent that the frame was in need of a respray, as it stands british racing green is on the cards. Next on the agenda will be sorting out the bottom bracket, headset and fork. Quickly followed by finding a decent set of wheels and tyres. I suspect thereafter is where things will start to get a bit tricker. If there’s one thing I don’t miss from the bikes of my childhood its V-Brakes; squeaky, difficult to set up and dreadful in the wet. To that end I’m going with a disc-brake conversion, on the front it’s simply a matter of buying a fork with disc mounts. As for the rear it’s more complicated.  The only option is to go with an adapter, there are a few around but sourcing one of good quality which will fit that particular frame might well be a frustrating experience. In the interest of keeping costs low and simplicity of installation I’m going to go for cable operated discs over the hydraulic variety.

Next I’ll turn my attention to the drivetrain. I’m not entirely convinced that single chainring (1x) setups are going to take off for road bikes but for MTB and Gravel riding I’m a big fan. In short there’s less to go wrong, stick a big enough cassette on the back and you’ll have a good range of gears, the downside to this is cost. I won’t go into it in too much detail, essentially 1x rear mech’s for mountain bikes are relatively affordable but of course won’t work with road shifters, it won’t surprise you to hear that road-compatible models are very pricey. That means searching the internet for a second hand bargain.

Once that’s sorted it’ll be time for the finishing touches. Depending on what the budget allows I’d like to go for a carbon seatpost to increase comfort, gravel specific handlebars and a few personalised decals. Estimating the total cost of this build is very difficult but I’m hoping it’ll come to under £1,000. Hopefully at the end of it I’ll have a machine that will tick all the desired boxes; versatility, durability, and fun factor. If I’m lucky there will be enough money left over towards the end of the summer to take a trip to somewhere new and really put the bike through it’s paces. Roll on Summer.

Thanks for reading.

Lemonade

I’m back. You’ll all be thrilled to know, in my head anyway. Just to warn you, this is going to be another one of those philosophical posts. Life by its very nature is full of mystery and the outcomes of our choices can’t ever be fully predicted. If I’m being 100% honest with you I’ve made a few ‘questionable’ decisions over these past few weeks. Hindsight has left me beyond exasperated at the scale of my ineptitude. Exam season is never an enjoyable time and this year for all sorts of reasons it’s been particularly challenging. Ordinarily I’m training in the pursuit of a physical goal but at the moment it’s about something entirely different – keeping myself sane.

At times like this I try not to think of exercise as training. I ride, run and lift purely for the sake of doing those things. As an aspiring Sports Scientist I’m very much a numbers guy however the conclusion I’ve come to is that just as there are times when you should be meticulously analysing your performance there are also those when that’s the worst thing you could possibly do. It’s important to recognise that we all have a limit when it comes to the amount of stress we can tolerate regardless of the source it comes from. Therefore in my case as an example I’m not going to waste any energy worrying about whether or not my FTP has gone down.

The sole upshot to this tricky time has been a surge in motivation. The thought of that days planned ride, run or gym session is the primary motivator for getting out of bed in the morning. It’s my opinion that once you start doing any sport competitively it’s very easy to lose sight of why you picked it up in the first place. Personally my greatest downfall has been comparing myself to others, feeling bad because I lose a Strava KOM or can’t match a friends’ time on a local climb. Stripping it right back to basics has seen the return of that early enthusiasm. I ride a bike because I love it; the sense of freedom that it brings, the thrill of seeing what I’m capable of and the sense of satisfaction that comes with getting off the sofa and setting off to the middle of nowhere.

Rather than selecting the routes which are best to train on I’m choosing them based purely on how enjoyable they are to ride. Trips to some of my favourite destinations have truly done wonders for my morale. This morning for example involved a memorable outing to Dartmoor. Not glancing down at my Garmin every few seconds allowed me to properly appreciate the beauty of the place and when I felt like stopping and taking a break because my legs were tired that’s exactly what I did. Perfection.

Somewhat ironically, now that serious training has been paused I’ve inadvertently succeeded at achieving one of my long term goals namely the sub 20-minute 5K run. In the spirit of enjoyment over numbers I decided to forego my usual long run on a Saturday morning in favour of trying out the local Parkrun with a friend of mine. It’s something I would now recommend to anyone. There’s something very heartening about a free event that’s run largely by volunteers, seeing people of all ages and abilities finding common ground in the pursuit of fitness.

Those of you who know me well (Hey Mum) won’t be surprised to hear that despite telling myself I was going to take it easy I decided to try for a new PB within about ten seconds of starting. Despite the fact my legs were sore from the previous day’s effort on the bike I managed to push on, setting a respectable time of 19:36. In the grand scheme of things that’s nothing special but considering I was once so unfit that walking up the stairs was a hard effort it’s nice to be-able to remind myself of the progress I’ve made during these last six years.

I’m looking down guiltily at my watch every few seconds as I write this. Sadly I have an exam tomorrow and contrary to my wildest dreams the material isn’t all going to learn itself at the last minute. To that end I’m going to sign off and leave you to what I hope is an enjoyable and non-revision filled day. I’ll finish with this; many times I’ve heard it said that when life gives you lemons you should make lemonade. I’m going to do that very cliche thing and come up with my own version. When life gives you revision, go and ride a bike.

Thanks for reading.

Island Fever

Cycling trips have become a tradition in recent years. A few days spent exploring new places on two wheels can do wonders for your morale, especially if it also happens to involve escaping the British weather. Last year this was not the case, fortunately however the the rain failed to stop riding the length of Britain from being a truly amazing experience. The year before that it was a trip to the alps which culminated in completing the Ventoux cingles challenge. This time round the destination was the island of Mallorca. Often described as a cycling paradise I was never going to turn down the opportunity to spend a week seeing what the place had to offer.

Being something of a geek when it comes to equipment I spent many hours deliberating over which bike to bring. I came to the conclusion that the ideal steed would be a Colnago V2-R with Zipp 303 wheels and a SRAM Red Etap groupset. Sadly I didn’t have nine grand to spend and instead needed to consider the bikes I actually owned. My Specialized was out of the question, I know from past experience that my knees would not take kindly to a 39-53 chainset in the mountains. It was therefore a toss-up between the Cannondale and the Scott. The former is currently equipped with a compact up-front, making it ideal for climbing. Unfortunately it’s also rather heavy and whilst the 10 speed 105 groupset does the job it doesn’t shift particularly smoothly and the brakes aren’t the best. In the end therefore I opted for the latter, fortunately it proved to be more than up to the task in the coming days.

Packing bikes up is always a nerve-wracking experience. Sadly airline baggage handlers have a bit of a bad reputation among us Cyclists. It’s much less common than I would like to hear horror stories about bikes being damaged in transit. This therefore gave rise to a feat of paranoid overpacking. In the end the bike bag came to almost 30kg (the bike on it’s own is about 7.5), with all the necessary padding in place.

On that very first night, having arrived at the Villa and been relieved to discover that all the bikes had survived the trip unscathed we of course turned our attention to admiring each others machines. My Scott drew a few admiring glances. I’ll admit to being particularly proud of the way the wheel decals precisely match the colour of the saddle. My Father however was the owner of the star attraction, a special diamond coated chain. The great irony of this was that it wasn’t even fitted to his bike, it had simply been bought along as “an emergency spare“.

Our attention then turned to planning the following day. By virtue of being the only one who had bought a laptop I was appointed chief route planner. For the first time ever I was able to identify with Donald Trump, for rarely has an individual been worse suited to a role. I’ll never forget that infamous winter century last year whereby the route I’d plotted lead us down an impassable bridleway. Dinner that night was courtesy of the local supermarket, you can never go wrong with Pizza and beer. I’m going to let you in on a trade secret, when a Cyclist says things like “carb loading” or “eating for recovery” on these trips most of the time it really means “I’m eating whatever I like because I’ll probably burn most of it off and not have put on too much weight at the end”.  Each and every time I’ve managed to come back heavier despite all the riding. Anyway, onto the good stuff.

Day 1 – Cap de Formentor to Sineu Velodrome

We agreed to leave at 9AM. Another insight, we knew this really meant 9:30. I’ve yet to meet a Cyclist who has the ability to get out of the door on time in the morning. There are always tyres that need pumping up, chains to be lubricated, gamins to be charged at the last minute and my personal favourite – the missing arm warmer. It came as no surprise therefore that upon finally managing to set off we were stopped in our tracks by a distant shout from one of our number “wait, I’ve forgotten my gloves“. Nothing changes.

You’re always advised to take the first day easy and not to ride for too long. However, the night before we’d become very enthusiastic courtesy of a few beers and decided on an 86 mile route with about 5,500 feet of climbing. You’d think we would have been sensible enough not to hammer it up the first climb. Unsurprisingly you would be wrong on that front. It’s something that you can guarantee when you have a group of riders of similar ability, unbridled competitiveness. In my case that meant climbing Cap de Formentor at an average of 85% of my maximum heart rate, arriving breathless at the summit with about 70 miles still to go. With that said, the smiles on our faces give you some idea of just how enjoyable it was to be riding in civilised temperatures for a change.

I’ll admit that the descent wasn’t quite so pleasant. Ideally I’d have opted for a 35 mm rim wheelset but as it was it boiled down to a choice between my 45mm aero wheels and a cheap, heavy winter set. I of course went for the 45’s. On the flat they perform very well, however on exposed descents they can be unnerving in a crosswind. It’s not fun when you come close to losing control of the front wheel at 30mph. Fortunately, the best carrot cake I’ve ever tasted made the hair raising downhill a distant memory when we had the first stop of the day.

From then on things got really good. I’m sure I’ve mentioned the terrible quality of UK roads on here before. Smooth Tarmac almost felt like a guilty pleasure. That, coupled with the stunning scenery and generous tailwind made it a day to remember. For me the highlight had to be the coast road. Cliche as this sounds, riding along to the sound of the sea whilst taking in the clear blue skies and marvelling at the mountains on the opposite side of the bay was remarkably calming.

To top it off, just before turning for home we came across a town with an outdoor velodrome. On this particular day it happened to be open, we couldn’t quite resist riding a few laps. You won’t be surprised to learn that I was unable to contain my foolish enthusiasm and went for a couple of utterly pointless sprints, subsequently riding home on a set of tired legs.

In short it was the best first day we could have hoped for. A three course meal that night felt well-earned.

Day 2 – Randa Monastery

I could see from the map that this route was going to be a particularly good one. Heading out along fast rolling roads, culminating in a 5km climb up to the lunch stop. For the first time in a while I was going to get the chance to really put the Foil through it’s paces.

My plan for a quick ride was put into jeopardy due to waking up that morning feeling sick as a parrot. It’s something that often happens to me after a hard ride the day before, the reason why remains a mystery. I was seriously doubting whether I’d manage an easy 20 miles, let alone the fast paced 85 that were on the cards.

Luckily after the first few miles my legs remembered what they were supposed to do and I felt fine again. Great in fact. The headwind we soon found ourselves battling made me grateful for bringing an aero bike.The faster you ride the more you notice the benefits of wind-cheating equipment. I wouldn’t say that getting that bike up to speed is much easier than it is with any of the others, the difference lies in the ease with which that speed can then be maintained. I’m also happy to report it made short work of a rough and technical stretch of road we came across. I’m told the previous generation Foil was a bone-rattling ride, the newer iteration is actually remarkably comfortable for a race orientated frame.

A brief rain shower did little to dampen our mood as we approached the climb up to the monastery that marked the half-way point of the ride. Once again we threw caution to the winds and tried to take it at speed. Technically speaking we were not racing, instead we just happened to be climbing as fast as we could in close proximity at the same time – this repeated itself many times throughout the coming days. Due to it being a short climb with a reasonable forgiving gradient I was able to hold my own and cross the finish line side by side with the best climber in the group. Our reward was a spectacular view of the island.

The bike continued to impress. Whilst not super lightweight it climbed very well, the stiffness of the frame ensuring that no energy was wasted in the process. On the descent, mercifully more sheltered than that of day one, it was equally at home – the powerful direct-mount brakes coupled with grippy tyres allowed me to carry a good amount of speed round the tight corners. Once we’d regrouped at the bottom it was time to head for home. The wind that had caused us such trouble on the way out was now in our favour, making for a relatively painless return leg.

Day 3 – Sa Colabra

No trip to Mallorca would be complete without a expedition to it’s most well known climb. On paper a sixty mile ride sounds pretty straightforward, add 6,500 feet of climbing and thirty degree heat and it starts to look pretty tough. Factor in the effect of the previous two days and you get an absolute sufferfest.

It wasn’t long before I regretted the efforts I’d put in on the day before. I’m slightly ashamed to admit that it had been six months since I’d ridden any longer than 100km and with running having taken priority in the last couple of months my body really wasn’t used to this much riding. Once a few miles had passed the worst of the muscle soreness alleviated and it was time to focus on the task at hand. Climbing.

It’s hard to explain, the climbs in Europe are a very different kettle of fish to those that you get in the UK. Over here the hills are almost all short and sharp, finding one that takes more than ten minutes at a reasonable pace is rare. On the continent the longest one I’ve tackled is 28km. Pacing yourself for these efforts is a skill that takes time to develop, by no means would I describe myself as a master. I’ve long since learnt that for me the easiest thing to do is to pick a power output or heart rate and focus exclusively on maintaining but not exceeding it for the duration of the climb – in other words treating it like a time trial.

I say that. What actually happens most of the time is that I end up desperately trying to hang onto somebody else’s wheel and the pacing strategy goes out the window. On the first climb of the day that’s exactly what happened. Deep down I knew that trying to keep pace with someone 6kg lighter than me on a five mile climb wasn’t the most sensible idea in the world, sadly that competitive instinct could not be suppressed. Somehow I managed it and we crested the climb together before taking some time to admire the view before the others caught up.

A busy descent followed. I’ve never seen so many Cyclists in one place. Sadly there were some real idiots amongst them. Let me tell you, when you’re doing 30-40 MPH it’s very scary when someone flies past you with inches to spare and doesn’t give you any warning. Especially when that rider then pulls in front of you and grabs a handful of brake. I will admit that a few 18 rated phrases were uttered under my breath at that point. Anyway, we made it to the bottom unscathed.

Following another short climb it was time for the main event of the day. There was only one possible route, descending Sa Colabra and then climbing back up. It’s known for being a fun descent, one of the highlights being a 270 degree sweeping bend close to the top. Now time for a rant. Ever since I was a small child I’ve loathed travelling by coach, there is not a more boring, soulless, polluting and often nauseating form of transport. It came as no surprise therefore that a succession of them served to ruin the descent by holding everyone up on the bends. When we finally arrived at the lunch stop it was a relief to have negotiated that section and remained in one piece.

The stunning views at the bottom of the climb did little to distract us from the pain that was to come. One of these days I’ll master the art of not attacking these mountains in the hope of trying to set a fast time, rather spinning leisurely up the slopes and taking the time to enjoy the experience. This was not that day.

Once again I told myself at the bottom that I wasn’t going to race. That was until I was overtaken. This time round I couldn’t hold the wheel, the harsh gradient putting me at a weight disadvantage. I seriously regretted eating a whole Pizza for lunch.

I couldn’t talk about this day without including what I think was the standout quote from the trip. One member of our group suffered a puncture on the aforementioned ascent, another who shall remain nameless was later keen to offer his skills to help, declaring that he was “a man who could pump with the best of them“. Once the laughter had died down it was time to head for home.

Heading back the exact same way we had come was going to be tough. The undulating mountain road that had been easy on relatively fresh legs would turn out to be an absolute killer on the return journey. Even the very smallest hills posed a challenge, getting back that lost momentum got gradually harder each time. At one point I was forced to stop and take on some emergency fuel in the form of a mars bar and a can of coke.

The disappointing descent of Sa Colabra was more than made up for by the last downhill of the day. I can’t remember the last time I managed to have so much fun on a bike. Good visibility coupled with the fact that most of the corners weren’t too sharp made it possible to really get up to speed. It’s tricky to describe the adrenaline rush that comes with exceeding 40 MPH on a bike. In those moments everything comes down to your skill, one wrong move and it could end in disaster. Luckily once again we all made it down safely.

Rather than go straight home we opted to check out a famed Cafe that a few members of our group had visited on previous trips. The coffee and cake were spectacular. For me however the standout feature of the place was the treasure trove of rare bikes it was home to, among them a Lotus 108, and a Colnago Master. Suffice to say it took a great deal of willpower to drag ourselves away from the place.

The day ended with a generous meal in a restaurant overlooking the sea front at sunset. Sometimes you just can’t go wrong.

Day 4 – Petra 

This had originally been planned as a rest day. Upon waking up in the morning with my legs feeling like jelly I realised that for me there wasn’t any other choice. Had I set out on the bike it may well have been the last time I was able to manage it during the trip. With a heavy heart therefore I prepared myself for a day of sitting at home doing Uni work whilst the others headed out for yet another long ride. Okay, this day of work may have mostly involved sitting by the pool. Here’s the description of the ride, stolen from My Father.

Another day in Mallorca. It’s mainly flat he said. Lovely weather but some really strong headwinds and rolling terrain. Really felt the burn on the way back. Nice almond cake in Area with Jason’s mate. Decent baguette for lunch (tuna again). Al did his best St Francis impression and saved a baby tortoise from the roadside. BBQ Bob sorted supper.

Day 5 – The Queen Stage

As we sat and plotted the Garmin route the night before I must admit I was extremely grateful for having had a day off. This route involved three major climbs including the famous Puig Major. 87 Miles with almost 8,000 feet of climbing is never going to be easy, especially when you factor in the high temperatures and all the riding we’d already done.

It started off easy, cruising at a steady pace along the flatter roads we’d become familiar with on days one and two. Soon the mountains came into view. I was determined that I would get to the top of at least one climb first during the course of the trip. I’d already decided on the Coll d’Orient . At only 5km long with an average gradient of 5% it was well suited to my abilities.

I decided to go full gas from the very start, before long I was at over 90% of my maximum heart rate (that means bloody hard if you’re not a Cyclist). I was more grateful than ever that I hadn’t bought my winter bike, the extra weight would have made the climb even more soul-draining than it already was. I can’t deny that there is nothing more satisfying than flying past large groups of fellow riders on these climbs. It’s as close as many of us will ever get to experiencing what it’s like to be a pro Cyclist. In the end my effort paid off and I achieved my goal of being first to the summit. Later I would come to seriously regret it.

The Lunch stop that day was especially picturesque. The town of Soller can best be described as Mallorca’s answer to Switzerland. Sitting in that square tucking into a lasagne whilst watching the old wooden trams go by was something I won’t forget in a hurry. It’s the sort of place that makes you want to pack everything in at home and emigrate.

Following a quick photo stop at the port it was time to tackle the Puig. 15 km might not sound like very much but let me tell you it’s a long time to be climbing. There is nowhere to hide up there, overpacing yourself is likely to lead to you grinding to a humiliating halt and having to take a taxi home. Finally I came to my senses and decided to judge my effort sensibly. My strategy was simple, ignore everything else and just focus on the task – stick to a planned heart rate and take very careful note of any warning signs from my legs. For what felt like an age I pushed on, longing for the days when I was 10kg lighter. The sight of the tunnel that marked the top of the climb would have made me jump for joy if I’d had the energy. Once through it we were rewarded with a view of the lake below. 

Those last 25 miles were nothing short of agony. We stuck together as a group, this was not a day for leaving people behind. Soon we found ourselves travelling along the same road that had killed our legs at the end of day three. It’s a sign of just how hard the ride was that nobody said a word for a good five minutes when we finally arrived back that the Villa. The Pizza that night went down very well.

Day 6 – Sa Batalla 

Having discovered the night before that we’d now ridden eight out of the top ten climbs in Mallorca we set our sights on completing the challenge. One proved to be too far away, fortunately however number nine was in fact relatively close to where we were staying. My legs felt as bad as they ever have upon getting up that morning but I reassured myself with the fact the route was only 60km long.

We set out at an unusually leisurely pace, taking our time to enjoy some of the sights on the last day. On a bike you get to see the places the tourists don’t go, taking minor roads lead us to some beautiful villages and small towns over the course of the trip. None of which we’d have seen on a beach holiday.

Soon we arrived at the foot of the climb of Sa Batalla. At a mere 8km long this was a much more inviting prospect than the challenges of the previous day. We managed to stay together for an entire kilometre, agreeing that we wouldn’t try and chase Strava Segment times. As per usual however this pact soon dissolved, another rider passed us at some speed and two of us couldn’t quite resist the urge to try and follow him.

At the 3km mark the worst happened. My legs packed it in, with the lack of endurance training over the past few months it was a miracle they’d made it this far. This level of fatigue goes well beyond the usual muscle burn. You don’t have the energy to push yourself hard enough for it to hurt. My heart rate refused to go above a certain point. Fortunately the climb temporarily flattened and I managed to take on some food and drink. I just about made it to the summit, doing my best (and probably failing miserably) to look as if I wasn’t on the verge of completely blowing up.

Fortunately most of the remaining miles were flat or downhill and I was able to survive by staying at the back of group and shamelessly drafting everybody in front. At the final lunch stop whilst tucking into a particularly enjoyable Pizza I decided to head straight for home thereafter rather than completing the extra miles that had been planned. In some ways it was a disappointing end to the trip but I have to keep things in perspective. After a truly torrid offseason which involved battling illness, injury and a considerable amount of stress I was grateful to have made it out in the first place.

The verdict

I can’t tell you how good it felt to finally enjoy riding my bike again. Trips like this have always served to remind me why I do it in the first place; to push my physical limits, explore new places and spend time with like-minded people.

If you should ever get the chance to visit Mallorca I suggest you don’t hesitate to hop on the plane. It’s got everything; mountains, smooth tarmac, decent weather and cafes that do really, really good coffee.

Thanks for reading.

Wake Up Call

“If you’re going to make loud moaning noises could you please do it with the door closed?” The words of my long-suffering brother. Before you ask the noises in question were in fact muffled screams of agony emitted upon attempting to foam-roller my legs. I knew from past experience that recovering from a Half Marathon is not an easy task. For three days afterwards I dreaded walking down the stairs. Running induces a level of fatigue that I’ve never experienced after even the longest and hardest of rides. My feet too were suffering, the blisters spectacular in a mildly twisted way. For purposes of later in this post slow recovery from the half will be designated excuse number one.

An advantage of my temporary immobility was that it finally gave me some time in which to sit down and plan my season. A Half-Ironman in June was the original target but after the off-season from hell it was no longer a remotely realistic option. After six years of Cycling being the main priority I’ve decided to take a bit of a sabbatical, focusing primarily on running. I’m hoping that in doing so I’ll set myself up for a strong return to Triathlon next year, running having always been my achilles heel.

Running a full marathon has long since been on the bucket list. To that end I’ve entered one in ten weeks time. Currently I’m doing my level best not to think about how sore my legs are going to be after 26.2 miles when 13.1 managed to completely nuke them. Fortunately in terms of training it’s not rocket science, in fact my plan can be summed up in two words, “run lots“. Having been unable to run any longer than 10k in the run up to the Yeovil Half due to niggling foot injuries my endurance is in need of some serious work.

By far the most significant downside of having prioritised running is the pronounced loss of performance on the bike. Having done next to no riding in the last two weeks the Sunday club run was set to be a character forming experience. In all honesty it would have been sensible to avoid it and instead go for a long steady slow ride. As per usual the possibility of unofficially racing up the hills won out.

It started out well. For the first time in a fortnight the weather was borderline pleasant, it wasn’t raining and from time to time there was a small glimpse of blue sky. Sadly the roads haven’t cleared up yet, they’re still covered in mud, gravel and various other substances that I don’t want to think about. Here comes excuse number two – I was on my winter bike. It’s all of 2kg heavier than my summer ride, which must explain why the hills took so much out of me. Nothing whatsoever to do with the easter eggs, brownies, cake and pizza that may or may not have been consumed in generous amounts during this last week.

Unable to help myself I ended up spending a great deal of the first twenty-five miles of the planned seventy mile route on the front. Here comes excuse number three. Caught up in the adrenaline rush of a fast group ride I completely failed to take into account the fundamental truth, my distinct lack of fitness. For a brief time it was as if nothing had changed, my legs like their old selves, sprinting up every short incline and trying to keep up with the more powerful riders on the flats. However, as you can probably imagine it wasn’t too long before this exuberance started to catch up with me.

My final excuse for what happened next revolves around the terrible weather we’ve had to endure for the past few months. My hatred of the turbo trainer coupled with the desire to try something new lead to Mountain Biking providing the solution. This year I’ve spent a great deal more time on my MTB with it’s upright riding position than on the Road Bike. At 21 years of age I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that after two hours on the road bike my back was completely done in. Reaching the cafe stop was an achievement in itself. I hoped that the chance to stop and refuel would rejuvenate me to the extent that I’d at least mange to make it home.

Unfortunately it was no such luck. Five miles after the Cafe stop I was gone, it’s been a long time since I’ve experienced what is traditionally dubbed “the bonk”. For anyone who doesn’t know that’s code for when your legs completely stop working and you physically can’t carry on riding. In my case it’s usually accompanied by nausea and an overpowering sense of humiliation. I resigned myself to what was going to be an agonisingly slow ride home, shouting for the others to go on as I watched the group riding off into the distance.

Fortunately I only had to ride for a further five miles before reaching a nearby village and calling for a lift home. Only once had this happened before , this time round it wasn’t quite as bad due to the absence of torrential rain. Nonetheless it wasn’t the way I planned the first club run of the spring to end. If nothing else it’s served to motivate me to get out on my bike and properly push myself again. Running will be given priority but I’m not going to stand for getting dropped on club rides.

Thanks for reading.

Shut up Feet

Bzzz. Bzzz. Bzzz“. A sound I have come to simultaneously dread and look forward to. That early morning alarm on the day of an event. Nerves were especially high for this one, the first time I’d pinned on a number since my Half Ironman last September. After such a physically and mentally challenging off-season I was grateful to finally be on the start line again. If you’d told me three months ago that I’d be in good enough to shape to run a Half Marathon let a lone a quick one my response would have been a deeply skeptical one.

Preparation in the preceding few weeks had gone surprisingly well. Minor foot injuries that had all but completely ruined my run training last year were no longer a problem. This newfound consistency had paid off when it came to my pace, slowly but surely increasing on my normal training routes. With that said the unknowns were still there. For fear of incurring an injury I hadn’t run any longer than 10k in training. To a certain extent therefore it was a matter of hoping for the best, specifically that my legs wouldn’t give up half way through the thing.

I had two goals in mind. First and foremost attempting to set a new personal best, having run a respectable 1:34 in this event a couple of years back this would provide a direct comparison. Secondly I set out to go sub 1:30, a very big ask but one that I hoped was just about achievable.  Having done very little training in the preceding week I was relieved that my legs felt relatively lively upon waking up. The usual routine followed.

  1. Get up ten minutes later than planned having hit the snooze button out of habit.
  2. Spend at least five minutes deliberating over kit choice despite having made a firm decision the night before.
  3. Wolf down the world’s largest bowl of porridge, washed down with a double espresso.
  4. Check my kit bag, realise I’ve forgotten something important – spend a couple of minutes frantically searching for it only to realise it was in the most obvious place possible.
  5. Set off – hopefully having half an idea of the way.
  6. Arrive. Very often (though not this time) struggle to find somewhere to park.
  7. Locate registration go and sign in. Hope the queue isn’t too long.
  8. Warm up if it’s one of the rare occasions where I’ve left enough time to do so.
  9. Attend race briefing – try to look as if I’m listening.
  10. Wait nervously on the start line until the flag drops.

When that flag does come down it’s usually a relief and certainly was on this occasion. Finally it was time to see what I was capable of. It was a simple strategy, run with the 1:30 pacer for as long as possible. Miles 1-4 went by very quickly, having run this course before I knew that wasn’t going to last long. Staying positive during long events is one of the most important skills I’ve learned over the years. In those first few miles it’s inevitable that the thought of what is still to come is a daunting one. My preferred strategy is to think only in terms of getting to the next mile maker, running one mile thirteen times sounds much easier than running thirteen miles.

At mile five my legs started to hurt. Those first signs of fatigue can creep up on you and easily get in the way of a good time if you’re not prepared for them. I did my best to distract myself, focusing exclusively on following the pacer in front and ignoring the pain in my legs and aching feet. It was at that point that I decided to sneak an energy gel, refuelling can provide just as much of a psychological boost as a physical one. Particularly as it just happened to be my very favourite flavour, raspberry ripple.

Three miles later things began to get serious. Up until this point the course had by enlarge been flat or very slightly downhill. If anything steep uphill gradients are more daunting on a run than on the bike, if you get the pacing wrong there is simply nowhere to hide – no easier gear you can switch into in order to give the legs a rest. Once again it was a matter of trusting that the pacer knew what he was doing, I had to put the ego away and reminded myself that my running experience is very limited in comparison to that which I have of Cycling. I simply wouldn’t have trusted myself not to try and attack the hill, blowing up before reaching the top.

I just about succeeded in staying with the pacer. I knew however at this point that I wasn’t going to get round in under 1:30, my legs were really starting to protest and every footstrike felt like a real effort. At mile ten I began to feel light headed, a surefire sign that at some point I was going to have to slow down. It’s at times like this that keeping your head in check is beyond crucial, there are a few strategies I’ve developed over the years. Today I went with a classic. Picturing myself crossing the finish line and in doing so saying a giant “f*ck you” to everyone who made fun of my un-athletic and overweight teenage self. I agree it’s not the healthiest of thoughts to draw strength from but sometimes you just have to go with what works.

As I’d predicted I lost touch with the pacer at the mile 11 mark. A stitch was the final straw and I had no choice but to stop running and catch my breath. It would have been easy to give up at that point but deep down I knew I had more to give. Gingerly I set off again, this time at a self-selected pace that I hoped I would mange to keep up for the remainder of the run. Those last two miles are a blur, in contrast to two years ago when I was able to really race them it was all I could do to keep going in a straight line. I tried to maintain an external focus to as greater extent as possible, picking out interesting objects in my surroundings to distract myself from the pain.

Crossing the finish line was a blessed relief. Overambitious pacing had come perilously close to ending my race. Everything I had to give was left out on the road. A time of 1:32 was a pleasant surprise, not quite what I’d wanted but still a new PB. I’d only experienced that level of fatigue once before, at the end of the weymouth Half Ironman. Its an achievement I’ll long be proud of despite finishing a lowly 116th out 1300 entrants.

A few hours later my legs are still aching, to tell the truth I haven’t been able to move from the sofa for the last hour and a half. Having now got over the “Never doing that again” feeling I’m busy thinking about how to train better so as to finally break 1:30. Onwards and upwards.

Thanks for reading.

Moving forward

Following last week’s  experience I was somewhat cautious heading into this one. With the first event of the season rapidly approaching the last thing I wanted to do was incur further injuries. On the other hand for the first time in a long while it looked set to be decent weather. To that end I reasoned the time ought not to be wasted, this of course had absolutely nothing to do with me wanting to avoid Uni work.

Tuesday started off very well, after a couple of months of weight training these last few days seem to have yielded a breakthrough. Finally I was able to up the load on several of my usual exercises. It’s deeply refreshing to be focusing on getting bigger & stronger, making a nice change from usual struggle to get down to something resembling racing weight. One of the nicest things about resistance training is the ease with which progress can be quantified, either you can lift a certain weight or you can’t. No complex interpretation of power data required.

Following the successful gym session in the morning that afternoon’s run was a good one. I’m going to run the risk of incurring the wrath of my Cycling friends when I say that there are times now and then when I prefer it to being on the bike. There is a wonderful simplicity to the action of putting one foot in front of the other. Especially on traffic-free sections it’s possible to switch off during a run in a way that you can’t quite (safely) manage on rides. I was very happy with the eventual average speed, a pace that would have seemed unattainable a couple of months ago can now be achieved with moderate effort. My goal of getting round next week’s Half Marathon in under 1:30 might just be achievable.

Wednesday began with my first swim in at least four months. As you might imagine it felt strange at first, especially with my arms still aching from the previous day’s exertions in the gym. Nonetheless eventually I was able to get back into something resembling a decent rhythm.  Interestingly although the pace wasn’t high it hadn’t dropped dramatically, my guess is that the extra upper body muscle I’ve acquired has gone some way to counteract the lack of time spent in the pool.

Inevitably the weather forecast was revised, looking far less optimistic. Torment specifically coming in the form of heavy rain all day. Not for the first time I was deeply envious of those Cyclists lucky enough to live in hot countries. You’d have hoped that by mid March the time for turbo sessions would have passed, no such luck. I’ve long since climbed aboard the Zwift train and have to say that it helps massively when it comes to alleviating the inevitable boredom you experience during indoor workouts. Nonetheless it can never compare to the feeling you get out on the road or trail.

Thursday turned into yet another double day. Starting off with weights, attempting some new exercises following the advice of a friend. Judging by how sore I was on Friday morning it’s fair to say they must have done the trick. A steady run afterwards marked the end of the streak, by this point my body was crying out for a rest. Never before had I managed three such days on the trot. I freely admit that in the grand scheme of things it’s a minor achievement but nonetheless I’m proud of myself for pushing through. After a tricky winter being physically & mentally capable of training hard again feels like a big step.

Friday was the calm before the storm, an easy evening swim served as good way of recovering from the rather long statistics seminar I’d sat through that morning. Unbelievably snow was forecast for the following day, practically unheard of at this time of year. For the second time in as many weeks I (wrongly) dismissed it. You won’t be surprised to hear that I was proven spectacularly wrong, what was supposed to be an easy hour on the Mountain Bike turned into a rush to get home having been caught out in a minor blizzard.

Sunday’s ride probably deserves a post of it’s own but I’m not quite ready to relive it yet. A three hour endurance session was planned and therefore I set out to do just that. Typically it began to snow once again just as I set off, over the course of the ride the wind got colder and the snow deeper. To tell the truth at one point I was seriously worried about losing a finger or two to frostbite, having discovered that after four years of usage the pair of gloves I was wearing were no longer waterproof. Once again my humble MTB proved it’s worth, the weather that had made it impossible to traverse certain roads by car did nothing to stop that £400 hardtail. I accept that going out in that weather may not have been the most sensible decision I’ve ever made but nonetheless I’m glad I did, the satisfaction that comes with not letting anything get in the way of training is well worth it.

So there we have it, apologies for the slight ego massage. If I’m honest it’s been the best training week I’ve had for several months. I’m curiously optimistic that good things might be around the corner, perhaps 2018 might turn out to be a half-decent season after all.

Thanks for reading.

 

Humble Pie

This past week has consisted of some useful lessons for the future. With six years of Cycling and four of running you’d think I’d have half an idea what I’m doing by now. Well, in one word… No. It’s a strange irony that applies to all aspects of life, the more you know the more you realise there is a great deal you don’t. Anyway, on with the post.

After a couple of days of disruption the snow that played host to last week’s adventure melted away. I’m hoping that this is due to herald the start of the long-awaited Spring, something all Cyclists will be eternally thankful for after the usual wet, muddy & dark British winter. After some particularly challenging lectures that morning by Tuesday I was ready to return to normal training. What better way to break my legs in than a fast run?

For the past few months my unofficial running goal has been to get under seven minutes per mile for my usual training route, an undulating 4.5 miles. Following the enforced “recovery break” that the snow had bought about I was planning to make use of what should have been fresh legs. Sure enough I felt good when setting off, already you can probably tell where this is going. As time went on I did begin to wonder whether I’d made a small mistake in the pacing, specifically failing to take into account that the last 1.5 miles of this particular route happen to be in the upwards direction.

So it was that I arrived at the bottom of that final hill with nothing left in the tank. Should that situation occur on a bike it’s an easy fix, just stick it in the easiest gear and spin home. With running it’s far more humiliating, I had no choice but to stop and rest for a few minutes, practicing the art of standing awkwardly at the side of the road and attempting to look as if it was planned. I jogged home in a state of despondency. You would think that by this point I would have mastered the art of pacing, clearly however there is still a long way to go.

To add insult to injury I discovered upon arriving home that I had forgotten to record the run. Not even a conciliatory PR on a segment of the route to soften the blow. Lesson number two, always double check you’ve started Strava before getting out the door.

I would love to say that no further mistakes were made in the course of the succeeding few days but sadly it was not to be. Two days after my disastrous run I was pushed for time, with coursework deadlines slowly getting closer it’s becoming more important than ever to organise my training properly. A bright idea occurred. “Why not make this a double day?” I thought to myself  “Surely there can be no harm in doing weights in the morning followed up with an MTB ride in the afternoon“.

Once again I was proven wrong on that count. My technical skills could never be described as ‘refined’ at the best of times when it comes to trail riding.  I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me that having knackered arms following an upper body workout might not necessarily help very much in that regard. As it was you won’t be surprised to hear that it wasn’t a successful ride. Involving various close encounters with hedges, rocks & tree stumps. Culminating in a particularly embarrassing fall on a trail I have ridden numerous times without incident. Rather typically I succeeded in cutting my leg on a sharp rock in the process.

My Father wasn’t surprised when my answer to how I had obtained this latest injury was a mumbled “Um.. Mountain Biking“. In the three months since I bought it I’ve fallen off that MTB more times than I’ve come off a road bike in the space of five years. This time round I feel the time has come to bite the bullet and invest in some more specific offroad gear, preferably that which offers some fall protection.

So there we have it. I now know that my pacing skills for running are in need of work, I can’t trust myself to start Strava properly and that going Mountain Biking after a weights session is a very poor idea. Readers, I hope your training goes more smoothly than mine.

Thanks for reading.