I would try and write an ode to my year like Eloise but frankly it would take me another year to try and make it all rhyme so I'll stick to my usual ramblings on this occasion. It's been a pretty busy year by all accounts and I can only envisage 2017 getting busier still, but before I get to what lies ahead, I decided to have a little look at what gone on this year
As I've mentioned before in my blog posts of the past, my job involves quite a lot of travelling around. Some of this is away in hotels around the country for a couple of weeks but most of it is day travel up to about two hours each direction. It's the latter which can make training hard when I'm at work but over the last year I've found a way to get around this and make sure that even when I'm travelling I can still ride my bike. The key for me is owning a car. Don't get me wrong, public transport is great for being green and all that jazz but I'd argue it's still not quite cut out for easily moving around on a bike and can be a bit of a logistical nightmare. Instead, 95% of my travel is done in the car. I can safely wrap my bike in the back of the car along with some tools, a track pump and a bag full of kit and head to any destination with the knowledge that i'll always be able to carry everything I need with me. The advantage to all of this being that I can pull my car into a lay-by or car park, slide into my kit in the back of the car and pedal off into the evening as I desire.
Of course it's all well and good being able to do this but when you're away from home knowing you have to drive maybe two hours to get home you can be a little bit demotivated to bother riding after a long day at work. To combat this I usually go online and look up the local cycling clubs wherever I happen to be and drop them a polite email to see if they mind me joining their rides. In most cases the club will say yes and I'll be able to join their mid-week training rides.
Joining in with a club is great. There is nothing better than hooking up with a bunch of like-minded individuals all with the same aim in mind - a good hard training session or a steady social. It means you can make some new friends wherever you're working and fit in some fun cycling at the same time. I'm pretty lucky in that a lot of my work away from home is Sheffield and that the local Sheffrec club kindly allow me to join in their rides.
However, it's worth pointing out that you shouldn't get too offended if a club you ask to ride with don't necessarily say yes to you. A lot of racing clubs and teams are built on a tight-knit group of individuals that know each other exceptionally well already and trust each other on the road - a trust that takes time to build so when someone suddenly appears for a couple of weeks that they don't know they might be a bit worried given they don't yet know you. As long as they give a good reason and aren't unfriendly just take it as safety first. No one wants their race season ruined. Social rides are a different story.
Equally if the club do invite you to join them for a little while don't go in all guns blazing and cause a problem otherwise you might not get invited back. Unfortunately last year whilst on one of my first rides with a friendly club I was setting the pace on the front but hadn't paid too much attention to the route so when the rest of the riders turned left and I didn't it resulted in a bit of a pile up and a seriously embarrassing situation on the ride. Thankfully the guys were kind enough to have me back and I spent the rest of my rides learning the route and being ultra cautious. Moral of that story - even if you think you're good and know the plan just sit in for a while and figure out what works. Once you're happy you've got the group dynamic then dive in and do your fair share of the work.
So with three weeks in Sheffield looming upon me I'm heading back to the guest club for a little while once I recover from being hit by a car. I find joining in the guys down there a real benefit to my training and I would encourage others to consider the option when away but not be offended if anyone says no. Hopefully this year I'll be more sensible and we'll have some good fun over the next few weeks.
Has anyone else trained with a guest club whilst away on work or holiday?
The title of this blog is probably fairly misleading in all honesty. I am going to talk about going fast or 'hard' in this blog but probably not as much as i've made out. The fact is i'm now three months into the year and on a completely different trajectory in teams of training and structure compared to previous years. Last year I was focused on getting in as many miles as possible without a care in the world how long they took or where they took me as along as I was having fun. This year however i've settled down a little and structured my training so that I can build up some speed and leg strength and get back into racing. So given we are now just about three months into the year i've had ample time to think about whats different to last year and how going long distance has differed to going short and hard for me so far. Admittedly, what I've found won't apply to everyone though as I know some guys that can go the distance and maintain some phenomenal speeds outside of the pro ranks. So just what is different or even just the same over the two years?
Well, firstly the required recovery has changed massively for me since I upped my game. When all that matters was the miles it was fairly simple to maintain a nice steady rhythm that didn't really stress the legs, lungs or heart and tap out mile after mile whilst taking photos and at the end of each day I wouldn't really be too tired. Therefore a hearty meal and a good nights sleep was all that was needed. The recovery level was sufficiently quick enough that I was able to do some months without a day off the bike at all and in July managed 1,607 miles in the month. However, come 2016 and the training has intensified and my legs, heart and lungs are working much, much harder as I try to go faster and build speed in our training sessions. Now I can't simply roll home and eat a good meal otherwise my body feels weak and undernourished so I regularly take a protein shake immediately after my rides to help repair the muscles in my legs - a big shaker of SiS Rego does the job most days and then some overnight protein too just to be safe. Equally, I have to have actual full days off the bike now too which is a bit of a novelty to me in some ways but if I didn't i'd probably have no legs left.
Secondly, the food consumption has changed quite drastically. Normally on a long and steady ride i'd just eat some bars and have a nice hearty cafe stop to help me along the way following a nice pasta dish the night before. Long distance cycling for me requires more carbs than fast burning energy. Now however I'm forced to leave the pork pie at home and take gels and energy bars on my rides to see me through the hard sessions where I really need to get the energy in me as quite as possible after a tough effort; these tend to be the normal SiS gels for me on the whole with the sneaky 150mg of caffeine laced gels for those real last gasp efforts at the end of the day! On the whole though I still eat everything in super human proportions and baffle Sarah on a daily basis as she tries to figure out what on earth to add to the shop to keep me full. It turns out protein yoghurt does the trick.
There is also the pain that comes with training hard. I'd completely forgotten what it felt like to hit 193bpm and taste blood in your mouth whilst your legs fill with lactate and the man in front of you just won't slow down. That hurtS a lot and doesn't stop hurting even after the ride either - DOMS! Again, last year I didn't really get any of those problems as I never really pushed hard enough to make my legs hurt as I needed to them to work every day. I have to admit though, I secretly love the burn that comes with pushing your body to the limit as you sure know you are alive.
The final thought or more probable fact that i've noted is i've piled on the pounds quite literally since I changed my training. I don't mean in a bad way either as I still get told I'm a twiglet and too thin so I can only guess i've put on muscle weight. 6kg of muscle weight, which when you consider that i'm now 72kg is quite a lot of extra weight to be carrying around (10%!!) so that's been an interesting challenge and means i'm maybe a tiny bit slower uphill but a million times faster on the flat. I'm not really sure why it's happened as I'd have expected to put on more weight last year as the carb happy plodder but I guess that was more of a fat burning exercise than now.
So in a nutshell it's more painful, harder to recovery and you have to think closer about what you eat if you're me. I'm quite enjoying getting back into 'race shape' and it's now only three weeks until my first race, which is more than likely going to be in London, so watch out down south, Yorkshire is coming to get you! Until then I better get on the protein, have a few days off and weigh myself to make sure I'm not a track sprinter all of a sudden.
P.S - As every it's only polite to point out that the protein and the gels are kindly given to me by SiS. Without their help i'd probably be in a ditch somewhere trying to take energy from grass or something!
It's been a pretty tough start to the year over at Ward-Marsden HQ. We've both been extremely busy with work and with training since the start of the year and neither of us has had the opportunity for some proper rest and relaxation. So when we both saw a gap in the diary in early March we decided we would get the time booked off and find somewhere to go and relax. We decided we wanted to stay in the UK too given how much of a faff going abroad last minute can be, so instead we decided we'd head to the Lake District for a week. Most of us can recall that over Christmas the Lake district was pretty badly hit by flooding and a lot of places badly damaged so to most people it might seem like an odd choice of destination. However for us it's the perfect destination. Okay, so there might be some flood damage and a few road closures but the fundamental natural beauty of the lakes, lanes and mountains were all still there and thats why we would be going anyway.
Sarah was in charge of booking the retreat as I'm too indecisive and would end up booking a cave or something. Thankfully Sarah found us a nice bed and breakfast in Bowness on Windermere for our holiday. It's a cosy little place and ticked all the right boxes - full English on the menu with real sausages, wifi in the room and a cosy bed. Realistically it's all we were going to need anyway; we're outdoor folk that can't sit still for longer than five minutes so a swanky four star hotel would be wasted on us!
Bowness was a perfect little base for us right on the edge of Lake Windermere and only a minute from the main road through the Lakes that would get you to almost any destination. Oh, and it was definitely open for business. As we found the only issue that could possible stop us was that the A591 was closed north of Grasmere but there are plenty of pretty alternative routes.
As I mention above we're pretty active but also extreme cake lovers so we would be guaranteed to make our way around the Lakes either running or riding over the week. So first things first I headed off around Windermere for a leisurely evening ride taking in a little clockwise route as the sun set behind the surrounding mountains. At 27 miles for the loop it wasn't the longest ride i'll ever do but the lake edge was beautiful and showed no signs of flooding. In fact, as I rolled back into Ambleside and stopped for a photo it couldn't feel any further from the chaos of Christmas, or infact our own life away from work.
Obviously I'd worked up an appetite on the ride so we hunted down some good local food and found a little place just a few miles away called 'The Watermill Inn and Brewery'. Yes, you read right - a pub with it's own brewery! That's a win straight away for us, but what was even better was the food. I had a steak and ale pie using the in-house beer and Sarah had the beer battered fish and chips. It was amazing. So much so that we went back there on our final night in the Lakes to sample more beer and food. It's well worth a visit that's for sure.
Second day in the Lakes was our only rainy day of the whole week - definitely a oddity in the Lakes but we weren't going to complain. Given it was a little wet we decided to continue our culinary tour of the Lakes in style so headed up the valley to Grasmere to find the infamous Grasmere Gingerbread shop - so tasty! So fuelled on gingerbread and with our boots on and jackets zipped we decided to do what everyone in the Lakes does and walk. Not just in a random direction but up Helm Cragg to a beautiful view over the village. It was only four miles long but it's a Wainwright walk and thats all that matters. Once again a massive appetite worked up we headed to Ambleside to the burger restaurant for some homemade burgers and stuffed ourselves silly!
Wednesday came around far too quickly and was big ride day at last. I decided to meander up and down the valley rather than tackle any serious passes as I needed to save my legs for racing rather than punish myself. I accidentally discovered Duddon Valley which is just amazing but also means you can cheekily pop out in-between Hardknott and Wrynose to avoid the brutal climbs. Perfect. The rest of the ride was mainly rolling around the lakes again on pretty peaceful roads. In March the roads are quiet as everyone forgets that places can be beautiful outside of summer. The food in the evening wasn't one to shout about so I won't.
Thursday was our final day in the Lakes so we swapped valley and dropped into Coniston so that Sarah could do a recovery run and myself a recovery ride. Only 18 miles around the Lake but on the eastern shore there is a little jetty which walks you out into the Lake and it truly a beautiful place to see the Lakes regardless how much you want to keep on riding. We stopped for some lunch in one of the little cafes and suddenly forgot about recovery so decided to walk up some of Old Man Coniston. It was 2pm and we swiftly realised the entire climb was a little bit more than a few hours in the afternoon no matter how fast we ran up hill. Oh well, the view from half way up was still fantastic. The climb started on a road called Walna Scar Road - more than 33% steep but definitely a challenge for any cyclists - are you tough enough?
So there we have it; the Lakes are definitely open for business and we've not had a single problem across the week. It's out of season so not every restaurant and shop is open but the ones that are seemed to be running like clockwork and happy to see some customers walking through the door. So if you're looking for a short break in the UK why not pop to the Lakes? They're calm, quiet and beautiful and realistically no more than a few hours drive from most people.
Rest week over. Back to the daily grind!
Last year my sole goal was to hit 10,000 miles on the bike throughout the year so I was taking every opportunity to ride the bike as often as possible, regardless of the speed so that I would hit the mile counter each week. The consequence being that my legs were pretty tired for most of the year as I was consistently averaging over 300 miles a week. Fast forward a couple of months and I've set a new goal of getting back into racing in 2016 and things have changed; now I have to do less miles to make the most benefits. The problem is, that doing less miles is something I mentally struggle with quite a lot. In the back of my mind the more I ride the fitter I will get surely? Well not exactly. I have convinced myself over the years that riding lots and lots of miles will make me fitter and stronger and as such when I miss a day on the bike I get frustrated that I must be getting less fit by the day and so always want to ride my bike no matter how far.
The idea of riding everyday was fine when I was trying to beat a mileage goal but unfortunately when it comes to gaining speed and racing you need to knock back the miles and focus on the intensity and structure of the miles you do instead. So rather than riding 300 miles a week i'm now doing closer to 200 miles a week and spreading these miles out over the week a lot more so that I can have a rest in-between each session. Equally, rather than riding at a steadier 16mph i'm consistently putting out averages about 20mph now.
Again my mind struggles with this concept of a rest day. Riding 20mph averages over any distance isn't the easiest day out and is guaranteed to tire you out but for some reason I think i'm a robot that can avoid this and still want to ride every day like I used to; this is something I need beating out of me I think!
The point being, it's really difficult for a lot of people to convince themselves that having a day or two off the bike every week won't hamper their progress but instead will more likely benefit them massively as they are less fatigued when they ride so will be able to go faster and further than they would if they rode everyday. It's okay to do less as it really does give you more!
So how have I convinced myself that more is less? Well i've started wearing my heart rate monitor again and renewed my subscription to Strava premium which unlocks the 'Fitness and Freshness' graph on your dashboard that can be used to give you a rough insight into how fit or fresh you are on the bike in an easy to follow graph. I've followed the graph over the last few weeks and seen that riding every day really does add to your overall fatigue and slow you down, but when you rest for a day or two your fatigue drops really quickly but your fitness barely moves at all.
It's still hard to tell myself I can do less and get fitter but it's working so I might as well carry on, no matter how much my head argues with me! I've seen some great improvements but I don't think i'll ever quite convince myself it's the right thing to ride less.
Do you find yourself trying to train more and more?
So we're now a few weeks into 2016 and most people have set their goals for 2016. Unfortunately I hadn't as I just couldn't make my mind up what I wanted to do with the year. Last year I spent my time aiming for 10,000 miles of riding and eventually ended on 13,000 miles which was pretty satisfying. Since setting that goal last year I've learnt that doing that many miles comes a compromise to speed; something I love on the bike. This meant that this year's goal would need to be something that meant I could ride my bike, only faster. So, after a few weeks of chatting to various people I ride with and assessing my options for the year ahead I've finally settled on one simple goal for 2016 - "To get back into racing and try and obtain my Cat 2 Licence". This should give me the perfect opportunity to get my need for speed but also focus on what I love most more closely, to assess where I can improve and add to my speed on the bike.
For those that are not familiar with racing in the UK the racing is split into categories from Elite (E), Category 1, 2, 3 and 4 where a category 4 rider is the newest to the racing scene. To advance up each category you need to obtain a certain number of points in a season. It's 12 points to go from category four to three and then another 40 points to get from category three to two. Thankfully I already hold my category three license from when I used to race (you keep it for life) so I need to make 40 points this season.
That doesn't sound like many points right? Well, most races near me are raced as category 2/3/4 or 3/4 with the winner picking up 10 points and the top ten riders being rewarded but when you live in Yorkshire, a cycling hotspot home to many of the best cyclists in the UK, it's really quite difficult to get those points, especially when you can't sprint.
So with that goal set and the potential difficulties on the horizon already, I've decidedly buckled down in the first few weeks of January to try and get my body back on track for shorter races rather than monster miles. To do this I've shortened my commutes to a total of 30 miles a day and ride these single-speed; this generally means that I have to work hard on the hills but can't over-exert myself on the flat or downhill making for perfect interval style commuting every day, or a steady pootle on others.
Furthermore, I've stopped riding extra miles on an evening during the week. Riding fast doesn't need masses of miles, it needs structured miles. The only exception to this is a Tuesday evening. On a Tuesday I ride pace-line with the guys a my local race team, FTR, which is effectively a team time trial for 25 miles with 30 second turns on the front then rotating. This enables me to build on my speed (the last one was 24mph) but also get used to riding in the bunch again and working with other racers: a pretty pacy session overall that means I can build my threshold a little and wake my legs up.
Weekdays covered and it's onto the weekend. These are the two days where I have the most time to fit in a good training session. For the last three weeks I've been joining the local 'Buckden Run' which is a 60 mile tempo training ride with about 50 other people including pro riders Tom Moses and the Brownlee brothers. It's not for the feint hearted, as tempo to these guys means about a 20mph average, but it's another great way to built fitness early in the season. This is effectively base building in January - preparing the engine before we fine tune it. Sundays then tend to be something steadier again to ease the legs and recover; cafe rides are pretty good for this and mean I can catch up with cycling mates too.
Overall I'd say training is going pretty well so far and I'm feeling sharper already than I did at all last year which is hopefully a good thing. It will be nice to see how fit I am next week when the reliability rides start in Yorkshire but I'm not too worried about those, as they're just another fast training ride really!
All in all, things are going pretty well so far then, and I'm feeling faster. The focus now is on getting fitter and faster until March when racing starts for me!
Hopefully there will be some exciting news next week as well. Everyone loves to ride for a team, right...?
Just over a week ago I hit the goal that I'd given myself a whole year to complete; ride 10,000 miles in a year. However, thanks to some great weather conditions I've managed to finish a lot earlier than expected but I've learnt a few things along the way. 1. Feeding me is a full time job and doing it is harder than starting work as junior doctor. At least this what Sarah keeps telling me each week as she tries to find a shopping trolley big enough to carry all the food we need... I was always hungry no matter what the time, and genuinely couldn't eat enough food each day. The great thing though had to be being able to have a full English breakfast every morning!
2. You really can't race everywhere no matter how hard you try. I'm a big fan of trying to beat people to the top of the hill or be first person home from training but after so many miles you suddenly realise it's actually easier to pretend you really don't want to race, and take it easy, or your legs demand a refund on their existence. Although secretly I still want to race everyone...
3. Yorkshire is a seriously pretty part of the world. I mean, we already knew that Yorkshire is the best place in the world, but when you slow down a little bit it's amazing what you suddenly see beyond the slightly scratched stem that clouds your eye-line everyday. I even managed to find a road along the way that I've passed every day for three years but hadn't noticed until I slowed down!
4. People make the world of difference, even the grumpy ones that think a cafe stop is boring. Without people I think I'd have grown a beard and grabbed some sandals on my way to finding peace and harmony on a bike with one gear or something. Having people with you for the many miles makes time fly and you chatter away the day and leave your legs to do the work in peace.
5. Cake. Cake is seriously important for anyone riding 10,000 miles. My consumption of cake has increased approximately 1000% this year as I discovered the many cafes and cake shops around the county to use as pit stops for all the miles.
6. Coffee. With every cake comes a coffee and all 'pro' cyclists will tell you that you should start your ride with a coffee. As time went on and the mileage increased I found that I really needed the coffee to get me going in the morning otherwise I was far too tempted to go back to bed each day. It turns out coffee is also highly essential on a rainy day, as I found out when a cute little cafe in Thirsk gave me and my friend Nick a free espresso to warm us up when we needed to do another 40 miles to get home in the howling wind and rain.
7. Kit counts for a lot. If you're not comfortable then riding that far can really hurt. I used to use a carbon fibre saddle for racing and training, but quite quickly found out that they are quite painful after a few hundred miles and my future children might not be so future if I kept using it! I think my bum fell in love with me when I finally found a good saddle to ride on, and it sure makes a difference to how long you want to ride for.
8. Riding somewhere different makes sure you don't get bored. My heat map for this year makes it look like i've never been in work judging by all the different lines and places I've cycled in so far! Riding in so many different places meant I never got bored of riding as the terrain and views were constantly changing. The great thing about Yorkshire is it has some pretty hilly routes in one direction but endless flat in the other so you can have an 'easy' day or a 'hard' day depending how you feel.
9. You have to be prepared for everything from the potential discovery of dinosaurs to multiple punctures. Okay, so maybe I won't find many dinosaurs, but multiple punctures were a thing and meant I had to break my own dear rules and buy a saddle bag which I now don't mind. Having a saddle bag meant I had free pockets to stuff with gels, energy bars and cake money which I needed to get around the endless miles I did each day.
10. When you eventually take a week off the bike you'll suddenly realise just how tired you really are and proceed to eat everything in the house and complain that your legs hurt and you'll never ride your bike again... Until next week.
I'm currently in the middle of a two week resting period but it won't be long before I'm back out on the bike again looking for my next adventure!
It’s now been a little over a month since I drove to London to take a part in the even more popular Dunwich Dynamo night ride a 200km (120 mile) ride from London Fields in Hackney to the sleepy east coast village of Dunwich. The ‘Dun Run’ as it’s affectionately known is an unofficial, unorganised ride that takes place each July on the weekend closest to the full moon and attracts every possible kind of cyclist – I saw tandems, Brompton’s, racing bikes, elliptical bikes and possibly even one Boris bike, although it gets harder and harder to tell the darker the night becomes. My knowledge of the Dun Run was non-existent until my friend Nick got in touch to ask if I wanted to go down and ride through the night on a slightly mystical adventure. In true craziness I agreed I would ride the 200km to the beach. The only problem with this was that it left us on the east coast and needing to get back to London. There were buses back to the city but I decided that we would ride back too and make it one of the longest rides I’ve ever done – all for fun.
I’ve never started a ride in the dark before but have ridden overnight so wasn’t entirely sure on the best option in terms of planning the preceding day. Luckily my other half Sarah was also going to London the same weekend to run a relay in Windsor so we decided to drive down on the Friday evening to stay with Sarah’s running friend Steph who made us very welcome for the weekend. As all the runners were getting up early on Saturday morning for Park Run we quickly turned in for the night. I decided I would get up with everyone else on the Saturday and head into London for lunch and a walk with an old friend which meant I wouldn’t be going back to sleep until at least Sunday lunchtime. This was possibly my biggest mistake for such a long ride as I’d find out later on.
After a day of dining, walking and generally chilling out I went to collect my bike and prepare for the 8pm start in Hackney. I decided to opt for most of my usual long distance comforts – gels, energy bars, warm clothes including arm warmers for the middle of the night, and then about £25 to enable me to buy any essentials en-route. The biggest thing to remember for the ride were lights – lights that would let me see throughout the night for at least six hours of darkness. Once everything was attached to me or the bike I was ready to go. It was at this point I realised it was 7pm and I felt a little bit tired from the day’s activities so far.
The trip from Putney to Hackney was uneventful but my arrival to London Fields was quite the opposite – a sea of lycra clad cyclists lay in front of me as I arrived at the pub where the ride starts. So many different kinds of rider all excited for the night ahead. I thrust myself into the sea of lycra and set about finding Nick ready to start the night ahead. Once found we started to gather a small group that would stay together for the night ahead.
We left London fields just after 8pm well aware that there were about 600 cyclists already up the road to light our route through the night. The first 15 miles are mainly spent trying to escape London and whilst not the most exciting miles of the ride allowed everyone to say hello and have a good chat to get spirits high before the night ahead. As we wound our way out of London and into the countryside we watched the sunset behind us lighting up the sky in a vast array of deep red and orange. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect with clear skies, a full moon and temperatures never dipping below 17 degrees Celsius.
Once we were into the countryside we settled down, switched on the lights and began to set a nice steady tempo for the night ahead. We must have a different meaning for the word tempo as we suddenly looked behind to find we were towing about 100 riders behind us. It’s always a nice feeling to be in such a big group with no real rush. The problem with no rushing however, was the sudden wave of tiredness that washed over us just after 10:30pm when we suddenly realised we were going to be up for a very long time. Thankfully no need to worry as the first pub of the evening we came across was open to sell coffee to all the riders. The pubs and shops along the route stay open all night to fuel the riders for the one night of the year.
After a stop we set off into the dark and silent country lanes that lay ahead, following the twisting, snaking line of red lights that stretched into the very distance of the road ahead. The county lanes lit by the dappling moonlight casting shadows across the road. There was always a feint murmur of chatter and whirring wheels in the groups we passed on the road. This is a ride to savour not to smash.
Around 1am, maybe a little bit later we arrived over half way through the route at a fire station which was holding an overnight BBQ for the Dun Run – the ample opportunity to grab a burger for a good cause. The only downside to this was the massive queue for food as everyone had the same idea. That burger tasted ace though and was worth the rest. Food stop over we set off around 2am and passed a closing nightclub with everyone staggering home – a reminder of our night still to come.
2am onwards is a bit of a blur in all honesty until the sun came up and gave the most beautiful sunrise possible. The ride has stretched out significantly at this point and we were on the road in our own solo group admiring the countryside and sunrise simultaneously whilst checking the Garmin to realise there wasn’t much further to go. The aim of the ride is to reach Dunwich before sunrise but that doesn’t matter at all. We arrived on the beach around 5:30am, an hour after sunrise.
The beach is a spectacle itself – hundreds of tired and drowsy cyclists sat on the beach wolfing down coffee and breakfasts from the one and only café by the beach that opens to feed the hungry cyclists. Obligatory photo stop over, we headed into the café to grab our breakfast then admire the beauty of the morning. Stopping in the warmth of the café hit us hard. We were seriously tired, and all a little bit too drowsy to start the ride home now. Oh well, more coffee it was to be. I took the decision to take a 10 minute power nap at this point to help perk me up a little. Surprising how much 10 minutes of sleep can save you.
That’s the Dun Run done. Now for the return trip, this time home via Ipswich to drop Nick home. There were three of us on the ride home. Me, Nick and Eric. The sun was shining high in the sky and we set off home in great spirits soon setting a pace around 18mph and in a bee-line for Nick’s house. Around 10am we arrived and realised we were a little bit hungry and rather dehydrated by the warmth of the morning sun so stopped for 30 minutes to refuel. When we stepped into the house it was sunny but when we stepped outside there was a sudden monsoon. Damn. Pride over sense we didn’t head straight to the train station but hopped back on the bikes and set off in the pouring rain towards London.
At this point we still had 100 miles to ride and were absolutely drenched to the bone. When you’re wet and riding you use energy faster as you try to keep warm and ride so I was eating like a Trojan to keep my body going whilst setting a tough tempo to get back as fast as possible. This was another 100 mile blur in the day where me and Eric took it in turns to set the pace as we fought our way back to London.
By early afternoon the weather had thankfully brightened up and Eric had guided us back inside the M25 with his local knowledge and along to a 1 mile off road section of road on our road bikes. Despite what most people tell you it turns out your road bike can handle fire track well and once we’d climbed up the gravel section we were greeted by a view of London from high up on a hillside. This could only mean it was downhill back to London. So down and down we rode back towards the towers of London, eventually arriving around 2pm.
Eric kindly passed on his knowledge of London to allow me to find my car, and Sarah who was now bored whilst camping in my car awaiting my return. 10 miles of sleepy riding and finally I was back. Bike into the car, inhale all the food and drive out of London for a nap before the longer drive home.
It’s hard to convey just how much fun the Dun Run really is. Riding through the night following the lights, making new friends and seeing the sunrise at 4am. I thoroughly recommend the ride though. It’s worth noting that you don’t have to ride home; there is a bus service each year with bike transport to get you home leaving around 9am on the Sunday morning back to London.
Distance: 250 miles (120 miles of Dun Run)
Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/339670288 (Click on the fly-by – it’s cool!)
I constantly get told that rest and recovery is just as important as training hard each week but for a very long time I didn't believe this and kept pushing myself every week to train as hard, if not harder, than the week before in order to accomplish my goals. However as time goes on I've realised that intensive training alone really isn't the key to success. I've covered just over 2,500 miles so far this year with some pretty epic rides including a monster 180 mile ride in February and as a result was feeling pretty tired from all the hard riding recently but like most cyclists I hate taking time out of riding due to the 'Strava addiction' so many of us have, and the fear of suddenly losing all our fitness if we have an easy week or a whole week of rest.
Luckily, one week of rest won't rob you of all your fitness and nor will it mean Strava self destructs but what it will mean is that you get the much needed rest your body needs to repair itself and recover fully before your next big event or ride. Even more importantly if you're ill, it gives your body the chance to actually recover from whichever ailment you have, and be strong again instead of pushing through the illness, being tired and making your body even more unwell. All too often recently i've seen people on twitter saying they are ill but asking if they should still ride outside and conquer their big rides- the short answer is don't. It's better to recuperate then ride.
Of course rest and recovery doesn't have to mean a full week of doing nothing and eating cake, no matter how fun that sounds. Whilst you're ill or resting you can still do some easy activity to keep you from seizing up fully. I personally do a couple of very easy indoor turbo sessions in Z1 or some Pilates to help clear my legs and keep me moving so I don't get too grumpy due to the lack of exercise. Provided you're well enough it's totally acceptable to do something very easy in your rest week to stop you going equally as crazy.
I took a whole rest week this week and discovered they are actually quite fun if you make them interesting. During my rest week it was possible to make the rare and much unheard of social ride with my other half Sarah, and also managed to test ride a tandem which I would never normally do, never mind eating the copious amounts of cake whilst not dressed in lycra.
So have some rest and recover properly. I promise the world won't stop turning and your bike won't melt.
It has now become the norm in the UK for amateur cyclists to pack their bikes onto an aeroplane and fly abroad to places such as Tenerife, Calpe and Lanzarote to indulge in a sun fuelled bike holiday that everyone calls their training camp each spring. These camps used to be for pro's looking to sharpen up pre-season but now amateur riders spend in excess of £500 to head to these camps in the hope that they will make them stronger and faster. But do you really need to spend that much money to train? I decided that you don't need to spend that much money to train and so with my friend Nick I headed to the Lake District for a week to see if I could conjure up a good week of training without needed to go abroad. So commenced the great British training camp.
The downside of training in the UK in March is definitely the weather; unlike Spain I had two days of sunshine and three days of rain and wind but what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger and the wind is definitely your friend when you're training. In March you can't expect glorious weather in the UK. Luckily we got a few days of sunshine but these were evened out by the monster headwind and heavy rain for the rest of the week.
Most training camps abroad cover roughly 400 miles and over 40,000ft of climbing which is pretty tough to replicate in the UK given all our climbs are pretty short but nevertheless I managed to cram nearly 32,000ft into my week away including the famous Wrynose and Hardknott climbs. The most notable climb being Great Dun fell - a stunning Cat 2 alpine-esque climb on a closed road towards the edge of the pennines. These short sharp climbs are brilliant for making you stronger and are the sort of climbs you will tackle in the UK on a daily basis whereas abroad the longer climbs are great for fitness but not as steep so don't really replicate the riding you will do in the UK.
Despite the wet weather we still covered 500 miles in the week. The key to this was getting out of the door early each morning around 8am to make sure we were more than half way around the ride when the rain came so that we wouldn't be too cold for too long. This is still beneficial as it means you get the whole afternoon to spend pottering around the local village or eating copious amounts of cake. The lake district was a brilliant setting to get the miles in with so many different roads to take and such a variety of landscapes making it easy to choose new routes for every day.
So with all the miles, smiles and hills in sight the only thing left is the accommodation. There is not point in booking an amazing four star hotel when you'll be on the road for so much of the day that you can't truly appreciate it's merits. We booked into YHA Patterdale on the edge of the lakes. A perfect place for any training camp. They have a drying room, a secure bike storage room and you don't need to worry about taking your mucky shoes off on the front door step. At £35pp for three nights it's a drop in the ocean compared to hotel costs. The only downside is it won't be quite as comfortable as your handwoven feather pillows in a hotel.
Overall we spent about £130 per person on the week including petrol, accommodation, food and cafe stops and enjoyed it just as much as a holiday abroad.
Our stats for the week though looked a little like this:
Distance: 500 miles
Time: 31 hours
When I get an idea in my head it's hard to put it to one side and save it for the perfect day. Instead I feel obliged to fulfil my crazy minded ideas and must immediately embark on whatever cycling related adventure I dream up. The latest crazy idea I had dreamed up was to ride to Whitby for fish and chips on what can only be described as the least direct route with a 180 mile loop and14,000ft of climbing needed to get my chips and get home safely. This would also form the first true training test for the Transcontinental race this summer. Saturday came around all too fast and after a sixty hour working week I was less than excited about a 5am start but nevertheless I still managed to beat the alarm and throw on my lycra in the pitch black without waking up my other half Sarah, who had chosen to ride our club's Saturday Social at the more dreamy hour of 9am. This all went well apart from the accidental use of a sock as an arm-warmer.
So with a gallon of coffee and a small mountain of oats inside me I set off into the dark and began to steadily pedal through the miles. When it's dark it's very easy to get lost in your own thoughts throughout the boredom of the darkness and so it is important to occupy the mind with other things. Thankfully however, the sun rise came relatively quickly and gave way to a stunning morning but with a rather brisk temperature of minus three degrees.
The first forty miles flew by in a breeze and I knew it wouldn't be long before I entered the hills so I stopped for some breakfast - a banana and some flapjack. It was here that I pulled out my phone and realised that @totallyfuelled had set a competition about on my ride with the goal being to guess my average speed. I knew in my mind what I wanted to achieve but either way it made me push that tiny bit harder than I would have otherwise done.
Once I was back on the bike it wasn't long before the first major climb crept upon me. This was the Top 100 Climbs No.54 - Boltby Bank; a one mile climb at an average of 13% gradient. Normally this would be challenging enough but as luck would have it the sun had not yet risen enough to melt the ice on the road. As a result it was a battle to stay upright, move forwards and not fall off - a mission which I accomplished minus a few heart stopping moments.
One big climb done it and was back to the food as I tucked into brunch. Nutrition for such a distance is tremendously important and without the right food for your body you very quickly find yourself 'bonking' which is running out of energy. Thankfully I'd packed plenty of gels and energy drink to see me along the route. Food stop over and the miles began to fly by again as I rode deeper into the North Yorkshire Moors. Here I had my only mechanical of the day when my mudguard decided to break free and bounce away. Never mind, it was a sunny day anyway!
Soon I found myself on the second climb of day and 70 miles into the ride. Blakey Ridge is fearsome, climbing near 1000ft in under two miles and it was here that I honestly nearly gave in. I got to the top with my legs screaming, feeling breathless and a little bit wobbly but knowing the train wasn't too far away. It was hard not to just head for the station at this point but I remembered the average speed challenge and carried on.
The miles to Whitby were a blur of beautiful views and sweeping roads that made my body feel better and lifted my spirits so much that I decided not to stop for fish and chips, but to carry on along the coast to Scarborough. If I thought things were tough before, the worst was yet to come.
Turning back inland I faced a gentle 20mph breeze in my face for the next 80 miles of the ride. The only hope of keeping going was to accept I would have to drop a gear and go slower. So I did just that and began to work my way home. The headwind certainly took it's toll on me and before long I was beginning to fade mentally. Would I make it back? Can I go this slow? I hate going slow, and hate the wind so began to doubt myself and pushed harder to make up the lost time only to end up spitting out blood and coughing profusely. Stupid or brave I carried on.
Eventually darkness fell and still in a headwind I was really struggling to see why I was still riding. It's tough on the mind more than the legs to ride that far and the only reason I had to carry on was knowing Sarah had cooked and it always tastes amazing.
As irony would have it though my Garmin died on the 180th mile and as we all know, if it's not on Strava it didn't happen. So I rolled rather wearily into the station to catch my ride home and end the day.
If i've learnt anything it's that you need to eat a lot over that distance and that it's harder to focus the mind than it is to focus the legs. Things get tough if you think they are tough and positive thinking makes the miles fly and the day easier to manage.
Sitting around on an evening after a long day at work and a week off the bike is never going to end well, especially when you switch on your laptop and begin to look for a good cycling challenge to conquer. So when I sat down and started to search for mountain bike centres it was never going to end well. Less than an hour later the seed for my cycling challenge had been firmly sown. The plan would be to head to Dalby Forest mountain bike centre with my cyclo-cross bike and attempt to ride the red route - a technically challenging single track course for suspension mountain bikes an certainly not a rigid road bike with knobbly tyres!
So with a plan in place I organised with my other half Sarah to head over to Dalby Forest on Sunday and conquer the challenge, trying hard to forget i'd already ridden 100 miles the day before. Sarah of course, gave me that look of "you're nuts" but we both knew it was too late to change my mind now.
Sunday came around all too fast and the alarm didn't quite go off on time and as a result we had to rush to Dalby and commence the ride with one hour less time than originally planned. This really put the pressure on and increased the challenge. After putting my bike together and fuelling for the ride I rolled out of the car-park towards the switchback climb leading up to the red route.
I was slightly hesitant when I reached the start of the route, wondering if I was about to make a pretty big mistake. It was too late to consider mistakes now and as I rolled onto the route I swallowed the nerves and began to pedal.
The first section felt relatively easy, rolling along the undulating single track through the forest that flow along the hillside. Occasionally I would hit a particularly rocky section of track making it really difficult to keep the bike en-route as I was shaken around, having to use my body to absorb every bump. I was the suspension and it hurt.
Five miles down and feeling slightly muscle sore I stopped for a quick refuel before sprinting into the climb that followed. One great advantage of the cross bike is that it gives you the ability to climb much faster than anybody around you on a mountain bike, helping me to rapidly move along the course. By now my muscles were really sore and the pounding vibrations from the rocky surface were unrelenting.
Ten miles in and still going strong I reached Dixon's Hollow and encountered a sign I really didn't want to see - "Black Route". Looking around in vain to see the red escape route I could find nothing, so with a heavy heart I pushed forwards. I was glad I did - I flew down the berms that followed and along a fast, technical couple of corners and sighed in relief realising it hadn't been as bad as I had feared.
However, what came next was by far the most frightening part of the ride. I was completely oblivious that I hadn't yet tackled all the difficult black section that was on my route suddenly found myself staring over the edge of a cliff that twisted and snaked it's way down the hillside over the slippery, wet rocks. My heart dropped and my hands were numb. The constant shaking of the rocky surface meant my hands were tired making it difficult to pull the brakes.
I had been warned about this section but thought I had managed to detour away from it. Without anytime to think I was thrown into the descent. I hesitated too much and slipped off the bike for the first time, quickly dismounting and carrying over a small section before remounting. I refused to be beaten by this section of the course and despite my hands still not working I began to descend, keeping my body as stable as possible. Left. Right. Left. Right.
Before long I was at the bottom and thank god. At the bottom a bunch of real mountain bikers looked at me in shock as I sprinted away. Now I knew the hardest part of the ride was out of the way I could relax and enjoy the rest ride, swooping around the single tracks, through the alpine spruce, and along the isolated tracks, free in my own thoughts.
As always though, it wasn't to last, and I sudden realised I had run out of food and was starting to get the dreaded 'Bonk' when you run out of energy. So instead of being sensible I pushed harder, wary of the lack of time, and conscious I needed to eat as soon as possible. Thankfully I wasn't too far from the finish and hit a nice farm track that rolled gently downhill, easing the amount of work I had to do.
As the speed picked up and I saw the final mile in sight, I picked myself up into a sprint and began to really fly towards the finish. I forgot the trail ended on the children's Gruffalo walk though and suddenly found myself staring into the eyes of the Gruffalo himself. I pedalled harder to escape the Gruffalo and found myself back in no time with a scone and coffee waiting for me on arrival.
Distance: 19 Miles
Time: 1 Hour 59 Minutes
I wrote last week about how difficult it can be to get out and ride when you're busy at work, so I decided to find a new way to get the miles in on the bike and get that all important Transcontinental training under way. Therefore I decided to set out on a 100 mile ride into the heart of the North Yorkshire Dales and test some new roads i'd seen but never ridden on before with a friend of mine Dovy. Check out the route here. I decided we would ride at 8am to make sure there was still plenty of time left in the day for other activities but waking up that early after a long week at work was pretty tough, especially when it was below freezing outside making for less than inviting conditions. However, with a little nudge I pulled on my many, many layer of lycra and munched down my breakfast before hitting the road.
The route was a great mixture of fast rolling roads, dry stone walls and quiet countryside with some stunning early morning views, taking in some well know destinations including Bolton Abbey, Pen-Y-Ghent and the Settle-Carlisle railway along the way.
Thankfully we were blessed with some early morning sunshine as we flew along the valley bottom on our way into the Dales, pushing a solid tempo to stay warm, with each misty breathe of air reminding us just how cold it was on the road.
We passed Bolton Abbey and the 20 mile mark in just over an hour and decided to keep the tempo high. In no time at all we arrived at the new stretch of road that would take us up and over Halton Gill towards Pen-Y-Ghent. This was a beautiful stretch of road about ten miles long with a long, category four climb sandwiched in the middle. I couldn't resist the challenge of setting a good time and maybe even going for a Strava KOM, so set into a rhythm and charged up the climb as fast as I could; I didn't get overall KOM, but the 2015 version is good enough for me.
Of course, what goes up must come down, and very soon the road snaked away towards settle, nestled in the shadow of the Pen-Y-Ghent. The shadow cast by the mountain had resulted in the formation of a thick bank of freezing fog - so freezing in-fact that my jersey developed frost and began to turn white.
Thankfully, the fog didn't last too long and before long we were blasting along the A59 in the morning sun towards Skipton. Somehow we forgot we were on a century ride so pushed the pace to a rather ridiculous 26mph, taking satisfaction in watching the miles disappear. Sadly though this burst of speed didn't last too long when suddenly we a realised our legs were a little tired and still have 30 miles to go.
Did we back off? No chance. We kept pushing and pushing, refusing to let our average drop below the 18.5mph we had so dearly clung onto so far! In no time at all we were back in Burnsall with very tired legs but still in great spirits. So with 80 miles down and feeling quite thirsty, we pulled in for a quick water bottle refill before setting off to chase down the remaining miles.
I would love to tell you all the last few miles were a blast, but in reality they were very tough and just five miles outside Leeds we came to the foot of the Chevin; a two mile long, category four climb. It was here that my legs really let me know that they were tired, screaming at me to stop, begging me to end the pain I was putting them through and pretty much refusing to turn the pedals. My heart rate was well above 190bpm and I was fading rapidly, but I managed to block out then pain and push over the top, nibbling on some Soreen to get some energy back.
The final five miles were hell as I battled with my legs to keep turning but thankfully we made it back and the whole ride was over in just 5 hours and 30 mins at an average of 18.4mph. The roads were fantastic and I'll certainly visit them again, but I have only one question for myself - Can I do that every day for a week for Transcontinental? Only time will tell...
It's currently the end of January, and most typical cyclists will be tapping out the base miles and beginning to fine tune for the season ahead, but sadly I am not one of them. As I work in finance January and February are always the busiest time of year and make for long hours each day that make it difficult to get out and train. I've been working 12 hours a day recently which is pretty draining, but I've managed to just about squeeze in the 170 miles a week I've targeted during the opening two months of the year.
One of the best ways to get the winter miles in around work would be to cycle commute to work each day which makes for some fairly easy miles that help top up the weekly total. However, I am unfortunately too far away from home to be able to ride to work at the moment.
So instead I force myself to ride on an evening after work around 8pm in the evening and aim to get 20 - 30 miles in twice a week with some intervals throw in. Doing this is difficult, especially in recent weather with the temperature below zero making it bitterly cold when out and quite often leading to a cold, or this week a sore throat. Not only that but it extends an already long day by two hours making me more fatigued and tired on the bike. Every mile helps though!
The best option I currently have is to ride on a weekend, getting in as many miles as possible whilst fighting the urge to sleep and make up from a weeks sleep deprivation. The best thing to do is therefore some long, steady miles that mean i'm building the base miles I so vitally need for the Transcontinental Race. The brilliant bit about the weekend is that we currently have the reliability rides on a Sunday which are great incentive to get out for a ride as they're part of a group. Riding as a group is at the very least motivational and keeps me going despite still being tired.
So whilst i'm still clinging on to my 170 mile a week goal, it's not having the desired affect and makes riding a pretty glum experience.
Sadly, despite so much time saving technology we all still struggle to find enough time around work to exercise so I'm still quite lucky with what I manage, but equally it's essential to set some time aside to ride each week too. It won't last forever, but for now, training is slow and the Transcontinental feels a million miles away!
It's still the middle of winter, and the temperature is barely above zero degrees, but a group of twenty riders all sit together in the hazy morning light at 7:30am waiting to set off in search of the seasons first 'Reliability Ride'. So what exactly are they? The reliability rides are historically a pre-season training ride designed to enhance a riders fitness, and test the reliability of their bike in the days when cycling equipment was less reliable and the roads not quite as smooth.
Today however, things have changed and with bikes being built to a much better standard and the introduction of Strava and GPS, it's much less of a challenge of reliability, but much more focused on the training and a pre-season test of how strong you are compared to the riders around you. That has lead to the reliability ride becoming more a reliability race, with riders vying for position on the road in bunches of well over a hundred cyclists aiming to be the first person home that day.
Personally, I see it as quite enthralling and a great day in the saddle with a solid training session under the belt; today's ride being a fantastic 70 miles in total at 19.5mph with some great disciplined riding at the front of the peleton. However, from further back there is often the news of crashes as riders come to close or corner too fast and these fast training rides can soon become season ending if tackled the wrong way and with over a hundred people on the road it can be a bit of a squeeze, some cars will inevitably get held up and occasionally there will be crashes.
However it's too easy to say these rides are dangerous, and I don't think they are if you ride them in the mindset of a training ride - that is what they are after all! Bringing so many riders together gives a great opportunity to have some banter, make some new friends, test yourself against the local clubs, and most of all reap the benefits of a solid training ride whilst having some fun and element of competition helps to keep things fun on the road.
Overall we had a great day out around Yorkshire and by the end of the ride everyone felt suitably tired and feeling as though they had been on a solid training ride ,with everyone I know getting home safely.
There are still six more reliability rides around Yorkshire this year so maybe I'll see some of you on the road soon! You can find a breakdown of the upcoming rides here.
Lets be honest, the weather hasn't been great over the last couple of weeks, and up here in Yorkshire we've had endless days of ice and snow making training difficult for even the most accomplished rider so I thought I see what I could do to make sure I still got the training in. Now, I can already hear the screams and shouts of "Get on the turbo!", and although they're a fantastic training aid for bad weather, and can be great for structuring your training, I always prefer to get outside unless it's truly impossible.
So, despite the less than favourable conditions i've still managed 330 miles in the past two weeks, all of which were outside in the depths of winter, and none of it was particularly dangerous, and all of which ended without disaster.
The majority of my training has taken place on the main roads around Yorkshire where the gritting wagons have made sure the roads are ice free. Training on the main roads might not be very exciting, but it's certainly a safe option, but with extra caution to avoid the sides of the road. I'd recommend trying to ride with people on these rides, to stave off the boredom and also incase of an accident or mishap. Having someone to help with that puncture on a frosty day could be a life saver! Most of my training is with my club, AlbaRosa CC.
Another great option, which won't work for everyone, is to get out on the mountain bike, or the cyclocross bike and tackle some of the rough stuff. It's safer than sliding around on black ice and generally great fun away from the road. The other great thing about any form of off-road riding is that it's still a solid workout and can feel more draining than riding on the road. This weekend past was the perfect opportunity for such a ride; with a thick covering of snow and even the main roads too icy, I hit the local trails for some cyclocross fun, mixing in some hard training with a bit of fun!
That's just personal preference of course and the turbo is great for those that can't get outdoors! My other half is big fan of The Sufferfest videos which provide some rather immense pain, misery and agony whilst giving you a well structured session guaranteed to leave you feeling great.
Setting your goals for the season can be a difficult task with so much to consider. Do you set your sights on one major goal for the season, or do you set several small goals that you can tick off throughout the year? And if you set just the one goal, what happens when you complete it? So instead of setting one big goal, or lots of little ones, I opted for both, building each into my plans for the year. I have one big goal for the season which is a race across Europe, but also several smaller ones along the way that will both benefit my training, and keep me motivated throughout the year as I work towards that one big goal.
So after much deliberation I managed to set the goals I think will help me get all the way to Istanbul this year and they look a little bit like this:
The Main Goals:
My first and foremost goal is to complete the Transcontinental Race this year; a gruelling 4000km, unsupported race across Europe from Flanders to Istanbul. The only aim is to finish this race! No more, no less. http://www.transcontinentalrace.com/
The second is to revisit the Coast to Coast Sportive, a 150mile route with 14,000ft of climbing and attempt to come home in Sub 8hrs. It's going to be tough, but would be a drastic improvement on last years disaster of a day! http://www.opencycling.com/coast-to-coast-in-a-day/
Something Else to Aim for:
Having set myself such a monumental first goal, the rest had to be crafted around training for the race, and so will help form part of the training plan and build up to the race in July. The rest of the goals look a little bit like this:
- To complete the 115 mile White Rose Classic Sportive with 10,000ft climbing in a Sub 7hr time.
- To complete the Prudential London 100 mile Sportive in 4hrs 15mins
- To complete the 112 mile Fred Whitton Challenge Route with 13,000ft of climbing in under 7hrs
- To be a part of the race team that aims to retain the North Yorkshire Evening Road Race League Trophy.
- Write this blog - after all, you have to exercise to have something to write!
So, enough writing about what the goals are, it's time to go conquer them all!