Tag Archives: Cycling

The Chiltern Challenge 100

I wouldn’t usually blog about a cycle sportive but the Chiltern Challenge 100 was different for several reasons. It was to be the first time I have ridden 100 miles (lots of 75-85 milers recently but no century) and it was also one of my final dress rehearsals for the bike leg of Ironman UK.

I chose the Chiltern Challenge 100 because of the timing. It took place exactly four weeks to the day before Ironman which would give me time to fit another one in if I wanted to and it was also quite a challenging ride with over 4,000 feet of ascent. I also chose to do a sportive rather than a ride at home because it imposed a “race day” discipline on me. I had to be at registration by 7.30am which meant I had to get up early which all added to the sense of dress rehearsal.

Fast forward to 8.00am and there I was waiting under the starting arch with about ten others listening to a safety briefing and then we were off. I should point out that there were more than ten of us doing this ride, it is just that they set us off in small groups for safety reasons.

The first ten miles were pretty straight forward, a few introductions and a bit of chat but any ideas that this was going to be a six-hour social were dispelled as we hit the first big hill at about 15 miles. It may have been the first hill but it was the biggest hill of the day reaching 12% at it most spiteful about half way up. I was grateful for my compact crank set which meant I never struggled with my cadence while others around me almost ground to a halt – literally.

The climb gave way to a long and satisfying descent which got the average speed back up and was only interrupted by the first feed station at about 20-miles.

Part of my dress rehearsal plan was not to use or do anything that I couldn’t do on race day. I had a slight challenge here as Ironman only gives out Powerbar products on race day and The Chiltern Challenge 100 was sponsored by High Five and so only dished out their goods. I was very keen to see how my stomach reacted to 100-miles of Powerbar and so I had to carry it all with me, including energy drink mix. I lingered at the feed station just long enough to fill up with water and mix a fresh bottle of energy drink.

The next 30 miles or so were unremarkable apart from a long hot climb out of Henley, the appalling condition of the roads, one or two impatient local drivers and a small navigation error which cost me a few miles. Once back on track I was soon at feed station two which was more like a banquet with a full on buffet! I momentarily ignored my dress rehearsal rules and had a spot of lunch.

The second half of the ride was hot but not quite as hilly as the first half and what hills there were came right at the end – thank you organisers. Other than that it was all pretty routine and almost exactly 6.30hrs of riding time after I started, I crossed under the finish arch at race HQ. My Garmin was showing an average moving speed of 16.2mph (26.0kph). I don’t know who measured the route, but my Garmin, which is pretty reliably accurate was showing 106 miles (170km).

The others riders finishing just after me all quickly discarded their bikes and headed for the free massage or the bar, so I got some strange looks as I swapped my bike shoes for running shoes and set off on a 1-mile run around the playing fields in front of the finish area. I was pleased with how easily I knocked off a mile – just the other 25.2 to worry about now!

All in all a good day. My nutrition strategy for the Ironman bike is now decided and I was pleased with how I felt at the end 106 miles on a course that has more climbing than Bolton. I plan to repeat the exercise on another 100-mile sportive this coming weekend, this time in The New Forest. This one has a bit less ascent and I plan to use it as a full dress rehearsal which means I am on my TT bike this time. It also looks as though the weather man, having given me hot last weekend, may give me rain this weekend – so all bases will have been covered – deep joy!!

It’s Not a Marathon, it’s an Ironman Run

This week I took another small step in the learning process of Ironman training. As if I needed reminding, I learned that when it comes to Ironman, normal rules don’t apply – but more about that later.

First I had a mojo problem to get on top of. The week started well with a Club swim session – a gathering that I always enjoy. Lots of chat and banter amongst good friends mixed in with an hour of hard work helped to cheer me up. But by the time I got to the track for our Club’s weekly coached running session on Monday, I had slipped back into my rut. My legs were heavy and I moaned my way through a session of 8 x 600m at about 800m pace.

The turnaround started on Tuesday when someone posted in the fantastic “Ironman Journey” group on Facebook that they had hit a huge motivational brick wall. Their words could have been mine exactly. What followed was like a “Spartacus” moment as literally dozens of people, all training for Ironman, posted their confessions. Everyone was suffering from the same thing. But as important to me was some of the Ironman veterans in the group reassuring everyone that it was perfectly normal to experience a low at some point in training.

I don’t know if it was the reassurance that I wasn’t alone or the rest day I took on Tuesday, but when I woke up on Wednesday morning the world was a different place.

I did a great high intensity 90-minute bike ride in the evening looking for hills and working hard and I followed that with my long run on Thursday. It was a shorter run this week of 8.5 miles to give my legs a bit of a break, but it was such Lakea nice day and I was enjoying the run so much that I ran straight past the road home and tacked an extra loop on to make it a round ten miles. It seems my mojo had returned. To prove it I tagged along on a trip to the lake that evening which I had planned to skip. It was a beautiful evening and I had a great time swimming 2.3km with a group of friends from the Club.

Friday was the big one – the 80-mile cycle that I had bounced from the previous week blaming the weather. This week I was really up for it and was out of the house at 8.30am on a beautiful sunny morning carrying my bodyweight in energy bars and gels and a pair of legs which were slightly heavy from the previous day’s run.

After a tour of lots of pretty villages south of Andover, I stopped at about halfway in the small market town of Stockbridge to buy some water and top up the nutrition with a chocolate twist from the Co-op’s pastry counter – as you do! The only other interruption to my ride were two puncture stops during the second half. The roads around us are terrible at the moment.

I got home in just over five hours of riding time (excluding puncture stops and lunch) having covered 83 miles (132km) with 3,500 feet of ascent. A moving average speed of 16.5mph (26.4kph). For a training ride with ten weeks left, that will do nicely. Then came an important Ironman lesson.

What I wanted to do when I got home was to lie on the lawn in the sun with a large bottle of ice-cold water. What I knew I should really do was to pull on my running shoes and run for a mile straight off the bike and so I did.

It should have been no surprise to me that, as 83 miles is the furthest I have ever cycled, that one-mile run was going to be a challenge. It was a small taste of what starting the run in an Ironman might be like. Let’s not quibble about the fact that the ride was 30 miles short of the Ironman distance or that my run was only one of the required twenty-six miles, it was a struggle.

When I think of running a Marathon, I think about things like pacing strategy, splits and other important stuff. Forget all of that! From now on I am working on a “get round strategy” which starts with ignoring the pace on my watch. Whatever the strategy, run, shuffle or walk, it will have one aim which is to get me to the finish line, come what may.

Tim Lebbon, a member of the “Ironman Journey” Facebook group put it perfectly in a post last week:

“One of the best bits of advice I had was: It’s not a marathon, it’s an Ironman run.”

When I read the post, I thought I knew what he meant. Having done my 83 mile bike and 1 mile run, I now know exactly what he means. It may be one of the best bits of advice I get too.

In other news, endurance racing madness reaches an all-time high at Andover Triathlon Club over the next two weeks as my friend and club mate Jason Briley takes on Enduroman, a double iron distance race (4.8 mile swim, 232 mile bike and 52 mile run).

Because part of the race is through the night, the course is designed to keep everyone close by for safety reasons. So the run course is 50 times round a loop of just over a mile – psychological as well as physical torture!

10356588_10152393645121745_1601295816_nTo keep himself motivated, Jase has had all of his mantras and motivational catchphrases printed on card and laminated and plans to collect one at the start of each loop of the run to see him round the next mile. A brilliant idea!

I’d wish him luck, but he doesn’t need luck. His cheery chirpy exterior belies a core of steel. Enduroman doesn’t stand a chance!

Lost: One mojo!

I am sure when I look back in months and years to come, my Ironman adventure will provide plenty of high points to enjoy but this past week or so won’t be one of them.

Today marks ten weeks to go until the big day which also means that I am exactly ten weeks into my twenty-week Ironman training program. Ten weeks of relentless, daily grind, sometimes twice a day for six days a week, but I still have another ten weeks to come. Except the ten weeks ahead of me are going to be harder as the training volumes go almost off the scale. I am in a mojo funk. The halfway blues

The challenge hasn’t been the volumes or the number of hours, it has been getting my arse out of the front door to do the training. I have been here before and the feeling will pass, it always does, but that doesn’t make it any easier.


Ready for the Clatford Challenge

The week that ended on a low, started on a high with a great cyclo-sportive. The Clatford Challenge is a 60-mile ride in aid of Naomi House, a local children’s hospice. Our tri club has supported this event for a few years and this time eleven of us turned out and it was about good as it gets. Great company, great banter, fab weather, a beautiful scenic route round North Hampshire and fantastic cake at the halfway feed station. We also had an animated discussion about the etiquette of blowing snot rockets when you are at the front of a group ride. No-one could ever accuse us of ducking the big issues! By the time I had cycled to the start and home again I had clocked up 73 miles (118km) at an average pace of 16.4mph (26kph).


Tea and cake at the end of the ride!

The next day was a club track session with a difference. This week we did brick training at the track. Ten minutes of hard work in the big ring on the turbo straight into a fast 400 metre run – repeat several times. It was great fun.

From there it went downhill. Wednesday was a 12-mile (19km) run. I spent the whole day procrastinating, finding excuse after excuse. I did eventually force myself out of the door but I wasn’t feeling the love. I warmed to my task after about 3 miles and finished at a comfortable cruise but was glad to be home with 12 reluctant miles in the bank.

Same message on Thursday. It was an open water swim and I had no appetite for it. I went to the lake with a car full from the Club and I did the session, but I grumbled at myself for the first 1km – the water was cold, it was too choppy, my wet suit was chafing my neck (was there ever a better situation to illustrate the use of the term MTFU) I managed to get to 2km before I called it a day.

So far I was holding it together despite my fragile state of mind, but Friday was to prove the low-point. I was scheduled to do a 5-hour bike ride which would equate to about 80-85 miles (135km) but the forecast was for rain and high winds all weekend. Fine for swimming, acceptable for running but miserable for cycling. This was the point at which I should have said to myself: MTFU (it was a bit of a MTFU week!) – but I didn’t. Instead I started a negotiation.

The long-range forecast was for fine weather a week ahead – so I decided to swap the long bike session from next week for this week’s 80-miler. So instead of a five hours ride, I did a three and a half hour brick session – a three-hour bike ride covering 48 miles (77km) and then straight into a 30-minute run. Hardly an easy option, but preferable to 5 sodden hours in a cold wind tunnel.

I took an impromptu rest day yesterday to try and get myself together before getting back on it. I went for a couple of tried and trusted mojo restoration techniques. The first was lunch at MacDonald’s which helped. Cate came to the drive-thru with me (in fact it was her idea) – if you knew her you would fully understand how much this was her falling on the grenade in support of my Ironman cause! Then last night I treated myself to a few beers. I am following my father’s philosophy. He always claimed that he was born two gin and tonics below par!! Having been pretty abstemious for the last 5-months it doesn’t take much to have the desired effect. After three Buds, I was ready to cycle 80 miles – what wind and rain!!

I couldn’t swear that the slump is over but I woke up this morning feeling a lot more positive and did a 90-minute bike run brick session with more of a smile on my face. I am pleased to be looking back on a week where, despite feeling as though I have lost my groove, I have done pretty much all the training I was supposed to do and clocked up another 12-hour week. I could have been looking back at a train wreck.

Ironman was never going to be easy right?

The Rules

I feel like I have been glued to my bike recently. Out of 34 hours training in the last three weeks, 23 hours have been spent on my bike.

It sounds like too much (my undercarriage feels like it is too much) but it isn’t – for two reasons. First, if an Ironman triathlon takes 14 hours to complete (that’s about what I think it will take me) then 7 hours are going to be on the bike. It dominates the event and so it makes sense that it is a big part of training.

Second, I would class myself as a “crap but improving” cyclist so there is work to be done if I am to do myself justice on 20 July.

I should be clear about one thing; I am not a cyclist and don’t want to be one! I think of myself as a runner first and a triathlete second. Definitely not a cyclist – cycling is a necessary evil. Rather like Catholics and Protestants, there is a fundamental philosophical difference between triathletes and cyclists. I regard cycling as a means of getting to the next transition so I can start a run. Cyclists believe it is a means of getting to beer and cake. Never the twain shall meet.

But out of a need to improve on the bike, I have found myself “going native” recently and venturing uncomfortably far into the strange world of cycling. I have done a couple of time trials with the local cycling club in the last few weeks and recently I have become the owner of a time-trial bike. You don’t have to be around proper cyclists for long before you discover a strange code which governs cycling – “The Rules”


My new time trial bike

The Rules are a canon of cycling etiquette authored by a mysterious, self-appointed group of guardians who style themselves “The Keepers of the Cog”. They wouldn’t admit that the rules are tongue-in-cheek, but even if they are not and even if I don’t want to be a cyclist, there are a couple that resonate with me, especially at the moment.

The first is Rule 10 which is simply:

Rule #10 – It never gets easier, you just go faster.

Some truth in that! Cycling never seems to get any more comfortable or less demanding, but somehow my average speed seems to creep up. I reckon I am about 2 mph faster now over 30 miles than I was two years ago. It doesn’t sound much, but over an Ironman bike leg my new self would cover the bike course almost an hour faster than my old self. That’s worth training for!

The second rule that rings bells with me on a regular basis is Rule 5:

Rule #5 – Man the fuck up.

There is almost no situation in my Ironman training where this can’t be applied.

Yesterday I was in the pool doing 2km as 10 x 200m at a tempo pace, I got cramp in my foot in the 8th repeat. 1,600m seemed a good workout and I thought about cutting it there……MTFU!

Last week I went on a mid-week Club bike ride. Lots of testosterone filled youngsters driving the pace. The average for first 5 miles was over 20mph. I didn’t think that was sustainable and began to think about bailout options……MTFU!

On Monday I was at a Club track session running 4k as 10 x 400m “pickups” (gradually picking up the pace during each lap). I had been nursing a tight calf the previous week and thought after 7 laps that I should stop in case I damaged my calf…….MTFU!

You see – it’s a remedy for all eventualities – not just cycling. I would recommend anyone to incorporate MTFU into their training.

In other news, training seems to be going fine. I have cycled 60 miles plus, three times in the last few weeks, which is good news but for the fact that it just ushers in a series of longer bike rides. Swimming is less interesting – there is a limit to the attraction of pounding up and down a pool for an hour and then smelling of chlorine all day. Thank goodness the local swimming lakes are now open and I can add some variety with a weekly open water swim.

But constantly in the back of my mind is the speed at which this event is hurtling towards me. It is now less than three months away and my warm up race at the Outlaw Half is just over a month away. Occasionally I get butterflies thinking about them and then I remind myself…..MTFU!

How many people does it take to fix a puncture?

To have one puncture may be considered a misfortune, to have two is very bad luck, but three in a month is enough to test a man’s resolve. Welcome to my world in the last four weeks.

If you cycle long enough you are going to have a puncture. If you are lucky, you will have them on your own where you can sort them at a leisurely pace and get on with your ride. But eventually you are going to have one on a group ride. Then the fun begins.

Having been an observer of someone else’s misfortune many times on group rides, it was my turn on Saturday – just ten minutes into our Club ride. The fifteen minutes or so that it took to fix the situation and be on our way, just confirmed to me what I already knew. The group dynamics when someone punctures would have David Attenborough scratching his head. But there are definitely unwritten rules and obvious behaviour patterns when someone in the bunch suffers this misfortune.

  1. Rule #1 – Come tooled up. It is a chastening experience to have to beg, steal and borrow tubes and levers from fellow riders and will only increase the level of commentary from the sidelines (See Rule #2). Two spare tubes, a set of tyre levers and a pump is the minimum.
  2. Rule #2 – Expect an audience and lots of advice when you puncture, but don’t expect much help (see Rule #3). You will come to realise that the level of each individual’s expertise is inversely proportional to the level of noise they make.
  3. Rule #3 – The amount of help you will get from your fellow riders is directly determined by which sex you are. The formula is simple; if you are male you will get bugger all help. If you are female you will get loads. In fact if a lady plays her cards right she can be ready to ride again in as little as 5 minutes without so much as taking her gloves off. I am looking at you Judit Leszkovich!
  4. Rule #4 – The number of different opinions on how to get the tyre off and find the puncture is at least equal to the number of riders in the group.
  5. Rule #5 – The only acceptable way to sort a puncture is to fit a new inner tube (which you have with you – see Rule #1). Under no circumstances may you get out a puncture repair outfit. If you do, expect to see your ride disappear up the road.
  6. Rule #6 – The Velominati says: “You are not, under any circumstances, to employ the use of the washer-nut and valve-stem cap that come with your inner-tubes . They are only supplied to meet shipping regulations.” I say bollocks! I was told this last year during a puncture stop by a hard-core cyclist who explained that it was to do with rotational aerodynamics. This from a man with mud guards!
  7. Rule #7 – A pump is cool, CO2 is cooler. Cyclists go on a bike ride. Triathletes do a bike leg where the sole aim is to get to T2 in the shortest possible time so that they can start a run leg. CO2 gets you there quicker.
  8. Rule #8 – If you only have a pump, ensure you always know where the CO2 is to be found amongst your fellow riders. In this instance you can briefly ignore Rule #1. I am looking gratefully at you Nick Wall – enough said!
  9. Rule #9 – If you go on a training ride with tubular tyres and have a puncture, expect your fellow riders to wish you luck and leave you to it. (I thank my local cycling club, the Andover Wheelers, for this one – it was virtually the only piece of advice I was given when I asked them to explain the difference between tubular and clincher tyres!)

In other news, I have had a good week of training. With the Reading Half Marathon just a week away I have reduced the volume but tried to maintain the intensity of my sessions. Despite the weather I have managed to get out and train on six of the last seven days.

In less good news, I woke up this morning with man flu! Not what I want seven days before a half marathon. I am madly dosing myself up with Echinacea, vitamin C and Lemsip. Last night I even took Night Nurse and had the best night’ sleep in ages, but still feel rough.

I am keeping my fingers crossed!!

I’ve given birth to a ginger caterpillar!

So it’s Movember, the month when we are all encouraged to grow a moustache to Movemberraise awareness of prostate cancer. I have an added incentive to join in this year as my good friend Simon was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Mercifully they caught it early and he seems to be on the mend.


Frank Zappa

So once the calendar clicked over to 1 November, my razor was given a month off and we sat and waited. When I think moustache I think Windsor Davies, Frank Zappa or Errol Flynn. What actually began to emerge was more like a caterpillar. Actually an undernourished caterpillar with a hair-loss condition.

But that wasn’t the worst of it. I can barely bring myself to write the words to describe what I discovered next……..IT WAS GINGER. My moustache came out ginger. How did that happen? I have brown hair. My father and mother had brown hair. My sister has brown hair. Ginger is not a concept that has troubled our gene pool.

I have a decision to make. So far I have hidden the early ginger scrap of a moustache from the public. I haven’t had to go to the office this week and have been working at home. But tomorrow I have a fairly grown up and important meeting with some people I don’t know well. I don’t think there is any room on the agenda for caterpillars and ginger moustaches. So the fate of my emerging tash will be decided in the early hours.

In other news I did my first winter session on the turbo today – the cycling equivalent of a treadmill. A solid hour of hard work. A lot of cyclists scoff at turbo training but I love it. If the choice is between being out in the dark on a cold, wet, windy autumn evening or being ensconced in my warm cellar with the lights on and music blaring as I stamp on the pedals to Eminem then that is one of the easier decisions I will make this week. The harder one awaits me at the shaving mirror in the morning.

If you want to run with the big dogs, you’ve got to learn to pee in the tall grass

As four of us drove back from our first open water swim of the year at Reading Lake in time for a late Sunday breakfast, the driver spoke with the voice of authority.

“People think that by swimming round and round the lake you get faster. You don’t, you get slower”

The voice was that of Dan Mason, a Team GB triathlete in his age group last year – also a member of our triathlon club and a friend. He has just been selected for Team GB again this year, so when he talks I listen. I also listen because Dan is a qualified BTF coach and is helping me with my training this year.

It is a theme I have heard Dan expand before. You don’t get better at something by just going and doing lots of it. You get better in training by pushing yourself. Sometimes that means doing something outside your comfort zone that you don’t really like. Sometimes it means training with people better than you so you have to work harder than is comfortable to keep up. Neither is enjoyable which is why we rarely do it. The sad truth is that getting better involves some suffering!

This discussion is very timely for me as I have now started training for my triathlon season. My first race, an open-water sprint tri, is in June. I am reluctant to admit it because usually when I declare training has started I get injured. So I am writing this with everything crossed.

I have tried to put Dan’s theory into practice by getting out of my comfort zone in training. This week I had two opportunities to show myself that I was pushing it.

The first was last Saturday when our tri club group bike ride didn’t happen. I decided to go out on my own instead and cycled about ten miles to some local hills. If suffering is on the menu then hills are a safe bet! I found a loop that, in a strange optical illusion, seems to be constantly uphill yet still ends where it started – go figure! It was an 8-mile loop which I did twice. Add on the journey to and from home and I got a solid 37 hilly miles under my belt – 1,797 feet of ascent at an average speed of almost exactly 15 mph. It was exhausting and by the time I arrived home my legs were a bit like jelly from the climbing. Not your average fun ride!

The next day I was at the tri club weekly swimming session. On the agenda this week, in the middle of a 2k workout, was a 400 metre time trial – 16 lengths of the pool against the clock. I occasionally do a 400 metre time trial alone to try and gauge progress, but with no-one watching or timing me, it is often hard to distinguish my 400m time trial from an easy 400 metre warm up. When the rest of your training lane sits on the end of the pool and watches and one of them has a stop watch in his hand, it’s an entirely different proposition – the pressure is on.

My lane partner this week was Chris Oliver. He is a stronger swimmer than me. He has a fluid and deceptively powerful stroke. He gave me lots of excuses about taking it easy and not being too bothered about his time. He then promptly nailed a 6.30 mins 400m. Turns out he did care about the time after all!!

Then it was my turn. I set off and straight away felt out of breath. Must be in the head – even I can swim two lengths without falling apart. I tried to keep it easy while I got a few lengths under my belt. At halfway I heard Chris shout 3.40 – I tried furiously to do the maths in my tired head underwater! Was twice 3.40 under 7 minutes or not? No it was 6.80 – what does 6.80 mean? I gave up and focused on swimming.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw Helen Hunter in the next lane. Helen is tall with long levers which she uses to great effect in the pool. I tried to keep up with her – no chance – but it made me push myself.

By the last 50 metres things were hurting but I knew that in about one minute Chris was going to read out my time for all to hear and that kept me working hard. I put in as big a finish as I could without blowing up. Eventually I made it – 7.30 mins exactly. Not Michael Phelps but a full 16 seconds inside my PB.

I still have work to do if I am to get under 7 mins by October, but it looks like Dan was right. You get better by training with better people than you and by pushing yourself.

If I want to get really good perhaps I should go and swim in the fast lane at training where our winner on the night did 400m in 5.02 mins. Well done Sam Wilson who beat all the men!