Time to get the miles in

This month has seen an increase in cycle training volume as a result of two big weekends of cycling. And the results are very encouraging for the challenges that lie ahead.

Back to back hundred miles

This first was the London Revolution – a two day event organised by the RAB event company Threshold Sports.

This started at Lee Valley in north London, with a 5am alarm call on the Saturday morning to drive around the M25. A few hours later and I was rolling across the start line for a two hour ride through London. An iconic photo crossing Tower Bridge, but lots of traffic lights and built-up conurbations to slow our progress. Made me glad my local roads are in the leafy lanes around the royal county of Berkshire!

Once we hit the green belt the scenery changed to more familiar surroundings as we moved south west through Kent and Sussex towards the Surrey Hills. A couple of nice climbs done and we made our way towards Windsor racecourse with a 100 miles ‘on the clock’. A fanfare arrival to base camp gave me a good impression of what to expect on each day of RAB, but then rather than heading for the chillout zone it was time for a quick pit-stop before the extra 15 miles ride home. As I have the hotel option booked for RAB, I didn’t need the glamping experience of rain showers, rider snoring and being woken by random tents zips in the middle of the night!

Sunday morning was a 6am alarm (a relative lie-in) for the pedal back to Windsor, where seeing a long queue to cross the start line I opted for a cheeky – bacon butty – second breakfast. Refuelled for the day ahead, the route took us over familiar roads crossing the Thames at Marlow before tackling some meatier climbs in the Chilterns. When we get to RAB, the first two days in Cornwall and Devon are the toughest by way of “undulations” and so the repetitive up/downs of Bledrow Ridge and Kop Hill was a good test. I got up them all showing that my winter training and base level fitness has paid off. Following a sunny lunch stop, we made our way north east through some salubrious areas of north London before hitting Enfield with just 5 short miles of built-up traffic to ride through.

Crossing the finish line – to another fanfare – I quickly stowed my bike in the car and grabbed a change of clothes. Barely 10 minutes had passed and I switched on my phone to see my finisher line photos already uploaded to my facebook account. Now this is a seriously cool use of technology. The event photographers must all have 4G cards in their cameras that mean that rider photos can be uploaded in near real time to social media. And both the quality of photos and the accuracy of spotting each ride by the bar code strips mounted to our bikes and helmets was first class. Meaning that everyone at home could follow the progress of the event and know what was happening. And the event company have the same technology on RAB – so you can follow my path across the country.

Make that three

The second event was a charity challenge, over the second May Bank Holiday weekend organised by a TVT member Kathryn Rossiter – to celebrate her 50th birthday. Now most people think of luxury holidays to mark that milestone, but not when you are GB Age Group triathlete. For her it was a multi-day sports endurance event instead!

The day one Saturday was a ride out west from Reading through Berkshire; then day two Sunday was the ‘long one’ with nine and half hours of riding time out north through the Chilterns before looping back through Oxfordshire. And then a third day heading out south-west through Hampshire with plenty of rolling hills. A total of 300 miles over the three days which is exactly what I can expect on RAB.

Only come September I have to do all that again… and again!

What was special about this second May weekend was the group riding aspect, with many riders all used to cycling together. Cue lots of banter, chain-gang style formation riding, and always someone looking out to see that the whole group was sticking together. That management phrase “there’s no I in team” could not have been more apt.

And given that Kathryn is Chef Exec of a local social charity called Thrive, it would be remiss of me not to mention her fund raising efforts. It was a pleasure to participate and contribute financially to this cause over the weekend.

Looking ahead

So with just over 100 days out from the RAB start line at Lands End – and how do I feel?

Basically the answer is good (which is better than the banal “I’m fine” response usually given to such questions). I know mentally that I can ride back-to-back 100 mile rides, and that the longest day of 125 miles is within my capability. There is still three months to go to continue to build fitness, to make minor tweaks & adjustments to reduce soreness whilst riding, and to focus on fundraising.

Giving something back to others who need help – via my charity partner the Princes Trust – is where my focus turns next month.

Spring training

May has now arrived and the lighter evenings start to offer more choice for cycle training. The winter period was often limited to a single daytime weekend ride each week, meaning that strength and conditioning at the gym has been an important way to lay a fitness base. Now that starts to change with additional cycle rides adding volume (and miles in the saddle) to the training schedule.

Within these constraints, my winter training has always been effective as for a number of years now I have been a cycle ride leader for my triathlon club TVT. I was even recognised last year with the Head Coach’s Award as a number of team mates have used my winter group as a springboard to future sporting success. It has also been a huge motivation for me that when the weather is cold and wet then there are no excuses to cancel a ride, because there are 8-10 others wanting to go out who are dependent on you. The winter ride schedule sequence is a general ride, with a more hilly ride the next week, then a faster temp ride (over a local Time Trial course) the week after, and finally a longer steady ride. We are out for 2-3 hours each set, which is often all that can be managed before the feeling of numb fingers and feet start to takeover.

As we move towards spring, so the opportunities to extend the ride time start to become more feasible. Back in January I took advantage of a ‘3 for 2’ sale offer from Evans Cycles and signed up for three of their “Ride It” sportives, targeting March and April for my events. I opted for the long course options, which at this time of year is circa 70-80 miles per ride.

The first of these was in the North Downs, starting from the new CycloPark facility in Gravesend in Kent. A great sporting legacy from London 2012, the cycle park facility offers a tarmac and offroad course for everyone to hone their cycle skills. I had ridden from this venue last year, as it works well to stay for the weekend with my wife’s parents who retired to live on the Kent Coast. This year, fuelled by fresh sea bream at a local restaurant on the Saturday evening, I drove 45 mins up the M2 motorway over the impressive Medway bridge to the venue. The weather forecast for the day had been dreadful, but the Atlantic depression coming in from the west was held up sufficiently that we pretty much got away with a dry-ish day. The signature climb was Vigo Hill, which is a short sharp climb up onto a North Down ridge which I managed okay. What I had forgotten from the previous year were some of the technical climbs just before the end of the ride, so I was pleased to see the cycle park venue after 70 miles and complete my final lap to the finish. The venue has good facilities so having showered, I enjoyed a coffee and pastie before the drive back to coast.

In early April was a local event starting from Windsor racecourse. This is one of the larger Ride It events with nearly 1,000 competitors so that meant some queuing at the start on a chilly morning. Once going, the wind proof jacket could be packed away as we crossed the Thames at Marlow and headed into the Chilterns. At one of the feed stops I spotted a young lady ride wearing a RAB cycle top, and soon started up conversation about the event. Her enthusiasm was such that she had completed Lands End – John O’Groats on two separate occasions, because she enjoyed the event, camaraderie and organisation so much. A great confidence boost to meet her.

The final section of the course was on local roads, and with the hillier section now behind us I enjoyed a higher tempo rode with some other Cookham cycle club riders to the finish. Another confidence boost that I could pick up the pace!

The third sportive was the weekend after an Easter holiday, and was pretty much my first ride for two weeks. It was out in Milton Keynes which meant an hour and a half drive to the start. This time I was more aware of waiting around at the start, so seeing a long line leading to the timing point I headed to the refreshment van (without a queue) for a bacon butty and cup of tea. Cheeky second breakfast! The route this day included some nice views over the Dunstable downs, a pretty section through the bluebell carpeted Ashridge national trust and a ride through the Woburn estate. It was 85 miles and was completed in 6 hours of ride time – which for me is a good average pace over that distance. Followed by a protein shake for recovery and a leisurely drive home.

A well earned glass (or two) of wine that evening, as my early season RAB training was definitely on course.

It’s been five years… and now is the time for the next big challenge

Well, where did the last 5 years go?

After the successes of the 2012 Olympic year – meaning the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam of course – the legacy lives on with another big cycling challenge for me.

This time it is the Ride Across Britain (RAB) which is a 9 day end-to-end ride across our country. In total, 969 miles to be covered in just 9 days. With over 700 cyclists taking part, it takes in some of the country’s most breath-taking landscapes; starting from Land’s End in Cornwall to cycling over Dartmoor, Shap Fell in The Lake District, Penrith, Glencoe and the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands.

I think of it as ‘just’ a 100 mile sportive (which I know that I can do) back to back for nine consecutive days. Oh err… not to undertaken lightly!

Over the past 5 years I have remained active, so the cycling aspect of the challenge is definitely something that I can train myself for, but I haven’t done anything significant by way of charity fundraising. This year I am raining funds for the Princes Trust, which creates life changing opportunities for disadvantaged young people. Through your donations they can offer free programmes that give young people the practical and financial support they need to stabilise their lives. You can find out more about why I am fundraising by reading about a Princes Trust ambassador that I met.

But to kick things off, let me tell you about what I have been up to since my previous blog activity:

  • Top left is me riding last year in the “King of The Downs”, a 125 mile one day sportive which include 11 significant climbs. This was the test of my capability and proof to myself that both bike and rider were up for the ‘next big challenge’.
  • Top right is a shot from Gran Canaria, last Christmas, where I spent a wonderful day cycling in the mountains. I look forward to seeing more stunning scenery when we get to Scotland on this years ‘RAB’.
  • Bottom right is me competing in triathlon, which is the sport that got me into cycling.
  • Bottom left is a group cycling photo with my club mates from Thames Valley Triathletes (TVT). As a coach and ride leader, they all think that the past winter of cycling training has been about equipping them for the triathlon season ahead, whilst at the same time it has been laying the foundations for me and my big cycling challenge.
  • And the 2017 glue that will hold all this together is the fund raising, and the opportunity to give something back for others.

So if you want to sponsor me, there is a Virgin Money Giving page that allows you to do so. And please feel free to follow this blog to keep in touch with my training and the event itself.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. It makes interesting reading about the reach of social media blogging….

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people. And the international context is relevant, as the site visitors came from 38 countries in total.

Throughout the year I made 26 new posts, not bad for my first year of blogging! In total there were 91 pictures uploaded – so a true multi-media experience to enjoy.

The busiest day of the year was February 5th with 32 views.  The most popular posts were:

1 Surrey Hills – Cycle Slam Training March 2012

2 Challenge Henley – Ironman Relay September 2012

3 The 3 Hs Sportive – Hills, Holes and Hail April 2012

4 Preparations are now complete – let the challenge begin May 2012

5 The Longest Day June 2012

Great memories to share!

The icing on the cake

After such an epic summer of 2012, and now that the darker nights are drawing in, it is time to reflect on the achievements of the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam and what it meant to be part of such a great event. And what is especially nice, is that my efforts have been marked by me winning an Award. 

As a fund raising activity, the event set a goal of raising £2.012M for the Dallaglio Foundation to fund the Cancer Research UK ICGC project on prostate cancer genetics and for the AF Foundation to build, develop and improve Child Rehabilitation & Physiotherapy Units throughout the UK. The first piece of good news is that these charities will have all the funding they require – as the Cycle Slam event raised a massive total of £2,022,125. Fantastic!

My own sporting story is best captured in a videocast made whilst I was taking part in the event

With a background in triathlon, I did a lot of the training preparation with my Tri Club Thames Valley Triathletes. And last night was their annual awards dinner. Well last year I was recognised as the most improved triathlete, and this year I won again this time in the “Most Impressive Performance of the Year” category. And I was up against stiff competition from Wayne Jones (who cycled to Germany raining funds for Macmillan Cancer) and Simon Fox (who did the 3 Peaks Challenge riding between the mountains and fund raising for the Duchess of Kent House Hospice). I am not sure that my cycling efforts alone quite match the others achievements but I guess the combination of riding, event promotion and beating my personal fund raising target swung it in my favour. Thank you TVT – it means a lot to be recognised by my peer group in this way.

Like all good award ceremonies, now it is time for a few thank yous!

  • Firstly to Virgin Media – who sponsored me as a customer to take part in a stage of the event – little did I know when I spotted their Cycle Slam advert, on a dark night in January this year, where this would take me;
  • Secondly to the awesome Stage 5 Group 2 riders, who I shared the best moments of the event with (both on and off the bike) – it was great to have the whole team of riders working together to achieve a common goal
  • Thirdly to my TVT team mates – who supported me on training rides and sportives to get the miles in my legs that would mean that I could really enjoy the riding challenge
  • Fourthly to everyone who donated to my personal fund raising activities – a collection of friends, colleagues and business customers who themselves raised money through their own work activities. We had the London Midland office cycle ride (on an exercise bike); the Nottingham City Homes Easter cake sale; and the LV= dress down day. That was really inspiring.
  • And finally to my family – who came to London on the final day of the Slam to see me cross the finish line and share in the glory.

It was a great personal achievement, and I couldn’t have done it without you all!

And so now it is time to draw a close to this blog. Thank you for reading and hopefully enjoying my tales. Until the next cycling challenge – target date 2014 – stay healthy everyone.

Paul.

Challenge Henley – Ironman Relay

So I have spent the summer reminding myself that Triathlon is a multi-discipline sport and not just a cycle event. And to finish off my sporting season I took part in an Ironman distance event on the 16th September – doing the 42k  run leg as part of my triathlon club relay team. And quite a day it was too…..

We are very lucky that the Thames Valley is home to a number of iconic triathlon event venues. My very first triathlon some 7 years ago was taking part in a Sprint event on the closed roads at Eton Dorney; next moving up to an Olympic Distance event at Windsor; but until now the region has lacked a focus for longer distance events. I have had to travel to Europe to experience competing over a closed road course Middle Distance event.

But not anymore.  Last year saw the inaugural Challenge Henley event, offering Half Ironman and Full Ironman distances, which suffice to say caused a fair degree of controversy with many “NIMBY” locals trying to get the event banned. The local paper even ran a poll to canvas public opinion. The organisers conceded a few changes, and the 2012 event was back on.

My TVT triathlon club had good representation across both participation and support, this year having some individual Half Ironman competitors and a Full Ironman Relay team.  We also had a volunteer team manning a feedstation; and a club member providing post event recovery massages.

The weather this summer has caused its fair share of headaches for triathlon race participants – the cancelled swim at Windsor; running through a bog at the Marlow event in June, and a shortened run course  at the Cotswold 113 to avoid slippery footpaths.  At the Saturday pre race briefing, we found out that Challenge Henley also had to cope with a last minute run course change. But not because of the weather, this time because of pheasant breeding taking place on an adjacent farmers land!

So race day brought an early start, with competitors making last minute preparations at Henley Business Centre before dawn. The daylight showed clear and cool conditions with light breezes and a minor Thames river swell. In fact, perfect for racing. First to set off was Katie Hopkins at 7.10am – shaking off her cold – to complete the 3.8km swim relay leg in a very respectable 1h 21m.

By the time she was out of the water, the Half Ironman competitors were also underway meaning that everyone would be out on the bike course together.

The bike route was on closed roads, with a figure of eight loop that took riders up Bix Hill to a turnpoint near Nettlebed, then the long drag up Pishill, out past Christmas Common with a turnpoint just past the M40. The full distance was three full loops, the Half riders doing a one and half loop distance.

The riding machine that is Barry Hopkins was doing the relay full distance bike leg for team TVT1, competing the 180km course in under 6 hours. Heroic riding to cover the 112 undulating miles at an average pace of over 18mph.

 

By the time that Barry completed the bike course, the Half Ironman race was all done and dusted.  Sharkie Jaggard was first home for TVT; with a very close contest between Steve Wilson and Alistair Weir spurring both triathletes to break the 5 ½ hour barrier for the first time.  Top dog performances from all.

That left the run relay leg for the full distance event still to complete – and the big question in my mind in the event planning was whether the daylight would hold sufficiently for me to complete the run. That gave our team a self imposed target time to beat of 12 hours.

And to spice things up there was another TVT battle going to take place on the run course. Mike Williams was also doing the marathon with some mates in a relay team raising funds for the Sue Ryder Homes charity.  Waiting for the changeover it looked like Katie and Barry were giving me a decent lead to hold onto – but then Mike was 20 years my junior and welcomed chasing down a gap.

So I set off full of excitement to cover four laps of an out and back course that hugged the river Thames. Pancake flat and with high level cloud and a pleasant temperature, the half way point was soon covered in a shade over 1h 40m, which is pretty decent for me doing a HM. But I still had the second half to cover!

So even without doing the swim and bike legs, I began to experience what it felt like to be running fatigued. The last 15k was a case of digging in, staying focused, and relishing the crowd participation as the sight and sounds of Henley grew larger on the horizon.

Turning into the Phyllis Court complex for the last time, there was one last surprise. I spotted Katie and Barry in the atheletes pen, ready and waiting so that we could cross the line together. And we had one extra team member for the glory moment – my two year grand-daughter Lara. I swept her up in my arms and the cheering crowd showed their appreciation. What an incredible feeling!

And for the record, as a relay team we had smashed our expectations by finishing well inside 11 hours. On a par with Steve and Alistair’s combined time from earlier in the day. As we have all ridden and trained together over several winters – another very satisfying feeling.

And the run contest? Well Mike had chased me down out on the course, but making up a whole lap was never going to be practical. Despite slowing on the final lap, his team also broke the 12 hour barrier and happily finished in daylight. And best of all – he spurred me to a new Marathon PB, beating my previous best by over 3 minutes.

Now what’s my age group qualifying time for the Virgin London Marathon?

The Longest Day

After all the training for the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam, it was time to test myself in the Magnificat Cycle Sportive – riding 127 miles in one day – including 9 testing climbs. And the weather forecast for the Diamond Jubilee Sunday was …. absolutely dreadful.

I had taken part in this annual sportive event, starting from Newbury racecourse and covering a circular route across the South Downs, in the two previous years. The first time the 51 mile course, and then last year the 81 mile course – which was all part of my Half Ironman training. But never had I tackled the full 127 mile Magnificat version, which is a true test for any club cyclist.

In past years, the weather had played a major part in my recollections of the event. In 2010, the weather was dry and sunny, but last year a major Atlantic depression rolled in on the day, bringing an inch of rain and some stiff winds. A major challenge, which I have referenced in previous blog entries. However, the event organisers Ken and Barbara Robson, had made a generous donation towards my Cycle Slam fund raising, and so I had willingly agreed to make their 127 mile event, over this Bank Holiday weekend, the final part of my Slam cycling challenge.

I had two weeks to recover from the Slam itself and prepare for the Magnificat, and I was soon able to pick up the intensity of my training. Cycling in the warm weather we had a week ago definitely agreed with me, and I was looking forward to testing myself over the longest one day ride that I had ever undertaken. As the Bank Holiday weekend drew ever closer, then the weather forecast for the Sunday looked increasingly bleak. The river boat pageant in London was definitely going to be a water based event, as rain was forecast for the whole day. So I packed my wet weather riding gear, expecting the worst.

Alarm went off at 5.30am (just like in the Slam) and I picked up a fellow TVT cyclist Simon Fox an hour later for the drive down the M4 to Newbury. The racecourse was a hive of activity – for that early time on a Sunday – with cyclists getting ready for a long day’s ride. We also met up with another friend David Blundell who was training for his fourth attempt at completing the Tour d’Etape, which is the annual opportunity for club cyclists to ride a stage of the Tour de France.

Now the Magnificat route is broken down into three stages – each of circa 40 miles – following an anti-clockwise loop across the Berkshire/ Hampshire and Wiltshire countryside. Each stage had some testing climbs, the first one of which Walbury was shrouded in mist as I led a small group up the climb.

But the rain was getting lighter, and temperatures were rising as a result, which meant that it was soon time to remove the outer layer of clothing. The tempo of the ride with Simon was good, with the first stage completed in 2 ¾ hours. The second stage took us into the most southerly section, with the climbs of Old Winchester Hill and Stoner Hill.

By the afternoon the weather was steadily improving, so I even had the chnace to get my legs were out. Now the reference to legs is one that is particularly relevant to Simon. He was using the Mgnificat as a test event for a charity ride he is doing in August – Three Peaks Two Wheels – where he will be riding 200 km a day between Ben Nevis, Scarfell Pike, Snowdon and then home. His sports therapist has recently recommended a full leg shave, so that some supportive tape could be fixed to him whilst he was riding. Now that is a level of dedication well beyond anything I saw on the Slam. Lawrence and Freddie having their legs shaved so that they can ride a bike – I think not!

So 80 miles in and I was very pleased to get to the end of  Stage 2 feed station where the tea and cake was most welcome. And still a final stage of 46 miles and over 2,000 feet of climbing to go.  But apart from the odd stray shower, the weather was holding up, so with renewed spirits we pressed on.  One of the most interesting sights of the day was the way that some of the villages had been decorated. As part of the Jubilee celebrations, several Hampshire villages had covered the roadside with scarecrows, dressed up as topical characters. Along with bunting, this certainly made us feel like this was a special day for a ride, which again lifted the spirits as fatigue threatened to set-in.

With 18 miles to go, at the final drinks station, I stuffed some Jelly baby sweeties  into my cycling pockets ready for the final ups and down into Kingsclere and Ashford Hill. I was now back on more familiar roads which certainly helped me believe that the full distance was now truly within my grasp. After the final drag past Greenham Common, we began the last descent into Newbury – to cross the finish line some 9 hours and 40 miles after the start. And no punctures!  Excluding the stops, that equates to an average speed over 14 miles an hour. Perfectly respectable for us all – and well within the bronze level cutoff time. Job done.