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.