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.

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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.

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.

A tale of two sportives

I like cycle sportives. They allow you to discover new routes, countryside and scenery that you didn’t know existed. And in the past 7 days I have experienced two such events, as part of my training for the Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam.

Today was great. A stunning early morning cloudless sky, moderated by a chilly breeze, which woke me up on the ride to the start point at the iconic Eton Dorney venue – home to the Olympic rowing regatta.

Whereas Easter Monday was, as forecast, a wet and windy day as an Atlantic depression rolled in as I drove round the M25 to a start point in North East London. Now let’s get the negatives of this cycling day out of the way first. Yes it was wet, but no worse than I have encountered before. The route explored Essex countryside with plenty of twisty lanes, but all a bit flat and featureless. And then, 50 miles into the ride, the signs ran out. With only a route card provided, that meant orienteering around the green lanes without a map, which led to 45 minutes riding around in a circle to end up at the same point to where we first realised that we were lost. Luckily, the Home Counties are not the Bermuda triangle, so we re-emerged from this minor crisis. But the good news of the day was 75 miles of riding into my legs and 5+ hours in the saddle.

Now onto the positives of today’s ride.  F3 Events are a professional triathlon event company whose triathlon and cycling events have helped me prepare for several of my sporting challenges over the past few years.  So I turned to them as part of my preparation for this years Cycle Slam. The training programme today involved cycling 15 miles to the start point of the sportive; then tackling the 55 mile undulating route; and then completing the loop by cycling home. The significance of the distance is that I wanted to cover at least 80% of the longest stage distance that I would encounter on the Slam. Job done!

The sportive route today was well marked – plenty of clear guidance signs telling us to go left, right or straight on – and whether to exercise caution ahead!  The information provided in advance of the event was equally as comprehensive and media savvy. As a new exponent of the “MapMyRide”application, I can’t wait for my iPhone case to arrive next week from Amazon so that I can securely fasten my phone to the bike so that I can plot my progress as I ride along.

The route was a good mix of country roads – undulating and criss-crossing the Berks/Bucks Chilterns with several cheeky hills, followed by technical twisty descents. The weather was kind throughout – sunny and bright with an occasional chilly headwind. Typical British spring time really; in the sun and sheltered from the wind was lovely, but swap those two variables around and it was less pleasant!

And we made a new friend today. My Thames Valley Triathletes training buddies were Wayne and Tony who were using the sportive as preparation for their fist Half Ironman event in June. Not long after the start of the ride we were joined by (the delightful) Emma, a native of Sweden, who sounded more Surrey than Stockholm to me. She too, was using the sportive as part of her triathlon season spring training. It was the first time she had tackled this cycling distance and, with mutual support, we all covered the distance in comfortably under 4 hours of riding time. For me, that just left the cycle ride home, which following a carb filled peanut-butter sandwich and a cup of tea, was duly achieved.

So does this sound the right type of training event for you? As luck would have it, F3 Events are running another cycle sportive next weekend, on Sunday 22nd April, staring fromHenley-on-Thames.

Join me if you can.

Training Plans – one week in the life….

So what does my Dallaglio Flintoff Cycle Slam training schedule look like, some eight weeks before my leg of the event starts? Well, partly so that I can think about what I need to change and focus on moving forwards, here is what the past seven days has involved.

Reading this, you need to be aware that my training is based around my sport of triathlon, and that I thrive on variety:

  • Monday – two hours of cross-training (6.15pm-8.20pm) – a one hour BodyPump class followed by a one hour Body Attack class.
  • Tuesday – rest day
  • Wednesday – staying away so an early morning training hour at the hotel – in the gym at 6.45am for 30 mins, followed by a 30 mins swim set.
  • Thursday – I usually do a circuits class, but domestic arrangements meant that at 6pm I did another one hour Body Attack class, with a 10 mins cycle to/from the leisure centre
  • Friday – late home from a London meeting, so just a 30 mins run at 7pm, followed by a celebratory dinner (just won a new contract at work!)
  • Saturday – slightly fuzzy head soon cleared by 45 mile hill focused cycle training session with my Thames Valley Triathletes cycle group. Left home at 8.30am, returned at 12 noon, which equated to just over 4 hours of training (excluding the stops at meet points etc.)
  • Sunday – Marlow Duathlon – 9am start for 2 hours 10 mins of competitive (high intensity) exercise involving a 7km run; 25km cycle and then a second lap of the 7km run course.

Overall, the past seven days has included 12 hours of training. Happy with both the volume and intensity of that training activity, although moving forwards, the balance needs to change as only 40% of the past week’s training has been cycling based.

The good news is that the start of British Summer Time next weekend means that we will have light until 7.30pm which opens up the opportunity for midweek evening cycle training. I also need to keep the intensity up, so the local Thursday evening Maidenhead CC Time Trial will start to feature in the coming weeks. Also April has a great choice of sportives, for a longer organised ride on Sundays.

More on my cycle sportive plans to follow in a subsequent post, for those interested in joining me for a ride.