Occasional readers of this blog will note that it hasn’t had a lot of attention of late – 10 months in fact.
The reason is two-fold: Firstly, I’ve not had a great deal to write about and secondly I haven’t found the time to write about anything exciting that has happened. On the face of it, they’re two pretty hollow excuses – generally, excitement is something you make happen rather than wait for it to happen to you.
For the first time in a good few years (since starting a family), my attention is beginning to focus properly on my riding again. I’m quite excited at the prospect of doing the Highland Trail in May, and a certain amount of preparation is required to do it justice. I’m hoping too that in preparing for this event, it will open up opportunities to do a few other big things in 2013, but I’ll keep those under my hat for the time being.
Of course, 2012 wasn’t without its successes; my successful defence of the Bear Bones 200 title was the obvious highlight of the year, where I knocked over 2 hours off last years record despite conditions being generally worse this year. Despite comparatively low “training” inputs, I found I had enough to pull a 15 hour ride out of the bag when I needed to. But, there’s a big difference between the 15 hours required to complete a 200km ITT in Wales, compared with a 4-odd day assault of the Highland Trail.
Which brings me back to the purpose of this post: in order to get myself of the right place for the HT both physically and mentally, I need to start doing something about it now. That something is making time to ride my bike quite a bit more than I did throughout 2012. I hope that a good deal of excitement will result, and the progression towards my Highland Trail goal will certainly be interesting.
Happy New Year.
So, I went to the doctors for the first time in over two years last month to get some antibiotics for a sinus infection. Things were looking up and by the end of the following week – sinus infection gone and only the remains (so I thought) of a normal cold virus.
Six weeks later, the remains of my cold has turned into a cough that I haven’t been able to shift for over three weeks. Sure, being ill is no-one’s idea of fun, but this happens to coincide with a run of spectacular weather that will probably be hailed later in August, amidst steady rain, as having been our “summer”, which makes it somewhat annoying.
My plan was to ride SSEC this weekend, but I’d struggle to ride to the post box at the end of the road without coughing at the moment, never mind blast round lovely Forest of Dean singletrack with one gear. Which brings me round to the need for me to be doing something that resembles training, in advance of Mountain Mayhem in the middle of June.
On the up side, I’ve had my entry confirmed with the second Welsh Ride Thing at the end of next month, so at least I have something to look forward to.
Another month slides by gracefully. Not sure where the days have gone just lately, but looking back it’s been surprisingly busy.
A good proportion of my time was spent learning about, studying for or being assessed as part of my British Triathlon Level 1 Coaching Certificate. It was a very enjoyable course with a good crowd of people, from novices such as myself through to elite athletes including Andrea Whitcombe, pictured below, 3rd from right:
ITU Hy-Vee World Cup Triathlon
With my increased interest in triathlon and aided by a strong cycling background it will be a useful string to my bow both for teaching myself about the sport, but also sharing and developing that knowledge within our local club: Brecon Multisport.
In other news, there’s a new additional to the bike stable in the pipeline. I managed to convince Beth that if I sold a big pile of surplus bike components that were lying around in the garage, I could use the money to build up a new bike. I’ve gone for something that doesn’t compete too closely with the Soda, and is of a specification that keeps the build cost down to a minimum. More to follow once it’s built up and ridden…
The funniest thing about the month has been the weather. Early on, summer showed it’s face just to remind us what we’d been missing over the months of June through to September. A few cold nights and sharp frosts later, the leaves on the trees have turned and Autumn is in full swing – I’ve probably missed the best of the colours with the camera by now, but I may still get the chance to snap a few good pictures. By the end of October the Beacons have a coating of snow and and it’s time dig out the leg warmers and winter shoes and wrap up for winter once again.
Ten thousand kilometre’s came up on the Power Tap today*. Despite taking it easy this year, I’ve still made a habit of collecting data from my rides just out of curiosity. One thing I have noticed though is that because they are just rides, where a training goal is largely absent, there’s been a change in my physical capability. Fewer miles, reduced training load, more cake and a “just-out-for-the-fun-of-it” mentality has, by and large, lead to reduced fitness. But, because I’m struggling to hang on to the back wheel of Alan, Neil or whoever, the actual intensity of some rides can be quite high, the result of which is interesting, albeit perhaps unsurprising.
The graph above shows you how the riding I’ve done this year has affected my power curve. The yellow line is 2005-2007, where my training goals were focused towards 24 hour solos. The result was a pretty good power output for endurance at the expense of all-out power over short durations. While my long distance endurance has dropped this year (the dashed line), I can now put out 20% more power in a sprint. I might not be the first to the top of the climbs any more, but those fast-twitch muscle fibres that I’ve been quietly developing all year means I’m well up for the sprint back into town at the end of a ride.
* since November 2005
I rode from Bala in North Wales to Brecon last weekend. It’s not often I get to do point to point road rides, but work sent me northwards so I blagged a lift off the boss and took my bike so I could ride back.
The goal was simple (besides getting home): ride 100 miles of Welsh hills. Despite all my years on a bike, and three 24 hour solo’s under my belt, I’d never actually done a ton on a road bike.
The wind down the valley was strong, and the ribbon of tarmac that wound up the valley in front of me seemed all the more steep in these conditions. As I leaned on the pedals and thought aerodynamic thoughts, I glanced down to see my power meter was reading 450 watts – well above my threshold. I’d only been riding for 6 miles. It was going to be a long day…
Eventually the gradiant relented (the wind had other ideas) and I tucked up for the fast descent down to Llyn Vyrnwy. The route round the lake was very pleasant and calm in comparison to the previous valley. I continued onwards to Welshpool and then to towards Newtown. Here I met up with my friend Alan who’d ridden from Brecon to meet me. This was halfway and I was grateful to be able to share the headwind a bit. We headed back through Newtown and began our climb up into the hills. The wind was persistent and for the next 30 odd miles it began to wear us both down.
Builth Wells represented the final brief stop. Here we had a choice. The hilly route over the ranges, or the valley route which was 5 miles longer. My legs were feeling truly empty, and I was probably a bit under fuelled – I’ve never been good at eating on the bike. Neither seemed very attractive.
A can of coke and a Torq gel we were back on the bikes and heading for the hilly route. The combination of simple and complex carbs did the trick by the second hill and before we knew it we reached the top and it was practically down hill to Brecon. With 6 hours 37 minutes on the clock and 100 miles ridden I surprised to find my normalised power as high as 190 watts. Not bad considering I’ve not really done very much riding over the winter.
Contrary to any assumptions you may have made from the title of this post, I was in fact clothed throughout. I’d just forgotten to take my helmet, so felt a little under-dressed…
I went swimming last week for the first time in what must be nearly two years. When I asked the advice of a few friends on swimming, one them said:
There are only 3 things you need to know for swimming.
They are, in no particular order, technique, technique and technique.
Having got quite used to my legs going round and round for hours at a time on a bike, the coordination required to get them to paddle backwards and forwards whilst at the same time moving my arms (rather than clasping a handlebar) required considerable levels of concentration. Suffice to say, at the moment, I’m not much of a swimmer. But there lies the challenge. Beth used to very good at swimming, and now there’s an opportunity for her to teach me how to do something.
The other discipline into which I have dabbled is running. On the face of it, I’m the right build and have a good level of fitness already so how hard can a bit of running be? Well, at the moment quite hard. My running muscles have been a bit underdeveloped in recent years, but with some steady practice I guess I’ll improve, along with the swimming.
In search of the root of my short-comings at Mayhem, I looked over my training for the earlier part of the year. The base had been good, and I was churning out the highest zone 2 wattage I’d ever managed by the middle of March. The build phase of late March and April produced a good result for the Nightrider 12, and everything seemed fine. Then I got ill. For over 2 weeks I didn’t ride, and then only had a short preparation period for Trans Scotland. Trans Scotland took quite a bit out of me I think. Besides the physical aspect of riding a bike hard for 7 consecutive days, there’s mental fatigue in there too. The result was me going into Mayhem a little more tired than I realised, and I lacked the mental commitment that helped drive me to 3rd place at SITS last year.
After Mayhem I rested a bit. When I got back on the bike I just felt empty, and quickly realised that I wasn’t going to be able to turn things around for Sleepless in the Saddle.
To try and improve on the successes of last season has taken a massive amount of commitment which, sadly, has left me a little broken. So, here endeth two and half years of hard training. While there’s still some summer left, I can retreat to the Welsh Hills with Beth and chill out a bit – something that I’ve not done enough of for a long time.
If there’s one thing I’ve got good at over the years riding my bike, its bad trail habits. As is the way with bad habits, you don’t know you’re doing them until someone points it out to you.
So, it was at the A Quick Release skills day in Sherwood Forest last month where Paul pointed out my mistakes as I made a bit of meal of trying to ride (too) quickly through a complex of three rooty turns we were using for cornering practice.
I met Paul in 2005 when I went out to Luchon for the TORQ Fitness/ AQR training week. He was helping Ian and Kate Potter with their first year of guiding. I was quietly impressed by his skillful yet modest approach to riding and that extra bit of flair he had on descents that told you he was a) really very good at riding a bike and b) not trying that hard, so as not to make us look crap.
Back to those corners then. Paul broke them down into pieces and talked through three fundamental things we needed to do to get more traction and speed out of the bike. I started out slowly and struggled to coordinate the movement of my bike and my body in sync with the trail in the way Paul had described. A different approach was required, I thought. I accelerated down the trail, missed the braking point into the first corner, came out of it late and into the next berm too low before finding the line again for the third having lost most of my speed. At the second attempt I got the braking right, carved through the first corner on the right line, railed the small berm and shot out of the third corner – the three things Paul taught me had begun to come together. It wasn’t perfect, but refinement would come through practice.
A month later and I was riding the Pen Hydd trail at Afan Argoed. The trail flowed fast beneath me as I used every inch of its width to carry my speed through the rocky turns of the Sidewinder descent. Now I’ve been shown the right way to do things, its down to me to make sure I don’t slip back into those bad habits.
If I’m honest, my performance on Tuesday’s club time trial was a bit ropey. First time back on the bike after being ill, everything felt hard work. My legs went up and down ok, but my HR was high and the power ouput some 15w lower than it should have been. I was more than a little worried that 2 weeks off had done more damage than I reliased. That was two days ago.
Tonight, in total contrast I turned the cranks for over 2 hours at a strong tempo pace and felt great. The cobwebs well and truely blown away as 62km blustery and undulating kilometers were dispatched in just under 2 hours.
Feels good to be back into the groove
I managed to negociate most of the winter without getting ill. Somehow I steered a course between people with a variety of ailments for the past 6 months without getting so much as a slight sniffle. Until a week last Monday that is. The toll of the Nightrider 12 was evident the very next day with a sore throat, followed later that week with a proper cold. It threatened to turn into a cough by the weekend before changing its mind, but lingered through most of last week. I don’t actually recall suffering with something for that long, and certainly can’t recall not riding my bike for 2 weeks. I was consequently disappointed to miss out on round 2 of the Trek Marathon champs at Sherwood
Still, looking on the bright side I didn’t miss any decent riding weather last week, and I’m now fully rested for a packed week of training that I’m properly rested for.
Roll on TransScotland…