Monthly Archives: February 2017

Unit schizophrenia

One thing that cycling brings home to me is my unit schizophrenia – and that of the UK in general and cycling in particular.

In distance and speed I tend to deal in imperial units: I travel miles, at miles per hour and that seems to fit well with UK signposts and speed limits. I think of myself as about 5’ 10”, not between 177 and 178 cm (indeed I had to look that up to write it).

I had set up my Garmin to measure distance in miles but when I download to Strava the ride appears in km, while it is recorded in Garmin Connect as miles.

The White Horse Challenge is advertised as 150km but the 2014 results showed average speeds in mph. When I look at sportives in general, they are almost always advertised in kilometres but when we design our club sportive, we always think of the distances in miles.

On the other hand, I consider distance climbed in metres – which doesn’t help with quick calculations of average gradients. The only time I would talk about climbing in imperial units would be if speaking to a UK non-cyclist about something like the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux, when I’d probably talk about climbing over 2 and three quarter miles.

Quite a few of the people I ride with have gone completely metric for cycling but in itself that’s pretty schizophrenic as they return to miles once in the car. I’m perfectly happy with km when driving on the continent but I do tend to calculate back to miles most of the time, recognising that the ‘divide by 8 and multiply by 5’ for going from km to miles is a bit of an approximation.

I started a training log last year recording my weight in stones and pounds, before deciding to go to kg within a couple of months. I’m happy to carry on with the kg for weight and am getting more used to it that way – but I still tend to convert back to imperial (again recognising that the 2.2 factor is also a bit of an approximation). Looking back, I see I often put things kg.km and them also in imperial measures! I remember the upheaval caused by the change in the law (introduced Jan 2000?) to ban selling things by the pound – but I see that most fresh produce still also seems to have the pounds equivalent quoted.

Not much turns on it – other than occasional confusion over apparently wonderful or poor performances when not appreciating the units used in the telling. Life might be easier (eventually) if we decided to follow decimal currency with metric measurements but the cost would be huge and the initial confusion even greater, I expect. At least, perhaps the cycling community could decide for itself but I guess this is one that would split families and communities apart! I don’t know if I’m correct but I’m sure I remember receipts in France also quoting prices in Francs for years after the switch to the Euro.

I’m sure that the younger generations are more metric – but miles will continue to be the fly in the ointment I suppose.

At least I can reflect that it could be worse: I have a friend who has the temperature gauge in the car reading in Celsius in the winter (because 4 degrees C means something to him while 39 degrees F does not) and Fahrenheit in the summer (because he can relate to 77 degrees F and not to 25 C).

 

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Setting the benchmark for 2017

Shock! If I’m anything (and that’s debatable, I know) it’s a cyclist – but since the start of December I’ve been to the velodrome once and out on the road four times, for a total of less than 100 miles.

Today was cold and windy but there seemed to be a dry window so I went out to ride my test circuit to set a benchmark time for 2017. The window shut and for the last 10 miles I was cycling in quite heavy rain which made it pretty miserable.

The circuit is 45.1 km with 354m of ascent. I managed 29.2kph average speed, so that sets the benchmark for 2017. I went out about midday, on an empty stomach and pushed fairly hard, but not quite full gas.

Oddly, the last time I rode this circuit was April 2016 and I went 0.1kph slower. That’s odd as I’d certainly done a lot more cycling before that ride last year (I did 3 100km rides in March 2016 alone).

I’m not sure I can explain it  – I’ve done less training, am a bit heavier, a year older and the weather was poor. Could it be that the lunges and other exercises are working? Too early to say but a bit encouraging ..

Starting to focus on training

Funny how sorting out some challenges seems to focus the mind on training. Sadly, so far I’m doing more thinking about it than doing it but that’s probably due to English winters and the fact that turbo in the conservatory is out of commission due to loads of mother-in-laws things being stuffed in there with all of our own.

Anyway, the schedule of key dates seems to be:

  • White Horse Challenge: 23 April, 150km with 1400m of ascent. It will be my 6th entry, best time so far 5h 13min – I dream of breaking 5 hours.
  • Olympic distance triathlon at South Cerney: 14 May. I’ve done a sprint triathlon in each of the last two years and enjoyed them – but have not done any open water swimming. So far, the swimming has been poor, the cycling quite good and the running OK. Currently scared, but the aim is just to get around.
  • Everesting attempt: July, 8848m. Even scarier.
  • Farcycles sportive: 29 July. My club’s event, I will probably do the 100 mile route.

That means:

  • Swimming training – back to the local leisure centre to see if I can develop anything other than a stroke to be ashamed of. Before Christmas I got up to 2.5km in a session but, hell, it’s boring in a 25m pool. I must practice getting the wetsuit on and off (I’ve never tried it since I bought it) and try some open water swims.
  • Running – I run a couple of times a week with Libby although that’s not too far or too fast. I guess this need to figure more in April and May.
  • Cycling – I must do some! It will be a combination of distance and hills. – the more the better?
  • Weights – out of my comfort zone but I read that lunges with weights is good for cycling so I’ve started that already. I have two 12.1kg dumbbells and am doing at least 3 sets of 16 reps (eight with each leg) with the two weights, daily. I’ve always felt a bit under-powered so that might help. I’ll also do sit-ups and crunches to help the core.

I just hope that is right enough and that I do enough of it. I’ll log progress (or lack of it)  here.

 

Weighty issues

Cyclists, including me, frequently get obsessed with weight. The theory seems to be that shedding weight will be the silver bullet to faster cycling. Certainly I’m going to be pretty focussed on my weight as the everesting approaches, when it’s likely to be very significant.

Certainly loss of weight will rarely be anything but beneficial, providing it is done in a safe and healthy way and does not hurt the power:weight ratio through muscle loss. However, bear in mind that weight loss by itself will only really help when accelerating and climbing – and even then will probably help less than you might think.

Losing weight from the bike is fine but is likely to be fairly expensive and will follow a law of diminishing returns as successive weight losses get more and more expensive.

The usual starting point is the wheels as many new bikes are kept below important price points by the use of lower quality wheels. Better, lighter, wheels, tubes and tyres are particularly good because losing weight from around the rim is especially beneficial when accelerating. One of the best moves I ever made on the bike-weight front was to go to a carbon saddle (literally just a sheet of carbon, no padding or covering). That cost me about £12 including postage from China (via Ebay) and saved me about 200g – but I’d be the first to acknowledge how lucky I am that it fits me really well and is surprisingly comfortable.

Losing weight from yourself is probably going to be easier and much cheaper. Don’t forget that for an 8kg bike ridden by a 72kg rider, the bike only accounts for 10% of the combined weight. Losing weight from the rider should also have added benefits to health – and improve the look in lycra. Remember, lose fat and not muscle.

Three other things to bear in mind, other than core rider and bike weight, in terms of going faster or further: aero, baggage and maintenance.

Most of the time, air resistance is the cyclist’s biggest enemy. Thinking about your aerodynamic positioning costs nothing, nor does avoiding baggy, flapping, shirts or jackets. You can take this further with things like aero helmets and skinsuits – but then we are back to the cost issue.

Think about what you really need to carry. Don’t carry more than is necessary in terms of, for example, water and kit. Remember that just one full 750ml bottle of water weighs more than 750g – well over a pound and a half in old money. To put that into context, it’s a lot more than the difference in weight between 105 and Dura Ace groupsets – and that upgrade could cost more than £1,200!

Thirdly, but by no means least importantly, keep the bike well maintained with appropriately pumped tyres and oiled running gear – safer and faster!

Oh – and don’t forget that training harder/better usually works too!

Where and when to everest? Looking for Goldilocks

Having decided to try an ‘everest’, the first questions are where and when. The rules (http://www.everesting.cc/hells500/) say I have to choose a hill and simply cycle up and down it as many times as necessary to climb the height of Everest (8,848m). Not time limit but no sleeping.

Steepness: That suggests that the hill shouldn’t be too steep (which might simply be too difficult over such a distance) or too shallow (if there were a road with just 1% incline, it would require c. 550 miles of cycling up it).

I guess that something in the order of 5-7% would be a reasonable compromise? At 5% it would mean in the order of 180km of cycling uphill (and the same distance down) for a total of 225 miles (to mix SI and imperial units). At 7% it would be a total distance of over 160 miles.

Length: A hill that’s too short will mean a possibly soul destroying number of ascents. The nearby Dragon Hill Road on the Ridgeway would need nearly 100 reps. That didn’t stop an everest attempt on it last summer that, I hear, failed after about 80 ascents – chapeau whoever made the attempt.

Time: The distance also brings into the equation the time it will take. My triple ascent of Ventoux took about 10 hours (with 6.5 of them cycling uphill) and is about half an everest. Unless I am going to be travelling a lot faster (and I have no grounds for believing that), this means that I’m likely to be cycling in the dark. I usually avoid that but it suggests that I should be making my attempt in the summer – and possibly further south – to maximise the amount of daylight.

To me, all that says that I should be looking at the alps, this summer – which is handy as, in July each year, I go out to the French Alps with friends. Even more handy is the fact that we are based in Les Carroz d’Araches in the Haute Savoie which is on the road to the Col de Pierre Carrée. The whole of the climb is 21km long and has an ascent of about 1350m, at a fairly steady 6.4%.

It’s a climb I’ve done before and would need just under 7 reps for the everest attempt. The main drawback is that the lower part of the climb can get a bit busy, even in the summer. The possible refinement, therefore, would be to do the climb from Les Carroz to the top of the col. That is about half the distance and half the ascent – and, importantly, should be fairly quiet as Flaine (the only place the climb leads to) has almost no summer season to talk of. It’s reasonably attractive too – I ran up 3.6 miles of it (for an altitude gain of 357m) with my younger son earlier in the month while out there skiing. He’s 37 years younger and in training for the Brighton Marathon so I was neither disappointed nor surprised to see him pull away from me on the way up!

So, I think I’ve found my Goldilocks hill. Not too steep, not too shallow; not too long, not too short: just right!

It could be about 13 reps of the road from Les Carroz to the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée in July this year. I think I’ll ask Will in due course – he has a great website about all things cycling in the Alps (and further afield) and who came up with terrific suggestions for climbs some years ago when I first started going out to the mountains to cycle in the summer. His website makes a great read at http://www.cycling-challenge.com

Simple!

I’ll be 62 – I must be mad.

 

Some background

I’m not entirely sure what this blog is for or about. Perhaps it’s nothing more than a record of my year, perhaps it will just turn out to be about cycling and the pleasure I get from that. I will just wait and see.

It was the Tour de France that got me into cycling – but it was a slow burner.

I had bikes as a boy (when they were my only means of transport) but moved on to motorbikes and cars once I was 17. For some reason my attention was caught by Le Tour somewhere in the 1980s – I remember Greg LeMond’s win in 1986 and I was astonished by a sport which could be so beautiful and brutal.

I still didn’t have a bike at the time so it was an interest only as a follower from afar but I was hooked. I bought a mountain bike in the late 90s (at the time I bought bikes for my sons) but cycling was pretty well limited to the badlands that are Longleat Centre Parcs.

My interest in Le Tour was reinforced by the phenomenon that was Lance Armstrong. His story caught my imagination like little before or since. It turns out not to be quite as he told it (!) and it is, of course, not possible to condone the lying, cheating and bullying – but as far as I remember, it was him pushing the pedals round and he deserves a special place in my memories for that alone.

My first trip out to the alps to watch Le Tour was in 2003 when Philip (local GP, friend and cycling guru) and I saw them start a stage in Sallanches and then again in Borg d’Oisans as they climbed Alpe d’Huez and up on the Col de la Ramaz. I was completely unable to ride my mountain bike up Ramaz and that led me to buying a road bike (with a Fort steel frame) which I still have even though it has since been joined by 20 other bikes of various sorts.

I went out with the local cycling group from about 1998, but still didn’t really click as a cyclist until 2010 after I bought a carbon framed Giant TCR2 (£477 from Ebay).

I expect this all makes me the perfect cliche MAMIL but I was wondering if I still qualified for the ‘MA’ bit having reached 60. I checked on the internet and although there were a few places that defined middle age as ending up to 64, the consensus seemed to be that middle age ran from 40 to 60. One way or the other, it was clear that I would not be a MAMIL for ever unless the upper limit for middle age kept pace with me growing older. So, I am happily an OMIL – an old man in lycra.

By way of a bit of further background, I am no sort of athlete and am more enthusiastic than talented. Perhaps that is one of the blog’s purposes – to celebrate what enthusiasm and effort can make up for in the talent department.

I seem to have been born with almost no fast twitch muscle fibres so cannot sprint but I do have endurance and – with effort – am able to keep my weight under reasonable control. If I were a horse, I would be a one-paced stayer. That is reflected in my cycling which tends to involve longer rides and pointing the front wheel uphill.

As far as my palmares highlights go, I did the Etape du Tour in 2013, the Wiggle Dragon Ride (Gran Fondo) in 2014 and the first Velothon Wales in 2015. As part of my 60th year celebrations I completed L’Eroica (the original one in Tuscany) and then, on the drive back, stopped over near Bédoin in Provence to take on the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux challenge which requires riding up the mountain by each of the three roads, in a single day. Perhaps I’ll talk about those at some later date.

I am now toying with new challenges for this year; favourite is a go at everesting, of which there will certainly be more later – a great opportunity to obsess about place, time, weight, training, nutrition …

Weight this morning  (a beastly) 66.6kg. Yesterday was 67.4kg.

Blog resurrection

I started this blog a while ago – January 2016 to be precise. That was the start of my 61st year.

Last year it was mainly a log of my cycling with just a bit of life in general. A large part of it was the approaching White Horse Challenge in April and my battle with training and weight loss for that. In the end, both of those aspects went well but, sadly, my mother-in-law died on the night before the sportive so it came to nothing. That also meant that life got a bit fraught what with looking after and clearing the house so the blog also came to nothing – and I’ve now deleted the old entries to concentrate on the relaunch.

Mother-in-law lived next door to us in the house she and my father-in-law built in what was originally the orchard to the house where we now live. She had always said that she never wanted to go into a home and the family (thanks in the main to Libby who was wonderful) managed to fulfil that wish and she died peacefully in bed in her own home, next door.

Where there is a hope of recovery from an illness, death can be such a total sadness. For Sheila, there was no hope of recovery and no great quality of life, so the natural sadness is tinged with a feeling of gratitude that she is now at rest. She was a remarkable person both in her medical career and personal life.

RIP Dr Sheila Lee 1934-2016.

For some reason I’ve decided to revive the blog – not least in view of the decision I’ve taken as to this year’s cycle challenge .. an ‘everest’ in the summer. I must be mad.