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Challenges for 2020 – madder than usual

The Ridgeway – route of The Race to the Stones

After the cycle ‘everest’ in 2017 and last year’s solo ride out to the alps, I promised to do no silly solo challenges in 2019. I’ve kept to it, neither the Rotterdam Marathon nor the Ride London were solo.

However, I am completely sure that the promise was limited to 2019 so all bets are off for 2020 so ‘silly’ is permissible – possibly even ‘mad’ is allowable.

The current thinking revolves around cycling, a marathon, a triathlon and an ultra marathon. Specifically:

  • to give the White Horse Challenge a real go in April, with the aim of finally breaking 5 hours for the 150km ride. That takes care of the early part of the year as it will require some proper training of the sort I rarely do in the first few months (being a cold weather wimp). The plan is to ride at least 1000 miles before mid-April and perhaps a trip out to an early season training camp?
  • to have a go at the ‘Race to the Stones’ in July. I was tempted by the full 100km route but doing ‘just’ the second day of the event (50km starting from near Wantage and finishing in Avebury) seemed slightly less mad, given that this will be my first ultra marathon, and it being along the Ridgeway and not on nice flat tarmac. My usual gym companion had mentioned doing this but seems to have decided not to – shame. I have entered although I don’t see how I can get a full training plan in around the White Horse Challenge so I think this will be less of a race for me, more an extended run/jog/walk
  • I’ll try to be fitter for my weeks cycling in the alps to be closer to the front up the mountains than I was this year (not that we are competitive, of course). The focus on running for the Race to the Stones might not help much
  • I’ll do a marathon later in the year – possibly Bournemouth (where we have a house) or Abingdon, (near to us in Oxfordshire) or (more exotically and harder to get into) Berlin – but the aim will be to go under 4 hours, aged 65. With luck, both sons will run with me this time (‘with’ being a word to describe being in the same race, not denoting running together for very far)
  • I’ll get back in the pool and see if I can fit in a sprint triathlon in 2020 and improve my swimming sufficiently to go for an olympic distance triathlon in 2021.

No real idea if any of that’s achievable and there is a huge amount that could go wrong and ruin it all – but it’s good to have some targets in mind.

Gym, gym, run, turbo, cycle training, gym, run. A cornucopia of delights.

Bournemouth, with the Isle of Wight in the distance

A benefit of retirement is the lack of pressure to cram in exercise at the weekend. I was creaking by the end of last week, we were out for supper on Friday and Saturday, and so exercise took a back seat.

On Sunday we had a trip to Bournemouth to pick up the bedding and towels used by our friends over the previous week and a walk down the seafront to a cafe was about as vigorous as it got. The really strong wind we were walking into on the way reminded me that if I ever run the Bournemouth marathon I may need to find someone big to shelter behind along the promenade.

All that meant I was more than ready to get back to the gym for an hour on Monday morning – and back again on Tuesday. I’m enjoying the gym more than I expected. It’s partly the convenience in that I can set aside about 90 minutes and that covers the travel, the getting ready and changed after and an hours decent exercise. It’s probably also the variety that it offers and the strange satisfaction to be gained by lifting heavy bits of metal. I must be careful to remember that I go to help with my fitness for cycling and running, but for the gym itself!

I ran with my wife on Wednesday morning and later did a hard 30 minutes on the turbo, at just over 32kph (20mph).

Thursday was back to the cycle park for more training sessions. The first round of sessions was so successful that we’ve done a second week – great feedback from the children and their parents. It’s very rewarding to see children who arrive with little confidence and unable to ride, leave feeling good about themselves and confident on two wheels.

It’s odd how approaches to relatively simple things change over time. I remember learning to ride a bike with steady wheels, and our sons learned the same way. Now, the approach is to use balance bikes (no steady wheels and no pedals) that are scooted along and promote balance. It seems an obvious improvement as steady wheels actually remove the need for balance.

I know that the basic balance bike design was invented in the late 1700s but I wonder where the idea of using it as a learning tool for children came from. I think it may be the founder of Strider Bikes back in the early 2000s? Brilliant.

I spent the afternoon sorting out one of the bikes we provide for older children to practice on, which was stuck in top gear.

I went through a reasonably tough exercise routine on Thursday evening, I was back the gym on Friday morning and ran with my wife early on Saturday morning. While she did hill reps I was kinder to my Achilles’ and ran around the ancient Badbury hill fort – in all just over 6km (3.75m). I enjoyed it a great deal but could feel the week’s accumulated fatigue.

That’s it for the week’s exertions. Seven sessions in 6 days is plenty for me. Overdoing it is bad news at any time but, as you get older, it feels even more important to allow for recovery.

Current physical stocktake: around 67kg (148lbs); resting pulse just under 50; Achilles tendons, better than they have been; knees, not too bad; shoulder hurt skiing, much better.

Transcontinental Race

My congratulations to everyone who took part in the Transcontinental Race. 160 riders finished and 101 scratched (including the one who is still shown at the start). Particular credit to two intrepid ladies, not in their first flush of youth and riding as a pair, who arrived at the finish on Thursday, some 3 days after the previous finisher crossed the line and 16 and a half days after the winner (the winner took only 10 days). Remarkable resilience and determination.

Riding like the wind – or, more accurately, riding in the wind.

The Great Coxwell Tithe Barn (an older picture as I don’t have the tri-bars on the bike at the moment

After the gym and some mass mowing on Tuesday, on Wednesday I had to drive up to London for an errand – I took my running kit but it didn’t stop raining and I wimped out.

As penance, I got on the turbo in the evening for half an hour @ 31.6kph. A short ride but so much faster than the two sessions at 24/25kph that I managed a couple of weeks ago. Not necessarily wise as I’d arranged a Thursday morning ride with a friend (one of those I go out to the alps with each year).

He’s been a friend for 20 years or so and is probably the person who was most instrumental in getting me into cycling in the first place. He’s cycled all his life and the two of us went out to the alps in 2003 for my first taste of Le Tour. I took a mountain bike (the only bike I owned) and was totally unable to ride it up any significant climbs – but we saw the tour on the côte d’Arâches and (at the bottom of) Alpe d’Huez, and I’ve not looked back since.

Happily, it was dry when we got away at just after 9am but it was very windy. It was all a bit unstructured as we hadn’t discussed a route – or even a distance. Perhaps that’s a good thing as we weren’t training for anything – just going out on the bikes for the pleasure of the trip, or so I thought.

However, Philip is a strong cyclist and was soon setting a fast pace with me hanging on grimly – grateful that I had the Ride London miles in my legs. We rode for 73.5km at 27.3kph (45.6miles at 17mph). I ended up with 25 Strava achievements, including 15 PRs and a 6th overall.

So much for the ‘just going out on the bikes for the pleasure of the trip’ – although it certainly was enjoyable, and it suggests that I’ve not ruined the fit of the bike by changing the stem earlier in the week.

I drove to the gym on Friday morning – I don’t mind cycling in a bit of rain but I don’t want to arrive wet for an hour’s workout. I stuck with the usual weights and a short run on the treadmill to finish with but it was very hard. Not too surprising perhaps as that’s two gym sessions, a turbo session and a ‘proper’ bike ride in four days.

If age means anything, it seems to mean slower recovery from an accumulation of days of exercise. At the moment the exercise doesn’t seem to have any better purpose than keeping fit. I’ve been thinking about the next challenges (probably for 2020 now as I am still in the year of my promise of ‘no stupid solo challenges’) and will see if I can firm up on those soon. It will be good to have some more focus.

That’s made two bikes better – or two bikes worse?

Peas in a pod. Black is the new ….. black?

Early in the year, my usual gym companion and I ran to the gym. After he hurt his foot we started to drive. Friday we cycled – it’s about 2 miles – why on earth haven’t we been doing that all summer?

It’s odd, but I guess I think of the bike as a hobby and not as an everyday means of transport. How stupid of me. It was a really good hour at the gym – and very enjoyable.

We went to Bournemouth later on Friday – we are ‘lending’ the house to some friends and needed to make sure it was clean and ready for them. A tough couple of days but there is something about the sea that makes you feel like you’ve had a holiday, even if it’s been spent cleaning. It was windy and wet but we had a great time, not least finding a restaurant we’d not tried before – a Spanish Tapas bar – which was brilliant.

Back home on Sunday (without even time for a run down the promenade) and I couldn’t wind myself up sufficiently to get on the turbo that evening – and felt all the better for that. I thoroughly enjoy exercise – running, cycling, gym or otherwise – but there are time when not exercising is even better. In fact, it was so good I ended up doing nothing on Monday either. It’s rare that I don’t exercise for four days but perhaps I needed it?

On Tuesday I cycled to the gym and spent a happy 50 minutes there. With a decently quick cycle there I can focus on the weights rather than the cardio. Mainly, I use the leg machines but am incorporating sit-ups, the plank regime, some machines for the arms and some stretches (just for show, of course).

In the afternoon, I tinkered – a word to strike terror into anything tinkered with. This time it was both my carbon bikes – the Rose X Lite and the Giant TCR2.

I bought the Giant from ebay and got a M/L size. It had a 130mm stem on the bars – too much of a stretch for me, but I didn’t know any better.

When I bought the Rose, I was between frame sizes – the UK rep said go a size up, the German advice was to go a size down. I followed the German advice but bought a longer stem to compensate, if necessary.

Four years later I got around to fitting the new stem. I’d measured the two bikes, saddle tip to bars, and found that there was about 6cm difference between them (the Giant being the bigger). Swapping the Giant’s 130mm stem for the Rose’s 90cm and putting the new 110cm stem on the Rose means that measurement is now the same for them both.

The ‘rough and ready’ guide that when cycling up on the handlebars, the bars themselves should block out the front axle is now satisfied on both bikes (having been satisfied on neither before). But have I improved both or just messed them both up?

As I refine the angle of the bars, and find out if any consequential changes are needed, I’ll find out. I’m a bit nervous, I must admit.

Post ‘Ride London’ – running and a lot of of bike training

Final moments at the starting gate of the Ride London 100 mile sportive – about 6.30am

After finishing Sunday’s sportive, and meeting my family I rode the 15 minutes back to the flat. A bike is the way to travel in London – I showered and changed before my wife arrived by underground.

We had an excellent late lunch at a nearby pub and then drove back to Oxfordshire. No aches or pains but pretty tired after the 3.30am start (and, perhaps, the 100 miles of cycling) and in bed not long after 9pm (what a lightweight)!

Monday was taken gently but again no aches or pains beyond a slightly sore left knee. Even the troublesome Achilles tendons are behaving themselves (relatively speaking).

The ballot for next year’s ride opened on Sunday, just as this year’s finished, and I have applied again. I’m not sure that I will enter many more sportives (other than my club’s sportive, of course, and perhaps something abroad) but the big attraction of the Ride London is the fact that it’s on closed roads – which is a real treat.

It’s not perfect by any means – it gets too crowded in places, it’s a bit expensive, I didn’t like the really early start and it’s not exactly the alps for scenic beauty – but if I’m lucky enough to get a place, I’ll ride if any friends are doing it.

I ran with my wife on Tuesday morning before spending both Wednesday and Thursday mornings at the cycle park doing some training. No – giving the training, not receiving it.

We had perhaps 40 children of different abilities on each day. Some were complete beginners on balance bikes while for more proficient cyclist it was road awareness. We have a waiting list for training and have even been approached by some adult non-cyclists and so will be running another course for them in the near future.

It’s surprisingly hard work – but really worthwhile.

Possible 2020 challenge?

I’ve signed up for info on what is called ‘The Race to the Stones’. It’s a 100km (62 mile) running race along the historic ‘Ridgeway’ (described as Britain’s oldest road) that runs for 87 miles from north west of London to Avebury – the site of a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles built somewhere between 2200 and 2850 BC.

It takes place in July and can be done in two days or in one go – but includes a lot of ascent.

Certainly sufficiently challenging (and more), certainly sufficiently mad and it would give me the opportunity to utter the immortal line ‘I can see my house from here’ as I passed the Uffington White Horse.

Transcontinental Race

My congratulations to Fiona Kolbinger who won the Transcontinental Race. Not only the first woman to lead the Transcontinental Race – but she went on to win it by quite a distance – over 10 hours ahead of second place.

3,571km (measured in a straight line – more like 4,000km on the road) and about 40,000m of climbing (2,200 – 2,500 miles and 131,200 feet) in 10 days 2 hours and 48 minutes, with only 2 days and 4 hours and 36 minutes stationary in all that time.

Beyond impressive!

Ride London – a little bit eventful and interesting!

A sea of riders in the early morning light

Well, that was an interesting weekend. Up to London on Friday and registered for the Ride London sportive early Saturday morning …. but that didn’t go well.

I went to the correct ‘kiosk’ and gave my number, they played back to me my name and checked my id. They then put my envelope in a bag and gave it to me. OK, I could have checked it but I rather assumed they might be up to picking out an envelope to match the number I gave them. When I got back to the flat, I discovered that was a bit of an over-estimation as they had given me the adjoining envelope.

I phoned, but the recorded message said there were no staff in the office and emergencies could be notified by email. I sent the email and over 2 hours later got a reply to the effect the query had been passed to the entries team. I heard nothing from that team (and still haven’t today) so I used the wrong stickers and hoped for the best. In the end, my wife used the tracker facility later that day and discovered I had been changed to the number that I’d been given at the registration, rather than my own, original, number. I’d have relaxed more if they’d had told me!

I set off from the flat at 4am on Sunday morning (much too early for me) to cycle across London to the start at the Olympic Park. Even then it was a decent temperature but riding unfamiliar roads in the dark was a bit spooky. I wasn’t sure of the route (and couldn’t see my Garmin in the dark as the backlight had mysteriously turned itself off) but followed some other riders who seemed to know where they were going. Eventually more riders joined from all directions and by the time we got near to the start we were probably a couple of hundred strong.

Into the starting pen for yet another wait and off about 6.30am.

Once we sorted ourselves out after the start it all went pretty fast – over 20mph (32kph) through London on closed roads (fighting the instinct to stop at red lights).

The ride continued to go well – at 50km I was averaging 33.1kph (31 miles at 20.5mph).

I gave up some of that speed later but was still over 32kph after 90km (20+mph at 56 miles) despite having lost all my rear gears. Clearly my rear mech cable had snapped leaving me with just the two gears – 50×11 and 34×11. They were some testing kms (!) but then I spotted a roadside cycle mechanic – I think it was his home but he and some friends were offering assistance, water and flapjacks – what heroes!

I lost about 50 minutes while the work was done and remounted gratefully, with a full set of gears.

The run back into London was great although there were a few hold-ups as we got to places where they needed to let other traffic across the route. It got a bit more congested as we neared the end on the Mall (in front of Buckingham Palace) because the various route distances merged but I had a great run to the finish.

I wouldn’t have stopped, but for the mechanical, but the Garmin recorded 99 miles at a moving average of 18.45mph (160km at 29.7kph). With the little cycling I’ve done this year (only about 1470km or 900 miles before this ride) because of April’s marathon rather getting in the way, I’ve just got to be pleased – and I am. Clearly, the running, gym and planks are helping, along with the week cycling out in the alps and even my club’s 35 mile sportive with my wife.

It was enjoyable and good fun and our sons joined my wife to greet me at the finish – how good is that.

Getting ready for Ride London

I managed an hour on the turbo on Wednesday and Thursday. Both sessions were hot and hard and I’m a bit surprised I managed to last for the full hour both times.

With another hour at the gym on Friday, that was it for the training for the Ride London 100 miler on Sunday. There is a bit of a theme developing – I really should have got on a bike outside and gone for a long ride, but didn’t. Again, I’m not sure why I’ve failed so badly.

I think in part it’s that my heart isn’t really in the ride on Sunday, not helped by that fact that I need to be in the starting pen by 5.48am for a start at 6.28am. At least the current weather forecast is for a warm day with sunny intervals and a gentle breeze.

Assuming I survive, that will be it for the current challenges for the year. If I can’t motivate myself to get out on the bike for a 100 mile sportive, what hope do I have for getting out there with no big target to aim for? Sounds like I need a target.