How (not) to recover from an Ultra: 1. Ride up mountains!

The cirque at Sixt Fer-a-Cheval (with my bike on the grass in front of the restaurant)

My birthday on Sunday was a reasonably low-key affair after Saturday’s very tough ultra, moving slowly but improving through a day spent rehydrating and packing.

A friend arrived on Monday morning and we set off for the Haute Savoie in the French alps for a few days cycling. The journey was uneventful and we shared the driving although I was walking very slowly and stiffly when we stopped but I managed to extract myself from the car.

We arrived at midnight, joining the three others who had arrived at the apartment on Saturday. I certainly felt better on Tuesday morning but dipped out of the planned ride which would have taken me up the Joux Plane.

It’s a climb described in my Tour Climbs book as ‘hard as nails’ and one which famously gave Armstrong one of his toughest ever days on the bike in the 2000 Tour. I’ve ridden it three times before but this didn’t feel like the right day for attempting my fourth ascent.

Instead, I did domestic stuff around the apartment in the morning and sat on the balcony in the sun, drinking a cold beer and watching a dozen swifts feeding on the wing in front of me. Dirty work but someone has to do it.

I got on the bike later and thought of riding down the mountain to see if I could watch Le Tour come past up the Cote de Châtillon, just above Cluses. I decided that cycling down would be burning my bridges and the day would not end well if I couldn’t ride back up.

Instead I rode up to the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée – just about 12km (7.5 miles) of ‘up’ with 743m (2,440 feet) of climbing. I reckoned that at least I’d be able to coast back down to the apartment if my legs failed on the way up. I was happily surprised at how well they responded but it did leave me wondering how I managed 12 reps of that route when I ‘everested’ it in 2017.

On Wednesday we drove to Flumet and did a pretty demanding loop (in 33℃ – 91℉) which my Garmin recorded at only 44km (27 miles) but with over 1350m (over 4400 feet) of climbing. The legs don’t feel at all powerful but are holding up reasonably well.

Thursday was even hotter and harder. We rode to Le Bettex – there’s a particularly nice restaurant at the top – and it was OK until we turned off the main road above St Gervais and hit a forestry type road with several long sections at 20%. My out-of-power legs had been struggling manfully and managed to put up with the first section (standing on the pedals in bottom gear) but then downed tools and, for the first time in recent years, I walked for a bit.

When we regrouped I discovered I was not alone and only one of the 5 of us had ridden the route without stopping – pretty well unheard of … but it was a hell of a stretch of road. It was a short day with only 59km (37 miles) but packing in 1150m of climbing (3,800 feet).

Friday was the traditional visit to the Cirque at Sixt Fer-a-Cheval for a great lunch looking out at the spectacular cliff face running around, I guess, about 270°. It’s not a hard ride out there but the return requires a climb back to Les Carroz – about 72km with 950m of climbing, in about 35℃ (45 miles and over 3,100 feet in 95℉).

I was the slowest up all the climbs and that’s a bit of a theme in the recent years that we’ve been able to get out to the alps. I have handicapped myself very effectively after I everested in 2017, rode 880km (550 miles) out to there in 2018 and had ridden little after 2019’s Rotterdam marathon. I expected to have little in my legs this year after the ultra – but I made it up all the climbs and am more than happy to settle for that.

Before I went out I’d ridden only 550km this year – much of it on the turbo trainer. I only added 200km but I guess that’s another reason for a very modest cycling performance on my part, to be added to the effects of the ultra. One other effect of having done little cycling – my backside was not well hardened to the carbon fibre saddle.

We drove back on Saturday arriving late at night – a shorter trip than usual but great fun with a lot of food and drink and a very sociable group of friends.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: Even as the archer loves the arrow that flies, so too he loves the bow that remains constant in his hands

2. BBC News website: Smart mouthguards

Players at this year’s women’s Rugby World Cup will be offered the use of ‘smart’ mouthguards to help monitor the risk of head injury. The microchipped protective shield measures head impacts to assist with diagnosis of things like potential concussions.

Apposite with the horrible news just released that former Wales’ captain Ryan Jones (at only 41) has been diagnosed with early onset dementia. My very best wishes to him and his family

3. BBC News website: Wrapping the bridge

I’ve included pictures of Hammersmith Bridge on many occasions as it’s part of one of my favourite runs in London. Currently its chains are wrapped in silver foil insulation to reflect the sun and stop them overheating.

The chains are anchored to the river bed and regulated to be kept under 13C (55.4F) in the summer. If any of them reach 18C (64.4 F), safety engineers will shut the bridge.

The foil and a £420,000 cooling system, installed following the 2020 heatwave, are being used to keep the pedestals safe so it remains open to pedestrians and cyclists (it is still shut to vehicles because of other structural issues).

4. BBC News website: More about petrol shortages in Sri Lanka

I’ve previously mentioned the temporary ban on petrol sales for non-emergency vehicles in Sri Lanka.

Huge queues of vehicles waiting for fuel have become a common sight, with one queue, beginning in the commercial heart of the capital Colombo, and snaking round alongside a seaside strip of road, stretching for 5km (over 3 miles). The driver of a minibus close to the front has been queueing for 10 days. He said “I’ve been sleeping in the car since last Thursday. It’s so hard but what can I do… I won’t even get a full tank.”

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6 thoughts on “How (not) to recover from an Ultra: 1. Ride up mountains!

  1. niall

    That sounds like a lot of cycling for anyone never mind straight after the Ultra with so little cycling miles in the legs. Tough as old boots might be another good phrase?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. theleadlesspencil

    Wow, you’re a nutter! But I bet those views were stunning.
    Regarding the bridge, I’m wondering about our whole infrastructure, given the trains had to be cancelled and an airport runway melted in the last couple of days.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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