Category Archives: bikes

Gym (3), run (3), (attempted cycle). Steady as she goes?

Almost home from home now

This feels weird. The key challenges are sorted for 2020, but I don’t have any more for this year. It leaves me in limbo – nothing specific to train for now – and any training I do won’t help with next year.

I suppose it could go one of two ways. I could lose motivation for a few months, do little, get fat and suffer more in February when I try to pick it up again. Alternatively, I could carry on with relaxed, sensible and varied exercise on the bike, at the gym, and on my feet, without any real pressure – just for the pleasure of doing it.

Tough call – but I’m going for the latter.

I’ve been reading about ultra marathons – mine is (only) 50km in early July. Some of the news is good:

  • mental strength is important (if that means bloody-mindedness, I’m a natural)
  • it’s not about speed (I don’t really do speed, so that’s ok)
  • walking is expected and actually encouraged – was I ever going to run 31 miles?

Unfortunately, ultras require more training than a marathon (surely not!) and the 16 week schedule I’ve found starts with a 31 mile week. They say don’t increase weekly mileage by more than 10% so that suggests a couple of months of running to be fit enough to start training (and I’m supposed to be in full cycle training at that point for April’s sportive).

I’ve taken heart from a contribution from Michael, who is older than me and about to tackle his 12th marathon of this year. That’s a really impressive maintenance of a high level of fitness – so it can be done ….. but can it be done by me in 2020?

In that spirit, I went to the gym on Friday, and promptly undid any good from that at a splendid 25th wedding anniversary in Brighton on Saturday and a delightful 70th birthday drinks in the village on Sunday.

As a result, a slightly larger version of me ran to and from the gym on Monday (5.8km – 3.6miles), with 50 minutes of weights in between. On Tuesday I had to take a car into the garage for a new wheel bearing. My wife came with me and we ran back home (5.14km – 3.2m).

Not exactly testing running but the good news is that the Achilles tendons felt no worse than usual – the less good news is that my calf muscles were a bit sore. I guess that’s an indication that, in protecting the Achilles’ over the last few months, I’ve also gone easy on the calf muscles. Something else to add (cautiously) to the gym programme.

London on Wednesday for various chores, including watering our older son’s house plants while he is in the USA – and on Thursday it was a cycle to the gym, more weights and then a walk back having punctured just before I arrived (as it’s less than a 4 mile round trip I’d not taken a pump or replacement tube – rookie error). I ran to and back from the gym on Friday for another 5.8km (3.6miles).

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2020 here I come – but how do I train for multiple challenges?

OK, four of the 2020 challenges are set: White Horse Challenge (sportive); Race to The Stones (ultra marathon); a week’s alpine cycling; and a marathon. I hope others will crop up but these are the focus for now.

The next issue is how do I train for them?

Assuming about 10 weeks for the cycling, and perhaps 16 for the marathon (I have no idea at whether a longer training period is better for an ultra marathon but, scarily, I’ve found one for 16 weeks that starts with a 31 mile week!) it could look a bit like this:

2020 J F M A M J J A S O N D
WHC   ccc cccc ccc                
RTTS   rrr rrrr rrrr rrrr  r          
Alps         ccc cccc ccc          
Mar         rr rrrr rrrr rrrr rrr    

Obvious issues are:

  • having to start with the cycling in February (but at least it seems to come after my normal skiing holiday thanks to the absence of a marathon in April)
  • cycle and running training simultaneously in March, April, May and July
  • two lots of running training and cycle training simultaneously in June!

I assume that there is a lot of overlap in the training benefits – no need to do a full training programme for both disciplines at the same time – which is good as I am sure I don’t have the ability to do that anyway.

However, I don’t understand how some cycle training might replace some marathon training without harming the prospects for the marathon. Triathletes manage the juggling act – thank goodness I’m not trying a swimming challenge too (although I do fancy doing another triathlon next year).

Equally, questions like how a taper for the ultra marathon in June affects what should be full cycle training at the same time is quite beyond me. At least triathletes are training for all three disciplines to deliver together.

Ideally, I would like to carry on training now and ‘bank’ it for withdrawal when needed next year. If only it worked like that.

Three things are clear:

  • At 64 I cannot keep any training going at full pelt for 9 months. I wonder how I fit in a few easy weeks for rest and recovery?
  • I cannot afford any time for illness or injury. Thank goodness I have no existing issues with knees or Achilles tendons ……. oh dear.
  • I cannot afford to start from scratch in February – I’ll need to rest over the winter, but not too much.

It looks like the MSU approach will have to be to the fore – when in doubt, Make Stuff Up.

Climbing the Joux Plane, bikes, walking in the alps and Golden Eagles.

Walking in the alps in the Haute Savoie. I can think of worse things to do

Normally, the White Horse Challenge, my club sportive and my week in the alps would be the year’s cycling highlights – but I’ve already had the Ride London as a bonus in 2019. Equally, the lake district in January would be the focus of the walking – but now another week in the alps and more of both!

For a few years some friends have, very kindly, invited us to their place in the Lake District in January for some walking. We’ve reciprocated by having them and another couple (who are mutual friends) to stay in Bournemouth. This year we decided to try something different and it was ‘Bournemouth in the alps’.

So it was that, at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, we left home in a well loaded car, heading for the channel tunnel and the Haute Savoie.

We had many things to take out, plus three bikes. The ladies (although all very competent cyclists) had decided that cycling back to a ski resort at 1150m each day might be a bit much so just the men decided to do some riding along with the walking that we would all do. We took all the bikes and some of our friends’ extra luggage so they could fly out with just hand baggage.

Our thinking was to get to the tunnel early in the hope that the almost inevitable delays might not have built up too badly by the early hours – and to give us a good chance of arriving in the light. It worked and the 710 miles (almost) flew past – and we were at the apartment (somewhat knackered) by late afternoon.

The first two days were hot and we prepared for the arrival of our friends, and relaxed, other than for a quick walk up the mountain to check which walking paths were open. Some are completely shut in the summer in favour of cyclists who have exclusive use of part of what is the ski area in the winter. VTT (vélo tout-terrain) is quite a big thing out there – but I am a little disappointed that so many are electric assist. To me, the hard-core appearance of riders with all the body armour should mean self-propulsion (although, personally, I’d want to take the telecabine up to the top, and I have to acknowledge that they are focused on the descent, not the climb).

The others arrived on Wednesday and the hot weather continued. On Thursday we walked from the apartment (at about 1150m), up to and along a ridge above the village at about 1700m – around 8.5km with 800m of ascent (5.2miles and 2620 feet). It never ceases to surprise me how ski runs that I know so well, look so different in the summer. It’s not just the colours but also the contours and the existence of roads that you’d never guess were there.

Friday was a cycling day. We decided to go for broke early on and we so rode over to Samoëns … and up the Joux Plane. It’s a tough (HC) climb – 11.6km, 989m of ascent at an average of 8.5% (7.2miles and 3250m) – it gave Lance Armstrong (by his own admission) his hardest day riding a bike as he nearly cracked in 2000 under a Jan Ulrich attack. It is also rather infamous as being part of the stage that resulted in Floyd Landis’ expulsion from the 2006 Tour. I believe that it’s been featured on the Tour 11 times.

I must admit that I like the climb which is picturesque and fairly quiet, even though it is very hard.

Our wives drove out to meet us for lunch at the top of the col. I have happy memories of this place as the only one where I have been mistaken for a proper cyclist … a few years ago the lady in charge of the restaurant offered me a newspaper to put under my shirt as I left for the descent in cold weather!

After lunch, we did the return trip with the inevitable climb back up to the apartment. In all, it was a 71km day with 1860m of ascent – a fine day on the bike.

Back to walking on Saturday – we drove about 5km to Les Moliets and walked a 10km loop with another 630m of climbing (6 miles and 2100 feet). Undoubtedly, the highlight was seeing two golden eagles circling low overhead as we sat at the Tête du Pré des Saix at 2100m (c 7000 feet).

We cycled 72km with 1260m of ascent to and back from the cirque at Sixt-fer-a-Cheval on Sunday – the ‘meet wives for lunch’ arrangement again – a beautiful setting I’ve visited many times and never grow tired of.

The main problem with the mountains is the unpredictability of the weather – for my cycling week I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years and if the rain has come in, it’s come in late in the afternoon/early evening. We were chased back from the cirque by the rain – and got caught just minutes before we reached the apartment.

It was a bit wet and murky on Monday too – but we cycled up the Col du Pierre Carree (my everesting hill – how did I ever do that 12 times?), over the top and down into Flaine. It is a purpose built ski resort created in the 1960s with a great snow record but little in the way of summer season – and it was almost completely shut at the very beginning of September.

We did not find a single shop open but managed to track down the one restaurant serving food (almost exclusively to resort maintenance staff) and had a very good lunch. We had an abbreviated walk in the drizzle before riding back – a total ride of 32km with 1045m of climbing (20 miles and 3400 feet), with a 4.2km walk sandwiched in between.

Our friends left on Tuesday and we drove back to England on Wednesday.

A 1500 mile round trip in the car and about 175km of cycling with 4166m of ascent (110 miles and 13700 feet) and 22.6km of walking with 1550m of ascent (14 miles and 5100 feet). No running – but that would simply have been too much. As it was, I returned fitter (but heavier) than I went out.

A great trip in almost exclusively good weather, with good friends, good cycling and good walking. It takes a lot of beating.

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.