Category Archives: Ultra distance

Targets – on and off the bike, and no-Sky thinking

Blue Sky No Sky thinking

Well, no Sky sponsorship for the all-conquering cycle team after next year. Perhaps not a huge surprise after Sky was taken over and recent questions raised over the team’s integrity – but all that seemed to have calmed down in recent months, with the overall image being boosted by Geraint Thomas’ Tour win, a man who appears to be really popular both in and outside the peloton.

In the current economic climate it’s hard to see anyone wanting to dig quite so deep into their pockets as Sky did so it will be interesting to see how the team cuts its cloth in rather less affluent times.

It looks like the British domination is more under threat now than it has been for years – I just hope that road cycling has gained a sufficiently strong support base here in the UK to withstand a possible period of lower success in the pro ranks. Surely we are not that shallow?

No doubt, Sky will be rushing to pass on the saving to subscribers (an academic point for me as we only have ‘proper’ television).

My own cycling for next year looks to be built around the White Horse Challenge on 28 April, and my usual week’s cycling out in the alps in July.

White Horse Challenge

I’ve entered the WHC again but with some apprehension as it’s only three weeks after the Rotterdam Marathon. I have no idea whether that’s enough time to recover from the run and then get back on the bike properly, but I guess I’ll find out. The WHC is about 90 miles with anywhere between 1400 and 1750m of climbing, depending whose Garmin you use. 

This will be my 8th attempt and I’m still wanting to break the 5 hour mark – pb so far 5:05. I guess 2019 will not be the year to go under 5 hours, unless marathon training has some miraculous benefit to my cycling.

Haute Savoie, 2019

The alps trip is nearly finalised with all 6 of us being present and accounted for in 2019. I have no plans to ride out there like I did this year so I’m hoping I might perform better on the mountains than was the case with knackered legs this summer.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been out there – it’s becoming a challenge for the routemeister, although I doubt I’ll ever get tired of the Col de la Colombière, the Plaine Joux, the Joux Plane and the Col de la Pierre Carrée (‘my’ Col having being the first, and still only, person to ‘everest’ it!).

Rotterdam Marathon

Although it’s early in the training I was thinking about target setting for April’s marathon in Rotterdam.

Initially, my main aim was to break 4 hours, as I did (just) when I ran my two previous marathons in 1998 and 1999. However, the first four weeks of training are making me reassess that. 

The current London Marathon ‘good for age’ for a 44 year old male is 3:05. I don’t suppose that’s changed much since I ran in 1999 as a 44 year old, but I was probably 50 minutes outside it then. Although I’ve kept reasonably fit through cycling over the last 8 years, what on earth makes me think that I might now be within 15 minutes of the ‘good for age’ time for me as a 63 year old?

I’ve never been particularly hung up on the age thing – but that doesn’t feel like a sound basis for ignoring it completely. I seem to have been assuming that I will run the same time as if the intervening 20 years just haven’t happened!

They might change but, for now, the targets are:

  • Minimum target is to run all the way and finish without injury or undue trauma
  • Beyond that, sub 4:15 is a realistic(?) target
  • After that, sub 4:00 would be great
  • Next, it would be setting a personal best – but that’s a tricky one because I cannot remember what time I did in my second marathon in 1999. My official finish time was 3:56:42 but I can’t remember whether that was an individual time or whether that was from the gun. In 1998 I got an individual finish time, but not start time, and I know that it had taken me nearly 9 minutes to get over the start line – but I can’t remember if that changed for 1999. Let’s say 3:56 will be a pb as I have no evidence for anything better than 3:56:42.
  • The extreme wishful thinking would be 3:45 – my London Marathon ‘good for age’ time (though to me it feels way beyond just ‘good’).

The biggest factor will be staying fit, healthy and injury free (including the Achilles tendons) – but, even with all that working in my favour, 4:00 looks like much more of a stretch target than I’d assumed.

Damn.

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Running or cycling … which, what, why, when?

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The screen shot from my run up the mountain last week. I like the simplicity.

Back from France but up to London (twice) to help out a son with some plumbing – and back to the decluttering of the sheds and garage.

I know the declutter is the right thing to do but I still find it hard. I was brought up in a less disposable age – an era when you didn’t throw things away until they no longer worked (and even then you tried to fix them first).

All these years later, it takes a real effort to get away from that upbringing.

Also, some of my hoard is stuff I helped clear from my father’s and father-in-law’s ‘collections’ – it feels a bit disrespectful simply to throw away things that they had decided were worth keeping for so many years.

I’m horribly aware of the irony that I moan about the problem of throwing away excess stuff while so many people don’t have enough of the basics – but at least I’m happy that much of what gets thrown out goes to the local charity shops.

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Anyway, that aside, it was back to the turbo on Tuesday which was an enjoyable 43.9km (27.3 miles) in an hour. I’ve restarted the sit-ups, push-ups, crunches and lunges and went running with a friend to, and back from, the gym on Thursday with half an hour’s weights in between.

In a rare outbreak of common sense I postponed a planned run on Friday morning because of slightly sore Achilles tendons. Annoying, but a timely reminder that I need to do some stretching with all the exercise.

It’s got me thinking about cycling vs running, and their respective merits.

Of course, there is a lot of material on the topic on the internet but my take so far is:

1 Muscle use

It’s often said that running and cycling use different muscles. My legs have too few muscles in them to have different sets for the two activities – so the truth is simply that they use the same muscles in different ways.

I can certainly testify to that as, although I think I’m reasonably ‘cycle fit’, after the run up the alp last week my quads ached for three days. OK, they were not helped by having a run the following day, followed by 13 hours in the car back to England, but they did hurt quite a bit.

I get no muscle pains at all following rides up to 100 miles – and although I ached a bit after the rather more extreme days cycling through France, that never lasted beyond half an hour of movement in the mornings.

Both activities will help with muscle development below the waist (probably cycling more so) but running may be a slightly better all-round workout because of the need to maintain more posture on a run?

2 Calorie burning

Of course it depends on the terrain, the speed and effort put in, the weight of the individual, etc, etc but it seems clear that running generally burns more calories per hour than ‘comparable’ cycling, not least because it is weight-bearing. It appears that the differential narrows for fast cycling. On the other hand, for most people, it’s easier to cycle for longer than it is to run so ‘calories per session’ might be rather different.

3 Cost

Acquiring all the necessary kit for cycling is rather more expensive (!). However, assuming you can avoid all those tempting upgrades and extras, once you have the kit, ongoing costs for a year can be relatively small compared to the need to replace expensive trainers every, say, 300-500 miles.

4 Ease

It is easier to pull on some kit and get out running. Of course, that ignores the pleasure of the pre and post-ride fettling with the bike.

5 Health

Both are good for musculature and the cardio-vascular system. In moderation, the impact from running can help bone density (particularly beneficial for women as they get older). Both are also good for one’s mental health – as is pretty much any sensible exercise.

6 Pleasure

A difficult one but cycling wins for me as it’s easier to actually get somewhere interesting – running has a more limited range and so I tend to do it on similar, repetitious, routes. Running also hurts more and tends to carry higher muscle injury risks (but fewer fall and traffic risks).

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The main thing is that I enjoy both. I’m not particularly doing either as training for the other – I’m doing both on their merits and for the benefit that variety brings.

The extra pain from running is compensated by it’s ease and the sense of satisfaction after a good run. If I’m going to do the Rotterdam Marathon next year, I will have no choice but to do quite a lot of it. I have no problem with having aching muscles after serious training – more importantly, and happily, so far no knee issues.

I know that my love of cycling will overcome the post-event lull I’ve been in – and I’ve not finished with cycling challenges so there will also be more to be done in the future by way of training for those.

In fact, thinking about it, I’ve realised that what really motivates me is having a challenge. It’s the challenge that provides the focus, motivates the training and ultimately gives me satisfaction and the way of measuring whether or not I’m ‘winning’. How ridiculous is that for a man of 63!

2019 looks to be a fallow year for cycling challenges (and any big solo challenges), but a marathon is certainly on the cards (Rotterdam or elsewhere). I’m also wondering if I could run from Les Carroz to the top of the Col de la Pierre Carrée next year (weather and traffic permitting, probably more likely in the summer than while skiing). It would be just over a half marathon with the first half of the run straight uphill at over 6%.

For 2020 I’m starting to think about:

  • the Normandicat (a range of solo, unsupported treks between checkpoints across Normandy),
  • the Galérien du Mont-Ventoux (four times up in a day – including once by the off-road forest route),
  • the Bicinglette du Mont-Ventoux (six times up in a day) and
  • the High Rouleur challenge (10,000m of climbing in a single ride).

Getting to 65 will have to be marked somehow, won’t it?

 

Transcontinental Race update: Neil Matthews, the last rider, should finish in Greece today, 40 days after he started in Belgium! Just 173km to go as I write.

Back to the cleats and ‘Running up that hill’ (my hill)

 

20180326_124832At the start of the week I got back on the turbo. I was short of time but managed 26.55km (16.5miles) in 30 minutes of hard peddling.

That was only the third time wearing cleats in over a month since I got back from the alps. I really enjoyed it, despite the profuse sweating, so I may have put the ‘cyclist’s block’ behind me.

We had decided to go out to Les Carroz for a few days and I wasn’t taking a bike. I had been planning to take the Giant TCR2 to leave out there but I’ve noticed a noise from the bottom bracket so it seems more sensible to get that fixed here in the UK first.

So, in place of the bike I took running kit to continue with my running training to see if it will be worth applying for a place in the 2019 Rotterdam Marathon. Although the weather was poor, I decided to run and, after a bit of foreplay through the town, I reached the main event, the road up to the Col de Pierre Carrée.

This is the road I used for my ‘everest’ last year – according to the Hell’s 500 club that runs everesting, as I was the first to everest it, it is my road!

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The bottom of the road up to the Col de Pierre Carrée

Clearly, I was not going to run the whole 11.5km (7+miles) to the top of the col but there is a ski lift into the wider system at Les Molliets. We were out skiing in February 2017 with my younger son who was training for the Brighton marathon taking place in April that year and he and I had run up to Les Molliets one day after skiing.

This time it was cold, very misty with a slight drizzle – horrible for cycling but great for running and I ploughed on at a pretty slow pace.

Question: If you are running up an alp and have passed a kilometer post saying 11km to go, what is better than passing the 10km to go post?

Answer: Reaching the next km post and finding that it says 9km to go, because you have entirely missed the 10km post.

(I saw the 10km marker on the way back down – either I missed it on the way up or had blocked out the memory as it announced the next km to be at an average of 8%).

I carried on pretty comfortably and even caught and passed a chap riding a trike. Last time, my son and I had stopped when we reached the beginning of the ski lift car park but this time I carried on to the ski lift ticket office by the 6km to go marker.

I was very pleased that the run wasn’t stupidly hard on the way up – but the descent was tougher on the quads and, although my running shoes are comfortable and fit well, I was feeling my toes pushed into the front of the shoes.

Altogether, 11.7km (7.3 miles) of running in 1h 19 minutes, with a total climb of 383m (1256 feet). No great climb on a bike but certainly hard enough running. Interestingly, it took me just a minute longer that the 2017 run with my son (he was quicker, of course) – despite being a little longer.

The run up the mountain road itself was a climb of 356m in 5.3km (6.7% average gradient). I had no great pace on the way up, but the descent was relatively quick – I wonder how that happened!

My legs were complaining the following morning but I ran with Mrs O – over 4km (nearly 3 miles) with another 100m (330 feet) of climbing – not too much flat stuff in a ski resort.

To keep up with reports from the Transcontinental Race, the sole remaining rider, Neil Matthews, has reached the fourth and final checkpoint. He has ‘only’  523km left to the finish in Greece. He has been on the road for five weeks.

 

The big debate: to hell in a helmet, or to hell with the helmet?

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Setting a good example – helmets are compulsory in UCI events (but, I think, only since 2003)

Geraint Thomas has recently been reported as saying that he thinks helmets should be compulsory for cyclists.

He is said to argue that the development of helmet design in recent years now means there is “no reason not to” wear one, that he “always” wears a helmet – and feels that others should do the same.

It’s important to note that this is a news report and that the quotes attributed directly to him are also entirely compatible with him merely making a recommendation that helmets should be worn.

Since the article appeared he’s tweeted:

Wow! This was one question in an hour interview. It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about. So when asked I thought… I always wear one and I’d advise all children to wear them. Didn’t realise people felt so passionately about helmets!!

So, let’s be kind and say he was just unprepared and naive … however, whatever he said and whatever he thinks, it has reignited the helmet-wearing debate in the UK.

To put my cards on the table, I don’t pretend that I have understood (or even read) all the research on the topic – but I always wear a helmet when riding a bike (other than on the turbo!).

As far as I am concerned, I hope I won’t fall off, I try very hard not to fall off but if I do fall off I’m keen to have sensible protection to my brain, my most valuable and vulnerable organ. I also always wear a helmet for skiing.

Most members of my cycling group wear helmets – but a few very intelligent and rational riders do not. The non helmet wearers either simply do not like helmets, or have reasons for believing that they are not the answer to preventing injuries from falls.

One argument is that wearing a helmet gives a false sense of security such that it can promote less careful riding.

I don’t go along with that – I know that if I fall off my helmet won’t save me from road rash, bruises and other injuries to arms and legs, broken collar-bones or hips. I certainly hope that my helmet will offer some protection to me head, but with everything else remaining so vulnerable, the helmet in no way makes me less careful.

Other arguments are that helmets can actually cause some twisting neck injuries, that research has suggested that drivers may give less room to helmet wearers than they give to riders without helmets – and that helmets do not offer significant protection in many cases.

It is also said that we should be promoting healthy lifestyles so that anything that might put people off cycling – like compulsory helmet-wearing – should be avoided. It was reported that Western Australia’s helmet law reduced cycling in Perth by 30-40% and that in Melbourne, cycling levels reduced by 36% in children and 44% amongst teenagers as a result of helmet compulsion – I do not know if participant numbers later recovered.

I know we have compulsory seatbelt wearing in cars and compulsory crash helmets for motorcyclists in the UK, but is the legislative programme so empty that cycle helmets get national scrutiny?

If you’ll forgive the ‘reductio ad absurdum’, I believe that there are significant numbers of people who damage their health by being inadequately dressed in cold weather or by over-exposing themselves to the sun. Anyone for compulsory coat wearing if it’s below 10℃, or compulsory long sleeves, hats and sun cream when it goes over 25℃?

It’s complicated but although I choose to wear a helmet I am not in favour of legislating on this.

I know the BMA (the British Medical Association) advocates compulsory helmet-wearing, and you can call me a wishy washy liberal but I prefer to give people freedom of choice on issues that affect their own well-being and safety – all the more so when the case for legislation does not seem to have been made beyond reasonable doubt.

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“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906.

“I recommend helmet-wearing, but although I may not fight to the death over the matter, I am in favour of the rights of others not to wear one” – The Omil, 2018.

Vuelta starts, Transcontinental Race finishes, I run and wonder what next

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OK – this is the TdF but you get my point?

The start of La Vuelta has been steady if not explosive but it’s always a great race so I have high expectations.

This year, it’s a high quality field with some big names (like Quintana, Pinot, Nibali, Porte and Aru) looking to rescue – for a variety of reasons – slightly disappointing years. The absence of Froome and Thomas is a shame (but understandable) but I suppose the highlight so far was the second stage win by home favourite, Alejandro Valverde, at the age of 38.

At the time of writing, there is only one of the 254 Transcontinental Race starters out on the course (except that there is no set course). Neil Matthews is a Brit and is over 560km (c.350 miles) from the final checkpoint – which itself is probably 500km (c.310 miles) from the finish. He’s been going for over 4 weeks now – an effort of legendary proportions.

Related to the Transcontinental Race, I’ve been reading a bit about post challenge blues. It seems that it’s a common thing to feel listless, directionless and even depressed after major challenges. I guess it’s to do with the fact that the preparation is pretty all-consuming and the event itself is full-on and both mentally and physically demanding – and then when it finishes there is a big gap where all that was.

My ride to the alps was only 84 hours of elapsed time and my training was not exactly all-consuming (I realised that my longest training ride was 121km – 76 miles – and I then did three days with an average of more than twice that). However, I certainly spent a lot of time thinking about it and have noticed that there’s been something missing since I got back from France.

I’m wondering if I’m actually more of a challenge junkie that I’d realised.

Having promised Mrs O that there will be no silly solo challenges in 2019, the most likely event to focus on seems to be the Rotterdam Marathon in April next year, with the aim of running it with our younger son (and with our older son also showing interest).

A marathon is never easy but it’s not quite at the very extreme end of the challenge spectrum partly, I guess, because it’s just a one day event and is only going to last for around 4 hours (all being well).

This week I’ve been out running 5 of the last 6 days for about 32km (c. 20 miles) and done a gym session. I’m not yet quite running at 4 hour marathon pace but it’s early days.

More running and back on the turbo trainer this week – enough of moping around!

What, no cleats?

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A short run with Mrs O on Tuesday perked me up so I went out again on Wednesday (probably a bad idea) and ran for 10km (certainly a bad idea). It felt hard but I did it in 58 minutes – 4 hour 7minute marathon pace.

So, If I’m going to try to get into the Rotterdam Marathon and run sub 4 hours, I’ll need to be doing just over 4 times that distance and each of the 10kms will have to be 2 minutes faster.

That sounds tough but it’s early days. I’ll have to get the running shoes on more frequently to know for sure whether it’s a possibility before the applications open in late September. If I’m going to run, I want to run well – my ‘good for age’ time to get entry into the London Marathon would be 3hours 45minutes. That’s a little faster than I ran in my 40s – is that remotely possible?

The comforting thing is that (in November 1997) my first training run for my first marathon was about a mile and a half – and I thought I was going to die. I’m lighter and fitter (cycling fit, at least) than I was then but somehow I do appear to be over 20 years older. I demand a recount.

We went down Bournemouth on Thursday and were joined by friends for a really excellent long weekend. On Saturday we took a trip to Brownsea Island (an island in Poole Harbour which is a nature reserve owned by the National Trust). We walked for over 3 miles but didn’t see any of the red squirrels for which it’s famous (there are very few places in the UK where they haven’t been driven out by grey ones).

On Sunday 4 of us cycled to Burley in the New Forest (sadly, David, who rode L’Eroica and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux with me in 2015 is still using a crutch after his broken hip from a fall on a descent in the Pyrenees last month). It was a very gentle 20 miles round trip (I took my mountain bike) with a circular walk around the village for 4.5 miles when we got there.

So, two runs, two long walks and a cycle – back to a bit of exercise, and not a cleat in sight.

As I write, the Transcontinental Race is into its 23rd day. I think there have been 155 finishers, 97 retirements and two riders are still on the road battling illness, mechanical problems, terrible roads and ridiculous extremes of weather.

All credit and the very best of luck to Lionel Bobb (over 500km – 310 miles – to the finish) and Neil Matthews (possibly closer to 2000km to the finish!). Truly epic performances.

Post big ride blues?

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The bike has had a couple of short rides out but has a horrible ‘clunk’ so will not be undertaking any challenges for a while

The very hot dry spell has ended – it’s still fairly warm but wet and cold compared to the previous 80+℉. I’m taking the true British approach and have started to complain about the bad weather.

I’m not sure if there is anything such as ‘post big ride blues’ but since I’ve got back from the alps I’ve certainly lacked motivation and enthusiasm.

Last week I ran with Mrs O and had a couple of social rides with friends to a total of under 50 miles – but I missed the club ride on Saturday and have simply backed out of a couple of times when I thought I might have gone for a longer run. I’ve got to start increasing the running soon, if I’m going to know if I have another marathon in me by the time entry for the Rotterdam marathon opens.

The bike is making a loud ‘clunking’ noise at the moment – but I can’t work out what it is. Nothing seems to be loose but I’ll work through it step by step and am sure it will be something obvious.

I’ve been watching the Transcontinental Race on the laptop (‘dot watching’ on the tracking screen is strangely compulsive) but that is drawing towards an end. James Hayden won for the second successive year in under 9 days – for 3,790km with 50,396m of climbing (2,354 miles and 165,338 feet). That’s a totally solo and unsupported ride through, I think, 12 countries. He rode for 606km (377 miles) in the first 24 hours of the race – and at that stage he was not in the lead. Incredible!

At present, 65 riders have finished and 83 have scratched out of 254 starters. The rest are scattered over at least 8 different countries. What an event – and yes, I would be tempted if I thought I could make a reasonable fist of it. It’s so far beyond anything I’ve ever attempted …. but there again ‘everesting’ and riding out to the alps were too before I did them.