Category Archives: Everesting

Next challenges – mountains, marathons and a cunning plan

Ventoux. One of three ascents in 2015 – could it be one of six in 2020?

Spring has arrived. In fact, perhaps we’ve gone straight into summer. After months of complaining about training in the cold and wind, how long should I wait before complaining about the heat?

Since I turned 60, nearly 4 years ago, I’ve become a bit of a challenge junkie. ‘Old enough to know better’ comes to mind but while I can do these things, I will continue to do just that.

In that time I’ve joined the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux (ride up Ventoux three times in a day), ‘Everested’ (ride up and down one hill, in one ride, until you climb the height of Everest), ridden 550 miles (880km) out to the alps, solo and unsupported in 84 elapsed hours, and run a marathon (Rotterdam, 7th April 2019).

With the running shoes barely cooled down, I’ve turned my thoughts to ‘what next?’

I’ve got the White Horse Challenge later this month (but I don’t think the elusive sub 5 hours for the c.90 miles is in me this year and I’m lacking a bit of motivation at the moment), I have the yearly trip out to ride in the alps in July and I have a place in the Prudential ‘Ride London’ 100 mile sportive in August. All very good and I’m looking forward to them – but not quite what I need to focus on as a major challenge.

So, here’s the plan:

As marathon running is physically tough and the training is so time consuming, I don’t plan to do another this year but will try to get into the Berlin Marathon in September 2020 and will have a real go at running under 4 hours. As the race in Berlin takes place late in the year, I’ll be 65 by the time that comes round so that would be sort of cool. I think I’ll go for a place in the London marathon too but I’ve never been lucky in the ballot before.

Of course, having failed to run sub 4 at the age of 63, sub 4 at 64 or 65 might be a bit of a stretch but I have a cunning plan for this ………. I will run faster.

OK, not very cunning but if I can do it, I have high hopes that it will work.

I’ll train harder, with speed, interval and hill sessions. The main things that will be key to putting the plan into action are my Achilles tendons which have been sore every morning for about 6 months and prevented the intervals and hills this time around. I need to get them sorted but I hope rest and stretching will do the trick. I’ve rather abused them this year and perhaps need to be a bit kinder to them if they are going to last me into my (even more) old age.

If I can’t get a place for London or Berlin (quite likely), I will go for one of the Abingdon, Bournemouth or Richmond Marathons – they are all in September or October, it should be possible to get in to any of them and they are all very accessible for me. Admittedly, they are all events on a rather different scale to Berlin but, supposedly, all have fairly fast courses.

If the shoulder that I hurt skiing (more tendon issues) mends completely, I will get back in the pool and see if I can improve my swimming enough to take on more than another triathlon. If it holds me back I’ll do a duathlon.

On the bike, I want to have a crack at the Bicinglette (two Cinglés – six times up Ventoux in a day) or the Galerian (four times up, including once by the forest road). The biggest problem with these is that they can only be done in Provence – at least the everesting could be done anywhere. To date, fewer than 256 people have done the bicinglette – and none over 65 so there’s a real challenge. Logistics are my real enemy here, coupled with the fact that, having failed to persuade any of my friends of the wisdom of the everest or the ride out to the alps, my chances of getting any company are slim.

More domestically, there is the Fred Whitton challenge in the Lake District in May next year – it’s now a sportive with 114 miles and 3,900m (12,795feet) of climbing. One to consider perhaps but possibly too much of a challenge?

Training and challenges: why bother?

Me on my favourite mountain – Ventoux. On my way to joining the The Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015

Last Saturday got me thinking about training for big challenges. More accurately, I was thinking about not training.

It was a bit cold, the bed was warm and comfortable and going out for a long run was just about the last thing I wanted to do. Despite that, I did go out and I did run 20.7 miles.

Did I enjoy it? Hmmm … I probably enjoyed having done it more than I enjoyed actually doing it.

Will I carry on doing it? Yes, of course I will.

So, why do I do it is the key question. No one is paying me to run so what makes me? I’ve narrowed it down to just a few things, I don’t know if I’m in line with others in this but for me, it’s:

1 I quite like exercising. I value being reasonably fit and am vain enough to enjoy being fairly slim. However, this is only a small part of the motivation. It doesn’t justify the level of training needed for a proper challenge. Without the challenge I’d still cycle, run and go to the gym, but there’s no way I’d do as much.

2 I like the feeling of having done some hard exercise. There’s a good deal of satisfaction at the end of the run/cycle/gym session but that’s gratification some time in the future – the feeling that it would be easier not to go out is often much stronger and certainly more immediate.

3 It feels to me that the great bulk of the real reason why it’s possible to get out to train for a big challenge is all about the commitment to the challenge itself.

Either it’s the positive aspect of feeling that the training will make success in the challenge more likely – or it’s down to fear: fear that without the training I’ll fail in the challenge or it will turn out to be a very unpleasant experience.

So, it looks like the question to ask is not so much ‘why train?’ but ‘why take up the challenge in the first place?’. No challenge, no training, more time in the nice warm bed.

My first challenges were the London Marathons in 1998 and 1999 (in my early/mid 40s) and they really were a leap into the unknown as I’d done nothing like it before and was probably caught up in the testosterone-fuelled excitement of five of us at work getting carried away with the idea.

My big cycling challenges have been rather random. The Etape du Tour in 2013 was a complete shot in the dark – I’d only been cycling for 3 years but a couple of friends had completed the Etape the year before so why couldn’t I?

L’Eroica in 2015 was an appealing prospect (and a trip to Tuscany is never to be sniffed at) and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux was an enticing challenge that could be picked up on the way back from Italy – and to a cyclist there is something very special about Ventoux. Equally it was a challenge that relatively few had taken up – my number is well under 9000 while there are now nearer 14000 successful challengers.

‘Everesting’ on the bike in 2017 was again a great (and ridiculous) challenge – something that relatively few had achieved (I think I was in the first 1800 – it’s now nearly 3000).

Riding out to the alps, solo and unsupported, last summer was something I’d wondered about for some years of driving out there. I’d not done a multi-day ride and hadn’t ever really ridden to anywhere before, as opposed to doing out and back rides.

My current challenge of running the Rotterdam Marathon in April is rather out of left field – but it will be great to run it with my younger son (even if I only see him at the start and finish as he shows me a clean pair of heels).

So, why do I take on the challenges? I wish I knew the answer.

Is it simply that I like the vanity of being known as the chap who has done some slightly extreme things? Am I shallow enough that I like it that Philip, who was once my mad cycling friend, now regards me as his mad cycling friend?

Do I like the framed pictures/momentos/’brevet’ cards so much?

Am I addicted to the masochism of the effort?

Possibly guilty as charged on all counts.

Perhaps it’s simply that, as you get older and no longer have to test and prove yourself at work, you need to test and prove yourself some other way – and that setting myself challenges is my way of doing that.

Whatever the answer, what I do know is that I will be looking for a new challenge after the Rotterdam Marathon. Whether it’s the bicinglette, John O’Groats to Land’s End, another marathon or an ultra marathon is not particularly important – the key, surely, is having the challenge.

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.

It’s style, Jim, but not as we know it

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Back to the turbo on Friday, I did 24.4 km @ 32.5kph in 45mins (15.16 miles @ 20.2mph). It’s not getting any easier.

Although the pedalling movement does involve some stress on the Achilles’, I’m guessing that the lack of body weight to support, and the lack of impact, should mean that it’s OK to carry on with that.

Desperate for any ‘edge’ in this running and fitness lark, I bought myself some new running shoes (red, so they’ll certainly go faster) and some compression socks. They are supposed to help with blood circulation and can be worn before, during or after exercise. I like them during exercise (they are also supposed to help to stop muscle vibration) and afterwards where they, allegedly, help recovery.

I don’t know if they really do anything useful but they do feel pretty good. Since they are knee length and white, they are not exactly a fashion statement – but my days as a style guru are long behind me (if they ever existed) so that doesn’t seem too much of an issue.

I felt pretty good on Saturday morning so, with Mrs O out shopping, I nearly went for a run. In the end I think common sense got the better of and I didn’t.

It was very much like my bike ‘everest’ last year – towards the end of that I was descending fairly slowly as I’d invested too much effort in the previous climbing to want to throw it away on a crash (‘everesting’).

This time, I’ve invested too much in not running to want to throw that away by running too soon.

So that was the end of the week’s training activities (such as they were) as we were out for lunch with friends on Sunday. Our hostess is a personal trainer and sports massage superstar. Amanda sorted out my knotted quads before my first marathon in 1998. It’s the only time I’ve ever had any sort of massage but it was absolutely invaluable as I doubt that, without her help, I’d have made it to the start line let alone to the finish.

Never one to turn down an opportunity for free advice, I’m happy to say that Amanda endorsed the current plan.

My father is visiting for a few days next week so exercise is likely to be on the back burner. I’m guessing his morning routine does not involve much running, cycling or gym work – but there again, at 94, why should it?

I’m planning to run again late next week by which time I’ll have not run for two weeks –  I can’t wait to find out if my legs are going to play nicely.

Today’s top tip: if the washing machine and tumble drier both stop, don’t automatically assume they have finished their cycles and that it is safe to unload the washing machine. It could be a blown fuse and the locking mechanism that stops the door of the washing machine being opened when it is full of water might not operate in those circumstances. Wish I’d known that an hour ago.

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

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 13.19.24

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.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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).

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

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 effect of going up big hills?

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Me, climbing on the ‘Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux’ ride in October 2015. My all-time favourite mountain

With apologies for ‘nerdiness’ …

OK – I know the short answers to this question, largely based around ‘slower’, ‘tougher’, ‘exhaustion’ ‘pain’ etc – but what I’m talking about is how much time big hills add to a ride, recognising that the loss of time going up is never fully compensated for by the additional speed going down the other side.

Of course, I also recognise that this is very subjective – it entirely depends on the type of rider, the nature of the slope, bravery on the descent, fitness levels, the weight of the rider and the bike and a dozen more factors but, in general, can it be said what effect going up hill has on a ride?

I’ve wondered if there is a formula for it – ‘x metres of climbing adds y minutes to a ride, compared to a flat ride of the same distance’.

I have a friend who goes by an extra hour for 1,000 metres (3300 feet) of climbing – but I can’t really validate that from my experience. Also, it seems a bit simplistic as it depends greatly on whether it’s a mountain top finish (like my Etape d’Tour back in 2013 which finished at the top of Mont Semnoz overlooking Annecy) or if the climb comes with a good descent.

Looking at my stats from riding up Mont Ventoux, ‘everesting’ last summer, my Etape, various hilly sportives, and a lot of climbs in the alps, I think the following seems to apply – to me, at least.

If I ride up a mountain, but don’t include coming back down it, I think something like 1,300 metres (about 4,300 feet) of climbing adds an hour to the time it would have taken me to do the same distance on the flat.

If I climb and have a good descent, I think it’s around 1,600 metres (c.5,300 feet) of climbing that adds an hour to my time to cover that distance on the flat. This seems to make some sense as the fast descent balances out the extra climbing.

Does any of this make sense to anyone else?

The purpose of this? It’s linked with route planning for the ride to the alps in the summer:

  • first it helps answer the question ‘how much shorter does a hillier route have to be to justify the extra climbing’? It seems to suggest that 1000m (3300 feet) of climbing should be compensated by about 20 km (12.5 miles) of saved distance.
  • secondly it helps work out how long it might take me to do each of the first two days which are about 280km (175 miles) with 700m (2300 feet) of climbing – about 11.5 hours in good conditions and on good roads?

Not surprisingly, this might not apply to every 1000 metres of climbing. I think this probably works for ‘sensible’ gradients in the range 3% to 10% (?) but accumulating fatigue on a very long and mountainous ride like the etape is likely to mean that the first 1000 metres of climbing is quicker than the third, or fourth …!