Category Archives: Grand Tours

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.”

Ultra aftermath, turbo, gym, swim (in the scary open water), sportive, run

Back to ‘proper’ cycling for the club’s sportive on Saturday. Proper cycling means the proper bike

A quick stock-take on Monday morning revealed no injuries from Sunday’s ultra. My muscles felt ‘well exercised’ but the only discomfort was in the quads, high in the thigh on both legs.

The biggest question marks had been around the knees and the Achilles tendons but, happily, they were working well and pain-free. The toe I blistered on Thursday was fine and the ear infection that started on Saturday was not a problem either. I was horribly under-prepared but got away with it – I was very lucky.

With very restricted training, the run time was not important. I didn’t look at the time once during the whole of the run and that was very liberating. Despite that, it seems I was 57th out of 175 doing the Sunday run, and first in the 60-69 men’s age group. I was over 2 hours clear of the chap in second but there were only 4 of us in the category … ‘old enough to know better’ comes to mind.

The whole thing was very well organised, the volunteers were excellent and the community spirit among competitors was also really good. There must have been around 2500 runners in all, the majority tackling the full 100k course – all credit to them.

With my eyes off the cycling for a while I had rather forgotten about the club’s sportive on Saturday 17th July. On Monday I entered the medium distance ride (50 miles – 80k) and agreed to be part of the team putting up the route arrows on Friday.

My legs were fine by Wednesday so I got on the turbo in the evening for a gentle spin to reintroduce them to movement – 15k (9.3 miles) in 30 minutes.

A gentle 50 minutes in the gym on Thursday morning with light weights and some stretching and then back to the old gravel pits in the afternoon for a second open water swimming session with the friend I’m doing the triathlon with. As we drove over there he uttered the dreaded words ‘it might be fun to do that ultra marathon next year’ … can I resist doing it with him?

The swimming session was very good. I’m getting more confident in the water, didn’t feel cold and loved the buoyancy of the wetsuit – it did help keep my legs high and speeded me up a bit. I tried to do proper sighting but it confused me totally – I may have to buy a periscope.

On Friday I did the shop session and then spent hours putting out sportive direction arrows. That’s a long job at the best of times but I went with a friend whose Land Rover Discovery suffered a major suspension failure half way round. A second friend drove out to help me complete the route but the original companion had a several hour wait for a pick-up truck.

The sportive on Saturday was a really excellent event with a record turnout and very good weather (if you like it hot – and according to Billy Wilder, some do). It was a foolish thing to be doing after the ultra, and my only other ride since April was a short and slow one leading a children’s cycle training session.

I got away at about 9.40 – one of 90 entrants on the 50 mile route on roads I know pretty well and in some lovely countryside in Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire. It was already fairly hot by that time and got well over 28℃ (82℉).

I cycled most of it on my own after a tandem I was cycling with (actually more ‘behind’ than ‘with’) stopped with a chain issue early on. In the first hour I rode 28k (17.7 miles) and much the same in the second hour – but the ultra was still in my legs and that (and the hills and the heat) told in the last hour when I covered 24k (15 miles).

Altogether just over 80k (50 miles) with 660m (2,165 feet) of climbing in just under 3 hours at 26.8kph (around 16.7mph). Pleasingly, 30 Strava achievements.

I ran with my wife on a hot Sunday morning (a short run, 5.5k) – strange how easily we can condition our thinking, we got to the biggest hill on the run and I wondered for a moment whether I should have been walking up it, in proper ultra style.

In the garden for much of the rest of the day, mowing, to make up for the neglect I’ve shown it recently …. there’s always a price to pay …

I say I was gardening for ‘much’ of the day as I managed to watch the conclusion of Le Tour. Bravo Tadej Pogacar, what a rider that man is. So disappointed that Mark Cavendish didn’t win and take the record for Tour victories … let’s hope he has a chance next year.

With the ultra out of the way, attention turns to the triathlon in September (more swimming, I fear).

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: A cutting word is worse than a bowstring, a cut may heal, but the cut of the tongue does not

2. BBC News website: Seoul bans speedy songs in gyms to stop sweating

Gyms in Seoul and its surrounding region have been told not to play music with a tempo higher than 120 beats per minute, in order to limit the spread of Covid-19. Treadmills will be limited to a maximum of 6km/h (3.7 mph).

Health officials say the restrictions will prevent people from breathing too fast or splashing sweat on each other.

3. BBC News website: Ship that blocked the Suez Canal finally leaves the waterway

Terms of the deal were not disclosed but Egypt had demanded $550m (£397m) from the owners. The ship has been impounded for three months near the canal city of Ismailia.

As it got under way, Egyptian TV showed footage of the captain and a crew member being presented with flowers and a plaque on board the ship.

Some of the most expensive flowers ever

4. Football’s gone to Rome, it’s gone to Rome …

England’s defeat at the hands of Italy (in a penalty shoot out) on Sunday evening had a horrible whiff of inevitability about it. It’s very sad – not least for those who missed their penalties as they will have to live with those misses for the rest of their careers, such is the mentality of so many English football supporters. Congratulations to Italy.

No consolation, but I nailed second place in the fantasy football league. It’s a great local charity supporting children who are carers for others, so it’s a pleasure to donate the winnings back to the charity.

Turbo (with added pseudo-science), gym, gym, run (and the small matter of the Giro d’Italia)

Blinding the turbo with science

Back to the turbo trainer on Monday. Typically, I tend to do it like a time trial – trying to work hard and steadily throughout – but should I be a bit more ‘scientific’ to get the best out of it?

I think that means that at least some sessions should incorporate hills (in the absence of any resistance adjustability, I can try to replicate hills by knocking the bike up a couple of gears and pushing hard) and/or sprints.

On Monday I tried it with one minute hard efforts on 2 short hills and 3 short sprints. That made for a tough 45 minutes (@31kph – 19.4mph) as I probably aimed too high by keeping the ‘recovery’ bits at around 30kph – there was relatively little recovery going on.

On Tuesday I was back in the gym for an hour. Nearly one person has asked what I do there. More for my records that anything else, it’s: leg press, abductors, adductors, chest press, leg curl, leg extension, 200 sit-ups, 6 minutes of a plank regime, single leg calf rises (4×20 each leg) and some stretching to finish. Each of the machine exercises is at least 4 sets of 8 reps.

I’ve also started with the shoulder press machine – but I am so bad that the puny weight I lift is almost embarrassing. Perhaps that’s the best reason for sticking with it.

Two days off exercise on Wednesday and Thursday, partly as it felt that an easier week would be a good idea and partly because our older son and his girlfriend came to stay for a few days. Luckily they had been staying at the house in Bournemouth – if they’d been in London the visit would not have been permitted. We are also fortunate that we can keep appropriate social distances here and let them have necessary exclusive facilities.

Gym on Friday, followed by a run back from the garage after dropping off a car for its MOT (6.4km – 4 miles). I found a run straight after the gym quite hard but, to my surprise, I managed sub 6 minute kms.

I decided to take Saturday and Sunday off too. It felt odd not exercising but I stuck with my idea of taking an easier week – the easiest I’ve had for many months. I wonder if next week will see any benefit?

On a week with slim pickings, a short stocktake: body all seeming to work properly (for its age); resting pulse 48; weight about 66kg (146 lbs).

Finally, just as Ineos’ season was being written off after the (relative) failures of Bernal, Thomas and Froome, my congratulations to Tao Geoghegan Hart who won the Giro d’Italia in the final time trial – without ever having been in the leader’s Pink Jersey. The fifth (male) British Grand Tour winner (after Wiggins, Froome, Thomas and Simon Yates). Phenomenal.

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: When you see the bird dancing know that someone is beating the drum

2. BBC News website: Luton Airport: Too many passengers at front of plane caused take-off issue

An Airbus A320 was replaced with an A321 ahead of a flight, but an email about the change was not passed on which meant the passenger seating plan was not adjusted to the bigger craft. When the aircraft did not respond twice to the pilot’s normal take-off commands, extra thrust was needed for it to depart safely.

Scary how fragile things can be, when even stuff of this importance falls through the cracks.

3. BBC News: Coronavirus: France puts 46 million under night curfew

The French government is imposing a curfew on two-thirds of the country – 46 million people – from Friday night for six weeks, after a record 41,622 new coronavirus infections in one day.

Wow – a huge infection rate and a huge response for a country of about 65million

4. Cat missing since 2018 found 60 miles away in Coventry

A cat that went missing two-and-a-half years ago has been reunited with its owner after being found about 60 miles away on an industrial estate. The delighted owner thinks the cat stowed away to the Midlands in a lorry.

Nothing like a ‘lost cat reunited with family’ story to lighten the gloom

5. A Nasa probe sent to collect rock from an asteroid several hundred million kilometres from Earth has grabbed so much that samples are spilling out.

I had a picture of a substantial rock pile – perhaps enough for me to make another wall – but the craft is believed to have collected some 400g (14oz) of fragments

Gym (x2), run (x3), dig (x2), turbo, (sloes: picking and gin making) – and an important question

Sloe season – this year’s seem smaller but it feels like there are at least five times as many

Monday’s lunch with friends turned out to be excellent, but rather larger and longer than I’d expected so I ducked out of the evening’s planned turbo session and booked the gym for Tuesday morning.

As the second wave of the virus hits the UK, we are in an area rated in the lowest of the three risk categories so we are subject to the rules in place nationally, but not any stricter local rules. Being retired, our restrictions are mainly about limiting indoor social groups to six, observing social distancing, wearing a face mask in shops and some restrictions in restaurants.

No big deal for us but I do feel for the majority who have job and family worries and those in high risk areas who are subject to stricter local measures. No matter where you stand on the face mask/lockdown/personal freedom debates, please be careful and stay safe out there.

The gym was good – still lightly used and well disciplined in cleanliness and disinfecting. Gyms in the highest Covid risk areas are having to shut from Wednesday but I intend to keep going for as long as I am allowed. For me, the small increase in my infection risk is outweighed by the health benefits and enjoyment factor.

The biggest drawback at the moment is that it is extremely cold in the gym. They can’t use the air conditioning so they have all the windows and doors open – and the heating is off for good economic and environmental reasons.

I’m now working out with a compression top under the normal top, long running trousers and wearing gloves. It would probably be OK if I was there to use the cardio machines – or perhaps I’m just not working hard enough.

A run with my wife on Wednesday morning – our usual 7km (3.4m) route. Chilly and breezy but dry and with some weak autumn sunshine. I had thought I might use the turbo in the evening but ended up doing some digging in the garden which felt like a more than adequate substitute.

I did more of the same on Thursday – it was hard work and it does occur to me that I could save the money spent on the gym if I had a ‘proper’ manual job (or, indeed, any job would be a start, I suppose).

Anyway, I did manage to get on the turbo afterwards – 45 minutes @31.6kph (19.6mph). Quite a step up from the 29.9kph last week and very hard indeed. I can’t calibrate using the turbo against riding on the road – but I do know that it is harder.

Gym on Friday, wrapped up warmly, and more gardening. On Saturday we ran one of the short routes – 5.5km (3.4m) – followed by my annual ritual of sloe picking. They don’t seem quite as big as recent years but the local crop is huge. I picked 5kg of sloes (11 pounds) – this year they are about the size of a blueberry so that’s a lot of sloes.

Laps of the old hill fort on Sunday morning for 8.2km (just over 5 miles). I’m sure the Garmin is under-recording laps which are beneath a pretty dense tree canopy – it will be interesting to see if it changes once the leaves have fallen. Then into sloe gin production – 5 litres (nearly 9 pints) so the family looks destined for ample supplies through 2021 (and beyond).

The day’s big issue

I have a question – while I see the benefit of most running-specific kit, is there any point in running socks? I exclude the ‘5 finger’ socks for use with the Vibram shoes but otherwise are running socks worth the trouble?

The ‘foot specific’ bit and the thicker bits of material in ‘key’ places seems impressive but is it really just a gimmick? I’ve been running in cheap sports socks for a while now (the sort you buy for little money in packs of 5) and I can’t tell the difference. I’ve always worn ‘proper’ socks for marathons, without ever really thinking about it – perhaps they just come into their own for long runs?

Interesting stuff this week

1. African wise words: He who touches the leopard’s testicles must be ready to face its fury

I wonder why leopards in particular. I guess that someone, somewhere, is doing PhD research on the comparative responses of different species to having their testicles tickled.

2. Giro d’Italia: Mitchelton-Scott & Jumbo-Visma withdraw after positive Covid results

The Giro d’Italia appears to be in danger of unravelling as the Jumbo-Visma and Mitchelton-Scott teams withdrew from the Giro d’Italia before Wednesday’s stage after six positive results in the latest round of Covid-19 testing. There are nearly two weeks remaining of this delayed Grand Tour, but the first rest day’s coronavirus testing proves Covid 19 is now in the race ‘bubble’.

So sad, not only for those having to withdraw, but for the race itself.

3. BBC News website: 85 year old runner sets mile record

An 85-year-old runner has set a new record for his age group in the mile, recording a time of eight minutes 10.40 seconds.

Bravo sir

TdF lives!

The big sporting news (for me at least) is the announcement that the Tour de France has been rescheduled to begin on 29 August, using the original route, as planned.

At one point there was talk of holding the race as scheduled, but ‘behind closed doors’ – now the aim is to fit it in after the French ban on large gatherings ends (in fact the ban will still be in force at the start of the race so there is a bit of an issue) but in time (they hope) to get decent weather for the race, which will end on 20 September.

It is good news as a boost to the morale of fans of the tour – but probably owes a great deal to economics as well, given the importance of Le Tour to UCI finances.

In the UK, we are allowed out for exercise each day but there has been a lot of debate over how long the exercise should last. There are no official rules on the point but while many suggest that long rides well away from home are irresponsible, others suggest that the absence of restrictions and the health benefits of cycling leave it to the individual.

I guess Messrs Froome, Bernal, Thomas et al will be in the latter camp.

Le Tour de France, sans spectateurs?

Yesterday I read that the authorities in France are thinking about allowing the Tour de France to take place as planned in June/July – without spectators. Hard to believe, but could it be possible?

With the Giro already postponed, it would be a great statement in the face of the Coronavirus.

Of course, the French would love it to happen. Although football might be the country’s favourite sport, I think the tour is its favourite event and is closer to the country’s heart than any other (despite their last winner being Hinault in 1985).

I’ve seen estimates of 12m people travelling to watch it and a tv audience of 3.5 billion worldwide.

I was lucky enough to ride the Etape in 2013 and I’ve watched the race live on many occasions (London, Yorkshire, Colombiere twice, Bourg d’Oisans, Ramaz twice, Le Bettex, Domancy, Araches, Sallanches twice, Annecy, etc).

I love it – but I’ve nearly always been in a big and enthusiastic crowd which adds to the excitement and atmosphere, would it be the same without that? Although the tour doesn’t go up Alpe D’Huez this year, imagine it with an empty Dutch Corner and without the tunnel of faces lining the big climbs.

More importantly, would it be practical for the race to be run without crowds? It must be a huge drain on police resources in a normal year (although I expect that any gendarme who can ride a motorbike would kill for the job) – could they ensure that about 3000km of open roads are clear of spectators?

I suppose that if there were a few scattered spectators for the early stages, it could be argued that it wasn’t a huge risk – but wouldn’t that mean there were going to be more spectators encouraged to try their luck as the race went on? Even if it could be policed, I rather think the police might have better things to do, even in June/July.

I suppose it all depends on the view taken as to the likely behaviour of the French public – would they follow or ignore any directives that the race was happening ‘behind closed doors’ (but without the doors).

The tour is a huge event, even without the spectators. About 200 riders, mechanics, chefs, medical and related staff, police, marshals, tv and press coverage, (perhaps not the caravan as that is more for the spectators) and an apparently ridiculous number of minor officials. How could it be safe for them? I’ve seen a report that says there are 4,500 people on the tour each day – without counting spectators.

I love the idea of a peloton riding with 2m social-distancing gaps.

The idea is at least free of one potential drawback – it won’t suffer from a lack of ticket sales (other than for a few viewing stands the start and finish, perhaps). It’s a wonderful circus but I guess it’s funded by sponsors, tv and host towns – not the spectators.

I was planning to get to some of the tour as part of my annual cycling trip out to the alps but I’m sure that isn’t going to happen.

It’s virtually impossible to imagine the tour going ahead on this basis and watching on tv wouldn’t be the same – but I’d do it, willingly.

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.

Psycho and the Pacific in Piccadilly

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‘PsychoBarn’ by Cornelia Parker – a rather nice contrast to the Neoclassical surroundings of the Royal Academy, London

We stayed in London for the rest of the week. The plan was to run on Sunday morning with Mrs O – but it was cold and raining. Happily, I’m not yet at the point of having to train in bad weather …. so we didn’t.

Friday was full of domestic duties but on Saturday we went to the Royal Academy. It was pot luck as to what exhibition they might have on but we were lucky a they had one called ‘Oceania’ – showcasing art from the South Pacific islands, including New Zealand. Although we might not have put this one down as a ‘must visit’ we were very pleased to have stumbled across it and it was excellent.

There was also a small gallery with English watercolours which was lovely too. Mrs O can trace her family tree back to the sister of Thomas Gainsborough, the famous 18th C English artist and there was a watercolour by Gainsborough in the exhibition. We were tempted to take it with us on the basis that, surely, it was ours but decided the Academy might not understand.

We carried on into Piccadilly, Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square where we came across ‘Africa on the square’ – a festival of music and arts with pop-up food stalls and a African market – very good entertainment.

I think it’s those sorts of thing that show the benefits of city life – and we are particularly lucky to be able to enjoy both London and Bournemouth – but I was still happy to get back to rural Oxfordshire on Sunday afternoon.

If we are going to spend more time in Bournemouth and London I’ll have to think about leaving bikes there. With space at a premium in London, perhaps there’s an excuse for the purchase of a Brompton?

So, a decent week returning from 3 week’s rest for the Achilles tendons – about 19.5km (12 miles) of running and a very rare week without any time on a bike. I’ll put that right in the next few days.

To be honest, I can’t wait for the start of my 20 weeks training programme leading up to the Rotterdam Marathon.

The route for the 2019 Tour de France was released last week. It doesn’t come very close to Les Carroz so it may be a year that we give a miss to viewing a stage. I love the tour but have seen enough stages over the years (about 15, I think) that I’m happy to give it a miss if it takes too much time from my own cycling in the alps.

Without any mad ideas like cycling out there next year I’m going to see if I can take on my friends Phil and Philip for our own king of the mountains title. This year the ride out to the alps had rather taken the edge off my legs’ performance by the time I arrived!

Yet again, it looks like the Tour’s organisers are trying to set an ‘anti-Sky domination’ route. What’s the chance that Sky will again thwart their attempts?

 

Yates and Chopin – a mighty duo

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I’m feeling that the cycling mojo is returning. I certainly lost it after the ride out to the alps. The bike has a new chain but bears the scars of battle.

Very few professional cyclists ever have a realistic chance of winning a Grand Tour. Simon Yates had the Giro leader’s jersey for 13 stages earlier this year – and then blew up spectacularly late in the race. It seemed possible that his chance had come and gone.

I think that makes his La Vuelta win even more special – rather than let the experience at the Giro crush him, he learned from it and came back stronger.

Although helped a bit by the absence of some big hitters – and the indifferent form of some others – he won with a very mature and disciplined performance. Perhaps a bit more ‘Froome control’ than ‘Pantani panache’ – but a great victory all the same.

… and even a Grand Tour winner not riding for Sky!

I don’t think any brothers have ever won Grand Tours – much less twins – so what are the prospects of a win for Adam Yates in the near future?

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Rather more prosaically, my achilles’ has continued to improve, helped by a day off on Saturday, so we ran again on Sunday morning. Normally we run for about 6km but this time Mrs O thought she should go further so we ran 9.5km (6miles). Not too fast, but a creditable distance.

Later on Sunday, along with watching Lewis Hamilton win the Singapore GP and seeing Yates safely home in Madrid, to balance out all the physical stuff we catered for our souls.

There is a talented music teacher in the village and she puts on occasional concerts for her pupils, former pupils and other young musicians. This time it was Aleksei Demchenko, an award winning pianist who played pieces by Scarlatti, Schumann and Chopin.

In the same way that I have no fast-twitch muscle fibres to speak of, I do not have an artistic bone in my body – but I really appreciate it in others and the concert was wonderful.

I don’t listen to music on the bike or while running (I didn’t even take my ipod on the ride out to the alps) but if I did it would have to be classical music. Popular music can evoke many emotions but only classical music can take you completely out of this world.

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Running with Mrs O is a good way of putting some miles into my legs but ‘proper’ marathon training is going to require some longer and faster runs so I planned to do a quicker 10km on Monday morning. Unfortunately, I woke with sore achilles tendons again. They weren’t any worse than they have been over the last 10 days or so but it didn’t seem sensible to try a faster run on them. It puts me between a rock and a hard place:

  • I want to keep running to see if I can get better and prove to myself that it is worth entering the Rotterdam Marathon but
  • I need to stop to exercising to let the achilles’ recover so I can then resume running to prove that it was only the weights, and not the running, that caused the problem in the first place.

Typical compromise ‘solution’ (which, of course, means it’s not a solution at all): I’ll stretch, run gently with Mrs O and use the bike or turbo this week.

I hadn’t expected to be in ‘injury management’ mode this early.

Monday morning’s hard turbo, 26km in 30mins @52kph (16.15miles @ 32.3mph).

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 my 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.