Category Archives: sportive

Run, gym, run, gym, run – steady as she goes

Badbury Clump at its spring-time best. I guess I’ll be seeing quite a bit of this in 2020

A horrible wet and windy Saturday gave way to a chilly but otherwise pleasant Sunday morning so we ran early – 6.1km (3.8 miles). Not a run for pushing hard, but for enjoying being outside.

I want to do more cycling but now the biggest problem with that is the cold – the extra speed increases the windchill significantly (for this particular wimp) so, unless there are particularly good days, it looks like it’s mostly the turbo from here on.

Later on Sunday our younger son (who ran the Rotterdam Marathon with me in April) came home for a few days, using up holiday that needed to be taken before Christmas. Great to have him back, despite my demotion to second fastest runner in the house, and the fact that this means more eating this week as my wife will go into cooking overdrive. my willpower fails completely when food is actually on the table, asking to be eaten.

Gym on Monday morning – a bit rushed as we had guests for lunch.

My wife decided to do some hill reps on Tuesday morning – I’m avoiding those to protect the ATs but ran with her out of the village and did some laps of Badbury Clump – the site of an iron age hill fort (probably before 500BC) – while she did her hills.

Not exactly radical trail running for me but it was largely off road and my trail shoes did get an outing. About 3.5 miles (5.6km). I also learnt the valuable lesson that nettles can sting through the thicker, more padded, knee area of my running tights.

That was followed by a few more hours of wood cutting and bonfire-tending with my son. That’s all the smaller cuttings from the beech trees dispatched, now just a great pile of bigger branches to be logged.

I ducked out of the planned turbo session on Wednesday, having agreed to both a visit to the gym with my usual gym companion, and a run with my son on Thursday.

As it was, 50 minutes in the gym and a 4.2 mile gentle run 90 minutes later were both really enjoyable on Thursday. It was pretty chilly again but the weather was clear and bright – a great day for a run, and the legs felt good, despite the weights session.

Three runs in the week for a total of just over 18km (about 11 miles) together with two gym visits. That feels broadly about right to keep it ticking over for now – I’m not training for anything imminent, but need to keep fit through the winter in order to be able to pick up the training early next year for the April sportive and the July ultra marathon.

Getting ready for Ride London

I managed an hour on the turbo on Wednesday and Thursday. Both sessions were hot and hard and I’m a bit surprised I managed to last for the full hour both times.

With another hour at the gym on Friday, that was it for the training for the Ride London 100 miler on Sunday. There is a bit of a theme developing – I really should have got on a bike outside and gone for a long ride, but didn’t. Again, I’m not sure why I’ve failed so badly.

I think in part it’s that my heart isn’t really in the ride on Sunday, not helped by that fact that I need to be in the starting pen by 5.48am for a start at 6.28am. At least the current weather forecast is for a warm day with sunny intervals and a gentle breeze.

Assuming I survive, that will be it for the current challenges for the year. If I can’t motivate myself to get out on the bike for a 100 mile sportive, what hope do I have for getting out there with no big target to aim for? Sounds like I need a target.

Gym, gym and the club’s sportive. Back in the swing of cycling?

A sportive with some great countryside and lovely views

My usual gym buddy couldn’t do this week so I went alone Thursday. His plans then changed so I went with him on Friday. The afternoon was spent putting out route markers for the club sportive on Saturday.

We were looking after the 30 mile pre-loop for the 100 mile distance (it then joins the 70 mile ride) but it still took quite some time and effort. It’s surprising how much pressure you feel doing something like that which (although I expect most riders doing the long route will have their own satellite navigation) could make a big difference to someone’s enjoyment of the day.

The whole event went really well – and still features the best food I’ve ever seen at a UK sportive (admittedly the wine and stew on the Tuscany L’Eroica might run it close for the European title).

I rode the 35 mile route (turned out to be 36.6 miles – 59km) with my wife and another friend, acting as pacer. We had a very pleasant temperature with light rain on and off (the sort that is actually quite welcome and hardly seems enough to get you very wet) and the whole ride was really enjoyable. With the trip to and back from the start we rode a bit over 41 miles at a steady pace – which is pretty impressive as my wife had only done one ride of 13 miles (about 21km) since last summer.

… and all the route markers were still there, in the right places, and visible!

So, a very good few days, and I only have to do three times the sportive distance to complete the Ride London next Sunday. How hard can that be …?

Fear, manual labour, gym, turbo, run and chickens in peril

A less than secure chicken run

I think I’ve only ever ridden five imperial centuries – my everest in 2017 (176 miles – 282km), the first three days cycling out to the alps last year (160, 150 and 135 miles respectively) and the Dragon Ride back in 2014 (140 miles – 224km).

For all of those I’d trained reasonably well. The Prudential Ride London Sportive, in less than two weeks time, is also 100 miles but this year my cycle training has been poor to non-existent. Fear is a great motivator and it’s started to focus my mind – either train or have a difficult day in the saddle. At this late stage, it might be ‘train and have a slightly less difficult day in the saddle’.

After yet more manual labour at the cycle park on Monday afternoon (laying industrial strength paving slabs at 43kg each – 95lbs) I was not up for the evening’s planned turbo ride, but was back in the gym for an hour on Tuesday morning.

The gym must be doing something as I’ve just increased the weights on every exercise – but whether it’s doing the right something is another matter.

I did make it on to the turbo on a ridiculously hot Tuesday evening and dripped my way through 30 minutes at an average 26.8kph (16.65mph) watching the end of Le Tour, stage 16. It was hard from the start – I guess I can’t expect to move bigger weights in the gym (now 200kg – 441 pounds – on the leg press machine) and cycle fast later in the day?

I ran with my wife early on Wednesday morning to avoid the worst of the heat – about 3.8 miles (6.1km). The running is OK but the Achilles tendons are still problem children, hurting first thing in the mornings but easing as I start to get moving. The shoulder I hurt skiing in January is almost right now but I’m feeling a bit jaded from the increased exercise regime.

While mowing later on, I discovered that all was not well at the end of the garden. The storm the previous night had brought down a sizeable branch from one of the beech trees – about a thick as my (thickening) waist. It had destroyed part of the shed (which was already in a poor state, admittedly) and flattened part of the chicken run fencing. Luckily, no foxes had realised this.

I have tried teaching the chickens self defence against foxes but they remain of the view that homeland security is my responsibility. Accordingly, I spent a happy (?) couple of hours sawing through branches to clear them from the netting around the run and restoring the safety of the occupants.

I’m happy to say that no chickens were hurt in the making of this drama.

Failing to prepare …

Uffington White Horse in the distance – and this is as close I got to it in this year’s WHC

How (not) to prepare for a 90 mile sportive: first, make it only your third ride outside in nearly five months (✓); second, go to a wedding reception the evening before (✓); third, have a dodgy knee and ATs (✓). OK, ready to go.

The White Horse Challenge took place today (Sunday) – I think it was my 8th entry and 7th participation. It’s a really good local sportive – it’s about 90 miles (just under 150km) with climbing said to be about 1400m (c, 4600 feet) although my Garmin has typically measured it at about 25% more than that in climbing.

It takes in 4 White Horses in the area (chalk figures cut in the hillside) and is limited to about 600 entrants. The first time I rode it I took a bit over 6 hours – one of my big aims is to get under 5 hours but my best so far is 5:05.

This year was, clearly, not going to be very special for me. The Achilles Tendons are not right and my left knee is still dodgy after the marathon. More importantly, I’ve done just 20 miles on the bike and 6 hours on the turbo since the first week of January. I hoped that the cardio vascular benefits of the running might help but the muscle action is rather different so I went into it with very low expectations.

The day itself was dry but very cool and with a stiff breeze. It was probably a good year not to be in great cycling shape – I’d have hated to waste good form on a day with such difficult conditions.

I never felt perfectly comfortable on the bike – running does not help toughen the backside or strengthen the neck and shoulder muscles. Worse, although they both use the same leg muscles, they certainly use them differently.

I got past 80km (50miles) in a time that suggested I’d do something under 5:30 but at the top of one of the bigger hills the knee and ATs made it very clear that they didn’t think another 70km was a good idea. For once good sense prevailed and I decided to bail out – although the route I took back only saved me 30km (c. 20 miles) and took in another hill with a 17% gradient.

So, I did a total of 113km (70miles) 1250m of climbing (4100feet) in under 4:30, with a surprising 77 Strava achievements.

More importantly, my congratulations to everyone who completed the challenge.

I’m sad not to have finished the ride but think I made the right call. On a hard day for cycling, I had little to gain and potentially a lot to lose (or, more accurately, to damage). The current aim is to get the legs right – I’d hoped that cycling was a free hit with no real leg strain, but it appears that’s only true up to a point.

With so little cycle training, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed – and there’s always next year. If the September/October 2020 marathon comes off, perhaps the early part of the year could be dedicated to a sub 5 hour White Horse Challenge …..

Run silent, run deep – are marathons (or bike rides) better with a musical accompaniment?

If I want music, appropriate choices will be easy to find

I am a completely talent-free zone when it comes to music. I can’t read music, play an instrument or even sing in tune.

Happily, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the talents of others – from Mozart to Eminem, Mendlessohn to Matthews Southern Comfort, from Bob Marley to Bob Dylan, from Jackson Browne to Led Zeppelin … and many stops in between.

What has got me thinking about this is a number of blogs I’ve read about playlists to listen to while running. It’s not the music choice I’m on about – it’s the very question of running with music.

I guess the case in favour mainly revolves around relief of boredom – there is apparently a study that showed that listening to music enhanced endurance by 15% (whatever that means).

Coming from a cycling background, I’m not used to having music on as I exercise (although I watch TV on the turbo). Out on the road it’s much too important to be able to hear traffic or warnings (and to chat with fellow riders) for me to think about using headphones. Even cycling alone for 550 miles from Caen to the alps this summer, I didn’t take any music with me and didn’t miss it at all. 

Running locally in rural Oxfordshire means a lot of country lanes with no pavements or street lighting so I wouldn’t train with headphones for the safety reasons that also apply to cycling. However, I don’t plan to take music with me on the Rotterdam Marathon next April, even though, of course, it’s on completely closed roads.

The new bone conduction headphones might be the answer to the safety issue but the pathetic weight weenie in me doesn’t want to carry any extra weight in terms of the phones themselves or the music source.

Equally, I want to be a fully aware of what’s going on around me and be an active part of the event and occasion – I don’t want to be detached from what’s going on. I also find it helpful to be able to hear my foot-fall and breathing – both can be useful clues as to how I’m running (usually badly).

I’m perfectly content with my own thoughts and, happily, I do pass the Alanis Morisette test “Why are you so petrified of silence, here, can you handle this …………………………….’.

No, Alanis, I’m not petrified of silence, and yes, I can handle it quite well.

I don’t need headphones to shut me away from it all – or to block out the pain by taking me to a world of my own. I am sure I will be in my own little world of pain at some stage, headphones or not.

I appreciate that I might be missing something here – but for me it’s like the film, Run silent, Run deep.

I doubt that either Clark Gable or Burt Lancaster realised that their 1958 submarine drama would find it’s way into a marathon running blog but I’m sure they’d be pleased.


I was really sad to hear of the death of Paul Sherwen – I missed his cycling career but have loved his commentaries on Le Tour for so many years. My condolences to all his family and friends. He was only 62 – a year younger than me.


The effect of going up big hills?


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 …!


Bring on the next madness


The ‘out to the alps’ 2006 Giant TCR2 – a triple with an aero seatpost ……. I’m sure that will make all the difference

So, with the White Horse Challenge behind me (and absolutely no ill-effects beyond a slightly tender backside for a day), thoughts turn to my planned ride out to the Alps in the summer.

I’ve booked a cross Channel ferry from Portsmouth to Caen (on the north coast of France) and will have about 500 miles (800km) to ride from there to Les Carroz d’Araches in the Haute Savoie. The intention is to take just three days but I don’t know if that’s feasible, given that I’ve never tried to do anything like it before – and it’s a very long way.

Although the ride breaks down into an average of 166 miles a day, I guess the third day will have a bit more climbing (hilly things, those Alps) so perhaps it would be better to push on a bit further on the first two days – as if 166 miles wasn’t enough.

On Sunday’s sportive I did a 16.9mph average speed (27.2kph) for 90 miles (144km) so I’d be looking at 10 hours of cycling at that pace but, on the downside:

  • I’ll be on my own, so no help with any drafting or motivation
  • I’ll be carrying more stuff
  • I can’t keep that pace up for that time
  • I’ll have to stop and eat and take a few breathers
  • I’ll be on the old Giant TCR2, not the Rose.

On the upside:

  • I have put the tri bars on
  • Days 1 and 2 will each have about half the sportive’s climbing, spread over nearly twice the distance.

Too many downsides, too few upsides.

Reading about long distance cycling, it seems that time in the saddle is the key, even above just raw speed. Of course, sea sickness, bad weather, a headwind, getting lost, illness, joint or muscle issues, or mechanicals will be disastrous, but even without any of them I assume I’ll have to do something like 12 hours of cycling a day.

In turn, that suggests a day starting about 6am and finishing about 8pm to give myself just 2 hours off the bike. The daylight hours should be adequate – but I really don’t do early mornings very well and I don’t even arrive in France that early on day 1!

I can’t pre-book accommodation as I can’t accurately predict where I will be at the end of any day. I was thinking about wild camping but Mrs O isn’t too happy with the idea of me doing that so I have the problem of sorting out places to stay as well.

Oh dear.

Fine, I did 176 miles (282km) in over 18 hours of cycling in a 22.5 hour day (with 8912 metres – 29,238 feet of climbing) last July when ‘everesting‘ – but that was just one day with an unloaded bike.

I have to accept that this may well be beyond me – but I won’t find out if I don’t try.

Happily, I will have a credit card so I can improvise a bit. If the worst comes to the worst, I can always rent a car or get on a train. I took the opportunity of giving my friend Dave a set of keys to the apartment when he came down for the sportive at the weekend – so everyone else can get in even if I’ve not arrived on time. If it takes me more than three days, so be it.

The cycling challenge might be different – but the solution, as always, seems to be to get stronger and fitter.

So, what do I do about it? Time in the saddle must be key for the next couple of months, with occasional sleep deprivation torture, a lot of route research and locating all the McDonald’s restaurants in France.

I wonder if getting out to do some training on this fine beast would help? Three of Sturmey Archer’s finest gears (quaintly marked L, N and H) and weighing in at a mere 41.2 pounds (18.7kg) of British steel.



1955 Elswick – with the ‘patina of age’ (ie, rust)



I’m happy that there is one gear that is ‘Normal”

One immediate issue on route setting is the use of cycle paths. Obviously, it would make sense provided the surface is suitable for road bikes. As Google Street View doesn’t cover paths, I can only look at them where a they cross a road that is covered. So far, they don’t look like they are properly surfaced – the bike has Gatorskin tyres but they are only 23mm. Great to get away from the cars and lorries but could I keep up the necessary average on a surface like that?


Sadly, no monkey looking for a new home


Uffington White Horse – the last of the four White Horses on the route, after about 80 miles

The White Horse Challenge has been a monkey on my back for a while now. The sportive is about 90 miles (144km) and – according to my Garmin – has 5738 feet (1749m) of climbing.

I first rode it in 2011 and took just over 6 hours. Since then I’ve chipped away at the times and managed 5:05 last year.

I seem to be a year older this year (!) and with some injuries and the rubbish weather the training outside has been poor – just one ride of 100km (62.5 miles). Accordingly, my grand target of beating 5 hours was a very long long-shot for today’s edition held in quite warm weather but with a nasty breeze.

…. and so it proved – I did it in 5:17 which is my third best time but not exactly what I wanted. It started well and I was cycling with some friends from the club for the first 32 km (20 miles) but we were then overtaken by a big group travelling at about 24 mph (nearly 39kph). Three of us managed to latch on – I knew I couldn’t keep up with that for long but I thought I’d at least get a good tow for a while and I might be lucky enough to get into a slower sub-group if the main group split up.

Sadly, the only splintering of the group was me falling off the back – which was bad news as I’d also lost the group I’d been in originally. For some way I cycled alone or in smaller groups before the same thing happened again – latching on to a fast group before being dropped after a few miles.

A sub-five hour ride needs an average of 18mph (29kph). At the 40km mark I was averaging 30.7kph (19mph after 25 miles) and I was still on the 18mph average after 3 hours (87km – 54 miles). Unfortunately it seeped away a bit after that as the groups became fewer and further in between and I had to ride more by myself – by 4 hours I was down to 28kph (17.4mph) and I finished with an average of 16.9mph (27.2kph).


After 80 miles (129km) I never think I need this climb up the Uffington White Horse – about 1km (0.6 mile) at 9% average. The organisers even make it a timed King of the Hill ascent

I think the work in the gym and on the turbo has been very useful but the absence of long rides outside meant that I was lacking the stamina to keep the early speed up. I can’t say it was down to any lack of groups to get into – the problem was simply my inability to stay in the ones that were just going too fast for me. A younger (and better cyclist) friend who managed to stay in the first fast group that passed us went round in 4:51 – chapeau Richard!

I seem to have finished in the top 80 of about 600 entrants and 6th out of about 40 in my age category (60+). My category ‘Gold’ standard was secured by 43 minutes – indeed, I achieved Gold standard for the 40-49 age group.

All in all, lots to be pleased about … but I’m still (a little) disappointed – just not good enough on the day.

Another year before I can get that monkey off my back and leave it looking for a new home.

Failing to prepare …


Now that’s what I call a sandcastle. Short on refinement and detail – but admirable in terms of quantity.

The misery of the wind and the puncture on Monday rather put out of my mind the fact that I’d had no top gear – but lots of grinding and jumping half gears to make up for it. To get over the trauma, I took the bike in to the local LBS and went down to Bournemouth in the sun.

Suddenly, after a winter that has gone into late April, the weather has decided to skip spring and go straight into summer. Apparently it got into the 80s℉ (late 20s℃). A national newspaper I saw the following day had a picture of a very attractive young lady sunbathing on Bournemouth beach. I’d not seen her when I went for a short walk on the promenade – clearly I’d been at the wrong part of the bay.

With the sportive on Sunday I’d decided to take it easy this week – but it did occur to me that I should give the bike a short spin to see if I could remember what it feels like to expose legs and arms to the elements, and to make sure the gear adjustments had worked.

As it turns out, that was a good idea as everything was working nicely, other than the fact that I still couldn’t get into top. I’ve  never fully understood why gears that work properly on a stand don’t always do the same on the road but it brought to mind the old ‘failure to prepare means preparing to fail’ adage.

A minor adjustment on the appropriate rear derailleur limit screw has sorted the gears.  If only my abject lack of adequate training could be remedied as easily.

Another thing I’ve struggled to understand (among many) is how, on a little spin to test the bike before a bigger ride, my legs always feel like jelly and something starts to hurt.  This time it was a niggle in my left knee but I’m going to treat it with the respect it deserves – and ignore it completely.

Tomorrow I am leading the club’s blue ride – probably not a great idea the day before the sportive. I was going to complain to the idiot who compiled the rota – but I’ve remembered that was me. Still, it’s only a bit over a pretty flat 22 miles (36km) and will be taken at a leisurely pace so it might not be a terrible idea – but I’ll not tempt fate and so won’t be taking my sportive bike.