Tag Archives: challenges

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

Almost home from home now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenges for 2020 – madder than usual

The Ridgeway – route of The Race to the Stones

After the cycle ‘everest’ in 2017 and last year’s solo ride out to the alps, I promised to do no silly solo challenges in 2019. I’ve kept to it, neither the Rotterdam Marathon nor the Ride London were solo.

However, I am completely sure that the promise was limited to 2019 so all bets are off for 2020 so ‘silly’ is permissible – possibly even ‘mad’ is allowable.

The current thinking revolves around cycling, a marathon, a triathlon and an ultra marathon. Specifically:

  • to give the White Horse Challenge a real go in April, with the aim of finally breaking 5 hours for the 150km ride. That takes care of the early part of the year as it will require some proper training of the sort I rarely do in the first few months (being a cold weather wimp). The plan is to ride at least 1000 miles before mid-April and perhaps a trip out to an early season training camp?
  • to have a go at the ‘Race to the Stones’ in July. I was tempted by the full 100km route but doing ‘just’ the second day of the event (50km starting from near Wantage and finishing in Avebury) seemed slightly less mad, given that this will be my first ultra marathon, and it being along the Ridgeway and not on nice flat tarmac. My usual gym companion had mentioned doing this but seems to have decided not to – shame. I have entered although I don’t see how I can get a full training plan in around the White Horse Challenge so I think this will be less of a race for me, more an extended run/jog/walk
  • I’ll try to be fitter for my weeks cycling in the alps to be closer to the front up the mountains than I was this year (not that we are competitive, of course). The focus on running for the Race to the Stones might not help much
  • I’ll do a marathon later in the year – possibly Bournemouth (where we have a house) or Abingdon, (near to us in Oxfordshire) or (more exotically and harder to get into) Berlin – but the aim will be to go under 4 hours, aged 65. With luck, both sons will run with me this time (‘with’ being a word to describe being in the same race, not denoting running together for very far)
  • I’ll get back in the pool and see if I can fit in a sprint triathlon in 2020 and improve my swimming sufficiently to go for an olympic distance triathlon in 2021.

No real idea if any of that’s achievable and there is a huge amount that could go wrong and ruin it all – but it’s good to have some targets in mind.

Riding like the wind – or, more accurately, riding in the wind.

The Great Coxwell Tithe Barn (an older picture as I don’t have the tri-bars on the bike at the moment

After the gym and some mass mowing on Tuesday, on Wednesday I had to drive up to London for an errand – I took my running kit but it didn’t stop raining and I wimped out.

As penance, I got on the turbo in the evening for half an hour @ 31.6kph. A short ride but so much faster than the two sessions at 24/25kph that I managed a couple of weeks ago. Not necessarily wise as I’d arranged a Thursday morning ride with a friend (one of those I go out to the alps with each year).

He’s been a friend for 20 years or so and is probably the person who was most instrumental in getting me into cycling in the first place. He’s cycled all his life and the two of us went out to the alps in 2003 for my first taste of Le Tour. I took a mountain bike (the only bike I owned) and was totally unable to ride it up any significant climbs – but we saw the tour on the côte d’Arâches and (at the bottom of) Alpe d’Huez, and I’ve not looked back since.

Happily, it was dry when we got away at just after 9am but it was very windy. It was all a bit unstructured as we hadn’t discussed a route – or even a distance. Perhaps that’s a good thing as we weren’t training for anything – just going out on the bikes for the pleasure of the trip, or so I thought.

However, Philip is a strong cyclist and was soon setting a fast pace with me hanging on grimly – grateful that I had the Ride London miles in my legs. We rode for 73.5km at 27.3kph (45.6miles at 17mph). I ended up with 25 Strava achievements, including 15 PRs and a 6th overall.

So much for the ‘just going out on the bikes for the pleasure of the trip’ – although it certainly was enjoyable, and it suggests that I’ve not ruined the fit of the bike by changing the stem earlier in the week.

I drove to the gym on Friday morning – I don’t mind cycling in a bit of rain but I don’t want to arrive wet for an hour’s workout. I stuck with the usual weights and a short run on the treadmill to finish with but it was very hard. Not too surprising perhaps as that’s two gym sessions, a turbo session and a ‘proper’ bike ride in four days.

If age means anything, it seems to mean slower recovery from an accumulation of days of exercise. At the moment the exercise doesn’t seem to have any better purpose than keeping fit. I’ve been thinking about the next challenges (probably for 2020 now as I am still in the year of my promise of ‘no stupid solo challenges’) and will see if I can firm up on those soon. It will be good to have some more focus.

Post ‘Ride London’ – running and a lot of of bike training

Final moments at the starting gate of the Ride London 100 mile sportive – about 6.30am

After finishing Sunday’s sportive, and meeting my family I rode the 15 minutes back to the flat. A bike is the way to travel in London – I showered and changed before my wife arrived by underground.

We had an excellent late lunch at a nearby pub and then drove back to Oxfordshire. No aches or pains but pretty tired after the 3.30am start (and, perhaps, the 100 miles of cycling) and in bed not long after 9pm (what a lightweight)!

Monday was taken gently but again no aches or pains beyond a slightly sore left knee. Even the troublesome Achilles tendons are behaving themselves (relatively speaking).

The ballot for next year’s ride opened on Sunday, just as this year’s finished, and I have applied again. I’m not sure that I will enter many more sportives (other than my club’s sportive, of course, and perhaps something abroad) but the big attraction of the Ride London is the fact that it’s on closed roads – which is a real treat.

It’s not perfect by any means – it gets too crowded in places, it’s a bit expensive, I didn’t like the really early start and it’s not exactly the alps for scenic beauty – but if I’m lucky enough to get a place, I’ll ride if any friends are doing it.

I ran with my wife on Tuesday morning before spending both Wednesday and Thursday mornings at the cycle park doing some training. No – giving the training, not receiving it.

We had perhaps 40 children of different abilities on each day. Some were complete beginners on balance bikes while for more proficient cyclist it was road awareness. We have a waiting list for training and have even been approached by some adult non-cyclists and so will be running another course for them in the near future.

It’s surprisingly hard work – but really worthwhile.

Possible 2020 challenge?

I’ve signed up for info on what is called ‘The Race to the Stones’. It’s a 100km (62 mile) running race along the historic ‘Ridgeway’ (described as Britain’s oldest road) that runs for 87 miles from north west of London to Avebury – the site of a Neolithic henge monument containing three stone circles built somewhere between 2200 and 2850 BC.

It takes place in July and can be done in two days or in one go – but includes a lot of ascent.

Certainly sufficiently challenging (and more), certainly sufficiently mad and it would give me the opportunity to utter the immortal line ‘I can see my house from here’ as I passed the Uffington White Horse.

Transcontinental Race

My congratulations to Fiona Kolbinger who won the Transcontinental Race. Not only the first woman to lead the Transcontinental Race – but she went on to win it by quite a distance – over 10 hours ahead of second place.

3,571km (measured in a straight line – more like 4,000km on the road) and about 40,000m of climbing (2,200 – 2,500 miles and 131,200 feet) in 10 days 2 hours and 48 minutes, with only 2 days and 4 hours and 36 minutes stationary in all that time.

Beyond impressive!

Run, gym and (minor) bike mechanics

After the sportive it was London on Sunday to take our sons for lunch to celebrate the older boy’s birthday. On Monday morning I ran down the Thames Path, 7km (4.3 miles), surprisingly at sub 4 hour marathon pace.

It was a very good run in warm, but not stupidly hot, weather. The only down-sides are a slightly sore left knee and painful calf muscles. I guess that I’ve not been exercising them very much while I’ve been protecting the Achilles tendons. I’m sure it will all improve.

I am continuing my one-man attempt to bring to London the habit of saying ‘hello’ to other runners as you pass by. On this run I got a response from 5 out of the 13 runners I saw. Admittedly, a lot were wearing headphones or earpieces of one sort or another and might not have heard me, but I’ll keep at it.

Gym on Tuesday for a bit over an hour. It was very good apart from the chap who insisted on singing along (rather tunelessly) to the music on his headphones. I don’t mean to be a miserable old git but if I wanted karaoke …

As part of the gym exercises I did the planks routine and then decided to see if I could do a straight 5 minutes of plank as well. The good news is that I can, the bad news is that my lower back was sore for the rest of the day so I missed the evening’s planned turbo session. I suppose the other bit of good news is that my painful back took my mind off my painful calf muscles.

They say that people perform better if the ‘package’ feels good – decent kit, nicely maintained and presented equipment. I don’t know if it’s true but I washed and oiled the bike and put new bar tape on it on Wednesday. The old tape was the original from when I bought the bike 4 years ago and was tatty beyond words. More workman-like than expert, I replaced it like-for-like with black tape. I’m sure it will make the bike go faster (though not as fast as if it had red tape, of course).

I’m going to need all the help I can get on the Ride London sportive, surely the new tape will help?

My heartfelt congratulations to:

  • Egan Bernal for his Tour win (the first of many, all being well),
  • Geraint Thomas for his immensely graceful acceptance of second place
  • Juilan Alaphilippe for lighting up the whole race
  • the Irish cricket team for giving England plenty to worry about in the early stages of their recent test match
  • Fiona Kolbinger, the first woman ever to be in the lead of the Transcontinental Race. 4 days 7 hours in, she is in front by 35km having stopped for less than 20 hours in total.

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 …?