Tag Archives: fitness

So, apart from the pain, exhaustion and mental anguish, how was the everesting?

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The top of the Col – not exactly a tourist attraction

Everesting is a simple concept: choose a hill and ride up and down it until you climb the height of Mount Everest (8848m). No time limit but no sleeping.

I first heard about everesting back in 2015 and have been blogging about my 8 weeks of training for it, but at 4.51am on Sunday July 16th 2017, alone in the French Alps, I couldn’t remember what on earth had made me think attempting it would be a good idea.

So, how did it go? Read on …

I very nearly failed even before I began. The journey to the Alps started on the Friday night but involved delays at the tunnel and on the autoroute so I’d had a maximum of 8 hours sleep over the two previous nights. When I woke at 4.25am, going out to attempt an ‘everest’ was the last thing I wanted to do. I was too tired; perhaps Monday would be better then Sunday; perhaps later in the week was more sensible; why was I risking spoiling my week in the Alps for something I was going to fail at. I had to lecture myself sternly that at least I had to start, even if I wouldn’t finish, and I had left the apartment very reluctantly.

It’s often said that choosing the right hill is a vital part of a successful everest. I hoped that I’d chosen well. Most of my hill training had been done on a 1km hill in Oxfordshire with a 90m climb. It had taught me that everesting a 9% gradient was perhaps steeper than I wanted – and that I’d struggle with the prospect of needing to do 100 reps of anything.

Accordingly, I’d adopted the ‘goldilocks’ approach to hill selection: not too steep, not too shallow; not too long, not too short; not too busy, not too remote. My chosen hill was from Les Carroz d’Araches to the Col de Pierre Carrée in the Haute Savoie – 11.3km with over 700m of height gained per lap. ‘Only’ 12 laps needed: surely even Goldilocks would agree that was just right?

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The first climb started well, accompanied by the dawn chorus and cowbells. Unfortunately my left knee started to hurt before the half way point of that first lap – the Iliotibial Band Syndrome again. Over the next few hours it would be joined by pain in my feet, hands, right knee, thighs, shoulders, neck and back. Happily each pain came and, eventually, went of its own accord. Interestingly, no sign of cramp throughout the day.

It was a bit cold on the first ascent and bitterly cold on the descent despite a long sleeve compression top and a wind stopper jacket. I’d set up base camp by parking a car in the centre of the village and at the end of that first rep I had to sit in the car for 20 minutes, engine running and heater on full to thaw out – a great start!

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Base camp in the gloriously named Place de l’Ambiance

I put on leg warmers and set off on lap 2. On the ascent I was overcome with tiredness and found myself cycling with my eyes closed for a few seconds at one point. That convinced me that there was no way I was going to finish the attempt but, miraculously, within 15 minutes the feeling passed and didn’t return.

On this lap, in the absence of long fingered gloves, I descended using my patented hand warmer – the anti-fog mitt from the car. My bib shorts also split at the seam needing another longer stop to change and warm up at the end of the rep.

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A good thing about a longer lap is that each makes a material contribution to the whole thing – two laps in and already over 16% of the way – even if a bit slow because of the enforced stops.

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An Old Man in Lycra at the top of the Col de Pierre Carrée with the Flaine skiing bowl behind. 

The plan had been to do each climb and descent without stopping (which I managed with all the climbs and all but one descent when I had to fix a dropped chain) and to have a short refuelling stop (water, gels, oat bars, peanuts etc) at base camp every rep – with longer breaks once that became necessary. That worked to the end of the sixth rep when I stopped for a few extra minutes to enjoy a coke and a double espresso at the bar in the square.

At this stage I was doing a full rep, comfortably, in under 1h 30min – not climbing very fast and descending carefully as I’d invested too much in the climbing to want to throw it away on a foolish crash.

I’d decided that my choice of hill had been very good. The route markers showed a decently steady gradient with 6 kms at 6%, 2 at 7% and 3 at 8%. The traffic was a little heavier than I’d guessed as there must have been a sports and classic car event in Flaine. Despite that, in the busiest hour I don’t suppose I saw more than 30 cars – and generally they were driven very courteously. Happily, there was virtually no wind and it wasn’t even too hot, which was good as there was little cover or shade. Add to that the fact that it was quite an interesting route with some great views.

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A ski lift, avalanche protection and a road going up – could a man want more?

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Early in lap 7 I was in entirely new territory. Celebrating my 60th birthday by joining the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux in 2015 had been a day with 4500m of climbing but now I’d left that behind.

Being beyond half way was a real boost and at the end of rep 7 I was feeling as well as a man of 62 who had been out for over 11 hours and climbed 5000m could reasonably expect to feel. My bike, a Rose X-Lite CRS 3000, was terrific: very light and really comfortable, given its relatively aggressive race geometry.

Sadly, that general feeling of well-being didn’t extend to my backside. My carbon fibre saddle had been tested and found to be comfortable up to about 6 hours and 111 miles but, having had to change my preferred shorts after the second lap, I had discovered the limits of the saddle’s comfort and I was now spending time cycling out of the saddle merely to relieve the pressure and pain.

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The friends I was out in France with had been out for a day’s cycling of their own but now rallied round magnificently. David rode with me for rep 8 and then Philip proved how good it is to have a doctor in the ranks. I was suggesting doing rep 9 and then stopping to eat proper food. He recommended eating straight away, as I was probably under-fuelled which was great advice as, by the time we had sat down, I was shivering from mild hypoglycemia.

Happily, the prescribed croque monsieur (French cheese on toast with ham) and coke worked a treat. After Philip rode with me for rep 9, Rosario took over for 10 in the twilight.

I was pretty knackered by now, the light had completely gone so the ascents were slowing and the descents were particularly slow and potentially dangerous. At this stage, having the second rider with good lights was a real bonus and, being so close, I was determined to finish.

I was accompanied by Phil for rep 11, in complete darkness by now. It was getting colder again on the descents so it was back to the car between reps to warm up. Dave then came out for rep 12, starting just before 1am, which was well above and beyond the call of duty!

The everesting calculator said I would need to do 11.9 reps but after the 12th the Garmin was showing ‘only’ 8765m of climbing so Dave kept me company for another part-rep to take it to 8912m, just to be safe. In all, 282km – finishing just after 3am.

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Just before the end. I guess the lap counter was counting double because I was doing ‘up and down’ rather than proper ‘circuit’ laps

A terrific show of support from them all, and one that made a huge difference towards the end of over 22 hours for the whole attempt, with 18 hours of cycling.

So, success! Delighted, astonished, shattered.

It was an epic and, let’s be honest, ridiculous day in the saddle – but with a real sense of achievement at the end of it. I consumed about 5 litres of water, 7 oat and honey/maple syrup bars, 5 banana bars, 5 peanut and salted caramel bars, 2 gels, 150g of dry roasted peanuts, a croque monsieur, two cokes and a double espresso – inadequate by all calculations but it worked.

I expect all everesting attempts are different and my experience is limited to one, but some of the key things I learnt include:

  • Don’t underestimate it – it is hard, both physically and mentally
  • Don’t overestimate it and psyche yourself out before you start – if I can do it ….
  • Lightness and sheer bloody-mindedness are your friends
  • Keep eating and drinking – Strava suggests I expended over 8,000 calories
  • Some mates can make a real difference, especially late in the day
  • Don’t leave it until you are 62.

Epilogue:

I celebrated with a beer and a peach in fromage frais at about 3.30am – neither has ever tasted as good.

Waking at 8am on the Monday, after about 4 hours sleep, I felt surprisingly well but for mild aches in the thighs and shoulders – and the very major tenderness in my backside.

I took the day off the bike but rode on the following 4 days (wearing two pairs of cycle shorts), clocking up about 5,000m of climbing, including the excellent HC climb to the Plateau de Solaison. The legs felt a bit empty but performed well enough.

A week after the everesting I’m back home, included in the Hell’s 500 Hall of Fame, feeling really well, able to sit comfortably and wondering what to do next ….

Thank you for reading. Best of luck with your own challenges – if my experience can help in any way, I’m delighted.

Training plans – benefit or burden?

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Of course I understand that if you set yourself a significant challenge, you have to train for it. However, I have mixed thoughts about most training plans.

My main gripe is that I always feel guilty when I fail to stick to them (which is every time). Once the guilt sets in it’s easy to forget the good bits you are doing and what you are achieving and just focus on the negatives – the parts of the plan you are flunking.

Holidays, injury, bad weather, social commitments, laziness – there are always more reasons not to train than there are to train.

My other gripe is that they always seem to be so over-blown. That’s double-edged. Bad because it makes it even more likely that they can’t be kept to – but good because failure to keep to the plan doesn’t mean you’re bound to fail at the challenge.

I ran the London Marathon twice in the late 1990’s and had sub 4 hour training plans that I failed to keep to – but (just) managed sub 4 hour times on both occasions.

Perhaps it’s not surprising. If I was setting myself up as an expert and advising people on training for a specific event, I’d certainly be taking a cautious approach and building in some contingency to avoid people keeping to the plan and still failing at the challenge.

The thing that’s got me thinking about this is the everesting training. Clearly, it’s a sufficiently ridiculous challenge that I need to train – but how? I’ve found reference to a plan on the internet that seems to be endorsed by the Hell’s 500 people so it’s ‘official’ but they want $66.66 for it and it seems to entail at least 90 hours of cycling over 8 weeks. I’ll bet it’s good but that’s just the sort of plan that I know I’ll flunk.

So, taking the theory from that plan, I’m just going to have to cycle as much as I reasonably can, with much of it being uphill. In particular I’ll embrace the high intensity training model and go for hill reps up Dragon Hill – much as I did earlier in the year training for the White Horse Challenge.

I’ll couple that with weight reduction, where possible. The bike weighs in at about 7kg and I’m too mean to upgrade to Dura Ace to reduce that any further – but perhaps I’ll risk going without taking a spare tube and pump (or rather leaving them in the car).

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Weapon of choice

I ride with a carbon saddle and want to keep that for lightness. It’s never been a problem (even for the triple Ventoux in 2015) but this could be a few hours too far for that? It needs thought.

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Instrument of torture

As for me, I weighed in at about 65.3kg this morning (not too bad for 177.5m – 5’10” and 10 stone 4 in old money) so I’ll keep an eye on that. I wonder if I could lose a bit more without compromising on what little power I have?

 

A second trick in a week. Old dog overload?

After mixed results from the ‘introduction to wetsuits’ experience earlier in the week, last night I tried a swimming lesson. I guess I must have had a rudimentary lesson or two at school as a child when I learned to swim – but certainly nothing in over 50 years.

Two sprint triathlons have largely proved what I already knew – I don’t swim well. The impending olympic distance triathlon had me looking for the swimming silver bullet – the hope that a proper coach would identify the one small thing that would transform me into Michael Phelps overnight.

Of course, it doesn’t work like that. The coach was very good and in just 30 minutes came up with a number of things to work on. Together, in time, I’m sure they will improve my swimming but I think that Michael’s records are safe from me.

So: starting breathing out as soon as my face is under the water; not kicking from the knee; more rotation along the long axis; a longer reach; a straighter pull backwards rather than down; and delaying the start of the next stroke until the other arm passes my head.

It’s all a lot to think about and trying to incorporate all the advice was really hard. I found I could (sort of) do any one of them if I thought about it hard – but then the others went out of the window. With a longer stroke and fewer strokes each length, I take fewer breaths and that messes with my breathing. Eventually, I assume that each stroke should be smoother and more efficient, and so less exerting, but the key there is ‘eventually’.

No silver bullet, no overnight transformation – but lots to work on in the next week or so.  If it all becomes the norm in my swimming I’m sure it will be really beneficial – if I live that long.

It just reinforces the high regard I have for good triathletes – the ability to master the three skills is really something this cyclist admires.

Making it up as you go along – is there any other way?

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DIY calf muscle treatment kit

I like to think of myself as reasonably intelligent (which, of course, almost certainly means I’m not) but much of what I do is made up as I go along.  That is certainly true of my sport and training and is a very good reason why this blog is not ‘how to ..’ but – at best – ‘how I ..’.

I got out for a run this morning in surprisingly decent weather and managed 9.1km at 5:55/km (5.65 miles at 9:30/mile). Not exactly burning the tarmac but something to build on. If I can break the hour mark in the triathlon 10km I’ll be happy.

The good news is that the stretching and ‘ice pack on calf’ approach tried yesterday might have worked (at a cold but not-quite-frozen temperature). Although not entirely niggle free, the legs are not too bad and my heel seems to be much less tender.

Admittedly, the ‘freezer blocks stuffed down the back of cycle leg warmers’ design may need a bit of polishing before it hits the High Street, but I may have stumbled on something that works for me.

Another possible glimmer of common sense breaking through is that I’m trying to arrange a swimming lesson. My technique (such as it is) comes largely from the internet so is shaky at best. I understand that drowning during a triathlon is generally frowned on, so I’m swallowing my pride (and obstinacy) and going for some help from an expert.

Watch this space.

If at first you don’t succeed – try tri again?

 

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A number of cycling friends refer to me as ‘going to the dark side’ when I tell them I’m doing a triathlon – but I have great respect for triathletes. Quite apart from the extra kit required, the additional skills and training time that are needed demand real respect.

With my first sportive out of the way I’ve turned my attention to the triathlon in a couple of week’s time. Not enough time to train properly – but it will be very much a ‘happy to get round’ experience, being my first olympic distance event – and my first open water swim since I was on a seaside holiday in my teens.

It’s not started well. A short run with my wife on Monday, a swim in the pool on Thursday another run on Friday, a gentle cycle on Saturday and a second run with my wife today are all I have to show for the first week’s effort.

The running has left me with painful calf muscles, achilles tendons and a sore heel. I spent an hour after today’s run with freezer blocks tucked inside leg warmers to see if that will help as I can’t afford too many days without a run if I want to get run-fit in time.

As for the swimming – even less encouraging. After the sprint triathlon I did last September I swam every week and got up to 100 lengths in the pool (2.5km) fairly comfortably. I lapsed after Christmas so Thursday was the first swim for 4 months – and felt like it. Not a pretty sight and surprisingly little forward motion for all the effort being expended.

I’ve still got to try on my wetsuit for the first time and fit in a practice open water swim wearing it.

How do triathletes find the time to do all this properly?

This could end in tears.

The White Horse Challenge

 

The White Horse at Uffington on the Ridgeway

 

I’ve mentioned this sportive in my blog several times but thought I’d add a short review for anyone thinking about entering next year. A tip – if you are thinking of entering do it as soon as entries open (usually early December) as the c. 600 places sell out fast.

This was my 6th participation – and it was as good as ever. The route is excellent and the organisation is pretty slick and certainly friendly (as are other riders). For me, it’s a particularly good event coming as it does in late April and so forcing me to get a bit fitter earlier than I might otherwise.

The event starts at the Shrivenham Memorial Hall (West Oxfordshire, just off the A420 that runs between Oxford and Swindon). You can leave any time between 8 and 9, after a quick registration and picking up the bike number and bar code slip that sticks on the side of the helmet.

This year there were at least 15 taking part from my club (Farcycles, from Faringdon – just a few miles up the A420) but with different target times we rolled out in several different groups. That was my big mistake – I missed the group of our fastest riders while chatting to a couple of other friends.

That left me working really hard to try to catch them – although I never did as they latched onto a fast train very early on. Not knowing that I pushed pretty hard – the first 40 km are fairly flat (with a couple of leg testers) and I did them in just under 75 minutes, hopping from group to group. Then you hit the first White Horse at Broad Town – just after Royal Wootton Bassett.  The steepest bit is probably about 1km with a 90m climb followed by a potentially tricky descent and then another flattish 15km. I was on my own here working very hard to catch a big group in front, which then promptly disbanded at the first food stop.

So I was back on my own again to the second White Horse at Cherhill – a rather gentler 100m ascent over 5km and then on through historic Avebury and to the third White Horse at Hackpen, with sections at over 12%.  Then it’s another good long decent before climbing back into Marlborough and on to Ramsbury. Spring Hill, coming out of Ramsbury, isn’t a White Horse but is, in my opinion, the worst hill on the route. It’s short but steep – something like 50m in 0.3km. I remember the first time I climbed it – it was damp and the rear wheel was spinning if I stood in the pedals and the front wheel bobbed if I sat down.

After the second food stop, there are Ridgeway climbs out of Chilton Foliat and then again out of Lamborne (of horse racing fame) over Seven Barrows before the steep (potentially dangerous) descent of Blowing Stone Hill. Turn west onto the undulating road that runs along the bottom of the Ridgeway and then left again for the 4th and final White Horse at Uffington – a proper historic one dating from the Bronze Age.

That’s another 90m climb over about 1km and I found it really tough – despite the fact that I’d trained on it, doing a total of 70 reps up it in March and early April. Sadistically the Uffington climb is timed separately for a King of the Hill competition. I was feeling it by then and my time on Sunday was 50% slower than my PB of 4.19!

Looking down the lower part of the Uffington White Horse climb

Another solo ride for the last 9k back to Shrivenham for the finish. On my first attempt in 2011 I was just outside 6 hours. This year, it was 5h 05min for the 144.4km – gold standard by 55 minutes for us over 60s (and 4th in age group).

Just the 6 minutes to find next year.

My Garmin said 145km and 1862m of ascent but the ride website says 1400m and two other friends who rode it on Sunday made it 1627m and 1280m respectively. I’m very pleased that I will be using my Garmin for my everesting attempt in July!

So, a really good day in the saddle of the Rose X-LITE CRS 3000. I didn’t stop at either food station but I know that the food is good there and at the finish. I consumed just one gel, two banana bars and less than 600ml of fluid on the ride. That’s par for the course for me and I certainly didn’t bonk or feel that I wanted more – but I wonder if more intake might have improved the output.

My club sportive is on 29 July, starting and finishing in Faringdon, Oxfordshire. We have 35, 70 and 100 mile routes through some great Cotswolds villages (and on the Ridgeway too for the 100 mile route). It’s now in it’s 4th year and coincides with the town music and arts festival. It is very scenic and friendly – and with great home-cooked food. Highly recommended (in an entirely unbiased way, of course)! Come and join us!

https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/159149/Farcycle-FollyFest-Sportive-2017

Cycling and running – odd bedfellows?

DSC_0251I’ve always been confused by people who say that cycling and running use different leg muscles. After all, how many leg muscles are there – surely both activities use them all?

After the sportive on Sunday I went for a gentle run on Monday morning with my wife – not very far and not very fast. It was fine – I don’t think I’d have known that I’d done anything the previous day. Later, I took a car in for a service and cycled just the 2.5 miles back home – and I certainly felt the previous day’s 90 miles.

Perhaps the answer is that running and cycling use the same muscles, but slightly differently?

Anyway … with the WHC behind me, next up is the triathlon on 14 May. The cycling can be left to tick over but it’s back to the pool to see if I can still swim (albeit badly) and it’s back out running (almost as badly).

Then on to the everesting attempt.