The last long ride and an inspirational Ironman

Yesterday I completed my last 6 hour ride. It was a great feeling knowing this was the last time I would ride for so long. The training has been long and hard and with the rigors of work it is good to let my know body rest before the race.

The training during the week was also tough with a ride to Windsor in the big gears (hard work on the leg muscles) and 10 hill repeats in Richmond Park as fast as I could go. I pushed hard and in both training sessions felt my calves spasm because of the shear exertion and amount of time I continued to push hard.

I did not know how I would go in the long ride and often with these rides I tell my strength by how well I climb the hills. I went out on the 6 hour ride with my coach and another ironman athlete. I was tired at the start of ride because I had not had enough sleep all week. I was not sure what my energy levels would do through the ride. I decided to test “Zero” by High5 to replace electrolytes when I ride in hot temperatures. The tablets dissolve in water and have a slight fizz to them.

We had about 6 hills to climb and we had a slow start in the first half of the ride. It was like we were warming up but that soon changed as my coach led us out for the middle section of the ride. He lifted the speed and it was a matter of keep up or fall far behind.

My legs got stronger as the ride went on and I rode hard up the hills. Training in the United Kingdom is very different to the hills in France but I used the fast hill climbs as a way to strengthen my legs. I felt more and more confident as the ride progressed and my body was coping well with the fast sprints and change of pace. I could tell how strong I was when I could accelerate and pull away from the other riders along the straight and hill climbs as we returned back to Richmond Park. My legs actually felt powerful and I had plenty of energy left in the “gas tank”. The Zero tablets were good and apart from making be burp did not upset my stomach.

The Ironman athlete riding with us was a true inspiration. He has kidney disease and has only one kidney working. What is more he has only 20% of that  one kidney functioning. He has been training for an entire year for the Ironman and he is 2 weeks away. His condition was good when he started training however in the last few months his condition has got worse. His production of red blood cells is less than normal which has reduced the transmission of oxygen to his muscles when he exerts himself on the bike. When we climbs hills he has 30 seconds to 1 minute of strength and then he fades badly. He has continued to train and with two weeks to go is determined to succeed. I look at his attitude to training and his self belief and I honour his commitment to completing his Ironman challenge.

When I talk to and follow the journey of first time Ironman athletes it is guys like my friend above who inspires me and are the true stories of this wonderful sport. When I know he has crossed the line I know a man has conquered a massive personal challenge.

I have one last week of serious training. It involves a 2 lap time trial around Richmond  Park, Fast ride to Windsor and a slow ride for 2 hours. I so look forward to the 2 hour slow ride as I will know I have finally completed all my training. Next week will be some easy 30 minute rides in the gym as my bike is heading to France carried on the roof rack of a car. I will use this time to pack, sleep and prepare my body for the onslaught.


Massive day of hill climbing in Portugal

I was wondering how my legs would feel after yesterday’s ride (4hours). My coach Gary said today was going to be real cycling and we would take on big mountains.

I woke up and could feel my calves a little tight. I used his massage machine on my calves and soles of my feet and they  felt much better.  I took my Mannatech sports products, multivit., Udo’s oil and Salt solution. I have to admit the mannatech products make my legs feel strong and I am more alert. In the past if I hill climb a lot and push hard I get hamstring cramping. My quads fatigue and I slow down because they are painful to push on the ride.

We started the ride and took it easy until 50mins in when we started the assents. These were hour long assents where I had to get out of my seat and max my heart rate. Gary pushed me to see when I almost started to hyperventilate and then asked me what my heart rate was. It sat around 172-173. Even though I was gasping for air my legs felt strong. I did not cramp and I recovered very quickly.

There was a time in the ride where I was at breaking point. Gary taught me to get out of the saddle, pedal slowly and quiet my breathing down. I was climbing a steep hill but at the same time reduced my heart rate by 10 beats. This enabled me to recover and still be climbing. This is a skill I will definitely use in the Etape.

On the final hill home, which still required 45 mins of steep climbing with destructive gradients, we went up a new part of the hill. I was the first of his riders to climb it and he has rightly called it Mount Rhysey. I leave my mark after 5 hours of mountain climbing in absolutely stunning scenery and weather.

I learnt a lot on this ride. Garys chain came off while riding and he was able to put it back on without touching the chain and still riding. He gently feathered the gear changer which shifts the chain from the small cog to big cog on the front chainset. He gently pedaled and the chain relocated itself back onto the cogs. I have never seen this before and logged this as a valuable skill to master.

I am getting better on the descents. He taught me to keep weight down on the handle bars and lean with the bike. My line going into the corners is improving and at times I did not have to brake and could feel the bike accelerate out of the bends. I was keeping up with my coach much better than the first day.

I am beginning to know how to pace myself up steep hills. I combine getting out of the seat and seated riding and can push hard or control my heartrate. I could feel my upper body being used in the assents when riding out of the seat.

Gary noticed I wobble on my bike when taking one hand off the handle bars or looking around. I put too much weight on the handle bar with one hand and where I look the handle bars turn. He taught me to always look forward where I am going and don’t look back. Keep even balance on the handle bars. If I wobble in the Etape I could hit other cyclists and I would fall and cause a crash. I would be on the bottom of the pile and the handle bars of other riders would hit me. This is very dangerous. Gary recommended I look out for other dangerous riders and stay wide and away from them in the race. Another great tip is to never ride with my front wheel overlapping the cyclist back wheel ahead. If our wheels touch I am the who will fall as my front wheel will twist.

Gary thinks I have got good strength and good potential to climb well. When I get back to London I must maintain my riding so he is going to introduce me to riders who will show me more hills to climb in Surrey.

In two days I have learnt very valuable skills. I have two days left to condition myself and continue to hone my cycling technique. Tomorrow is a 7 hour hilly ride. I am not looking forward to the final hill climb home as this is really steep but how else do we get home.

I want to further progress my hill climbing and descent skills. I want to pace myself and know the strategies I can pull on for the Etape. Gary explained that in the race my strategy will be determined by how I feel at certain stages in the race and where the hills are placed in the course. The steepest hill is in the middle of the race so he recommended I pace myself slowly up this to conserve enery for the final hill and end of the race.

I sit here after today’s training impressed how strong my legs feel. I have never been able to do this before and not feel pain in my quads. The training and nutrition is working.

Tomorrows riding awaits. Speak to you all then.

Reentering the Etape

It has been a great week. At first I thought the Etape wasn’t possible this year but things have evolved and I have been given the opportunity and time to race again. I have snapped it up with eager hands and am back into training again.

I feel I am not in the best condition for the event because I have not entered any other events to prepare me for the hill climbing. I have rested for 2 weeks and my hill climbing in and around London is no comparison to the hills in France.

I spoke to my Coach (Fran) and he has said I must commit 3 x week t training, plus one gym session and train overseas to get to know what real hill climbing is all about. The advice he has given me has stimulated me into action. I am checking I still have an entry into the Etape next week. If it is still available I will be on a flight out of London on Friday to train in Portugal with Sigma sports associated coach, Flash. He will train me 3 full days on hill after hill until I break. I hope this gives my body the experience it needs to learn how to hill climb  in France.

This week I have done a time trial around Richmond Park. I finally cracked 20 minutes with an anticlockwise lap of 19.52. I have told to do 3 laps in 60 minutes. If my coach sets me three laps I will aim to complete this target.

Today I went out for a 4 hour bike ride with my Ironman friend. I decided to ride as many hills as I could find in Surrey and we did long hills ranging in gradient from 3%-13%. We avoided boxhill as there were more challenging hills to climb. On the way home I ran low on energy. My legs were painful climbing  up the hills and I pushed hard t get to Sigma Sports in Kingston. It was a pleasure to get off the bike after such a hard ride. It hit home again how much hill climbing I have to do before the event.

I went to the Sigma Sports sale and picked up half price Specialized bike shoes and a racing top. The shoes were so comfortable to wear and gripped my foot with three straps to help me hill climb. On the way home I took three gel shots as I felt like I needed them. It was a slow ride home and finally getting home I ate a big plate of pasta with cheese. Probably not the best food but I was soooo hungry.

I noticed hill climbing made me eat and drink more than normal and because I did no crab load I ran out of energy. I plan to crab load on future rides and take more food with me.

I am interested in what my coach gives me next week and if I go to Portugal this will be a totally new training experience. This is helping me understand the effect of cycling on the body and what to do best to prepare for rides and recover. Until next week I will sign off  a much happier cyclist.

Hill climbing lessons, time trialling and post training fatigue

My coach wanted me to train three times this week. A few weeks ago I was getting too tired with work and life and decided I would make an effort to look after myself better. I therefore decided to train twice instead this week. My coach wanted to come out with me on the weekend and also take my good friend an ironman athlete. He wanted to push me up the hills and make it a hard training session.

Earlier in the week I had a decision to make between time trialling or hill climbing mid-week. I decided to do time trialling as I knew there would be hill climbing on the weekend. I rested with no weight training during the week.

The time trial was done in Richmond Park and in the past I knew I could do a round in just over 20 minutes. It is not a consistent time trial because the wind can blow at different speeds and the traffic can vary depending on what time of day you go. My main ambition was to set my stop watch and see that I done a round of Richmond Park in under 20 minutes.

I had two laps to do with a warm up lap at the start and half a lap cool down in between. I decided to go clockwise around the park for my first lap. I dropped the gears and started the push. In my mind I knew I had to pace myself to keep a consistent speed around the park but also knew I had to push harder and harder. I did not look at my watch at all during the lap. The traffic was building up and when I stopped at roundabouts I counted the seconds so as to subtract it from my final time. The wind was against me along the flats and it hit me on the final stretch of 400 meters. The flat was where I could really pick up my time but the wind had other ideas. I pushed right to the end of the lap and looked at my watch 20 minutes and 15 seconds. If I subtracted 10 -15 seconds off for traffic I think I would be in on 20 minutes but I really wanted to see the watch say 20minutes or less.

On the second lap I decided to ride anticlockwise to see if I could change the effect of the wind and hope the traffic lessened. I took aff again and as I was riding my fastest up the hill from Roehampton Gate to Richmond Gate another cyclist blew past me. He was sitting in his seat and probably travelling three times faster. I was absolutely amazed at his leg strength and as he pulled away into the distance I felt such a weak climber. I stuck my head down and pushed harder. The wind was assisting me along the flat but caught me on another section of the lap and the traffic held me up more. Coming in the final 400 metres I pushed and pushed and my right calf suddenly cramped. When I tried pushing hard with the right leg it cramped. I didn’t want an injury so eased off the pedal pressure. I crossed the line in 20 minutes and 30 seconds. If I did not have the cramp I think under 20 minute was a sure possibility. I  would wait until next time.

I have been focussed on getting my hill climbing stronger and all I want to do is climb hills. I get out of the seat of the bike more and maintain a better speed up the hills. On the weekend my coach and the ironman athlete took an alternative route out to Box Hill. This route had hills with 11 an 15% gradients with a variation of long and short distances. My coach told me to push hard on the first hill. I accelerated away and half way up totally blew up. My lungs were about to blow up and my heart could not pump any faster. I slowed right down and my coach blew past me. I told him I went to fast at the start and the lesson I got was to pace myself better for the entire hill. If I do not know how long the hill is I can underestimate its length , therefore, it is better to keep a steady pace and when I see the top push hard. I asked him why he could blow past me so easily and he explained my training had not included many hills and I was heavier that he was so it was easier for him to pedal up the hills. I wondered if my leg strength needed work and he thought they were ok. So it is lots of hill climbing and practice to get my technique correct.

Our training ride on the weekend started in wet conditions and I have never seen so many riders on the side of the road with flat tires. My coach said it is because of the rain and the water lifts sharp objects to the surface of the road. I had just made this distinction when my front tire blew a flat. I pulled out my inner tube and it did not have a valve or a locking screw on it. I pulled them off the flat tire to use. Remember not all inner tubes come with valve and locking screw so check this out when you buy it. I pumped it up with one CO2 canister but it was not fully inflated. When I climbed the hills again I could feel the front tire compress and I was losing valuable energy and momentum and speed. I pulled out a second canister and inflated the tire more. It was much better and next time I  will leave the canister on the valve until I feel the tire is fully inflated.

In the same ride the traffic was awful as we were still riding t 1pm. My front wheel hit the curb when slowing up and because my foot was still clipped into the pedal I fell over. My right hip and hand took the brunt of the fall. Fortunately I had fallen badly once before and knew this was a minor one. I continued riding but I could certainly feel the stiffness come on that night.

I have woken up this morning and feel exhausted. I was going to get to work for 10am but I am still at home. I am going in at 12pm instead as my body is tired. These long fast rides need good recovery and I am feeding my body good food and resting. Still feel like I need more sleep but that will come with an early night tonight. I am not going to train today or tomorrow and when my body feels strong again I will hit the gym. I am learning how to get the best out of my body. I might be able to train tomorrow in the gym.

This coming week my coach wants me to do hill repeats in Richmond Park, gym session based on endurance and then a 6 hour bike ride. I plan to ride on saturday to allow my body to recover on Sunday before the week begins. I want to ride my  6hour ride by myself to go at the speed I want and to ride several hills. I think my strength is improving on the hills and I am certainly going to make the effort to get all the hill climbing I need completed.

Back to training, hill climbing from London and jet lag

I got back from New Zealand and Australia after a 3 weeks holiday and knew it was time for me to get back into training. I knew I was jet lagged and did not want to tire myself after a very relaxing holiday.

Last weekend I started with a 5 hour ride to Box Hill. It was a beautiful day and perfect weather for cycling with no wind. I went with another cyclist doing the Etape at the same time. He trains in France and has a hill 7km high near  his house. His hill climbing is stronger than mine and I let  him lead the way up the hills.  We rode two hills and I followed his back tire. I focussed on the tire and avoided looking at the hill itself. This helped me focus on the feelings in my legs without the disempowering sight of the hill I still had to climb.

I noticed with jet lag I felt slightly “out of my body” and tired. My legs felt the strain up the hills and towards the end of the ride I knew I had ridden 5 hours. The last hill in Richmond Park was a killer. I tried following the back tire of my cycle companion up the hill again but fell behind. My legs blew out, I felt they cramped when I exerted force through them and I lacked power. I dropped right behind and it was good reminder I some serious hill training to do.

This first ride was a good test of where I was with my riding after 3 weeks of no training. I wanted to rest well and prepare for the ride this weekend.

This weekend we did exactly the same ride. I noticed I was stronger as soon as I got not he bike. I could feel I more power and was less tired. The “out of body feeling” was significantly less. I set my watch to beep every 20minutes and made sure I ate or drank something at these times. The idea is to maintain a steady energy supply to my muscles and brain.

The tests I used to tell if I was riding stronger this weekend was the feeling I had in my legs and Cardiovascular system when hill climbing. I let my colleague lead the way up the hills as he had better hill climbing strength and then I stayed on his back tire again.

I was considerably stronger up the hills and could stay with him comfortably. When I say comfortably I was at 85-95% of my maximum heart rate but still felt strong at the top with more in reserve if I needed it. My colleague is 10 years than I am but has the advantage of training on the hills in France and he has done  a cycle camp in Portugal. I noticed I had better flat road speed and strength through my Ironman training and he had the hill climbing speed and strength. Today was the first time I noticed I was catching him on the hills and with more training I hope to pull him up the hills.

There are not many hills to climb around London so I am riding to Surrey Hills. I have one course I have memorised but next weekend another cyclist will take us an alternative course to find new hills. In my particular course I have two main hills. I have decided to ride up and down these hills twice in one ride.

There are three main hills in the Etape Du Tour. They are 7.7 -8km long. No hill in England lasts that long so I can only compensate with repeat hill climbs. My colleague tells me box hill is much closer to type of hill we will encounter in France. It is a winding hill with some flatter sections to rest and then repetitive climbs. Maybe climbing box hill 5-10 times will be good. Sounds crazy but I have to do what I have to do.

I will get intouch with my coach again to start a training plan. I feel strong and rested and ready to train hard again. I am wondering if he will continue with gym sessions? Time to eat.