8 Weeks to Go

Training Round Up (Week to 12th July)

A bit of a poor week on the cycling front, I didn’t have a dedicated cycling session this week.

I commuted in on Tuesday and Thursday, which amounts to only around 54 km of cycling in total all week. That being said, it is great feeling when you’re on your bike and most people are suffering sitting in traffic in 25+ degrees weather when there’s a tube strike! It was great seeing so many people on their bikes, even if they were on those abominations known as ‘Boris’ bikes.

The strike prevented me from getting into the gym on Wednesday, however I did manage two circuit sessions on Monday and Friday.

Lee Valley 10 km Race

On Sunday I had my last race (running) before I solely dedicated my training for Ride Across Britain. The weather was great for July, it wasn’t too warm and generally cloudy (I massively struggle if the temperature is anything above 20 degrees when running).

It was a comfortable 10 am start, however I started off quite hard, far quicker than my pacing plan. It’s a rookie mistake to start off quickly as you get caught up in the excitement and adrenaline at the beginning of a race, because you’ll definitely rue it later when you run out of steam and 99% of the time you’ll be slower than if you’d started off steady. I noticed this after half a km and slowed my pace down. I had to keep reminding myself to forget my pride as other people overtook me, knowing that I’d eventually overtake a lot of them as the race went on.

After that I ran at a decent pace running between different groups of runners as I incrementally raised my pace every few km. I reached the halfway point just under 24 minutes, the plan being to run a negative split (the first half of the race being slower than the second), but I was slightly down on my target time.

In the second half of the race, not a single person overtook me and I overtook a fair number of runners, many who’d sped past me in the first few km. A lot of the race after that is a blur and I just about managed to look at my Garmin at each km mark to determine how much further I was falling behind my pacing plan. After the 8th km I decided to put the hammer down in an attempt to get back on track. It was definitely a foolish move as I was really suffering in the last km. I pride myself (at least from experience) on my turn of speed in the last few km’s of a race, but this time I really struggled, with technique going out of the window as I fought with my mind to just keep on going. The finish line was after a bridge, which felt incredibly steep at that point in the race, however I sprinted as hard as I could through the finish.

My official chip time was 45 minutes 24 seconds (48 out of 247 runners), which I’m delighted with. I’d eaten really badly the day before (I’ve self diagnosed myself with an eating disorder, but that’s a story for another time). Moreover I’ve been suffering a long time with ‘runner’s knee’, originally in the left knee and when I thought I’d recovered, it had started in the right. Although I had raced a duathlon earlier in the year, this confirmed that I was getting back to my peak in terms of running. I was less than 30s off my PB and I know I can smash that in the future.

The race though was a glorious revelation. Of the handful of races I’d previously taken part in, they’ve all been mass advertised and mass participation, where you’re fighting for space with thousands of other people. Some of these races charge up to £50, which is ridiculous compared to the Lee Valley Race which was only £12 with chip timing! OK so you don’t get a branded running t-shirt at the end or a medal (I’ve got plenty of crappy ones, thanks), but the difference in cost could cover the entry fees for a few more races.

Overall the course was quite flat apart from a few bumps over bridges. Although you can probably set a quick time, a lot of the race is on trails and there are a number of sharp and narrow corners so it’d be hard to set PBs. Still I definitely want to race here again in the future.

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You’ll notice I’m writing this post quite late, I ended up doing absolutely no training the following week as I was focussing on revision for an exam the Wednesday after, nor did I have any time to even write this post. Normal service will resume shortly….

8 Weeks to Go

Le Tour

On Saturday one of the finest athletes of our time took one step closer to being dubbed the one of the greatest ever, and no, I’m not talking about Serena (what did you expect, this is a blog about cycling…) Mark Cavendish took his 26th stage win at the Tour de France, 2 more wins and he’ll equal the great Bernard Hinault.

That second name probably means nothing to most people, but the Tour de France is one of the most popular annual sporting events and easily has the largest live audience (obviously it doesn’t hurt being spread over three weeks, across thousands of km’s of road and being completely free to watch). This year in particular, it was expected to be incredibly spectacular and the first week hasn’t been a disappointment. Usually the first week of the Tour is seen as quite easy (relatively), however this year the organisers wanted to keep things interesting and after the first week, there’s already time gaps between the main contenders.

The Favourites

This year’s also special because the four best cyclists of this generation have lined up against each other. Most of the time the best riders don’t necessarily race each other at the same time due to injuries, different race calendars (riders often target different races) or simply to avoid each other if they’re not in good form.

Vincenzo Nibali:

The defending champion is Nibali, known as the Shark due to his ruthless ability to attack, when it’s too late for anyone to catch up (his other nickname is Nibbles…) Many people feel he had no real competitors last year and so had an ‘easy’ race, as two of the three men in this list crashed out last year, while the other didn’t take part. Although he has lost a few minutes already and may not be as good in the mountains as the other three, don’t write him off, he’s only one of six men in history to win all three grand tours (the other two being the Giro d’Italia, the Tour of Italy and the Vuelta a Espana, the Tour of Spain).

Nairo Quintana

The kid from Columbia, he’s only 25 (the other three are in their 30s) was born and brought up at an altitude of 3,000m. He’s small and light, the epitome of a climber, he’s happiest in the mountains. Quintana came 2nd in the Tour in 2013, but missed the race last year to ride the Giro, which he won. He’s surprisingly not lost much time in the first week on the flat stages and as the Tour goes up into the mountains Quintana has a real chance of becoming the first ever Colombian to win the Tour.

Alberto Contador

Arguably the best cyclist of this generation, the Spaniard has won all three Grand Tours on multiple occasions. Contador’s reputation is slightly tarnished due to failing a doping test in 2010, which stripped him of his 2010 Tour win, however he’s adamant that the clenbuterol found in his system was due to contaminated meat he’d eaten. Contador’s already won the Giro earlier this year (the other three didn’t take part to focus on the Tour), so it’ll be interesting to see how much that’s taken out of him as looks to becomes the first man to win both the Giro and Tour in the same year since the late Marco Pantani back in 1999. One three week grand tour is brutal enough, let alone two in the space of a couple of months.

Chris Froome

Froome was the second man from Great Britain (well he was born in Kenya, but he’s still one of our own…) to win the Tour de France, back in 2013, having supported Bradley Wiggins to his win in 2012 (where he also finished second). Froome crashed out in the first week last year (along with Contador). If only he stopped staring at his stem and paid more attention to the road. He’s survived the first week and currently wears the famous yellow jersey (the leader’s jersey). He was just about favourite at the start of the race and is in an even stronger position a week later. You know he’ll be celebrating with Froomecat if he wins.

Team Sport

As brilliant as these guys may be, cycling isn’t an individual sport, as many people think. You can be as a high as Lance (he wasn’t actually high, but you know what I mean), but without a good team around you, you’ve got no chance of winning. Just a few basic examples of why team mates are crucial to being successful: keeping the leaders out of the wind so they don’t waste valuable energy fighting air resistance, going back to the team car to bring them food and drink, and even sacrificing their chances by handing over their bikes if the leader’s in a crash or has a mechanical issue (that’s how the German powerhouse Tony Martin won stage 4 this year and took the yellow jersey).

That’s one of the special things about cycling, the camaraderie between the riders. Sadly Tony Martin actually crashed out of the race on stage 6 close to the finish line and suffered a broken collarbone, however the image of three of his team mates supporting him up the hill to the finish line (including the current world champion) is something special. And it’s not just between team mates either. Earlier this year at the Giro, after Richie Porte had suffered a puncture, Simon Clarke, a fellow Australian, but on a rival team, took off his wheel and handed it to Porte, who was a race favourite at the time. Infamously they were both docked time and fined, as teams aren’t allowed to help each other.

Cav

You might be wondering after I mentioned Mark Cavendish as one of the greatest, I haven’t actually mentioned him as a favourite. That’s because Cav (yeah we’re mates… I wish) is a sprinter. That’s as opposed to the GC (General Classification) boys, who look to complete the three week race in the shortest time possible. On the other hand, if all the cyclists are still together close to the finish line, predominantly on the flat stages, Cav has the raw power to sprint to finish ahead of everyone else and win the stage.

Or so he did, until a few years ago, when he seemingly lost his crown to the German beasts, Marcel Kittel and this year Andre Greipel. After losing the first two flat stages to Greipel this year, Cav took the win on the third. He now sits third on the list of all-time stage wins at the Tour with 26 wins, 2 behind Hinault and 8 behind the legendary Eddy Merckx. Merckx and Hinault were both GC contenders though (both 5 time overall winners of the Tour), and so many of their wins came from time trialling stages. Cav has only won sprints so is considered the greatest sprinter ever.

Cavendish splits most people’s opinions though (a bit like Bradley Wiggins), you either love him or you hate him: he’s brutally honest, wears his heart on his sleeve and his wife’s Peta Todd! I think it’s quite obvious what I think of him…

Drugs

Cycling has a long history of drug use, which has damaged the sport in recent years. I don’t want to go into too much detail (so much has been written on it), but the fact is there is a real incentive to use performance enhancing drugs as they can have a massive impact on a cyclist’s ability. The use of drugs, for example Erythoprotein, to increase the ability of blood to carry oxygen around the body is going to be far more beneficial to a cyclist where endurance is key, compared to a footballer, who may only see a marginal benefit.

The level of testing around drug usage is also extremely high these days. In a recent interview Froome stated he’d been tested 60 times in one year (I doubt any other sports are tested so heavily, even in athletics). It’s a bit of a vicious cycle though, because more stringent testing means more cyclists are caught, even though the overall number and proportion of cyclists doping may be falling (I hope). However there are plenty of critics who claim that drug testing is always playing catch up when it comes to detecting the latest drugs.

At this point I’ve got to believe that 99% of cyclists are clean and that I am watching a fair race. I’m not sure I’d continue following the sport if it now came to light that there was still widespread use of drugs. You’re always going to have those stupid individuals who’ll try. The Tour’s already seen one incident of drug use: this genius thought it’d be fine to do some cocaine… even though he’s at the biggest cycling race of the year… under mass loads of media scrutiny… where he knew he’d be tested at some point… (not that it’s OK to use any sort of drugs even if he knew he wasn’t going to be tested).

The Mountains

Regardless of whether they’re on drugs, the Tour is still easily one of the toughest sporting events to compete in. Just crossing the finish line on the Champs-Élysées after 3 weeks of cycling totalling 3,360km, let alone winning it, is in itself a massive achievement.

Ride Across Britain is nothing compared to what these guys put themselves through, but hopefully this will inspire me as I try and emulate these phenomenal athletes. As the Tour reaches the first mountains, the real racing begins, I can’t wait.

Edited to add:

Having just watched the highlights for today’s first day in the Pyrenees, just after I’d posted this, Froome has destroyed all his competitors and now has a lead of nearly 3 minutes over his closest rival in the ‘big 4’, Quintana (Nibali is nearly 7 minutes behind). I’m not going to complain if Froome dominates though, it’s just more of this.

Le Tour

2 Months to Go

Training  Round Up (10 days to 5th July)

  • Distance cycled: 126.5 km
  • Time on bike: 5 hours 23 minutes*
  • Total elevation gain: 823m

26 June

Spent an hour in the gym doing a high rep, short rest circuit focussing on the upper-body (Press Ups, TRX rows, semi-headstand push up, dips and pull ups) as well as a quick core circuit. Apart from developing muscle endurance, really gets the heart going.

27 June

Went for an easy 1 hour 10 minute run covering 11.3 km. Last long run before my 10 km race in July.

28 June

Due to the weather (typical that it’s a wet day after a warm sunny week), I decided to cycle some laps of Regent’s Park. It’s about 11 km to Regent’s Park and I did 7 laps (4.5 km) of Regent’s Park in total. Each lap was an interval so in the first lap I took it easy, second I went hard and so on. In total I cycled 52.2 km over 2 hours 16 minutes*. I even set a PB on a lap around Regent’s Park (8 minutes 43 seconds), although I’m only 6,281 out of 10,464 per Strava. Got absolutely drenched on the way home.

30 June

Commuted to the gym on the commuter bike. Under 40 minutes each way covering just over 27 km in total. Also did some interval runs on the treadmill (20s rest, 40s sprint at 15.5 km/h). Only managed 15 minutes (had planned 30 minutes) as it was so hot in the gym.

1-3 July

Away in the Cotswold’s (not that we have any time to actually explore) on training. I would like to come back as it looked great for cycling, plenty of rolling hills.

I did manage to get twice into the gym. First evening I did a 30 minute bodyweight circuit focussing on the legs, consisting of various explosive and static movements (high rep, short rest) and finished with a quick core circuit. Legs felt seriously heavy after that.

Second evening planned to run for 30 minutes at a 12.5 km/h pace. Worryingly I could only manage 15 minutes again (I just felt shattered), although I wasn’t sure if it was due to the heat, the workout the evening before or the crap I’d been eating. I had promised myself that I’d eat healthy this time around (I’d been out there for training two weeks before as well), but it’s hard when there’s coffee and diet coke on tap, as well as loads of unhealthy food. Yes they did have fruit, but I just couldn’t say no to the different themed food assortment at each break! I at least managed to get a good amount of sleep compared to last time.

4 July

Went for an easy 45 minute run, essentially starting to taper for my 10 km race next weekend. Although I took it easy, running consistently at 10.1 km/h, I felt good (thankfully) compared to my last run, even though it was warm (low 20’s). Due to the pace I forced myself to run at I only covered 7.6 km. I’m targeting 10 km in just under 45 minutes next week, but unsure whether that’s realistic in the shape I’m currently in.

5 July

As I could only afford to cycle 2 hours at most, I decided to target a hilly route into Hertfordshire. I pushed myself hard going up each hill and recorded PBs on most hills (per Strava), although my legs were sore by the end. I gained elevation of 413 m over 47 km (1 hour 50 minutes), as I picked some of the steeper hills in Herts, but I’m definitely going to need to venture elsewhere if I want to get some serious hills in the legs before September.

* Auto-pause was turned off on the Garmin so time kept on running even when I wasn’t moving at the traffic lights etc.

2 Months to Go

The Challenge

When I first received the email (26th June) stating a place had opened up on Ride Across Britain (RAB), I was genuinely ecstatic. Friends at work even commented on the massive smile on my face that afternoon, something which isn’t seen very often. RAB is something I’ve wanted to take part in ever since joining Deloitte, 3 years ago.

I accepted my place within minutes. I hadn’t got a place in the original ballot last year, but I’m incredibly lucky (or unlucky) that people had subsequently pulled out; I was in the mid-20s of 50+ waiting list!

By the next morning though, the sheer size of the task hit me for a number of reasons:

1. Distance to cycle
In total I’ll be cycling over 1,500 km (just under 1,000 miles) from Lands End to John ‘O Groats. In the first 6 months of 2015 I’ve cycled just over 1,000 km (per Strava), so I’ll be cycling 1 and a half times that in just 9 days in September!

2. Amount of climbing
The RAB route isn’t the shortest nor the flattest route between Land’s End and John ‘O Groats as quiet roads are used where possible, to ensure the route is scenic and to make it challenging. The UK is surprisingly hilly, the total elevation gain during RAB is around 15,000 metres (under 50,000 feet). In other words I’ll be climbing nearly 2 times the height of Mount Everest on my bike over 9 days!

3. Time to prepare
RAB is incredibly difficult regardless of the time taken to prepare. However as I only obtained a place last week, I have just over 2 months to get into shape (most participants have known since late 2014). Moreover I’m running two 10ks in July and early August and need to prepare for an exam in late July so won’t be able to dedicate much time to bike training until August.

Plan of Action
After stressing for a bit, I’ve come up with a training plan. It’s not perfect, but it makes the best use of the time I have left. I already eat relatively well and my general fitness is decent so I just need to build on that. By taking some days off from work in August, I reckon I can get 20 days of riding in, including some back to back rides, which should prepare me for the long days in the saddle come September.

This is going to be seriously difficult, however it is doable if I stick to the plan.

The Challenge