Thursday, 29 March 2012

I've gone and done it now

That's it. No turning back. It's all arranged.

Today, the last pieces in the Haute Route puzzle fell into place with the booking of a flight into Geneva and out of Nice. You may notice that leaves a slight gap (of oh, about 780km) between my entry airport and my exit airport. There are also some mountains in the way.

Ah well, I'd better take a bike with me.

A few days ago I also posted off a form declaring me fit to ride, and another one listing previous injuries and ailments. Somewhat disconcertingly it asked for next of kin, blood group and hospital bedding preferences. Obviously I put down "duvet". I hate blankets.

I've got some new wheels. Some new pedals in the post. Three tubs of minty arse lard. I've filled out the food questionnaire for the event ("What would you like for breakfast?" "Kedgeree, chocolate twists and mead") and even done a little training.

Shame it's still 5 months away. I like to be prepared. Look, I've even washed my bottles.

On other fronts, I'm enjoying all the sunshine we're having and even ventured out on a mountain bike last weekend. My three month absence from the dirt showed its impact within the first half mile off road. "Numpty" would be a good description of my riding until I'd remembered that you have to move your body around a little more, and pay attention to where you are going a lot more. There's a slight possibility I might do it again this weekend, if I can fit it in between another threshold test and watching the Tour of Flanders.

Better get some Belgian beer in.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Whither Sportives?

I'll be honest. I'm not entirely sure the title of this post makes sense. What does "whither" actually mean? In the absence of being bothered to look it up, I'll define it as "Why do I bother entering".

For the non-cyclisty people reading, a sportive is a road bike event, with a marked route, timing and food stops. It's not a race. People don't all start at once. Sometimes there is mechanical support. Sometimes you get a medal for finishing (or at least, turning up at the finish). They often offer 100 km and 100 mile options.

I quite often do 100 km or 100 mile rides by myself. I take a Garmin with the route on it. I carry food. I stop for water. Sometimes I buy myself a medal for finishing, or at least a beer - which in all ways is superior to a medal.

Ah, but Sportive food stops offer lovely cake, biscuits, flapjacks, ham and cheese rolls. Exactly the kind of things that I'd love to eat but I know they'll sit in my stomach, festering. Because of this, I take my own bars and gels - things I know I can eat while riding without diverting too much blood from my legs (where it is useful, good, oxygen carrying blood) to my internal food-processing systems (where all it does is fill up with fat and sugar).

Mechanical support? Never needed it. I can fix my own bike thanks.

Riding somewhere new? OK, I'll admit that one. I get to drive for sixty miles, ride 100, then drive sixty back home. Makes sense. Actually, there are plenty of routes available on your local internet that will allow you to do the same thing.

I also get to pay £25 or so for all of these things that I don't need or don't make use of.


I did a sportive on Sunday - the Endura Lionheart. I can't fault the organisation, the route marking, the food stops, the timing. There was even an attractive medal. Yet I can do pretty much the same thing by myself. I can even get my bike this muddy:

So.. whither?

I'll tell you whither. Other riders. I got in with a small group of 5-6 others and we worked well together - swapping turns at the front, sharing the effort. It did get a bit hurty on the climbs - I tend to measure my effort rather than attacking everything - but it meant I pushed myself more than I'd ever do on a solo ride. We picked up a couple more, dropped a couple, dropped a couple more. At the 75 mile mark only two of us carried on past the food stop... and up the biggest climb of the event I found myself easing away from the other guy. By this time we'd met up with the riders on the 100 km route so there were plenty of people around to chase. More motivation.

At around 80 miles, something in my hip went "ping". And not in a "microwave has just made the popcorn" good ping way. More of a "was that a ligament or a muscle" bad ping way. Still, only 20 miles left. I could still pedal but putting any significant force in with my left leg wasn't comfortable. Thank god for all those single leg pedalling drills I did in the winter.

I struggled. I MTFU'd. I got cramp. I MTFD'd.

I got to the finish. I got my medal. I got my free food. I basked in the post-ride glow of 100's of other people all taking about the ride, swapping stories, being bikey. That's whither.

Time to drive home. The heated seats were once again awesome. 

(My next sportive is my local one, where I get to ride the roads I train on. How screwed up is that?)

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Testing time

I used to like tests. When I was in school, college, university, I enjoyed them. I was good at them. I could remember lots of information very effectively and regurgitate it at will. I didn't get stressed, I didn't panic, I generally finished early. I also had the uncanny ability to forget everything I'd revised pretty much on leaving the exam room, as if to make room for more information.

I don't like tests any more.

The tests I do now don't involve much memory, thinking or revision. The tests I do now involve grit, guts, determination, pain and nausea. The tests I do now are physical.

One of the main reasons for having a bike power meter is that you can measure your progress - power is power. It's not affected by wind, terrain, traffic, the bike or the tyres. 200w riding into a headwind is the same as 200w riding up a hill. A timed loop can be affected by many other things. Roadkill for example.

Before I owned a power meter I was tested by people who did have them. One key measure of cycling performance is "Functional Threshold Power", essentially how hard you can ride for 30 minutes or so. When I was tested they made me ride up a long hill as hard as I could. The first time I didn't quite put everything into it. The second time I couldn't talk for 5 minutes after finishing.

An FTP test involves finding a long, uninterrupted stretch of road and riding as hard as you can along it. It's a mental challenge as well as a physical as it's really quite unpleasant. Legs burn, lungs burn, eyes burn. The temptation to ease off slightly is always there, which is where the power meter helps - you can see any moment of relaxation. There are two good parts to a FTP test - you go really fast, and it's over in 30 minutes.

The first time I was tested, a few years ago, my FTP was 235w. The second time, two years later, it was 265w. Yesterday it was 270w, which considering it's just got to March, and I've not really started training at high power levels, I'm quite happy with.

I'm even happier with the average power I can generate for 60 minutes - 245w. The best I managed last year was 231w. How do I know all this? Good ol' Training Peaks has a newish feature called Fitness History which give me all my numbers in a handy table. I like handy tables. I like graphs too. I'm a geek at heart. So, 245w for 60 minutes means my endurance training over the winter has worked - I should be able to chug along fairly well for quite a while. This is good for riding up mountains. This is what I need.

The other thing that helps when riding up mountains is not weighing very much. Last year I hovered around the 68kg mark. This morning I was 66kg.

So, I have two targets for August - an FTP of 300w, and a weight of 65kg. Hit those numbers and I'll be a lean, mean, climbing machine.

I'll still get overtaken on the descents though.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

MTFU Training

Yesterday, I went out for a ride. No surprises there. I'd planned three hours or so, fairly hard intensity. I'd got my Powertap wheel back, so it would be a good test of how well I was responding to all the riding. I also knew that the weather the next day was forecast to be bobbins - rain all morning, maybe easing in the afternoon. I had to get the hours in today.

As I left the house it was 9C or so, with a slight moistness in the air. Definitely not rain, and just on the edge of being drizzle. I had a route in mind - 85km - and was feeling pretty good.

A few minutes in I noticed a mild breeze, with the odd cheeky gust. Hmm. The moistness had turned to drizzle. As I had kneewarmers on, instead of tights, my shins were a little chilly.

Now my fingers were cold - my windproof gloves were letting in the drizzle too. Was that an ache in my knee? An occasional skipping of the chain?

I realised there was no way I'd make three hours - I was wussing out.

60km later I was on the last section of road back home, about 2km from the house. Something bright appeared to my left - could that be... the sun? Peeking through? Making an effort to show its face? Once I was in and stretching in front of the window the sun had defeated the nasty clouds. If I'd stayed out half an hour longer, not been a wimp, I'd have been stripping off the gilet and enjoying the early Spring warmth.

Then I understood. We'd had a very mild, dry winter. This had helped my train my cardio system, my muscles, my lactic clearance. What I'd neglected was that extra element that every endurance cyclist needs.

I'd failed to train my MTFU.

Fast forward to this morning. Pissing rain as forecast. 5C. And me, up at 7am. Gaggia on, double espresso produced. No pathetic Americano today. Two slices of toast. Dry. One 500ml bottle for the bike, plain water only.

8am, I stepped out of the house. Ah yes, real rain. And it had been raining for a while, there were some decent puddles around. The plan - ride to Lambourn and back, about 45km. Not too fast, I wanted to suffer in the weather. The road to Lambourn - the back road - is pitted, potholed, cracked, strewn with sunken grates and beautifully narrow. Every passing car, either from behind or headlong into me, would add to the MTFUness.

I was splashed, sprayed, shaken and stirred. I'd left off my eyewear as they tend to steam up so I had the added benefit of water battering into my eyeballs on the descents. My gloves started to fill up with rain. I rode through a foot-deep flood. My waterproof boots proved their effectiveness by keeping in all the water that had soaked into my tights and been sucked into my socks. Occasionally, I allowed myself a sip of water.

As I came back towards home I found I'd talked myself into doing more MTFU training. So I cut North, to add another half hour and a couple more hills to the ride. Finally arriving home I felt great. Admittedly I couldn't register my fingers or toes, I had trouble getting my gloves off and my keys out, and I had to wring out all my outer clothing before hanging it inside to dry. Still, I'd achieved what I'd planned to do, and some extra. I'd trained my attitude.

Last week, when it was dry and sunny I saw over twenty other cyclists on my Sunday ride. This week I saw... two. Both were grinning like loons.

MTFU training does that to you.