Tag Archives: Cycling

Why I’m riding “This is not a tour”

This weekend I’m riding the 400km on and off-road audax in the style and memory of Mike Hall. My motivation for this ride is similar to the reason I ride audaxes in general, but with the added variety of off-road sections. I’m interested in the question, “How much harder will that be?”. I met Mike only briefly, but I think this kind of event is what he would have wanted to inspire.

Long distance cycling is something I’ve got into over the past five years. Whenever I’ve mentioned one of my rides to friends I get bewildered responses ranging from admiration to horror. A lot of people ask if I’m doing it for charity.

“No” I say, “I’m doing it for… fun?”.

Yes, fun. I enjoy planning the route, deciding what clothing, lights and bike maintenance kit I should take. I enjoy the challenge of not knowing whether I can finish within the time limits. I enjoy the peace and solitude exploring deserted country lanes. I enjoy chatting with other riders. Sometimes I’m winding my way up a hill, sometimes I’m concentrating on a tricky descent. Sometimes I’m ambling along, sometimes I’m pushing to go as fast as I can. I enjoy the freedom of roaming and of self-sufficiency. I enjoy getting away from it all, relaxed but focused on the ride.

I’m not claiming that every journey is smooth and full of picture-postcard scenery. Things go wrong. Punctures happen, wrong turns happen, lights fail. Headwinds, achy legs and cold temperatures conspire against an easy ride. On most rides I’ll have a “low point” when I’m fed up, uncomfortable or hungry. Getting through that and whatever other challenges the ride may throw at me is part of the challenge and the reason I feel elated if I finish.

And I don’t always finish in time. If I always succeeded I’d wonder if I was limiting myself to easy challenges. Failure is a good way to learn, even though it hurts at the time.

I’m sure most of my bewildered friends take on similar challenges. Things which take unusual mental or physical effort, which take us away from the humdrum of everyday life. Things where success is not guaranteed, where temporary discomfort is tolerated to reach a goal. Everyone’s challenges are different, but we all need to be challenged.

Can you relate to that?

Audax training plan

I’ve got some longer audaxes planned this year, so I thought I should actually have a training plan for once. I’ve avoided stating exactly what ride I’ll do on what day as I know life is likely to get in the way, but I still have some targets which I think are reasonable. Perhaps publishing it here will keep me honest!

Jan – Feb

  • 1 x interval session (outside or turbo) 30-60 mins per month.
  • 1 x 50km+ ride per week (could turbo)
  • 2 x 100km+ ride with 1000m+ climbing per month (could count as two of the 50km)
  • 400km and 5000m total per month

 

Mar – Apr

  • 2 x interval sessions (outside or turbo) 30-60 mins per month.
  • 1 x 50km+ rides per week (could turbo)
  • 2 x 100km+ ride (could count as one of the 50km)
  • 1 x 200km+ ride with 2500m+ climbing per month (could count as one of the 50km)
  • 600km and 7500m total per month

 

May – July

  • 2 x interval sessions (outside or turbo) 30-60 mins per month.
  • 1 x 100km+ rides per week (could turbo)
  • 2 x 200km+ rides with 2500m+ climbing per month (could count as the 100km)
  • 1 x 300km+ ride with 4000m+ climbing per month (could count as one of the 200km)
  • 900km and 12000m total per month.

UPDATE 10th August 2018

Now that I’ve completed the two big rides – 400km and 1000km, I thought I’d mention what I would change about this plan.

The first thing is that a lot of longer rides probably aren’t needed. As it turned out life got in the way and it was near-impossible to fit in all the long rides I had planned. It’s subjective, but I don’t feel like a 200km ride gives much more training benefit than a hilly 100km ride, especially if you do at least half of the 100km before having breakfast. 200km+ rides are really disruptive as I needed to take a day away from family at the weekend, or book a whole day off work. 100km can be done in half a day and if you start early, being back by lunchtime is possible. I do think it’s worth doing at least one 200km+ ride in a longer training period, just to get familiar with the effects of fatigue on speed and rest times, but I don’t see any real training benefit.

Secondly, I think interval sessions are great. I really felt like I got a lot of benefit from them in a short space of time and this was confirmed by my sleep monitor in terms of a lowering resting HR and physical recovery. So next time I’d do more of that.

The monthly distance and climbing targets were worth having as they did get me out on the bike regularly, though I might reduce them a bit next time.

Preparation for Everesting

A couple of years ago I everested Bowden hill in Wiltshire and found it a good challenge. I was the first person daft enough to do it. Since then I’ve been thinking about another hill to Everest.

For a long time I had my eye on Bwlch-y-groes aka Hellfire pass in North Wales, but last year Ian Barrington did it before me. More recently I’ve been thinking seriously about The Burway in Shropshire, but a couple of weeks ago Chris Winn did that one. Huge kudos to both these guys for amazing efforts on these famous climbs. However, I was a bit annoyed that I couldn’t be the first up either of these, which is what the Everesting.cc hall of fame focuses on.

Why?

I started wondering about whether I really needed to be the first to Everest a particular hill and for that matter why I do it at all – something which I feel I often have to explain to puzzled friends and family. Last time I was doing it for charity, but this time I’d rather do it for me. Partly because I don’t like asking people for money.

One reason I do these kind of challenging rides is that it adds a definite goal to aim for. Whether I’m training or modifying my bike or working out the route and logistics, it’s all more enjoyable with an aim in mind. If you don’t have a goal you can’t fail, but success is also rather meaningless. There’s no sense of anticipation or achievement. Some cyclists use racing or aiming for KOMs on Strava segments as goals, but I’ve never been much of a racer. I’ve assumed that, having only started cycling seriously in my thirties I was a bit old to be really fast over a short distance. But I feel I might be better suited to these longer and quite frankly, weirder challenges. If I really feel the need to get the “first ascent” on the hall of fame, am I doing it for bragging rights? A lot of people I know find my challenges more eccentric than impressive, so perhaps I am doing it for my own satisfaction. I’ve said before that everyone’s challenges are individual and in some ways hard to compare. I’ve judged that Everesting will be a challenge for me. Despite having done something similar before, I’m not sure I’ll be able to complete it with my current level of fitness, a different hill, different conditions, etc. That’s part of what makes it interesting.

So I’m still undecided about redoing a famous climb or trying to be first on a new one. Either way, I’ll need to prepare my bike.

Yr Elenydd 2014

I won’t spout too much text here, this is mainly for the photos. But I must say that I really enjoyed this ride and would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind some challenging climbs. It’s fair to say you are heartily rewarded by the stunning views, joyful descents and the helpful and efficient controls.

Of particular note was the food service at Tregaron Bowls club. It might’ve only been beans on toast, a jacket potato or rice pudding, but the friendly helpers served it so quickly we barely had time to find a seat.

This is no doubt part of the reason why some of us managed to complete the ride fairly quickly. I was about half an hour quicker than my last 300, The Dean, despite nearly 1000m more climbing. We were also lucky with the weather, there was a little drizzle, but the gentle tail wind on the way home made a real difference climbing the Elan valley. In previous years they’ve had snow.

First control, Shobdon airfield.

First control, Shobdon airfield.

Second control, Builth Wells, where a well-meaning passer-by warned me that my belgian bun had more than 500 calories!

Second control, Builth Wells, where a well-meaning passer-by warned me that my belgian bun had more than 500 calories!

 

Tom and Rich, whom I rode and chatted with for a while.

Tom and Rich, whom I rode and chatted with for a while.

Gentle climb along a drover's road leading up to the Devil's Staircase.

Gentle climb along a drover’s road along the Irfon valley leading up to the Devil’s Staircase.

The start of the Devil's Staircase climb. Actually steep enough to look steep.

The start of the Devil’s Staircase climb. Actually steep enough to look steep.

The first two hairpins - "It's shorter round the inside!"

The first two hairpins – “It’s shorter round the inside!”

Third, fourth hairpin...? I'm losing track by now.

Third, fourth hairpin…? I’m losing track by now.

PeeJay nearing the top...

PeeJay nearing the top…

Finally down the other side.

Finally down the other side.

Delightful descent towards Tregaron.

Delightful descent towards Tregaron.

Hopefully that's Tregaron...

Hopefully that’s Tregaron…

Mines, sorry can't remember what they're called.

Mines, sorry can’t remember what they’re called.

Oh good, it is Tregaron.

Oh good, it is Tregaron.

The remote Elan Valley, with a lovely tailwind.

Looking back down the quiet Elan Valley, with a lovely tailwind.

Final photo before the light faded. Top of the Long Mynd, about to descend through Picklescott.

Final photo before the light fades. Top of the Long Mynd, about to descend through Picklescott.