Final tips for Deloitte RAB

The 2019 edition of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain starts in around two weeks (on 7 September) and by now I expect the first time rider’s mindset varies between trepidation (Have I done enough training? Have I got all the kit? Will it rain? – the answer to all three is “Yes”, almost certainly for the third question) and excitement that the ride will be starting soon. I know that one year ago I just wanted the ride to start as I had been training pretty solidly for over 10 months.

Although I attended the Deloitte RAB Training Ride in April 2018 and had read all the Threshold briefing emails I still wasn’t sure what to expect or how I would cope on the ride. I thought I would share my top tips for surviving both on the road and in camp.

On the Road

  • Do try and find a group to ride with over the first couple of days
    • It is much more sociable
    • You can save a huge amount of effort if you share the riding at the front
    • But if you arrange to meet the next day
      • make sure you are on time
      • don’t leave before the appointed time
  • Don’t spend too much time in the feed stations, especially the first one
  • NEVER EVER try to turn on a manhole or drain cover in the wet (or even slightly damp), and if possible don’t ride over them at all. The same goes for the railway level crossing outside Preston!
  • If you are on your own and come across another single rider who is slightly slower than you, do slow down and offer to give them a tow. You could end up picking up a few other stragglers and making their day. I benefitted from a tow on Day 4 last year and returned the favour on Day 5. Slowing from 15 mph to 13 mph for 10 miles or so didn’t cost too much time – after all, it is not a race !
  • Don’t undertake cars when in stationary traffic (leaving Bath on Day 3 and Preston on Day 5) – it severely annoys the drivers when there are 800 cyclists on the same stretch of road!
  • If you really need a proper coffee, stop before or after a feed station as you could quite easily queue for 10 minutes at the “posh coffee” van. I suggest stopping say 10 miles before the second feed station – it is probably around 11 am anyway, you can probably sit down and there will not be a queue for the toilet!

In the Camp and at Feed Stations

  • Learn to live with the queues or work you way around them
  • I did the Plus Package last year and we would arrive in camp at 6 am which was peak breakfast queue. I ended up sorting out my water bottles, pumping up the bike tyres and fitting lights and then going for breakfast by which time the queue had diminished. The teeth brushing stand is a great place at which to fill the water bottles – just don’t confuse it with the warm water washing stand right next door (Yup I did it once!)
  • The queues at the first feed station on Day 1 are the worst of all the feed stations
  • Do remove the tops from your water bottles before reaching the front of the queue for the water bowsers
  • Consider aiming to start 30 minutes after the first start time (unless you know you could have trouble with the Broom Waggon).
    • You have time for more breakfast (extra fuel) and another cup of coffee
    • There will not be a queue at the start line (no standing around in the cold and possibly rain)
    • You will probably have lots of cyclists to “chase” and pass which is good for the motivation (it works for me)
    • The only days this doesn’t work are Day 3 (leaving Bath) and Day 5 (going through Preston) when the hills and rush hour traffic mean you tend to cycle at the pace of the slowest rider in front of you!
  • On arriving in camp, consider getting your tent and shower first and then cleaning your bike
  • Use an old face cloth to wipe down the chain (pull from front to back on the bottom chain) which gets ride of most of the road muck (store cloth in a plastic bag). Re-lube with wet lube and you’re good to go for the next day.
  • If on the Plus Package, find out before leaving Camp that the hotel does food if you don’t intend to come back to Camp for dinner. My biggest mistake last year was leaving Camp shortly after arriving at the end of Day 7, travelling for 25 minutes or so and finding that the hotel did not do food. Fish and chips in between two days of 114 and 118 miles involving massive Scottish climbing was not enough ! Day 8 was seriously hard work.
  • Find out from Threshold if there is an address for courier deliveries before you order extra kit or energy bars. I thought I was terribly clever arranging for a delivery of my usual energy bars to a hotel I knew I was staying at in a couple of days. Unfortunately, the hotel did not have my name (just a Threshold block booking) and the hotel didn’t accept the delivery ! I was not happy….

Final Thoughts

  • Do try and enjoy the experience. It maybe the only time you do the ride
  • Do seek medical advice early rather than grinning and bearing it
  • Do take time to stop and take photos (unless the Broom Waggon is right behind you!) – IT IS NOT A RACE

Cycling Kit Choices

A couple of cycling Sportive events brought home to me the importance of getting kit choices right when setting out on the long rides of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

I took part in the Dragon Tour in South Wales at the beginning of June which comprised three days of riding varying distances. The first day (Friday) comprised torrential rain from start to finish. I worn my rain jacket and although it kept the worst of the rain off me I ended up getting soaked due to a combination of the rain and perspiration – I’m not sure that any rain jacket would have kept me dry ! I did manage to stay warm due to the rain jacket keeping the rain off me and my base layer (merino wool) maintaining temperature.

Saturday was dry but windy – a combination of arm warmers and gilet did the trick, keeping me warm and allowing me to regulate the temperature by unzipping or removing the gilet when required.

The forecast for Sunday (and the Dragon Ride) was dry – rain should have finished by the start of the sportive. I thought arm warmers and gilet would be sufficient. How wrong could I be. There was a heavy rain shower just as the 300 km route riders were setting off. In retrospect I should have gone back to the car and picked up the rain jacket. I didn’t and paid for it. Although the rain shower stopped before my starting wave, within 20 minutes another heavy rain shower came through and I got wet. The climb kept me sort of warm but I soon got cold on the descent and the next climb didn’t warm me up. There were a couple of short rain showers later on. I didn’t get warm until 20 km from the finish when the sun finally made an appearance. I ended dropping down to the 150 km route rather than the planned 223 km because I couldn’t warm up.

On the recent L’Etape UK sportive round the Chiltern hills I stuck with a gilet in the back pocket as no rain was forecast. I didn’t need it as the weather was kind to us.

On the Deloitte ride Across Britain I only got caught out once with kit selection. Day 6 from Penrith to Edinburgh turned into a wet, windy and cold ride – lots of shivering at the second feed station. I had a rain jacket but hadn’t put on the leg warmers so the legs got very cold as did the hands in fingerless gloves. The next day I wore my winter gloves but the hands soon got too hot. The best purchase on the ride was a pair of full finger thin gloves (Bontrager) from Crightons bike shop in Blairgowie – right on the route. The gloves were great for keeping off the wind and stayed on for the rest of the ride. I also kept the leg warmers on and the rain jacket to act as a wind jacket more than anything (along with arm warmers). The jacket did get taken off for the climbs on Days 7 and 8 but it was comforting to know it was there in the jersey pocket just in case.

My top tips:

  • Keep your rain jacket with you the further north you go unless the forecast is certain to be dry with no strong winds – unlikely in the UK in September.
  • Buy a thin pair of full finger cycling gloves. You won’t need your winter gloves – the thin gloves got me through the start of Day 8 with sub-zero temperatures.
  • Do have a look at the weather forecast before you set off each day and dress accordingly. It is much easier to remove kit than end up wishing you had worn it in the first place.

Training and Mental Health

It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK and I thought it was time to share my experiences of training and how it affects me and what I have done when I find it difficult to keep motivated to train for a distant goal.

It is now mid May and most riders aiming to take part in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain will have been training for at least five months and face another three months of increasing intensity of training in terms of the length of rides and the intensity of some training sessions if using a turbo trainer.

Keeping up that sort of intensity can be very difficult. If you have been training hard up until now you have probably built up a good level of fitness and you may be able to back off the training for a couple of weeks if you need to re-charge the batteries and re-motivate yourself to increase the training over the summer. If you are not at the stage of riding five hour training rides or getting to 60-70 miles in a ride, you may have more of an issue come September. Do talk to someone (or post on the Deloitte RAB Facebook page for tips and advice) and try and keep going – the thought of all my sponsors was a big motivator for me last year when things got tough during training. You will not be the only one having training issues.

In my training last year, very few training rides exceeded 80 miles, but it was relatively easy to knock out that sort of distance. I then combined it with a few 100 mile sportives over challenging terrain, such as the Chiltern 100 in July and the Wye Valley Warrior in August (both have lots of climbing so great preparation for RAB). I’m sorry to say that I believe sticking to 50 mile training rides just will not prepare you for the relentless impact of RAB and nine consecutive days of 100 plus miles, particularly if you want to enjoy the experience rather than survive each day. The RAB “bubble” will only take you so far – no one else can ride your bike for you.

My Post RAB Training

I have found training this year very difficult. I am a “numbers” person and like to compare my fitness level using Training Peaks. It is difficult to accept that my training score compared to last year is down by 25-30 “points”. I am both competitive and a perfectionist – part of my thinks a 40% fall in training fitness is not acceptable. When the more rational part of my brain takes over, I accept that Training Peaks looks at training intensity – my life in 2019 does not revolve around cycling training, I am not going our for 5-6 hour rides on a Saturday and another 3 on Sunday plus three sessions during the week. My FTP is still higher than this time last year, I have just lost a little of my endurance ability.

The last two weeks have resulted in a CBA attitude to a lot of things (CBA = can’t be a@sed); a function of reduced fitness, an early summer cold and a few work commitments that resulted in reduced training. I’ve realised that I need to do some training for the benefit of my mental health and do my best to complete the session rather than giving up at the first drop off in power output. At other times I have to accept that my body cannot “push on” when recovering from a cold. A few completed sessions this week and I feel much better. Hopefully I’ll manage a four hour ride on Saturday. I have the Dragon Tour coming up on 7-9 June – maybe the shorter routes and then see how I feel on the day of the Dragon Ride. After all, cycling is meant to be fun and it is a good way for me to clear my head, even if I’m concentrating to make sure I miss the potholes! If the cycling doesn’t work, I’ll just go for a blast on my catamaran dinghy – sailing is still my main passion.

The bike and kit on the bike

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My Trek Domane (without the mud guards and top tube bag)

You will see lots of different bikes on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain although most bikes conform to the drop handle bar type rather than mountain bikes or hybrid bikes.  However, on the 2018 ride there was a “Fat Bike” with huge off road tyres probably more suited to sand or snow which still finished (so I’m told) in the top 10 finishers each day – it probably says more about the fitness of the rider than the bike!

The Bike

I was in a fortunate position to have a selection of bikes to choose from with the choice of a “race” bike and an “endurance” bike.  As the Deloitte Ride Across Britain is a succession of nine 100 plus mile days, I decided on the endurance bike – in my case a Trek Domane with disc brakes.  The Domane comes with the Trek IsoSpeed decoupler on the seat post and the handle bars (headset) so introduces an element of suspension and removes some of the road “buzz”  Other bike manufacturers have their own “suspension” systems – there were plenty of Specialized Roubaix bikes being ridden on the 2018 ride.  I certainly notice the difference between the Domane and my race bike.  However, even the Domane struggled with the 2 hours of horrible road surface on the A702 next to the M74 towards Edinburgh!

The Domane also has a slightly more relaxed riding position with the rider being more upright than a pure race bike.  Again, from my point of view being comfortable on the bike was an important part of being able to enjoy the RAB experience.

The Gears

There was a lot of discussion the Deloitte RAB Facebook forum about the choice of gearing with some riders claiming that a standard 53-39 front chain ring coupled with a 11-25 rear cassette was all they would need.  All I can say to that is “Good Luck!”.  My view is why make life difficult for yourself when facing 20% ramps on the Lecht and plenty of 10% hills during the ride.  After a few days in the ride, even a 6% slope can be a challenge especially if you are unlucky enough to have a headwind as well!  

My Domane came with a compact 50-34 chainring as  standard together with a 11-34 rear cassette.  I’m a large rider, 188 cm (6’2″) and 85 kg (about 13 1/2 stone) when I started the ride.  I never regretted for a minute having the 34 rear cassette and had a few envious comments (when they could speak struggling uphill) from riders with a 11-28 rear cassette.  My advice – go for as large a rear cassette as you can fit on your bike, unless you are a super climber or have a brilliant power to weight ratio.  You can always fit your race cassette with smaller jumps between gears when you get home after the ride.

The Wheels

Leave the 60 or 80 mm deep section wheels at home if you have a choice.  Deloitte RAB is not meant to be a race.  The riders with deep section wheels really struggled with the cross winds, especially on the long slog up to Edinburgh where you are exposed on the road alongside the motorway and the gale force winds we had on the last day when even 35 mm deep wheels were “twitchy” at times.

Saddle bags and frame bags

Another bug bear of mine was the size of some saddle bags and the fitting of huge frame bags.  I ended up with a standard saddle bag large enough to fit a couple of spare inner tubes, tyre levers and multitool (even though I was running tubeless tyres), mini-pump attached to the frame and a small top tube bag for six energy bars and gels (a visual reminder to keep eating when riding).  This left the jersey pockets solely for the waterproof jacket (when it wasn’t doubling up as a wind jacket), mobile phone and winter gloves.

I guess some riders had a spare base layer, socks and jersey in their saddle bag or frame bag.  My view was once I got damp, I needed to keep moving and if it was that wet, having a dry base layer for 30 minutes wouldn’t make too much difference in an 8-9 hour ride.  I wanted to keep the weight down as much as practicably possible.

Mudguards

Another divisive topic!  I didn’t regret having a rear mudguard – it kept me and the rear of my bike relatively mud free.  Cyclists following me also appreciated not getting a face full of water and mud on the wet days.  I fitted temporary mudguards – the front mudguard decided to come loose at 70kph on the descent from Glenshee – serious wheel wobble and nearly a very nasty crash.  My tip, fit proper mudguards if you can and a front mudguard makes little difference ! 

Bike fit

I had a bike fit for my bike and it did make a difference to the comfort of the ride.  Before the fit, I had developed some sore Achilles tendons which were resolved with the fit.  My advice, have a bike fit and if possible have a check up after 6 months once you have got fitter and more used to riding longer distances – most reputable fitters will give a discount for a check up. 

Training – the Rider

After completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain in 2018 I thought it may assist riders who have signed up for the 2019 edition if I shared my top tips for being able to enjoy the whole experience rather than just surviving.  This blog post will be about the physical side of preparing for the ride.  As I write this post, in nine months time the 2019 edition riders will have hopefully completed the ride.  While you cannot always prevent accidents causing you to pull out of the ride, there isn’t (at this stage of the year) anything from preventing anyone getting in the best physical shape for the ride.

Here are my tops tips for training for the ride:

  • Do follow a training programme.  Threshold Sports publish training plans for Novice, Intermediate and Experienced cyclists.  I was lucky enough to have a personal trainer with a background in endurance sports (Ironman races) so had the best of both worlds with a personalised training programme and I chose the Intermediate training plan as a reference point.
  • Do get used to cycling in wet weather.  I’m not advocating going out when it is icy or absolutely pouring with rain, however, you do need to know that your wet weather gear keeps you dry and warm.  If your kit copes with February and March weather it should be able to cope with anything that Scotland in September can throw at you.
  • Don’t think you can get away with just going out for 50 mile training rides.  Long rides are necessary to get used to being in the saddle for 7-10 hours a day.
  • I did very few training rides of more than 90 miles.  However, I did enter a number of 100 mile sportives.  It is good to know that you can ride 100 miles in a day before you arrive at Land’s End.
  • Do consider entering at least one multi-day event.  Nothing can really prepare you for the cumulative effect of riding at least 100 miles for nine days, although the Rapha Festive 500 comes close.  Threshold Sports organise the Dulux London Revolution (11-12 May 2019), a two day ride round London which includes a night in the infamous little green tents!  London Revolution I did the Dragon Tour in South Wales last year, three days riding in the Brecon Beacons and finishing with the Dragon Ride (7-9 June 2019) Dragon Ride with options for 160 km, 223 km and the Dragon Devil at 300km.
  • If you cannot find time for a multi-day event, try and replicate the effect by entering a 100 mile sportive and doing a long ride on the day before or the day after the sportive.
  • Think about attending the RAB training ride (24 March) RAB Training Ride.  I picked up some good tips last year (see my previous post RAB Training Ride) and met some riders before the RAB started (particularly useful as a solo rider).
  • Do not neglect hill climbs as part of your training.  I’m very lucky with lots of hills in South Wales.  If you live in London, the Chilterns are pretty close to the west (the tube runs to Amersham and trains run to High Wycombe and Princes Risborough) and the South Downs (to the south!).  Anyone living is Norfolk and Suffolk has a bit of a problem!  The Chiltern 100 sportive (14 July) is a pretty good way of duplicating Days 1 and 2 of RAB.
  • Don’t believe the RAB “bubble” will get you through.  You still have to do the riding and there is only so much encouragement the Threshold Sports Chaperonnes can give.  Remember, on the third pick up in the Broom Wagon, you are “asked to leave” the ride.
  • You really don’t want to be getting into camp after 6 pm each day (which could mean 11 hours out on the road).  You have to deal with cleaning your bike, showering, possibly seeing the medics, hopefully having a massage and getting some supper before listening to the rider briefing at 8 pm.

What would would I do differently if I was riding the Deloitte Ride Across Britain 2019 (by the way, I’m not!) ?  I would do more two day consecutive long rides of 5-6 hours duration on a few more occasions in the summer (June and July).

Next month, I plan to write about the choice of bike for the ride.

Autumn training – Motivation Blues

I always find it difficult to keep motivated to train once the clocks change and the weather starts to get colder and usually wetter.  By this time last year I had entered the Deloitte Ride Across Britain so I had something to aim for and I knew that if I didn’t put in some constant training between November and March I would pay for the inactivity later in the year when I needed to increase the training to gain fitness for the sportives and the ride in September.

Now I have no major challenge planned for 2019 – the Deloitte Ride Across Britain was a one off “bucket list” event for me and I had made it clear to my sponsors that I wasn’t going to make a habit of doing major sponsored events.  This means I’m not training for anything in specific and will not be letting anyone down if I back out of any particular sportive.  Also, to be honest, I’m not sure if I want to go through the amount of training I put myself through in 2018 in order to end up riding the Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) without any fitness issues and completing each day in the top 25% quartile of the riders in the event.  It has been nice getting my life back since September.

Readers of this blog will know that I use Training Peaks to track my fitness levels.  The training graphs show a decline in fitness since the end of the ride – to be expected given the huge effort required to complete the ride and the fact that the weather has not been too conducive to long outside rides.

These graphs show the fitness line declining rapidly since the end of the ride and now flattening off as a result of re-starting a fitness programme.  I’m about 20 “points” below the fitness level before the ride – not too bad and not unexpected given the amount of training I was able to carry out over the summer.  My current aim is to stay above the 365 day fitness line for as long as possible; April 2019 will probably be the tipping point!  My weight has increased since the end of the ride to around 87-88 kg and you don’t want to know about the body fat percentage!  Let’s just say I haven’t bought any chocolate in the last two weekly shops and it’s given me the kick up the backside I needed!  The one date in the diary for 2019 is the KOM Sportive run by my coach Lawrence at Enduraprep on 30 March – I don’t think I’m allowed to miss it!

I went past one of the locations of my regular photos today in a ride to Cowbridge and I now have a collection of photos from March to November of some oak trees near Dyffryn Gardens.

This week I have an event to go to with Dementia UK in London where I will find out how the money I raised in the ride will be used.  The final total is £5,050 plus Gift Aid which gives a fantastic grand total of £6,012.78.  The Virgin Money Giving page will close in the middle of December (three months after the end of the ride).  It has been very easy to operate and I can certainly recommend it compared to other more expensive donation sites.