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

IMG_0724
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. 

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.

Deloitte Ride Across Britain – two weeks on

It seems ages since I got back home only two weeks ago after completing the hardest nine days of my life!  I went out for my first outside ride on Saturday since the Land’s End to John O’Groats ride and rediscovered my love of cycling.  No sticking to a training plan, no worrying about power output, average speed or Strava segments, just riding in the gorgeous autumn sunshine round the Vale of Glamorgan.  I went for a ride through the lanes and had a coffee at one of my favourite cycle cafes, Cafe Velo in Llantwit Major.  There’s always a cyclist or two, sometimes a whole peloton, having coffee, cake or a slice and being welcomed by Dave, Julie and Ellie-May.

I posted about the ride on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain Facebook group page (a closed site before you ask) and have been amazed by the number of likes and comments.  I think it struck a chord with a lot of riders who pushed themselves to the limit to complete the ride.  I know the Deloitte RAB is meant to be all about enjoying cycling, however, riding nine consecutive century rides (plus a bit or a lot more most days) takes more than just enjoyment to complete!

I have put together a film of my best photos from the trip plus a few from the professional photographers and Threshold Sports (taken from places that I just couldn’t get to) and up loaded it to You Tube which can be accessed here  It does start to play immediately, at least on my computer.  Any editing errors (including the music choice from Apple iMovie) are all mine as is not crediting anyone whose photo I have used by mistake.

As for my fundraising, I am absolutely astonished and delighted to have reached £5,000 (plus Gift Aid) today for Dementia UK  It is going to make such a difference to the work Dementia UK can do to help support families dealing with dementia.  If you ever need any advice or support regarding dementia, I do urge you to call their helpline.  If you would like to sponsor me, you can still donate via my Virgin Money Giving page for a couple more weeks via a link here  I think honours are now just about even between me and my sister as to who has raised more money for Dementia UK with my cycle ride and her London Marathon in 2016.  Our father would have been terribly proud of both of us.

Finally, this could be the last post I write about the Deloitte Ride Across Britain and my 11 month journey of training and taking part in the ride.  I hope you have enjoyed reading the blogs as much I have enjoyed writing them.  Any suggestions as to continuing the blog would be gratefully received.

Reflections on completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain

A week ago I got home after completing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, having ridden from Land’s End to John O’Groats, a distance of 982 miles in nine days.

The overwhelming feeling is a huge sense of achievement in completing the ride and remaining physically strong, subject to the crash injuries which didn’t stop me cycling but probably had an adverse effect towards the end of the ride.  No trips to the physios or any requirement for sports tape!  I’m sure my father would have been terribly proud of me – all my family have said they are slightly in awe at what I have done after following my daily blog and tracking my ride in “real time” on Strava.  Why am I supporting Dementia UK in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain ? John Evans (1934 – 2010) I had a succession of great messages on Whats App during the ride, most motivational and some asking what had happened to me on Day 5 (my second crash on the railway level crossing) as I seemed to be going at a snail’s pace to pit stop 1!  I had a lovely card from my colleagues at work today saying how well I had done – something I will get framed for the office wall!

The ride also showed me parts of Great Britain that I have never seen before – Shropshire, part of the Lake District between Preston and Penrith and my personal favourites the Cairngorms and Scottish Highlands on Days 7 and 8.  I would love to go back and retrace some of the Scottish legs and have a bit more time to take in the scenery and take a few more photos.

Threshold Sports had warned us before the event that Days 1 and 2 through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath would be the toughest.  In retrospect, I found the cumulative effect of Days 7 and 8 the hardest days of the ride, both long days at 114 and 119 miles respectively plus an awful lot of climbing (both steep hills and long energy sapping drags).

The question I am always being asked is “Would you do it again?”.  The answer is “No”.  Not because I didn’t enjoy it, I did enjoy the experience and I’ve mentioned the achievement and scenery.  However, it is a bucket list box “ticked”.  We were also incredibly lucky with the weather.  If you split the nine days into three sectors per day (making 27 in total) we had wet weather on no more than five sectors.  We also had strong tail winds for virtually the whole ride.  Day 9 would have been a completely different, horrible experience with a northerly headwind and rain.  I wouldn’t want to tempt fate and ruin the great memories by doing the ride again in bad weather. Things would have been so different if the ride had been a week later.

Is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain for you?

The short answer is “Yes” if you want to challenge yourself both physically and mentally and have the best possible support in completing a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride.  The Threshold Sports slogan is “More is in you”.  This was certainly true for a large number of riders.  I was pretty fit before I started training and then spent the best part of nine months training for the ride so that I am now as fit as I have been for over 20 years.  It meant that I my average “moving pace” over the whole ride was 15 mph so I was able to get into camp most days by 3.30 pm giving myself as much recovery time as possible.  I wouldn’t have coped with getting in each day just before the 7 pm cut off time.

My tips for a successful ride would be:

  • Train consistently and a lot for the ride.  I am looking forward to “getting my life back”.  Two Months To Go – Training Review  I have the greatest respect for the families of riders given the amount of training required.  I didn’t have anyone to “report to” or ask permission from when training.
  • Do not underestimate the relentless nature of riding over 100 miles a day for nine straight days and the impact it has on your body.  You cannot get away with just riding 40-50 mile training rides – the RAB “bubble” will not get you through to the end.  That said, nothing can prepare you for the ride itself!
  • Do train on hills, both long draggy hills and shorter steep hills.
  • Get a rear cassette with as high a gear as possible.  I had an 11-34 cassette and was grateful for every one of the 34 teeth when married up with a 50 34 compact front chain ring when going up The Lecht, Glenshee and Cothelstone Hill.  Do not be taken in by the cyclists who say that a semi-compact 53-39 front chain ring and an 11-28 rear cassette will be fine unless you are whippet thin and can climb like Chris Froome or Alberto Contador!
  • Have a professional bike fit for your bike well before the event and get used to riding the bike so that you do not get any niggles when riding.
  • If you don’t like camping, go for the Plus package – worth every penny for the long, hot showers, comfy beds and space to unpack all your kit each night.  You also get a 20 minute sports massage each day rather than 10 minutes every other day – trust me, it makes a difference!
  • Consider using a personal trainer experienced with training people for endurance events.  Threshold Sports do issue a training programme but I found it much easier to have my trainer, Lawrence Cronk (an Ironman coach) at Enduraprep, checking my progress and tailoring my programme to fit round sportives that I entered.  There was also the threat of a “kick up the backside” from someone if training slipped which can be useful with long periods of training.
  • Invest in decent wet weather gear and train when it is raining; you will then know if it keeps you dry and how you react to being cold and wet (badly in my case).  The suggest kit list from Threshold Sports is definitely useful – how some riders managed at the start of Day 8 without leg warmers and full gloves, I will not know – it was freezing!
  • I went to the Ride Across Britain training day in April which I found extremely useful, both to meet other riders, get some practical tips and to see how my training was going compared to other riders. RAB Training Ride
  • Chose a charity that resonates with you on a personal basis as it is then much easier to ask friends and colleagues to sponsor you.  It also gives you the added impetus to keep training and riding during the ride itself.
  • If you are a stronger rider, do slow down and be prepared to help or tow weaker riders, even if it just to the next pit stop or camp – remember, it is the Deloitte Ride Across Britain rather than the Race Across Britain!

I am working on a slide show “film” of my photos from the ride and will post a link to it when completed.

I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has sponsored me so far for the ride.  I have now raised just over £4,750 (plus Gift Aid) to support the work of Dementia UK  My Virgin Money Giving page is still open for donations and can be reached here.  To reach £5,000 would be absolutely amazing!