Two Months To Go – Training Review

In two months time I should, all being well, be sat down in Bath having completed Day 2 of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  The ride will be 980 miles over 9 days.  I’ll see how I feel about finding an extra 20 miles, perhaps on Day 4 (meant to be an “easy day”) to take it up to a round 1,000 miles!  I just hope the weather is slightly cooler than it has been recently, not that I’m asking for rain, it’s just that I completed a 2 hour ride this morning and it had already reached 27 degrees according to my Garmin by 10 am!  I felt sorry for the riders in the Wales Velothon riding up to 140 km (87 miles) today.

While the ride itself will be a challenge having to ride an average of 110 miles a day for 9 days, the training in order to be fit enough to enjoy the ride has been much more of a commitment than I ever expected.  My aim, all along, has been to be able to complete the ride.  However, I think it is important to be able take in the experience of riding the length of Great Britain and not to have to worry about being caught up by the broom wagon and this requires a certain level of fitness.  Threshold Sports, the organisers of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, made training programmes available to all the riders.

Today I sat down and added up the total time I have spent training for the ride since 1 January this year:

  • Rides inside on a turbo trainer (56 sessions)
    • 46 hours 40 minutes
    • 1,335 km or 834 miles
  • Rides outside (34 rides)
    • 107 hours 17 minutes
    • 2,733 km or 1,708 miles
  • Elevation gain (combined) 41,429 m or 135,922 feet
  • 19 separate gym sessions of up to an hour each working on strength training

As the year as gone on, the training time has increased each month both in terms of time, distance and intensity.  I am a lot fitter than I was in January and weigh 8kg less! A lot of credit has to go to Lawrence at Enduraprep who has designed my training plan and kept my training going in the right direction.

The ride this morning meant a reasonably early start to try and avoid the heat, I also had to be at my sailing club by 12 noon for a sailing duty.  On the ride round Cardiff Airport I met an 82 year rider who was seriously quick despite his age (and kept me puffing on the climbs) – he told me he was still competing in time trials well into his 70s.  I’d be delighted to still be cycling at that age let alone competing.  He was also taking a brand new bike for a spin, so it goes to show that the formula for the number of bikes (n+1, n being the number of bikes you already have), i.e. there is always a reason for another bike, applies even when you reach your 8th decade !

Continuing with an earlier theme of taking pictures in the same place to show the changing seasons, here is a picture taken near Dyffryn Gardens with the oaks trees in full leaf and the grass standing tall !

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Near Dyffrn Gardens, Vale of Glamorgan

There is still plenty of time to sponsor me to help raise lots of money for Dementia UK   I have been very fortunate recently to receive some very generous donations so I am getting close to my initial target.  Remember the target is there to be smashed so please don’t hold back!  You can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here

Why am I supporting Dementia UK in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain ? John Evans (1934 – 2010)

Why I am riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain (a distance of 980 miles in 9 days) to raise money for Dementia UK?  The simple answer is in memory of my father, John Evans, who had he been alive would have been 84 today (26 June).  Unfortunately John suffered from vascular dementia for well over the last 10 years of his life and had we, as a family, known about Dementia UK at the time, the support and advice we could have accessed could have made what we, and my mother in particular, had to go through so much easier to deal with on a day to day basis.

Dementia is such a cruel disease as you never know how long you have to live with the disease and its rates of progression are so different between people with different forms of the disease.  In the case of my father, there were a series declines followed by plateaus.  John and the family began to think something was wrong when he couldn’t complete The Daily Telegraph crossword, something he’d been completing for over 30 years.  We then saw a loss of short term memory with the repetition of conversations on a 10 minute loop – it was terribly difficult to continue the same conversation when John had no idea we’d discussed the particular topic three times already!

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John enjoying a glass of fizz at Caroline’s wedding

John and my mother retired to Dittisham, near Dartmouth in Devon, and I think one of John’s happiest day was walking my sister, Caroline, down the aisle at her wedding.  Even then in 2002, the decline had set in and I had the pleasure of giving the “Brother of the Bride” speech at the reception after John had welcomed the guests before the meal.

The odd thing was that his long term memory was fine until he lost his mobility.  When we eventually decided to move John into a care home, one day he escaped by climbing over a locked 5 barred gate.  This was second nature to an ex-agricultural lecturer and Head of College who would regularly walk the College farm.  Fortunately, the escape attempt took place in the summer and he was found several hours later over three miles away having travelled through a few fields!

It was also awful to see the loss of the ability to communicate, particularly for someone who had been so articulate.  John must have found it frustrating as well, as one day in the care home he lifted a huge cathode ray TV off its table in the lounge and placed it carefully on the floor – I can only think he wasn’t enjoying the day time telly !

I have a huge amount to thank John for, notwithstanding the obvious!  He was responsible for instilling my “values” – work hard, treat people with respect and how you would like to be treated, don’t say anything if you haven’t got anything nice to say and be loyal and generous to your family and friends.  I think I also inherited his competitive instinct – anyone who heard his exhortations to himself on the golf course will know what I mean.  I can still hear the “Oh John!” shouts following a duff shot!

I also picked up my love of sailing, crewing for John in “Gusty” while learning to sail.  We had a series of holidays to Rock in north Cornwall in the 1970s, before it got terribly trendy, trailing the dinghy down the M4 and M5 from Kent.

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Family sailing with “Gusty” at Rock, north Cornwall

A real bucket and spade holiday, sailing in the estuary and surfing at Polzeath.  John would escape for a few rounds of golf at St Enodoc Golf Club leaving the rest of us having fun on the beach, digging pits, building sandcastles and tennis ball helter-skelters and flying kites.

What would John think about me undertaking this ride?  He’d be terribly proud, pretty surprised (as I only took up cycling about four years ago), worried about the amount of training involved (and the lack of tennis I’ve played this year) and fully supportive of my efforts.  I have to say I still miss him more than I care to admit.

If you would like to learn more about the great work carried out by Dementia UK you can reach their website by clicking here

If you would like to sponsor me so I can raise loads of money for Dementia UK you can donate via my Virgin Money Giving page here

Wet Weather Riding

I’m the first to admit that I’m a fair weather rider and try to avoid riding in the rain. However, as the Deloitte Ride Across Britain 2017 involved 8 out of 9 days of rain, I’ve decided that I’d better get used to wet weather riding and test out my kit. The weekend just gone (16-17 June) gave me the perfect opportunity! Fortunately, both rides on Saturday and Sunday started out dry before the heavens opened with some serious rain showers together with fairly strong wind.

What did I learn?

  • I still don’t like riding in the rain!
  • My rain jacket from Rapha works – as it should considering how much it cost
  • Good lights are useful to make sure cars and lorries can see you. I’m not a great fan of the “stealth black” cycle clothing look.
  • Disc brakes are more efficient that rim brakes in the wet, at least on the bikes I’ve got and slower riding speeds are a good idea
  • I need to get some better waterproof over-covers for my cycling shoes as I don’t want to be riding for 6 or so hours with wet feet

Apart from the weather, training is going well although I have had a bit of tendinitis in my left foot. This has been my first “niggle” of the year and a combination of ice, elevation and ultrasound is having a positive effect. Hopefully all will be well next weekend.

I’m taking part in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain to raise money for Dementia UK. You can sponsor me by visiting my Virgin Money Giving page here

Dragon Tour – First Multi-Day Event

Over the weekend of 8 – 10 June, in order to prepare for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, I took part in my first multi-day cycling event – the Dragon Tour organised by Human Race Events which is badged as L’Etape Wales with links to the Tour de France.  The event culminated with the Dragon Ride, with distances ranging from 100 to 300 km.  I had booked to do the Gran Fondo at 223 km.

The start for the first two days was based just outside Crickhowell which offered the opportunity to do two different rides of under 100 km each in the Brecon Beacons taking in the climbs of Gospel Pass and The Tumble.

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Ready for the start on Day 1

I knew what to expect with The Tumble having ridden it twice in the Wales Velothon – basically a steep first half and a relentless grind for the second half once clear of the trees.  Gospel Pass was completely new to me, a gradual start and an absolutely horrible ramp up towards a cattle grid in the middle, followed by a reasonable gradient to the top.  My sunglasses glasses had completely steamed up by the cattle grid and I had to rely on a race marshall telling me not to stop and keep riding!

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The view from the top of Gospel Pass (Day 1)

The view from the top was spectacular even with the low cloud.

Day 2 included The Tumble climb – I managed a Personal Best time, followed by a great traverse of part of the Brecon Beacons plateau.  The descent off the plateau was fantastic despite following a lorry that was doing its best to burn out its clutch (it probably stopped me taking too many risks downhill).

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Brecon Beacons plateau – not so steep descent!

The last 20 miles were the longest 20 miles I have ridden in a while, constant hills and rolling terrain and being passed by faster cyclists – no peloton this time to draft behind.

The Dragon Ride started from Margam Park, near Port Talbot.  Sunday started bright and sunny, no cloud cover of any note unlike the previous days.

The day ended up being very hot which made pacing myself on the long climbs essential – no going for PBs uphill, just getting round was the key thing!  The descents off the Bwlch and the Rhigos were fast and great fun and made up for the long slog up.

In the end, the previous days’ rides took their toll and at the second feed station I decided to drop down to the Medio Fondo – still a ride of 150 km (about 95 miles).  My hamstrings were protesting and with the Deloitte Ride Across Britain being my goal there was no point injuring myself with three months to go to the start line in September.  I wasn’t alone in changing the route on the day given the high temperature.

I ended up with a ride time of 6 hours 40 minutes (compared to a total elapsed time of 7 hours 12 minutes).  Carl (who I rode with on a training ride recently) did the Gran Fondo in 9 hours which meant I’d have probably taken around 11 hours to finish given my average ride pace.  Clodagh, who showed all the men up at the Deloitte RAB training ride in April, went round the Gran Fondo in an astonishing elapsed time of 8 hours 37 minutes and won the Strava Queen of the Mountain for the event as fastest female rider over that distance plus was one of the fastest females over the Devil’s Elbow timed climb.  I certainly will not be trying to keep up with Clodagh on the Deloitte RAB !

What have I taken away from the Dragon Tour?

  • The multi-day format was great, particularly if you managed to get to know other riders
  • Pacing is key; it’s no good going off too fast and not being able to cope on the next day or the third day
  • Fuelling (eating enough) and keeping hydrated (drinking enough) is important, particularly with the very warm weather we had during the Dragon Ride
  • Riding in a peloton saves an enormous amount of energy and riders having a bad day are very grateful for a “tow”, even if you end up cycling a bit slower than you could manage
  • I can cycle the daily distance required on the Deloitte RAB but I can work on my climbing ability (basically more of what I posted about in Gravity)
  • A daily post ride massage, however short, worked wonders on tired muscles!

Overall the Dragon Tour was fantastic – I couldn’t fault the event organisation, particularly on the Dragon Ride.  The race marshalls were plentiful and dealt with the few tacks thrown on the road by disgruntled locals (upset by 5,000 riders visiting south Wales for the weekend, many with families, and spending their money in the area!).  The volunteers and staff in the feed stations were awesome, with a special mention for the feed station at Ystradfellte – so friendly and welcoming!  I certainly hope to take part in the Dragon Ride next year.

I’m doing the Deloitte RAB in part to raise lots of money for Dementia UK in memory of my father who suffered from dementia.  You can help me raise money by sponsoring me at my Virgin Money Giving page here

15 weeks to go !

I’m starting to count down the weeks to starting the Deloitte Ride Across Britain – it is now 15 weeks to go according to Training Peaks which I use to track my training and fitness.

The big news this week was the announcement by the ride organisers, Threshold Sports, of the final route with big changes announced for Scotland.  This year we will be climbing up through the Cairngorms to the east of Scotland rather than Rannoch Moor to the west.  It means that we will climb up through Glenshee rather than Glen Coe.  From my point of view it will mean going very close to where I stayed with my parents when I saw my sister, Caroline, graduate from the University of St Andrews (a few years before William and Catherine I hasn’t to add!).  We spent a couple of very nice days at Dalmunzie Hotel – this was before my father started suffering from dementia, so the ride could be a little bitter sweet bringing back some memories from quite a few years ago.  No golf clubs this time though!  The hotel is situated on a long “out and back” road so I’m not sure I’ll actually go and visit.

The route change has resulted in a longer ride – now at 980 miles according to some calculations and over 50,000 feet of climbing.  The reaction on the Facebook forum for the ride has been mixed to say the least!  Some regulars are not happy at the changes, particularly the extra climbing and one particularly steep bit (allegedly a 20% gradient).  Others, like me, don’t mind one bit – I’m sure the scenery will be fantastic and hopefully the roads will be a bit quieter than the road through Rannoch Moor.  Judging by some of the posts last year about the ride, some of the locals were not happy about being held up by lots of cyclists.

Training is still going well.  The good weather over the last couple of weeks is certainly helping.  My long ride last weekend was a trip round the the west of Bridgend, a distance of 119 km with climbing of 1,273 m.  The aim was a flat ride if at all possible.

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Ogmore Estuary

This weekend the aim was more climbing (at least two hills) and I covered 87 km with 1,355m of climbing.  I ended up riding the hill up to Pentyrch (and got my best time) and two of the three climbs up to the top of Caerphilly Mountain.  I gave the really tough climb from Caerphilly itself a miss – the Caerphilly 10k run was taking place and I wasn’t sure of the road closures.

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Changing seasons near Dyffryn Gardens

That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!  I’m sure I will be visiting the tough climb over the summer as I need all the practise I can get to improve my climbing ability.

Fingers crossed for decent weather for the Bank Holiday weekend coming up.  On Saturday I’ve got a visit to the gardens at RHS Wisley courtesy of my alma mater Reading University – I’m taking my mother as she hasn’t seen the gardens for over 20 years!  It will be back home for sailing on Sunday afternoon and a long ride on the Monday.

If you would like to help me support Dementia UK, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

Chilly riding for the end of April

Last weekend was the first for three weeks when I didn’t have an organised Sportive to attend – it was a good job too as the weather didn’t play ball !  My Saturday ride was more like riding in mid March with an average temperature of 8 degrees Celsius, in other words pretty cold with the need for leg warmers, long sleeved top and wind jacket.  So different from last weekend with bib-shorts and short sleeves.

I tried out a longer distance, intending to go round the west side of Bridgend.  However a wrong turn took me part way into Bridgend before I started to go the right direction to Porthcawl.  A look on the map afterwards shows me where to go next time I want to ride a fairly flat ride – only 1,200 m of climbing in 113 km, not bad for the Vale of Glamorgan.

Repeating some of the routes allows me to see the changing of the seasons, definitely darker looking green grass and more leaves appearing on the trees.

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Here are a couple of photos taken from the same vantage point from a couple of earlier blogs and hopefully I’ll be able to repeat the process over the coming months.

In terms of training, the last few months are starting to pay off.  I did a Functional Threshold Power test last Wednesday, the 20 minute version rather than the hour long test – I do wonder if anyone does the full hour !  For those who haven’t heard of or done a FTP test, it involves warming up for around 15 minutes (minimum) and then riding as hard as possible for 20 minutes on a static bike that measures your power output.  I managed an average power of 259 watts over the 20 minutes which is only 2 watts off my personal best set after two weeks of riding everyday on holiday in Greece.  Although the test is absolutely horrible to do, I will probably do a couple more FTPs before September to test my fitness levels.  I have found the key to the test is not to start too hard but to try and be consistent for the first 10 minutes and then try and increase the output a little – the last three minutes are always the worst!

It’s now less than six weeks to the next Sportive, the Dragon Tour with L’Etape Wales, which involves two days riding in the Brecon Beacons near Crickhowell and then the Dragon Ride from Margam Country Park near Port Talbot.  It will be a good test of riding long distances on consecutive days and a few of my new cycling friends from the Deloitte RAB I met on the training ride will also be taking part.

Do remember, I am doing the Deloitte RAB to raise money for Dementia UK and you can visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

RAB Training Ride

Last Sunday saw 60 or so participants congregate fairly early in the morning in Princes Risborough, on the edge of the Chilterns, for a training ride organised by Threshold Sports who have the unenviable task of marshalling all the riders from Land’s End to John O’Groats in September.  For all of us who attended it was an opportunity to ask questions, meet fellow riders, hear some top tips from previous participants in the Ride Across Britain (or RAB for short) and have a small taste of what is to come.

If you haven’t seen it, here is a video on YouTube showing what the RAB could be like RAB video The video was recorded during the 2016 RAB because the Threshold Chaperones (riders from Threshold Sports who acted as guides out on the ride) told us that it rained for 8 out of 9 days in 2017 !  I really do hope summer lasts until 17 September in the UK this year….

Back to the morning, as expected a lot of the riders had travelled from in and around London – apparently the conductor on the Chiltern Railways train from Marylebone was not particularly happy with 12 bikes and riders on an early morning train from London.  At least it was early and not a Saturday when the train can be packed with shoppers heading to Bicester Village!  Everyone was friendly although a little apprehensive about what was in store for us during the day.

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Top tips session

I thought I had done well travelling from Cardiff (I bumped into Carl who had also come up from Cardiff) but I think the winner for distance travelled must have been Martin who travelled from Wigan.  I cheated a bit as I stayed with my Mother in Haddenham – I still cycled the six miles to and from the venue.

The best top tips top tips were:

  • Pack everything into a big bag with lots of spare space as kits seems to expand
  • Don’t believe the marketing blurb that your bag is waterproof; use lots of smaller plastic bags
  • Get organised and have a routine; pack your kit the night before and get the riding gear ready.  You don’t want to be the phaffer who keeps their friends waiting or even worse gets turfed out of their tent by the ground-staff packing up the camp site!
  • Bring ear plugs (plus some gloves and a hat for the Scottish nights)
  • Ride within your capacity in the first two days to avoid the Medical Tent (the two days up through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset to Bath are “the worst”).  By day five the tortoise will catch the hare who could be “in bits and held together by sports tape”
  • Don’t linger in the feed station pit stops.  However, one of our chaperones confessed to a three hour pit stop last year waiting for the rain to stop – it didn’t!
  • Respect other road users; no more than 10 in a group, be prepared to let car tailbacks pass, obey the Highway Code
  • Bring a spare rear derailleur hanger for your bike just in case
  • Keep the training going

We were split into groups of 10 for the rides based on average speed estimates.  Carl and I were chatting about going in the “fast medium” group of say 15 mph average rather than the fast 16-18 mph group – there were some fit looking cyclists at the event.  A shout went up for two more to join the fast group – Carl and I looked at each other and thought “Sod it” and volunteered.  It was the right choice as the route was fairly flat compared to what we are used to in the Vale of Glamorgan and South Wales and keeping up was not a problem (thank goodness).

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Simon and Clodagh doing all the work and leading the group

A few hills sorted us out on the first 40 mile loop, particularly Ladder Hill in Wheatley.  We dropped one team member who had over-estimated his average speed at the feed station and then the speed notched up to closer 20 mph on the flat stages in the second 20 mile loop.  I was quite happy to sit in the group and draft (saving energy).  Clodagh, our sole female rider, put all the men to shame by setting the pace at the front with Simon, one of the chaperones, on the first lap and nailing the Queen of the Mountain time on the end of route sprint.  It turns out that Clodagh does triathlons where you are not allowed to draft and she wanted the full benefits of the ride as a training session.

After 60 miles we finished the formal part of the ride.  A couple of us decided to do an extra “finisher” and do a short lap up Whiteleaf Hill.  This is one of the UK’s named 100 Climbs on Strava so on the bucket list of lots of riders.  It is only 1.3 km (just under a mile) in length but averages a 9.4% gradient and according to my Garmin GPS unit nearly touched 20% (or 1 in 5 at one point when I was “moving” at 2 kph) – in reality I think it is 16% in places but still seriously steep.  I was amazed at the Strava time when I got home (after an extra 6 mile ride trying the beat the rain) to see that I had still set my fastest time on the climb even after 60 miles of riding.

The event finished with some very tasty tomato and vegetable sauce with pasta.  If the food at the end and at the feed station is anything to go by we will not be going hungry during the ride in September.

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Post ride chat and refuelling
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Goodies at the feed station!

There was lots of checking the ride on Strava (I must update the data plan on my mobile) and swapping telephone numbers and email addresses.  I will definitely be catching up with Carl for some training rides from Cardiff.  A few others are taking part in the Dragon ride in early June – 223 km round the climbs of South Wales and the Brecon Beacons (three more UK 100 Climbs to tick off) and there was talk of some London based riders coming down to south Wales to take advantage of our “proper” long climbs!  All in all, a great event and I was pleasantly surprised how I managed to cope.  I just have to keep up the training and be prepared to cycle in wet weather  – fingers crossed for an “Indian Summer”.  Thanks to Threshold Sports and particularly for our chaperones, Simon and John, for telling us what it is really like on the RAB – bring on September!

As a reminder, I am raising money for Dementia UK, have a read of my About page for my reasons for supporting Dementia UK.  If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here