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.

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!

Physical effect of cycling the Deloitte Ride Across Britain

WARNING :  Some readers may find the images at the end of this post upsetting as they show the results of my crashes on Day 1 and Day 5.  You have been warned!

I knew that cycling over 100 miles a day for nine days with no break would be very tough and I had wanted to make sure that I would enjoy the experience and not just “get through it”.  I had worked with Lawrence Cronk at Enduraprep on my general fitness for several years and when I signed up for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, Lawrence started me on a specific training regime to improve my endurance and cycling specific fitness in particular.  As Lawrence takes part in full distance Ironmans and coaches other people for triathlons so he knows what is required.

The training started in earnest in October/November 2017 and my blog Two Months To Go – Training Review sets out what I had done to June 2018, basically three indoor sessions a week and one or two outdoor rides at the weekend.

In November 2017 I weighed in at a pretty hefty 94 kg (188 cm tall) and just before the ride I was down to 85 kg.  My fitness levels had also improved dramatically as measured by my Functional Threshold Power tests.

After getting home from the ride I was surprised to find that I weighed 86 kg as I felt thinner based on the “belt notch” test.  However, closer inspection of the “clever” scales showed an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat percentage from 20% to 15%, an astounding decrease of 25% over the course of 9 days!  It showed that despite eating a lot during the event, my body ended up eating into my fat reserves to keep going.

The fitness stats on Training Peaks also showed how hard I worked during the ride.  The stats show that I was far too enthusiastic on Days 1, 2 and 3 and paid for it on the later days when my output in terms of power decreased although the intensity required to ride stayed pretty constant – in effect I was working just as hard for less results!  I think I also realised my error and consciously tried to keep my power output low when I wasn’t having to climb very steep steep hills.  I had found Day 4, meant to be an “easy” day particularly hard.

I was also surprised that my maximum heart rate for each day reduced by 20 beats per minute over the course of the 8 days (from 181 on Day 1 to 163 on Day 8) despite the fact that Day 8 had The Lecht climb with a gradient of 28%!  I’m ignoring Day 9 as the gale force tail wind made things relatively easy – thank goodness!

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Fitness trend over the last 90 days.

On the graph above, the pink line shows my fatigue increasing dramatically as the ride went on.  The blue line shows my fitness while the the yellow line shows my form.  I’ll be on top form for an event at the beginning of October! The form line shows how I was “ready” for the ride as well.

As an addendum to my fitness, I did a Functional Threshold Power test 10 days after getting back from the ride. My FTP has increased to 268 compared to 261 in the week before the ride, so I’m much fitter having done RAB.

Now for the “nasty” bit and photos of the results of my crash on Day 1 after 40 miles at Truro which I then aggravated with the crash on the railway crossing on Day 5.  I didn’t take a photo of the initial damage on Day 1 as the medical team immediately slapped a bandage on it when I when to see them after having a shower at Oakhampton.  The rest you can see for yourselves.

In answer to the question “Does it hurt?”, of course it blooming well does!  I’m now on a course of antibiotics to beat the infection and going back to see the doctor next Monday to make sure it is healing.  I have a plentiful supply of dressings but may opt not to wear a suit to work.  I don’t think possible seepage through the bandage and wool suits will mix!

If you haven’t sponsored me so far to help support the work of Dementia UK and you are not persuaded by the fact that I cycled 930 miles with this injury to sponsor me, there isn’t much more I can do !  If you would like to sponsor me, there is still time and you can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here.  Do remember to tick the Gift Aid box if you are eligible as Dementia UK can claim an extra 25% of your sponsorship from HM Revenue & Customs.

Final week of training before the Ride

I am now entering the final week of training before starting the Deloitte Ride Across Britain on 8 September.  This weekend saw me do two rides of over 5 hours, although not on consecutive days as originally planned due to the appalling weather on Sunday.  I know some of my fellow Deloitte RAB participants did brave the wind and rain – good for them.  I chose the indoor option to avoid catching a head cold or even worse crashing the bike!

My ride on Saturday was meant to be “flat/rolling” and I still managed 1,931 m of climbing in about 86 miles of riding.  The ride today was “three climbs” and I did 2,134m of climbing in 88 miles of riding but in a longer time, probably due to the length of the climbs.

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Top of the Rhigos climb

The ride today can be seen on on Relive map here – lots of hairpins on the climbs and descents!  The benefits of living in South Wales.  I was lucky with the weather as there were a few spots of rain but I managed to miss all but one heavy rain shower.  The rain did make some of the early descents a bit tricky and I certainly picked up more speed later on in the ride when the road dried out.

On the Saturday ride, I revisited some of my training loops round the Vale of Glamorgan and here is the latest “season” photo from Merthyr Mawr img_0742.jpg– all the rain in the last week has raised the river levels considerably since mid July when there was just a trickle.  It is also amazing how much a little rain changes the grass from yellow to green!

The end of the serious training has also enabled me to take stock of how far I have come since I started training seriously for the ride last November.  The biggest change is the weight loss, down from 94 kg (perhaps even more) to 85kg (13.5 stone in “old money”, a loss of around 1.5 stone).  I’m sure the weight loss would have been greater if I’d been more disciplined with the diet, however, I’m now the lightest I’ve been since starting work in Cardiff 15 years ago.  It has made a huge difference to the speed at which I go up the hills!

My fitness levels have also improved dramatically.  The Training Peaks fitness level has increased from 60 to 108, my Functional Threshold Power (a test used by cyclists to measure their power output) has increased from 239  to 261 watts and my resting heart rate is now in the low 40s.  I don’t think there is much more I could do to prepare physically for the challenge ahead.  I have to thank my coach, Lawrence Cronk at Enduraprep, for the training plans and pushing me on in the training.

I think the most difficult part will be the mental side of getting up shortly after 5am each day and start cycling 110 miles a day for 9 consecutive days to complete the 980 mile distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  I’m sure once I’ve got over the initial 10 miles I’ll be fine – this was the case today when there was a lot of procrastination before setting out.  The thought of everyone who has very kindly sponsored me to support the work of Dementia UK will give me all the motivation I need – I will not want to let you down!

If you would like to sponsor me and raise money for Dementia UK you can reach my Virgin Money Giving page here Please do tick the Gift Aid box if you are eligible as the tax man will increase your donation by 25%.  Please also remember that Virgin Money only charge a 2% fee compared to the 5% charged by a well know competitor!  There’s still time to donate!

Six weeks of training to go

I now have six weeks of training to complete before the final week leading up to the start of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  There is one sportive planned – the Wye Valley Warrior in the middle of August which will be a 91 mile ride starting from Chepstow Race Course.  Unlike last year, the Wye Valley Warrior will not follow part of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain route – I will have some satisfaction that I have ridden the climb out of Chepstow by the time I get to do it again on 10 September.

To be honest, the ride can’t start soon enough as the constant training is starting to take its toll, not helped by the unremitting hot weather we’ve been having recently.

I need to find some different routes to freshen up the rides and make them a little less monotonous – yes, I still have to concentrate on the traffic and cars overtaking, particularly in the lanes round the Vale of Glamorgan.  However, I now know some of the routes so well that I know where the bumps and nasty water access covers in the road are located.

From a physical point of view, I am probably fitter than I have been for about 10 years or even longer.  It is not just the feeling of being able to cycle for longer but being backed up by statistics.

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Fitness line tracker – good increase since December !

That said, my coffee ride to Cowbridge this morning was the first ride I can remember where I didn’t get any notifications on Strava of a top 3 segment time compared to my previous rides over the same roads – I think this may please my coach as the ride was meant to be a low intensity session (it doesn’t fit well with my competitive side!).

I use a website called Training Peaks to track my training and my coach can set out activities for the each month.

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Training Peaks calendar

Each completed activity goes green in the calendar, missed sessions go red (as do sessions where you exceed the allocated training time – I just go and alter the specified duration!).

The high spot for me this weekend was not on a bike but on my catamaran at Sully Sailing Club where we had a race in a good strong breeze (Force 4-5) on Sunday afternoon.  It was great to have a bit of a blast, trapeezing off the side of the catamaran both up wind and down wind.  The only downside was that the course was a little small (less than 6 minutes a lap) so I couldn’t make full use of all the sails (not enough time to deploy the spinnaker and really fly along!).  Anyway, it was great was a great way to blow away some mental cobwebs.

Next weekend I’m due to do a five hour ride taking in two or three long climbs so it’s going to be up into the south Wales valleys – I think I’ll try a new route to the Bwlch and the Rhigos climbs for a change.  The long range weather forecast for next weekend is about 22 degrees which will be a welcome reduction from this weekend’s 26-28 degrees.

On the fund raising front, my firm Geldards, is donating the proceeds of our monthly Dress Down Day in July to Dementia UK which will be a great way of boosting my running total.  It will also be a fantastic opportunity to tell all of my colleagues about the ride and why I am supporting Dementia UK.

If you would like to help Dementia UK continue and expand its support for families caring for loved ones with dementia, you can donate via my Virgin Money Giving page here You can find out more about the work of Dementia UK here

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