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

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

100 Days to Go !

It is now starting to get serious as there are now 100 days to go (or less depending when you read this blog post !) until the start of the 2018 Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  As one participant wrote on their blog we have now reached a tipping point – training cannot now be put off in the belief that we still have plenty of time to make up for missed sessions or times when you don’t put in a decent effort.  There is also the desire not to pick up an injury, catch a cold or even worse, have a crash – there is not really enough time to mend if you break something!

The organisers, Threshold Sports, sent out training plans last autumn suitable for beginners, intermediate and experienced cyclists.  I’ve been following a slightly different plan with my coach, Lawrence, at Enduraprep and I’m relieved to see there are some similarities between the plans, although I tend to do shorter, more intense sessions during the week and longer rides at the weekend.  I think I would struggle to do the two 1 1/2 to 2 hour mid week rides suggested by Threshold Sports, while a five hour ride at the weekend is no longer a faint hope but becoming the norm.

Threshold Sports sent out a questionnaire last week to the participants asking about our training in terms of length of rides and the type of bike we intend to use if not a road bike.  I hope I don’t received a “Must Do More” note from “teacher”!

I was glad last weekend was a Bank Holiday as I only managed to get out on the Monday for a long ride through the Vale of Glamorgan round to the west of Bridgend.  It was hot and sticky with a headwind on the way back – distinctly hard work.  I didn’t make it easy on myself as I decided to go up the climb up to Norton near Ogmore by Sea.  It is a short but steep climb – the 1 in 10 sign is wrong – it’s steeper!  Simon Warren, who has written a series of books about cycling climbs in the UK, only gives it a 2/10 score, probably on account of its short length.  There was a great view at the top.

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Top of Norton Hill, looking north west

Personally speaking, I prefer the longer, steadier (less steep climbs) of The Rhigos, The Bwlch and The Tumble (all rated much harder) any day !  This coming weekend I plan to do a training ride in preparation for the Etape Wales and Dragon Ride on 8-10 June.  Hopefully there will be a few of us “RABbers” taking part and we plan to investigate the Devil’s Elbow (a 7/10 climb).

My sponsorship page is now seeing a bit more action as it is easier to ask for sponsorship the closer I get to the event – I’ve received some very generous donations recently – thank you very much!  There is still plenty of time to support me in raising money for Dementia UK .  You can find 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

First longer ride of the year

Last Sunday saw my first ride of more than 50 miles in 2018 when I managed 60 miles riding round the Vale of Glamorgan.  When I uploaded the ride on to Strava it was a little disappointing to see I was less than 4 km short of riding 100km !  Regular riders will be aware of the saying “If it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen !”.  There is nothing worse than getting home from a long ride and finding that your cycle computer has failed to save all the details from the ride.

For non-cyclists, Strava is an application that can be used to show where you’ve ridden.  It also adds an element of competition by dividing routes into “segments” which are timed on the basis of your speed.  The quickest riders get the King or Queen of the Mountain for that segment.  The times can be broken down into All Time, Yearly and That Day.  If pay for a premium edition, you can also see how you compare against your age group and weight category – no cheating by claiming you are 110kg when you are actually 85 kg !  Strava segments can get quite competitive, although I only use it to see how I compare to other rides I have done over the same route.  The only problem is that it can get very demoralising when you’ve noticed that your quickest time on a segment is from two years ago.

Here is a link to my last ride Strava ride  in the Vale of Glamorgan.  It has quite a lot of data which great for a bit of data geek like me.  I like to compare “numbers” and see if I’m getting fitter from an empirical point of view rather than just “feel” on the bike.  Other riders may just rely on whether their jeans have a looser fit….

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View from Southerndown

Normally during the week, I have some training to do in the evenings set by my personal trainer, Lawrence Cronk at Enduraprep  Lawrence knows by now that I won’t do the training the in the mornings before work – it just will not happen !  I’m afraid this week Lawrence is going to be very disappointed.   I’m a volunteer on Challenge Wales, a charity run 72 foot sail training yacht, and we had a volunteer strategy meeting on Monday night.  Tonight saw me attend a Penderyn whiskey tasting event (for work) as a guest of the Wales Millennium Centre (very nice !) and tomorrow I have a visit with my sailing club to Penarth RNLI centre.  It’s a very good job that the Ride Across Britain is not for another 27 weeks!

If you would like to sponsor me please visit  my Virgin Money Giving page  and help support Dementia UK.  You may even be the first person to sponsor me !