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Mont Ventoux Revisited

3 routes ventoux
163,65km Distance : 11:28:44 Moving Time : 14.3km/h Ave Speed : 4,777m Climbing

In my earlier post Operation Mont Ventoux I recounted my ride of the classic Bedouin route up Mont Ventoux in April 2018. I got the job done but all didn’t unfold quite as I might have wished. I knew then that I would be returning at some point.

There are 3 road routes to choose from with the most famous being the ascent from Bedouin that I’d ridden in 2018 but one of the more extreme challenges on offer is to ride all 3 routes up in a single day. People who complete this get to call themselves “Les Cingles de Mont Ventoux” or roughly “Crazies of Mont Ventoux’.

You can join the club before the ride and buy a €20 card to confirm completion if you want. A browse of the club listings shows that many in their 70’s and 80’s have completed this challenge. The eldest being an inspiring 86 years of age. That’s really quite impressive and encouraging! I’m 60 now so it’s nice to consider that I’ve got so many more crazy years left.

To be the full double crazy, you can ride all 3 routes twice within 24hrs and become a “Bicingles”. (The eldest listed club graduate being 67…ummm 😉 )

Why though? Why put yourself through any of this?

It’s a question I often ask myself. Why is the idea of an ultra difficult or long ride feel more inspiring to me than something far more relaxed and casual? Do I actually enjoy suffering? 

Well what is suffering? Enduring mental or physical pain and discomfort is a loose dictionary definition but this can extend to feeling wretched, racked or desperate. Ultra cycling has yet to give me feelings of wretchedness or despair.

Certainly I’ve experienced or suffered plenty of physical pain and discomfort on long rides but mentally and emotionally I’ve felt more charged and alive than during many far “easier” times.

There’s a popular saying “Nothing worth doing was ever easy”  I think this can be misinterpreted.

Examples are offered of successful entrepreneurs  working endless long hours or famous musicians or athletes practicing for 10,000+ hours. My point is that these people were inspired to spend these endless hours mastering their skill and attaining their goals; it wasn’t suffering or hard for them even though it may have exacted a toll on them and their families.

The drive necessary for their endeavours came naturally to them and they naturally refused to give up or stop; nobody forced them.

To me, suffering is being forced to do something against my will or better judgment.

Choosing to undertake a challenge, no matter how difficult, is a very different thing. It may require a lot of training and “work” but the essential thing is that you or I chose to and were inspired to do it.

As soon as you fully commit to a new challenge, however large or small, you can feel a shift, a change within. Nothing is ever quite the same again, life moves within you, focus and drive become enhanced.

Doing the easy, familiar or comfortable never summons life through you in quite the same way.

The only suffering I feel is from the mental anguish of second guessing myself about any of the above!

Relive-Ventoux Triple

It was early June 2019 and I was deep in training and preparation for the Transcontinental Race No7 in late July, quite unaware that I wasn’t actually going to end up racing it.

This June weekend also jmarked the start of the Transatlantic Way ride in Ireland. An event I’ve ridden twice and ideally would have been riding again if time had permitted. Perfect excuse for my own solo companion adventure challenge then. Fine weather and light winds were forecasted for Ventoux so all was well for the weekend.

The challenge was this:

Ride from La Ciotat to near Ventoux on Friday night. Bivi somewhere, and then ride all 3 Ventoux road routes on my loaded bike before riding back to La Ciotat on Sunday.

127.26km : 5:53:35 Moving Time : 1,130m Climbing: 21.6km/h Ave Speed

There’s something special about setting off into the evening on a new adventure; riding into the night and the unknown. I feel a mix of anticipation with a hint of trepidation, the excitement of the new and the fear of the unknown. Start time was 19:25.

Knowing the stresses lying ahead for me I rode this approach very steadily, making a particular point of not burning my energy reserves by charging up any of the many hills or by riding too fast.

The night was warm with temps between 15 -22c and an average of 18c. Still 2 x 900ml bottles was water weren’t going to see me through the ride and keep fully hydrated. Thankfully I was able to re-stock at a Pizza van with a cold Coke and a free water top up. No pizza was required as I’d had a big feed before I set off.

The night wore on with the traffic steadily diminishing; all was peaceful and well.

I knew my approximate destination for the night, 127km in and shortly before a bakery at Pernes les Fontaines that opens bright an early for breakfast.

I rolled into a field a little way down a turning off the main road shortly after 02:00. After a quick wet wipe wash and snack I settled down in my bivi under the stars for a few hours kip. Perfect.

This was training not racing so no need for any serious lack of sleep, that would not help. Around 5 hours later I was awake and enjoying the morning view across the poly tunnels.

More feelings of trepidation. Am I really going to do this? Ah you mad, Chris? Yes, and quite possibly. I had no real doubt however.

Still the important matter of sustenance needed to be attended to before the physical stuff got serious.

I suspect that France may have more bakeries per capita then any other country. There are so many and most serve as an excellent stop for the travelling cyclist with easy access and the ability to keep a close eye on your trusty steed while you re-supply.

I’m particularly fond of the energy rich and protein packed quiches. On this occasion I had a pizza style baguette and a quiche. No concerns about race weight this weekend!

The Ventoux tower beckons

After my leisurely start and breakfast it was close to 09:00 as I rode the final approach to Bedouin. An increasing number of cyclist rode past or were seen to be preparing by their cars and vans. This was it…

I wasn’t going to make the same mistake I’d made the previous year and end up overheating so I duly removed leg and arm warmers and I should have removed my base layer as well but at this point it was still quite cool.

I knew what was ahead and what sort of power I was likely to be able to manage all day, basically around 200w, however, the Bedouin route has some steeper sections that make keeping my output this low impossible. I needed 250w+ to keep moving on some sections. Still, the ride up went far better than on my previous attempt even with temps in the high 20’s.

This main route is quite a circus with an endless stream on cyclists, runners, motor cyclists and cars of all shapes and sizes. I saw one guy on an old rusty and truly antique single speed bike making very respectable progress. Then there were the large men on e-mountain bikes riding triumphantly past me. No matter, I wasn’t racing and was on a very different agenda. It’s a relentless climb with no flat recovery stretches and then, once the end comes into sight, it is still actually far further away than it looks. Hence it’s fame and allure.

The heat was now getting quite intense for me with sweat pouring off and my water supplies running low but all was ok, it was just a tough climb and I duly made the summit at 12:50. Well past midday, one climb completed, non stop, but slowly at about 2hr 45min, a far cry from Chris Froome’s 55mins!

My slow start was going to make for a long afternoon and evening but it was a wonderful day with a great atmosphere so no rush.

Its busy up here on a fair weather Saturday

Now to top up with seriously overpriced Coke and water before heading down to Malaucene for lunch before climb number 2.

Fuel for climb number 2

This was a joyous descent and soon I was in town grabbing some supermarket convenience food. I was seriously hungry and a little chilled from the descent in spite of the high temps.

Sandwiches, protein rich salad and fresh berries. Convenience fuel with a hint of healthiness.

The climb from Malaucene was my favourite, its still tough but prettier and much quieter than the famed Bedouin route. By now however the sun was high with  temps well into the 30c’s. Roasting.

I couldn’t comprehend some of the riders passing me with just a single water bottle. How acclimatised must they be?

I remember one guy passing me less than half way up, in a heavy sweat, and with his single bottle only half full. I passed him later as he sheltered from the sun under a tree. I never saw him again.

Some riders paused to chat to me and looked suitably quizzical when I explained what I was up to. Cingle…

My second climb was completed at about 17:30 and with the summit now much cooler and quieter. Just in time to purchase more overpriced Coke fuel from the little shop on top before it closed.

One more to go then. I was a bit tired for sure but not suffering in any way. My power meter suggested that my pacing strategy was working well and had me steadily outputting around 200w on the climbs. All was fine and much to my relief temps were dropping.

Down to Sault then for more food and the final, easiest climb. This last climb felt quite fast though it still took around 2hr 20min. My power data shows that I managed a normalised power of 203w and an average heart rate of 127bpm which was greatly helped by the lower temps averaging at 17c as opposed to the 29c average of the previous climb with a 130bpm average heart rate and lower 196w normalised power.

I barely saw anyone riding up here.

I reached the summit at 21:45 and with no option for more Coke fuel and rapidly dropping temps it was time to skedaddle back to Bedouin sharpish and find some nosh.

It was 7c now and breezy, I was rapidly getting chilled. Leg warmers, arm warmers, quilted gilet, wind jacket, gloves on. Descend

Another exciting descent in the rapidly darkening but moonlit night. I just had to pause to take the photo above.

The descent wasn’t drama free. First I got hit by a bat squarely in the head, which made me jump but caused no other damage.  Shortly after several deer ran across the road and scared the bejesus out of me and I them. I rode on very cautiously, relying heavily on my brakes!

Finally,  back in Bedouin,  I found a closing Pizza restaurant that kindly made me 2 pizzas. One probably would’ve been enough but I still devoured all but a couple of slices of the two. My mistake, however, was in ordering one with pepperoni. This stayed with me through the night and again the next day as I ate the remaining slices for first breakfast.

I was feeling good and a tad triumphant about the completion of my mission. I, briefly, seriously considered continuing back to La Ciotat though the night but I was cold and with the next 30 or so km predominantly down hill warming up again seemed far too much like hard work. No need for heroics anyway.

I rode out of town and found another field for the night.

Dawn announced it’s presence with some loud, unexpected rain drops and moody clouds.

It was a fine relaxed ride home though, not withstanding a few rain showers. A pleasant average temp of 27c meant made for few issues with getting wet and I was back by the beach in La Ciotat at 15:23 ready for a shower, more food and a well earned drink or two in town later.

Yes, it would have been far easier not to have ridden this but riding it wasn’t suffering by any stretch and I’m surely richer for the experience.

Surprisingly, in the days that followed I felt physically better than ever. A grumbling ITB issue vanished, my often aching neck felt way better. It seemed I’d had some kind of physical purge.

I felt happier and more contented as well. Perhaps the saying should be

“Why settle for easy when you could thrive on difficult?”

 

Fundraising – The Blue Marine Foundation

I ride ultra endurance cycle events because I enjoy it, plain and simple. However, it is also clear that others enjoy reading about my adventures as well as following the races online as “dot watchers”. The supportive messages I receive are very welcome but its great to be able to offer people other ways to lend their support such as donating to a charity.

I don’t claim to be doing any of the rides “for charity” but if I can fundraise for a charity as part of my riding then that really is so much the better!

This year I’m fundraising for The Blue Marine Foundation a UK based charity dedicated to creating marine reserves and establishing sustainable models of fishing.

THE PROBLEM – 90% of wild fish stocks are over-fished or fully exploited. Without fish, the oceans cannot absorb CO2, millions of livelihoods are lost and food security is threatened.

Seafood happens to be my favourite food, whilst the oceans have indirectly supported my entire working life since I was 21. Windsurfing and water sports instructor, wind and surf board builder,  yacht painting contractor, yacht painting consultant.

I’ve lived on the coast in various countries continuously since I left London in 1980. Boats, windsurfing, surfing, kite-surfing, paddle boarding, ocean sports of every description have inspired my leisure time.  The yachting industry has provided for me and my family for decades. In fact the cycling I now do is the least ocean centric thing I’ve ever embarked upon!

THE SOLUTION – By designating large parts of the world’s oceans as marine reserves and banning industrial fishing, fish stocks are able to recover and ecosystems thrive.

I delight in the idea of giving back to the seas and oceans for all the support, joy and nourishment they have provided to me.

Creating marine reserves and developing sustainable models of fishing seems, to me, an obvious thing to do but actually making this a reality is no easy task when dealing with the many and varied commercial interests involved.

The Blue Marine Foundation have demonstrated their ability to truly affect positive change and have a fascinating portfolio of projects.

I hope you’ll join me and support their efforts further.  DONATE

 

Reflections on the Transatlantic Way Race 2018 – A tale in two parts. Pt 1

Some months have passed now since I completed TAWR 2018. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on the event and what I’ve learned. The time is right to share my perspective.

This is written in two parts as I approached and experienced the race/ride as two distinct phases.

  • Phase 1 make it to the ferry by Sunday night, day 4.
  • Phase 2 make it to the finish as quickly as possible.
Exchanging good wishes with Paul Alderson and Doug Corrie shortly before the start. Photo: Richard Marshall

TAW 2017 was my first ever ultra endurance cycle event and I ended up retiring or “scratching” from the race just 300km from the finish and in an astounding, to me, 6th place. This was due to what’s known as Shermer’s neck whereby your neck muscles become so fatigued that they can no longer adequately support your head whilst cycling.

This condition is very dangerous when descending hills in particular as it becomes impossible to see where you’re going. You’re a serious danger to yourself and other road users. (Another rider in this years TAW and suffering from this ended up cartwheeling off the road into a field. He was very lucky to escape serious injury)

TAW 2018 presented a different set of challenges because race director Adrian O’Sullivan had altered the course to include a ferry trip across the Shannon. I saw this as having the effect of making it two races in one. Those who made it to the ferry before the last ferry on the Sunday (Day 4) night would have about a 10 hour advantage over those behind that missed the last ferry. Race two was within the group that made that Sunday ferry.

The challenge of reaching this ferry really piqued my imagination and inspired me. I knew it was a hard task and looking at my progress in TAW 2017 revealed that I made it to near the ferry terminal on the Monday (Day 5) at around 18:00. Basically I needed to shave about 24 hours off my 2017 time to cover a similar distance. Eeek!

I knew from my 2017 race that I could certainly ride more efficiently and I was also wiser about re-supply options and many other aspects of making progress. So, there it was, my challenge, make the last ferry on Sunday and then secondly make it to the finish.

My technique is to split the GPS route into ambitious but theoretically achievable day length targets. I use RideWithGPS for planning this as it offers me estimated times based on the terrain and my ride history.

The ambitious results look like so:

  1. Dublin to Buncrana – 363km
  2. Buncrana to Ballina – 428km
  3. Ballina to Costelloe – 428km
  4. Costelloe to Tralee – 294km
  5. Tralee to Kenmare – 367km
  6. Kenmare to Kinsale – 390km

I work best with high targets that I may fail to make rather than with sensible targets that I hope to surpass or absolutely have to make. You’ll notice that day 4 is shorter and you should note that Tralee is some 85km further on than the Kilrush ferry; this is the “cushion” in my planning. In hindsight I really think I should have planned more achievable days rather than trying to truly outdo myself!

The end result to the ferry was:

  1. Dublin to Buncrana – 363km, 15hr 28min moving time, 17hr 30min elapsed.
  2. Bunncrana to Skreen – 372km, 17hr 25min moving time, 19hr 44min elapsed.
  3. Skreen to Check Point 2 – 357km, 15hr 50min moving time, 18hr elapsed.
  4. CP 2 to Kilrush ferry – 315km, 13hr 26min moving time, 15hr 13min elapsed.
  • Total duration from race start to ferry including sleep: 3 days 8 hours 30min
  • Total moving time: 2d 14hr 9min
  • Total elapsed time: 2d 22hr 27min
  • Total fully stopped / sleep time: 10hrs 3min
At the ferry terminal, as captured by Richard Marshall

I am pretty proud of this achievement I have to say.

No wonder I looked and felt knackered.

(I also felt extremely content!)

How those 4 days unfolded and my later refections
Day 1.

Coach Martin Burrows had done an excellent job in periodising my training up to the event. I was raring to go with all indications suggesting that I was about 10% stronger than the year previous. It was to be a staggered start organised alphabetically by first name, which meant I was in the first group away, accompanied by race favourites Bernd Paul and Bjorn Lenhard and so it was that I set off directly behind those two and 4th place finisher Aidan Allcock.

I could maintain their pace but I knew that I could not maintain it for more than a few hours so I eased back and let them ride off. It wasn’t long before I was riding alone, then surprisingly Bjorn rode past me, seems I had a better route! Then it was Karen Tostee who whizzed by with a smile. Awhile later she went by again, “I want your route” she said!

I knew that the only way I was going to make my target was to ride the 230km to Derry as close to non-stop as possible. I had 3 x 950ml of water and juice mix plus 2 Cokes and I think a Lucozade, as well as various snack bars. It was hot for Ireland though with temps in the high 20’s. This meant I didn’t have enough fluids for me to do this distance in these conditions but I didn’t want to stop either. As luck would have it I rode past a chap hosing his front garden who kindly let me top up my bottles with barely a pause. Result!

Karen rode past again! She’d stopped to refuel, that lady is quick and if it hadn’t been for some mechanical and other problems she’d have been a serious contender for a win I think.

I made it to Derry as 11th to CP1, I was pretty happy with that. I rode on a bit and stopped at a Spar to refuel and provision for the night ahead. So far so good. It was refreshing to be into the cool of the evening but I was well aware that I still had about 130km to ride to make my days target.

All was going well and I’d already ridden well past my previous year’s bivi stop in daylight when I hit a pothole and my tracker bounced out of its cradle into the long grassy roadside verge. Doh! I spent what felt like a very long hour trudging up and down with my torch until I finally located it. Other riders either flew past or paused to check I was ok. Some helped me look though they probably shouldn’t have according to self-supported rules but either way I did find it myself by treading on it! I stubbornly pressed on to Buncrana and made it at about 04:00 as the sky was brightening and with the challenging climb of the Mamore Gap completed in darkness.

A squadron of midges attack my fly mesh while their compatriots inside torment me at their leisure.

It was my worst ever bivi spot choice though, a midge infested field! My bag has a fly mesh but that doesn’t stop all the sods that join you inside. Never you mind the unpleasantness of the wet wipe ablutions before you get in. The midges were intense on many occasions during TAW 2018 whereas in 2017 I didn’t meet a single one.

First night’s rest was not so brilliant but still I was on the road again at 07:28 with another long day ahead of me. Happy enough though and awake without an alarm,

Day 2

I remember surprising little of day 2 beyond it being hot. My Wahoo recorded a high of 32c. What I do remember however is the infamous gravel section of the route at the Glenveagh National Park. This was a delight because as I reached the lower sections there were lots of teenage school kids ambling along oblivious to my speeding approach. I’d recently invested in a proper old style brrrriiinng brrrrring type bike bell because these don’t seem to annoy anybody and frankly it just gives me a smile.

So to alert the either chatting or phone distracted youths I took to ringing my bell cheerfully and high five-ing them as I rode past. It must have been a funny sight and I delighted in the connection, an old git celebrates the day with the young!  It raised my spirits and hopefully theirs.

This was also the day of a very hot Glengesh Pass ascent.

Glengesh Pass. A long, slow, hot climb in 2018. I had a nice chat and a hug from Adrian O’Sullivan at the top though! Photo: Adrian Crapciu

A lot of riders had passed me in the night but gratifyingly I was slowly moving back up through the field and was back to 12th by late afternoon, though there was a huge and intimidating number of riders very close behind. Again I rode past my previous year’s bivi stop many hours earlier, in bright daylight. I pressed on until about 03:00 which moved me back upto 6th just behind Karen. (I only know this now from re-playing the tracker) That night I bivi’d in the shelter of a timber mill loading bay, midge free.

Day 3

On the road again 07:25, alarm set but again not needed. Operation get to CP2.

At this point in the race I’m physically fine apart from increasingly painful saddle sores but all good elsewhere. Equipment wise my Igaro usb charger wasn’t working but I had a powerful power bank as backup that might well see me through to the finish anyway. So no real problems, though I could feel the fatigue and my slowing pace but that was only to be expected.

It was about now that I began to meet familiar faces passing me on the road. Firstly Gavin Dempster, young, fast and friendly. We’d chat briefly and compare notes. He was riding fast and recovering longer I was riding slow and sleeping/stopping less as I just don’t have riding that fast in my bag of tricks.

Then, come Achill Island, I met up with Matt Ryan and we fooled about to and fro right till the ferry. Achill was very different to how it was in 2017 and rather boring by comparison. In 2017 it was a gale of wind, rain, sea foam blown from hundreds of feet below and kamikaze sheep leaping into my path. This year it was a slog more than an adventure!

On exiting the isle I stopped at a little grocers to feed and stock up for the night, Matt also paused briefly but then rode on ahead. This was a long night section to make it to CP2.  Fortunately I love the peace of night riding and find that time just blurs into a continuum but as the hours passed I was seriously ready to rest and desperately trying to calculate the distance to the ferry and how far I had to get before I could back off a little.

Foolishly I hadn’t worked out how far the ferry was from CP2 and in my head I had it at around 250km, a relatively easy day’s ride. It turns out that it’s actually 315km.

Eventually I made it to CP2 at around 01:30 to the unlikely sight of Chris Herbet smoking a cigarette as he and I think David Thomlinson prepared to depart. Adrian O told me that if I carry on now I’ll be in 5th. That wasn’t an option!

I’d planned on another 3hr sleep but I discovered that it was 315km to the ferry rather than my hopeful 250km-ish. Holy cripes! I had it in mind that the last ferry was at 20:00 but I wanted to target the 19:00 one so as to give me some contingency time. All I had to do now was stop an excited Adrian form talking so much and get some sleep. A mere 90 mins lying on a bunk fully clothed and virtually unwashed. This time my alarm dragged me slowly, wearily, to reluctant consciousness and so began my time trial to the ferry. 03:50 am Sunday.

day 4

This was certainly the hardest riding and most exciting ride of the race for me. I felt fully on the mission, go, go, go! Whilst I wasn’t riding as physically powerfully as day 1 I was giving it my all rather than keeping a bit in the bin. It’s very exciting to fully give something your absolute all.

This is a flatter section on the route in general but it is also plagued with some horrendous, cracked, corrugated, saddle sore jarring road surfaces but I ignored it all and basically trashed my neck and hands by spending too long on the TT bars and by taking the weight off my oh so sore backside with my arms and hands.

09:00 had me at Costelloe for my first full Irish breakfast of the trip. The cafe manager smiled and said “you in the race as well? The others left not long ago”, “Indeed I am! Full Irish please and two black coffees” Off I went to freshen up in bathroom. Upon my return a large rotund chap was sat eating a full Irish…my full Irish!!

Don’t they know I have a ferry to catch! The waiter, whom I think hadn’t seen me, just brought it out and gave it to the only customer in the room. Oh well, another was duly ordered and I set about my coffee and catching up with the race on my phone.

One event that I haven’t mentioned was that I’d accidently left my down jacket hanging on a garage toilet door, though I could not say exactly where without lots of battery and time hungry tracker reviewing. My wife had sent messages to race HQ and the media cars were on the lookout which was nice though I knew that even if they found it that they could not return it to me before race finish. Happily, the weather was warm and it was less than essential, even if it did also serve duty as my sleeping bag. I had a few other layers and could keep warm in mid teen night temps.

Breakfast done it was time to crack on! At this point I was once again ahead of Karen, Gavin and Matt and our pack was building a steadily increasing gap ahead to the main bunch behind us. Bjorn and Bernd were in a race of their own well out ahead.

Matt reeled me in at around 15:00 near Doolin and chided me for not stopping long enough at CP2 🤣. Once more he rode off into the distance and I carried on my steady plod. A fatigued while later I stopped for supplies and decided to double check the ferry times. “Ummm last ferry is 21:00 not 20:00, oh fine I’ve got plenty of time then.” I relaxed and bought another coffee.

Then the thought, “Ummm so how far is it yet? Oh, so I could still just make the 19:00 ferry. Better go for that then”

Now began the really exciting bit with long flat fast sections where I though “Yes! I’ll make it easily if it doesn’t get too hilly” only to then be confronted with a hill. At this point I was on an emotional roller coaster, from crying for no reason other than the emotional release, to laughing, shouting and cheering for the shear foolish thrill of it all, relishing the singular purpose of catching that darn ferry. I even accidentally climbed a very steep hill in my 34×28 gear rather than the 34×36 grandad gear that I usually resort to!

Matt caught up again, he’d had a stop as well, and I kept him in my sights ahead as we completed the final dash. Made it with just minutes to spare! A grinning Pawel Pulawski and an incredibly tired looking David Tomlinson were there as well; having just missed the 18:00 ferry. Photographer Richard Marshall captured some images.

Left to right Matt, Me, Pawel, David. Photo: Richard Marshall

It was gratifying to see how totalled these young chaps looked.

I did it, I bloody did it!

I was going to celebrate with a shower and a B&B on the other side!

Reflections, what I might do differently
  • Go easier on day 1 in particular. Spread my effort so less recovery is required.
  • Plan my days more accurately and efficiently.
  • Relax my bike fit.

Not much else, pace, recovery and comfort are everything as I see it. I made the ferry but to have achieved a better final position I’d have had to pace slower and miss the Sunday ferry. I don’t regret this though. These intense 4 days will stay with me forever,

In part two I’ll cover my steady decline from 9th place to 43rd, a different kind of ride/walk.

Cycle coaching – it helps!

In September 2016, shortly before I signed up to the 2017 TAWR, I was cycling simply for pleasure and to improve general fitness. Once I’d committed to the 2017 race I knew I was going to need to raise my game so I began studying online articles and generic training plans. It wasn’t long before I concluded that this approach wasn’t going to be as effective as I wanted, there were just too many variables and too many opinions.

Virtually every, if not all, serious athletes in any sport employ coaches. There’s a reason for that, coaching is proven to improve any athletes performance.

Just because you or I are “lowly” amateurs of varying ages, ambition, experience and levels of ability doesn’t mean we don’t deserve or won’t benefit from coaching. If you’re planning to complete an endurance race such as the TAWR then make no mistake you are, or swiftly need, to become an “athlete”.

The race itself maybe unsupported but in the run up to it you are going to benefit from all the support you can muster to encourage you to keep getting the quality training hours in alongside all your other distractions, demands and responsibilities.

Having a coach setting my training plans, analysing my performance numbers and offering feedback has really helped with my focus, commitment, sense of direction and confidence. I always know he’s watching. If I skip a training ride, I’ll have to explain and it’s not often that I do.

The only downside with coaching is the expense. To get the best from it you absolutely need a costly power meter and of course you must also pay for the coaches ongoing time and expertise. It’s a luxury for sure but coaching will likely yield far greater advantages than buying a new bike for the event or costly, high end, ultra light components. £100 a month or less will get you well coached. That level of expense could be recovered by other lifestyle adjustments such as buying fewer posh coffees and less or no alcohol.

Finding your coach

I used Training Peaks’s find a coach service. Training Peaks was founded by Joe Friel author of “The Cyclists’ Training Bible” and many other excellent books. I was already familiar with his work and I respect the balanced, deeply researched and measured approach that he brings to any subject he tackles. The Training Peaks service is highly regarded and widely used by many top athletes and teams. There are other options of course but with Training Peaks you can pretty confident your getting one of the very best packages.

Multi day, solo, endurance riding is a tiny, niche, aspect within the global sport of cycling.  Few coaches will have had any experience with working with such athletes so you are going to need a coach that is genuinely interested, understanding, adaptable and truly prepared to really think about what you’re trying to achieve.

Training Peaks introduced me to Martin Burrows from KOM Coaching. Martin has 20 or so years of coaching experience, is highly qualified and a pleasure to work with. He recognises that coaching is an art and that every athlete is unique with differing strengths, weaknesses and goals. He focuses flexibly on what you need at any given time rather than any hard and fast preconceived agenda of his own.  A periodised training plan is initially tailored to your circumstances and created with the target of having you arrive at your chosen event as ready as you can be. This is then further refined and adjusted along the way.

I’ve asked Martin to share his perspective on the subject.

” Chris has touched on some of the many benefits of a having a coach. There are lots of great coaches out there, so I thought it might be useful to offer some advice on how to choose the right coach for you.

  • Objectivity

One of the main benefits to having a coach is that they can be objective. Instead of you trying to make sense of the data and trying to look at the bigger picture whilst in the midst of a tough training programme, a coach has the advantage of looking from the outside in. This brings with it a sense of perspective which is sometimes impossible to see from the inside.  Choose a coach who not only has the knowledge and experience needed to analyse your training sessions and performances, but also knows when to push you a little harder, when to advise you to ease back, who can offer support when you come up against set backs or things that don’t quite pan out as you expected, and who can show you the positives and where you are improving when you can’t quite see it yourself.

  • Flexibility

There are lots of training plans freely available on the internet. These may work well for some people some of the time – if they follow them exactly. However they can’t possibly take into account a riders training history or potential, their work and family commitments, or adapt to unforeseen circumstances like illness or other reasons that a training session – or several sessions – are not completed.

A good coach will take all of these things into account to ensure that a training plan is personalised and the rider gets the most out of it.

A great coach will do all of these things and be prepared to adapt a riders training plan to suit everything about them, to change things when the unforeseen happens or life just gets in the way, and also to recognise that individuals respond differently to training. A great coach will work hard to create training sessions and plans that enable an individual to improve where it counts most in the pursuit of their specific goals and in a way that suits them best. A great coach has a whole ‘box of tools’ and the creativity needed to design a variety of sessions and plans that bring about the desired training effects in a way that suits the individual rider.

In the case of Chris, a drastic change in work commitments this year has necessitated a drastic change in the approach we’re taking to his training. Simply saying ‘you need to find x number of hours to train’ is just not going to work. I work hard to adapt and redesign Chris’ training sessions and plan to ensure that whatever is going on around him he continues to get stronger and faster and move closer to his goals.

Find a coach that is flexible in their approach and has the knowledge, skills and creativity to ensure that your training plan is truly personalised, giving you the very best chance to succeed in your goals.

  • Coach athlete relationship

This really is the key to it all. Just like any relationship, some people get along or work together better than others, and just like any good relationship you both need to work on it. For your part, you need to communicate regularly so that your coach knows how easy or difficult each session was. Did you struggle on some parts? Were other sections easier than you expected? All the numbers in the world can’t show the whole picture. Tell your coach how it felt so that your coach can put the last pieces of the jigsaw into place. Only then can your coach ensure that you are working on the right things, that you get the most out of each session and devise a plan to help you train smart and reach your goals. Help your coach to help you!

So, the key to it all, in one word? Communication! “

Thank you Mr Burrows.

 

 

In Praise Of The Mini Adventure

Just enough luggage
Glorious mornings
Calm days
Moody evenings
Back roads
Basic shelter from a hedge
Open store shelter
Trails
Quiet canals
Cold winter tracks
Getting ready for bed
Night lights
Well earned breakfasts

There’s a seemingly inexhaustible supply of aspirational features in the media telling of remote adventures into the wilderness or continent crossing epics, of living life beyond the confines of an average adult’s lifestyle.

Whilst it might seem wonderful to indulge in a similar adventure for ourselves practically speaking this is going to be a very big ask for most working adults and, in reality, something only a very few are fully committed to do.

These stories may seem to imply that only such wild, grand adventures are of any importance or benefit. This maybe true if you’re wanting to sell articles, magazines or gain sponsorship but if you simply wish to enhance your life then nothing could be further from the truth.

The Oxford Dictionary defines adventure as:

  • An unusual and exciting or daring experience.”

That’s a broad definition but note the key ingredients are simply “unusual”“exciting” or “daring” and its not hard to find those ingredients.

Balancing the typical adult demands of work and family can make disappearing off for weeks or days on end unacceptably or irresponsibly unusual.

There is no reason to feel too saddened or trapped by any of that as you can still derive great benefit from remarkably fine adventures very close to home, wherever that maybe.

Short bike packing trips can be the perfect mini adventure. Set off alone on a Friday night and ride into the darkness for as many hours as you wish and then camp out before riding home again taking as long as you wish. Riding well into the night is pretty unusual for most cyclists and just sleeping in a bivi or makeshift shelter, is pretty darn unusual for most people period. Riding any distance alone isn’t very common either.

Things happen when you do something like this. Being alone on a bike forces you to confront yourself and listen to your anxieties or inane mind chatter. That can be uncomfortable because you may discover you’re probably a little more neurotic than you ever wanted to believe! The “stuff” that you may normally, subconsciously, avoid facing by immersing yourself in a hectic life with endless distractions can now make it’s presence felt.

No matter, you now get to enjoy all the benefits of adventure therapy out alone on your bike. Riding a bike demands you focus your mind on the road, traffic, navigation, and staying safe but at the same time there is also a sense of space for you to think clearly. I feel it focuses me in two directions.

As the hours pass you can find clarity about other challenges in your life and learn to quiet the nonsensical ramblings of the mind. You feel more exposed riding alone at night but you also feel an increased sense of freedom. You experience a heightened sense of your vulnerability but your also get a greater sense of your strength. Sleeping in a bivi bag can feel claustrophobic or safe and snug. Every experience can feel good or bad, being alone on the road heightens your every sense of this, and continually challenges your resolve to choose to make the best of everything.

Or maybe not, you may hate it and swear never again but either way you’ll be far wiser and than if you’d never left…

 

Saddle Quest ~ In Search Of Enduring Comfort

 

In this post I share what I’ve learnt about saddle comfort.

I’ve been cycling since I was a kid as a way to stay fit or get about locally. It is only in the last year that I’ve been riding regularly for several hours at a time or even days on end. My biggest single challenge with any of this has been dealing with saddle discomfort.

The cycling industry doesn’t like to put newcomers off by dwelling on this but it can take months to fully acclimatise your sit bones to the demands of sitting upon a bike saddle for hours on end.

As a new cyclist you have to begin slowly in order to accustom your bum to the saddle experience; no matter what brand or design of saddle. Just complete very short rides on alternate days to begin with, there are no shortcuts, it simply takes time for your tissues to develop and adjust to this new demand.

A gradual process is fine for acclimatising your sit bones but if you’re also experiencing numbness and tingling in your soft tissues then something else needs to be done as you can never acclimatise to that. Such tingling or numbness can lead to longterm issues and needs to be taken seriously. (One long five day endurance trip I took lead to months of discomfort but fortunately no lasting issues.)

Some things I’ve learnt..
  • Tilting a saddle down to reduce perineal pressure tends to place more weight onto your hands as you stop yourself sliding forward. This can lead to nerve pressure resulting in numb fingers or cyclist’s palsy.
  • Saddle width needs to be matched to sit bone width. Wide (130mm+) sit bones on a narrow saddle particularly cause soft tissue pressure.
  • A professional bike fit is money very well spent. I had an in depth hour long fit and follow up fit with Kernow Physio that included video analysis and physiological measurements to get an optimum starting position. A follow up session some months later further refined this. The whole process gave me an understanding of the dynamics my bike position, ideas on how I can improve aspects of my strength and flexibility as well as insight into how I can make further micro adjustments if necessary. Get a professional bike fit, no online article or video is any kind of substitute. Scott at Kernow Physio say this about the importance of also combining physiotherapy assessment with a bike fit. “…Full Physiotherapy assessment: This is a key asset to Kernow Physio as one of the most important aspects of a bike fit is understanding how the client moves. And experienced Physiotherapy knowledge certainly helps this. Kernow Physio is one of the few bike fitting companies to be run by a fully chartered Physiotherapist. Key assessment areas include flexibility, true leg length discrepancy, restriction of hip, knee and ankle movement, and a footbed assessment if required.” It worked for me.
  • Even just a few millimetres of adjustment (of many different components) can make a significant difference.
  • What feels comfortable for 4 hours may not prove so comfortable on much longer rides.
  • Good core strength stabilises the pelvis and back which aids comfort. It’s necessary to cross train and combine other exercises beyond cycling to support longterm cycling comfort and endurance. With strong, flat abdominal muscles your pelvis tilts forward less and reduces perineal soft tissue pressure.
  • There is no one size fits all solution. Seek the best advice but also trust your judgement; only you really know what is right for you. Very few experts in bike fit or coaching actually have much experience with unsupported ultra distance cycling.
Saddles I’ve tried – in order

Selle SMP Extra

Used on my previous bike. I had high hopes for this but try as I may I couldn’t get a comfortable position with it.

 

 

 

 

 

Stock Genesis saddle

This came with my Datum bike but didn’t work well for me.

 

 

 

 

Brooks Cambium C15 Imperial

I so wanted this saddle to work for me. I love how it looks and initially it did seem very comfortable but after over 1000+km of testing I had to give up on it. It was Ok when riding up on the hoods but in the drops or on TT bars my nether regions went to sleep (I think the non cutout version maybe better as it should result in less sagging in the middle)

 

Ergon SRS-M

This at first seemed like the solution to my problems but again I couldn’t get a fit that allowed for comfort and blood flow in an aero position using the drops or TT bars without tilting the saddle nose down. Any nose down saddle position had me putting too much weight on my hands to stop me sliding forward. This then lead to nerve constriction and numbness and tingling in my fingers.

 

 

Selle SLR 

This is the saddle endurance cycling supremo Kristof Allegaert uses and having watched him cross Australia on one during the IPWR I thought it was worth a try. Once again I had the same issue of needing excessive downward saddle tilt to maintain blood flow in more aggressive riding positions which lead to excess hand pressure.

 

Infinity Seat N series

Aside from perineal pressure there is also the issue of saddle sores where your sit bones make contact. I haven’t suffered particularly badly with this but it’s something I’d idealy avoid. I read many glowing reviews about the comfort of this saddle and it’s design intrigued me. Sadly, my sit bone width at circa 130mm resulted in my sit bones resting, very uncomfortably, exactly on the edges of the cutout rather than within it. I could also tell that even if this wasn’t the case that I was still going to have perineal pressure issues. Another one for eBay and a real shame that  http://infinitybikeseat.com don’t provide better pre-purchase sizing guidance.

 

ISM PN 1.1

Success! This is the saddle I rode the 2017 TAW race on with virtually no blood flow or nerve issues and only mild saddle sores. I find I can move around a lot on this, but still stay comfortable, depending on whether I’m on the hoods, drops or TT bars. The pressure on my pubic rami bones took a few weeks to get used to but then I was set. It’s not quite perfect but certainly the best I’d found until I upgraded to the new PN 3.0.

 

ISM PN 3.0

This is a seriously good saddle for my needs. Virtually zero blood flow issues riding in any position. Compared with the PN 1.1, the wider back offers more pelvic support and allows me to sit back onto my sit bones if I want. The slightly different to curve to the top of the saddle fits my anatomy better. Small changes compared with the PN 1.1 have resulted in even better comfort. There maybe more comfortable saddles to be had but I’m content with this and no longer looking elsewhere. My focus now is on managing friction and eliminating saddle sores. Check out ISM’s design theory here.

 

Thanks for reading, I hope you’ve found this useful and wish you happy, comfy riding.

WGC Day 2 – The silly one

Day #2
Distance 160.1 Mi, Moving Time 15:03:55, Climbing 8,061 ft, Ave Temp 6c 43F

Day 2 dawned and I awoke happily warm and, remarkably, somewhat drier than when I’d wriggled into my little bivi cocoon 5 hours or so earlier.

My weather check the day before had suggested that sunshine and unfavourable northeasterly winds were to be the order of the day. Right now though it was bitterly cold and anything but sunny.

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Managing Weight Loss

My typical breakfast. 3-4 eggs plus blanched fresh green veggies and mushrooms with oil and butter.

Nutrition and diet is a massive subject with any number of highly qualified experts offering equal and opposite opinions as what we should eat and particularly what we should eat for athletic performance.

I don’t claim to be any kind of an expert but I am able to report on what is working for me. A few years ago I became increasingly aware that I was slowly gaining weight to spite eating an apparently healthy, clean, mostly vegetarian diet with very little processed food and few bad habits. Was I just getting old? Was this inevitable? Yes I’m getting older for sure but surely that does not have to mean getting fat and slow.

Extra weight is no help for my preferred sport of windsurfing and is certainly no help for cycling either. Something had to be done!

It so happened that around this time I’d been noticing many positive mentions of Wheat Belly on Facebook and decided to look a little deeper.

Wheat Belly‘s Dr Davis (A cardiologist) states that:

“Over 80% of the people I meet today are pre-diabetic or diabetic. In an effort to reduce blood sugar, I asked patients to remove all wheat products from their diet based on the simple fact that, with few exceptions, foods made of wheat flour raise blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods. Yes, that’s true for even whole grains. More than table sugar, more than a Snickers bar. Organic, multigrain, sprouted–it makes no difference.”

That’s quite a thought and if you study “Wheat Belly” it you’ll find that Dr Davis offers some very convincing reason to seriously question eating wheat. However being a little distrustful of American “fad diets” and authors becoming rich and famous on the back of them I read a little further into the subject of grains and hit upon the Paleo Diet.

“The Paleo Diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors.”

The idea being that humans have evolved over many hundreds of thousands of years to eat and digest “pre-agricultural” foods and that these foods still represent our optimum nutrition. You hear of very few people who are meat or vegetable intolerant but many have real problems with wheat and dairy.

Eating predominately nutrient dense single ingredient foods simply makes good intuitive sense to me as does the idea of avoiding refined and processed foods where possible.

If you dig further into the why’s and wherefore’s of these diets you can get embroiled into all manner of plausible arguments for and against and backed up by scientific studies either way. I find all that somewhat exhausting, much like researching the existence of UFO’s or covert illuminati governments and other conspiracy theories. The only certainty is that we cannot depend upon “Government guidelines” to accurately guide us in any area of our lives!

I prefer to make an informed choice, trust my instincts, try things out and gauge the results. I don’t have any health issues or obvious food intolerances that I need to consider.

To this end in September 2013 I drastically reduced my bread, pasta and fruit consumption and increased my fish, meat, fat and vegetable consumption. I quickly lost weight and felt far more energised. I went from 89kg down to 83kg by Christmas that year.

It was a fairly effortless process as I simply felt less hungry on this diet and quickly stopped craving bread and toast, though I did not stop eating bread and grains altogether. The hard part was, and still is, dealing with the convenience of just grabbing a sandwich or a slice of toast etc. particularly when away from home.

However in the years since then my weight gradually climbed back to over 88kg by August 2016 as old bread and pasta habits crept back in.

It was in July of 2016 that I began riding my bike more and thinking increasingly about improved fitness and weight loss again. This slowly progressed to me going full on into signing up for TheTransatlanticWay race.

Getting trim is a bit different this time round as I am now expending 30,000.00+ calories a month training. However I am now back down to a lean 83kg and targeting 80kg or lower as my race weight.

To achieve this I’ve applied principles that make rational sense to me but don’t demand rigid weighing out of my food or calorie counting and the like. I simply eat combinations of nutrient dense single ingredient whole foods with few grains and fairly low carbs.

Post ride I quaff a whey protein drink or some roast chicken plus some fruit but otherwise I’m still on a low-ish carb paleo-ish diet of wholesome simple and mainly organic foods. No sports drinks, gels, bars and other sports nutrition industry paraphernalia. I feel great and am losing weight and gaining strength month by month without cravings, harsh hunger ignoring self-discipline or others challenges.

As of writing this the race proper is about 13 weeks away and I am now researching and planning more refined nutrition strategies for that because I am acutely aware that fuelling adequately for multiple long, long days in the saddle is very different to my current day to day needs and training rides.

A lower carb diet allows your body to adapt to using fat for fuel rather than carbs. I want to optimise my fat for fuel metabolism in a balanced and sustained manner that let’s me enjoy the ride and does not require me to be chowing down handfuls of Haribo, Mars bars, doughnuts and other high calorie low nutrition junk.

I’m undertaking a very long 4 day “rehearsal” ride in a couple of weeks and shall report back on progress after that.