What a difference a day makes

After yesterdays trials, I was a bit nervous of the 65 mile return ride.  When I woke up, my legs felt pretty stiff after pounding against the wind for 7 hours yesterday.  So I took things easy in the morning and didn’t leave until midday – and a good multistage breakfast (cereal, orange juice, two lots of toast + marmalade and a bacon roll).

The wind had dropped down to 5mph, but more importantly it was now behind me.   What a difference!  I streamed along using the top three gears rather than the bottom three.  After taking the first few hills easy to test my tired legs, I started picking up the pace and, by the time I got to Douglas I was actively attacking hills – changing up and dancing on the pedals to power up them.  These were the same hills that caused my suffering yesterday, and today they were like a red rag to a bull.

To tell the truth, I’d pulled out all the psychological tricks.  I listened to music most of the way – and it was cheese like Feeder’s Buck Rodger and Just A Day that worked the magic.  I must’ve listened to that track about four or five times whilst attacking the steeper hills.  And, thanks to yotube, I needed something catchy to keep this evil song out of my head – “if this don’t make your booty move, your booty must be dead!”.  Psychological warfare, I tell you!

I left the GPS and cycle computer in my panniers so that they could discuss numbers with each other wihtout distracting me.

I ended up doing the 65 miles in 4h50m.  So that’s 130 miles and nearly 12 hours of cycling this weekend.  It’s probably my last big training effort before doing the LEJOG ride itself.   I still have a month to go, but apart from riding the XC course at Fort William, I’m doing real world (non-cycling) stuff the rest of the time.  I’ll do some speed training during my cycle to work, but pretty soon I’m going to taper off my training and rest to repair my body.

Food for the day: about 1l of water, plus 400ml of lucozade, wine gums, macaroon, a bounty bar, most of a fruit&nut bar.  The macaroon was the win of the day – the top ingredient is sugar, next on the list is glucose!

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Team Epic Fail (Jeremy, Frank and myself) headed down to Glentress for an early evening blast around the red route, in preparation for 10 Under The Ben in late May.  I took about 1h15m to get there, via the congested bypass.   The BBC weather forecast had been proclaiming doom and gloom for days.  But Frank was wise and told us to ignore them.  And it was just as well we believed him, because we got a great evening of riding.

This was the first time I’ve been back to Glentress since they added the singletrack ascent up to the top car park.  I didn’t mind the old road too much, but the singletrack is certainly more interesting, with lots of switchbacks and a few extras to jump and hop over.  I set off at what felt like my ‘default’ hill climbing pace – enough to be breathing heavily but still a pace I could sustain for a long time.  But it turns out, that’s a pretty unsocially fast pace uphill.  I was pleasantly surprised – it seems that all my road training has given an unexpected boost to my off-road climbing skillz, yay!

Unfortunately, my descending skills leave a lot to be desired.  Dropping down Pennel’s Vennel, I was too tense – not helped by clip-ins and muddy conditions.  And Spooky Wood didn’t flow very well until I made the discovery that sitting down whilst riding the berms made the bike feel waay more stable.  Normally, I stay up off the saddle on berms – but I always feel like the bike and me are hinged in the middle, which is a degree-of-freedom I could do without.   However, with my new patented sit-down-on-berms technique, suddenly everything comes together and the bike and me become one solid unit.

We opted for the blue return route, due to fading light.  Even though, the dense forest sections were getting seriously dark, leading to many ‘use the force, luke’ comments.   We dropped down off the road onto the soberingly fast motorway section (there really is a motorway sign there).  The last bit of the blue, back to the freeride area, was my favourite bit of the day.  It’s a mix of flat and uphill, snapping left and right, and Jeremy blasted away making for an irresitable target to chase after.  He was faster, but it was a lot of fun to chase a challenging target.  Lots of grins.  We rounded up with three or four trips down the freeride area and, for the first time, I started to get the hang of getting air .. it’s not about being a passenger on a bike which is going airborne .. it’s about going airborne yourself and bring the bike along with you.  Stand up, and imagine that you’re going to fly, and you will.  Mindgames!

A good ride! 🙂

The wind, the wind

I cycled the 65 miles from Edinburgh down to Auchinleck today, hoping to do it in maybe 5 hours because there was a bit of a headwind forecast.  It started out well – the climb up through Currie and Balerno felt okay.  But whenever I got out of the city I encountered the wind that would be my nemesis all day long.  The forecast said it would be 8mph, gusting up to 12mph.  This didn’t sound too bad – I’d done a shorter training ride in 20mph wind before.  But, having followed the A70 out into the countryside, there was no shelter and no respite.  The wind was constant all day long, making ascents much harder and sapping all the fun out of descents.  Even on the steep downhills, I could feel the wind pressing back on me, stopping me from picking up any speed.  And once onto the flat, my momentum was blown away immediately.  I spent almost all day in the bottom three gears.  After the first two hours, I was finding it hard going – and it took me a while to realise that, averaging a mere 9mph, I would be in the saddle for 7 hours.  I occasionally checked ‘distance remaining’ on the GPS, but each time the number was worryingly high and it didn’t seem to go down very quickly.  The only time the GPS gave good news was when I got down to single digits.  But even that good news was somewhat dampened by the realisation that I still had an hour of cycling remaining.

Jeez, that was tough.  I stuck at it, because it’s a training ride and I know there’ll be bad days during LEJOG – therefore, I need to get used to toughing it out.  At the end of the day, I made it.  And, had I not tricked myself into believing I’d do it in 5 hours, I think the psychological effect of the wind would’ve been lessened.  As it was, I felt the wind was fighting against me, slowing me down .. stopping me going at the speed I should’ve been going at.  But there’s no speed other than the one that you do on the day.  In some ways, I’m beginning to view cycling as an activity where you pass through air rather than passing along the ground.  I can do hills.  I can do distance.  But I need to accept that, on a windy day, the weather is going to choose my pace.

I did a ‘trial packing’ earlier in the week.  This (first!) attempt ended up with pannier + all my gear weighing basically 10kg.  I think my bike weighs something like 14kg.  And I weigh around 74kg.  Put like that, it doesn’t sound that much.  But, still, I’m not going hacksaw any bits off the bike and I’m pretty sure that removing any of my own limbs would be counter-productive.  So, prompted by today’s suffering, I’m going to rethink what I’m taking.  I don’t think there’s much wiggle room.  But any weight saved will make a difference.

The other lesson from today is that I definitely could benefit from lower gearing.  I got up all the hills fine, but the combination of full panniers and wind meant that grinding along in first gear was flavour of the day.  It could easily be windy on a hilly day during LEJOG, and I’d gladly sacrifice some top end speed (ha! the thought!) for some more options low down.  So I’m going to get a 22 tooth sprocket for the rear and see what difference that makes.

Food munched today: cereal + toast + tea for breakfast,  1.5 litres of water, two bananas, one jam sandwich, one snickers bar, two caramel wafers, one Wispa, one wee box of sultanas and raisins (today’s tastiest snack!) and three barley sugar sweets.

Todays lessons:

1.  Carry cash – petrol stations are good for chocolate stops, but today’s garage had a “minimum 7.50 purchase on card” sign.  I only had £1 in cash, and ended up doing maths puzzles to try and maximize the amount of calories I could get for my pound.

2. Carry spare food in case that tasty cafe you stopped at last time in Glespin is shut, boo.  Following my recent blog post, I resolved to stop for lunch like a good boy, but I was thwarted because apparently it’s easter and that means cafes are shut.

3. You can get sunburned even on a day where the wind is so cold you need to wear winter leggings and windproof jacket all day long.  I am a dumbass who thought to bring suncream in his panniers but not put it on his face.  Hindsight is 20/20.  What’s worse, I was cycling southwest all day long, so it’s not even symmetric.

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Gear ratios

Tonight I tried to figure out if my hub-geared bike is a sane choice USING THE POWER OF MATHS!

For example, this guy sounds pretty pleased to have had a “25-12 tooth cassette and 30 – 42 – 52 chainrings” to get up the hills of Devon.  That means his “easiest gear” used a 30 tooth sprocket at the front and a 25 tooth sprocket at the back, and so one turn of the pedals turned the back wheel 1.25 times.

My hub gear bike came with a 44 tooth chainring and a 20 tooth sprocket at the back – a ratio of 2.2 by itself.  But the hub gear itself provides a ratio of 0.53 (easy) to 1.61 (hard).  So the combination means that my easiest gear ratio is 1.16.  Looks like I should have an even easier time uphill than Mr Derailleur.

What’s more, I think his racing bike has larger wheels (700mm = 27.5″) than mine (26″) which means that each revolution of his wheels makes him go further.  Good news for him on the flat, but bad news for his hill climbing.  To be truthful, I can’t figure out whether those measurements reflect the distance to the wheel rim or the outer edge of the tyre.

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The Competition

I wonder if I’ll meet these guys:

“Two men expect to take 12 days to travel a 970-mile route from Land’s End to John O’Groats in two vintage tractors. James Williamson and Johnny Sinclair, both from the Highlands, must avoid motorways during May’s charity effort.”  (see full story)

Staying warm, eating food

Twice during my training, I’ve stupidly failed to eat enough during the ride, and both times the effect has been pretty severe.  Typically, I’ve been out on a ride which turned out to be longer than I expected (eg. because of a strong headwind).  Then I run out of food/water, and I think “stuff it, I just want to get home” and press on rather than stopping to refuel.

This is a really bad idea.

Three things happen.  Firstly, your energy just goes away and cycling suddenly becomes hard.  Secondly, your body temperature seems to drop rapidly – but you don’t realise how chilled you’ve got until you stop cycling.  Thirdly, your concentration, risk perception and reaction times become seriously impaired.  The worst part of this is this: It happens fast, and I don’t realise that its happening.  I mean, I know I’m tired and hungry, but I don’t notice the temperature drop, and once you’re in the bad zone you’re just thinking about getting home and nothing else.

Boy, this is all good stuff to learn during training.  Actually, I’m much more conscientious about eating and drinking when I’m on long rides.  Every time I even think about water or drinking, I take a drink.  And I eat something at least every 10 miles or 45 minutes.  But I seem to have a dumb blindspot during ride of about two hours.

I guess the main risk during the actual LEJOG ride is towards the end of the day when I’ll be tempted to “just get there”.  Or to try and take a ‘late lunch’ instead of stopping at the right time.  So I hope that writing this down will help me remember this!  And I’m definitely going to pack some glucose sweets for instant emergency refueling.

Edit:  It’s just occurred to me that there was also something else in common on both these rides.  The first part of the ride was slow and hard work (hills, or against the wind) so I was hot and sweating.  Then the second part of the ride was at higher speeds and colder weather.  So, the temperature drop combined with the wind chill on damp cycling gear makes for a nasty combo.  A wise cyclist would stop, adjust layers and be comfortable …

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Changing gear

I was excitedly looking forward to getting my shiny new touring bike this week.  Unfortunately, when all the new bikes got delivered to BikeTrax (the bike shop), my bike was missing.  Ridgeback, the company who make the bike, now say they can’t built it until June because of supply problems.  I spent a lot of this week on the phone, but didn’t get anywhere.  I’ve now had to cancel the whole order.  Google take note:  Ridgeback == bad.

All of which means … plan B is needed!  I’ll do the ride on my existing bike, which is a 8-speed hub geared Courier Nexus which I use for commuting to work.  Whilst undeniably the touring bike would’ve been a bit nicer, I’m reminded of the title of Lance Armstrong’s book – “It’s Not About The Bike”.  The challenge is a mental and physical one at heart, and the bike itself is a relatively minor factor.  On the plus side, I’ve done all my training on this bike and I know that I can do long days in the saddle fairly comfortably.

I’m doing some maths to figure out if it’d be worth tweaking the gear ratios for the hilly sections at the start and end of the LEJOG route.  Even though the hub gears are all fixed, there’s still a sprocket on the back wheel which you can replace with something other than the default 20 teeth job that came with the bike.

Training: I’ve just got over a fortnight of colds + stomach bugs so the training has been a bit light recently.  I cycled to work a couple of times, including a mammoth 18 mile off-road route coming home on Thursday which looped around next to the airport (passing just under the planes as they departed!).

If I’m feeling up to it, I’ll cycle to/from Kirkcaldy this weekend (~50miles).  Next week, I’m heading down for an evening blast around the red route Glentress and then I’m cycling  to Ayrshire and back at the weekend (~130 miles over 2 days).

Logistic-wise, I need to:

  1. finalise my gear list and try fitting it into my panniers.
  2. Buy a handlebar mount for the GPS
  3. Finalise the route, get it onto GPS and figure out where I’m staying each night
  4. Err, that’s about it.

Five weeks to go …

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Originally uploaded by Andrew Birkett

Tickets booked, sponsorship getting up towards £300. I guess i’m committed now! Unfortunately, the touring bike i ordered has turned into a disaster. It didn’t arrive in the order which the bike shop received this week. Ridgeback in turn say their supplies can’t get them the bits they need to build the bike. Grr. I’m going to phone them now …

Not the Alps

Just for constrast, I had a look to see what kind of climbs the Tour de France guys do.  A couple of years ago, they did the road through Bourg-Saint-Maurice up into Tignes which I know from snowboarding trips.  Bourg is at about 700m, and Tignes le Lac is at 2100m.  So the Tour riders were cycling .. nay, racing .. up 1400m in 19miles.   So that’s an average climb of 73 metres per mile sustained for 19miles.  Whereas on the Wanlockhead road, I was tackling a 57m rise every mile, and only had to do it for 7 miles.

The tour route up Alp d’Huez climbs 1110m in 9.3 miles – a staggering 119 metres gained every mile.  The record times from the tour rides are all sub 40 minutes.   I took 40 minutes to cover my 400m/7mile climb – whereas Pantani did 1110m/9.3miles in the same time.  Well, he was chemically assisted .. but there’s plenty of other folk doing sub-40min climbs there.

Sheez …

Anyhow, go watch Mr Armstrong out psyche and out climb everyone else again.

The Lang Whang

The Lang Whang

I’ve always thought the Lang Whang was a strange name for a road, but it’s certainly descriptive.  Long, hilly, goes through the middle of nowhere – well, Carstairs/Carnwath to Edinburgh anyway.  The best bit about the route is that, once you are past Tarbrax, you get a huge amount of high speed downhilling into Edinburgh.  Even once you’re back in the city, the route through Juniper Green is top-gear speed-camera-taunting stuff.

The magic numbers for today were: 65 miles in 4h13m, averaging 15mph, and my hrm says 125bpm average.  The ride was fueled by a multistage breakfast (cereal, bacon sandwich, big pancake, 2 cups of tea), a litre of liquid (sports juice and water), one fruit&nut chocolate bar, two caramel wafers, half a packet of wine gums and a banana.  I feel like a machine for turning chocolate into heat.

After yesterday’s hill riding I did a lot of stretches and felt totally fine this morning.  I never used to bother stretching, until last year I went to a yoga class and realised how tight/short my leg muscles were.  Now I’m much more aware of this, I don’t just think ‘oh well, my legs must just be sore from cycling’.

Mmm, large amounts of tasty food await …

– Sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/andrewbirkett_lejog