Fred Whitton Challenge 2015

Fred Whitton Challenge 2015

Saturday arrived, the much anticipated ride was but a day away. I loaded my van with all that was required and set off to collect my two friends and fellow riders. All was loaded and off we set, full of joviality and talk of how we would attack the FWC. We arrived at the hostel mid afternoon and sought our place of rest for the night, met up with fellow club members and then headed off to sign in then later for a meal together. Much banter was had about gearing, strategy and of course the usual mickey taking. Once fed and watered off we went for a final drink or two and then to bed.
We woke/stirred about 5 a.m, some of us slept, many of us did not. To my amazement there were people already leaving as we got up to prepare for the day, we showered, dressed, ate and then off we went. The queue of people arriving was long, the weather wet and faces of the passing riders so very miserable. We looked at each other and began to wonder just what had we let ourselves in for. Needless to say this would not put us off, we parked, double checked all we had was what we needed and headed off for the start/finish line. Pockets packed with food stuffs of all types, bottles filled to the brim with all sorts of magic concoctions to see us through the day…….I was beginning to get a little apprehensive, it was going to be a big day and already it was wet. I was under dressed for the weather as it was and the forecast was horrendously wrong, what could we expect later on?
It was too late now, over the line we went, a small group of us riding together and keeping one another company through the day. We clocked some miles, my mood got better and it seemed like maybe I was going to be okay, maybe my clothing was suitable after all. The rain stopped, the temperature rose. We got to the first noticeable climb, it’s name escapes me, names really aren’t my strong point but we rode it and it was fine, I was warm, slightly wet but warm, it was good. We stopped at the top for a quick top up of energy foods and to wait, eating is so very important, this I had drummed into myself before the outset as I am no lightweight. We re grouped and off we set down the very steep descent, a marshal shouts “steady, there’s been an accident half way down!” This made me nervous, I am already not good on descents on wet or damp roads, they make me nervous! I tentatively descended behind my fellow riders, riding within my comfort zone, I didn’t care if they were quicker I could always catch them up if need be but it was okay, there was no need for catchup. I was glad that was over……but I knew there would be more.
We rode some more flats and some more bumps, there were riders over taking but that didn’t bother me, I didn’t know the route and would rather be slower and finish than blow before the end. The pace was okay with the odd sprint here and there on the flat and the slog up so many climbs, I was enjoying myself, the weather was holding and the day was going to plan. Then came some more long climbs, steep thigh burning long climbs. We took those in our stride, we were used to those, we live in Wales, it’s just like our back yard. This continues for a few more hours, then the wind begins to pick up, the rain begins to fall heavier, there isn’t a single part of my body that isn’t cold and wet. We stop for a short break, then another of our group randomly appears, I don’t know why I was surprised, he does it all the time. We whine about the hideous weather and then continue on together. We hit another thigh burner, not so much that it makes you want to cry but people are already beginning to walk them, this isn’t a good sign when this is literally half way I think to myself. Up we go, climbing and climbing in the pouring rain, again at the top we are warned about the descent being steep and so very precarious, there are straw bales on the outside of a corner, I feel nervous, I’m on carbon rims, I think to myself please don’t melt as I’m almost constantly on the brakes all the way down. I get to the bottom and all is good, I’m there, we are there and everyone is alive and unbroken. We ride off into the now strong wind, the type of wind that makes you wish it would just go away,not strong enough to slow you right down but enough to put unwanted extra pressure on your thighs and sap your energy some more. We trundle on chatting, taking in the utterly breath taking scenery and generally in good spirits despite the weathers best efforts to ruin it, then comes another long hard climb. I ride it at my pace, I loose all recollection of where any of my friends are I just ride, at my pace, in my little world, I see a tent at the top or so very near the top at least and there are many people. I approach and hear the phrase of the day “good effort lad” and someone hands me a kinder bar, within seconds it has gone, then a blue ribband and again it has gone within seconds. I was hungry, so very very hungry, I had run out of food, I was begining to feel it’s effect and knew I needed a food stop and to get warm. I was aware of what was to come……98 miles in it was there, that one everyone talked about, the one people say the pro’s were walking, HARDKNOTT pass it was known as, the slayer of fatigued riders. I had no intention of walking anything, I’m too stubborn but I was beginning to wonder if I would be another one of its victims. We found the next feed station, it had heaters, the feeling was like I had been rescued from a desert island, oh and it had coffee too, it was incredible, a real mood lifter. We met up with more group members, chatted, warmed ourselves and then we all set off together for THAT HILL.
We rode for a few miles, the weather had broken by this point, it was warmer, less windy and above all not raining. Then it came into sight, I had that feeling in my gut, I knew it was going to hurt. We approached and already people were saying they were walking it. I had no such intention, it wouldn’t beat me, no way. There were two of us riding, myself and a team mate, we rode, we encouraged each other, everyone else was walking, people in the way, I was swerving to avoid them but I carried on, we pushed each other, we were determined. I could see the top, I could no longer hear my team mate, briefly I thought I hope he makes it, but then my thoughts go back to me, where I am and how I’m doing. I make it to the top, mashing at the peddles slowly and then there is that feeling, emotional, that feeling like you’ve done something you never thought you really would. I feel truly emotional as I sit back down in my saddle and take it in. I conquered Hardknott when so so many couldn’t. I did it, for me, for my own sense of achievement I did it, and then my team mate comes over the top, still on his bike, still peddling. I almost well up, it truly was an emotional experience for me, we had pushed one another, we had dug so very deep in the reserves and we had done it! It’s one of those hills, the ones you see people doing and you think wow that really must hurt…..it’s true what you think, they really do hurt, they burn deep within your legs, your arms, they ache like you have been swinging an axe for hours on end as you literally heave yourself up them. You tell yourself not far now, you think of the crest of the hill, you see it, you again tell yourself it’s not far just 50, 40, 30, 20 more yards and I’m there. You can no longer feel the pain in your legs, you’ve switched off from it, you’ve taken yourself to that place in your head where all that matters is the next peddle stroke. I do this thing where I count the peddle strokes, it’s odd I know but it works for me. On a short ride I’m sure it would be much easier but we were doing it on the Fred Whitton, it was a long way in and a lot of elevation had already been gained. That was it though, it was done, the hardest climb of the day had been conquered. My team mate and I descended the other side, it too was incredibly steep. We rode off, one more pass to do and we could relax. The last one was tough, not for very long but the last couple hundred feet, the legs felt empty, not completely but enough that you feel aching as soon as it kicks up a little. I zig zag near the top as the pain kicks in, lessen the angle, take some pressure off my broken muscles. We hit the summit and off we go, again down a slightly scary descent but it was alomst flat from here, nearly home. You feel a weight lifted as you do it, as you know it’s almost done. The ride so many say is horrendous, it’s the toughest you will ever do and it’s nearly over. We get to some flat ground and I turn and say to my team mate shall we put the hammer down, he laughs and then off we go. I lead out, from nowhere I have found some energy, where does it come from, how can we always put some speed on at the end of such a gruelling ride. We switch half way through and he takes some pressure off me, then again I am back on point. We over take absolutely everyone we come to, single riders, groups, all of them fair game, not one person managed to keep up or over take us. I still don’t know how we did it but we did. The finish line was in sight, I hit the roundabout as fast as my legs could push me and there was a welcome sight, another team mate who couldn’t unfortunately do the ride due to injury, I smile, wave and then keep pushing to the line. I was done, I was so very very happy, utterly shattered but I had ridden the entire Fred Whitton Challenge without.
Wild Wales Challenge 2016

Wild Wales Challenge 2016

Well, I have done The Wild Wales Challenge twice before. After each time, I have said never again. I don’t like steep, gnarly hills, and they are de rigueur for WWC. However, they do take you around beautiful parts of North Wales that I would otherwise not get to.

When Mark suggested in it in March, it seemed a long way away, at its traditional time of August Bank Holiday Sunday, so I agreed. It was also long enough away from the last time, to fade my memory of the pain, yet remember the spectacular views over the Mawddach Estuary.

This year has not been a hard year’s cycling for me, so I did not think I was fit enough for this years challenge, 97 miles and 9000 feet of climbing. So with trepidation the weekend arrives. I was sort of hoping for the usual bank holiday weekend weather, rain, as we had agreed we would not do it if the weather was poor. Well, lo and behold, the weather was set to be OK.

There weren’t many Melyd riders at the start, so Mark, Sally and I set off at 8.30 am. Sally left us, when the road started to climb! That first climb was tough, and long. I had descended it before, but never climbed it. The scenery was stunning from this direction, and the descent was good too!

Then, it became lumpy; steep short climbs through some forests. I started to think about bailing, as the route crossed the main road back to Bala! However, when we got there the road was very busy, so Mark persuaded me to carry on to the first control point, where we could look at route options! So more climbing, some on the A470, which was unusual for WWC, and very busy. But, what a great fast descent, to the control point, for a welcome rest, drink and cake!

We met up with others from the club there, but most importantly for me Greg and Paul. They just smiled when I groaned and said ‘I can’t do this!’
Unbeknown to me Mark had warned them, and asked them to persuade me to ride with them!

After we all refuelled, we went outside. The sun was shining and Greg made it clear him and Paul would ride with us, at a pace that would help me get round. So, I agreed to try.

Paul talked me through it, Greg paced me. Paul has a lot of experience of pacing, having completed the triple ironman last year, and he can talk! Paul was suffering with the heat, so I was climbing faster than him, which psychologically helped me (sorry Paul!). Greg and Mark set a nice pace. Greg said it is only 25 miles to lunch, which didn’t sound a lot, but did take a while, with the continued undulating course! However we were riding through stunning scenery, on quiet lanes, so was living up to what I expected!

After lunch, we climbed over a never ending hill! I don’t know if it has a name, but it caused me to have cycling Tourette’s, as bend after bend revealed more hill to climb! Eventually we got to the last control point, nearly at Lake Vrnwy. Another coffee, and cake!

I was now feeling happier. I knew the roads we had to cycle to get back to Bala. Round one side of the lake, and up to Bwlch y Groes. Then a fast descent down to Llyn Tegid, and a short ride back. Tactically, I had saved my gel, so had it on the flat road by Lake Vrnwy.

Fortunately the last big climb was I remembered it, having done it before. Some steep ramps, with easier sections in between, even some downhill!
As I was approaching the junction, which heralds the last steep section before the summit, I saw Mat, Sally, Greg and Mark! Photo opportunity! Wow, what a view. So we all posed for the obligatory selfie, then I set off for the last challenging section of the day, made worse as the road had recently been tar and chipped. It was like wading through treacle! There was a photographer there, if I see the picture it will not be a smile on my face, I was grimacing!

The last bit was as thought, easy, knowing the challenge was in the bag.

I can honestly say I would not have done it without Greg, Paul and Marks help. As I was cycling I reflected on this, and this ride made me really appreciate being in a club. The support that we offer each other, helps us improve and overcome our fears. As a coach with VC Melyd for women, I try and do this for others, and have been privileged to see lots of new women riders improve and feel confident enough to join our club. I also reflected on a recent article I had read, about how our attitude can affect us, and hold us back. This was certainly the case for me! I looked at the numbers and thought I cant do that! The WWC reminded me of the help and encouragement I have received since being part of this great club.

VC Melyd, a great club to be part of!

Alpine Adventures: the ‘Marmotte and Me’

Alpine Adventures: the ‘Marmotte and Me’

The ‘Marmotte Gran Fondo Alpes’ is frankly a real ball-buster of a ride (even for those of us who don’t have them!) It’s a total of 120 miles with over 17,000ft of climbing taking in 4 of the legendary climbs of the French Alps. The combination of long, relentless mountain climbs, technical descents, and the extremes of alpine weather, makes it impossible to equate this to anything in the UK.

Like all the best (or foolhardy) plans, it started from the comfort of the sofa on a chilly November day when having a ‘challenge’ for 2016 seemed like a good idea. Getting in is the first challenge … a case of ‘fingers on the buzzers’ the moment entries open .. but having got a place, it was on to months of training – a weekly regime of increasingly long and solitary rides round the mountains of Snowdonia … without so much as a glass of Prosecco to ease the pain : )

How did it go? I’m sure I’ll bore most of you about it out on a ride sometime, but here’s a few of the Highs and Lows …

Mountain Highs!

– Riding the iconic alpine HC climbs! Starting with the Col du Glandon, it was a sweat-fest up the 28km climb to the summit at 1924m, followed by the combined ascents of the Telegraph and Galibier – a total of 35km from the baking heat of the valley to the summit at 2642. I absolutely loved this climb, especially the final section of the Galibier as it steepened to the summit – admittedly, this happy feeling didn’t appear to be shared by many of my fellow riders : )

– Alpe D’Huez! Finally, with 100 miles of hard riding already in your legs, and nothing left to give, you’ve got to get up Alpe D’Huez to the finish line. An classic climb, 14km and over 1000m of ascent up the iconic 21 bends and steep gradients, it was a ‘love / hate’ affair as in a fair bit of pain, I dug deeper than I ever have before, to ride continuously to the finish line at the top.

My Marmotte Low …

– It has been said that in riding the Marmotte ‘most people will go to hell and back at least once during the day’. For me, hell came at the top of the Galibier – I had felt really strong on the climb, but was hit by an alpine storm at the summit. Gales, sleet, torrential rain, and a 40km technical descent off the other side – my worst nightmare on a bike. Cold to the core, road as slick as ice, steep hairpins and dark tunnels, my shoulder froze in a muscle spasm making braking difficult and made a hard descent even more dangerous. Scared and shaking, I just wanted to get down in one piece : (

Fini

My Marmotte: I had hoped just to get round safe, so was gobsmacked to find that I had finished in ‘Gold’ time! There are few things that I am genuinely proud of having achieved, but this is one of them. The Marmotte is punishing – the climbs and descents are hard and relentless, the alpine weather is notoriously extreme and unpredictable … but ultimately it was fantastically rewarding! Go do it if you can : )

sue_williams_marmotte_Gold

Ffestiniog 360 2016 Report

120 miles? Climb the Crimea Pass three times in one ride? Whose silly idea was that then? Ah … that would be mine!

Fortunately there were other folks who seemed to think that riding out to the Ffestiniog 360 was a good idea, so it’s a 7am start for a friendly mixed posse of Melyd and Rhos riders. Realising that we were on the ‘driving out route’ to Blaenau meant that my usual ‘crawl, pant, mutter’ approach to the long climb up the Crimea Pass was going to be witnessed by all and sundry, with accompanying toots, waves, and ‘motivational calls’ (well, that’s what it sort of sounded like … ). Ah well, I’m sure a bit of public humiliation is ‘character building’ …

Top of the Crimea, and we see the first of the ‘360’ riders starting to climb up from the other side (the sensible ones … who drove over). There is something distinctly masochistic about dropping down the Crimea in the full knowledge that we’re going to have to turn round and climb straight back up again! It’s a full on descent, so although many a Melyd jersey is spotted heading up the hill, only a nod is possible – ‘hands-off the bars waves’ are not really an option at this speed!

Roll into the sign-on and there’s coffee and chocolates – nom-nom! The sun is shining and there’s friends from every local club here … which for me is the best part of the event – it’s like a mobile party on bikes, when you get to ‘mingle’ with all your mates, albeit with a bit less beer 🙂

The “360” isn’t a race or a sportive – there’s no timing chips, no winners, and no prizes. The route is simple – a ‘circumnavigation’ of Snowdon over the Crimea to Betws-y-Coed, up to Capel Curig, round to Beddgelert, and back. For some it’s a significant challenge, and ‘chapeau’ to the many riders who were doing it as their first event or their longest ever ride. For others, it’s a great social ride – a chance to chat with friends and ride with folks from other local clubs. Plus it raises some much appreciated funds for the local Ty Gobaith Children’s Hospice.

Rolling back in to Blaenau with tired legs, gazing up at hills knowing I’ve got to climb the Crimea Pass for the 3rd time that day, it’s hard to not give in to the many generous offers of a lift home! Weighted down with a 360 slate momento in my pocket, with a strengthening headwind, it’s a hard slog back up the hill, but the reward is a repeat of the long, fast descent back down to Betws, before bowling back down the valley to home.

Many thanks to the organisers and all the volunteers – it was a Grand Day Out! Great to see everyone, fantastic weather, superb views, and best of all there was CAKE 😀

Ffestiniog 360 2016

Ffestiniog 360 2016

The Ffestiniog 360 2016 is two weeks away. This is a fantastic local event supporting the worthy charity Tŷ Gobeth / Hope House . The event is based, as the name suggests, in Blaenau Ffestiniog – then following a circular route around Snowdon and back to Ffestiniog. This route is around 100km and takes in some amazing scenery. Each year the route direction changes – this year we will be heading out of Ffestiniog and almost immediately up to the Crimea Pass before the sustained descent towards Betws-y-Coed.

Check out the Ffestiniog360 website for more information and entry details – and join the local clubs in supporting this worthy charity and great event.

Thanks to YOUR FANTASTIC SUPPORT our little event is growing in stature. The route itself is quite unique. It happens to be exactly 100k which is a bonus.  It has something for everyone: fabulous scenery, mountain passes, challenging climbs, long down hills, taking in the famous villages of Betws-y-coed and Beddgelert. Riders can please themselves how they approach the ride. Some may want to go for the record, currently 3hr 15 mins, whilst others will take it steady and even stop for lunch. It’s an easy going friendly challenge for anyone of any ability. Of course our aim is to have a great day out and contribute to a worthy charity. Road bikes, Mountain bikes, Tandems, Recumbents – all are welcome so what are you waiting for?

Register now, secure your place. Even if you can’t make it on the day your modest entry fee will not be wasted and you can feel good knowing you have helped Ty Gobaith. The T-shirt this year will be better than ever so help us to count the numbers and go to www.ffestiniog360.com and register now. If you have already registered nag a few friends into doing the same.

“The Crimea Pass. This year the route is anti- clockwise! This means we turn right from the start point and head North West out of town to the famous Crimea Pass. The leg and lung burn for the first half mile will soon sort out any cobwebs. If you are not a regular rider like me then there is no problem, get off and push, you will soon be on your way again.  Get ready for a long downhill – never mind the zip wire – this is just as good and free. If the road is damp we recommend caution. Enjoy but stay in one piece and you will reach the village of Betws-y-coed with hardly any effort.

Route markers and Control points. The route will be well marked at turning points. It is also printed in great detail on your route card. There will be up to 3 control points where you need your card marked. Here you can also take a stretch and top up with mineral water. Watch out for the fluorescent green signs at turns and control points.  Riders with fully marked cards need to give them up when claiming your T-shirt and slate plaque. Your card will go into a rider’s only draw for a prize worth £100. There will be another News Letter before the event and we will tell you where the control points are situated. We are doing this to avoid dangerous situations when some riders jam on at the last minute which can lead to problems.

Gran Fondo Conwy 2016

Gran Fondo Conwy 2016

This popular event is back again this year, and will be taking place on Sunday 17th April 2016.

The event comes in three formats Bach, Canol, Mawr as well as one aimed at the juniors.

“The Gran Fondo Conwy features some of North Wales most famous landmarks and best kept secrets including the awe inspiring Great Orme in Llandudno (which includes our storm the Orme challenge), the historical town of Denbigh, the iconic Llanwrst Bridge, the glorious Llyn Brenig as well as travelling along the stunning North Wales coastline with breathtaking views across the Irish Sea. The route also takes riders from Blychau to Llanrwst following the exact same route that Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish et al. cycled on as part of the recent Tour of Britain routes.”

Entries are available through the Gran Fondo Conwy website – along with GPX routes, and profiles.

This is usually a well attended, and well marshalled event by Always Aim High events – who you will also know from the Etape Eryri (12th June 2016).

FFestiniog360 2016

FFestiniog360 2016

The Ffestiniog360 is back. Last year it raised an amazing £7,800 for Tŷ Gobaith.

The event is scheduled to take place on Sunday 29th May this year.

This will be the 5th year of the Ffestiniog360 – and this is a well attended event from local clubs, with last year heading out with two groups. Hopefully we can do the same again this year.

ONLINE REGISTRATION is now open… come join us and support an exceptionally worthy local charity.

Almost 500 riders registered for last year’s event. A slightly damp start put off quite a few, however we are still extremely grateful for their support. The sun came out after 11 am and many of us ended up with a tan. Marshalls reported many riders should have gone to Spec Savers as they completely missed the right turn at the Wynnes Arms and went straight on to Llan Ffestiniog. They did happily remember to turn right and get back on route at Maentwrog. This of course meant they avoided one of the most interesting and apparently feared sections of the route. I refer to the minor road which runs parallel to the A496 and the other side of Afon Dwyryd. Despite the heroic efforts of a marshal ushering riders safely onto this road a few chose the horrible A496 instead. We must remind everyone this event is a challenge and part of this challenge is to stick to the route. We know it’s a trade off between a busy dangerous road and the small risk of a puncture but it’s a risk well worth taking. In addition the minor road is steeped in history and natural beauty without a petrol head in sight!

We value every rider and what matters most to us is your safety and the money you raise for Ty Gobaith, for which we are extremely grateful.

This event is not a race; it is a challenge with a generous time allowance to suit all abilities. Having said that, there were some very good times.  3 hrs 15 minutes seems to be the time to beat if anyone fancies going for it.

Apologies for lack of photographs last year but this year we are hoping to have back our fantastic photographer, Alwyn, who produces brilliant work and great action shots.

The online registration for 2016 is now open. Please register early and help us get 500 entries again. Go to www.ffestiniog360.com where you can register and pay online or send cheques by post. You can also download a poster to display in shops or your place of work. There is no price increase and the cost is only £15.00 with generous pre-ride and post-ride refreshments, a T shirt and a slate coaster plus the riders prize draw all included in the £15.00 registration fee. If every rider raised just £10.00 from his/her family and friends it would make a sensational increase to the amount we raise!!!”” — Ffestiniog360

Ty Gobaith is the sister hospice of Hope House, we care for life threatened and life limited babies, children and young adults from all over North Wales.  We have been proud to be the charity of Ffestiniog 360 for the past 4 years, the support that Len and the team give the only children’s hospice in North Wales is second to none.

We are delighted that so many people registered to take part this year and furthermore some people raised additional sponsorship, the total raised being £7865.59  – every single penny is able to go direct to support the children and families that use our vital services.  All of our services are free of charge and we need to raise £1.2 million a year for Ty Gobaith alone

Thank you Ffestiniog 360 and everyone who took part, hope to see you all next year for the 5th Anniversary.” — Katrina Lawson of Ty Gobaith

Wild Wales Challenge 2016

Wild Wales Challenge 2016

Reports back from the 2015 Wild Wales Challenge were quite clear – tough. A very big day out. This year we are expecting more of the same – so put Sunday 28th August 2016 into the diary

The process is in two phases – with club entries first (the club is issued with login details), and then after that it is the open entry. Phase 1 opens on the 1st of March – and Phase 2 opens 11th April. Entry is £20 and the event is limited to 650 entries.

Head over to the wildwaleschallenge.co.uk to find out more.

Keeping fit as 50 approaches!

Keeping fit as 50 approaches!

As we draw to an end of another successful season for V C Melyd it’s time to again reflect on the end of the cycling season and what it has meant for me.

A broadly positive experience with a few ups and downs, mostly of which were nasty hills!

We have been involved in all sorts of events this year as a club, from our usual and varied club rides including many away days, local and some more iconic and challenging sportives and of course the Time Trial and Road Racing leagues.

I for one have had a go at it all this year. Dipped my toe into it all so to speak. I’ve been lucky enough to have been subjected to a structured training plan from the beginning of January. It’s been tough at times but the benefits I am now feeling are surprising to be honest.

We often read about structuring our riding and training to goals and ensuring your diet supports it all too. We see the same articles being churned out in the cycling press year after year. I’ve read them year after year and just continued riding my bike. Some good days, some not so good days. Just riding.

Within the training plan I had certain goals set. I am not overly interested in criterium racing particularly on a closed circuit. It just does not float my boat. I’ve tried it a few times and it’s a young mans’ game. Yes I could hold my own as in finish in the pack but riding in circles for an hour isn’t for me. So that goal was out. I fancied having a good go at the local Time Trial league. I struggled last year as I had a bad shoulder injury after a crash so my TT season was awful. I was still having shoulder problems so I wanted to develop my TT riding skills. Goal number one. The second goal I agreed was around the type of riding I really enjoy. That is longer endurance type riding where there are tough and testing elements – hills. I really enjoy riding in the open countryside and pushing myself every now and again on sections of roads which are normally hills. Much more appealing than riding in circles so that was goal number two set.

So my two broad goals were get the TT position sorted and get more comfortable riding and work to get over the shoulder injury and the second was to train for some testing and longer endurance events with some tough hilly bits thrown in.  I chose three events to work towards within my plan. They were the Fred Whitton Challenge, the Morzine Alpine Sportive and the London 100. I had wanted to try the local road race series but there was a big conflict with my work which made it prudent not to.

Armed with a plan off I went. Every week a new plan came and every week I worked hard achieving my small goals. Feedback is key. I spent a lot of time understanding how I felt how I was performing within the plan and being sure I was not doing too much or indeed not doing enough. All very new to me. A very enjoyable experience.

I was a stooge in this, I’m an ageing grey haired forty something, nearly 50 year old MAMIL. I don’t need a training plan. I just want to enjoy riding my bike! Alan Overson was doing is coaching qualifications with British Cycling. I had a deal with him. I’d work hard both on the bike and with the ever so important feedback and he would seek to understand how he can develop me through structured training. Principally he needed to make me faster. That’s what it is all about after all. Cut to the chase. I’m not training regarding race tactics. I’m riding my bike on my own and to a plan. We need to see improvement and in the cycling world that transposes to speed.

Eating the right things at the right times has been key too. My son is a Coach with Blackburn Rovers and a Personal Trainer with Virgin Fitness. He specialises in Strength and Conditioning and has all sorts of qualifications regarding sports nutrition. Another freebie was coming my way. A nutritional plan. To be fair to him he even got me a lot of nutrition products as he’s sponsored by A supplement company. (Not free by the way – a mild discount) My pantry is like a supplement shop!

We all needed a way to keep a good analytical record of my progress. We discussed a few different applications. Training Peaks, Garmin Connect, Strava and just plain old spread sheets. We decided upon Strava as it had everything we needed plus I could make direct comparisons to how I was riding on one piece of road at different times because of their segment feature.

In the early months of the plan there was a lot of build up work. Lots of work in different Heart Rate zones and cadence and differing length rides, all of which had a very detailed brief. My out door riding was coupled with “this will make you sick” turbo sessions. I’ve never worked in a structured way on a turbo. I was told to be sure I could get off the bike and onto a soft surface and to always have a sick bowl next to the bike. For real!

The weeks came and the weeks went. Plan followed pain followed feedback followed plan. I really enjoyed it. For the first time in 35 years of riding a bike (off and on – pardon the pun) I had structure to my riding. I even had rest days off the bike! That was strange for me as I live on my bike, my wife Debs, has always referred to me as “you know Daz, he rides everywhere on his bike” when we dated at the tender age of 15 – yes I was going everywhere on my bike. It was a Raleigh Winner then. Nothing has changed she says.

Rest. I didn’t like it. We had to change the rest days off the bike to “adaptation” days. On these days I would do my core work and very occasionally would do a very gentle recovery ride. Zone 1, think about a 12mph average on a flat loop for an hour. Or I would just rest my legs as in hardly use them if the plan said so. That usually followed one of those nasty turbo sessions. Zone 5×5. I still don’t like seeing that written down.

Progress was needed, for the three of us. So was it achieved in the end? It most certainly was. In all honesty I was getting frustrated as I felt the progress and indeed the plan wasn’t testing enough at first but I bowed to the experts and went with it. I did all of the events I had planned and was surprised at how I could ride within them. Riding the challenging mountain passes of the Lake District in the sideways rain in the Fred Whitton Challenge was my first proper test. The work had paid off I felt good and strong for the event. I faltered within the last 10 miles or so as the wind and rain got to me and I had to temper my efforts. Knowing how I could do this whilst being mindful of my numbers (HR, power, speed  etc.) helped me greatly. Another benefit of the training was that I now know what I can do and at what effort – I am now a stat geek. Yikes.

I too was over the moon with my riding in France. The Alpine sportive was my first in the Alps. Now that is tough climbing and stunning riding. The one day event was a true test for me and it was important that I worked to the plan and ensured I stuck to it. No heroics. Know my numbers and work to them. I missed most of the views on the Sunday! When I blinked I could see “Garmin”. Funny. The ride was good. I really enjoyed it. I tempered my efforts on the climbs which were long and tough but I was able to complete it to plan and I was very happy with how it went. The time I took was never a goal. That would be a consequence of riding to plan. It was and I was happy.

London too was a great day out riding. I’ve done it twice before when we have had a team of four in “The Club Challenge”. It’s a sportive ride on 100 miles of closed roads. The club challenge was always billed as a timed event where four from the same club work together and aim to beat other clubs. A four man TT type of thing. That’s how we rode it in years before though as its over 100 miles and our teams had different abilities it was always a jolly day out though a tough ride. This year though we wanted a strong team so that we could challenge other clubs to the virtual podium. All a bit of fun whilst experiencing 100 undulating closed road miles finishing with a sprint along the red Tarmac of The Mall.

The experience was totally different this year. Our team was seeded as we all put 4 hours as a target time to complete it and some of us provided evidence of times from the previous years where we had top ten (virtual) finishes. There was no way this was a club challenge when we started in the first group. It turned into a pseudo road race but without having the necessary infrastructure and support. It was quite an experience but never the less met my needs in respect of my goal. I went with it. The standard of riding was surprisingly good. I had no issues at all. Yes we were close and yes it was fast but it was fine. I tried to stay at the front of the bunch and we worked hard as a team when we could. Four hours and six mins was my time. I was very happy with that. The climbs spilt the riders as expected and I managed to stay with the main group before a slowing was experienced due to a car on the route. No drama though as the second group was great fun. I did too much on the front though. A great day out.

I’m summary then, having a structure and a plan has improved my heath, fitness and wellbeing no end. Have I done it to win races? No, indeed not, I’m far too old for that. I’ve enjoyed my goals which is what it us all about for me. Use of Strava has been a drama, only as I use it to track progress sometimes “crowns” pop up and that can create a world of fun as Strava develops into a social media platform. I’m not really into all that and I’m unsure as we get segments popping up everywhere it’s the best tool to use. Jury is out for me but I do enjoy looking at my progress. Seeing others progress too is great. Comparing times on there with others is what it is all about though really it’s not great at that as we all know the environmental factors when riding a bike impact greatly on “times”. I will concentrate on my performance and plough on using it. It’s a shame you can’t opt out of public leaderboards whilst keeping all other data public. Private rides take too much functionality away.  I’m sure it will mature and the functionality will grow. Let’s hope so.

Give a plan a go. It’s hard, it’s tough but it’s very rewarding. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no great bike rider, I’m not deluded! I’ve just enjoyed riding to a plan and I’m rewarded with higher fitness which has impacted upon my health and wellbeing positively.

I keep on being asked why I don’t race, the honest answer is I’m not great in competitions, it’s a mental thing. I really do not enjoy it. I never have. I love riding my bike. Each to their own. We are all riding and enjoyment is a must. As soon as I stop enjoying riding my bike I will stop and find another fantastic hobby.

Happy riding (structured) 🙂

Darren.

Darrens-fred-whitton-strava

London 100 – Now with moving pictures

London 100 – Now with moving pictures

Back at the small end of August three teams of four, and some individuals took part in the London100. This is not news now.

As you are riding around, it’s all… well its all a bit big, and the scenery is fabulous… however you are making progress and you miss out on it all.

On top of the usual photographs – there was an hours footage from the beginning of the ride – which we eagerly sat through … taking the time to take in the sites…. as opposed to picking a route through people and shouting “on your right” a lot while trying to paint the picture “Dan – while this pace is great, we do still have 95 miles to go.”

However – as fun as an hours footage of us riding is… for us… it fails to cut it for anyone else. MANY THANKS to (Lord) Gary for cutting this down to something most respectable. Here is to happy memories, and to Team B (Dan Liddle, Gary Sheridan, Vic Manley, Anthony Hogbin) and their great day out.