Goodbye 2019. Hello 2020!

As an update is well overdue I thought I’d summarise last years cycling and contemplate some goals for 2020.

2019

My main aim for 2019 was to get back into racing crits and TTs. Having bought a TT bike in the winter sales, I wanted to see if I could get PBs on the local TT courses. Hopefully I hadn’t just wasted ¬£650? I had also joined a new club, so was looking forward to racing some crits with some teammates. Ultimately I wanted to score 40 BC points and get my 2nd cat license back, and in the process see if I could win my first crit.

Family commitments over the previous two years meant racing bicycles had to take a back seat for 2017 and 2018. I was back down to 3rd cat after failing to score any points at all in 2018. My fitness wasn’t great to begin with, but to make matters worse I started the year getting “someone please kill me” ill in January/February. Couldn’t have been much worse a start to the season. My first 10 mile TTs in March were road bike only, and unsurprisingly my performances were not worth dwelling on too much, a long 26 and a 24.

In April I was still suffering with illness, but started to get some strength back and gain some fitness later on in the month. I started crit racing in May, leading out a sprint for a club mate I got a 5th and my first BC points. My TT times started to come down too, with a 22:33 at Grain. Perhaps mainly due to the TT bike, this was my fastest 10 mile at this time. I had probably been overreaching because in June I felt like I was going backwards and got ill again. I then had a good July with more TT PBs on two courses. I managed to finally peak in August with more TT improvements, managing my best ever 10 mile time, 20:59 on Q10/19, and two wins at Cyclopark crits. In September, perhaps feeling ever so slightly over confident, I entered a 2/3 road race, and was thoroughly humbled when I was dropped after half an hour. Its going to take a fair amount of work to be on terms with those guys. I’d only managed to get my 35 BC points, so entered one last crit at Lee Valley. Feeling much more at home I managed to control the race from the front. Playing it safe I came away with 3rd and enough points for my licence upgrade.

So pretty much all my 2019 targets met. Apart from one – no 25 mile TT PB. I did enter a 25, but the event was cancelled. With the form I was in, and a proper TT bike, getting a 25 mile PB would have been just a formality, one for next/this year.

A pretty successful year, and to top it all off I landed a couple of awards from my new club, the evening 10 TT cup and a club shield, both dating back 70 years! Riding with the Gemini boys was great last year, having friendly faces at most of the crits and TTs I rode was super cool. And the kit is the best one around.

2020

On to 2020, and main goals are more of the same really. I never thought I’d be able to before my 2019 season, but would love to go under 20 minutes on a 10. With better equipment (have better wheels and skinsuit on order), a better start to the season, a bit of structured training, and a decent nights sleep I think I should be able to do it. I reckon I should be able to go under 55 on a 25 too, and would love to go under 50 one day. Previously I’ve managed 58 mins, twice on a road bike.

Crit-wise I’d like to see if I can get the 25 points needed to keep my 2nd cat license. Getting a win at E12 level might be a bridge too far. I can but dream, it’s something to aim for.

I have entered the Kentish Killer again (why do I do these things to myself!?), so would like to PB that. But really I want to “win” it. I was 11th in 2019 coming straight back from illness. This means that I need to stay healthy through January and February for once.

After watching a couple of YouTube vlogs about it I quite fancied the Brands Hatch Revolve 24 hour race. But looks like its not going ahead this year. Sad face. So will be on the lookout for something else to do. I might do a Chase The Sun, or something like that.

I’m toying with having a go at the Kent Cycling Association Best All Rounder competition, which includes 25, 50 and 100 mile TTs and then a 12 hour TT in September.. Will have to see how the season unfolds, lots of work ahead.

Gemini BC is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. This means there will be some special rides planned, and we might be hosting a race. So that’s something else to look forward to. And I’m looking forward to the new 50th anniversary kit too. Watch this space.

Cyclopark Summer Series #18, Cat 3/4, 29-08-2019

Leading up to this race I’d been enjoying some good form. I’d placed in the top ten in my previous four races and managed some 10 mile TT PBs. However, 2 nights prior I’d raced a TT and afterwards had been bitten by some monster mosquitos all over my arms and legs. I felt like a pile of poop the next day. I sacked off the Bexley hillclimb I’d planned to go to that evening, opting to go to bed super early instead. I still wasn’t feeling right the next morning, almost opted to drive to work, but thought I’d ride just to see if racing seemed on the cards. I felt fuzzy on the ride in, did a days IT consulting, and still felt crap when 5:30 came. I’d have gone straight home and rested up if this race had been at the start of the season, but seeing as it was the last one of the series I thought I’d see how I felt on the ride to the Cyclopark. I took it easy on the way, but still felt crap and wasn’t sure if I’d be able to race. Throwing caution to the wind, I entered anyway. I sent the Directeur Sportive a message saying I could well be home early as I might get dropped on the first lap. Had an emergency coffee, ate a banana and hoped for the best.

Although I didn’t have any Gemini team mates for this one, Gary from my “other/old” club Bigfoot was racing again. Typical, I joined Gemini so I’d have people to race with, but the regular crit racers are all 2nd cats now! For instance Tony from Gemini was also racing, but in the 1-2 race. This season I’ve come to know a few of the regular Cyclopark racers, and there were a some friendly faces racing. Then there were also a couple of guys who I would much rather finish in front of than behind.. Gary and I had a chat and planned to wait until 30 minutes into the race, then try to get away out of the hairpin and 2up to the end..

The cards were set, 37 starters, should be a good race, if I didn’t blow up.

The start of the race was pretty relaxed which I was grateful for. A few early attacks were quickly reeled in. After 10 minutes I started feeling a lot better, and decided to take to the front at a few key corners in order to string out the bunch and make everyone work a bit.

After a couple of laps I realised that I was doing too much on the front again, so sat up and let the bunch pass me. Just as this happened the shouts to let the 2nd cats come through on the right started. Two riders from Richardsons-Trek went past us as if they were out on a Sunday cafe ride. A junior from the 3-4s almost took them out at the hairpin, and then tried to get a tow from them. Kids huh?! I was still sitting in half a lap later when a decent sized group of about 6-8 riders, including Gary, broke off the front. Just as they did the main 2nd cat peloton caught us. Chaos ensued. This looked bad. As Gary had made the split I’d have nobody to share the effort of a chase with. We were forced to slow down to let the 2nds through just as the break was getting away. Nothing I could do other than wait. Once the 2nds were through we chased, a couple of 3-4s cheekily got tows from the back of the 2nds peloton but were shouted at to stop. Going up the finish straight we did manage to catch the 3-4 break who had also been forced to sit up to let the 2nds through.

30 minutes was now approaching and I found myself on the front going up the finish straight. Coming up to the hairpin I put in a dig so that I was on the front going into it, took the faster wider line and then put in another big dig on the climb out of it. I looked back and had managed to gap the field. Gary was putting an effort in to join me. I throttled back a touch to let Gary catch me up, he went past me and towed me down the back straight at full gas. I took the front again approaching the left hander and took it as fast as I could. I checked my shoulder and the bunch had managed to catch us. They weren’t letting us go that easily, but that acceleration must’ve hurt everyone.

So that was that, and coming up to the start finish line the 3 laps to go board was out. I tried to recover a bit, but the attacks started coming. I jumped on the wheel of a couple of breaks on the penultimate lap, which warmed my legs up. Coming out of the hairpin I found myself in 2nd wheel, the guy on the front suddenly decided he didn’t want to be there and flicked his elbow. He obviosuly didn’t like it when I said “Sorry mate, you can stay there”, he jabbed his breaks, almost causing a pile up. If I get my 40 points I won’t miss riding with him next season. A couple of guys then attacked, I was still recovering and had to let them go. Then one more went and the chase started. I jumped into somewhere about tenth wheel and followed.

We managed to catch one of the three guys up the road at the start of the last lap, but two still had a gap of about 50 meters. I was wondering if we’d manage to catch them. Thankfully the guys on the front were keen enough to chase. Going down the back straight I tried to control my breathing and get as much oxygen in my blood as possible. Going into the last bend I was about 5th wheel and feeling decent. The two riders who were out the front were now only 20 meters or so ahead, we were catching them at a rate of knots, and hadn’t even started our sprint yet. I decided not to wait this time, kicked up the steepest part of the straight, then flicked up two gears and pulled the trigger as soon as the road flattened out a bit. I went just at the right time, passing all the riders in the front of the bunch. I took the front just as we were catching the two breakaway riders at the point where the track bends slightly to the left. They were taking the racing line cutting accross the circuit to the left. Fair enough, but they’d got in the path of a peloton in full sprint, eeek! Heart in mouth I shouted “HOLD YOUR LINE!!!”. I just about managed to miss riding into the back of them, and they didn’t change direction again so I managed to go around them to the right. I continued to drift to the right of the circuit, and took a quick glance over my left shoulder, half expecting to see a group coming past me. But nothing! I emptied the tank all the way to the line and took the win, with Gary taking second place just behind me. Then collapsed in a heap on the grass.

Glad I decided to race!

Strava link

Sprinting on the hoods

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Decent gap though

Cyclopark win 2

All-focus

Crits at the Park #8, Cat 3/4, 3/8/2019

In the morning I was lucky enough to have a lie in. With 3 small children this is a rarity, and was very much needed. But upon finally getting up I was unsure of how I was feeling. My legs felt tired following 2 evening TTs during the week, but I wasn’t fatigued as I had knocked back the volume of my riding. After a relaxing start to the day, and one too many pancakes, I got to the Cyclopark and signed on. I was putting my number on when one of my cycling buddies Neil came over to say hello. I was really glad to see him racing. We’d been on a few rides together, but although we had talked about it in the past, we had never raced before. James Drain from Gemini then turned up too, always good to have a couple of friends racing with you.

The race track took ages to clear, so all we got was one warm up lap. Some guys had been warming up on turbos and rollers, but the weather was warm, and I’d ridden to the circuit, so I wasn’t too worried about my lack of prep. I knew Neil would work with me to bring back an early attacks should any get away too.

The race started at an easy enough pace. A couple of people tried to break away in the first lap which amounted to nothing – maybe they needed to warm up more ūüėČ My buddy Neil then took to the front and took control, I rode up alongside him and he told me to go for it. I put in a very soft attack and surprisingly found myself with a gap. I didn’t fancy 50 minutes solo, so after a lap off the front I sat up. Just as I was caught I felt like I’d warmed up all of a sudden, so after the hairpin I put in a more concerted attack and spent a further two laps off the front. I waited for someone to bridge to me but nobody did. As my average speed didn’t seem too great I sat up, recovered, and let myself get caught. After that I sat on Neil’s wheel as much as possible. For a lot of the race Neil was on the front and I was in second wheel. Neil was able to sustain long efforts at just the right intensity – easy enough not to hurt me, but hard enough to put off any attacks. He’d also ramp up the power really smoothly which suited me and helped save my legs. After my solo adventures early in the race I thought it best to sit in and wait for the sprint and tried to avoid going into the red. I was still doing some work on the front, but after a few turns Neil suggested I’d be better saving my legs for the sprint. I agreed so stopped with the heroics. Everyone else seemed happy to chase all attacks, so a sprint was very likely. With 3 to go people started trying to get nearer the front, and I decided to let them whilst recovering as much energy as I could. I drank the last dregs of my water, but was still very thirsty, not long to go now though, should be OK. I continued to sit in with 2 to go, and at the start of the bell lap I started making my way back to the front. Going round the hairpin I took the wide line which let’s you carry more speed, then gave it a good dig up the little rise coming out of it. I went past a few people but then the guys on the front sat up and moved over blocking any attacks. I had nowhere to go. Not to worry, I saw Neil further up the bunch thought I’d try to make it to his wheel when I could. Going into the bottom of the circuit I’d managed to get to the top 10 and that let me take the racing line around the bends, carrying more speed and saving energy. Heading up the finish straight I found myself stuck behind a few riders as a bunch of people ramped up the speed on the right going past me. I managed to find some space to the left just as the sprint kicked, I started my sprint just over 50m from the line and in about 20th place. This was all new to me, usually I like to pull the trigger much earlier from the front of the bunch. It was a big bunch and I was quite far back. I thought I’d left it too late. To my amazement, however, I started overtaking people and had the left half of the track all to myself. I knew that the finish line was a little further up the track than everyone thinks and I saw I was catching 1st place so utterly buried myself, my back wheel bouncing in the air with every pedal stroke, heart rate redlining at 189bpm, speed over 50kph, and nudged into the lead just as we got to the line.

I knew I’d taken the win and managed to punch the air with my puny cyclist arm. After years of trying, I’d finally gone and won a crit!

During the warm down lap and after the race a few other riders came to congratulate me which was awesome. My wife and kids had come to watch and were at the finish line when I rolled off the track, but it turned out that they had missed the sprint.. They hadn’t got a clue that I’d won!! Luckily Luke from Gemini was there with his family watching and had filmed it, thanks again Luke.

I went got my winnings and treated everyone to some cake and tea from the cafe. Then Corben asked to ride home with me which was the highlight of my day ūüėÄ

Strava activity link

Kentish Killer 2019

It was November 2018. Having not raced properly for over a year I needed a goal to aim for. The KK mailshot e-mail arrived in my mailbox and I thought that it was a good idea to enter?! My work colleagues Ian and Phil decided to enter too, it was to be their first sportive – what a one to pick!

I’d ridden the KK twice before. I’d entered in 2015 when I first moved to rural Kent, and rode it again in 2016. So I knew that it was a tough ride and that the weather was likely to be bad. Not only was I younger back in 2015 and 2016, but I was also a bit fitter as I had a 50 mile commute which I did a few times a week. Both years I’d managed to complete the course in 4 hours 18 minutes, which was good for a “gold award” time. This time I really wanted to get that platinum award, and now in my 40s the platinum time cut off is 4:15 – so a PB should seal the deal. Actually, I really wanted to “win” the thing and do it under 4 hours. You’ve got to aim high after all.

I’d kept my riding going a bit through December, and was just starting to ramp it up again in January when I got REALLY ill. I was out of action for two weeks. This left me with about one month to resurrect some sort of fitness for the KK. I figured I would do a 3 week training block with one week of rest before the event.

KK training graph 2

 

On the day of the event we were blessed with storm Freya, i.e. high winds and rain. The organisers had a time cut off at the point where the long and short routes split – anyone arriving after the cut off would have to do the short route in order to avoid the worst of the storm.

I rode to Brands Hatch with Andy, into the wind and rain. I took it easy, but this meant I was cold at the start. We arrived and got our pack and applied our timing chips and frame numbers. I met up with Ian, who had done almost no training at all for the event(!), and Andy met up with his friend, Matt. We rolled up to the start and after a brief wait we were off. We rolled out of Brands Hatch and up Fawkham Road, I looked around for Ian, but he was nowhere to be seen. Off the back from the start – it was going to be a long day for him!

Andy, Matt and myself pushed on. The road surface became quite muddy up St Clare Hill Road and we got held up by a couple of cars. By the descent of Exedown we’d lost Andy. I held back going downhill, and was on the breaks all the way down. I knew the crosswind would be dangerous in the fast exposed section, but this didn’t perturb a group of 5 or 6 other riders who overtook me at speed. Nutters. As the road flattened out Matt and myself caught and passed the group of fast descenders and thankfully I didn’t see them again.

Carters Hill

After this I settled into a comfortable pace and chatted a bit to Matt. Bates Hill wasn’t too bad, we pushed it a little but its only short so I managed to keep my Heart Rate below threshold. The first big climb on the ride is Carters Hill. I’d gone up Carters a couple of weeks before with Phil, so it was fresh in my mind. I warned Matt that it was a tough one, but just as the gradient ramped up he started pulling away from me. “Blimey” I thought! I didn’t panic and tried to keep up with Matt whilst I controlled my breathing. About halfway up my legs woke up a bit, I started reeling Matt in, and near the top I was able to sit down and spin past him and carried some speed into the flat bit at the top. Phew!

Soon after Carters is a descent down the A225 out of Sevenoaks. Again I was on the breaks all the way down, but even so the strong crosswind made it sketchy AF.

Hubbards Hill

Horrible Hubbards isn’t all that bad. The gradient is much more gentle than Carters for starters. There is a long stretch that goes over the motorway which I guess could be quite daunting if you’re already suffering. I however quite enjoyed overtaking a few weekend warriors whilst sat down and chatting to Matt. ;-p

After Hubbards the terrain is rolling, but the wind and rain made it hard going. I’d been drenched for a while and I’d lost feeling in my toes. Only one thing for it – try harder! Matt decided to stop at the long/short route split and wait for Andy, so I cracked on solo.

Around Groombridge there is a little descent with a junction / right hand turn at the bottom. Going into the junction a cyclist in front of me took a sketchy wide line, I went past him and he jumped on my wheel. The two of us were joined by another chap for a while, but he soon dropped off. I got chatting to my new riding partner, another cycling dad! We were pretty evenly matched, but he seemed to be a better climber than me and I could pull harder on the flat sections.

The absolute worst of the weather hit us in a valley where the crosswinds blasted us from right to left. We’d been carrying some speed on the descent into the bottom of the valley, so it was another super sketchy moment. It was at this point I passed Steve from Gravesend CC. I shouted “Alright Steve?” but the wind was gusting so loudly and the rain was lashing that he didn’t hear nor see me – even though I was only one meter away! I was actually glad when the road ramped up the other side of the valley as it provided some shelter.

Ashdown Forrest

Riding up Church Hill in Ashdown I let my new friend take the front and pace me up, he did such a good job I felt unable to come past him. Towards the top of the climb I regained a bit of strength so took a turn on the front and quickly dropped my companion. Realising my error I throttled back to let him jump back on my wheel. In my defense I’d found the effort up the hill pretty hard all the way, my legs were suffering a bit, so when I took the front I just tried to maintain the same perceived effort – could’ve done with a power meter I guess.

At the top of the hill the course turns right, and for the first time that day we were gifted a tailwind – woo hoo!!! I took the front as the wind blew us along the flat and down the descent. We couldn’t capitalise fully on the wind and downhill though as the wet road meant we were on the brakes a lot of the time. It was a welcome break from the wind and climbing, but it meant that I started to feel cold again.

The terrain was rolling again, I took the front and pushed on in an attempt to get some heat in my limbs. I also wanted to bring the average speed up a bit, time to crack on. My new riding buddy had saddle bag issues which meant we had to slow and stop a couple of times, but despite this we’d bought the average up by 1kmh by the bottom of Ide Hill.

Ide Hill

I’d fully cooked my legs leading up to Ide Hill, so had to let my riding partner go up the road a bit when the road first pitched up. After I’d let him go I found my second wind (probably tenth wind by now TBH) and maintained the gap for the second half of the climb. Going around the feed station at Ide Hill he peeled off and stopped, but I carried on solo and decided to bury myself the rest of the ride. I caught and passed a couple of others going down Ide hill on the north side, but then got caught at the traffic lights where the guys I’d just passed caught me up again. I decided to eat some food and took it easy for a bit leading up to Sundridge Hill, letting one of the other guys go up the road.

Sundridge Hill

The wind picked up leading up to Sundridge Hill, blowing from left to right it made progress tough, again. Seeking cover, I jumped on the wheel of another rider. At the start of the climb he rode away from me, but when I got in my rhythm I caught and passed him. It hurt. Halfway up the climb I saw Ian up the road, walking his bike. He’d not made the time cut off so was diverted on the short route. I think I said something to him, but I was hypoxic, so I don’t remember TBH. The climb is a real brute, but I actually quite enjoyed it.

At the top of the hill I was feeling good – I adopted TT position and put the hammer down, what was left of it anyway! Looking at my computer I had half an hour to get to the finish in order to make the 4:15 Platinum time. I mentally broke the rest of the ride down into three ten minute chunks: if I could get to Otford in ten minutes, then make it over Row Dow and Tinkerpot in the next ten, then that would leave me ten minutes to get to the end. My guestimations were well off, but I find putting in a hard effort much easier if I break it down. The best bit of the ride happened as I was blasting past a couple of guys in TT position on Knockholt Road at 40+kph. I heard one of them saying to the other “fuck that” ūüėÄ This was closely followed by the scariest bit of the ride where the crosswind almost blew me into the curb at the top of Pollhill. As promised the weather was worsening and I was glad to be nearly done.

Row Dow

I actually made it to the bottom of Row Dow in about 20 minutes. I knew that it’d take me longer than 10 minutes to get to the finish line from there, but I gave it a go anyway. I find Row Dow hard at the best of times, so with over 4 hours in my legs, and after a hard effort, it was all I could do to crawl up it. I still managed to catch and pass a couple of people, but I reckon I was hurting just as much, if not more than they were. In previous years I’d suffered cramp at this point, but no cramp today thankfully.

When the road flattened out I was able to get back up to speed again. Maybe its psychological, when my legs are cooked I can still push on on the flats and descents but I lose the ability to climb? I caught and got held up behind a couple of riders on the next downhill, but made it past them before the road went up for the last time.

Tinkerpot

I’d caught another group of riders at Tinkerpot and made my way past them all as I summoned the last of my reserves and, knowing it was only a short climb, I refused to drop to my smallest gear. Having other riders up the road sparks my competitive spirit and must give me a burst of adrenaline, or some such?

Finally all the climbing was done. I tucked down again and emptied the tank to the finish, reaching my maximum speed of the day on the descent down Fawkham Road. Upon finishing I wasn’t sure if I’d made the Platinum time cut or not. It was tight, but I had missed out by two minutes. Happily, I’d beat my PB by one minute though.

Being caught up in traffic, traffic lights and stopping to wait for people maybe accounted for over two minutes? Oh well. The weather certainly didn’t help either. I finished 11th on the day, which, given my circumstances leading up the day, I am really happy with.

Kentish Killer official time

I then waited at the Kentagon for everyone else to finish and to swap war stories. After several free coffees later I rode my bike home to make it 134km for the day where I spent at least an hour in the bath.

Link to Strava

Chilham Castle sprint duathlon 14-10-18

Kerridge KillersWaffle

I’ve not been racing much this year. My wife and I had our third child back in December, we had a baby girl who is very cute, and a massive distraction from cycling.

I also started a new job, which is going so well that a group of my work colleagues (Stewart, Phil and Ian) and I decided it’d be a good idea (!?) to enter a multisport event together. The original idea was to give triathlon a go. However, it was the wrong season for giving tri-a-try. I remembered that one of my Bigfoot club mates had had some success at duathlon, so I suggested this might be a more accessible stepping stone from which to dip our toes. The four of us took the plunge, and entered the Chilham Castle duathlon. Only 6 weeks away, it was enough time to prepare a little, but not too far off in the future so as to lose focus. Ian and Phil had to acquire road bikes and I had to buy some running shoes having not run in over a decade. I was not-so-quietly confident that I would boss the bike leg, but knew there was a massive disparity between my running and cycling abilities. Better do some training.

Training

A week later, thanks to Phil, I got a half price discount on a proper pair of running shoes. I discovered that running generally sucks, especially if you’re a cyclist with massive cycling muscles, a half decent cardiovascular system, puny running muscles and awful or no running technique. I found that I had quite the capacity to destroy my legs on pretty much every training run. After three weeks training and three weeks to the event I decided to have a race distance dress rehearsal. It wasn’t too bad, but instead of being happy with my progress and letting my body recover I then went for another run the next day. Bad move. My legs did not like this abuse one little bit and I was put out of action for over a week. Then, when I should have put in a bit more training, my busy life meant I was either away from home on business, or too tired. I did at least manage to stop myself from over compensating in the week before the event and managed to do something along the lines of a taper.

Race day

I woke up an hour before my alarm at 4am. Knowing I’d not be able to fall asleep again I got up soon after and made coffee. Stewart picked me up just before 6am. During our journey there the heavens opened. The forecast had been for rain but I was obviously hoping it’d stay dry. Thankfully the rain stopped as abruptly as it’d started, and as we arrived at Chilham Castle the sun was starting to rise on a beautiful morning. The cross country terrain we’d be running on was pretty damp from the morning dew, but the road was dry. There was a slight wind blowing to the east, but nothing to worry about. Almost perfect conditions.

We went and got our race packs and stuck our numbers on our bikes and helmets. I then went for a solo warm up ride and recce up Molash hill. The driveway out to the road was gravelly and treacherous. On the road, I made a note to take it easy past the flattened fox and field of sheep so I didn’t implode on the steep bit of the climb. The climb up the driveway at the end of the ride was going to be tough too. I racked up my bike, drank some water and told the others about the fox.

To the start

The fastest group of 10 runners formed straight away. I thought about seeing if I could keep up with them, but opted to keep pace with a couple of guys nearer my level. We kept the fast group in sight up the climb, but they steadily increased the gap. My body wasn’t enjoying the run very much. To get through it I mentally broke it into chunks – 2.5k you’re halfway, 4k just one more to go etc (cruelly the 4k marker board only came after 4.3k so I had to repeat the only one kilometer to go internal monologue, but this time with more swearing). During the run every time I looked at my HR it was at 180bpm. The last time I tested my FTHR was 169, and my max about 182. There’s no way I could maintain 180 for the whole race, so I made a conscious effort to slow down a bit, but my HR average was still on the high side.

The respite of T1 was a bit too welcome, which reflects in my slow transition time. I lost a minute to the people around me in both transitions. Where the fastest guys took just 30 seconds to put their helmet on and pick up their bikes I was taking one and a half to change shoes, drink some water and regain some of the use of my hypoxic brain. Should’ve bought those elastic laces.

Jumping on my bike was a massive relief. This was the moment I had been looking forward to for 6 weeks. I was in 11th place, time to sort that out. I safely descended down the shocking drive and on to the road. I spent a few seconds spinning the legs to see how they were and let them recover from the run, then gently ramped up the power. The climb up to Challock was great fun as I overtook cyclist after cyclist. I was conscious that I still had another run to do, so held back from giving it the full beans that I would have if it was a cycling time trial. Approaching the first turn around I counted 3 people coming the other way with one other just ahead of me. The guy in the lead was probably too far up the road to catch now, but thought I might still have a chance for a podium place. 4th place guy made it round the roundabout a few seconds ahead of me, seeing me so close to him seemed to spur him on and he increased the gap. I ramped up my effort and started reeling him in again. I went past him about halfway down the hill whilst also seeing my friends going the other way, still gurning their way up the climb. Phil on his borrowed bike was in the lead, then Ian on his new road bike closely followed by Stewart on his homemade TT bike. At the bottom of the descent the terrain is rolling. As I tried to carry my speed up the inclines I felt the twinges of cramp in my calves. On the flat section heading to the second roundabout I tried to measure my effort to avoid cramp, and drank the rest of my water and lightly salted water/OJ mix. Approaching the second roundabout I saw that the gap to third place had come down to under a minute, a podium might still be possible. I made it to the roundabout and took a fast line around it making use of the drops on my road bike, but when I went to start pedaling again my left leg seized in a very painful spasm. I tried pedaling through it but it wouldn’t release and hurt so much I almost crashed into the curb. Nothing else for it, I had to stop and stretch. Just as I stopped another rider went past the other way. A few seconds later he’d made it around the roundabout and took 4th place from me. As soon as the pain went and my leg would move I started pedaling again and felt OK, but still on the verge of cramping again. I’d lost about a minute. Quickly I caught up the rider who’d just passed me and regained 4th. I limped back to the castle, again passing my friends going the other way who looked in just as much pain as me. Making use of his aero TT position on his bike Stewart had overtaken Ian and was making headway into the large gap up to Phil.

I just about made it up the steep and potholed drive and on to T2. Whilst I was slowly changing my shoes I lost my 4th place to the rider I’d yo-yod on the ride. I knew that the hardest part of the race was the start of the second run so I probably wouldn’t be catching the 4th place. Feeling more twinges of cramp I went into a damage limitation pace. I didn’t dare look back and tried to keep 4th place in sight, just in case he started walking. After a kilometer it was actually me who needed to have a little walk. After 10 or 20 seconds I regained my composure and managed to get the legs moving again. I even managed to pass some runners who were doing the 10km running race. A couple of hundred meters before the finish line the course goes up a slight incline and it was at this point I became aware of some heavy breathing getting closer behind me – someone was catching me up! I wasn’t about to let myself be overtaken in the finishing straight, so I dug extra deep and upped my pace. HR at the highest its been all year (188), and my pain level well over any sort of threshold, I crossed the line in 5th. All I wanted to do was collapse on the floor, but the collapse had to wait as I had to stumble around whilst someone put a finishers medal over my head.

It took me a little while to recover, and then spent a few minutes chatting to the other finishers. I got to cheer my friends from work on as they started their second run, then again as they all finished not too much after that. Shouting mild abuse at your friends as they are suffering is so much fun.

I managed to finish in 5th place overall in 1:30:48, Phil was 1:46:27, Stewart and Ian both managed to come in in less than two hours 1:55:28 for Stew and 1:58:01 for Ian. I won my age category, which considering it being my first duathlon I am very happy about, although the chap who beat me for 4th overall is older so props to him. Hopefully I’ll get some more training in before the next one, plenty of room for improvement – especially with my running and transitions.

Link to first run leg

Link to bike leg

Link to run leg 2

Beer 3

Tour Of Sussex 2017

I entered the ToS back in April. Bill sent a group e-mail out and,¬†feeling like I’d been slacking recently and therefore needed a challenge, jumped at it. When I looked at the parcours: two time trials, a crit and two road races; I thought that it kinda suited me. I’m not great at road races, especially hilly ones, but was up for the pushing myself. The two TTs and crit would mean that I wouldn’t make a complete fool of myself. However, when the organisers announced that the first stage was in fact a hill climb up Ditchling Beacon I wasn’t very happy…

Leading up to the Tour I tried to ramp up the training as much as family and work¬†commitments allowed – i.e. probably not enough, but it’d have to do. I’d also volunteered for some more HIIT lab testing at the university, which helped a fair bit.¬†I managed to lose about 5kg of weight, which got me down to 70kgs, but could’ve done with losing a couple more TBH.

The weekend before the start disaster struck – I was out with another Bigfoot rider on the Sunday when my BMC SLR01 disintegrated. I had been travelling at 45kmh downhill when the rear dropout failed sending my rear derailleur into my rear wheel. I stayed upright but the bike was toast. I was going to have to use my trusty old Felt, which needed some serious TLC. So I got home that day and spent the afternoon changing cables and regreasing the headset. Luckily a couple of days before the ToS the wheels I’d won coming second at the Rapha London Nocturne turned up, so I put some new tyres, latex tubes and a new cassette on them. The Felt was like new again, again. I was going to miss the 11 speed DI2 and power meter though.

Stage 1 – DITCHLING BEACON

The stage was only very short, but a brutal climb to be racing up. I got to the HQ nice and early and waited for Bill. Earlier in the day we’d learned that Dave wasn’t going to be able to make the race. I was particularly gutted as Dave is more my sort of build, unlike Bill and Richard who are both skinny hill climbers. I went for a warm up with Rich and Bill up the Beacon. Their warm up pace was close to my limit and my heart rate was maxing out just trying to keep up with them. This isn’t looking good, what am I doing here?!

I was to set off after Rich and Bill. there’d be no chance of catching them whatsoever, but at least Dave not being there meant the next rider behind me would start 2 minutes after me, so I *should* be able to not get caught. The first part of the course was a false flat, which invited one to blast up it into the climb. If I’d done that I’d be in the red as soon as the gradient kicked up properly. I went at about 80%, which combined with the slight gradient and headwind, felt very slow for a TT. I managed to keep my cadence and breathing under control for the first half of the climb. When I started to feel the lactate build up in my body I panicked and decided it’d be a good idea to push harder. So I gave it the beans and went deep into the reserves. Bad move. I was already in the red and now both my legs and lungs were begging me to stop. Going round the next bend I realised that I still had a way to go yet. The urge to stop was very close to overwhelming, and I was worried I might literally explode. But the shame of stopping would’ve felt worse, so I dug deeper and kept going. There were a few people dotted up the ride cheering us on, nearing the end of the climb this gave me¬†the boost I needed. I rolled over the finish line and up to a grass bank where I collapsed, still clipped in, panting to try and get some oxygen into my blood. My heart rate had been over 180bpm for a few minutes there – I needed a lie down!!!

Got the results later on, 56th (out of 79), very happy not to be last. Rich and Bill both managed to place in the top 10, 5th and 6th I think – impressive stuff!

That night I was staying at my brothers place in Brighton. I’d figured that recovery after each stage was going to be key. As the next days racing was near Chichester staying in Brighton meant about 2 hours less travel and more sleep. We ate a curry and I went to bed reasonably early. It was a hot night, and sleeping on the floor wasn’t very comfortable TBH, but it was probably better than two long drives and a night being woken up by the kids.

Strava

Stage 2 – Team Time Trial

This was the stage we were going to miss Dave the most. Every other team had 4 riders and could afford to lose or sacrifice one along the route as the teams time would be measured on the 3rd man over the line. The route was 1km of flat, followed with about 5 or so km of climbing, a bit of flat then 4km of straight flat out descent. On the warm up I suggested that the best thing we could do would be for me to do the first flat bit, then Bill and Rich to 2up the climb whilst I tried to hang on in their slipstream, then I drill it on the downhill as hard as I could. Given the circumstances it was the best¬†plan we could come up with, and we executed it pretty well too. I put in a measured effort on the flat, hitting about 45kmh. Then my heart rate dipped into the red a bit keeping up with the other two up the climb. Going up the climb we had to slow twice, once for an oncoming tractor and then¬†a post office van decided to do a three point turn just in front of us too. Neither time did we have to stop, but did check the brakes and freewheeled a bit. Toward the top I started feeling good, put in a quick turn on the flat at the top, then sat back in. Approaching the junction at the top of the descent a little red car overtook us then slowed us up. Rich went to overtake, but then the driver floored it away from us. I then took the lead position and drilled my hardest gear until I was spinning out, tucked for a bit, then drilled 120rpm down the hill. I started blowing a bit near the bottom, again my heart rate had been over 180bpm for a minute or so, I flicked my elbow for someone else to take a turn. Rich said he tried to go around me, but couldn’t. I then found a bit more puff and managed to keep the momentum going to the line. We weren’t last, and were under a minute down on the fastest time, but only about 30 seconds down on second place – so the damage limitation plan was a success.

Strava

Stage 3 – Circuit race around Goodwood

I wasn’t sure how I’d do considering a) the previous two stages had seen me maxing my CV system out hard and b) it was longer than the usual 1 hour crits I am used to. But, crits do suit me, so I was looking forward to this one. Again, I was going to miss Dave as I was hoping I’d get a lead out train from my team mates and maybe contend the sprint. After the TTT in the morning I spent most of the afternoon lying down and stretching. I tried to eat as much as I could too, but was finding this hard due to a mix of fatigue, it being a hot day¬†and nerves.

The pace was FAST, averaged about 45kmh. However, most of the race felt quite easy and was pretty uneventful. Only once or twice did the effort¬†feel like the crits I’m used to at the Cyclopark. There¬†were a few breaks, and at one point all three of¬†the Bigfoot¬†team were in one, we got reeled in quite quickly though! One break (of about 6 guys?) did keep away, the peloton put in an effort to chase them but it was too late. In the last lap I tried to move up, but every time I did I was muscled out of a good position. I put in a halfhearted sprint, and finished in the bunch somewhere, maybe in the top 20-30?¬†In the end I led Bill out over the line.

After the race Bill and I convoyed in our cars homewards. When I got home I ate a big bowl of spaghetti and used my massaging pillow on my legs. Was good to sleep in my own bed. The kids did wake me up in the morning, but I got just enough sleep. Woke up feeling OK, but could certainly feel that the legs had been racing.

Strava

Stage 4 – Ladies Mile Road Race

The two road races were going to be the real tests for me. Neither were flat. The Ladies Mile circuit consists of a climb, a descent and a lump. My plan for the race was to stick in the bunch, do as little work as possible, drink and eat as much as possible when I could and avoid getting cramp. That’s what I did. After about an hour of racing I seriously thought I’d not be able to finish, I was finding it very hard work. But I kept telling myself that it was the same for everyone else, don’t worry about what might happen in an hours time, just concentrate on what’s going on NOW. There were quite a few potholes on the climb, so I made an effort to get in a position in the bunch that helped me avoid them. I also worked out where the wind was blowing from and made sure I was sheltered from it. This seemed to make a difference and I started to feel better.

At some point a break got away. After 2 hours of racing I realised that I was going to make it to the finish. As soon as I stopped worrying about not making it I felt so much better – PMA! On the last lap the pace picked up a bit and we went past a couple of riders who’d been dropped from the break. I was still worried about making it up the last climb so was measuring my effort. I managed to keep up with the bunch and on the last climb I was so surprised to see the finish line whilst I went past other riders I thought that it can’t be the actual finish so I never actually pulled the trigger, and went over the line feeling like I missed a chance of making up more time. Despite this I was still really happy that I’d finished strong.

After the race I drove to my mums house to spend the afternoon and sleep over. My body was feeling very achy by now. I ate very well, had a soak in the bath and an early night. I felt a lot better after a decent nights sleep. Was missing the kids though.

Strava

Stage 5 – Beachy Head Road Race

This was always going to be the real test for me. The climb on the BH circuit isn’t very steep, but it is long and the wind does make it harder. The day of the race was pretty still, but there was still a slight headwind on the climb. It was a very hot day, and keeping hydrated was going to be tough. I had two 800ml bottles to last the 3+hrs, I was hoping it’d be enough. Lots of other riders had people handing them bottles at the feed station at the top of the climb. This meant¬†I was lugging the best part of¬†1KG more than these guys up Beachy Head for over¬†half the race, as well as this my bike probably weighed a kilo more than most of¬†the competition and I probably weighed 10-15kg more than most of the other riders too! I was still going to do my best to finish though.

The race started with a climb out of Eastbourne up a reasonably steep set of hairpins. I was almost out of the race straight away when my chain came off and wouldn’t go back on. I was off the back of the peloton at the point when Rich and Bill decided to attack everybody. Cheers guys! I got my chain back on and BURIED myself to get back to the bunch. Phew, I made it! I was hanging on for the first lap and was near the back of the peloton when it split going up the first climb. There were gaps all over the place in front of me. Great, that’s the race over before its really begun.

A groupetto formed from all the dropped riders and we got organised. We drilled through and off for something like 3 laps and slowly reeled the peloton back in. We eventually caught back on the back of the peloton at the start of the climb – well done lads! We were now about halfway through the race and I was thinking that I might actually make it to the finish. However, another attack soon broke the peloton to pieces again and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time – i.e. the back. I spent a lap tying to chase back on thinking that I might catch another dropped rider or three and then somehow make the bridge back to the peloton. But I didn’t see anyone else in front of me so I decided to take the next climb easy and maybe a groupetto would catch me up, it didn’t. However at the top of the climb there was one rider waiting on the line and he jumped on my wheel and we rode 2up¬†for two laps.¬†With 1 lap to go my legs were in bits and I called it quits. A few minutes later the lead riders made it to the finish, Rich had been in the break made it home in second place, well done Rich! Bills legs had given up on the last climb, but he made it to the finish – chapeau Bill.

Strava

Final thoughts

It was never going to be my race, but I’m happy I did as well as I did. I learnt a bit more about what my body is capable of, had fun doing so and got to know a few of my fellow racers a bit better. Not sure if I will do this race again, if I do I will need to lose some serious weight and train more – don’t know if I can fit both these things into my life TBH. Maybe I’ll stick to the local crits and TTs from now on – oh and I have the Pru to win in a couple of weeks too ūüôā

London Nocturne, Masters race 10/6/17

The waffle

When I entered this race back in April I thought I was just applying for entry, and that I probably wouldn’t be accepted as it was a fairly prestigious event. I then didn’t think any more about it until about a week to go, when I realised it was looming and that I was all signed up. I was woefully under prepared. I had taken part in one crit at the Cyclopark a couple of weeks previously, but that was it. I had been caught out at the back when the peloton split and didn’t manage to get back on, so it didn’t go too well!¬†So my main aim for the Nocturne was just to finish. And not crash. Actually my main aim was just not to crash…

In the days leading up to the race I kept daydreaming about it, and when I did I found my heart started racing. I was a bit nervous, but I told myself that it was my body just getting prepared.

I arranged to meet up with the other Bigfoot guys who were racing – Gary, Craig and Bill. This took a weight off my mind as it meant I didn’t have to worry about the logistics of the day. We arrived and signed in, I got my free coffee and free massage whilst many of the other riders went through their warm up routines, many on rollers and turbos. Lots of very expensive kit, then there was me on my creaking old Felt with its budget wheels. We’d managed to get a couple of sighter laps in, I took a good look at the finish straight and thought that it looked like a good length for my sprint. But that was it as far as my warm up went. Having Gary there taking it easy too stopped me from worrying about my lack of prep. The 30 miles I’d ridden to get there would have to do!

Before we knew it we were being called for the rider briefing. We’d all intended to get to the front to give ourselves the best chance in the race, but somehow we were all nearer the back. As we waited my heart started racing again, just standing still it was beating at 130bpm! There was a long wait before we were allowed to get going, I overheard one guy talking about being able to hold 650 watts for a minute. Shoot, I have trouble doing 500 for 30 seconds, this was a little worrying!!!

The race!

There was one neutralised lap behind a motorbike and then we were racing. The neutralised lap was hectic as people tried to get to the front. I probably wasn’t aggressive enough and ended up near the back of the peloton. I was trying just to stay safe cornering round the tight turns for the first few minutes. Having a crowd was great, I heard lots of people saying things like “wow” and “ooooh!” as¬†we took the tight bends as fast as¬†we dared. There was one crash on the first lap just in front of me, but didn’t look too serious. As the race was short the pace was high from the off, and some riders were having trouble getting around the tight turns at race pace. This meant the peloton was, predictably, strung out in a line and that gaps kept forming. I found myself dropped very quickly and put in an effort to bridge back to the next group. I was now in a group of 5 or 6, but just as we started working together to reel in the front group the rider¬†two in front of me took a fast right-hander too fast and slammed into the barrier on the exit. Looked nasty. The next rider had nowhere to go, and as he was in mid crash all I could do to avoid going down myself was shoulder barge the poor guy. Sorry dude! In doing so my left hand got mashed against his bike and I started bleeding from my ring finger. If the adrenaline wasn’t flowing at maximum before it was now. Our little group was now just a duo, but luckily for me my new ally was strong and wasn’t about to give up on the race. We worked together for probably half the race with a gap of 10 seconds to the front group. All I was thinking during this time is that the race was over for us, but I wanted to finish, which meant not getting lapped. We managed to maintain the gap to the front group and I started taking shorter turns but putting in hard little efforts which was bringing us back, slowly. I’d then spend two thirds of a lap recovering only to do it again. And again. Every lap I heard my club mates who’d come to watch cheering me on which helped me dig deep into my reserves. Cheers guys! With about 3 minutes until the 3 laps to go point I said to the other rider “we can do this”, and we seemed to find a little extra strength. At 3 laps to go the front group slowed in preparation for the sprint and we finally made the bridge. No time to think, I instinctually found Garys wheel. After I’d recovered I started moving up. On the penultimate lap I found Bill and shouted “come on Bill” at him. On the last lap I put in a last big effort and caught up with Craig who was on the front of the bunch. I took the last couple of corners with him and coming out of the last right hand bend I decided to see if I could make a long one count. I moved to the right of the road and went at 95%. With about 150m still to go I’d gone past everyone, but to make sure¬†I changed up a gear and gave it one more big kick and “comfortably” took the sprint (actually I was WELL into the red, HR at 190bpm). I’d no idea where I’d placed. I thought there were maybe 2 or 3 riders further up the road, and as it turned out there was just the one. I rolled around into the riders pen and was told I’d come second – I couldn’t believe it!!

My Bigfoot buddies also did well, Craig finished 4th and Gary and Bill finished in the front group too.

After the race I was given my prize and some sparkling wine which I duely opened on stage as if I’d won. No class/shame me. Then we met up with the guys from the club who’d come to watch and kicked back with some beers¬†¬†ūüôā

Awesome day in the saddle!

Strava recording.

James podium Nocturne

 

 

Lab testing!

james-exhaustion-test-2Turbo trainers are an acquired taste. I don’t have one, but I have had a fair few goes on some. (disclaimer – years later I do now own one, but still prefer rollers) Thus I know that they are horrible things that are primarily designed to help one inflict a prolonged period of pain on oneself for as long as one is inclined. So why would I volunteer for three sessions in a lab with the aim of seeing how long I could endure one of these things for? The tests were in the name of science, and I do like a bit of that. Also, I was going to have my VO2 max tested for free, and as I understood it at the time, this is a good thing to know – I just hoped mine was a big one.

The reason for the testing was allegedly to test the “Reliability of drafting in laboratory”. The tests were performed over a three week period. Week one was a Maximal Incremental Test and a Familiarisation Time to Exhaustion Test. Then weeks two and three would just be time to exhaustion tests. The study would analyse and compare the results of these two tests. The testing was being carried out by Francesca,¬†a young lady from Italy, who was studying in Kent for her masters degree in sports science. On the advice of my friend Lee I emailed Francesca to apply for the testing. I was readily accepted and sent instructions telling me what I could and couldn’t eat and drink the day before the test.

Week one

The day before the initial test I followed the instructions and didn’t drink any booze, and got an early night. Then I didn’t drink any caffeine the next day – having to go without tea or coffee in the morning was strange – I was reminded how addicted I am to the stuff. I rode my bike to the lab, trying to take it easy. The ride there also doubled up as a reccy of my new commute to Rochester for a job I was starting later in the week. Upon arriving I met Francesca outside, she showed me in and gave me a thorough briefing.¬†I found out that¬†as well as the ¬£50 gift voucher I was going to get for taking part, there¬†were also prizes for the top three test subjects – top prize was ¬£100,¬†things just got SERIOUS haha!¬†First I performed a VO2 max test. This was to find out what my Peak Power Output was in order to work out what resistance to set me for the exhaustion tests. First a blood sample is taken, to get a resting lactate level. Then you’re put on the turbo, starting at 50w resistance, and every two minutes the resistance is increased by 25w. I also got to wear one of those face masks that measures¬†the amount of oxygen going in and out of you. You keep pedaling until you can’t go on. Its easy at first, but quickly gets hard, and then the typical-turbo-torture kicks in. I wasn’t allowed to have my own heart rate strap or computer, so I was riding blind, this makes it even harder to keep going. Francesca did offer some words of encouragement though, which certainly helped. I eventually stopped because I thought I was about to pass out and fall off the bike! Then another blood sample was taken to see what my lactate level was post exertion.

I was then given half an hour to recover before taking the familiarisation time to exhaustion test. During the rest I was given a questionnaire to fill out about how I felt and my motivation. Then¬†the real torture started…

The Time To Exhaustion test is a toughy. Again, I had no computer giving me any sort of data feedback with which to gauge my effort. And, despite not having the face gear on, I wasn’t allowed to drink any water either. The turbo was set at a resistance which the test subject should be able to maintain for a limited amount of time. I had no idea how long this typically should be, nor what the resistance was actually set to. Mercifully the lab is at a nice cool controlled temperature and there is a large fan blowing air to simulate air resistance. Cruelly though, another guy on a bike is plonked right in-between the fan and yourself in order to simulate a lead rider of a drafting pair. So you only get limited airflow to cool you down. Deceptively it starts out feeling pretty easy. Slowly you feel your body respond and your heart rate elevate, and after a few minutes you can tell its not as easy as you first thought. Throughout the test I was presented with two big laminated cards, one with a scale of perceived effort and the other with a scale of how I was feeling. Francesca also kept instructing me to look forward, don’t look down. I started out feeling good and with a low perceived effort, and this seemed to continue for a while. When the effort started taking its toll I jumped from one end of the perceived effort spectrum to near the other end, but I think I still felt quite good. I lasted like this for a while. Then the suffering really started and I seemed to last¬†ages at a high level of exertion. The mental exertion was just as hard as the physical effort, if not harder. My subconscious wanted to give up, badly. I had to continually override my instinct to stop. I kept telling myself that I was sacrificing time with the family in order to do this test, so I was going to do it to the best of my ability so as to make it worthwhile. I visualised my boys having fun in the park with mummy to take my mind off the pain. I don’t really remember making a conscious decision to stop, I think I must’ve just lost concentration for a moment and my subconscious finally had its way.

I got the impression that I’d done quite well at the test, although Francesca wasn’t about to let me know any details until after all three tests had been performed.

After the exhaustion test I had to fill out another questionnaire and was free to go. I had been intending to ride to the park, about 20 miles away from the lab, but I really wasn’t in any fit state for that, and headed straight home where I stuffed my face and ran a very hot bath.

Week Two

Since the first week I had started a new job, luckily it was a 10 minute ride away from the lab, so I arranged to do the next two tests straight after work. I’d kept a food diary as requested, and drank as much water as I could manage in the preceding 24 hours. Very business like I turned up, filled out the questionnaire and prepared for the test. Blood was taken and the bike put on the turbo. This is where things seemed out to get me. Firstly, I’d smashed my bike up whilst out on a ride with a friend a couple of days before. I thought I’d fixed it by changing the large chainring, but once on the turbo it was obvious that the new chainring wasn’t going around as it should – seems I’d bent the crank spider too. So I had to use the lab bike. Also, I was told that the resistance set on my last exhaustion test was too low, and that actually I had lasted longer than anyone Francesca had ever seen. So it was just going to have to be set harder. Straight away I felt the extra effort. “Oh boy” I thought “this is going to be much harder than the already really hard test I did last week”. The lead rider was back in front of me again, and this time he had a jersey on with the word STOP and a picture of a hand giving a stop signal on it. I found this very curious, and now the instructions to keep looking forward seemed designed to make me focus on this jersey. Indeed, all the other visual stimulus in front of me had been covered over with white sheets. Towards the end of the test, when the pain kicked in, I took my mind off it by focusing on the words on the jersey in front of me and spelling out the word – “S. T. O P.”, muttering it to myself in rhythm. The obvious suggestion to stop actually made me want to push harder though- was this the actual test? I was also thinking of missing bedtime with my boys, and as I¬†had sacrificed seeing the family for the evening I again used this as mental ammunition for pushing as hard as I could. Eventually the mental strain was too much though and I involuntarily stopped pedaling. I think I could’ve kept going physically, but in my mind there was no longer sufficient reason for flogging myself any more, and again my subconscious took over for just long enough to make me stop.

After the test more blood was taken and I had another questionnaire to fill in and sweat all over. More questions about how I was feeling and my motivation. I complained that the other chaps jersey had the word “stop” written on it and that that wasn’t very sporting, or words to that effect. Francesca said I’d done a very good test despite the hardship, but was giving nothing away about the wording on the jersey.

I rode back to the office and then drove home where I found my mother-in-law babysitting my two, still very awake, young sons. So I hadn’t sacrificed seeing the family after all ūüôā

Week Three

The day of the test had been the hottest September day recorded for 100 years. And the hottest part of the country? My part of course. I turned up at the lab after a day of sweating in the office and after several nights of broken sleep due to the children waking us up. Another annoyance for me was that since the bent cranks incident of the previous week I’d been riding around on a shorter set and had gotten quite used to them. Getting on the lab bike felt even stranger than before. I went through the same motions of the previous week, but hopefully this week I was going to get some answers? Questions, blood, turbo torture.. The lead rider this week was wearing a jersey with the letters “ENERG” with a lightening bolt looking like the letter Y. I think I see where this is going now… I found the test noticeably harder than the previous week, and my cadence was certainly much lower. The picture above is from near the end of this test and I had just said I was finding the effort 20/20 and I was feeling -5 on a scale of 5 to -5! I still carried on for a few minutes longer though. That’s Francesca in the photo, and IMO she looks worried for me! I pushed on again through the pain thinking about my family. I’d also sacrificed a band rehearsal the previous evening in order to have an early night and be prepared for the test – so I sang some of the bands songs through my head to take my mind off the pain. I could only managed bits of songs though, maybe an intro, verse and chorus before my mind screamed at me to stop once more. I then resorted to counting to 10 out loud as that’s about all my brain was capable of processing at that level of exertion.

After the test I had extra questions to answer. I was asked what I thought the test was about, and why, if any,¬†there were differences in my performance. I was then told that the test was indeed nothing to do with the effectiveness of testing drafting in the lab, and was of course all about the not-so-subliminal messaging on the jerseys. I was also told that I had almost certainly won the competition and sure enough a few days later this was confirmed – WOO HOO!!! ūüôā I was then shown my VO2 max results and sent them in an e-mail. Francesca advised me that if I lost some weight my VO2 max score would increase and that I should also buy a power meter. Things I already knew, but needed to be told. I have since bought a power meter. I was also given one of the jerseys from the test as a reward, I chose the jersey with STOP written on it as I had done better with that jersey. I then cycled back to the car, put the box with the jersey in it on the roof and drove off, leaving my new jersey in the middle of the road. I was totally spent! Realising what I’d done about 10 minutes later, I drove back and found the jersey in the middle of the road, luckily still in one piece.

All in all a very interesting experience, and one I would recommend to anyone who is interested in seeing what their body and mind are capable of when pushed to the absolute limit.

Results

My VO2 max score was 57 ml/min/kg РI was hoping that it would be really really high like a TDF pro, but 57 is pretty good and about right for my ability. Here is a chart showing my heart rate plotted against power levels.

james-hr-to-power-chart

And here is a chart showing my heart rate through the 2 tests – test 2 was on the day I was tired. I did indeed do better on the first test with the STOP jersey and lasted 34:17. I lasted 32:50 on the second test. It was much closer than I thought.

tests-chart

With data feedback,¬†a bit more airflow, and being allowed to take fluids on, I probably would’ve lasted quite a bit longer – we will see as¬†I’m currently shopping for a turbo trainer and a power meter of my own!!! Bring on the torture ūüôā

Cyclopark Summer Race Series #5 25/08/21016 3/4 AND Crits At The Park #8 27/08/21016 3rd cat only

Two write ups for one!

As the summer nears its end, and the days grow shorter, the 2016 race season too draws in. At the start of the week I was sitting on a haul of 29 BC points. I had set it as my goal to see if I could achieve 2nd Cat status this year (40 points). The week after these two races I am/was due to start a new job, so wanted to put in a concerted effort to get the 11 points I needed in two races, the first on Thursday night and then the second on Saturday early afternoon. My form has been relatively good this year, however the last few hard rides and races I’ve done I have suffered, and I’d not managed to get much in the way of training in, in fact recently all I’ve managed to fit in recently has been evening 10 mile TTs. I thought that I should be able to score 11 points, but wasn’t taking anything for granted.

Cyclopark Summer Race Series #5 3/4

The summer series are on Thursday nights at the Cyclopark. The circuit is a shorter, faster loop. And it starts at dusk, so its floodlit – exciting! On top of the shorter circuit, there are three races on the circuit at the same time, the E12s, 3/4s and the women’s 234 race. So I was expecting it to be fast, and it to be carnage. The E12s set off first, then the 3/4s, then the ladies. To keep track of the chaos the organisers were using transponders, which meant the start finish line was a bit further up the finish straight.

I had been out for a short ride in the daytime to test the legs, and it was very hot. The evening was a bit cooler, but still hot. I knew one of my biggest challenges would be to stay hydrated and avoid cramping, so I started the race with two full water bottles. On the warmup lap I was happy to hear someone say “Is that James Hawkins” behind me. It was Ben who I sometimes ride with in the Bigfoot level 1 group. Always nice to have¬†a familiar face around when you’re racing. The pace was quick from the off. The first few laps I sat in the bunch, but 10 minutes in there was an attack by 2 riders. I took it upon myself to chase them down, and led the chase on the front of the bunch for a couple of fast laps. “That was stupid” I thought to myself. At the pace we were going a breakaway would never be able to make it stick, so to burn a match doing all the chasing on my own was tomfoolery! Pretty soon we had caught the E12 race, which Ben rightly pointed out was hilarious. We were also having to negotiate our way around the womens race regularly. Not sure how many times we lapped the other two races, but it was a few. Due to the speed, low light,¬†constant squeezing past other races¬†and the heat there was a fair bit of wobbly riding going on. I took notes of who looked risky and kept an eye on them. In the last half of the race the race commissaire signalled for us to slow down, not sure why, maybe he thought we were racing too fast?! So we had a lap where everyone had a chance to recover a bit, which, with hindsight, was like trying to put out a fire by throwing petrol on it. Soon after this the lapboard showed 5 to go. 5 short laps was the equivalent of 2 or 3 full length laps, and the pace started ramping up even more. I started moving up as and when I could. I knew the last lap was going to be frantic, the first 10 into the last corner would probably be the 10 to score points. So I made sure I was in the top 10 with 2 laps to go. On the last lap I moved up a couple of places, and going into the last sweeping fast bend Ben was in front of me. As we came out of the bend I went past Ben and jumped on the wheel of someone starting their sprint early. As this happened we were passing the E12 race again, so we were bunched up on the right of the road and they were on the left. However, as the sprints started all Hell broke loose. There were 3 riders in front of me blocking my way, but I saw a gap open up to the left of the track and managed to put enough power down to get through it. Going the long way round and on the slower side of the track I started my sprint a proper. I managed to make it up to 3rd position over the standard finish line, but had forgotten about the transponders and the different start/finish line. I lost 2 positions just before crossing the line to finish in 5th. Looking back at my stats my HR was well and truly in the red at 197bpm, not sure if that’s a good thing or not!? Ben had not managed to follow through the gap with me, seems a rider in the E12 race had veered into the path of¬†another rider in our race and caused a few people to slam the anchors on during the sprint – better luck next time Ben!

This left me needing to come in 4th or better in my next race to get enough points for 2nd cat. Worth noting, despite the chaos I didn’t see any crashes – first race for ages!

Strava Link

Crits In The Park #8

I had a pretty relaxed start to the day. Got to the circuit and registered. Put numbers on but on the warmup lap a pin came off so on the start line I was readjusting the pin situation and I forgot to take my saddle bag off. Dufus. I managed to fit in a little warmup, got the heart going a bit, probably not enough, didn’t let it worry me though. The race started and the pace was fairly civilised, lack of proper warmup not a problem then. Early on there was an attack from a rider from Addiscombe CC. The riders on the front and I decided to let him hang out there for a while, before reeling him back in. He tried it again a bit later and one other rider and I were taking turns on the front to keep him in sight. I said to the other guy “either he knows something we don’t or he’s a bit stupid” to which he replied “nah mate, he’s strong, don’t let him get out of sight”. So we slowly reeled him in. After that there were a few more attacks, anything more than 2 guys I chased down. A guy riding in Windymilla kit made a few attacks, but didn’t get far. In the second half of the race the peloton split and I was in the front group of 5 or 6 riders. I accelerated past them all and said “we’ve got a gap, whose coming?”. Only the Addiscombe rider came with me, but after my turn he went around me very hard and I couldn’t stay on his wheel. Yup, he was strong. I let the bunch catch up and tried to recover. I told everyone to let the Addiscombe guy hang out there again. After I’d recovered I started the chase to reel him back in again, thankfully sharing the work with another chap. Soon after this the 5 to go board was out, the pace dropped. “Ah great, this means more late attacks” I thought. Sure enough there were a few, and I chased the first couple down with another strong rider who’d been saving himself up until now. Then the Addiscombe rider went again with 2 to go, but this time I was a few wheels back, boxed in and in the red. I shouted something like “don’t let him go” but nobody else was willing to chase at this point in the race, instead opting to save themselves for the bunch sprint. We kept him in sight, but on the last lap he went for it. Although one other guy and me did some work on the front neither of us were willing to sacrifice our chances of a points scoring position, so only gave it 90% each. Coming into the last corner I was second wheel when everyone sat up and looked at each other. I stuck to the wheel in front of me like glue and waited for the sprints to start. Halfway up the finish straight everyone went all at the same time. All of a sudden I had guys going too hard too soon passing me on both sides trying to cut in front of me. I accelerated and kept level with two riders, got my elbows out and shouted at them to give me room. At this point there was a row of riders in front of me, but a gap opened up just after the first person went full gas. I managed to accelerate past 2 riders just before the finish line to finish 2nd in the sprint and 3rd overall.

Very happy with my result. I managed to control the race a fair bit, and made sure I got the result I was after. Although, I wish I’d managed to stay in contact with the Addiscombe rider, or on the last lap taken a chance and put in more of an effort to reel him in in an attempt for the win. Ah well, theres always next time… in the 2nds… erm maybe not then!

Strava Link

SERRL E123 Chilham 7/8/2016

Context / Excuses

Entering an elite level race as a 3rd cat I knew I stood almost no chance of finishing in the points, and would be happy if I wasn’t dropped in the first 10 minutes.

The race was classed as a National B road race, which means it was 125km distance and the points on offer go from 60 for first down to 1 for 20th. On top of the far greater distance that I am used to racing over, the course was a fair bit lumpier too. And I’m no climber. So why pay money to enter in the first place?

As part of my clubs commitment to SERRL (the South East Road Racing League) it is obliged to organise races. As a member of the club I am obliged to help out, so I volunteered to marshal at the race. On the Thursday before the race I was at the club 10 TT and Gary, who was organising the race, suggested that I should enter in order to promote the club at its own event and give my club mates someone to cheer for (as well as myself there were only¬†two other club members riding). At first I dismissed the idea as ludicrous, but took the suggestion as quite the compliment –¬†Gary must think I’d be able to keep up with¬†those guys. The only reason I even entertained the idea was because the week before, although I’d suffered quite badly with cramp, I’d had a good ride in the Ride London sportive. Gary suggested I bring my bike on the day just in case I wasn’t needed to marshal. When I got home and chatted to my¬†wife about it she thought it’d be a good idea to enter the race if I could. Her reasoning was something along the lines of “it’d do you good to have your arse well and truly kicked” (she actually put it a bit softer than that “you should push yourself if you want to get better”). I think she might hate me, maybe I should cancel the life insurance policy?

The day of the race I got dressed in normal clothes, but as suggested by Gary, I¬†took my bike and kit bag too. I got to the race and, although I was given the choice of marshalling or riding, Gary pretty much frogmarched me up to the sign on desk and made me enter. We OK’d it with Kim from SERLL. I went and spun my legs for 5 or 10 minutes,¬†not enough time for a proper warm up, but better than nothing. I managed to get Andy from the club to help me pin my numbers on – cheers Andy,¬†just one pin came off when I pulled my jersey down halfway through the race. As I typically manage to pop a pin or two off every race, I have since purchased some NoPinz and some sticky packaging window things in order to stop this happening.

Pre race briefing, straight forward enough, looked around, everyone else looks super strong. After the pre race talk by the commissaire we got on our bikes and waited for the pace car to roll out of the town hall car park for the neutralised start. Some teams riding on what must be sponsored bikes… I’m used to seeing lots of expensive hardware at the start of a race, but this was another level.

The race

As soon as the race started the pace was quick. I’d not ridden around the circuit before, only the climb back up to the HQ which I’d ridden after a 25 mile TT. After a 25 mile TT I’d found it horrible. What am I attempting this again?! I had looked at the profile of the course on the computer, so I knew there was a descent right at the start of the race. Descents don’t normally¬†bother me, I’m quite good at going downhill, its going up I can struggle.¬†So I’d dismissed this as a chance to rest a bit. I wasn’t prepared for the pace. The peloton hit the descent pretty hard.¬†I, on the other hand, was too cautious which led to me almost getting dropped. I had to burn my first¬†match right at the start of the race, spinning out in my hardest gear at over 50mph, just to keep up. Thankfully at the bottom of the hill, where the road flattens out, the speed dropped slightly and I caught up with the back of the bunch and managed to recover a bit. Pace down the first flat section was QUICK. When we hit the first climb I paid for not warming up properly. I was warmed up enough to keep up, but I’d not recovered fully from the initial effort.¬†The peloton went up the climb pretty hard, and I had to put in another effort to stay with them. It didn’t help that I kept finding myself at the back of the bunch. It seemed everyone I chose to draft behind instantly started drifting back , so I kept having to put in little accelerations which were taking their toll. Still, I made it up the climb. I think it was at this point that¬†a group attacked off the front, and it was too much for most people to contend with.¬†Later , when word got back to us that there were 10 guys a minute up the road, my fellow Bigfooter Andy said “well, that’s the race over then”. It was pretty much accepted that the guys in the break were going to be able to maintain their advantage and make it stick.

After the break went away the pace eased slightly, which I was grateful for – there was no way I was going to be able to maintain the speed of the first lap¬†for the next 3 hours. Laps 2 and 3 felt more civilised, but still very quick. I had only just recovered enough to maintain the effort. On lap 3, going up the climb I thought to myself “I’m feeling OK, and we’re half way through now, I might actually make it to the end!”.¬†We were averaging over 41kph (26mph-ish), but with the climb every lap the effort felt harder. I was trying to constantly take on food and water, and I was doing OK with it, but was still having to ration the water as I only had two biddons. I had toyed with the idea of asking someone from the club to pass me a water bottle once a lap, but because I’d only really entered the race last minute I hadn’t managed to do this. Other clubs were far more organised and were handing out biddons and food to their riders at the top of the climb. Having to carry that extra weight wasn’t helping me very much, and I probably had the cheapest and possibly the heaviest bike too… blah blah blah, excuses and more excuses…

Where was I? Oh yes, handing out water bottles – a bit hazy now, think it must’ve been on the 4th lap that at the point where riders were picking up their fresh biddons there was a crash just in front of me, 2 or 3 riders going down pretty hard. I just about managed to steer around and was happy to see Bill and Andy from the club were safe too. I was starting to fade though, and found myself with a gap to make up. I caught up the bunch before the descent and rode up along Bill and said “I think my race is done to be honest, Bill”. On the descent I started cramping and couldn’t put much power down. The bunch got away from me. However, I managed to recover a bit, and when the road flattened out I managed to tuck down,¬†maintained my momentum and freewheeled up to the back of the bunch. On the flat sections and small uphill drags I managed to keep up with the main bunch pretty easily, even when I was suffering.

On the last time along the flat section I tried to spray some water over my neck to cool me down, but I was so tired that I couldn’t even manage this and sprayed the chap behind me in the face, oops! The climbs every lap had taken their toll, and the last time up the climb my cramp got more painful and my heart rate went into the red. I drank all the last drops of water I’d been saving, but it was already too late. The guys on the front of the peloton were pushing harder too, riders were now getting shelled out the back. I lasted on the back of the group until the steepest part of the climb when a gap appeared just a couple of wheels in front of me. I put in an effort to go around the guys in front of me, who were done. But the cramp only allowed me to put so much power down, which wasn’t enough to catch up. When the road flattened out a bit¬†one other rider and I paired up and took turns to get back on to the back before the final descent.¬†We could only just about maintain the gap though, which had grown to about 50 metres. I remember the chap had bright orange socks, but I was only just technically conscious at this point, so I don’t remember what club he was with.

It was agonising, I’d come so far (110km), only to see my chances of a strong finish disappear off up the road. I almost killed myself in a failed¬†last gasp effort to catch back up. I knew I stood no chance of a strong finish though, once the cramp had set in I was done for. I can continue to ride with cramp, but nowhere near race pace,¬†climbing makes it worse very quickly. I managed to drop my orange socked friend, and pushed on up to the HQ.

I really wanted to stop. It made sense, stop the pain, have some water, or TEA, or CAKE…!! Only a madman would continue to endure this pain willingly, with no reward whatsoever. But I did want to finish the race, and I was so close now, just one descent and the final hill up to the finish. I saw another rider up ahead of me. “I’ll let them make my decision for me” I thought “If he keeps going then so will I”. I went past HQ and the people who’d been cheering us on at the roadside were all packing up. There was no cheering for me now. Rachel from Bigfoot, who’d been marshalling at the roundabout just past HQ, was about to leave her post too. “Should I just give up then?” I thought. But the rider up ahead of me cracked on, so so did I. Rachel cheered me on, but it felt like¬†a “Really? Are you sure James?” gesture! I managed to catch the guy just before the descent. I had managed to recover a bit and my cramp had subsided, so I shouted “jump on” as I went past him. I put a bit of power down on the descent, I don’t know what I was hoping to achieve?! I assumed that my new cohort would take a turn on the front, so when the road flattened out and I’d had enough I slowed a bit. Instead of swinging round to the front he sat up next to me and started to chat. I just wanted to get to the finish as quickly as possible though. So when he went and sat back on my wheel (without taking a turn) I pushed on and he dropped off. I was looking for the turning up the final climb, but little did I realise that I still had one more turning to take before I got there. Tired and confused, I missed the turning I was meant to take. Luckily Ian from Bigfoot was still marshalling at his post and pointed out my mistake.

Thank you Ian, if you had packed up I’d have been lost in deepest darkest Kent with no phone, water, food, money, sense of direction, PRK, nor any hope of survival.

I quickly realised, stopped, took to the grass and did 100m or so across a green to get back on track. I finally made it to the climb. It was horrific. I knew it would be a tough climb, but after 3 hours of hard riding, and with the cramp coming back as soon as the road pitched up, it was nasty. If I’d made it this far with the bunch I would’ve definitely been dropped. I need to lose at least 5kgs if I am going to ever attempt this race again. I found out later that Bill, who is quite the climber,¬†had attacked at this point which led to him finishing in the points, chapeau Bill. On the climb I managed to catch a couple of other riders though, and the marshals were still at the finish line – I’d FINISHED!!! Thank goodness for that, the ordeal was over. Back to HQ for tea, cake and banter. I found out later that the guy who’d won had come 10th in the national time trials this year, think I’ll stick to 1 hour crits and local TTs for the time being…:-)

Strava link