Monday 25 May 2009

Set2Rise - 12 Hour Enduro

Getting stuck in the Holiday traffic on the A303, we made our way to the Set2Rise event just north of Stonehenge. Arriving in a field with a burger van and some portaloos, we found others erecting tents and assembling bikes.

Set2Rise involved a mass start of 120 riders at 6pm. The idea was to complete as many 8 mile laps as possible before 6am the following morning. Gareth, Marcus and Matt formed a team of 3 to ride in relay style, where I tackled it as a solo rider.

The well marked out course involved many wooded sections of single-track linked together by grassy fields. In places the single-track was very twisty, weaving between the trees with some gaps barely 3 foot wide. Sometimes it was only possible to see about 15 feet in front and when travelling at 10mph, this is only 1 second ahead. There were also some steep 10-15 foot drops with one having a sharp left at the bottom. Full on concentration was essential. There were two major climbs, one of 200 feet and the other a lengthy 400 feet. During the solitary dark hours I tried to find another rider to talk to, easing the pain of the climb.

My fist lap was rather exploratory has I hadn’t pre ridden the route. I reckoned that I would see enough of the course as the night wore on. The second lap was much better as I knew a bit more on what to expect, this emotionally was my best lap. There were many riders jostling for position as they were in a team taking turns. Knowing that I would be in the saddle for 12 hours, I tried to pace myself. There was a smooth grassy section just over half way round where I grabbed the opportunity for a gel on each lap. I need to take in energy if I was to maintain riding all night.

Stopping briefly after my second lap, I set out on lap 3 where the sun was starting to set. I had to come in after lap 3 as my drink bladder ran dry, I was expecting it to last 4 laps. I swallowed some pasta and clipped the lights on the bike.

During lap 4 it was getting dark in the woods, so the lights went on. There were a couple of occasions where the trees jumped out causing me to loose my balance. A slight laps of concentration can have a disastrous effect. It was getting cold so another quick stop before lap 5 to grab an extra layer.

It was now pitch dark. There were no street lights or a glow from the clouds, just a few tiny stars to show you which way was up. I use Max Exposure lights; a Joystick on the helmet with a battery pack and the Max Daddy on the bars. They were fantastic as they illuminated the way ahead. All around the course there were trails of lights as the riders were now quite spread out.

Continuing straight onto lap 6 at 10:30pm, I start to feel the pressure. On reaching the top of a climb, Gareth caught up with me. His team were on lap 7. We had a brief chat as we raced along the single-track which lifted my spirits. Finishing the lap, I took a break where Matt and Gareth helped me to top up my supplies and lube the bike. Sipping a cup of tea, I heard that I was in 15th place out of 32 in the solo category.

During the next two laps (7 & 8) I focused on sustainability. I therefore took my time to climb the hills bringing my average heart rate down.

At 1:40am I stopped for a break. I couldn’t think what I wanted a part from going to bed. It was really difficult to eat anything as my stomach was all over the place. A cup of tea helped a bit and I topped up my drinks bladder with some extra strong energy drink. Swapping my top for a warmer, dryer coat, I forced myself out onto the course just after 2am.

On lap 9, I realised that my attempt for the South Downs Double would be a tough nut to crack. I couldn’t eat or drink anything and the course was pretty deserted. Occasionally a rider would race by as I let them past on the single-track. These riders were doing 40 minute sprints sharing the laps with their other 3 team mates.

Without stopping, I went straight into lap 10. I knew that if I did stop, I wouldn’t start again. Concentration was really hard on the single-track. I hit a tree, badly jarring my shoulder. I really felt like stopping after this lap.

Taking a break at 4:14am, Matt joined me saying that I was now in 11th place. This was a real boost. It was also just starting to get light. I therefore prepared for the final two laps. Diluting my energy drink as I could only sip small amounts of water, I hit the course.

It was official, morning was here as I saw the sunrise. I was surprised how cold it got in the valleys where mist appeared. The coldness tore through my wet clothes, but this didn’t matter as the new day had dawned. Throughout the course there were marshals keeping an eye on us and marking dangerous areas. Saying ‘Good Morning’ to them also gave me a boost.

Completing lap 11, I went straight into my 12th and final lap. I was relieved to climb each hill for the last time and counted down the wooded sections to the finish. Changing into some dry clothes was refreshing. As I hadn’t eaten since 2am, the food from the burger van was most welcome.

The 12 laps totalled 99 miles with 10,200 feet of climbing. My final position was 11th out of 32, which for my first ever race is pretty good.

Monday 18 May 2009

Painstaking Preparation

Contemplating a 200 mile ride requires far more organisation than a quick jaunt around the hills with your mates. Even a 100k enduro can seem straightforward in comparison. Here are some of the things that I have been doing over the past few months whilst off the bike.

The Route
Before taking on the Double, I had ridden the SDW route from Winchester to Eastbourne about 3 times. Riding it the opposite way at night needed careful planning. I don’t have much confidence in GPS units in off road conditions so I decided to memorise the whole route.

Several training rides were spent on the South Downs where I photographed every junction. Creating and studying the detailed journey from Eastbourne to Winchester, I am able to visualise each section of the route. Therefore when riding I can anticipate each turn from memory. During the event I will probably have the GPS programmed up and a paper map in my pocket, but they will be secondary to my personal knowledge.

Familiarity with the route will enable me to set short term goals as I divide the route into 20-30 mile sections. I have not considered this as a 200 mile ride, instead it is a series of 20-30 mile rides linked together. Much easier to mentally digest.

When setting out for a morning’s ride, it is usually possible to stuff a few bits in the rucksack to get by. A 24 hour ride is quite different. I decided to travel light and depend on my support crew for supplies, I’m not ready for Alpine style (yet). Compiling a kit list and where each item will be located was quite a task. Here is a summary;

On the bike: GPS, food larder, small tools, spare tube, pump, walkie talkie, small rucksack
with hydration pack, ID card, very basic 1st Aid kit
Check Point box: Spare rucksack for swapping over, food and drinks, lights, additional clothing,
sun cream, lubes, wet wipes, 1st Aid kit
Turnaround Box: Complete change of clothes including helmet and shoes, breakfast

Support vehicle: Spare bike with wheels that can be swapped over, tool kit, spare batteries
Crew Box: Maps, Check Point locations & instructions, food and drinks, camera, walkie
talkie, mobile phone
Finish Bag: Wash things, change of clothes, recovery drinks, more food.

MaXx Exposure has kindly provided a set of lights, a Joystick and a Daddy. The fantastic illumination enables me to achieve near daylight speeds even on technical sections.

Check Points
During my training rides I formulated a stoppage strategy that works for me. It basically consists of a 2 minute stop each hour with a 10 minute stop every 3 hours. I have therefore set out a series of Check Points roughly every 30 miles interspersed with Pit Stops every 10 miles. Working with detailed notes from my previous SDW and training rides, I have estimated timings for each check point to attain a sub 24 hour Double.

As most of the main roads cross the SDW in the valleys, I wanted to have some stops on top of the hills so I was not immediately faced with a long climb when leaving the support vehicle. There are also probably better photo opportunities away from the main roads. The support crew are not familiar with the SDW so I am preparing detailed maps, Google Earth pictures and photos to pinpoint the exact meeting locations. It is important that they are in the right place at the right time.

To enable quick stops, I will have 2 rucksacks that will be swapped over at the Check Points. The spare one can then be refilled at leisure between stops. Likewise I will have 2 small boxes for food that fit in a pouch by the stem that will be swapped out.

Back in December I logged everything I ate onto a website along with details of any exercise. This enabled me to see how many calories I was consuming and burning during training. The mix of foods that I was eating in terms of proteins, carbohydrates and fats gave me an indication to the balance of my diet.

As a result I was able to loose a few excess pounds. This was really hard over Christmas, especially when we visited my parents with Mum’s home cooking! I adopted a rule of no seconds, it was tough but it worked. The calories in alcohol often took me over my daily target, so this had to be moderated. As I focused more on achieving the Double, my desire for a pint diminished. Sweet puddings also gave way to protein and carbohydrates. Apparently during training it is important to stock up well on protein, otherwise the body starts to cannibalise its own muscles, which defeats the objective.

One of the reasons for doing the Double is for a sense of personal achievement. Raising money for a worthy charity enables others to get involved to help a common cause. As the British Heart Foundation organise the SDW Randonnée that I have ridden in the past, they are the benefactor of my challenge.

If you are reading this and have not yet sponsored me, please do visit and donate what you can. I have set a tough target and with your help we should be able to reach it.

The physical training for such an event is a section in its own right. I covered some of this in the Blog on 1st May – From Fat to Fit.

This is just a summary of my preparation, if you are interested in any specific details please get in touch.

Monday 11 May 2009

Two Enduros in Two Days

The 100k Trail Break ride on the South Downs fitted neatly into my training schedule for last Saturday. Another well organised event is the Bucks Off Road Sportive last Sunday, where they had a 121k route. Wanting to build up my endurance, I entered both events for a full weekend of riding.

Setting out on the South Downs we initially hit a 600 foot climb. Conserving energy I took my time to reach the top. Working with my heart rate monitor and speedo, I slowed myself down to maintain an average speed of 9mph. This enabled me to preserve energy for later in the ride.

The well marked route followed several sections of the South Downs Way. This was useful for me as later I will be riding these parts at night on the Double. Riding up all the hills, where they were plentiful, I took it easy maintaining a relaxed state of mind.

After 3 hours, the feed station was a welcome sight where I consumed my prepared tub of pasta. The effects of the pasta would not be felt for a couple of hours, which is when it will be most needed. During the rides I constantly nibble chocolate flapjacks and jelly babies whist drinking about 750ml per hour.

Taking my time round the course and enjoying the beautiful scenery, the end was nearly in sight. Finishing after 6:46 hours gave me an average speed of 9.3mph that qualifies for the Trail Break Gold award.

Following a quick turnaround on Saturday evening, I was back out on the trails on Sunday morning for the Bucks Off Road Sportive.

The first 3 miles were awful. My legs were like jelly and I wanted to go home.

Once I got into a rhythm, I latched onto some other riders who had a good pace going. Keeping my heart rate down, I found that I could maintain an average speed of 10-11mph.

Eating my tub of pasta 3 hours into the ride along with all my nibbles, the miles were flying by. At the 60 miles stage, I felt as though I could have gone on forever.

Once past the 70 mile stage I ignored the heart rate, switched into race mode and powered the last 6 miles to the finish.

Completing the 121k in 7 hours gave me an average speed of 10.7mph with a very low average heart rate of 128bpm.

The two rides were great, and to finish them both with very respectable times is quite an achievement.

Friday 1 May 2009

From Fat to Fit

Back in September when I started thinking about the Double, I realised that my fitness needed to severely improve. I didn’t know anything about my heart rate except that it ticked a bit faster when doing exercise, and I had no idea about warming up or stretching. I just liked to get on my bike and ride.

Extending my weekly rides from 30 to 40 miles was the first step, but I was aware that a lot more needed to be done. Why I even contemplated riding 200 miles still puzzles me. Realising that I needed a lot of help, I contacted Steve Young from Forever Young Fitness. Steve is a member of Redhill Cycling Club who had recently coached and cycled with a team 3000 miles across America (RAAM) in just 6½ days. Following a lively evening we found that we were both as mad as each other in taking on these outrageous challenges. His first task was to give me a fitness test where I think he used the adjective ‘pants’ to describe my core strength. We both had our work cut out to get me into shape.

During the following months we devised a training schedule with 4 sessions a week on a 5 week rotation. The 5th week was for resting with a reduced training target. Developing my core on a Gym Ball, cross training in the pool and paying close attention to my diet in reducing a few unnecessary pounds, my body went from strength to strength. Regular fitness tests supported the improvements along with the meticulous details I recorded after each ride.

Finding the time to cram in all the training can have a big impact on family life. Fortunately I am able to do most of my training at home on the turbo trainer or find times when the rest of the family are busy elsewhere. I was also eating like a horse, now with the right types of food, and sleeping very well.

One of my recent successes was completing the HONC (Hell Of the North Cotswolds) 100k hilly ride in just over 5 hours. This knocked at least an hour off my best 100k distance providing a massive psychological boost. This week I repeated a fitness test I did back in December. The turbo trainer was set to simulate going up a hill that gets steeper nearer the top. In December I managed ¾ of the hill before my heart rate peaked and I ran out of juice. This week I cruised up the hill, along the simulated ridge at the top and up the next section. The power output had increased by a massive 64%.

The next area to focus on is my endurance. I have therefore planned a series of 70 to 100+ mile rides each week that should stretch out my stamina. I need to slow myself down to an overall speed between 9 and 10 mph so I can stick out the distance. All my rides feature an average of 100 feet of climbing per mile to replicate the hills on the South Downs (10,000 feet over 100 miles). Box Hill is a favourite where I would often climb it 3 – 4 times on a single ride.