Thursday, 16 January 2014

2013- The Brecon Beast 2

Well, I've made an unpleasant discovery today. Re-training is much more soul-destroying than training from scratch! I made an attempt at Streatley Hill and to be fair, it was pretty damn hot as I didn't set off until about 14:00. Despite being ice cold when I left, my water soon become un-drinkable.

As with my TT route, I'm around 2.5mph average down on last years pace but the hill itself was a killer.

On my very first attempt last year, I was unable to complete the whole hill. I pulled into a driveway about 200m from the top and had a long swig of water before continuing. Well, this year, I didn't need to stop but I was literally doing 2.5-4 mph and feeling sick for well over half the climb.

Thing is, last year it was all good! It was all a pedal in the right direction and every ride felt like an improvement. Whereas this year, not only do I know how slow I am, but I also know how fast I want to be!

I'm sure there's a moral lesson here about patient devotion triumphing over faddish impulsiveness but I'm too tired to work it out. My neck, shoulder and arse were all miffed at being asked to do something too!

Lets hope tangible improvements come soon!

Well, after yesterday's beasting on S.Hill, I really didn't fancy it tonight. However, it had been on my mind all day and I suddenly found myself motivated despite a bruised perineum telling me not to.

So off I went on my TT route.

A few things I may not have mentioned before which are perhaps relevant. All my routes are inclusive of warm up time as in, I measure from door to door. So all my average speeds probably err on the unflattering side.

The one major climb on my TT route is also right at the beginning and whilst I have read that a good exertion during warm-up is a good thing, it does also have a negative impact on my time.

During this first couple of miles, things weren't looking great, I had a slight wheeze (I suffer from hay-fever linked asthma) and all my achy bits weren't settling down.
Luckily, I told myself to man up and crack on!

Halfway through the out-lap is the only other significant climb and as I reached the top, I decided to flick through my Garmin to the head to head screen which recognises if you've ridden that route before and compares your time. Now I'm not quite sure which previous time it was comparing as I've only had it since Xmas but I was 29 seconds up!! Another nice bonus piece of motivation!

As usual on this route, I was wind assisted despite no obvious breeze! Reaching my turn around point, average speed was a handy 16.8mph.

Now, my only pitfall was going to be stamina.

When I'm at my peak, I can add 0.5mph to that halfway average as the return route has no big climbs. I decided not to pace myself, instead I wanted to measure my stamina, so I maintained a fair old pace.
My good form lasted another 6 miles. Whilst I didn't quite hit the wall, I did have to ease up a bit. I even did a wee bit of coasting so I could stretch out my neck.

Anyway, I freshened up for the last big downhill and hit 33mph a couple of times.

Very pleased with my 16.5 average as if my stamina had held it would have been closer to 17!

Sorry for the geek-fest in this post but its why I love riding regular routes- you can make really meaningful comparisons.

One final note- cadence. I've never really paid much attention to it but since adding it to the home screen of my Garmin, I've spotted a flaw in my old technique- I hold onto gears too long. My optimum cadence for this level of fitness seems to be around 69-72rpm. Anything above or below this was noticeably less efficient.
Ok, so one thing lacking from last years training were longer stints. In fact, apart from about two rides, they were all pretty much 20 milers.
So today, I decided to piece together half my TT route with the uphill leg of my Streatly Hill route along with an extra few miles or so which I spotted on Strava (Streatly - Wallingford - Goring - Streatly)

The best difference would be that I would be hitting the killer slopes of Streatly at 30 odd miles rather than at mile 10.

It went really well! I decided, given the heat to allow myself one rest stop at whatever moment I decided I needed it. Unsurprisingly given my normal training distance, I hit the wall at about 24 miles. On the upside, my average speed at that point was 16.7 which I was pleased with.
It also meant I'd be adding around 1/4 mile to the actual climb as I was climbing all the way from the river rather than the crossroads.

The climb was tough! Not as tough as last week- definite progress, but still sick-in-your-throat, seeing stars type tough. I even hung my helmet from my bars and dribbled the camelbak hose down my polo shirt to try and lose some heat.

The great thing about massive climbs is that it makes the next few hundred yards seem easy.

Finished up at 41.7 @ 15.9 which was great as I'd predicted 15 to myself.

At one point, I was making good progress between Pangbourne and Streatly doing 19.2 and got passed by a roadie. So, I just eased into his slip stream and whilst I didn't get too close, I stuck on his wheel for the next mile. He got a right shock when he looked back and seen a broad shouldered, baggy shorted Mtb stuck on his wheel but unfortunately he turned off at the next junction so I didn't get long to compare progress.

I think I have made more progress in one week this year than I did last year, so perhaps the residual fitness was just hiding.
Well, back in the game tonight on the old GT which I managed to get back off my mum (made her buy her own turbo ).
The first couple of miles were a bit of an eye opener and I almost couldnt be bothered to carry on but then, once I was warmed up, I settled quickly back into the GT riding position.
I dont honestly think it was a great deal slower (it has got really light wheels and no discs) but didnt feel as fast. What did make a difference was the brakes and gears. The brakes were adjusted to within an inch of their life but still never really felt like stopping me at any point !
The gears are as well adjusted as I can get them and are very average. Its so much harder to commit to a hill not knowing whats going to happen if you suddenly need to sit back down and flick down three gears. You might get the one you wanted, or you might get two either side.

Another interesting point tonight was the fact I reached down after about three miles for a drink (I try and be fastidious about drinking little and often and not getting dehydrated) and realised I had no bottle or camelbak and hance no liquids. And i'd intended to do close to 2 hours and thirty miles.
The thing is, once I'd got over the mental aspect of riding with no drink- it actually made very little difference. I made sure I drunk a litre when I got back, but duiring the ride I was able to go as hard as I always can.

I did a new loop, based on my weekend 40 miler but with the Streatley - Wallingford loop knocked off. This meant I hit Streatly Hill at 18 miles.
I was a bit worried about over-heating with no water to cool off, so removed my helmet again. I wish I hadnt! Nearly at the top, I heard two guys shout something to each other and realised two roadies were steadily trying to pass!!! I stood up to regain my pride and whacked my knee on the helmet (hung from my bars) and nearly toppled over!
They'd given everything they had to the hill though and I soon passed them again as they weaved into a layby to regain some composure.

Despite being on the old wheels, I beat my Streatley Hill time but only by a mahooosive 6 seconds, all of which are attributed to my attackers.
Must ring the bike shop tomorrow and see how they're getting on- I certainly miss it.
Swinley today.
Rode the blue route twice and the red. Remembered a fair bit of the red from the Gorrick race.
I only got passed once all day by a proper skinny Xc looking guy.

Was a really interesting day and so glad we did it. Whilst I can see why the purists hate trail centres, I thought it was ace!
Seemed horrendously busy in the car park but out on course it was fine.
So what did I learn?
One that my general off road skills aren't too bad.
Two, that I am still slower than Lew downhill but not by as much as last year.
Three, that I know what my issues are now. They are comfort braking and target fixation on what I've just ridden past.
That said, I did make progress as the session wore on and got into some really nice flows. I managed to properly rail some of the berms on my second time through the blue.
Even in the narrow twisty rooty bits on the red, I never suffered for my SPD's even though I felt like I should be dabbing an inside foot every now and again.
Four, I learned that my road training does translate into short sharp bursts and delighted in blasting up some of the interlinking fire road bits.
Five, I managed to really pick my eyes up and look ahead today. (Even if I did then follow the massive stump I'd just avoided for too long)
Six, that I should probably just MTFU and keep my SPD's on for the beast.

I am quite good on a motorbike at not comfort braking so its quite annoying to have the habit at all. But basically, instead of just muscling the gert cartwheels through the corner, I'm dabbing the brakes and throwing out my entire entry line.

Another thing I noticed with the SPD's was that it was so tempting to capitalise on the instantaneous lift they provide and hoist the back wheel too high. There's one bit on the red where there's not much action for about half a mile. I shouted back to Lew that its probably because we're about to disappear over a cliff and that's what it felt like! I was endeavouring to push into all the jumps and keep both wheels on the deck but the high saddle height and pedals meant some cool tummy-tickling action as we slalomed down the hill. It was a good section to practice not braking though as there was too much steering going on.

All in all, for a highly concentrated dose of fun and practice, I had a really great time and thoroughly recommend the place!
Weight coming down nicely!
Back on it tonight with some gusty, soul destroying headwinds. So, I did the best thing I could think of, ignore overall average speed and chase a couple of hill-climbs where headwind would make bugger all difference.

First up was Streatley Hill and I set off with ideas of completing it all in the middle chainring! Ha! Fat chance
Made a fair old stab mind you. Heart-rate alarm set to 170 and quickly became irrelevant as I soon hit the dizzy heights of 184 and there or thereabouts is where it stayed.

My previous best up 'Streatley Hill to Carpark' was all the way back on August 01st on the GT where I managed a 5.1mph, 268watt time of 5min55.
Today's came in at 5.8mph and 329watts for a time of 5min10 which I'm very pleased with!

I won't bore you with all the other little mounds that I blitzed as I've never mentioned them before.

Lastly, I had a proper hard go at 'Drag out of Hermitage' because when I rode the TT course the other night, despite mapping my time up the hill, Strava didn't recognise the segment which is very annoying! So I had a score to settle.

As per the pic in the post earlier, my best time to date was a 13.1mph, 470watt effort for 1:36. Tonight, I decided to stay seated for the whole leg and just turn the gas up to max. Now I've got the muscles to back up my will, its really satisfying to feel the burn and yet not back off. I could feel my whole stomach and arms brace against the strain and still I didn't ease off.
Finished up with a 13.7mph, 526w effort for 1:32 which shows how tiny the margins are now!

Average speed was a 'meh' 16.0mph over 23miles but its one of those horrible routes where you seem to have a headwind the whole way.

Still can't believe someone averaged the long beast course at 15mph last year- insanity!
Well, with a week of meaningful training left before I ease off in preparation for the big day, time for a quick reflection.
My mileage total is higher than the 600 predicted and should finish up close to 700 but more than that, I've tried to make every mile count.

Weight is under 14stone which is great but I don't think I can push for 13.5 as I don't really want to eat any less and can't really train any more but its a weight I'm happy with and certainly better than carting an extra stone around.

My average speed on my 20mile tester is at an all time high of 18mph so I've done well there and might find a bit more yet if I manage to ride it one more time. Funnily enough, I've rarely used the three routes I originally intended to concentrate on as they're too short. I feel short changed by a 20miler now and usually ride 28-42 of an evening.

Whilst I haven't gone nuts on my off-roading, the two visits to Swinley were enough to prove to myself that I can push the pace if only I concentrate on the fundamentals and fight my urges to comfort brake. Definitely a case of going faster by slowing down initially and letting the pace come to me.
If it stays dry, I plan on doing some local singletrack in the three days leading up to the beast, riding deliberately slowly but focussing on my d/h concentration.

I haven't as yet practiced eating on the fly which is going to be key to my no-stop strategy. However, this Sunday I plan on doing 60miles of either Ridgeway or Salisbury Plain so will go in full Beast-spec for a shakedown. I intend to set up my Garmin alarms for every half-hour to remind me in the heat of battle to cram some calories down.
I've never eaten proper gels and don't plan on starting now so my jersey will be crammed with snickers and Rice Krispie squares.

I've got some new pads on order and just need to get a 29er tube for my pouch and the bike is ready to go.

I've really enjoyed this years spell of training and have seen real results. A four hour finish would have put me top 20 of the short course last year so that's still my intention.

I can't wait!

This time next week, it will all be over.
This year's training has gone better than I could ever have hoped. And whilst I was fairly sure the ingredients were there, I don't like leaving things to chance so I needed to prove to myself that my hope of a 4-hour finish were realistic and that I'd done all I could.

There were also the unanswered questions of Nutrition and Hydration to consider.

But how? How to get close to the Beast? If I couldn't replicate it, I at least needed to simulate it.

So, I looked at my favourite playground that is Salisbury Plain. No, it's not gnarly but from end to end I guessed (I've always been told its 26miles end to end as the crow flies) it would ride about 30 miles so there and back would give me 60 miles of near constant gravel tracks. Some of it smooth, some of it loose, some of it deep and some of it pot-holed but all of it a good test for the arms and the legs (fair bit more resistance than the smoothest roads in Berkshire that I normally train on ).

It's also surprisingly hilly for a 'plain' and if I'd spent more time route planning and done a few more road miles, I could have replicated the 5260ft of Beast climbing. As it was, the climbing came in at 3386ft so plenty good enough when combined with the 20 extra miles.

So what were the goals of this Shake-down?
1. To ride 4hrs + nonstop as per my Beast plan
2. To eat and drink enough to avoid a drop in performance
3. To practice general fire-roady type riding choosing the appropriate lock-out mode for the terrain
4. To see how my training translated into stamina, would I have pushed the 'cliff' far enough away that I wouldn't drop over it before the end?
5. To see how my bike-fit faired over a longer ride. Was that saddle height right? Should I get a longer stem? etc etc
6. To spend some time in one of my favourite places in the whole world and immerse myself in the simple act of riding my bike! The views from the Northern escarpment of the Plain are spectacular and todays (near) perfect riding conditions only added to it.
7. To get out of a whole load of chores for another week at least .

So how did it go?

The trouble with referring to 'massive headwinds' in the week, is that when I do encounter such a thing, there's no superlatives left to describe it. Needless to say, there's a lot less trees on the Plain than there are in Berkshire so the wind was truly savage.
Even up the first small climb, it was so loud, I could barely hear the crunch of the gravel and it only added to the scale of the days undertaking knowing that I had that for the next three hours!
However, I consoled myself with the thought that at least I'd be rocket-powered on the way home and that the reverse situation would be far scarier! So a quick MTFU pill and I was off.

It was amazing out there today, I've always loved the Plain and today it was strangely devoid of 'public'. In 60 miles, excluding Westbury White Horse car park, I passed less than 10 mtbs, less than 10 dog walkers and less than 10 motorbikes/4x4's. Where the heck was everyone?

I set my Garmin Alarm for 30minutes and assumed that was intervals (it was) rather than just a one off timer of 30mins.
The plan was to eat and drink whether or not I needed it each and every time.

I went with what the local garage had and bought a pack of 6 Cocoa Pop cereal bars and two Snickers-duo bars. On top of this, I had some strange Lucozade recovery stuff which tasted a bit like Barocca tablets and was fizzy not still as I'd hoped but it was lush and I really enjoyed it. So 750ml were added to my bottle and the Camelbak had a full 3l of water in it.

This is the first occasion I've ever tried eating on the fly (hence why I felt I needed to practice it) and it's bloody hard on gravel! I tried to pick the most convenient point within two minutes of my alarm so tricky descents or climbs would always be finished first. In the end, I had to remind myself that slowing down and sitting up a bit was still much quicker than stopping altogether and that made it much easier.
I'd had the foresight to tear all the corners from the cereal bars and it was still a bloody pain getting them out, more so because none of my teeth match up so it's impossible for me to tear stuff with them.
I got better though.

As some kind of quaint reward system, I decided that every half hour I would eat one cereal bar and a few mouthfuls of water and every hour I would add a couple of swigs of Lucozade. Then, roughly halfway I'd tuck in to the beautiful (I've eaten no chocolate in the past five weeks ) Snickers burning a hole in my Jersey.

I didn't rule out stopping, especially once I was past 40 miles but as it was, I never felt the need. I made a point of altering my pedal stroke / standing up at a low-effort pace for a couple of hundred yards every time I felt an ache coming on and I must say, my legs felt fresh right to the end.

I bought some padded shorts 10days ago and they've been a revelation too- worth every penny.

My feet ached a bit around the cleats but not enough to need any modification.

The relief at turning around half way was immense and the return leg was much faster. I did make a slight mistake on the way there and rode down a flag-dependent Byway near the back of the .50cal range at Larkhill and unfortunately the flags were up and to get back around would have meant a three mile diversion so I risked the wrath of the land wardens and took a chance up the track. Luckily it paid off and I was soon out the other side but it meant I had to ride a slightly different return route (as seen on Strava).

I'm not going to recommend Cocoa Pop cereal bars as a food of champions but they did the trick. As time went on, I got better and better at actually getting them down (amazing how un-hungry I felt) and as result there were no peaks or troughs- just steady, consistent pace.
I also still didn't drink enough (going on the colour of my wee when I finally got off the bike) but wasn't really dehydrated enough to affect performance. I only drank about 1.5l of my Camelbak and my 750ml of Lucozade so I will probably run a half-full Camelbak on the Beast and stop at the second rest-stop if I'm getting low.

All in all, I was very pleased with the ride today and can now say "I am ready"

My mileage guess was pretty close and I wound up riding 61.1 miles in 4h07mins (No need for elapsed time when you didn't stop). Overall average speed was 14.8mph HOWEVER......

I remembered to press the Lap button when I reached Westbury so to show you how bad the wind was:
LAP ONE: 30 miles @ 13.1mph average
LAP TWO: 31 miles @ 16.9 mph average

Like I said, rocket powered on the way home!


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