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Smile if you like gravel

Last week I had one of the most enjoyable bike rides I’ve had in a long time (probably my 2nd favourite bike ride behind the Lan Las Ogwen trail – an old slate road that connects Bangor to Ogwen Cottage).

Me and James both met up for our normal Sunday ride to batter it around the Peak District. As the weather is still a bit rubbish we are still on our CX bikes which means big chunky tyres and almost go-anywhere-ability. After taking on three or four pretty serious climbs in the Peak District we dropped into Buxton and, after an inspired decision by James, we hit the Monsal Trail.

For those of you who don’t know, the Monsal Trail is an old Railway line that connects Buxton and Bakewell. It has been turned into 8.5 miles of glorious, traffic free gravely trails. The trail cuts right through the heart of the Peaks, cutting out the big climbs of Monsal Head and Worm Hill (thank god) using old railway tunnel networks.

The stress-free riding of traffic-free trails and the added fun of riding through gravel at 20+ mph was enough to put a massive smile on my face, make me forget about the previous hills and 40 miles in the legs and the fact that it was four degrees and raining.

I’ve said this before in a previous blog post, you need to make training fun every now and then – you should be transported back to that first time you step over the top tube of your bike riding to shops for sweets or racing your mates across the park. You should never lose that sense of adventure. As you can clearly see from my little face I had an amazing time.

If I can offer any advice to anyone training for a big event – it’s not all about the numbers and hours on the bike – so get out and plan your next adventure.

Winter training continues

Race Across America is fast approaching. In just over four months we will be in the 40degree heat of California . From the North West of England that sort of heat is unimaginable in January and February. Long rides are hard in the snow and ice and cold, so Tom and I are making the most of the short days. Cycling into work and home twice a week, indoor sessions on Zwift midweek and then a ride together at the weekend.

These rides are a nice chance to catch up on how the preparations are going but also for quality training with a mate. Fat burning – during Race Across America we can’t consume the amount of calories that we will be burning. This means we have to use stored fat as an energy source for the ride. Strange thought that Tom and I are trying to keep some weight on in preparation for it fueling us across America. Fat is a good fuel source for low intensity exercise, at higher intensity, glycogen and stored sugars are the main source. With training you can increase the proportion of fat you burn in relation to carbohydrates. So, that’s why we do a fasted ride on a Sunday morning. Wake up, black coffee for the caffeine (no milk that’s cheating ha) then out of the door. Glycogen stores in the body last about 90 minutes for Tom and I, so we do a 2.5Hour ride on a Sunday morning fasted. That’s essentially an hour of guaranteed pain.

I still remember our first fasted ride ha ha ha, Tom broke first, I was chatting , he wasn’t. By the time we reached breakfast neither of us were talking. The brain needs sugars to work and we had used most of ours. Our awareness and coordination had gone as had our sense of humour. We sat down and had white coffee, even the small amount of sugar in the coffee was enough to make our brains come good. Thirty seconds later we both became hysterical and started giggling and within two minutes we were back to our normal selves. A weird feeling. People talk about “bonking” during a marathon, essentially it’s running out of sugar, we are bonking every Sunday. On purpose!! It’s not pleasant. Nice thing is though, your body gets better at using fat, last time out, same ride, we both felt absolutely fine at the breakfast point and we were both still chatting. Progress. This is key to performing in RAAM. Slow and steady and fat burning will help keep the bonk away. 

And if you want to see how tought training in the winter is check out our latest training video.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to make my training…

So over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to make my training more ‘interesting’. It’s safe to say I’m going through a bit of rough patch. I’ve been training hard for over a year for one single event and sometimes it can be hard to maintain the same pressure (even for an event as big as RAAM). You do get the occasional day of shit i’ve got to ride my bike across america that jolts you back to reality and usually onto the turbo doing the hardest session you can find on Zwift but trying to maintain this motivation can still be difficult (for me anyway). 

I’ve found that the key to maintaining my focus is by scheduling small training treats as a way to keep my training a bit more interesting. Me and James both did this in the winter by taking on some of our local cyclocross races but I’m now itching for my next, small, adventure. 

I’ve been googling mini Manchester to Lands End – Manchester – I thought, how far can I get in 7 days but then sanity provailed and I realised March may not be the right time to ride over 800 miles unsupported. 

I have since been riding my cyclocross bike equipped with gravel tyres (schwalbe G One) which are absolutely incredible and it has completely changed my view on the versatility of the humble bike. I’m itching for my next gravel adventure which could pass has some solid endurance training before the big one, RAAM. I think I’ve found the perfect event, Dirty Reiver. 200km across gravel tracks and trails in Kielder Forest! What more could you ask for?! If you had told me a few years ago that I’d even consider riding 200km in a day, nevermind for fun and offroad I would have laughed in your face but this is what RAAM has done – you get the itch to go to places you’d never normally go and you want to test your new found ultra-fitness. 

For now, I will be riding my gravel bike more, have as much fun as humanly possible on my bike and, importantly, getting my head down in preparation for June. 

If you’re interested in some crazy gravel riding check out their event page – it looks boss! https://www.dirtyreiver.co.uk/

 

26 weeks to go: Training for Race Across America

I’ve never trained harder. I thought I’d trained hard before, but actually I just fitted my training around my life. When life got too busy, my training had to take a back seat. It has to, most of us are juggling busy lives, families, kids, social lives, kids social lives! Where’s the time? So how did we make the change? Pretty simple…. Pure FEAR.

Race Across America is just that. It’s a race. The time to finish is under nine days and is very tight. We have to average 16mph over all the terrain, in wind and rain, day and night, over mountains and through deserts without slowing. And I ain’t no cyclist. Well, I guess there’s a correction there, I wasn’t a cyclist. After clocking up over 5,000 miles on my bike this year and having a room in my house dedicated to bikes and training, I cant really escape the reality that I am a cyclist. I still feel a fraud though when I go cycling with someone like Tom who actually knows what he’s doing on a bike and also knows how to fix it!
My training plan for Race Across America has been pretty simple. I know from running the Ultra Tour of Mont Blanc, which took over 30 hours solid, that my endurance base was pretty good. The key point for me to start was with improving my weaknesses (well one main weakness), my little skinny runners legs. They are good at moving my lightweight frame up and down mountains on foot, but no good for powering a bike along. From a bit of reading and discussions with Tom it became clear that my main limiting factor was power (Watts) ,which many of you may be familiar with. As Tom said in his last blog, power to weight is important, but the weight only really becomes a factor when you are going uphill. Most of our ride will be flat roads. I needed more power.

Training started in the early year and I focussed on just riding my bike, into and out of work just to get the miles in. This helped build muscle but we needed to measure how we were doing. One of the great things about cycling compared to running is that it is much easier to measure how hard you are working and how much power you have and how your training goals are progressing. I invested in an indoorWahoo Kickr bike trainer and linked it up to Zwift. For those who don’t follow these geeky things, it means I can use it to measure my fitness (FTP) and to do controlled interval training. And you can’t cheat it. When I was doing running training if you felt a bit tired you could just back off and cruise about, it was very pleasant. Zwift is a virtual training world. It knows how fit I am, it sets the power I have to produce for every session `I do and it controls the resistance on the machine. So once you start a session, you can’t back off. Its utterly horrible, but at the same time incredible quality training.

When the weather got a bit nicer in March/April I started to do some rides out with Tom. I should come clean about these rides with Tom, I was scared of going out with him because he is ridiculous on a bike. Tom’s slowest efforts were stupidly hard for me. He would ride 15 miles to Tatton Park and I would meet him there (to save my energy) and then we would do 2 laps around Cheshire. About 25 miles. It always followed the same pattern, he would chat, I would pretend I wasn’t dying ha ha . I remember at the end of the first rides that we would part about five miles from my car; he would cycle home, I would cycle to my car. I would already have given everything to keep up with Tom and as soon as he’d left I didn’t have to keep up the pretence anymore. I literally crawled home through Tatton Park on my bike, just managing to overtake the little kids on stabilisers. I even turned my Strava off by this point so Tom had no idea id completely died ha ha But that is the benefit of having Tom on the team, we kind of compliment each other. He drags me along and my power increases to a point when I can occasionally lead him along now. He has learnt about endurance and about going long.

When I started in Jan I set myself a power target to achieve before Race Across America, last week I achieved that target. It’s pleasing, but it was just a number, we still have a long way to go in our training. It just means now I have a new target. The FEAR is still there and still driving us both on. The next two months will be about increasing my power as high as I can and then in the 4/5 months before the race, we will build our endurance ready for the 3,000 mile race. We figure we can race at 50-60% of our maximum speed (FTP), so the more powerful we are, the faster that speed will be.

Any regrets? No not really. It’s a great challenge for a great cause and nothing is achieved without hard work. Training 5 days a week is hard but it has to be done to complete this challenge for Prevent Breast Cancer. My only regret is that we haven’t dome time lapse photography of my skinny legs as they have grown to become more appropriate for cycling!

If I had any training advice I’ve learnt it would be to set yourself a bigger challenge than you thought possible, if you work hard enough you can do it. The second piece of advice that I hope is going to work for Tom and I is to be honest with what you are bad at and what hurts the most in your training and to concentrate your efforts on improving the things you naturally avoid.

Tom and James will Race Across America in June 2019 to raise £125,000 for Prevent Breast Cancer.

If you are interested in the campaign then Tom and James could really use your help. Giving your time is the most valuable help you can give, giving your time to do a charity event for the campaign such as a Cake Sale or a Bag Pack would make a huge difference.

27 weeks to go: Our meeting with a Nutritionist

Tom here, so this week has been a busy one for me and it’s the last week off the ‘Off Season’ for me. This week I’ve been to two charity events with work, done one of my fitness tests and met with our newest sponsor, Olly Howarth, a cycling nutritionist and all round top bloke.

Olly has agreed to become a sponsor for RAAM providing us advice on nutrition in training, the lead up to the race and the race itself. This is something that is incredibly important to us.

This brings me onto the subject of nutrition and weight management, specifically the “importance” of weight which is a difficult subject in cycling and especially ultra endurance. So, after speaking to Olly he has roughly told us that we should be eating around 4,000 calories a day when training, especially when we are completing multiple sessions in a day, like 3 hours on the bike and then an hour in the gym to maintain a healthy weight. That’s just to maintain your weight, not put on weight – we’re just breaking even.

I know that personally, my ideal weight is around 72kg, as someone who is almost 6ft this is still pretty light. I know I have taken my weight obsession too far in the past, with my lowest weight being around 62kg. I had just been accepted onto a world-class development squad at Newcastle University, started training lots, not eating properly and started drinking sparkling water instead of eating after training. It took me a year of bad results, getting constantly ill and taking a year off the bike to really realise that I’d taken it too far. Meeting Olly and speaking openly about nutrition has been amazing – essentially being told eat what you want, drink protein shakes, snack, have hot chocolates is incredibly liberating.

Interestingly, the best ultra-athletes don’t look like the Chris Froome’s of the world, they almost resemble sprinters, not world tour cyclists, even though they are doing nearly double the distance of a grand tour in half the time.

There is a brilliant video that highlights this. At the end of the day, the way I look at it, I know I’m going to be more much more powerful being heavier, being stronger and being more robust.

 

 
 

Training: Strength and Conditioning

Strength and conditioning has always been an imporant element in my preparation for most cycling races and events. S&C work helps keep the body strong and robust and helps improve bone density, which is especially important in none-weight-bearing sports like cycling.

I’ve found that S&C work also adds a lovely bit of variety into my training – as they say variety is the spice of life. It’s not all bike, bike, bike.

Here are two of my favouite exercises.

Leg Press

Leg Press is a brilliant and pretty safe exercise to do. The motion is controlled by the machine and because of this it is a brilliant exercise to do to build pure strength. It also really isolates the legs.

Deadlifts

The deadlift is a brilliant compound exercise that engages pretty much every muscle in the body. It builds hamstring, quad and glute strength as well as core and back. This can be quite a technical lift and one that should be built up to slowly. It is the exercise that I find has the biggest positive impact on my overall on-bike strength and if I could only do one exercise in the gym it would be deadlifts.

Revolve 24 Test Event

Revolve 24 was probably one the hardest things I’ve done in a long time. Who stays up for 38 hours straight! The answer is no one in their right mind. Now how rides 300 miles and over Everest in a day… again no one in their right mind. The first 6 hours were nice and easy, dare I say the first 12 hours on the bike I felt brilliant. The next 6 hour block was probably one of the worst moments of my life! My brain had turned into mush and I had forgot how to eat food. 3 hours later, I’m being sick and can’t hold down any food and wanting to throw in the towel. 1 hour later, I’ve managed to keep my food down and I’m back on the bike feeling like a new and slightly exhausted man. Revolve 24 taught me a lot about myself, how I manage fatigue and what tired really is. 

We thought we’d give you all a bit of an insight into the horrible and beautiful world of ultra-endurance cycling. 

 

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How do you want to see us get up Winnats Pass?

Winnats Pass is probably one of the hardest climbs in the UK. I (Tom) have been very close to walking up it on my all singing and all dancing race bike. I also have some not so fond memories of approaching the climb after 5 hours on the bike in 35 degree heat, already cramping, thinking how am I going to do this – James on this occasion absolutely bladdered me up the climb like he does on most climbs in the Peak District. 

If you don’t believe how hard the climb is check out this video! 

So, as a little treat to you we’d like to make this infamous climb even harder and we’re giving you the chance to let us know our fate. 

So how will this work? 

Which ever result comes in first we will do. 

After voting if you could donate to our Just Giving page that would be amazing! None of these options are easy and it WILL hurt.

 

Be kind! 

How do you want to see us get up Winnats Pass?