There’s a great quote from the even greater cyclist Eddy Merckx, something along the lines of:
” The race is won by the rider who can suffer the most“
If that’s the case, I’ll just collect my medal now thank you and that’s only after training!
Much earlier in the year, from the comfort of a warm sofa and a winter spent developing a tv box-set habit, it seemed a great idea to sign up for a spring bike event sportive. Something to aim for, to get fitter…..something that means you spend 3 long days covering over 221 miles and 14,500 feet of climbing by bike. Welcome to the Tour of Wessex.
The only saving grace at the time was that said event was months away and I’d have plenty of time to train. However, throw in the usual seasonal girl-flu, the odd holiday and some prolonged spells of arctic weather here in the UK and that time suddenly began to dwindle away rather alarmingly.
The last 2 months therefore have seen a concerted level of panic regarding training and the need to do some if I’ve any hope of covering the above distance.
I’m not one of these people who enjoys training or training plans, in fact I actively avoid them. The reason I like riding my bike is because I feel like doing so, it’s sunny outside, or I’m going to get some cake. When faced with a timetable which requires me to ride when it’s a) raining, b) far longer than I feel like pedaling, c) I’d planned to go to the pub, it just sucks all the fun out of it.
I have however needed to develop some kind of routine if I want to haul myself over 221 hilly miles and, surprisingly, bits of that have been ok, I’d nearly go so far as enjoyable…. nearly. Now it’s coming to an end and with the event itself looming I’ve been thinking about these last few weeks and what I’ve gained from my very loose training plan, so here’s my top 5:
- Cycling home from work.
It’s not the distance but the effort you put in which seems to be the mantra regarding strength and endurance training so with the need to build in a speed session once a week I turned to my daily commute. Usually I drive the 12 mile journey in to work but, with a bit of forward planning I arranged a weekly lift in for me and the bike (I could ride in but I hate mornings). A long day in front of the computer and I found I was actively looking forward to my sprint session home. Building up week after week I also added in a few hills and some extra miles to the 3 x 8 minute sprint sessions. It still hurt going flat our but more excitingly it seems to be paying off too. Ok, so Chris Froome doesn’t need to worry just yet by my average speed is gradually creeping up which feels like progress.
2. Exploring new places
Despite the speed work gains you still can’t get away from the need to do some longer distance riding. My usual routes are of course quite quickly done to death so going long has made me look in to new options. And there have been some surprisingly lovely rides because of this. I’ve made more of an effort to plot new routes and even signed up to the odd sportive. There’s nothing like the motivation of 1000 other cyclists I discovered recently after completing the annual 65 mile Isle of Wight Randonnee. A sunny day out riding round the beautiful (and distinctly hilly) country lanes, sea views and cyclists as far as the eye can see.
3. The power of the Strava Segment
I’d written previously about my burgeoning addiction to Strava and the double-edged nature of the competition it creates. As the weeks progress however I have taken a good amount of pleasure in seeing my pace over certain sections increase. Not only that I’m feeling stronger and less fatigued doing it. I’ll admit to getting a tiny bit grumpy if my times are less than hoped for but it’s proportionate (sort of). The little encouragements of a personal best or a top 10 place have worked brilliantly to spur me on in a generally positive direction. My first QOM (Queen of the Mountains) came on the day of the Royal wedding and I don’t know who was happier at their new throne, me or Meghan Markle!
4. A licence to eat cake.
Of course no good training plan is complete without the correct nutrition either. I’ve spent far more time than usual looking in to optimal fueling, both on the bike and for recovery. My cupboards are now proudly stacked with protein powder, carbohydrate gels and electrolyte drinks.
And cake…… I’ve read the articles about putting the right food in to get the right results, giving up alcohol and fats and sugar, but I also like my life. It’s a sportive not the Tour de France I’ve entered so, whilst my body may not quite be a temple to athleticism, with the increase in mileage I am at least able to eat copious amounts of cake with both impunity and enjoyment.
5. I have new cycling skirts!
And finally, with all the extra mileage my one and only road bike skirt is now seriously over-utilised and looking extremely sorry for itself. Three days of tough cycle sportive I felt warranted a new skirt to take part in, the trouble however was finding one! It’s actually quite and exact science regarding length and material and my usual charity shop trawl drew a blank. With zero sewing ability things were not looking good until a wonderful work colleague with zen-like command of a sewing machine agreed to help me out. A few weeks later I have two of the most fantastic, bespoke cycling skirts and they, more than anything, have given me the biggest boost.
So, as I count off the final few days, the packing pile in the spare room is growing, the bike is cleaned and the tapering has begun. The nerves are also well and truly setting in.
I have no idea how or if I’ll make it out the other side of 3 days and 221 miles but whatever happens I’ve trained, fueled and dressed to the best (ish) of my abilities. The rest is in the lap of the cycling gods and, if Mr Eddie Merckx is to be believed, all I have to do now is suffer…..!