Spring update

Olga and I are guilty of taking on too many projects. I despise myself for using the abbreviation but FOMO – or ‘fear of missing out’, to anybody over the age of 25 – drives us to try and do a bit more than we can comfortably manage. We work hard and play hard but that doesn’t always lend itself to training well or with any sort of consistency. It doesn’t lend itself to maintaining a blog with any sort of consistency either and so the post frequency never quite matches my lofty intentions. I won’t bore you all with the details but I’ll try to cover some of the more significant or interesting happenings of the past month.

Consistency

The biggest challenge at the moment seems to be balance and consistency. The nature of my work, as a one man band design consultant, means workflows are irregular and to avoid any quiet periods I inevitably end up saying yes a bit too often, ever conscious that about 50% of leads never materialise into work. Of course, sometimes the reverse is true and I end up with more work than I can realistically accommodate. Often that marries up with surges in all the other pressures and demands of busy modern life. Something has to give and that’s sleep. When I’m working through the night or sleeping just a few hours it’s not smart to train because I’ll just dig myself into a hole. The odd night here and there is fine, but I’m in my late 30’s now and I’ve lost my ability to smash through multiple all-nighters without paying the price. The clever play is to focus on damage limitation and trying to recover my health as quickly as possible, before getting back to training.

Late winter and spring have been marred with a few periods like this. My Strava feed looks like two different riders take turns using my account. I’ll go from 500km one week to 50km the next. That’s less than ideal and it hits morale to be losing fitness on the down weeks. I’m trying to be optimistic about it, thinking that a really busy period with work now means I can afford to ease off a little bit in the final months before the race, where it may be more important.

Audax

Steamride Brevet Card
Stamp collecting

First up was a 275km ride which would also serve as the first proper test of the new saddle. That was the first of two audax events I covered in the last post. Happily that saddle test went well. I was a bit sore afterwards but as the distance was a big jump up I figured that was to be expected.

Diet, nutrition & fitness

FTP March 2016

After the follow-up Sportstest session I made some big changes to my diet. Total intake hadn’t changed much but the timing through the week was quite different and I was enjoying the results. You don’t always realise when chronic fatigue creeps up on you, but the result of the changes meant that within a week I felt fresher and was making better gains on the bike. During one challenging day I learned that my planning application for extending the apartment had been rejected for some nonsensical reason. The repercussions are quite significant and it was a huge blow, so I threw in the towel and went for an angry ride (Strava) which included a lap of Richmond Park. It produced a PB lap time and my first proper FTP test since I began riding with a power meter. FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power, which is a fancy way of describing the maximum power a cyclist can sustain for an hour. If you had to crudely reduce cycling ability to a single metric this would be the one. An FTP of 316-320W (Training Peaks and Strava disagree over the exact figure) was higher than I had expected, especially for this time in the season and off the back of a scrappy month, so gives me confidence that with a bit more consistency in my training I can hit good numbers before the race.

The bike

Speccing up the new bike has taken a huge amount of time. I have some firm ideas about what I’m trying to do with it and they don’t always marry up sweetly with what the market wants to sell. The trouble is people don’t typically want to ride the distances we’re training for as if it’s a race, so I’m trying to marry aerodynamic efficiency and lightness with touring durability, load lugging capacity and the comfort needed to ride a bike continuously for two weeks. My office is slowly filling up with boxes of carbon trinkets, wheels, Haribo and electronic widgets, testing the tolerance of my wife. It’s been like trying to beat a Rubik’s Cube, when I think I’m almost there, only to discover that there’s one element that simply doesn’t work with my previous choices.

“My office is slowly filling up with boxes of carbon trinkets, wheels and Haribo.”

I’ll give you an example. As the new bike is a big investment I’ve been keen to avoid accepting compromises, fully aware that they’d gnaw away at me over time. Sometimes this has been quite frustrating, like when trying to find a fork. It absolutely had to be:

  • disc-brake compatible
  • quick-release mounting (and not through-axle)
  • a cyclocross length (395mm) to fit my frame

And then there were the ‘optional’ extras that I was loathe to give up on:

  • crown bolt to mount a headlight
  • not gopping

Having done my research I was convinced that the light needed to be mounted at the fork crown. That’s where they’re designed to sit and the beam pattern is perfect from this position. Most are not designed to work upside down and so mounting on the handlebars was a sub-par option, even if I wasn’t already short on space up there. There were a couple of options available but I couldn’t bring myself to put teenage-standard branding onto such a carefully considered ride. There was one tasteful option but that was sold out worldwide (believe me, I checked). I’d almost given up when J Laverack came through with plans of a prototype in-house fork that ticked all my boxes, which I’ll be testing later this month. Multiply that story by 20-odd components which all have to work with each other and another 20-odd bits of race kit and you get the picture.

The frame has suffered some delays but I just had confirmation it’s due to reach me this week so, with a bit of luck, the next post you read will be me effing and blinding at my ham-fisted efforts at assembling everything before throwing in the towel and roping in my local bike shop.

The kit

Another item that has a long lead time is the bikepacking luggage, so in amongst the optimistic workloads I had to sneak in some time to design that. I had to make best guesses as to what I’d be carrying as not all my kit had arrived in time to know exactly how much capacity I needed. Dave at J Laverack helped me with a cardboard template from the triangle on his own 60cm J.ACK, which I then tweaked to form the basis of a custom frame bag. Alpkit turned this around in lightening time and it arrived this morning, looking superb.

Alpkit Template
A custom frame bag costs just a fraction more than an off-the-shelf item but maximises the space I have available and should make for a more stable fit too.

The carbon version of the Montrose saddle also arrived but I soon learned that Bontrager had elected to buck the industry standard of 7x9mm saddle rails and run with 7x10mm rails, which only fits Bontrager’s own seat posts. It’s an annoying tactic that I hate with a passion. My seat post has been carefully chosen and I won’t be replacing that to use a lighter saddle, so that’s now two compromises I’ve had to accept. The first being a higher than necessary spoke count in the wheels, dictated by my choice of dynamo.

Whiplash rehab

Taping
We tried taping but it didn’t seem to have much impact

Three sessions of physio per week were eating into my diary quite a lot, but recovery was still fairly slow. I’d got over the initial whiplash feeling after about 6 weeks but it’d been replaced by neck spasms further around to the left, which were excruciating after about 45 minutes on the bike. A baseline of 4-5 out of 10 on the pain scale spiked to 7-9 every so often. Once, when I tried to massage it out at the traffic lights the pain spiked so high I had to unclip and step out of the road for a bit of a scream. Mercifully, during the second audax ride I noticed a big reduction in pain. It’s still a bitch, but it’s much less of a bitch and that gives me hope that I can beat it before the race.

Track accreditation

The whiplash injury was the result of a heavy crash at the track, when I took the stage 4 accreditation test in February. Nobody was passed that day, which initially seems unfair but if the examiners didn’t see the crash unfold and appreciate what caused it, it’s not unreasonable to err on the side of caution and to not pass anybody, thereby preserving the standards on accredited sessions. Despite my injuries, as I left the velodrome I booked for the next available test, which wasn’t until the end of March. I didn’t realise at the time just how bad the whiplash would be, so I doubt I’d have been doing it any sooner than that anyway.

Velodrome Dangerous Old Fella
There may be trouble ahead…

I wrestled with whether or not to go back. In all reality I won’t be taking up track cycling (it means buying another bike and I’m already struggling to house two) and I couldn’t stop thinking about the advice I was given at the start of the year, before dabbling with the track. “It’s a bit risky. I wouldn’t be exposing yourself to that kind of risk ahead of your race.” I’m not good at dealing with failure and I hate to leave things unfinished, so my ego bullied those reservations into submission and I went back for another test. One of the old fellas who disrupted things so much last time was there but I made double-sure to be as far away from him as possible in all of the drills. Again he was a liability and there’s no way he should be anywhere near stage 4.

At the end of the session the examiners ask how you think you’ve done. I felt happy I’d given them no chance to fail me this time so it came as a bit of shock to be told I had failed. Apparently I lack the power for an explosive kick. I think I actually asked him if he was being serious, which probably did me no favours in their eyes, but it came so far out of left field I wasn’t really sure how to respond. It was all to do with a drill where you drop off the stack and then surge the power and go up the banking and rejoin on the outside. We were asked to aim to be back on by a certain marker and the examiners confirmed I was back on quicker than anybody else, but they say they were looking for a visible explosion of effort at the start. Then he mentioned that if he had his way everybody would do at least 20 hours of track time before being passed. He had all the power so there was bugger all point in trying to reason with him. The only reason to keep pursuing the accreditation is to satisfy my ego, so the sensible decision is to leave it there and go back to cycling where I’m the master of my fate. It’s a shame but it’s tainted my fondness for the track.

Get to da choppa!

Heli-ski.jpg

“The icy conditions were aggravating my knees, while the tasty, tasty lardo was aggravating my body fat percentage.”

Lardo
Mmmm… lardo

For the long Easter weekend we snuck away to Staffal in the mountains of Monte Rosa, Italy, for a condensed ski break, including Olga’s first heli-ski experience. The conditions were rotten but it’s always amazing to escape into the wild spaces, especially when there’s good Italian food waiting at the end of the day. It’s great for the soul but less than ideal for my training, with the icy conditions aggravating my knees and the tasty, tasty lardo aggravating my body fat percentage.

The bigger picture

A close friend ‘pocket-dialled’ me one afternoon and in the background I could hear paramedics tending to him. He’d come off his bike at 63kph on a descent in Essex and had gone down hard, breaking his collarbone into two pieces, his helmet into half a dozen and losing the last few minutes of his memory altogether.

A few days later I rode out past the scene of the crash and on to the coast at Maldon. It was a tough ride into a stiff headwind and I was suffering a bit with the neck, needing some venting screams to cope with the pain. On the way back, chasing the fading light, I got a message from my mum to say that my dad had been taken to hospital with a heart problem. That ride got a bit tougher and I upped the pace to get back quickly and make the journey to Peterborough to see what help I could offer.

I’m happy to say that both of them are on the mend but it served as a useful reminder not to get too hung up on what is ‘only’ a bike ride.

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