Saturday, 27 April 2013

Back from the brink (of apathy)

Impressively, I note it's been almost two years since I updated my cycling blog! I've had some good adventures in the meantime, both on and off the bike (Etape Cymru, Dragon Ride etc), but just haven't found the time to settle into regular writing. I guess blogging is one of those things one should do regularly or not at all, so I am going to try to be more self-disciplined in future. As an aside, the rise of Twitter and micro-blogging in general has also provided an outlet for the thoughts and ideas that seem to flit across my mind with great frequency sometimes, so much so that I haven't really felt the need to write any longer blog posts. Given the rather epic summer of cycling I have planned for 2013, though, I am going to try and change this situation.

So, the 'monuments' of my cycling year in 2013 will mainly be as follows: -
  • MAY: London Revolution (180 mile sportive across two days)
  • JUN: Dolomites tour (Belluno-Como) with the LVGs (see previous blogs)
  • AUG: RideLondon-Surrey 100 (closed-road century sportive from Olympic Park)
  • SEP: Spain: Sierra Nevada and Pico de Veleta
All of these opportunities have come about mainly through serendipity. London Revolution was a suggestion from my good friend Sankey who rode the Deloitte RAB as part of British Airways' employee team a couple of years ago. It is run by the same outfit (Threshold Sports AKA James Cracknell) so will hopefully be organised equally well. I am planning to use it as a test event and if I like what I see about Threshold, I might think about doing the full RAB in 2014 with them. In the meantime, I will be riding the Revolution with Sanks and a few of his cycling mates. It sounds good fun as the overnight camp in Windsor is all taken care of - they transport your kit bag from the start and set up your personal tent ready for arrival, there's also a mini festival that night with live bands and adventure lectures etc.

The Dolomites tour I am a bit more nervous about given some of the climbs involved. We will be tackling legendary passes including the Stelvio, Gavia and (particularly worryingly) the Mortirolo, which Lance Armstrong described as the toughest climb in pro cycling (and he as we now know wasn't just operating on Jelly Babies). Still, I am very excited at the prospect of cycling in one of my favourite countries and somewhere I have family roots. I like France and the Pyrenees/Alps rides were spectacular but Italy is another level altogether in my opinion so I'm really looking forward to it. It will be good to ride with the LVG guys again as well and hopefully revisit some of the climbs where Wiggo will have recently (fingers crossed) clinched the Giro.

Next there's the Ride London 100, the inaugural edition of what it's hoped will become the cycling equivalent of the London Marathon and centrepiece of Boris Johnson's new annual festival of cycling. It starts and finishes at the Olympic Park in Stratford and rather uniquely for London will take placed on closed roads, tracing a similar route to that which the new London-Surrey Cycle Classic race will use a few hours later. I was lucky to have my number come up in the ballot (apparently 50K people applied for 20K places) for what should be a great event and something I can hopefully look back on in 20 years' time when it's still happening and think 'I was there for the first one'. I was particularly lucky to be picked having had to pull out of London Marathon training a few weeks previously due to a knee injury, so the Ride London event should hopefully be the cycling equivalent.

The final part of this plan is perhaps the most ill-advised. At the end of August I will go going to Andalucia for a few days with a few cycling mates including my ex-colleague from freuds, Will. We will be taking in some great Spanish roads with an ex-pat outfit called Vamos! Cycling, watching the Vuelta stage finish in Granada and most importantly attempting to cycle to the top of Europe's highest paved road, the Pico de Veleta. A bit intimidating as the last few miles aren't even paved at all and the mountain has also been deemed too extreme for the pros to use on the Vuelta. So it could be quite 'interesting' shall we say, especially if high winds are blowing, but quite an adventure too. You can read more about Veleta here.

So it promises to be quite a summer of cycling if all this goes according to plan. In preparation I have been training with more focus and discipline than I ever have before for any kind of sporting challenge. To start with I have been following the generic London Revolution training plan which has been devised by the renowned coach Andy Cook so hopefully it will stand me in decent stead for the first part of my cycling challenge. It's a good plan as the amount of riding involved is pretty manageable and realistic for someone who also has to hold down a regular job - something I've found is not always the case with other plans.

The big difference with London Revolution to many other sportives of course is the need to ride fairly big distances (90 miles or so) on two consecutive days, so the emphasis of the plan is very much on this element. Saturdays and Sundays are both riding days, based more on time than distance and prioritising steady pace over setting PBs, building up to five hours or so as the event gets closer. There are also recovery rides every Tuesday of around 1-1.5 hours and turbo interval sessions every Thursday. Mon/Wed/Fri are rest days every week so plenty of time to recover and minimise any risk of over-training.

So far I must say I have quite impressed myself with how diligently I have stuck to the training plan but I think this is as much the hallmark of a well thought-out plan as anything else. Unlike other regimes I've tried to stick to in the past (triathlons etc), the sessions on this one seem spaced out well enough to prevent that dreaded Groundhog Day-style training boredom setting in and also look like they were planned around somebody who actually has a life and doesn't want to dedicate literally every waking hour to sport like some Ironman obsessive. In fact I have rather surprised myself with how I have bounded out of bed on dark winter weekday mornings to jump on the turbo so there is clearly some kind of method in the madness. I managed to miss very few sessions throughout the icy start to 2013 and now the weather is a bit milder and the clocks have changed, it's a pleasure to be able to do some of my midweek rides around London's many parks before/after work rather than being chained to the turbo constantly. My blatherings about training on social media, Strava etc also seem to be having a psychological effect as I've even had certain LVG members (mentioning no names) emailing me privately to get a copy of my training schedule, which never happens normally.

All the training also seems to be helping a bit. I have never been the fastest cyclist (as you can tell from the name of this blog) but can now feel myself edging towards respectable pace and it's a good feeling. One of the things I like most about cycling is that at amateur/recreational levels it doesn't really involve sporting talent and tends to reward application in pretty linear fashion. Sure, some people are just born with bigger engines than others but it's not like golf for instance where you can dedicate hours to polishing your swing and spend a fortune on clubs but if like me you aren't blessed with much hand-eye coordination, still really struggle around the course and have a miserable time. Privately I suspect this is another reason for the recent explosion in MAMILs (Middle-Aged Men In Lycra) as cycling definitely rewards hours invested in a way I haven't felt with many other sports.

So this has turned into a bit of an essay but I just wanted to share my cycling plans for 2013 and provide a few insights into my training. I will be doing plenty of other cycling in between, I'm sure - I really want to try some lightweight touring this year and also maybe have a go at the velodrome if possible. In between all this I'm also planning to move house this summer so that will add to the training complications but change is often a good thing. So I hope some of you will enjoy reading my ramblings and maybe feel inspired to take on some similar cycling challenges yourselves or share experiences of the rides you'll be doing this year.

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