Season of Mist 2014

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Season of Mist has 2.5 audax altitude award points so you know exactly what’s in store for you.  Today was a clear, cold and crisp morning – the type of autumn morning that is made for bike riding.

After the formalities of signing on and drinking coffee you are literally thrown into the first big climb of the day from the off.  Over a mile of climbing at 10% average, including a pavé section, up through Heptonstall to get the legs and lungs working.  I’d learned my lesson from previous rides so was near the front when we set off and when we hit the hill I made my way to the lead group.  This is where I first found my climbing legs have been damaged somewhat by a season of flat time trials.  Despite riding a PB time up the hill the lead group dropped me and rode away.

Apart from having to skirt the land that time forgot (Burnley) on the way out and way back, the route was pretty much all fantastic scenery and rural all the way.

Other notable climbs included Nick o’ Pendle and Waddington Fell.  I thought I’d give both a decent go but was some way off my best times, further driving home to me that I’m not the mountain goat I used to be.

I saw a few people from the audax scene that I’d not seen for a while, which was nice, but best of all was the weather.  I love riding on crisp, bright autumn days and it had warmed up enough to be comfortable.  At the end, I was more crawl than climb up the final hill to Widdup, and my legs were starting to cramp and ache.  You cannot help but love cycling on days like this – I had a brilliant day!

Ride stats : 62.5 miles in 4hrs 15mins at 14.7mph average.  7,622ft of ascent, 3,192kcals used, average HR 141bpm

Strava ride here 

2014 Time-Trial Season

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So that’s my second season of time-trialling completed and I reflect back on it with a mixture of pride in how I’ve improved, but also a slight sense of disappointment that I could have done more.  Some of us are never satisfied!

Overview

I raced more this year. Last year I also had to fit training for, and taking part in, my LEL experience. This year was all about time-trials. So I competed in 38 open and club events at regular distances, in addition to 16 Kilton’s.

I started the season early, albeit with nothing in mind other than to blow away the winter cobwebs. At a very windy A6 near Garstang some roadworks saw a 10 shortened to just under 6 miles, and even so it was the usual horrendous first-real-race shock to the system. This was followed by my first 2-up, with Phil, on a sporting course in lovely calm and sunny conditions.  Suffice it to say our technique was all over the place but bizarrely we won some money, being 7th fastest veterans.  The rest of March was taken up with some Cheshire 10’s, and I recall it being a particularly windy month, or maybe that’s just my excuse!  April saw the start of the 25’s and the midweek Kilton kicking off.

Over the whole season the weather was okay.  There were very few really hot and sunny days, and I rode in torrential rain on three occasions, which wasn’t pleasant especially when one was a 50.  One event was called off due to standing water on the course, and another due to a road traffic accident on the course (not involving a rider I might add).

I sought out some new courses during the season and rode for the first time on J8/13, A10/16, V415, A50/5, J4/18, D25/3, V236/1, L2525, D10/19 and L2524.

I rode a hilly 200k audax at the end of April during which I injured my knee.  Following my usual pattern of “ignore it and it will go away” I finished the ride after popping ibuprofen but then continued to suffer with it all through May.  My one concession to it was to take a week off the bike commute immediately afterwards but at the time I didn’t think it affected me much.  I would simply pop a painkiller, rub some gel on my knee and then race.  It’s only now looking back at my results there is a clear and obvious pattern.  In the majority of my races before the injury I finished in the upper quartile of riders.  In the majority from June onwards I finished in the upper quartile.  In the whole of May, a total of x rides, I didn’t finish upper quartile once.  There’s a lesson there that I really should learn if it happens again.

In July I invested in a power meter. It has opened up a whole new set of data to me which has been a big help in keeping my concentration during races and analysing areas for improvement.  I’m hoping that it’s really going to pay off over the winter by allowing me to really target and measure the effect of my training programme.

Over the course of the season I won £69 in prize money, so whilst I think I’ll be working for the foreseeable future, it is a nice fillip when the cheque arrives.  It’s also an improvement on last year, as was my position in the Cheshire points series.  In 2013 I finished 14th with 353 points from my ten best rides.  This year was 11th with 420 points.  Next year I have to target top ten.

The season drew to an end with some PB’s which I was pleased with for about 30seconds and then not satisfied with at all – that will only make sense to other testers – and a the Johnny Helms 2-Up Grand Prix de Gentlemen, where I was towed round J2/9 by Matt for 24 miles before taking the glory in the final mile!

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Kilton’s

Seamons Cycling Club hold their weekly club TT’s on the 8.75M course on the A50 near Mere.  I enjoy these events as the Seamons people are really friendly, the course is a little bit sporting and Kate loves taking pictures of the riders – see link to her page here with all the seasons pictures on it.  Last year I rode 14 events, got my PB down to 19:39, averaged 25.9mph across all of my rides and finished in a podium position twice.  This year I rode all 16 events, dropped my PB to 19:19, increased my average to 26.5mph and finished in a podium position 10 times.  I even won one – the first time I’ve won any sporting event anytime in my life!  So I was more than happy with my performances.

10’s

I rode 12 tens during this season as opposed to 13 last year.  My average speed increased to 25.7mph from 24.9mph and I took my PB down from 23:06 to 20:48.  This has been my weakest distance, so it was pleasing that this was my best improvement of any distance – 10% – and I finally managed to translate the capability I’d shown in Kiltons and 25’s into a 10.  I travelled over to the Yorkshire Coast to take part in the National Clarion 10 championship on what turned out to be a fairly sporting course.  My mistake was having done a 50 and a hilly 200k audax in the previous two days which meant my legs simply refused to do what I wanted, especially on the hill at the end of the course, where I died a thousand deaths in the space of a couple of hundred yards.  I was 5th Clarion.

My best ride was my PB at Levens – a 20:48. I warmed up on the turbo in sunshine but ending up finishing the course in a monsoon-like downpour.  I think it actually helped as it focussed my mind completely on the task in hand – finishing as quickly as possible to get off the road and out of the rain!

25’s

I’ve ridden more 25’s this year than last and in many ways it has become my favourite distance.  Last year was all about breaking the hour and pushing on from that as best I could.  This year my focus has been on improving my PB, improving my pacing and riding different courses.  My PB has dropped from 57:55 to 54:06, my average speed has increased from 24.9mph to 25.8mph, but perhaps more satisfying is that I’ve improved my Course Best (CB) on good old J2/9, dropping it to 57:47.  Overall, I’ve improved my positioning in 25’s, pretty much regularly being in the upper quartile of riders, just outside the top 10 in bigger events and top 10 on the odd occasion.  My best position in an open was a 25 where I came 4th.

50’s

Similar to last year I rode Cheshire series 50’s on J4/16, which is a hard course, and I was delighted to break the two hour mark on it.  I also rode the A50/5 course as part of the National Clarion 50 championship, finishing a reasonable 2nd Clarion rider and 16th overall on a very hot and thirsty day.  My last solo ride of the season was on the J5/12 course on the A50 where I improved my PB to 01:53:06, which whilst pleasing was also disappointing when I compare my result to riders I am regularly closer to other distances.  It’s clear I have work to do at the longer distances.

100

You can read about my one and only 100 here.  Suffice it to say it was a painful first effort completed in 04:20:17 but it’s probably a good (or bad) sign that I’m already sure I can improve on it…

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Summary

Probably the most important thing about the season is that I have thoroughly enjoyed it.  I have taken immense pleasure out of the process of training with specific goals in mind, and then seeing those goals realised.  I’ve enjoyed the routine and the preparation I go through on the day of a race. The people you meet and the friendly banter/advice has been fantastic. There hasn’t been a race where I’ve not loved riding it, even those where it has rained from start to finish, and even miles 80 to 90 on the 100, which were pretty soul-destroying!  I appreciate the feeling afterwards of aching legs and even the annoyance that I think I could have done more.  It all drives me on to do better and go faster and I still think there’s more to come.  If I use a football analogy I think this year has established me as solid Championship.  I’m probably a bit too old to contemplate getting to the Champions League but next season I really must break into the Premier League.  So it’s a winter in the shed training and tinkering with my position.  I can’t wait! See you next season!

PB’s

  • Kilton19:19 (27.2mph)
  • 1020:48 (28.9mph)
  • 2554:06 (27.7mph)
  • 3001:12:39 (24.8mph)
  • 5001:53:09 (26.5mph)
  • 10004:20:17 (23.1mph)

September Ride Stats

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Mallory Park Circuit

September has seen me mainly ride my bike to work or race.  There’s been very little else, making it a poor month in terms of time spent on the bike and distance ridden.  The race season is drawing to a close and thoughts are turning to winter training so maybe, weather permitting, the mileage will go up in coming months as I grind out those base miles.  Figures in brackets are year-to-date figures.

Distance – 406 miles (4,867m)

Time – 21hr 3min (11d 16hr 46min)

Average speed – 19.3mph (17.3mph)

Ascent – 13,102ft (224,501ft)

Energy used – 14,368kcals (184,235kcals)

Average HR – 133bpm (131bpm)

Additional training on the turbo

Time – 5hrs 38m (1d 9hr 15min)

Energy used – 4,199kcals (24,519kcals)

National Clarion Road Race Championships 2014

In 2012 I rode my first bunch race – the National Clarion Road Race Championships.  Two years later and I was riding my 2nd.  I wasn’t feeling great on the morning, feeling like I was coming down with something.  Daughter Kate, who was due to come and support the old man and take photos, was laid up with really bad stomach pains (she’s now in hospital as I type this under observation) and I think I’d caught the accompanying cold she had.

When I arrived at Mallory Park my mood didn’t improve.  Exposed, windy and hilly was how I described it.  I watched the juniors finishing their race and surveyed the track.  The long straight that contained the start line was straight into a headwind.  It then jolted upwards and right into a mini-chicane before turning 180˚ back on itself and down a long flowing curving straight which looked fast, especially with the tailwind.  It then chicaned left then right, another straight, left then right again before a 90˚ turn with crosswinds coming from your left.  A long, sweeping turn into the headwind brought you at the beginning of the finishing straight, and that was a lap.

After my last effort, where I’d done a stint on the front near the end of the race and been rapidly shelled through the pack and out of the back, I was wary of the same thing happening again.  I’m a stronger rider now but still very much a tester, meaning holding threshold for long periods of time, not accelerating out of corners and onto attacks continuously.  I was worried my fitness wouldn’t hold out.

Tactically, I’m pretty naive.  I did a stint on the front very early on and then dropped back a bit so when four Nottingham riders went off the front I was nowhere near them.  Some of us tried to organise the chase but as there were at most half a dozen riders doing turns it amounted to nothing.  After a couple of big pulls at the front I realised all I was doing was burning my own energy and I’d get shelled, so I dropped into the pack for a couple of laps.  Matt from the club had done similar and reached the same conclusion.  Unfortunately, the rest of the North Cheshire contingent had already been lapped and were riding their own race – it takes a certain kind of guts to do that so chapeau to them for continuing.

As the 5 lap sign went up I made sure I was somewhere near the front.  There were plenty of riders hovering about there without actually doing any work on the front but I suppose that’s what you call tactically astute.  I ended up doing some more stints, along with a couple of Bury guys and a guy from Heanor.  As the laps counted down I realised I was surrounded by a lot of strong looking Bury riders, and they were trying to get two riders at a time away by attacking strongly whilst the remainder held the bunch back.  After jumping on two such attacks I realised this would continue and I’d eventually run out of energy.  As we passed the 2 lap mark I decided on the slope I would attack and go down fighting.  One Bury rider and one Heanor rider made the jump with me and we managed to get a gap.  You can see it on the fill film above at around 1hr and 2m.

It was then a case of trying to hold it for a lap and a half.  I’m not sure whether the Bury guys behind held the bunch up but I half expected to be caught.  We weren’t and as we came into the last corner onto the finishing straight the Bury guy (Mike I found out later) opened a 10m gap.  I sprinted after him and closed it a few metres but realised he was too strong.  I just held off the Heanor guy (Josh) and rolled in 6th.

One slightly sour note afterwards was that it was pointed out to me that I’d broken the rules by running a seatpost camera and I was criticised for riding in a pseudo TT style by balancing my arms on the bars.  It’s something I often do when riding into headwinds but apparently it is a faux pas in racing, and the camera rule is a British Cycling/UCI regulation.  Anyway, I reported it to the organiser so whether my result stands is down to him somewhat.  I enjoyed my race, and I think the footage looks pretty cool – but it did take the edge off things today somewhat.

Ride stats : 28.24 miles in 1hr 11m at 23.8mph average. 1,455ft ascent (that hill was bigger than I thought!), energy used 1,245kcals at average HR of 173bpm

Different TT Courses…

The differences between TT courses for broadly the same power!

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D25/8e – only 330ft of ascent but feels like more.  5 roundabouts to navigate, mostly single carriageway (SC) but some dual carriageway (DC).  Quite exposed so susceptible to even lightish winds.  This one felt really hard (day after the one below – legs tired).

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J5/8 – 560ft of ascent but recognised as a “fast” course if the weather is right.  7 roundabouts to navigate but virtually all DC.  My stats suggest I could have put more in but felt like I’d emptied it in the final 2 miles up the “concrete mountain”.

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L2524 –  292ft of ascent. 5 roundabouts to navigate and mainly DC.  Apparently weather dependant but felt like a fast course when I was there.

August Stats – The End of Summer?

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It’s been a pretty wet and cold August.  I’ve mostly ridden time-trials during that time including consecutive ones where it rained incessantly from start to finish, which is not a pleasant experience.  So my mileage is down but intensity and average speed up as you would expect.  Year to date figures in brackets

Distance – 474 miles (4,461 miles)

Time – 1d 1hr 26m (10d 19m 42m)

Average Speed – 18.6mph (17.2mph)

Energy – 17,741 kcals (169,867 kcals)

Average HR – 135bpm (131bpm)

Ascent – 20,922ft* (211,398ft)

*most of this on the one ride – Wild Wales Challenge!

Had a couple of weeks off work – now it’s time to lose the timber from all the eating I’ve done!

Wild Wales Challenge

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It’s 5-30am on an August morning and the temperature reading in the car is saying 3˚C and the little frost symbol is displayed.  What.  The.  F*ck!?  Fast forward two hours and I’m in a car park in Bala, Wales, surrounded by middle aged men (and women) in lycra, getting ready for the Wild Wales challenge.  The temperature is now a balmy 6˚. I put arm warmers on, woollen gloves under my mitts, a gilet and a waterproof jacket.  I’m in shorts and my legs and feet are already cold.  I leave the aero shell on my helmet – not for aero purposes but for keeping-head-warm purposes, and I set off towards the start.  I’m doing maybe 10mph and the wind chill is already pushing the temperature lower.  I reach the football ground HQ with some other 500 riders, find a spot to park my bike and join the long queue snaking into the clubhouse.  It moves fast and I soon reach the front and get bleeped in.  I see a few other North Cheshire Clarion jerseys and say hello but I don’t recognise them.  Then I see Gary in the queue and say hello to him.  Riders are milling around nervously, drinking coffee, but I find my bike and decide to hit the road.

The chill hits me again as I am very quickly on my own, no cars.  The coldness is forming little droplets of condensation on the leading edges of my bike, and on the stubble hair on my legs.  It’s quickly foggy and I stop to momentarily flick my lights on.

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Almost immediately, some five miles in and with cold legs, the road enters some trees and rears up maybe 20% and I climb past other riders steeply for about a mile, then less steeply for another four miles or so.

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Others are cursing but I don’t mind.  My legs are strong and at least now I’m warm and we’ve climbed out of the fog.  The descent is fast and furious and immediately I’m cold again.

The morning is a repeat of this.  Up and warm.  Down and cold.  Up and warm, down and cold.  I reach the first control amongst an early group of riders.  Straight in and out, eating a flapjack that a helper has handed me.  Apparently later it will be chaos when 500 riders descend on it.  I don’t like large groups of riders so I’m off again quickly.

I’m enjoying the roads.  Mostly.  There are few cars but many are little more than single farm tracks, so the surfaces are broken and full of gravel.  Going up is challenging, with my back wheel intermittently losing traction, and going down I am wary of patches of gravel and mad sheep as I swoop in and out of bends.  Still, it doesn’t stop me hitting speeds of 40mph, my hands hurting applying the brakes. I’m having fun though.

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There’s another control and I buy a sandwich and a cup of coffee, the lady behind the counter slipping effortlessly from Welsh to English and back again, just to remind me where I am. The guy on the computer bleeper tells us only three riders have been through. One from Middleton CC passed me and was seriously fast, easily dropping me.  It’s warmer now although not August warm, and the sky alternates between foreboding clouds and blue skies. Riders come and go as I finish my food.

I’m off riding again and it’s still up and down, up and down.  My legs are tiring. I can feel the dull ache that signifies a good day’s riding.  The worst/best is still to come and I start to wonder whether running a 25 cassette on the back was sensible.  Should I have used my other bike or another wheel with a 28 on the back.  At least I have a compact on the front.  This is brought brutally to life when I climb towards a left turn and the road just rears up ridiculously. I’m looking at my Garmin and it’s saying 400 feet to the turn. The road gets steeper. I get slower. 300 feet. Grind. Steeper. 200 feet. Grind. 100 feet. I can see the turn but this must be more than 25%. I’m now seriously worried about what is to come.

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Blending in…

At the final control I’m overhearing riders talking in hushed tones about the final hill.  Hellfire Pass.  Bwlch-y-Groes in these parts. It’s in the book, and gets ten out of ten for difficulty. 25 cassette. Hmm. Nobody comes out and calls me stupid but the looks say it all.

I can see the climb in the distance as I approach. It reminds me of Fleet Moss. Like a big ski jump getting steeper and steeper, and I’ve done that on a 25 cassette. Apparently it’s the highest tarmac pass in Wales. How hard can it be? I’ve just come back from the Alps on a 25 cassette.

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The first part of the climb is in some trees. It’s hard, with a very sharp and steep right hand bend. I see a rider pushing and he says well done as I go past him, not much faster than he is walking.  I come out of the trees and feel the gradient ease beneath me. I don’t increase my speed as I normally would, because snaking away ahead of me is the rest of the climb, and I take a breather spinning my legs.

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I feel the steepness again and it’s relentless. Normally intuitive, I’m concentrating on pushing each pedal now.  Most hills have gradients that ebb and flow. You feel that and take respite when it comes. There is no respite here. I’m not cold now, I’m too hot. Sweat is running down my face and flies are dive-bombing me. I spray my face with water from my bottle and it helps for a while. On and on. Grind. Grind. I can hear my Garmin beeping away at me, laughing at me. It’s set to auto-pause when my speed drops below 3mph and auto-start above 3mph and it’s beeping gives away how slow I’m going. I can see what I think is the top around some turns.  I pass walkers heading down.  It’s so steep they walk slowly and carefully.  “Keep going,” I barely hear. I make the final turn and am met with yet more hill. Not the final turn? I flick my Garmin to the gradient screen. Still around a half mile to go. Surely not? A mistake? Please.

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Another false peak with a junction. This hill keeps on giving. Relentless. My Garmin says left. I have a voice in my head now. “Get off, there’s no shame. Get off.” I don’t get off.  I feel the pain in my shoulders and arms from pulling on the handlebars.  I sit in the saddle and the pain disappears from my shoulders and arms and appears in my legs. The front wheel lifts. I stand on the pedals again.

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Finally I think I can see the top. I check my Garmin and it concurs. The gradient almost imperceptibly flattens. I think I’m nearly there.

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I crest the hill and roll over to a verge. I sit for a while. My reward is the view and a melted kit-kat I still have in my pocket from the control. Bwlch-y-Groes. Hellfire Pass. Ten out of ten.

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A very fast descent and skirt around the edges of the lake and I’m back at the finish in Bala.  Job done.

Ride stats : 95.6 miles in 6hrs 19m at 15.1mph average. 9,663ft ascent, 4,230kcals used.  Average HR 132bpm.

Strava ride here

Gallery here