Here We Go Again!

So the moment had finally arrived. Up early, excited about going out on my bike for the first time in 3 weeks, training for the 2010 season starting today and really up for it. I was like a kid at Christmas, until I looked out of the window.

The tree across the road was at a 45 degree angle, our wheelie bin was at a 90 degree angle and I’m sure I saw a cat fly past. To cap it off there was the kind of rain last seen in a Batman film and a severe weather warning on the telly. Bloody Cumbria, I know i’m going to lose days outside to the weather throughout the winter, but to lose the very first one was just unfair!

The plan had been my 50 mile, 3 hour, Thirlmere loop at an easy pace. This takes you up the A66 to Keswick, out over the Nest (a horrible little climb) into the lakes, you do the loop round Thirlmere and then head back through St Johns in the Vale and round the back of Bassenthwaite (where my friend Rachael works in a really nice cafe, by sheer coincidence). I had planned to put in a Max HR test on the climb out of Keswick too.

Clearly, I now needed to re-jig my plan based on an indoor session. The thought of 3 hours on the Turbo (Even the Kurt Kinetic) is enough to make me sell my bike so I plumped for an hour and a half of easy riding (keeping my HR below about 85% at all times) with the aforementioned Max HR test thrown in. I cribbed the structure from an illicit copy of Pete Read’s Black Book (Thanks to Will from Bikeradar’s forums!) and, essentially, you batter yourself at increasing intensity until you can’t batter yourself no more. My musical companions were Mogwai and my DVD choice was The Quest. The Phil Ligget narrated tale of Gilberto Simoni’s 2003 Giro Win.

So 30 minutes into my session, my long suffering girlfriend stood with a pen and a stopwatch to record the results. I started off in a 53×18 at a cadance of 100 for 2 minutes, then up a gear, then up another… By 3 minutes it was agony. The Polar later told me that i’d passed from my endurance pace to above lactic threshold in just over a minute. By 4 minutes i was wondering if I could last. By 5 and a half my candance had dropped to 85 and my heart rate by about 15 beats, the test was over.

And the result? 196 max HR. Exactly the same as last year. So I needn’t have bothered. The things we do eh?

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Where The Magic Happens…

I know you’re all dying to see just where PD Malcolm spends his winter so here it is!

You will note the MP3 player rigged through inappropriately loud speakers… The DVD player also perched perilously atop the Black and Decker work bench.

The connisseur will also notice the motivational Ikurrina on the wall. Just out of shot is a framed print from the Champs Elysees stage of the 1973 Tour de France and a Girls Aloud Calender.

The eagle eyed amongst you will also observe the comedy Reindeer antlers on the floor… hemhem

Newlands & Whinlatter. Fast.

AS you know, I’m following my Sportif training block at the mo and Wednesday night is Force Climbs night. The purpose of this is to get my legs used to grinding at aerobic threshold as they inevitably will be in he closing stages of the 3 British rides i’m doing but also to build a bit of endurance for longer climbs, hopefully. Anyway, for this I ride out to the foot of Newlands Pass then ride over it and Whinlatter in the saddle as much as I can and time it. In a vain effort to improve my descending skills, I time the way down too.

Strange day weather-wise in the lakes today. Lots of little pockets of rain gusting about the place and some extremely fresh breezes. The temperatures weren’t bad though. One of these breezes was in my face for the first section of the ride. Although it did have the bonus of being a little nature walk/ride. Two horses did the Tour De France thing of galloping alongside me as I rode past their field, that was pretty cool. Lots of little lambs too, including one balancing on a high wall. How it got up there, I know not. I also saw a sultry buzzard on a tree which, after looking at me with complete disdain, flew off lazily.

Onto Newlands and, as ever, I started my timer at the snow sign (showing all year round!) and pretty much straight away reached for 39×26. You have to take the bottom section out of the saddle, it’s between 15% and 20% for the first 500m, tonight though I was bouncing. A fresh dump of rain meant that my back wheel kept slipping under pressure, so I was looking for the rutted, rough parts of road to keep traction.By half way I had resumed motoring in the saddle and stayed there, spinning, until the 20% sign abuot 150m (and one evil 25% ramp) from the summit. A kick out of the saddle and I was there. 8:48 and 30 seconds taken out of my years best!

I found a mobile phone on the top too. So if anyone has lost a battered old Nokia, been up Newlands Pass in the last 24 hours and has a mother who is constantly on the phone, PD Malcolm can help you out.

The descent was also very wet… Exercising my usual cowardice/caution and taking into account the amoutn of traffic I wasn’t expecting anything from the descent… But a years best 13:22 on that too! When you’re going well, eh? I’m crediting all this by the way to the mysterious power of my Gibo-era Lampre jersey. Just putting on it’s wierd fibre that i’ve never seen anywhere else makes you feel less like a gangly scruff honking up a wet fell and more like the peloton’s prime exponant of the Napoleon Complex taking it to the worlds best climbers on the Zoncolan

A quick tug on the bottle and then onto Whinlatter where, bizarrely the road was completely dry after the observation point half way up. Another years best time of 11:38… 6 seconds slower than my best ever! Descent slightly disappointing, but I was tired by that point and given the amount of grip my back tyre was exhibiting, I was in no mood to push it.

Absolutely thrilled with tonights ride, I must be doing something right!

Power and Climbing Intervals

Tonight, a work-out I described on the Whinlatter post (the very second post on the blog!) a couple of weeks ago. Out from Cockermouth, along the A66 to keswick and back home over said Pass. The structure of the work out is 10 minutes warm up 4×4 minute power intervals at 90%+ of Max HR with 4 minutes recovery inbetween and then, on the climb, 1:30 of Aerobic Threshold Riding (170-180 BPM on my HR) and throw in 5x 30 second all out attacks with a minute of Threshold riding inbetween.

The A66 section was strange tonight. A really wierd, swirling wind that was at points (my first interval) pushing me along at 50kph, at times trying to throw me into the gutter and at times (last interval) trying to blow me back home. I finished the 4 intervals with an average of 32.2 KPH, which is about 0.7 kph lower than the last time I did it. So overall the effect of the wind pretty much evened out, was simply a bit wild. The purpose of these intervals is to keep going to that intensity you need in a race whilst training, mainly, for more steadily paced Sportif efforts. I keep feeling better and better on the power stuff at the moment, so I guess reducing the overall intensity, after a prolonged period of training at very high intensity has given me some benefit, maybe the first Race block of the year came a little early for me…

Onto the climb and again, the aim here is that racing intensity. The threshold riding is also useful for quick climbing on the sportifs, but I’m thinking at the moment of the Westmorland Tankard CDNW race in 3 weeks. There’s a big climb on that and the ability to attack repeatedly will be a bonus. First 3 attacks felt great tonight. In fact the second one took my breath away. Faded a bit for the last two, but this is a very intense workout, and it’s to be expected. The threshold riding inbetween the attacks is one of those situations I can see a Power Meter being useful. Your heart rate just isn’t going to recover from those kinds of efforts within 60 seconds, so you’re pretty much riding on feel in those “recovery” sections. I didn’t time the climb tonight, as I feel having done 3 timed ascents in the last 7 days, I’m in danger of over-analysing every performance on it. I’m riding it again tomorrow as well…

Descent, however, was timed. With a following wind for the top section that, sadly, degenerated into a headwind for the flat bit in the middle. Even worse, a cross wind on the flat, sweeping bend that leads you to the steep, tight corners half way down. I was, again, overly cautious down those but the time at the bottom was 9 seconds better than my previous best of the year, so can’t really complain. In fact, the average speed for the rid of 30.1kph was pretty pleasing considering the conditions and 1.5 kph quicker than the last time around that ride, which is really encouraging.

Honister, Newlands & Whinlatter

Another of my simulated Sportif efforts yesterday. Slightly curtailed by my hangover from Saturday night’s festivities. Sadly, it also took in 3 of the tougher climbs in the lakes all strung together in 20km sufferfest.

Anybody who’s ridden the Whitton will know that the ride really starts once you hit Honister and never settles down afterwards. I hadn’t been over it since last years Fred either, when I was reduced to walking, so with some trepidation I approached via the A66 and, Cumbria’s answer to Pave, the Borrowdale road. 29.8 kph average to the foot of the climb, wind assisted, and feeling pretty good.

Turning onto Honister, I was immediately hit by a stiff headwind. However, the gradient on the first ramp wasn’t as harsh as I recalled and I was still tapping a 39 x 25 at quite a good tempo as it levelled out. After this “easy” section at a mere 13%, you round the corner onto what looks like a wall. You’re immediately hunched over your bars, levering the bike and grinding. Then, as you come up to the bridge, it gets worse. The trick at this point is to stay out of the trench that runs across the bend and to remember that the cattle grid marks the end of the worst of it. After that you have a few hundred meters to spin it out and recover for the final assault on the summit. The headwind definitely wasn’t helping at this juncture, but I made it in 12 minutes. Always feels longer though and the pain in my legs, arms, abs and back tell me that the climb of Honister pass is the all-body workout of champions!

The descent, however, is just stupid. It’s very, very steep, covered in holes, ruts and ridges and has two sharp corners at the end of straight steep sections. In short it’s bloody dangerous and I crept down it.

Climb of Newlands passed fairly easily, only 13 seconds down on my years best time and my legs were feeling pretty tired by then (glad of a rest and a massage today). Descent was curiously slow considering how fast it felt! Was leaning into corners, intentionally breaking later, all that good stuff. Must have been a headwind.

Whinlatter was really tough, given how tired I was feeling. My head and stomach were complaining too. Still, I gave it all I had and made it hurt. I could feel cramp setting in as I pushed for the top. The time was nothing to write home about but the effort was there. Again, I felt I’d improved on the descent so some positives to take out.

The only other incident of note was my failure to empty my jersey pockets at the end of the ride. This led to my racing license, cash card and a £20 note going through the wash. Balls.

Kirkstone Pass

First of my “Simulated Sportif Efforts” today. The route was as below

See what I did with the terrain map there? Looks good!

Anyway… I have never had such a soaking. 4 hours and 20 minutes of 116 kilometres of misery. The first hour from cockermouth was pretty good, chilly (but then it was 0830) but managable, indeed I took the windproof off round the back of Thirlmere. Up the easy side of Dunmail Raise at a decent clip (in the saddle 39X16 all the way) and then the rain started on the top. With nothing under my helmet and no glasses, descending at 65kph was both painful and dangerous. The rain felt like needles on my skin and I was literally glancing at where I was going. I was mighty relieved to get down get into a layby and put my jacket back on. After that a nice spin onto Ambleside where I again removed it (figuring that the rain had abated for the day). 50km at 29.6kph. So far so good.

On then, to Kirkstone Pass. The first big climb on the Fred Whitton and one of the most difficult. It’s long, the gradient is constantly changing, there are even some downhill sections in the first part of the climb. The surface is also atrocious. When you turn off at Troutbeck you are immediately pitched onto a ramp at above 10% which goes up to nearer 20 on a series of hairpins (some seriously nice houses up there too!), and then when the road opens out a bit you drop down a way through the village, and then go up through the twisty little road that takes you onto the main climb, before a final steep plunge which gives you some brilliant momentum for the next section.

The middle third of the Kirkstone cllimb seems to have been resurfaced since last summer and the really steep bits of the climb are now a joy to ride with smooth, fresh tarmac. At this point it was really starting to come down and I was cursing the way the climb undulates as it kept on killing my rhythm. Again, I felt pretty good. I can feel the last few days in my legs but even riding at a brisk tempo my heart rate was rarely above 170 and I felt i could have gone deeper, I seemed to be switching between 39×21 and 23 for most of the way, with the occasional foray into the 25 (oh the indignity!).

I stopped at the top to put my jacket on and have a bite to eat. The view back towards Windemere is fantastic from up there, and I could see a few walkers ascending into the mist to tackle Hellvellyn. The descent from Kirkstone down to Ullswater is one of my least favourite bits of road. It twists, the corners are off camber, it’s full of holes and there are, inevitably, loads of cars coming the other way. What I’m getting around to saying is I bottled it. On the brakes all the way down (to the extent my rims started to hiss), every time i looked at taking a corner properly there were two cars waiting around it. I didn’t even get on the drops. The rain can’t have helped, but i know I’ve never ridden that descent well in any weather.

The Descent that broke PD Malcolm

The Descent that broke PD Malcolm

The ride along Ullswater saw the rain get heavier and the wind pick up until I was just so fed up all the way over Matterdale end that even my favourable average speed and low average HR couldn’t cheer me up. The ride back to Keswick on the A66 was every bit as enjoyable, with the spray from about 6 caravans hitting me full in the face as I chewed on into the wind.

I was almost relieved to climb Whinlatter to finish the day. 12:38 today, which was, to be honest, expected given the 100km already in my legs and the awful conditions. I descended better than I did on Wednesday in perfect conditions however, go figure.

All in, I’m glad I’m doing rides like that and that they don’t detroy me. But today just wasn’t fun. I’ve got a housewarming tonight so the perfect excuse to skive off tomorrow… And if the weather doesn’t improve I’ll be doing just that.

Otherwise, join me for 3 hours and 3 climbs. Honister, Newlands and Whinlatter!

Fangs Brow Again!

Part of the purpose of the “Free Ride” sessions in my Sportif preparation block is not to “huck” my way off some “knarly” drop-offs but to work on areas where I feel my other sessions have identified a weakness.

Last night I chose, as I think I will be doing a lot, descending. Me and going downhill fast have never really got on. My first bad experience was hitting some ice on a fast straight section of Whinlatter and pulling the brakes… My second, watching a guy kill himself on the Glandon. My various broken bones and seeing other people crash have instilled a sense of fear in me down the years and is something, believe it or not, that I work on. The problem is that every time I commit to a line a car seems to come the other way meaning I won’t do it the rest of the ride.

Descending is, however, the only part of cycling you get for free. Whilst I’ll probably never be a dare-devil, I recognise that being able to get downhill fast and safely is important not just in sportif riding, but possibly even more so in racing.

So I selected a route that, from Cockermouth, took in Paddle and Thornthwaite, then passed Loweswater, up and over Fangs Brow and returned via the main road. This gave me a few short, twisty downhills, a longer fast downhill with a few technical corners in the middle and some sharp big ring climbs to stomp up.

On the flat and uphills, my performance surprised me. My heartrate was lower than normal, and I felt like I was breezing along, the uphills felt good too. My races and reliabilities must have brought me on a bit now I’ve recovered.

As for the descents, a mixed bag. The shorter stuff I was pleased with, staying off the brakes and committing to lines, confident I could get out of the way of anything coming the other way. Fangs, I got onto the drops, avoided the dog-walker and picked up my speed. I found myself involuntarily feathering the brakes about 100m before the fast chicane-like corners but got off them braking into it at about 40m to go, still too far away… off the brakes and into the corners, picking up speed on the exit of the second about to lean into the gravel strewn final bend and… car. Kill all my speed, creep through, balls.

Ride back kept up all my signs of good performance with my legs just starting to feel tired after my weeks efforts. 28.2 kph av for a hilly 29km, and home for a bath.

I’m trying to figure out My Tracks on the G1 at the moment and am doing about 2/3s of the Fred Whitton route over the weekend, so I will try to post maps and profiles, as ever your comments are welcomed!