100 mile challenge with only five rides in 15 months?

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So my better half has gotten herself into a bit of a pickle. She was asked if she would be interested in taking part in a small cycling challenge for charity starting in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh and ending in Newcastle, County Down. The distance is more or less 100 miles and could be termed as a tad lumpy. Did I mention that she hasn’t ridden a bike since St Patrick’s Day…..2013?
As I am a caring husband and cycle relatively frequently, I stepped up and said that I would take her place which she gratefully accepted.
For about an hour.
Then her competitive (stubborn) streak took over and she decided she will indeed take part. Now, to be fair she’s pretty fit but most people who cycle will recognise the fairly obvious fact that to get on a bike and ride 100 miles just isn’t quite that straightforward. You don’t know your limits, you haven’t got any miles in your legs, you don’t know how your body will react to 7, 8, 9 hours on the saddle.
Anyway, we worked out that she would be able to go for a ride a total of five times between making the decision and the event (7th June).
Ride #1 – 14 miles from Bangor to Donaghadee and back (flat).
Ride #2 – 30 miles from Bangor to Greyabbey and back (flat).
Ride #3 – 40 miles from Bangor around some hills in County Down (lumpy).
Rides #4 & #5 are taking place this weekend which will cover about 55 miles each and need to include some climbs.
So the question is “Will she do it?”
Actually the question is “Will she beat me?”
“Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling.” – Jean de Gribaldy (Sean Kelly’s directeur sportif.)
The Giant

Dream or Nightmare?

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So having returned from Provence and the Ventoux challenge I thought that life would return to relative normality and so it has.

With one exception.

I have woken up very early for the last three mornings in a cold sweat having dreamt about my day on Mont Ventoux. Now, whilst I appreciate that we all dream in our sleep, I very very very rarely remember my dreams, so to have this recurring for the last three nights is a slight cause of concern in my head. Just to clarify, the dream I have had is not me achieving the challenge, nor is it me plummeting over the edge of the mountain on a descent. The dream is basically a replay in very slow motion of my last two kilometres of the climb, from when I realised that I was in trouble to when I sheepishly collapsed in the back of the car putting a towel over my head trying to hide from the world outside.

I’m a rational person. I know that dreams basically are a measure of where your head is. They just mean that your mind is busier than your body at a certain point in time. So whilst I don’t need help (some would argue), I clearly have to work out how to shut down the whole Ventoux issue.

There is an obvious option. The option to “kill off” giantonthegiant. To stop posting on the blog, to shut down the site, to shut down the Twitter account, the email address, to never venture near that mountain or the Alps generally, ever again.

But I don’t think that this option will deliver the required results. I’m thinking about the Ventoux every day. When I say every day, I mean every day and more than once a day. It’s more or less in my mind constantly. These thoughts are not related to me analysing the climbs or where it went wrong or questioning whether I could have done more. It is more of a presence. The Ventoux just sits there like an annoying wasp flying around me constantly, so I guess it’s no surprise that my sleep patterns are being influenced because I just can’t shut it out. Killing the giant isn’t going to swat the wasp is it?

Another option is to give it some more time, let time work its magic, like it does with most other issues.

Then there is the option of keeping going, of setting myself some new challenges or targets, maybe targets that are more achievable but will work towards ensuring that my restored love of cycling continues, in the hope that I shall remember 2013 as the year that I cycled up Mont Ventoux as opposed to being the year that I didn’t cycle up Mont Ventoux three times in a day.

I don’t know what these challenges or targets are going to be but let’s see if a different focus will end the dreams before they become nightmares.

On an aside my JustGiving page is closing down in seven days so if you haven’t donated and would like to please go to http://www.justgiving.com/NICFCgiantonthegiant

And as Paul Valery said, “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up”.

An awake Giant

And so the climbing begins

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Having accumulated significant mileage to date (significant in relation to last year when my sum total was zero and I literally couldn’t stand up straight) I finally realised that I now have to start training in hills.

So far my exposure to climbs has been short sharp half mile sections as is the nature of the North Down terrain.

The closest hills of any significance are the Glens of Antrim http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glens_of_Antrim so I jumped in the jeep and headed to Cushendall.  On my way, the remnants of the recent snow blizzards were very much apparent and I wondered how good my idea was with the drifts still rising on the roadsides and the tarmac strewn with ice.

Anyway, I got on with it and took in some much needed climbing practice and surprisingly (bearing in mind the weight versus gravity concept) I really enjoyed the longer 4/5 mile drags which never dropped below 4% and peaked at 7%.  I know there’s no comparison to the Ventoux but to gain some experience of sitting on the bike and ascending for a number of miles is invaluable.

As anticipated, my five mile final descent into Cushendall would normally have been a joyous 5 minutes on the bike but my speed ended up being lower than when I was climbing as ice covered the roads – there’s something deeply sinister about cycling on ice.

A good morning and the intention is to hit the Glens every couple of weeks.

I then decided that I should hit the North Down hills again which basically comprise of 1 to 1.5 mile steep sharp ascents (if anyone wants more information on these and my routes which can be taken from Bangor, Holywood or Belfast then just email me.)

I ascended three of these climbs, all from the Dundonald side and each one had me in my smallest gear (middle ring by the way), out of the saddle and actually shouting at myself between breaths.  I had clocked only 25 miles but I felt that I had genuinely worked my legs.

As I cycled back homewards I remembered the www.mapmyride.com gradient figure of the route I had taken showing a maximum gradient of 8%.  The Ventoux hits 11% and one section hits over 9% for 7km.  Needless to say I started to panic, as my climbing had taken me into the red zone and I could not see how I was going to improve so much in the next 6 months.

I logged my ride back home and had another look at the gradients.  For once in this challenge so far, I was pleasantly surprised.  I had made a hash of my calculations and the climbs I had ascended actually hit gradients of 16%!

I slept easy and looked forward to the Paris – Roubaix.

The giant


Motivation x 3

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So with 6 months to go before I attempt the Ventoux challenge I’m starting to panic as the weight loss is proving slower than expected.  Fitness is good but there’s no way I’m getting up the Giant of Provence carrying this weight so I’ve added some spice to my regime with three motivating factors:

Factor 1 – Static Cycle

The charity I am supporting (Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children www.nicfc.com has arranged for me to set up an exercise/spin bike in a Tesco store in Bangor the first Saturday in May whereby I sit and cycle all day in an effort to promote the giantonthegiant challenge, to raise awareness of the charity and hopefully to raise some cash too.  The idea of doing this is actually more worrying than climbing Mont Ventoux – public humiliation – great.

If you have a spare moment and spare cash please donate at the page above.

Factor 2 – 2013 Highwayman Challenge

Ayr Roads Cycling Club (my home club) http://ayrroadscc.wordpress.com/ and the Ayrshire Alps Cycling Park are promoting the 2013 Highwayman Challenge (http://www.southcarrickdaviebell.wordpress.com/) which is a 100km or 200km audax around some of South Ayrshire’s finest roads and it’s not for the faint-hearted.  Just to clarify, an Audax is not a race, but it is still a real test similar to a marathon.  All participants are issued with a ‘Brevet’ card which they will stamp at controls along the way.  However, these controls are only open for a certain length of time – adding to the challenge!  Riders must average between 15km/h and 30km/h in order to qualify as having ‘completed’ the event.  Now 15km/h might sound fairly easy going but I know these roads from my teenage cycling years and I can assure you that I’ll be spending quite alot of time looking over my shoulder for the broom wagon.

For the record, the Highwayman was David Bell, a former Ayr Roads Cycling Club member who toured the roads of Ayrshire and Dumfriesshire and wrote about his exploits from 1931 until his death in 1965 under the name ‘The Highwayman’ in the local paper, the Ayrshire Post .  Since 1966 the club has held an annual road race in David Bell’s memory.  The course takes in Rowntree Toll where a monument stands to David Bell.  My father rode with Davie who was a massive influence on him with regard to truly enjoying the bike.

So on the 17th August 2013 I’ll be heading out to attempt this amazing event – at the moment I’m just going for the 100km – just to clarify.

Factor 3 – 2013 Lap the Lough

My final motivating factor is this year’s Lap the Lough which is a sportive event going right round Lough Neagh (the UK’s largest lake) http://www.lapthelough.org/index.php  This equates to about 140km and whilst is fairly flat, it’s probably an ideal training ride before the Ventoux attempt a couple of weeks later.  It’s not timed which at least means I’ll get to finish it but I’m going to lay down a few targets like within the hours of daylight.

So there you have it – three motivating factors that will get this giant either shrinking or not sleeping for 6 months.

Stay safe out there and no drugs (excluding caffeine, energy gels and wine).

The Giant

Twos Company and Other Stuff

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Having had the fright in the first week of January with my back pain returning it has given me a period to reflect on my progress to date, lessons learned and plans to implement.
On the health front, all is well and I think that the combination of the flights to and from South Africa plus four days in a 4×4 in the Namibian desert basically took their toll. I am planning on heading out on my first UK based ride of 2013 on Saturday and am very much looking forward to it as indoor training is just too grim.
So what have I learnt since embarking on the challenge 4 months ago?
Firstly, the need for constant strengthening of my core as clearly my back remains an issue and the only way to reduce the risk of further problems is to ensure I perform my Pilates exercises on at least a daily basis. Previously, I saw this as a chore and struggled to get motivated as I had the mindset that this wasn’t directly linked to me being able to climb Mont Ventoux three times in one day. Now, however, I have a completely different outlook and treat these sessions with as much respect and value as an hour on the turbo or a four hour ride. Not only does the basic riding position require strong core muscles but if I’m on my bike for quite possibly 12 hours (or more) then there is no way my current strength is sufficient.
Secondly, having spent the last three months of 2012 just putting miles in my legs, my ascents of the Franschhoek Pass on Hogmanay and New Years Day highlighted the need for me to start getting climbing miles in. This was always part of the plan but there’s nothing like a big dose of reality to motivate you. So I’ve spent the last couple of days finding some routes from home that cover some decent climbs which is quite tricky considering my location.
Finally, my most surprising learning point to date (surprising because I didn’t expect it and it is also extremely obvious in hindsight) is the benefits of riding with others. When I started the challenge I very much anticipated it to be a solitary effort with me cycling on my own right up to when I start the climb in September. After only a few weeks of training I was asked by one of my brothers-in-law (he is not getting a specific mention and he knows why) if he could join me on a Sunday morning. On a further few occasions another friend has joined me and wishes to continue going forward. My good wife has also joined me and has intimated that she is interested in us going cycling in France in the Summer. Finally my father has also set plans in motion for us to have a reccy of Mont Ventoux in the Spring although we have promised each other that we would only attempt one ascent.
Anyway, the point I am making is that there is a fundamental difference between riding on your own and riding with others. Unless the weather is tremendous and such days have been few and far between recently, when I’m out on my own, it’s very much about just getting the ride done and getting home. Riding with others however adds a number of dimensions from enjoying the company to competitiveness, to making the ride go that bit quicker.
So I’ve learnt a fair amount in these months and I’m sure I’ll learn much more but in the meantime thanks to those who have joined me to date and here’s to a high altitude 2013.
The Giant