Farewell 2016

So its that time of the year where we all write about 2016 and try and make some sort of sense of whether it was a good year or not.

For me this last year was decent sportingly, I completed the Ballbuster duathlon, several other duathlons and did my first set of cyclocross races, all of this adds up to a reasonable amount.

I have written about most of the above and above all enjoyed doing them, for example cx racing is one of the most friendly things I have ever done, people offer so much free advice and at the end of the race every one chats and shares experiences.

There were things in the year that didn’t go to plan, the occasional cold, the times when you don’t hit the training numbers or even fancy going out training and the race where I blew up! But, overall all these experiences added to my enjoyment and meant I learnt more.

For 2017 I still haven’t decided what races to do, probably some more cx races, perhaps some time trials and possibly some form of endurance bike racing

Anyhow, thanks to Mike Shaw for the coaching and to my wife for the ongoing support without them most of these would be an awful lot harder,

Enjoy the rest of 2016 and hopefully 2017 will be good.

The Ballbuster Duathlon

The Ballbuster Duathlon one of the UK’s most iconic duathlons held at Boxhill in Surrey and is said to be one of the most epic events on the calendar.

The event is made up of 8 mile laps, each which finish with a climb up Boxhill, remembered by many for it’s appearance in the 2012 Olympic cycling road race, Each competitor completes a run lap, 3 bike laps and finishes with a run lap giving a total of 40 miles and 5 ascents of the hill.

For an event held in November there is an added ingredient which nobody has control of (unless the organisers have a special hotline!), and that is the weather, there are stories of gales, snow fog and probably plagues of locusts all impacting the race. This year the weather decided it would give us heavy rain, strong winds and cold which when you think that the day before was bright blue sky and sunshine as was the day after seems like someone was really having a laugh.

I have never done this event before, and like many others wanted to tick it off the list and get my hands on one of the limited edition hoodies, which I have to say really are good.

Unfortunately for Boxhill is not just round the corner so after a very early 4:30 alarm call it was time to eat, pack the car and hit the road. The journey down was uneventful and I was soon parked up and signed on. With the weather being so horrible and the fact that they give you the hoodie when you sign on did make me wonder if I should just wait in the car and pretend I did it!

The rain decided it was time to fall harder once the first run got under way just to make it a bit more difficult. As i don’t know the area of the race it was interesting to run along and see the sights, although the main road section was a little dodgy with cars not really being bothered if they gave you any room to run or not. Luckily other than that section the rest of the route was ok and if you did meet traffic is was more than happy to give you room to run.

My main aim on the first run was to ensure I didn’t go off too fast else there was a good chance of blowing up before the end. I seemed to be being passed by a lot of runners but I kept to my plan and eventually arrived at the foot of Boxhill for the first climb, I went steady and was soon at the top and off into transition.

For the bike I leg I swapped gloves and put on a waterproof jacket to try and keep some of the rain out. The cold was starting to have an impact on the bike as once I was up to speed I really noticed how cold it was especially on my legs muscles, as my leg warmers were soaked.

The other problem the weather gave was that it had washed loads of leaves onto the road and these seemed to always form piles on exactly the line you wanted to take especially on the downhill sections. I did back off a bit on the descents on the first lap  as I didn’t want to crash. Once I got to the first climb of Boxhill, I just cruised up it, with several gears left to go and was able to pass people and so it was out onto lap 2.

Lap 2 was where I decided I would take a few chances on the downhills in oder to try and gain some more time, it seemed to work and despite being very wet I was moving ok, the second climb up the hill was again uneventful, gears to spare and passing people.

The final lap and I decided after lap 2 that I could keep pushing on a bit on the descents, however,this is where it very nearly all went wrong. On one downhill left hander the pile of leaves had moved out from where they were on the previous lap and as I came round the bend I was on top of them in a two wheel slide heading towards the other side of the road and the oncoming traffic. I managed to run out to the white line off the leaves and then re-tip the bike into the bend thus avoiding the accident. I have to say the marshall on the other side of the road looked worried for a while, I’m just glad I didn’t panic and grab a big handful of brakes or else that would have been it, instead I just trusted my bike handling ability and it saw me through, just!

Final climb of the hill on the bike and still had gears to use if needed and I was still passing people, back into transition and off on the final run.

I have to say I was dreading the last run a bit, another 8 miles in the rain and cold after having worked hard so far, it was never going to be easy. I started off and realised I couldn’t really feel my feet due to them being cold and wet, this lasted for about the first 10 minutes or so until they were warmed up and then felt normal again. For the final run I ditched any sort of jacket just put my running gloves back on as I was now soaked and a jacket would just have given me that boil in a bag feeling.

The run itself went ok, I got passed by runners along the way but unusually for me I also passed some. Coming into the last climb of the hill I was still feeling reasonable and said to myself that I wasn’t going to walk on the hill no matter what. I got into a rhythm and found that I was catching some people and moving past them, especially those that were walking.

Before you came round the final bend you could hear the people by the finish cheering all the finishers and that gave a little boost, on crossing the line and stopping I realised just how tired I was and how much of a hard time it had been.

I was a little disappointed in my time of 4 hours 1 minute and 20 seconds as I wanted to go sub 4 but I don’t think on the day in those conditions I could have gone any faster. I only dropped 2 minutes between my two runs which I think showed that my initial pacing was pretty good, and the conditions on the bike meant that I couldn’t make up as much time on the downhills as I would have normally.

Did I enjoy it? I think I did, I think it is an achievement to finish it as it certainly is no easy event. Would I do it again? Probably not as at the moment I don’t see a reason to do it again, but that might change.

Finally a couple of thank you’s, firstly to “iron” Mike Shaw at Triperformance.co.uk for the coaching to get me through this, as ever the plan was spot on. Also to my wife,Suzanne, who got out of bed at a stupidly early time on a Saturday to come and stand in the lashing rain to watch me flog myself, I know any one who races will appreciate how much it helps having someone there to support you and how much it helps when you are hurting and you go by them and hear them encouraging you.

A special mention should be made to all the marshall’s out on the course and those volunteers who run the event as they did a great job. I did thank all the marshall’s on my final run as I think that is the least you can do when they give up their time so you can do something you want to.

If you have never done the Ballbuster then I would say try it, you will see that it is an epic event and you get the chance to properly test yourself.

Side Project – Power Bar Ride Energy Bar – Chocolate Caramel Flavour

This another bar made by Power Bar, and it is slightly different to the last one I tested/ate. A bat which promised a more solid feel and flavour, and it certainly is a chunky little number.

I tested this bar by using it on the Ballbuster duathlon, a slightly risky strategy but I didn’t have much choice as I am finally out of my old favourite bars and so all I have is the bars I am going to test.

The first thing I noticed with this bar when I took a big bite, is that when it is cold it is solid and is actually quite hard to chew big mouthfuls of, with hindsight I should have taken a smaller bite but I didn’t. The initial bite took me quite a while to chew my way through due to the size of it, but the taste was good and the flavour was as described on the packet. Once you got into the bar the taste and texture were both good, it felt like you were eating something substantial and it also didn’t have one of those artificial after tastes.

On the second bite, i took a much smaller bite, I learnt from the first one, and it was much more manageable to chew and more enjoyable to eat. I started the bar on the first lap of the bike course and finished it coming into transition 2, so it lasted the entire bike course by just biting off manageable chunks.

As ever, the most important question is did it work, well I never ran out of energy on the bike or the second run and didn’t feel hungry on either, so I can only assume it did it’s job in  lack of scientific testing.

Overall I liked this bar, and I think it would be interesting to try some other flavours as this one was tasty and I think currently it has been my favourite bar to test, but there are still a few to go so we will see.

Side Project -Power Bar Energize – Mango & Passionfruit Flavour

An interesting bar this one, in that it appears to be very flat and for some reason I expected it to be very sticky once the wrapper was opened.

The actual wrapper was very easy to open, both with gloves on and off, and the bar was not that sticky. In terms of taste the flavour was really good, you could make out the fruits and it had an after taste that was quite refreshing.

In terms of texture the bar was like one of the fruit salad chewy sweets, a little tacky to the touch but not overly so.

I used two of these bars, one before a turbo session and the other whilst out on the bike, and I have to say that seems to work I didn’t feel hungry on either occasion and my energy levels were kept up, so in the absence of any scientific testing I would say this bar works.

Would I buy more of these bars? Yes I would, I have to say to that the flavour was better than the High 5 banana bar and when you combine that with the easy to open wrapper it is a good all round bar.

Side Project -High 5 Energy Bar – Banana Flavour

The first review is of the High 5 Energy bar in banana flavour, and as I said in my original post there is no science behind these reviews they are going to be subjective only, as I have no idea how to scientifically test them, and if that is the type of review you are after then I am sure many magazines have already done that.

The packaging was easy to open an the first bite certainly gave a very bananary taste, in fact it was very strong.

In terms of texture it was a little rubbery for me, although that may not be a bad thing, it just was not a texture I liked a lot.

As you ate your way through the bar the taste did change a bit, it became a sort of hybrid of banana and the taste of the foam banana sweets you get. A kind of strong yet very artificial flavour.

Did the bar work, well I ate this one in between a bike and run session, so after a hard turbo trainer workout and before I set out on an easy paced run. I have to say that I didn’t become hungry on the run and also felt like I had a steady amount of energy throughout with no initial peaks and a sudden tail off.

There was a bit of a downside, I found the bar did repeat on me a bit whilst running and the  after taste was not pleasant a kind of off artificial banana taste.

In summary, the bar seemed to work, it was a banana flavour but perhaps not one I would turn to again in a hurry as I sure some of the other flavours will be better. I could give it a score, but I have decided not to do that, the outcome would be if I would consider buying it again and whether I actually buy some more.

The answer is I probably wouldn’t buy this flavour again.

A Small Side Project

I have decided to do a little side project, and that is to try out a variety of energy bars to see which ones I like. Currently I use the Zipvit ZV8 Energy Bar in the uncoated chocolate flavour and have done for years, it is one of those bars that I just like the taste of and it seems to work. However, it seems that Zipvit no longer do that flavour and the other option i don’t really like.

So in order to do this I went to Holland and Barrett and bought a selection of bars from a variety of companies.

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Now the thing to point out at this point is that there will be no science in the reviews, I have no way of testing it other than subjectively, in as much as did it seem to work for me, did I like the taste etc.

So, over the next few weeks and months I will write up my reviews and see if I can find some bars I actually like.

The Bison Duathlon

The Bison Duathlon, a new event held on the Dunstable Downs using as it’s main feature the well known local landmark, Bison Hill.

Anyone who has ever visited Whipsnade Zoo has probably driven up the hill, it’s the steep one before you get to the car park. It is also possible to go up it from the inside as well via a path so that makes it ideal for a duathlon.

There were 2 possible distances, the full (13km, 30km, 13km) and a sprint (6.5km, 19km, 6.5km), me, I chose the sprint as I thought it would make a good training session for the Ballbuster next month.

The weather was misty and there was certainly a bit of rain in the air, and this meant the views were pretty much lost from the top of the downs, which was a shame. It wasn’t too cold but the temperature was at that point where it made what to wear of what leg a little tricky, you don’t want to be too hot on the run and then cold on the bike. For what it is worth, I went for a base layer, short sleeved jersey, arm warmers, gloves (which came off after the bike leg) and shorts. This turned about to be about right, I probably should have left the gloves till the bike leg and not bothered on the first run, but it didn’t make too much difference.

After the usual pre-race briefing the run was off and we headed out onto the trails path around the top of the downs, which dropped down and wound it’s way round to the bottom of Bison Hill and the infamous cut steps and the slog up the hill. Once over the hill it was basically a flat run to the transition area.

Quick (well average) change into the bike shoes and off onto the road. The bike course went downhill to the bottom of Bison Hill, where the slog up the hill began. Once the hill was done the run back to the transition area had another sneaky uphill drag

The second run was round the same course, although a bit slower than the first one!

So, what was it like then? Well the short answer is it was good fun but hard, I certainly was not in any shape to have done the full distance one. The course was well thought out and the run course especially was an enjoyable run. Having an event where the run was offload and the bike on road made for a good change, running off road is not only more fun but is harder than road running and certainly more interesting.

I was certainly feeling it in my legs at the finish, I think I probably started the first run too fast and then paid for it for the rest of the race, my left calf felt like it was on the verge of cramping from near the end of the bike until the end of the run, it didn’t but certainly felt like it might.

Overall I really enjoyed the event, it was well put together for the athletes and the medals were good as well. The only downside was that the National Trust for whatever reason didn’t open the centre that servers food and drink until about 9:30, when the race started at 8:00 and there were certainly plenty of spectators who wanted to get in there early! Certainly not the fault of the organisers.

When the event returns next year I would recommend it, it is a good challenge on excellent courses and is well run, have a look at their website for more details here

 

 

Some Things From This Week

Slightly different post this wee, I thought I would highlight 5 things I have learnt, rediscovered or just forgotten about.

1 – Press-ups. As many people will have seen there is a 22 day challenge to do 22 press ups each day and post a video of yourself doing this to raise awareness of combat vets. There are apparently 22 vets a day committing suicide and this challenge is to raise public awareness. If I am honest I was hoping to avoid this challenge s I hate press-ups, but I got tagged and rather than ignore it, I have taken on the challenge. So far, so good I have managed 4 days and am actually enjoying it, working some muscles everyday is never a bad thing. If you are tagged, don’t ignore it, give it a go. I have 18 or so days left and that is plenty of time to tag people. so watch out!

2 – Interval training. I have said it many times that interval training is the work of the devil, however you dress it up it hurts regardless of the length of the interval. This week I have had a set on the bike of 1 minutes intervals every 4 minutes for an hour. What surprised me most was just how quickly the 1 minute intervals came round, it seemed no sooner had one finished the next was starting. I was glad when the hour was done and I could just ride home!

3 – Trail running is brilliant. There is no shock to this, I love trail running and I particularly like it in the evenings when after being in the office all day you can get out in the fresh air and the countryside. Being able to head out across fields and woodlands for a run is one of things in life that never gets boring, yes the running is harder but that really doesn’t matter as it is offset by the views and environment.

A short post but I have been not writing much lately and so need to get back on it and hopefully this will be the catalyst.

2 Wheels Are Best

I have spent the last week indulging myself by riding a variety of bikes in different locations but all with one thing in common, it was fun!

Starting last weekend I took part in the Brompton World Championship (BWC) race in London, a crit race around St Jame’s park after the Ride London Women’s pro race. The BWC has some rules, one of which id the dress code, a shirt, tie and jacket must be worn and no lycra. This makes for some wonderful sights with people really going to town to dress up.

For me, I went for a pink jacket to add some colour to the occasion.

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To take part in the race you don’t actually have to race, you are more than welcome to just enjoy the ride around the course. However, a race is a race and the opportunity to have a thrash around is too much to resist for me. In terms of competition there were ex-pros Dave Millar and Dr Michael Hutchinson plus various ex winners so there were some fast people. For me I covered the 17km at an average speed of over 36km/h to finish 68th overall, a result I was more than happy with.

Next up I went for a tour round the Chilterns with the aim of having a mid-ride coffee at some gardens, the route I got from a local cycling club and was around 80km in length. I found I was enjoying the ride on my road bike and so when the Garmin said to go straight across a junction I decided I would add some more distance and went left to add around another 20 odd km. The extra loop allowed me to ride through the countryside and do a couple of hills I haven’t done before. On arrival at the gardens I treated myself to a coffee and large slice of ginger cake, I know I am trying to reduce my sugar in take, but I just couldn’t resist.

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The ride home after this felt easy and I reckon I was probably grinning as I was going, even the hills to home seemed enjoyable.

Back to the Brompton of army next ride, and this was a couple of hours riding round Silverstone in an event organised by Muscle Help

I did get a few funny looks from some riders when I rolled up to the start on the Brompton, but once we were let loose on the track I think I changed their opinions mainly by riding past them or dropping them out of chain gangs! Some of the more season better riders were complimentary and seemed to enjoy watching me pass people who might have had a nice bike and good gear but no legs!  Riding round Silverstone was interesting as I had never really realised how windy sections of the track could be, and how in real life some of the run off areas are not that big and so stopping an F1 car from ploughing into a face might be tricky. No such issues on the Brompton though!

Brompton_Silverstone

After the fun of racing round a flat motor racing circuit it only seemed right to go and do some hills, so I headed down to Surrey to have a look at some of the famous climbs down there, and also it gave me a chance to recce Boxhill prior to the Ballbuster later in the year.

Now, I do not know the Surrey area at all, and this became apparent when I went came to Dorking and the Garmin seemed to be trying to send me down a way I couldn’t go and I couldn’t see how to get to the road I needed so I ended up following a sign that said Leith Hill, and this turned out to be a great decision as it took me up Coldharbour Lane which was a good climb, although the road was really greasy due to overnight rain and so if you got out of the saddle the rear wheel started to spin, or it could just be I was laying down tremendous amount of power! The countryside was great with some lovely views and I have to say drivers who all seemed happy to give me space so perhaps the stories of all drivers in Surrey hating cyclists isn’t true?

The final part of the ride was the climb back up Boxhill, having only seen this for the first time when I drove to the car park at the top in the morning I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, it didn’t look too steep but did it have some hidden traps? The early part of the climb was easy to get into a rhythm and I had the added advantage of being able to see another cyclist further up the climb who I was able to aim at. The other cyclist I thought initially was going quite quick but i soon gained and passed him leaving me on my own. The hairpins actually enable you to pick up some speed and so it wasn’t long before the climb was done. It seemed fairly easy to keep a steady easy pace and I have to admit to being a little disappointed really I was expecting something a little more, never mind though the views at the top were brilliant and well worth the trip.

Finally it was time to break out the CX bike and do a little off-road riding back in the Chilterns. I have to say I didn’t really push very hard and so the route was easy with a good mix of tarmac and dirt. Possibly the best part was riding along an ancient cart track past a model aircraft club field and seeing them flying some really big planes, impressive things. The rest of this ride was good fun enjoying some climbing and looking forward to that post ride coffee!

The other cycling aspect to the week was visiting both Look Mum No Hands and the Rapha Cafe in London on a trip there, both server excellent coffee and food and are places I will return to when the situation allows.

All in all I feel that I have had a great fun week where I was left to my own devices and so basically just played on bikes. It never ceases to amaze me just how much fun you can have on bikes, regardless of what type, model etc Any bike can go fast it all comes down to your legs, are you able to pedal it. Yes I am lucky in owning several bikes but I enjoy them all and ride them where possible

In conclusion I spent most of the week riding bikes and I loved it!

Here Comes The Summer – Part 2

After writing about the joys etc of the sun I thought I would add a short post to back up my thoughts on the impact the heat has on my performance.

In this past week, where the summer finally decided to visit the UK (there were rumours that summer had already done it’s brexit and left!) , I did a couple of runs and a couple of bike rides.

The first run on the Monday was about 10.5km along the Thames in London, from Hammersmith to Chiswick and back. I thought that by going along the river whilst it was still going to be hot there wold be a breeze. Well I was wrong. Yes it was very hot but there was no breeze, just hot hot air.

With the temperature being so high, I tried to keep a steady pace, but the pace was slow, in fact flat 6 min per km, and that was an effort. Whilst I got through the run it was not that enjoyable and I was glad when it was over. Heat 1 Me 0

Next up was an evening bike ride, again the temperature was high but this time there was wind, a surprisingly large amount of wind. The wind seemed to be a head wind for most of the ride but where as normal the would be a pain on this evening it was strangely enjoyable, not that easy but refreshing. The pace was low and steady but I did manage a couple of Strava PR’s on some hills. Heat 1 Me 1

A paced run was the next item, a session of a warm up, then 25 minutes at 5 min per km, so run 5km, then a warm down. In normal circumstances this is a hard but achievable without going into the red. However, on this occasion the temperature made this seem like a battle, yes I did complete it and hit the numbers but it felt far harder than it should have done. In terms of the running score, that session is a draw. Heat 2 Me 2

Last, and the deciding session was a run on Saturday, planned to be a pro run, but as I didn’t wake up in time it turned into a trail run round my local short circuit. It was hot again, and there are hills on the route. I set off steady, and basically got though the run but not without dripping sweat and the pace seemingly getting slower as I went. Heat 3 Me 2

Overall, then the heat beat me this week, but I still like it and would far rather have it than the winter rain and cold even if I suffer in it. Let’s hope the hot weather continues and I will find a way to cope!