Bramley 20

I had a fairly disastrous run at the BKO Cold Ash orienteering event at the end of January. Went OK early on, but the boggy conditions on one side of the forest (Pics here and here; compared to the relatively dry conditions on the other side) threw me a bit and I was well out of contention after a terrible bit of navigation mid-course. Having spent 2 hours on the “short brown” course, my legs were dead for a couple of days afterwards.

I’d managed a bit more running on the local grass playing fields but I was getting a little bored of those laps and laps. I was wondering about some more cushioning for my injured toe and chanced upon a gel toe cap in Boots [link]. I tried it out in a pair of my usual Asics running shoes and it wasn’t to bad, but then I had an idea that maybe some maximalist Hoka One One shoes might be just the thing. They’re supposed to “bring the trail to the tarmac” and the Ultramarathon store was having a bit of a sale, so although these’d be the most expensive shoes I’ve ever bought, I got a pair of Clifton shoes. They proved to be a revelation – light, yet cushioned enough for road running. Nothing like as clumpy as their appearance suggests. I ditched my race at Watford half-marathon, not feeling that I was ready for it, and Jules was home that weekend so we went out for a long run together on Sunday morning instead. After that it was Game On for the new shoes. I was happy to rack up some decent easy kilometres on the road in them.

I had a local TVOC Saturday Series orienteering event the day before, where I managed a respectable 15th place finish. If I’d not made a slight mess of one run between checkpoints, and been a minute faster, I’d have made the top-10 on the green course [results].

The Bramley 20 was GO!, and although I hadn’t quite managed a run of that distance I knew I’d cope OK. In the end  it was a cold, overcast day, probably ideal for long distance running but maybe a little cold for me. I was pretty controlled through the first 15 miles, and then let rip over the last 5 miles (run in 36:00) to finish in 2:33:36 [results]. That’s not too bad after a slow start (my fastest 20-mile training run last year was 2:34:40, but at a much more even pace).

At 9½ miles, comfy, forefoot striking in my Hokas. Thanks to Barry Cornelius (www.oxonraces.com) for the photo

My calves felt pretty tight afterwards – especially the left, which I’ve always had problems with – but that’s OK. These Clifton’s are pretty lightly built, there’s not much outsole and after only 180km I’m quickly wearing through the forefoot so I’ve just bought some Rapa Nui 2 Tarmac for training in. They’re a bit heavier and more substantial, not quite the fast smooth ride of the Clifton’s but hopefully they’ll hang together OK for some more long runs.

I’ve been racking up my runs on Jantastic for the YACF team, with just a single swim and bike each week, and the odd indoor row, here and there. This seems to work well for me but I’m wondering about backing off the running slightly in March so I can get more quality into it.

Willy Warmer 200k audax

Having missed the Poor Student 200 a couple of weeks back due to the weather being wet and cold, I was hoping to ride my first 200k BRM qualifier for Paris-Brest-Paris. The day was likely to be icy and cold to start with so I deliberately left home for the drive to the HQ late (in an unpromising snow storm) and by the time I got to Chalfont St Peter the early bunches of riders were already heading out – there were over 170 starters this year.

The village car park was a bit of an ice rink, but once I’d checked in at the hall and collected my brevet I headed out at 8:45am and found the main roads to be passable. There were a few other riders faffing about at the hall while Paul was shutting up, so I was pleased to see I was not alone in opting for a late start.

Almost immediately I went wrong out of Chalfont St Peter. I’d loaded both a “normal”, and (new for this year), a “contrary” version of the route on my Garmin. Leaving the hall, with fat fingers I’d set the Garmin to follow the contrary route, oops. After a few km of dodging icy patches on back lanes I managed to cross back to the old A40 and on to the correct route, a couple of extra kilometres added. The snow shower I’d left in Oxford caught up with me on the descent into Marlow and beyond, leading to some rather picturesque, if wintery, scenes on the ride alongside the Thames. After Henley I missed out the section over the climbs to Pangbourne, fearing the ice we’d met there the last time I rode this event in 2011, and opted for the main road route through Reading. I was riding very steadily – fast enough to keep warm, not so fast as to build up a sweat – and quite enjoying being out on the bike.

As I rolled into the checkpoint at Pangbourne, I could see there were still quite a few riders about, tucking into a second breakfast. I didn’t wait long though – just enough time to get my proof-of-passage sticker and send a twitter update. After this stop I was catching and passing riders all day long, right up to about the last 50km where the field had thinned out. I bounced all the next controls, happy to soak up the views of the countryside, and only finally stopped for a break at Kingsclere (132km) where I grabbed a much needed sandwich and some more drink for my bottles. Andy Watt was here, doing the same, and we had a bit of a chat about the day’s ride so far. The sun was out although it was very cold as soon as you stopped. I passed a couple of gritting lorries in the last 2 hours.

For the final checkpoint at Winnersh I bought a chocolate bar from the local Sainsbury’s for the receipt, and then as I left I was overtaken by a group of three who’d just emerged from a café over the road. They were moving quickly but I never quite lost sight of them on some of the long straights. Darkness fell as we crossed the River Thames at Maidenhead and then after a bit of an uphill effort to get to the crossing of the M40 (I decided to go off-route for the final bit and take a cut through Welder’s Lane – mistake – this narrow lane was heavy with cars), I was dropping into Chalfont St Peter for the finish, 216km in 8h45.

A very steady ride for me, one of the slowest 200s I’ve ridden for a few years. It was nice just to be ticking the km off, not too worried about what time I might be finishing. Unfortunately I managed to strain a tendon in my right knee (the good one!) later in the evening – putting my slippers on, of all the things. A few easy days will have to follow until that’s better.

Chiltern League XC. Campbell Park, Milton Keynes

A welcome change from trudging around the local fields at Horspath, I ventured over to Milton Keynes for this round of the Chiltern League. I wasn’t expecting to be too fast, but it was also an opportunity to test out the new XC spikes I picked in a summer sale, and see if my injured toe would be OK running in them.

After a bit of a warm-up and some banter with my fellow OCAC team mates we were off. I tried to take the first half lap fairly steady but still had the feeling my chest was going to explode with the effort by the end of the first mile. After that the field split up a bit and I settled into a good run. Had a bit of a race with a few other backmarkers on the last lap and came 240th out of 342, just over 40 minutes for the 8.25km race, 33rd M50. Muddy, hilly and fast as usual, but good fun.

New spikes not so new any more

New spikes not so new any more

Warming down I had a chat to Rob, our team captain from last spring’s Teddy Hall Relays. He’s going well at the moment. He reckoned that he’d rather break a leg again than go through all the trouble he had with a fractured toe. Sounds like it’s a persistent injury to get rid of! I’m up to 5 months with it now but it is slowly getting better.

One Year Time Trial

This year, Steven Abraham is attempting to beat the “Record too dangerous to break” – Tommy Godwin’s 75065 miles in a year. It’s a crazy challenge, but if anyone can give it a go, Steve can. It all started from a thread on the YACF forum a few years ago (https://yacf.co.uk/forum/index.php?topic=58795.0) and it seems that he’s had this record in mind for many years. Steve has already set a mammoth record Audax points total (http://www.aukweb.net/results/archive/2007/points/), done in his spare time whilst holding down a full-time job, but for this ride he’s taken the year off and is cashing in his life savings (as well as seeking sponsorship). No-one should bet against him achieving his goal.

To start the year off (although actually he set off soon after midnight, too excited to sleep) he was riding the North Bucks Road Club New Year’s Day 10-mile time trial. It’s not too far away from me and the weather forecast was benign, so I had a sober-ish New Year’s Eve and got up early to set off in the dark at 7:30am and ride over to wish him well.

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It was great to see that so many people had come out to race Steve or just be there in that lay-by for the first day. The local BBC TV reporters were there, and Steve seemed much in demand although I did manage get a minute to shake his hand and wish him well. At 10:01am, Steve set off in the time trial with number 1 on his back (Results and report; there are some good photo galleries there too – I’m in one, and in the background here). I hung around for a few minutes more, not tempted to test my legs over 10 miles this early in the year; I was getting cold and decided to set off home for lunch.

Steve’s website is here: http://oneyeartimetrial.org.uk/, and he’s got some competition from an American rider, Kurt “Tarzan” Searvogel (http://www.tarzanrides.com/). (Steve also has a forum nickname which is a little less romantic: “Teethgrinder”.)

TVOC orienteering, Shotover

Since I can’t run on the road at the moment due to my toe injury, I’ve been notching up quite a bit of mileage around Horspath and Shotover. I noticed there was a low-key “level C” orienteering event being organised by the Thames Valley Orienteering Club so I decided to give it a go. I haven’t done any orienteering for about 25 years, and it’s changed a lot in the intervening years: pre-printed route maps and electronic timing being the main differences.

After signing-on and collecting my timing chip (an EMIT), I jogged over to the start area. I’d signed up for a “blue” grade course, based on the amount of climb it suggested, but I didn’t really have any idea how hard (or easy) it might be. In the pre-start area there were little slips of paper with a list of control descriptions – 18 for my course – but I had no idea what the little IOF hieroglyphs meant, so I didn’t bother taking the paper with me, I thought I’d just rely on the map.

2014-12-21_TVOC

I had a pretty good run in the end although I made quite a few route errors. Knowing the area was sometimes a boon, sometimes a handicap – I tended to run along paths I knew well, when there were often quicker alternatives. I had my old Silva compass with me, and that was useful for taking a bearing where controls were on the far side of open land. I remembered about keeping my thumb on the map near my location, and also bearing-off towards a control so I should always know which direction I’m approaching it from.

I still got pretty lost at a couple of controls though, and after having a slow hunt for no. 5, I ran straight past no. 6, looking in the wrong direction, d’oh. If I’d known what those hieroglyphs meant I’d have realised I should’ve been looking down, for a control in a “pit”. I took more notice of the map after that and did better over the second half although I still made a bit of a slow choice for the penultimate control – there was a tarmac path I knew well, but all the faster runners cut down a shorter forest track.

After 65 minutes I ended up 31st out of 60 runners on the blue course, so not too bad a run (http://www.tvoc.org.uk/application/documents/results/Results%202014/Shotover/index.htm). I have much to learn and I can see that the desire to improve your route-finding is addictive. The ability to upload your GPS track to the results map page is a pretty good way to see where you went wrong. That I managed top-10 splits for some of the controls shows I could be much faster. I’ve signed up to do another, more serious “level B” event in Berkshire at the end of January (http://www.bko.org.uk/?q=event/concorde-chase-cold-ash-25-jan-15).

Dartmoor Devil 2014

Prep didn’t go quite as planned for this year – I’d been doing my usual hill circuits, but came down with a bit of a cold the weekend before which knocked me back a bit. I had, at least, fixed some orange devil horns to my bike helmet ;-)

As seems usual for this event, the weather was bright and sunny when I drove down to Devon on Saturday (stopping off at Argos Cycles in Bristol with my TT frame, ready for a respray for 2015). However this year, Sunday was expected to be warm(ish) and dry too. And so it transpired. I wore slightly fewer layers than previous years and could probably have got away with even less as I was overheating on the climbs. After an easy freewheel down to Bovey it was good to catch up with some familiar faces in the Cromwell Arms and collect my brevet. Mark Hummerstone was hoping, like me, to collect his 5th Devil today, but I heard he later suffered a mechanical problem halfway round and had to pack.

Devil_0

There was the usual sprint up the first climb, Hind Street. I like to get near the front here in case anyone has a mechanical, and this year the guy next to me came to a crunching halt when his chain snapped – not a good start to the day for him. David Henderson, who I’d tracked through last year’s edition, quickly rode off the front with a determined air. He owns a whole sheaf of Strava KOMs around this region and I was pretty sure I’d be better off leaving him to it today! Simon Dent rode the first few km with me, but this was his first Devil and he wasn’t sure what he was doing this far off the front so early on, quickly falling back on the day’s first long 25% ascent, into Ilsington.

My mum was there, with Martin, taking pictures and cheering me on. The next bit, through the lanes, twisting and turning into Ashburton is quite pleasant, and then on this edition of the route there’s a long climb to the first checkpoint. I took this fairly steadily, conserving my energies for later in the day, and was caught near the top by a determined bunch of three or four riders. I quickly got my card stamped and then we were off on the next leg, via the highest roads on the moor, to Chagford.

I passed a couple of tandems on this stretch – I wouldn’t like to try to tackle these climbs on one! Kevin Presland, the organiser, was on one long climb, and captured a shot of me with my jacket open, trying to smile:

Devil_1

I had another quick stop in Chagford to get my brevet stamped and grab a glass or two of squash before tackling the long climb back up on to the moor. I was catching and passing quite a few riders from the 8 o’clock start, and Kevin captured me near the top of a particularly steep section. This last bit comes just after you’ve “sprinted” to cross a cattle grid at a 25% gradient, so you’re always glad to see the main road where it levels off for a brief period.

Devil_2 (thanks to Kevin Presland for the photos)

The next bit, across the main road on the moor to the FoxTor Café in Princetown, is rolling and as usual into a stiff headwind. Just coming up to the junction at Two Bridges I crossed paths with David H, already heading back to Dartmeet for the final stretch and looking strong. I didn’t wait long at the FoxTor, just enough time to chew the last of an energy bar and put a little more water in my bidon and then off for the lovely tailwind back to Dartmeet, followed by the never-ending climb out of Widecombe. Although I felt like I was grinding along at my slowest pace and in bottom gear (34×29), I was still passing a few riders from the 8 o’clock start, and was very happy to roll into the final checkpoint at the Kestor Inn where my mum and Martin were waiting to cheer me and buy me a pint of orange and soda.

David H had been back some time already, but I was pretty happy to have knocked off another Devil, at 5 minutes under 5 hours for the 104km (http://connect.garmin.com/activity/620751779). And one which I could’ve ridden on my summer bike – dry roads, and my rainjacket stayed firmly in my back pocket. I just had to cycle back uphill to Martin’s place for a little “warm down”!

Everesting attempt

With the time trial and triathlon season all but over my thoughts usually turn to the annual bash up and down the 20% and 25% gradients of Dartmoor, otherwise known as the Dartmoor Devil. With this in mind, I’d ridden the Henley Hilly 100 as I so often do, recording a new personal best for the route of 3h48, so I knew  was hanging on to some good form.

I’m sure that quite a few cyclists have heard of Everesting – it’s riding your bike up and down a hill until you record a height gain greater than the height of Mount Everest, 8848m (for more details see http://www.everesting.cc/). I’d seen a few UK attempts written up on a UK blog (http://www.everestinguk.com/) and there are some other interesting accounts about.  It looked to me like an ideal endurance cycling activity – the sort of thing I ought to be good at, and in the past few weeks I’d scoped out a few of the local test pieces, selecting one that was suited to my time trialling/flat land abilities – the climb of the old A40 up Aston Hill (Veloviewer profile here). A steep climb would suit the real hill climbers – they can torque their way up and down a 8-10% climb all day long, but I needed something slightly gentler. Aston Hill averages only 4.4%, so I’d need to ride quite a distance (over 400 km by my reckoning) and quite a few repeats (around 76) to notch up 8848m. But I also thought “+400km of hilly riding can’t be that hard, can it?”

I had been toying with the idea for a few weeks and then a friend of mine, Paul Alderson, Everested Barhatch Lane in Surrey (link to his ride on Strava), and over a bit of e-banter, pointed out to me that the weather was likely closing in soon for the autumn and I’d not have many more opportunities to go for it. Saturday 4th October was a dreary day, I ended up erging 12km in the morning while it poured down outside and then in the afternoon decided I’ve give it a go the very next day – a bit last minute. This approach has worked for some, but in retrospect perhaps I needed a bit more preparation. I went shopping for some good energy food (cereal bars, flapjacks, etc.) and when I got home, charged up my Garmin and some batteries and mixed up some energy drinks into all the spare bidons I had lying around. I resolved to get up early on Sunday and go for it.

My alarm went off at 4am and by 5am I was in the layby at the top of the climb (I’d already worked out it was better to leave the car at the top – that way, you’re always freewheeling away from it and have to climb back up) ready to tackle my attempt. The first few reps went pretty steadily I felt. I was in a spring weight jacket and gloves to cope with the cold (I’d had to scrape ice off the car before I’d left – the first frost of the season). I had half an eye on my powermeter, knowing roughly what a “steady” effort would look like, but it was tricky in the dark. Next time I’ll remember to set the backlight on my Garmin up high for longer.

By just after 6am the first streaks of dawn were showing, I’d done five reps at at just under 13 minutes each, and by soon after 7am it was light enough to bin the front light – my previous 12-rep best was soon passed. I had my Garmin set to auto-lap at the foot of the climb but sometimes it triggered twice; next time I’ll count the laps with a button press. The rear light stayed on for another hour or two, there are some overhanging trees which can make this climb quite dark. Another downside to the tree cover is that the Garmin wasn’t always tracking speed correctly – next time I’ll ride with a speed sensor. By 8am and rep number 14 I was starting to struggle with some negative thoughts, but a few club riders were out and about and occasionally I’d get some company on the climb to the turn at the top and even a shout or two from riders that knew me (but didn’t know what I was up to).

I went on like this for the next few hours, stopping at the car for more drinks or maybe a bar or two, every three or four reps, but the negativity was never far away and those first 30 seconds after I’d turned back up the climb got harder and harder although I was OK higher up once I’d “got into” the effort. It warmed up a bit and I was able to strip off a few layers but although the sun was out at the foot of the climb, trees the rest of the way up made it colder than it looked – this could be useful for a summer attempt though. Eventually something went pop in my legs and head around rep 34. Where I’d been averaging a fairly comfortable 240W on the climb this dropped away to 225-230W. Those next few reps were a struggle. I was glad to get past halfway, but at the 40th rep  I called it a day after 8h45 and 4702m climbed, 217km under my wheels . My head, as much as my legs, was tired from that continued battering of those first 30 seconds after I turned at the foot of the climb.

Time to pack up and go home for a beer, and my desk on Monday morning. Definitely a challenge to return to! Garmin data Here