Castle Combe Duathlon – June 2019

The low-key nature of a midweek local race means you can test stuff without the risk of messing up a big race. One of the hardest things to judge in multi-sport endurance racing is pacing, so my goal this week was to hold back on Run 1 and spread my effort across the whole race.

I finished the first run in 7th place feeling good. Unfortunately I had a bit of a ‘mare in T1 with my visor popping off my helmet and flying off across the tarmac (I’m sure I recently wrote a few words for 220 Triathlon magazine which mentioned having “a simple unfussy helmet” – need to practice what I preach)

I started the bike in 9th place and overtook quite a few people to finish it in 4th. I lost a place at the start of the run to a faster runner but then had the great feeling of putting distance into everyone else behind me. The pacing plan worked well and I had the luxury of finishing a minute ahead of the next person with nothing but empty track behind me

As the A-Team always said: “I love it when a plan comes together.” I just need to execute this in a big race rather than cocking it up in one of the many ways i tend to do. There’s a-whole-nother article in “all the ways I’ve f**ked up a big race” Next stop Romania in 3 weeks for the European Duathlon Championships.

Darley Moor Sprint Duathlon 2019

I raced at Darley Moor today in the Euro 2020 Sprint Duathlon qualifier. We decided to turn the trip into a family mini-break to the Peak District and headed up on Friday for a couple of days exploring the beautiful countryside in the Spring sunshine.

Seemingly, as with every big Duathlon event I’ve done, today’s weather was grim. It was good to have experienced racing in the monsoon of Bedford last year. I learned from that and tried to avoid too much procrastinating while staring at the sky.

“Go Daddy!”

Darley Moor was the race last year where I accidentally did an extra lap on the bike and killed my race. It’s easily done on such a short circuit (8 laps for 20km). My goal this year was to learn from that experience too and to generally avoid any obvious cock ups.

I started at what should have been a manageable pace on the run but began to suffer quite hard. I’m not exactly sure why. Possibly as it was my first Duathlon in over six months. It was nothing catastrophic, it just meant I needed to rein it in a touch.

The bike went well. The track felt slippery so I made sure to keep upright on the corners. I maintained a good speed and overtook quite a few riders while recovering from overdoing it on the first run.

My final run hurt. Especially as I was again going slower than I wanted. I persevered and crossed the line in a respectable time. I think I missed out on automatic qualification for next year’s Euros by just 3 seconds. But a few “roll down” places are offered to the fastest 5 or 6 runners-up over all the qualifying events. I’m currently fastest runner-up over the past two events with one to go so hopefully a roll-down place is fairly secure.

It was great to have my wife and kids along to support and to turn it into a fun weekend away. Despite the appearance of the photo above I think at least one of them had a good time!

Once home and unpacked I took the kids out for a cycle. They both wanted to do a duathlon so they ended up running and cycling and running up and down the street! It was pretty cute

Cat 4 criterium racing

The European Triathlon Union (ETU) have changed the rules of my upcoming European Duathlon Championships race in Romania next month. Despite all of the qualifying races being draft-illegal bike legs (ie solo timetrialling), the ETU have decided to make the actual championship race draft-legal (ie criterium-style road racing). This will change the dynamic of the race, and is also a form of racing I’m unfamiliar with.

Rather than moan about it, I decided to just get some crit practice.

This evening I took part in a Cat 4 (the lowest ranking category of road racing) race at Odd Down in Bath. Odd Down is a dedicated cycling race track, about 1.5km long with about 4 sharp corners per lap.

My aim was to hang in the lead bunch to gain experience of racing in a tight pack. And not crash. With a Duathlon qualifier this weekend for next year’s Euros, a crash would be very bad.

It was a 45 minute race. The basic format being that you ride for 40 minutes and then you get a countdown for 3 final laps. About 40 of us started the race. Within a couple of laps there was a lead group of 20 riders. It felt fairly comfortable riding / drafting in the group. I did a couple of long turns on the front but went a bit too deep the second time around and was almost dropped when the pack rode over me. I had to go even deeper for another lap just to cling on. This was a good learning experience: Don’t be a hero!

I hung in the pack from then on. After my first stint on the front, a guy came up the outside and said “on your right”. I thought he’d said “are you alright?” So I replied “yeah I’m good. You alright?” He got a bit funny and asked if I was being sarcastic. He later beat me in the sprint so I guess he had the last laugh!

With a lap to go I was still there. The pace had really lifted so it felt physically and tactically very difficult to move forward in the group. I probably could have been a bit more aggressive on the final two corners and gotten nearer the front, but in the end I had to settle for a hard sprint for about 10th place. All in all a success and a great learning experience.

It was a good physical workout. My power meter says I spent 11 of the 45 minutes at +400 watts which was mostly sprinting out of every corner. And my heart rate was at threshold for about half an hour. I also hit my max heart rate of the year so a good training session. Time now to rest for Sunday’s Duathlon…

Paris-Roubaix Challenge 2019

I travelled down to France at the weekend to ride the Paris-Roubaix Challenge with a few friends. 175km and over 50km of the infamous cobbles. I had no idea what to expect.


We arrived at the Roubaix Velodrome on Friday afternoon to collect our race numbers. The organisers were busy hand-painting the advertising signage on the track – it was like a scene from ‘A Sunday in Hell’ and seemed magically grass-roots and low-key for such a famous monument of cycling races.

It was a cold and early start on Saturday for our event. But once the sun came out it warmed up – we couldn’t have asked for better conditions really. Paris-Roubaix always seems a better spectacle in the mud and rain, but I was pretty happy to be riding it in good conditions. It can rain next year!

There were 3 of us from Chew Valley CC taking part. Unfortunately we were down to 2 after a couple of hours. A snapped spoke the cause of an early retirement. The brutal cobbles take no prisoners.

The cobbled sectors lasted much longer than I’d expected. There are 29 sectors of “pavé”, covering over 50km. I think in my head, after watching the professionals fly over the cobbles I was expecting the sectors to be about 500 metres in length. If I’d done the maths I could have worked out that their average length is 1.7km. Some of the sectors were up to 4km and felt like they took all morning to get to the end!

Before the event, people I’d spoken to had recommended hitting the cobbles at top speed and trying to maintain that momentum. Initially this “momentum” lasted around the halfway point of a sector before my speed started to drop. But by the end it had declined to the extent that I was bouncing along at a snail’s pace, like Superman exposed to Kryptonite. Fortunately my fitness is good at the moment so I managed to get back up to speed between the sectors and finish the event in a fairly respectable time.

We’d made a pact to ride down the centre of all the cobbles. “We didn’t come all this way to ride in the gutter” etc. etc. It turns out that this macho BS approach is very British … and also very foolish. By the end of the ride I was unashamedly riding in the gutter with everyone else. The cumulative effect of hours on the cobbles takes its toll on your body. At the end I confessed to this sin within the confines of the Velodrome and was granted forgiveness by the monks of Roubaix!

I rode 28mm tyres at about 90psi. It was like holding a jackhammer for hours. Lots of people were riding wide-tyres gravel or full-suspension mountain bikes. Initially I thought they were cheating. But by the end I realised they were smart!

Things that hurt the most: my hands felt like they were on fire; my biceps felt like they were about to be torn from my arms; my head felt like I had a splitting hangover from being shaken around so much. My bum and legs also felt the pain.

Finishing in the stadium was a great climax to a long day in the saddle.

It was a good experience … but possibly only needs to be experienced once.

We headed to the Arenberg Forest the next day to watch the pro race. We walked the full length of the 5* pavé before the race. The cobbles were terrifyingly uneven. It was hard work just walking along them. If I’d done this as a recce before our ride I would have had nightmares about riding on them!

We had a bit of time to kill before the race arrived. In preparation for the cold weather I’d brought some thermal tights. I decided to go for a run in them, also wearing my cycling jersey and cap. It seemed like the Euro thing to do! Plus they had a handy little pocket in the front to hold my phone!

The atmosphere was great fun. Loads of singing and cheering. And when the race arrived and the pro’s hit the cobbles at full gas it was incredible. An exciting end to a fun (and very tiring) weekend away.


Chew to Kew

It’s always a great sense of accomplishment to travel somewhere far away by bike. Other than commuting to work, my cycling usually involves travelling in loops from home to home. So it’s always fun when the opportunity arises to use the bike as a genuine mode of transport.

On Thursday I rode from the Chew Valley (Someset) to Kew Gardens (London), a distance of 132 miles / 213km. I left at 7.30am and arrived just before 5pm. Total riding time was 8 hours, plus regular stops for coffee, pasties, sandwiches, chocolate and more coffee.

7:30am start – 21st century “bike-packing”

I was going to ride the steel-frame touring bike, but a friend lent me his seat-pack so that I could ride the carbon fibre lightweight bike. I reckon this probably saved about an hour on the journey time compared to the heavy old steel frame plus rack and panniers. When you’re staying in hotels and buy all your food with a credit card you’re basically cheating at proper touring anyway, so you may as well go the whole hog and ride a race bike!

It was fairly mild when I left, but then I entered a thick cloud of fog which seemed to cover most of Wiltshire. For at least an hour I rode along saying “f**k it’s cold” on repeat. Travelling light has its limitations on kit so I just had to man-up and ride on.

Fog angst – this innocuous, mildly inclement weather resulted in some persistent swearing

I ended up riding through parts of Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, Berkshire, Surrey and London. I stuck to quiet lanes and B-roads so it was like a trip through the lost lands of middle England; places unvisited by the fast-paced A-roads and motorways. With the sunshine it was blissful. A land of fields, tractors, thatched roofs and the raw smells of manure!

Pewsey White Horse on the hills in the background (Wiltshire)

The roads were quiet and I hardly encountered any bad driver incidents, which was good. I think the worst moment was a lorry driving too fast down a dusty lane. I pulled off the road and we exchanged un-plesantries as he passed. He was quickly followed by an old gent driving a TVR who looked just like Michael Caine, who shouted “don’t mind a bit of dust do you fella!” and sped off before I could explain that it was the out-of-control, 10 tonnes of metal that I’d minded rather than the effing dust. I spent the next ten minutes thinking that it definitely had been Michael Caine, and the next ten minutes deciding that it definitely hadn’t been Michael Caine. This is the kind of petty, repetitive nonsense that goes on in my head during a long ride. Which is a nice change from the stresses of normal life.

“Was that? It definitely was! No, surely he wouldn’t be driving a bloody TVR… “
With great views comes great amounts of climbing!

The last hour was a bit of a slog through the never-ending suburbia of Greater London and then Central London. 7 hours of quiet countryside, followed by an hour of traffic lights, cars and pollution so thick you can taste it. For all its positives there’s a lot about London that I don’t miss – traffic being one of them. I’m not sure whether I’d cycle if I lived there now. Maybe I’m just not used to the stress and intensity of that type of riding any more. It felt dangerous.

Crossing the serene Thames in Kew (f**k-loads of traffic everywhere not in the photo)

I arrived at Kew at 5pm. Timed perfectly for beer o’clock. My wife joined me the following morning, having driven in the support vehicle so there was fortunately no need to cycle home again. A great adventure and nice to put the fitness to practical use.

“Pint of Camden Taaan, guv” – Looks authentic, but was actually a pint of Cornish ale!

Bath Half Marathon – 1:22

Having big plans is one thing, but following through is another. I’ve surprised myself this year by sticking with a single fitness plan – get quicker at running! Even in the face of winter weather and the constant distractions that life throws at you. With a solid winter of training, and 1:25 in the hilly Tunbridge Wells half marathon 5 weeks ago, I arrived at the start line of the Bath Half feeling relatively confident of a good time.

I hadn’t participated in a huge race for years, probably not since the London Marathon in 2004. So I’d forgotten about the claustrophobic bedlam at the start of these events. I cycled to Bath and then jogged to the ‘Runners Village’ as a warm up. It was mayhem. I’d given myself an hour just to go to the toilet and check my bag. I nearly missed the start!

From the off, there were so many people around me it was surreal. Like running in a swarm. I ran the first km in 3:40; the second in 3:43 surrounded by a heaving mass of runners. I genuinely started wondering if the calibration of my watch was wrong as it was so busy. It was a good 4 or 5km into the race before the pack started to split up and I found more breathing space.

The atmosphere around the course was electric. The pavements were lined with cheering people and there was live music blasting out in several places. The route is a double-loop of the city centre which makes supporting more fun. In a couple of places there was such an intense wall of noise it felt enough to stop me in my tracks!

From the halfway point onwards I knew I was on for a PB so I banked it rather than push beyond my limits and risk blowing up. But with threshold racing it’s small margins – running at 99% can feel like cruising; running at 101% will make you stop and puke!

I ended up finishing in 1 hour, 22 minutes and something. A solid PB and around 6:20 per mile / 3:52 per km average. My heart-rate was at “threshold” for 1 hour and 15 minutes!

I didn’t feel too bad the next day. But two days later and I’m feeling shattered, with really sore feet. I ran in ‘flats’ which are arguably a bit lightweight for this distance. I race on feel, and likewise I train on feel. So right now my body is telling me to rest and I’m heeding that advice. And of course just enjoying the feeling of accomplishing a goal. Time for a break before the next challenge …

Chewy-Roubaix 2019

I organised a Spring-Classics style club ride last weekend. I’m heading out to Belgium next month with a few friends and club mates to ride the Paris-Roubaix sportive and to watch the pro race the next day. So I decided we needed something grimy and gnarly to prepare ourselves for the onslaught. And so ‘Chewy-Roubaix’ was born. 13 people decided to take part. They were warned it would be a nasty ride!

Chewy Roubaix ‘Sector 1’

The route was a series of grimy back lanes, punch climbs, farm tracks, forestry trails and even a bit of token pavé for good measure. Albeit pristine, Cathedral Square pavé!

The Hell of the North, this is not

Everyone made it to the midway coffee stop but it became a bit attritional from then onwards. The wind was brutal and the weather kept switching between sunshine to rain and hail. On a normal club ride we’re more civilised and wait for dropped riders, but Chewy Roubaix was an unmerciful ride. To be fair, most dropped riders pleaded to be left to die alone in peace. We rode on and wished them luck in finding their way home.

Bastard hail – this shit hurts your face
‘Zing zing’ – under siege

With 10km to go we were down to 6 riders. We stopped for a reviving snack and a serious debate about finishing the course or just calling it a day. Everyone was broken. We resolved to finish the madness we’d started and rode on, two short but brutally steep climbs finishing us off. It started hailing again.

Through the woods

Next weekend’s club bun run will be the usual friendly, sociable riding on smooth tarmac with all riders back home at a reasonable hour to fulfil their family duties. But the memories of Chewy-Roubaix will live long …