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 …

Hitting the deck

It’s a funny sensation taking a fall on the bike. One minute you’re flying along the road, thinking nothing. The next thing you know, the road’s rushing up at your face at an angle. Then you realise you’re laying on the wet ground, legs tangled between a bike and you should try and stand up.

I took a spill today. Nothing major. The inevitable bruised hip and torn kit. And a big scuff to my helmet. Good thing I was wearing one, I remember it bouncing into the floor. The fall was within the first 10 kilometres of a planned 60 km ride. I got up and readjusted my glasses, straightened my skewiff bars and gave my body and bike a quick once-over. Finding no significant damage to either, I got back on the bike and carried on for the remaining 50km. Like a pro!

Today’s ride – featuring mud, grot, a mechanical and a crash. Spring Classics or what!

Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon 2019

I was back in Tunbridge Wells this weekend, catching up with family and friends … and running my hometown half marathon.

The race has grown in popularity since I last ran it 15 years ago. Back then it was just a handful of runners – yesterday’s race had over 1500 entrants. It was a bit of a spontaneous opportunity to see my family so the race itself was very much a low-priority event. Therefore my goal was to have a low-stress race and enjoy myself … but to reap the rewards of a solid Winter’s training and beat my younger self obviously!

It was a fantastic event by the TW Harriers getting all the important details right like marshals, signage, bag-drop and lots of toilets! And there was great support out on the route through some beautiful and hilly Kentish villages. A brute of a mile-long climb at Fordcombe did some damage to my pace and energy reserves but that’s what makes this such a notoriously tough race.

I ran with a group for the first half of the race, clocking an initial 10K PB of 38:53. Certainly a lot faster than I had intended but the race is mostly downhill to start before the climbing begins so it felt quite manageable.

The course profile with my pace overlaid
At the halfway point I found myself breaking from a nice little group, without it necessarily being a conscious decision


A Royal Flush of PB’s

Racing at threshold is as much a mental as physical battle so I try not to overthink decisions during a race. Fortunately I had judged it well and didn’t see the group again. To the extent that I had the luxury of an empty stretch of tarmac over my shoulder for the final mile and could cruise home for a solid 31st place and a personal best time of 1:25:09.

Eyeing up the finishing line

My priority early season race is the faster and flatter Bath Half in 3 weeks time. So my goal for this race was to reacquaint myself with the longer distance and survive without any cock-ups. Saying all that, writing this the evening after the race I’m definitely feeling pretty tired. I guess there’s no ‘easy’ way to run 13 miles … especially when you give your wife a weekend to herself and wrangle the children on top! On to the next one …

Tunbridge Wells Half Marathon – still smiling!

Going tubeless

I decided to go tubeless. It’s all the rage apparently. Excellent puncture resistance and ride quality, they say. A small sacrifice in weight apparently, but on a steel frame commuter bike it’s all just extra training! Why the bloody hell not. Embrace modern technology you old fart.

First outing on the space-age tech was this morning’s 20 mile commute to North Bristol. With my reformed stone-age mentality, I set off at 6.30am to be at work for 8am. Half an hour in and I felt the unfamiliar sensation of a flat. I’d previously been riding on the same Conti 4 Seasons for almost 2 years without one. Why oh why would the evil Puncture Gods choose to smite me now. After several years being a devout retro-grouch and resisting all change to tubeless I’d finally made a sacrifice to the Gods and killed off my clinchers.

Spadge leakage

No drama I thought. Just stick in a bit more air in and wait for the magic sealant to fill the hole. This didn’t work. Therefore, drama.

Luckily I had a couple of spare inner tubes so I decided to ‘just’ whip off the tyre and stick in a tube. Ho-ho. It went roughly like this:

  1. Struggle to remove tight-as-fuck tubeless tyre
  2. Legs and shoes get sprayed with sealant
  3. Struggle to remove valve with freezing fingers
  4. Insert tube getting sealant all over hands
  5. Struggle for ages to get tight-as-fuck tubeless tyre back on rim.
  6. Break a tyre lever.
  7. Realise that I will probably split the inner tube with the lever but also realise I have no alternative so press on
  8. Once tyre is on, use ‘magic’ CO2 canister to reinflate tyre.
  9. Notice that tyre is not reinflating, therefore realise I am simply polluting atmosphere with magic CO2
  10. Look around, see that nobody is nearby and shout “FUCK” at top of lungs
  11. Realise that some of the cars that are driving past are probably thinking “ha ha, stupid cyclist”
  12. Repeat steps 1 – 5 with second tube
  13. Locate backup mini pump. Try to reinflate second tube. Pump is broken. Haven’t used it for years.
  14. Stand on side of road for 10 minutes waiting for another cyclist.
  15. Flag him down and kindly borrow his pump
  16. Inflate tyre and say big thanks bro etc.
  17. Recommence journey
  18. Notice that tyre is going flat again.
  19. Repeat Step 10
  20. Phone a friend who laughs. Decide to ride to friend’s office as there is a bike workshop next door
  21. Ride 5 miles on a flat tyre. Almost fall off on a couple of corners
  22. Get to friends office at 8.15am. Everything is closed.
  23. Reception opens at 8.30am and they have a magic bike repair box
  24. Take a new inner tube from magic box
  25. Discover that someone has borrowed the pump from the magic box and not returned it
  26. Get friend to help install 3rd tube.
  27. Repeat steps 1 – 5, being thankful that friend also finds it a massive effing struggle and it’s not just me being a puny woos-bag
  28. Wait for bike workshop to open and borrow track pump
  29. Go to friend’s office for a nice cup of coffee
  30. Continue journey to work and arrive at 10.15am, almost 4 hours after setting off
  31. Be grateful that first meeting at work is not until 11.30am
  32. Eat food and drink coffee
Thumbs up for tubeless

Luckily my journey home was totally non-eventful. General advice from people I’ve spoken to is that new tubeless tyres can take a couple of rides to ‘bed in’ properly. Maybe I should’ve done a couple of local rides on them first.

Broken lever, pointless CO2 – rescued by a proper Conti tube

Change, eh. Who needs it!

Luckily, sometimes things are so bad that they end up being funny. And you realise that if this is the biggest hardship you have to deal with in life then you’re doing pretty well.

N+1, the full scientific rationale

In the name of science (but mostly marketing) I recently landed the gig of pedalling and posing in a wind tunnel. I got a call from 220Triathlon asking if I’d be interested in a day’s work being prodded, poked, photographed and tested at the new Boardman Performance Centre in Evesham.

future

The morning was spent with a physiologist who carried out a biomechanics analysis of me. I had a bunch of electrodes stuck to my body and rode a Watt Bike with state-of-the-art pedals to analyse every conceivable force in my pedal stroke, while sat on a pressure-sensitive saddle to electronically map every squeak of my bum. It produced a wealth of information – probably more data than was needed to send man to the moon, and certainly more than I would know what to do with. But nonetheless, it was pretty cool to geek out and have an insight into all the technology that’s being used by professional cycling teams these days.

The afternoon was spent playing in the wind tunnel.

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The real-time feedback was incredible. You can see from the image above that there was a screen on the ground in front of me. This displayed a side-on profile (with a baseline silhouette) and gave a reading for my current aerodynamic drag (CdA). Making small adjustments to my position told me the difference this was making to my drag.

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All of this data was being analysed by the technicians in the lab. We then ran a series of tests trying out different positions. For this they used a Boardman rig, partly as it was easier to make quick changes but also because they understandably wanted to get their branded bike in the magazine. They also had a selection of helmets for me to try.

There were a few quick fixes to improve my position, and others that may justify n+1 bike purchases. More on that in future blog posts!

As well as appearing in 220Triathlon, it appears I’m the also face (or more accurately the legs) of the new Boardman wind tunnel website. Luckily my face isn’t taking it too personally.

boardman site

So, no pressure then

I did some more work with 220 Triathlon magazine in September. They asked if I would spend the day running and cycling in various locations around Bristol for a feature on duathlon. I assumed it would be a review of the kit, but a couple of weeks before my big European-qualifying duathlon race, the mag dropped through the door with this headline:

220_356_P030-038_Duathlon_final

1 way to tempt fate

I would have been more suited to a feature on ways to f**k up a duathlon. Doing extra laps on the bike leg, turning up late for races, incurring time penalties, not practicing transitions, eating right before the start, going too hard on the first run, going too hard on the bike … I reckon I could come up with at least 36 mistakes I’ve made this season!

Obviously I’ve come in for a bit of justified mickey-taking from friends and club mates for all of this posing in lycra for photographers. But I now had the added a pressure to ‘smash’ my attempt at Age Group GB qualification.

p2

The first part of the shoot was carried out on the Clifton Downs. And before you ask, yes it definitely is a nice enough area to go for a run and leave your thousand-pound bike unattended by a park bench.

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I had several different outfits to wear for the shoot. I got changed in a wooded area in the middle of the park. Item 37 in a feature on duathlon / triathlon should be “lose any inhibitions about getting your bum out in public”. Fortunately, unlike at my recent hill climb, nobody called the police this day.

p5

The second part of the feature was in Leigh Woods. It was starting to get a little bit tiring by this point. I’d been running and cycling short distances, before turning around and doing it again and again for several hours. We finished off with some trail riding on a mountain bike.

p4

My “MTB-bro’s” all laughed at me for this picture. I don’t think the shaved legs and lycra shorts are very cool in their world! Apparently I look like a complete ‘newb’. They could well be right – the last time I did a mountain bike triathlon I misjudged a jump and hit a tree stump, sending me over the handlebars! I prefer to keep the rubber to the tarmac.

Anyway, I somehow managed to learn from most of my previous 36 ways to mess up a duathlon and qualified for the European Championships next season. Let’s hope I can smash that…

GB Qual

Bedford Autodrome Sprint Duathlon 2018

I took part in a sprint duathlon race this weekend – a qualifier for the Age Group Great Britain team, with the opportunity to compete in Europe next season. This actually only became a personal target earlier this year after placing well in duathlons and wondering whether Age Group GB might be attainable. There are 3 qualifying races each year with the top 4 finishers in each age group qualifying. By the time I’d decided to try and qualify, the first race had already passed. I entered the second race in May and was in quite a good position before shooting myself in the foot and accidentally doing an extra lap on the bike. So all hope of qualifying for the 2019 team would be on this final race.

Racing in the rain

The race was held at Bedford Autodrome on Sunday. I’m not sure whether its proximity to London and the South East made this a more popular event than the previous ones, or possibly because it was the last chance for people to try and qualify. But there were hundreds of people taking part and 25 people in my age group so a top 4 finish seemed like a big challenge.

The weather on race day was horrendous. I arrived two hours before the start but was in danger of wasting all of this time sitting in my car and watching the rain hammering down on the windscreen. I normally warm up by doing a few laps on the bike. It’s less fatiguing on the legs than running and means you can familiarise yourself with the course. But in torrential conditions this seemed more likely to lead to hypothermia than serve as a warm up. I racked my bike in transition and tried to leave my shoes and helmet in such a way that would prevent them filling up with rain. There are lots of little kit decisions to make in multi-sport events, and having never raced in heavy rain before I had to just apply my experience of training in the rain. I ditched the visor from my helmet as it would steam up and reduce visibility. But it wasn’t until I was on the start line that I realised I’d forgotten to leave my cycling shoes unfastened … a few costly extra seconds during transition. The bad weather was very distracting to my pre-race prep.

Sub-optimal conditions

I went for a 10 minute jog on the track in full winter clothing and then just milled around with everyone else waiting to start. I spoke to a couple of other competitors who both seemed far more nervous than me. One could hardly construct a coherent sentence! It’s a bit schadenfreude, but his nervousness actually made me feel more confident and settled. I was preparing myself for war so compartmentalised any feelings of guilt! With 10 minutes to go we were called out to the start line. I stripped off and made my way out, but immediately turned back once I felt the cold and the rain and realised I was going to freeze if I stood around for 10 minutes. I forced myself to wait until 5 minutes before the start time.

Technically a duathlon but involved a fair bit of swimming

By the time I joined the starting group it was a heaving mass of bodies. There were two different length races starting at the same time and several hundred people in total. I tried edging my way forward but people were grumpy about making space so I decided to just leave the group, walk around the outside and then run off up the track to warm up. When I turned around and jogged back to the start line, the people on the front line obviously opened up to let me through and out of their way. Once the horn sounded there was a lot of jostling and I was pushed around the first corner. Not in an aggressive way, probably just by an experienced runner who knew how to protect his personal space in a tight pack. It was pretty exciting.

Settling in to the run

My pace for the first kilometre was 3:25 and quite a lot quicker than my target of 3:45/km so I eased off. My goals for the race were to pace it sensibly and avoid any big mistakes. Not to engage in warfare with other competitors, so I didn’t worry too much about how my pace affected my position. There was a long race ahead.

I completed the first 5km run in 18:03 (average pace of 3:39/km or 5:50/mile). My transition went fine considering the conditions and I headed out onto the wet track. The 20km bike leg was four laps with 9 corners each lap. With the need to slow down significantly on the slippery track it ended up being a series of short sprints rather than the usual consistent speed of a timetrial. And once the track had filled up with everyone it felt more like a chaotic road race than a timetrial. It was quite good fun, although there were a couple of hairy moments when I felt like I’d approached a corner a bit too quickly. Luckily I made it round without any incidents but I saw a few people overshooting corners and heard that unfortunately there’d been some crashes. I average 276 watts which felt good considering the amount of coasting through corners.

Grim

The final run of a Sprint Duathlon is only 2.5km and the time to empty the tank. My body hurt and my feet were completely soaked and frozen. It felt like having two slabs of meat attached to the bottom of my legs. They were not a part of my living body. In comparison to my competitors I am generally faster on the bike. Whilst this makes the bike leg quite enjoyable, it has the consequence of being overtaken on the final run. I just have to accept that the people overtaking me probably had a significant gap over me following the first run and I caught them on the bike. I lost about 3 or 4 places, but was pushing myself as fast as I could go. My average speed was 3:49/km or 6:09/mile which is quicker than I normally manage for the final run. Once I reached the home straight I took my first look over the shoulder and saw a healthy gap to the person behind. I also saw the clock was 59 minutes something so had the added satisfaction of beating the hour.

Sub-hour

I congratulated a couple of competitors who I’d been racing against and printed out my results ticket. I said a quick prayer to the Duathlon gods and looked. 4th place in my Age Group! It was a great feeling to have hit my goal, and I immediately headed off to get some dry clothing on. My whole body was shaking, probably from a mix of adrenaline and the cold. I drove the whole 3 hours back to Bristol wearing a hat and coat with the heaters on full blast! And stopped twice for the best-tasting, worst-food! Never before has a Burger King tasted so amazing!

I have to wait for official confirmation from British Triathlon that I’ve qualified for the team and then hopefully there will be instructions on what happens next. Team GB kit with my name on it and a big race in Romania next summer beckons. What a great way to end the season.