Thursday, July 27, 2017

Alpe d'HuezTriathlon 2017 - the first in a potentially long list of sequels

Pre race

There are no rides in the UK that can prepare you for the Alpe d'Huez tri. It is possible that only hours of gruelling power sessions on the turbo are the solution. Or if you happen to be particularly keen and rich, 5 weeks in the Alps before the race. I had 3 days.

Tipi in the rain on Sunday and MOnday.
 On the first day I rode 65 miles at a fast pace with a Dutch in line skater called Stephan who was in the Alps with friends from his winter training spin club. Although it wasn't planned, this ride turned out to be a great reminder of how to descend as he shot off down every hill ahead of me.  There are no photos of this ride as parts were rather cold and wet and the rest went down hill with great speed!

On the other 2 days I just spent time at altitude, encouraging the body to adapt by doing short runs and then chilling out and doing chores. You can rock up the day before and do this race but if you want to feel good about the run, some acclimatisation is essential. 
This is me, excitedly acclimatising whilst spotting Emma Pooley's name on the start list near mine.
Before the race, I also met JP – in fact the first person I met on arrival at the beautiful Ferme Nomenie Campsite in Borg des Oisans.  He had been in the Alps for a week already and had been riding in the hills every day.  Jealous.  JP wouldn't listen to me when I told him I wasn't very good, just passionate and he said I was just being modest.  In truth, I had no idea how I would do so modesty didn't come into it.  All I had was a plan to meet the cut-offs and that was it.

There is a lovely outdoor pool at Alpe d'Huez which could have been a lovely way to get altitude low impact training done but I just wasn't that organised. Swimming in the lake is normally a no no due to the large hydroelectric turbines causing trouble with currents and the like.  This brings a feeling of 'what lies beneath ' to the swim in the seemingly bottomless lac du Verney.  So clear you can see your hands but not a lot further in the endless deep.

As a result of my 'altitude training' I got to choose a parking spot for the week. Always empty, surprisingly near to everything. I hoped it would still be there race day and it was. I was still early to set up my T2 and satisfied that my organisation paid off as I calmly unpacked my pile of stuff then headed back to the car to change into my bike kit to descend to the start and T1.

Down the hill again.
On the descent from the Alp to Vallard Reculas
The great advantage to my parking spot was there was still a part of the Alpe d'Huez climb I had not used in the car - the last 3 bends. I watched a steady stream of athletes coming down it and joined them on the way down to T1 and the start.  We then all turned off to Villard Reculas and therefore I had ridden only a short section of Alpe d'Huez - and in reverse too.

There was a lot going on at the approach to the Villard Reculas turn. An English team were fretting about going the wrong way and someone behind was also shouting.  Despite having tried the Reculas road in the car and given up with the traffic, narrow passing places and sometimes upwards incline, every one seemed to be going that way so I followed, knowing it was the shortest route.  I waited to make sure everyone in the English team had seen the turn.

It was a beautiful ride and indeed the shortest route to the start. With my wetsuit in the dry apidura bag on the seat post of my bike, nothing was hindering my body movements down the hill and I descended faster than most around me - not that anyone was racing except two blokes who danced by in close succession like a couple of mating dragonflies.

As I made it through the mass of people suddenly scrabbling for their numbers at check-in I finally got to say hi to one of my idols, Ms Emma Pooley.  I literally gabbled something at her, whilst she was contained enough to calmly wish me a good race.  I didn’t even have the brain to say, “you too”, sorry Emma!

In transition, the organisers had kindly put me and my  (as yet unknown to me) team mate, Justin next to eachoher.

As he is now living in Switzerland, I updated him on all things Sheffield and relaxed. Then JP  (from the campsite) turned up and asked, with some horror if I was Ok! Confused? I had one lens missing from my glasses and he assumed I had already taken a spill.


I momentarily considered a ride to the campsite to retrieve a different set of  lenses but no, no time. In a moment of genius I decided to resort to taking my goggles with me on the bike just in case I needed that kind of Mediterranean sunshine eye protection for alpine riding.  Justin either thought I was a nonce or a genius.  I didn’t see him again all day so we’ll never know.

And we were heading for the water.
Lake Verney from the barrage.  As you swim back to T1, this is the view.  Stunning.

The Swim 

Queuing to get in, I started my watch as soon as I hit the water to make sure I got it going.  I was still swimming to the start line when the starter horn sounded. Others were still just getting in the water. It was a good 5 minutes swim to the start.  I was about 60 seconds late by the time I started my swim.

I swam direct. Don't know why but some chose to swim wide meaning I mostly felt alone until I reached the buoys and everyone came piling in. Still it wasn't too rough and the first lap was a joy with sighting off the mountains being a real problem as I had to lift my head quite high out of the water. Still, the main buoys were upto 500 m away, so also pointless. The water was crystal clear and the temperature 15.7 degrees so not at all painful for me although I did wear my vest to ensure I was in the best condition coming out.

The second lap passed without incident and I clamoured for the proffered hands of volunteers amongst plenty of other people. The crowds were amazing.

My hands were a bit screwed so transition took time to happen. I chose to do the bike in real bike shorts so stripped out of bikini bottoms under a towel but left my tri top on and added my bike jersey.

The Bike

Going out of transition around the ditherers, I got a cheer from Wakefield tri before joining the road proper and tried not to get caught up in an American arguing with a  French driver that decided the best way to leave site was to do a 3 point turn in the middle of the race.

Longhorn on the bike route
With my Garmin on map, 2 things became clear: l wouldn't need the map because the marshals were excellent; the map was shite and I was almost immediately off route.

Still, I had approximate elevations to ride to.

I realised quickly that goggles around my neck felt un-aerodynamic and made me look like an amateur so I managed to undo them enough to pull off over my helmet and stuff them in my pocket. Then we turned onto the main road and the traffic got serious. I deployed Sheffield riding techniques  to sneak through on the inside of some vehicles and as my bike crashed through a pothole whilst undertaking a huge tipper truck I was instantly chuffed to be riding my cross bike.  I passed plenty more athletes here before turning onto the first climb of the day where they all soon passed me back.

I had a plan. I had set myself some target speeds to ride to on each climb but although they transpired to be ambitious most of the time, I had just proved that descents were closer to 47kph average than my projected 30kph average. So I went with what felt easy rather than struggling to meet an unattainable target and being shafted by the time I reached the AdH.  My Monday ride had taught me that much.
Sweeping bends and camel rolls

I also decided to save my backside a little.  Monday's ride taught me that I am not used to sitting in the saddle for long hours but actually standing on pedals.  There are also more breaks in a Peak district ride, so I stood up occasionally to avoid saddle sores. To my horror I found myself riding to my heart rate monitor, another thing Stephan had reminded me to do.  Whilst training in the UK I'd got away with riding to feel but by hovering around zone 2 with occasional forays into zone 3 I knew I'd definitely see out the distance.  First I had to get over the initial zone 5 warm up burn and later I found myself irreconcilably stuck in zone 1 with no mojo to go any faster.  This is something I can work on for next time.

Quite a few gents were stopping for a wee but, ever conscious of being dqd by an over-zealous official, I was waiting for the portaloo located on a switchback of the climb that I had reccied on Monday.  To my horror it was gone.

Just past wee-gate I witnessed my first drop out of the day. An English speaker, asking the ref about the rest of the climb and then, which was the best way back. I had all the answers and encouragement but by the time they leached to the surface I had moved up the road and his race was no more.

I  zipped my trisuit up to pass the officials, unsure of the french rules.

While the climb pushed my body to reabsorb some of the Lake Verney water in my belly I was bursting by the time I reached the summit.  Seeing bikes parked outside a small building I joined a steady stream of women entering and leaving what is least described as an old-fashioned squat toilet WC and better articulated as 'The Gates of Hell'.

"I don't give a shit right now"… was followed by, "but somebody did". I discovered just how upright I can stand to pee as I grasped the door handle to avoid my lady-bits hovering anywhere near the littoral shit storm that had happened in that room.  The lady outside kindly warned me not to flush for fear of spraying it everywhere. I cut my pee a little shorter and ran!

At once thinking, well, I am going to get sick from this and a second later arriving at the aid station and shovelling oranges and melon into my mouth with *that* hand. Wonders how many sanitary wipes I can justify bringing next year.

The aid station was amazing. All that food and as I left, a boy offered me some cheese. Perfect! I hadn't even needed to bring my own. There seemed to be a lot of people treating it like a sportive aid station. I mean I presume they have cut off times too but there was almost an Audax level of loitering.

Off down the back of the Grand Serre and now I quickly started to pass people I had not already left behind eating whatever it is people were finding time to eat.

There was a rotund kid on a racy bike with insufficient gears and Rachel the English lady, Windmills (a bloke from Cambridge), numerous others I had not yet named and a middle-aged Spanish man who was to become a close comrade.

I passed one guy on the right in an undertaking manoeuvre as he was otherwise hogging the white line.

I was so glad I reccied this descent because when the hill ran out I flew out the last corner in a tuck with all the speed to carry me part way across the flat before leaning on my bars with my wrists and time trialling the rest of the way.

Next climb - Col du Malisol. A little blip on the descent of the Serre but a noticeable one and this time I took a bottle fill of juice. I had some banter with the French marshal, leaving them saying, "not the first time we heard that today and won't be the last either". Yes! My jokes may be predictable but I can deliver them in French!

Beyond the road that Stephan and I took on Monday, the Garmin started to freak out that we were off route again. For a while I panicked. There was no one behind or in front. Did I miss a turn?  Thankfully, checking the notes I had zip tied to my top tube, I remembered that my map distances differed from those published so was slightly reassured that I was riding on the missing part. My Spanish friend caught me in my hesitation and we rode the remainder of the descent playing tic tac toe as each of us had our strengths or lapses in concentration like the beautiful stone bridge that we crossed and the impending Col d'Ornon.

I also caught up with an Irish guy as we passed and marvelled at a club cyclist the other way sporting an amazing handlebar 'tache. Irish was struggling a bit he said and sure enough as the road started to kick up to Valbonais I left him behind again.

The Valbonais control was huge, occupying the whole square in front of the church. More people milling around.  On my approach my main concern was finding my food bag as it was 1pm and the earlier fruit fest didn't make a lunch for me. In the food bag there was a tin of tuna with my name on it... or my racebib number at least.

By the time I had racked my bike alongside English Dave, I turned around to find a nice lady holding out a familiar looking food bag. I snaffled the tuna into my pocket thinking that I wouldn't want to eat it before the top. I then disposed of any crap and, knowing that I wasn't planning to linger, discarded the cheap stuff and kept the expensive biscuits and nougat that I bought on the ferry. I just about squeezed it into pockets and the nose bag I had on the bike, asked English Dave if he was OK (no, struggling a bit) and carried on.

Beyond the aid station the road continued to climb quite steeply. I ate what I had left of earlier food but was still hungry so before I ran out of trees I stopped in the shade and devoured my tuna. A short way down the road I pulled in to bin my tin and plastic fork.

Sidebar: a few people have laughed/balked/gagged at my tin of tuna. I have been accused of being a cat. When I bonked on one of my training rides, I stoked the fire with a baked potato and tuna. Katy Campbell could have sworn that Chrissie told her something about taking potatoes on rides but I suspected I wouldn't want to eat any form of potato that had been in a plastic bag in the back of a van for 4 hours or more in Alpine sun. The tin of tuna, however, seemed much more achievable and so I selected a thyme flavoured dish with a rip-off lid and packed a disposable fork. To save the discussion on tuna going any further, I experienced no cramps or burping as a result and felt fully replenished until Alpe d'Huez.

I set off on the gentle slopes on Ornon pretty much alone. A few touring cyclists to say hello to and eventually, Spanish man danced by. The cliffs above Ornon are part of the Ecrins national park and were enough to get me up the hill. Unlike the other climbs the Ornon doesn't go above 7% grade so I just span up with the occasional gear change to stand up for a bit.

Next stop Perrier. I heard it before I saw it. First the wuwuzella. Then children's voices. Around 7 kids by the roadside shouting. The main man chanting his wares like a London marketseller, "welcome to Perrier on the Col d'Ornon. We are here to offer you water top up to replenish your bidon. Revitalise".

High-fives were requested and given. Then came the aid station where an elderly gentleman gave me exactly the amount of water I wanted whilst ladies spoke encouraging words.

I left very revitalised and with my ears ringing slightly.

The rest of the Col d'Ornon passed in a breeze. The climb was gradual and beautiful but I didn't have much company and was alone at the aid station.

I shovelled down more fruit and took the chance to eat an expensive gluten free chocolate snack I accidentally bought at the supermarket so I could bin my rubbish. Volunteers desperately tried to get me to take powerbar products but I said, "non je veut du fromage parceque le fromage c'est bien pour l'esprit". The circular-shaped woman couldn't argue with that one and I set off down the hill which had been described to me as "horrible"… by someonewho doesn't like descending (JP – who has now changed his mind!).

Mainly because I had it to myself, col d'Ornon descent was the most fun I have had on a bike in a long time. Race rules restricted me to my own side of the road and I wasn't going to get dqd for dangerous riding after all that effort. For a while the turns were engaging and then warm and then the view became familiar and I tucked it out to roll into the Borg des Oisans valley.

I was slightly confused with the route again and instructions for a mandatory stop. My bottle was still full from the top aid station and I had 1 hour left to meet my planned bike time. My Dutch friends  (who were much fitter than me) managed the Alpe d'Huez in 1:15 so I knew I was at least 22 minutes down on my planned schedule (including my 7 minutes delay to my swim time). I rode on through and no-one seemed to try to make me stop. I even threw some litter in the bin to make sure I had been seen so, I happily tapped on through, quietly on my own and the next thing I knew I was registering my start on the timing mat for the great ascent of Alped'Huez.

In all my years on a  bike I have not yet ventured here. I admit I got a little emotional, partly due to respect for the Alpe and partly because I was really chuffed to have made it that far.

The first three slopes are steep at 15% and as instructed I took them easy. There wasn't much else to do, for me. To my surprise though, I seemed to be going better than most of the men I was with who all kept stopping to rest in the shade except for Windmills who caught me up and ribbed me for letting a flatlands bloke beat me up the mountain.

When JP told me he wanted to ride the whole thing in one go, I had looked at him funny. It never actually occurred to me that I might stop and rest. It's not in my mentality to rest on a climb. I just go slower. I was grateful to him for introducing the idea that I might not ride the whole thing in one go - it meant that I wouldn't be heartbroken if I had to stop, I just would.

When I did stop though, it was at the aid station because I was hungry and I decided to ditch my dried fruit and just take the nuts and eat some real fruit. In doing so I found the nougat which carried me forward. Memories of Kielder Forest. Having mostly emptied my bottle already, I also ditched the last down the back of my neck and then down my front before taking another fill.

As I passed the next bend I fist-bumped a swiss rider who was struggling with the heat. The tubby kid on the over-geared bike also came by again. I was surprised but chuffed he was still going. There was also a kiwi and some more British, still hanging out on shady corners. I just kept thinking that the higher i got the cooler it would get.  The Swiss rider's supporters started to cheer for me as well as him as they gradually followed us up the climb in their VW Touran.

I took on more water at Huez crossing but by now I was in the swing of things and had as much food as I needed. In fact, I ditched the last of the nuts. I was looking forward to the as-yet unseen section of uphill and passed back Windmills resting in the shade.

Then panic struck. I got shooting pains through my left foot. I know for sure that the cleat is slightly out but hadn't adjusted it for fear of making it worse. There was no way I could stand on it and worried it wouldn't hold out to the top. It didn't feel like cramp but the beginning of a strain or worse, nerve damage. With marginal relief I found that undoing the shoe helped and I managed to set the ratchet rather loosely without stopping or falling off. Sorted.

A blonde French lady caught me up.  On her tail was a non-race cyclist - a young girl just hugging any wheel she could find. As she passed she almost pushed me into the dirt so I asked for a bit of room.

Without apology she jumped onto my wheel and remained there for the remainder of the climb. It was both annoying and reassuring to have someone there. I thought she was another racer eventually so when we reached bend 1 she had to cope with my outbutst of, "Holy shit, we made it to bend 1".

I  didn't know at this point just how close I came to being timed out. For some reason I hadn't registered the 6pm cut off time and had remembered it as 7pm out of transition.  

As I raced for the line at the top of the hill, wondering to the whereabouts of my rapturous applause from the skater friends I expected to see there, I had no idea the clock was ticking on my race. It's a good job I had the legs on me to sprint because I decided to spin my legs before the run. 

As I reached what I thought was the summit, a voice from the crowd said, "Depeche-toi ils ferment P2 a…" the rest was lost to me but as far as I was aware, P2 closed at 7. I checked my notes but there was no mention of a P2-in cut-off. Still, I sprinted anyway.

I sprung over the line in an atmosphere of frank disinterest from the crowd. My thoughts now are with Irishman, English Dave, Spanish guy, Rachel. At the time my thoughts were for the time I had left in transition. I didn't want to run a half marathon in my Rapha cycling shorts but by god if I had to I would.

Fortunately there was a race official by my spot and I asked how long? "Ah, vous avez plein de temps". Loads of time. Great. Thought nothing of it.

Changed my shorts for something cooler with less padding and with great relief wriggled out of my cycling shoes and into my runners and jogged on. My left foot no longer hurt.

I had crossed the P2-in timing mat with (not that I realised) 5 minutes to spare.

The Run

The first lap I doused myself in water at the first aid station. I had already drunk quite enough on the climb… I mean, better in than carrying it. As I looped around to make the return trip I saw JP running the other way. We high-5'd and he confirmed he was finishing next lap.

Now there was more support. I ran past a lady carrying a sign saying, "go go you're awesome" and made her laugh when I pointed and said, "thanks, I'll take that".

The cheering continued in all languages with plenty of shouts from Brits for the Sheffield Tri kit.

I survived the first down and up, taking the brakes off as I had practised in training runs. I loved the off road section for the flowers, insects, cheering people. I was intensely relieved to find the portaloo still in place here and shut myself in for a good sit down to rid myself of all the excess water weight. Then I got hungry.

The aid station only seemed to be offering sweet stuff so I took what I dared (note to self: tomatoes don't work) and hoped there may be more elsewhere. The out and back was longer than I remembered it but I felt joy upon crossing the timing mat knowing there were 4, potentially 5 or more people in the UK giving a little cheer every time my lap time went up on the intermet.

On the return trip, at a (normally insignificant) hill climb, I came across a man in a Beeston cycles jersey offering encouragement to a bloke in a Bassetlaw Tri club tri suit. I joined in, "is this a local club run? Can anyone join?". Beeston ran with me for a bit, joking that the hill was 'nothing compared to Crookes'.

I left him to manage his other supportees – all of TFN plus around 10 other Brits he’d picked up during the day.

The descent back to town was damn quick. In P2, a gaggle of ladies scrambled to give me a band of the correct colour for my lap. Later JP commented that the amputee marshal had confused him by wearing spare bands on her partial arm and his Alpe addled brain couldn't compute it for a few hundred miliseconds. I know what he meant as a marshal shouted, "non, vous voulez blanc!" At me loudly “(do I?) Ahhhhhh. The white one.”

 Back to the first aid station and to my relief there was a large plateful of crackers and they were so salty it was amazing.  I grasped a huge handful to last me the lap and skipped off.

After I passed a man trying to throw up in a stream, I had a chat with a man from Doncaster and then caught up to Beeston man for more east midlands gossip. He also said, "everyone looks so much better on this hill the last time around" and I scoffed at him. At the time I was pretty sure my first passage would have been the best but damn sure I wouldn't be able to do it faster on the next lap.

I was sorry to see English Dave walking the other way with his bike, a rejection of the cut off. He looked relieved it was over but still disappointed.

That downhill to the finish again. I passed an Irish girl and asked how she was doing. "I'm absolutely dying" was the response but we ran together a short way and as the wind picked up and he cloud drew in I said at least the weather were more British and decided to worry about the political position of that statement later.

A little further along, another competitor was offering encouragement to two women running together.  I only caught the end of the conversation but he had asked if they were going to finish and one was saying, “We’re going to if they let us”.

Through P2 again and a blue band this time, more crackers and more English cheering as well as French. 

A Russian guy passed me on the down and up and we had a nice chat until I diverted to pat a dog - as l do now for good luck. I tried a final few jelly beans then tried to hold on to them as I passed a man on his knees retching into the grass. I tried in 2 languages to ask if he was going to be Ok but all he could do was groan at me.  There were plenty of people to help if he collapsed so I carried on.

Beeston was right. I did feel better up that hill on the last lap. My form was all to pot but as long as I slapped my feet on the ground fast enough they were ticking over quite well. Time for the downhill then reaching the tiny uphill kicker where, yes, the legs were still working. 

Through P2 for the last time and a black band and I can see Russian running with someone else. It's now finally over and I find the strength to pass both men on the uphill. There's one loop of around 100m to go and I see JP walking the other way screaming. I sprint, he sprints outside the barriers. I have no idea what Russian is doing. 

I look at my watch. I may have lost 19 minutes on the bike but I just took 22 minutes off my run time. I am screaming and streaming tears as I run down the finish straight. Something doesn't feel right. I can hear the words 'subject to verification' over the tannoy and am slightly worried but nothing can detract from what I have done. For moment I wonder if I’ve won the prize draw and someone is about to give me the keys to a Renault Clio but I don’t care because I’ve already won the best prize.

I feel like I have made up for Celtman. I have no idea how close I came to missing out. Someone gives me a medal and I momentarily consider the hot tub with a strange but nice Russian before deciding it’s too cold to walk around wet and instead I flop into a fatboy beanbag whilst JP brings me pasta.

Eventually I wrench myself out of said beanbag and head for the wetsuit collection point to retrieve my swim kit (minus goggles, plus half sunglasses) and P2 to retrieve my bike and other random discarded sweaty and unsweaty kit.  There I meet Irish girl who bypasses my British comments and gives me a hug and I get to high 5 Windmills who is setting off on his last lap.

The Aftermath

By the time we had eaten and found the strength to stand again, we were in no mood to find my mobile phone and call the rest of the team down at the campsite who had offered to cook us dinner.  We wanted to take some selfies in front of an alp (with JP’s phone), throw on a dry robe and drive down the hill – with the express instructions to JP that he had to do the gears if I got cramp and shout at me if I drove on the left. 

The passage was smooth (after we let some rushy people past) but we finally rocked into the campsite at 9:45, asking for more time to get changed before dinner.  Linda patiently served us ALL THE FOOD and then asked what had happened.  The story unfolded of the 6pm cut off.  Of competitors being stripped of their numbers and timing chips and forbidden from continuing.  The Dutch team hadn’t seen me come in and couldn’t see me on the run so when they saw the 6pm cut off, they assumed I hadn’t made it.  They watched the broom waggon come in and I wasn’t on it.  They texted me to find out where I was but my phone was buried deep in a kit bag in the car so obviously I hadn’t responded.

This started a conundrum of emotions as I started to fear that I had sneaked under a line and would be somehow disqualified.  I still had no idea if the 6pm rule was valid so frantic result checking ensued. 

Thankfully I had a result and it clearly stated the time that I reached the top of the Alp was 5:55.  As I write this I believe only 10-15 people finished behind me and none of them were in my age group making me last in my AG.   There were 108 DNF/DQs and 117 DNSs.  I don’t know if the women who were going on to complete were acting with or without the official’s blessing.  I hope they did it and I hope they were given a result.  It took me a while to realise that I paced my ride on a route that was 12km short which accounted for 22 of the 19 minutes I went over my pace time on the bike.  I was also 4 minutes late off the swim start as the gun sounded when many competitors were either toeing the water or in-progress of swimming there (it was a good 5 minute swim to the start which I really wasn't prepared for).

It was incredible.  The route is awe inspiring.  Riding through the Parc des Ecrans was my favourite part, followed by the descent of the Ornon.  Alpe d’Huez itself was punishing and fulfilling though not my favourite bit this year, I think that maybe it will be when I smash it another year (he he).

The marshals directions were amazing.  The police support was amazing.  The aid stations were well stocked and enthusiastic to a fault (could have stayed there all day).  The personal service of drop bags all worked.  I couldn’t believe that at transition they had put teams together so I got to meet my only team mate out there.  Not only that but there was a little Sheffield corner with another guy representing Planet-X.  

They seem to have taken on board comments that the swim was too busy with boats and I didn’t experience any choppiness at all.  There wasn’t a moment on the bike that I felt lonely as aid stations were always just a climb or a descent away.  The run was so well supported by aid and spectators that it disappeared in no time.  

At the top of Alpe d’Huez I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put myself through the training for the race again.  By the time I got up off that beanbag, I was ready for another go.

Yes, this smile does say it all

Final results:
Overall: 10:44:47 15/17, 59/81, 794/1082

Swim:51:17 for 2.2km (and some) - 14/17, 68/81 752/1082
T1: 59:12
Bike: 7:19:52 for 114km and 3500m up - 15/17, 71/81 804/1082
T2: 2:54
Run: 2:21:49 for 21km and 395m up - 11/17, 66/81, 585/1082

Alpe d'Huez 1:50:10 14/17, 69/73 766/1082
Other splits:
Grand Serre - 12.5km/hr (budgeted 12)
Col du Malisol - 9.8km/hr (budgeted 14)
Col d'Ornon - 12.6km/hr (budgeted 14)
Alpe d'Huez - 8.5km/hr (budgeted 9)
General Descents - 34.8km/hr plus Ornon - 42.7 (budgeted 30)

Lessons learned:

  1. Be in the water 5 mins early to start the swim
  2. Get faster on the bike hills sooner
  3. Take less nosebag food.  Tuna still works.  Take some crisps for the run.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Last Big Ride before the Biggie!

I haven’t written about this week’s ride yet.  It was… bloody… brilliant.  The previous week was an exhausting effort, following which I could hardly stand up, never mind do the brick run I had planned – no matter how short a distance.  Part of the problem of course is I hadn’t planned it so it wasn’t an easy undertaking.  Instead of jumping into waiting running shoes, I had flopped into the bath. 
Last weekend I was determined to do my brick run to prove to myself that this running after 3500m of up is even doable.  I recognised that to achieve it I would need to be disciplined and not get caught up in any competitive nonsense with other people.  Instead I had to ride like I was riacing an Ironman and keep something in the bag.

I left home a little bit late because it kept raining.  I eventually committed to a rain coat but left in the damp cool air although relatively rain-free.  I was already bargaining with myself but managed to find the enthusiasm to climb straight back up out of the Rivelin on Hagg Hill, all the way up to the top of Lodge Moor, before diving back into the Mayfield Valley, only to surface again at the Norfolk arms and then I turned out to the Peak. 

I’ll never bore of the road down from Burbage across the front of Stanage and down through the woodlands to Bamford.  A quick switch across the main road then puts me onto the Thornhill Road to Hope without seeing another person this time. 

AND this time the café was open and I actually took the time to eat something before tackling any more climbing.  It was a perfect moment indoors, just settling myself before the next climb ahead.  My only mistake was to eat soup although I did have a chocolate tiffin just to make the time pass a little slower and fill up my belly a little deeper. 

The Edale Road was so much better without noobies to get in my way.  Three lads passed me and I didn’t take up the challenge but did ride past them again when they stopped for a puncture.  They passed me back on the climb up Mam Nick and then I passed them back over the top as the front two stopped to wait for their mate. 
This time there was no debate in my mind about getting extra hill climbing out of Pindale.  I was going to do a distance ride and collect what ever hill climbing happened to come out of it.  I also didn’t want to bash my bits on the offroad section so I could do that brick run.  I turned right instead of left.

I flew by onto the No Car Café road which I covered in its entirety without being caght by the chasing group, despite listening to their incessant chattering all the way along.  At the lights they stopped to chat and decided to ride with me for a little longer although I managed to shoehorn it in there that I was doing a big loop around Buxton and not heading straight home.

Eventually they turned off and I took the road back down to Peak Dale and across onto my new favourite climb – Coombs.  I don’t usually like to repeat routes but I’ve grown so fond of this one during my time training to Alpe d’Huez and it has been particularly rewarding to mould this route into the climbeyest one possible.

Near the top of the climb, I heard a car engine approaching but without menace.  I rode as sturdily and quickly (not very) as I could then pulled over to let the car pass.  A resounding applause and cheering raised from inside the car – mother and daughter shouting encouragement out the window at me as I climbed the hill.  I rode a little faster.

They turned right – the only legitimate route for cars.  I turned left and, scattering a duke of Edinburgh group, rolled along the only bit of off road for today.  It wasn’t much but the extra moisture from the earlier rain left me wondering just whether my road tyres would hold.  Thankfully they did and I made it to the top in one piece. 

Cue the crossing to the Goyt Valley and Errwood Reservoir. After the 18% descent and all the other riding I’d done I felt a little sketchy but I was strong and rode straight past the ice cream van this time.  The valley was pure bliss and I was passed by only one car and one rider who surged past me and on into the rest of his 60’s.
Over the Cat n Fiddle road and dropping down Axe Edge back onto familiar territory and into Miller’s Dale.
This time I remembered to take the turning up the hill to climb back out of the Dale instead of getting stuck on a hill climb on the main road.  It was a pleasure to be away from the traffic but it was also a bugger of a hill.  Thankfully shaded, it shot up a 1:4 for 100m before easing off into two switchbacks which kicked me out on the flat moor.  I eventually dropped back down to Tideswell before, much to my dismay, climbing straight back up the hill again (same one I did last week now) and regaining the moor. 

I then dropped back down into Bradwell where I considered ice cream but continued regardless into the Hope Valley.  Main roads weren’t appealing again, particularly since there were traffic lights holding traffic up so I retraced my steps through Thornhill and climbed up to the Bamford Road where I instantly felt completely exhausted.  Ah, the bonk.

I nearly rode past the Yorkshire Bridge Inn, thinking it to be too posh for sweaty cyclists but as I rode by the beer garden I realised the opposite was true and retraced my steps to lock up and wobble to the bar which wasn’t far.  I got a bench to myself for my pint of coke and waited patiently but not for too long for my baked potato.  Oh the saviour of baked potato!
It was a little worrying that I was that wasted when I arrived at the pub – I’d drunk more this time, even though it was cooler but I had dressed warm in my rain coat so had probably sweated just as much (good practice for hot riding).  It really was the calories and I need to be mindful to plan them properly on raceday.

Feeling fully fuelled, I found the energy to climb back over the A57 in one piece and actually with some grace.  As I watched the hill climb rise above 2670m, I realised there was a remote chance that I’d get somewhere closer to 3000m than I’d ever imagined. I threw the bike up to Rodside and rode the steep climb there without incident before enjoying the descent all the way back to Stannington.  There’s a short climb there before the drop to the bottom of the Rivelin Valley.  2800m on the clock!
By the time I rocked into the house I was actually fucking fine!

This time I’d planned my run.  I walked into the lounge, stripped all soggy wet cycling clothes into a heap on the sofa and somehow struggled my sweaty body into my running kit (I was determined to give running in skins a go since they’d done such a great job on the Kielder Ironman). 

I told TSK I’d be an hour – I felt OK.  Then I qualified it and said I might be half an hour – giving myself an out if I felt rubbish.  I’d just do 10k and maybe 5 if I felt bad.

I ran out the door.  I ran up the hill.  I ran along the rough path, I just kept running except for a tiny stretch of steep.  I ran all the way to the stairs above the A57 then descended to the bottom of the valley and retraced all the way along the bottom of the valley to the bridge near my house.  I even jogged part way up until I declared it silly and then walked.  It wasn’t quite 10km but I don’t quite care.  I’d proved to myself that I can ride 83 miles and climb a shit load and then go for a run which kind of feels OK.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday night out

My legs feel 'orrible right now but that's fine because it's been  a truly epic week.  After a hard ride last weekend, running full distance on Monday morning and bikes / runs in between, no wonder my legs feel rubbish.  All I need now is to check I can do this stuff (this weekend) and then carefully recover for doing it full-on properly in 13 days time.  I'm starting to feel tantalisingly confident.

Swimming always takes it out of me and because of that I always leave it till the last minute to nail the distance. After my short and chilly swim on Tuesday I was determined to nail the distance on Thursday so fully suited up and took the plunge under darkening skies.  The weather obliged and I had a comforting foot massage from the rain and a bit of choppy water practice to suit before it all cleared up again and I  swam my last lap in millpond conditions.
It wasn't hassle free by any means. I sprinted that last lap. Not because I was cold or bored but because I was just tired. I will have to keep going now  until my departure date to make sure I can comfortably do the distance, not struggle through and suffer onto the bike...

But it was done and it was over-distance and the time was about right so we're happy that I can do that bit now...

but then there's another opportunity to do a long ride and a brick run to persuade myself that running 13miles after this big bike is not actually going to kill me and so, swimming will happen Tuesday, before that, there will be miles... and a movie.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Bravery is presently defined as stepping outside your comfort zone in July

I decided to swim in a shorty wetsuit without sleeves today. More accurately, this morning as I left the house in warm air, casting my full wetsuit to one side with gay abandon. Only this evening as I left work in a stiff breeze and pouring rain did I question my decision.

Still, the whole point was to adapt to mountain lake temperature and get my distance in where possible. At least the lake will be warm.

It was. 20 degrees warm but I carefully folded my dryrobe on the shore to keep the towelling dry then shivered my way into the water, chatting to a friend as I went.

I had to make my excuses and set off for I knew my time was limited by my body's tendency to lose core heat.

A brief stop on the first lap might have jeopardised my distance swim but it was worth it to spend time in the water metres from the crested grebe I have never seen there before.

Lap 1 still dispensed with on time and I started lap 2 confidently but my technique started to fade, cramp sneaked under my chin and I started to shiver again. Oh well.

I kept going to the end of my loop, resisting the urge to take the short cut. Sure I was panicked because I was running out of energy but I wasn't going to shorten my short option. No way!

Needless to say, I survived. I wasn't shivering too badly when I got out and the dry robe put paid to much more discomfort.

Maybe I didn't do my distance but the adaptation to the cold felt much *much* more important.

I am looking forward to stretching it next time I swim.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Big Peak, Big Learning

It's been a while since I've done long long hilly rides but I was quite looking forward to my final Peak ride before Alpe d'Huez Triathlon in 2 weeks time.  I plotted myself a Peak District ride which was 80 miles based on last week's ride (70 miles) plus a variation around Buxton which would add another 300m to the total climb and 10 miles to the distance.  Whether an extra 10 miles for 300 m was worth it was a moot point since it took me into the Goyt Valley which I have been wanting to ride to for some time.  It always seems so far away though.  Like when I get to Chapel en le Frith I am crossing a border into my childhood training grounds and therefore it's a step too far - like I'm closer to my old home than my current home.

Anyway, I was confident I could push 80 miles and happy with the test of 2300m.

The first thing I did was drop into the Rivelin Valley below my house and then climb straight back out again up the steepest climb I know - Hagg Hill.  Over the top and back down into Hathersage via Stannage Edge.  Two couples passed me - both mere whippets in age.

At the bottom I caught up 5 riders crossing the main road to the back route to Hope.  I instantly got frustrated as I sat on the brakes behind them until I could surge ahead and get going again.  Two of the guys came back past me and I expected to see them some time later waiting for their friends.  Sure enough, they were waiting at a junction and I rode silently on.

In Hope I stopped in at the adventure cafe but it was closed for the village carnival so no lunch for me there then.  I'd get something after Mam Nick.  I continued on, now behind this group again, with them asking if I had been bitten on the narrow road.  They don't like the horse flies down there.  Oh well, suits me.  I stayed on the front of their group this time, knowing that I didn't want to sit on the brakes around the S-bend bridge or through the bends in the hamlets along this road.  Again, the same men came past me then sat up and rode at exactly my speed for the rest of the straight.

I put some effort in here and got around them before the next set of S-bends.  They sat on and then rode around me before sitting up for the straight.  I tried my best to get around them before the turn up onto Mam Nick but one of them came by me then sat on his brakes as we passed the second young couple to pass me earlier.  I got stuck behind him around the corner and under the bridge.  FFS!

Mam Nick was enjoyable, despite my deflated state.  It took until the last steep section for the young couple to catch me up and they weren't enjoying themselves nearly as much as me so I win.

Needless to say, I was knackered by the time I got to the top of Mam Nick.  The old dudes were sat there, waiting for their friends and planning to return to the bottom before going to Bradwell. OOoooooo.

Still, I felt OK so decided to boot in some extra climbing by taking a detour down Whinnats and up Pindale.  Got cut up by a Land Rover on the approach then sat on my brakes behind him all the way down the hill before he turned off into the car park.  Still, I cleared Castleton without killing any tourists and shot off up Pindale, happy to finally be away from the Honeypot.

It occurred to me that the Pindale road diverges from my pre-ordained route and i realised the only way back to it was to retrace my steps and re-climb Whinatts or use the Dirtlow Road track to access the A625 to Chapel again.  I opted for the second since I thought the first option might jeapordise the rest of my day.

Still, 100m were climbed over 2 miles on rough, loose stones with my 100psi road slicks bouncing all over the show.  It did eventually improve to gravel and then tarmac after I'd passed a few duke of edinburgh groups who opted to queue to climb stiles instead of open gates for me - and them.  Finally I was back en route and crossing over towards Peak Forest.

At Doveholes I started my traverse towards Chapel en le Frith.  First climbing the hill I so enjoyed last Monday, with crags above and no room for more than one vehicle on the lane.  This time I recognised it as Coombs, enhanced by the grey beardy men walking back to their cars with ropes... I remember this place...

Down the other side towards my Buxton loop now but with a massive hill climb to get over to the section I had been looking forwards to.   The only vehicle I met was a Derbyshire Outdoors bus driven by a lovely lady towing a trailer.  She not only gave me room to pass but encouragement.  By the time I got to the top of the hill I let out a huge bellow of relief.  I was so close to having to get off and walk with a sustained grade of over 12% for half a mile and up to 22%.

My Garmin then mixed things up by throwing me down another off-road lane.  Better than the last one but still sketchy in between the 10 inch wide slither of tarmac down the centre of the lane.

I was getting tired as I climbed up to the Buxton Road and zoomed out my Garmin to see just what this loop was.  The thought of dropping into the Goyt valley and having to climb back out again started to fill me with dread.  So much easier to turn left into Buxton and have some lunch and head home but what climbing and what solitude would I miss out on?  After a substantial wobble in determination, I turned right and plummeted into the Goyt Valley.  Litterally, down a 10% slope.

At the bottom I was relieved to find myself at Errwood Reservoir.  At least I now knew the climb out was long but steady, no surprising steeps.  Also, in at 1:30 pm and still not having eaten any real food, there was bound to be an icecream van somewhere.

Sure enough, I indulged in a mint Festival and sitting on the wall staring at the reservoir for 10 minutes.

The rest of the climb was dispensed with including encouragement from a bloke passing and I turned onto a tiny lane that I didn't even realise existed before today which would complete my Buxton circuit, dropping me out onto more familiar teritory around the back of the quarries and into Earl Sterndale where, despite my lack of lunch, I decided that the Quarryman's pub wasn't going to be my best choice for a lunch stop.  Thankfully, just on the edge of Moneyash, the Royal Oak provided me with a beer garden next to the road and easy access to a bench to lock my bike up and eat.  I lay on the grass to wait for my food and chatted to some leisure bikers who'd been bashing the railway trails.

It was 4:30pm.  Late lunch indeed.

With heavy legs, I had the luxury of Flag, Taddington and Priestcliffe, descending into Millers Dale where I finally had to pick up my feet and start climbing out again.  I gave myself until Tideswell before tackling the monster climb up to Wheeston (which had been earlier on my route but I had missed, getting caught up in the down hilling).  It was brutal to start at 10-12% but then pretty much rolled me over the tops before the thrilling descent into Bradwell, hopefully a good 4 hours after my earlier companions had been there.

Finally, I was somewhere familiar and I only had one big hill in between me and home.  Which way to go?  In the end I opted for the Ringinglow Road direct since I feel it's the most consistent and because I haven't yet used it in my hill climb campaigns.  I started to experience a certain consistency with my climbing legs.  There was a dull ache throughout my body just from riding that long and that hard and there were the pains associated with being in the saddle - sores and tight shoulders but my climbing legs did just keep delivering.  Sure I wasn't battling up hills like I had been in the morning but I wasn't just surviving them either.  When I stood on the pedals to climb, climbing still happened and it happened quite well.  The hard part became sitting down and I vowed no more long rides without my Rapha shorts.  For all the bling, they do their job.

And finally, the last climb to my house dispensed with, I cruised through Crookes and into Walkley feeling like I'd achieved the impossible... but I still have the impossible to go.  In two weeks time, I have to put it together with a half marathon and yesterday I felt like there was little possibility of me running anywhere - never mind a half marathon.  I got in and sat down and then I made a protein shake and stumbled to the bath and then I rubbed in after-sun and ate my dinner and fell asleep in front of the tour.

Regardless of how I feel yesterday, I'm thankful to the Alpe of having pushed me back into the world of real cycling.  It has to be simply years since I have done a hilly route like that.  Wild Wales Challenge?  Congleton Classic?  All around 2008? and I did those slowly and without form.  There were bits of this ride that I actually raced, bits that I sprinted up.  There were climbs that pushed me to my limits and climbs that I enjoyed immensely.

There was absolutely no chance of me going for a brick run after and I felt a little crushed but rather than feeling worried about the race, I realised I had some serious learning to make about today.

As a ride, I rode it as a single session.  I pushed myself, knowing that it was my last chance to get a good bike done.  It's difficult to mimic the Alps in the Peak district, you end up chasing climbs doing so many miles... and I'm not into laps or reps.  I hit mile 70 (race distance) with 2000m under my belt.  On race day, I'll have done an extra 1500m in a similar distance but I will have had long rests in between each climbing segment and the number of off-the-scale steepnesses is vastly reduced (I had to re-scale yesterday's map as it includes the 30% Hagg Hill and 22% grade out of Coombs).

Alpe d'Huez at the top, Peak climbs at the bottom.  The circled sections are my rests.
I learned that I only got through my bottle after 50 miles but then the temperature yesterday was only 20-22 (occasionally 26) degrees with a slight breeze to cool me down.  If it's hot at the Alpe I'll be using water to tip over my head as well as drink.

I learned that I can not do this on bars and gels alone and I will be making use of the aid stations and personal nutrition en route .  This is likely to include some jerky, parmesan (god love TNR) and peanut butter sarnies (though I don't like to rely too much on personal nutrition drops in case they get lost, I'll have to make do with whatever's on offer at the aid stations instead).

I realised I need a plan and one that I can and will stick to.  It's easy to say that I won't race people and will stick to my own pace on the day but that's not necessarily true as I have a tendency to get swept up in the moment since I'm so competitive.

I remind myself that today I was riding with race-surplus: tools, lock, keys, wallet, phone.  I will still have my jacket with me on race day... just in case!

My Peak ride was proof of what goes wrong when I ride it too fast.  What I need to do now is come up with the solution... and use my Peak weeks to prove that solution (ie. actually manage a brick run).  I also need a coping mechanism to see me through that run but make sure I meet the cut-offs at the same time.

Today, I am resting.  I may do some shopping and then, maybe tomorrow, I am going to waddle around my half marathon run and find out some more information.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Ripon Triathlon

Swim: 31
Bike: 1:13 20.5 mph
Run: 49 7.3 mph

Would have qualified me in St Neots last year... so let's see how we do.

Swim: 31:15 619/1014, 154/298, 25/55
T1: 1:36
Bike: 1:16:21 607/1014, 107/298, 18/55
T2: 1:14
Run: 50:56 616/1014, 136/298, 23/55

Overall 2:41:21 591/1014, 124/298, 18/55 118.5%

Normal performance has been resumed on the bike.

Initially I had been disappointed with this race.

The swim went really well.  I got on feet and then I passed those people and sprinted out and caught some more.  I stayed with those feet and as the group shrank, I was still there.  We went around the buoys at the end and despite feeling a little tired, I also felt like I could keep going at the same speed to the end so I stayed with those feet.  I felt like I could pass these people so I started drawing alongside a hip but then the space between two people closed and I was pushed out, falling back to sit on feet for a little longer. This happened several times until I learned to stop expecting to pass and just freewheeled in (with effort).  I exited the water exactly as planned - despite cramp in the first 100m caused by a clash of people during weed-swimming.

Transition went remarkably well - it's so much easier when there's no pressure of the cold.  You don't have to remember to dress in the right order because there's no dressing to be done.  I did remember to leave my goggles on until my wetsuit top was off though.

The bike course started well.  This time I remembered to give myself a target speed to stick to.  At Chester I was trying to achieve 18mph but given the flat course and the leg strength training I have been doing I went for an optimistic 20.5mph.  This was based on my Bala speed at the height of last summer.

I was averaging 20.7 once I figured out which Garmin to look at which was excellent but tough to maintain.  Still, I tried.  What more could one ask for other than the perfect race.  The cross wind was a bit of a pain and I though I might have had a little headwind but no, when I reached the turnaround point I realised I had 12.5 miles of headwind riding to do.

I passed a small group (actually, a large group) who had crashed on impact with a car.  One rider (not sure if racing or just a passing cyclist) was directing traffic.  Either way - what a kind man.  5 or so were waiting for ambulance attention.  I hoped everyone was OK and carried on.  They seemed well looked after.

The final hillock before the last descent was the windiest and at one point I was on the tri bars, bum barely on the saddle and going at maximum effort to achieve 9.9 mph.  Ow.  Just ow.

I guess I had a lucky run at the route.  Others reported sitting on the brakes but I was just off pace enough to avoid any tight spaces and glided through all but one of the roundabouts, got a good run up at the finishing chute and ran into transition without too much inconvenience.

I was 2-3 minutes slower than my planned time which I was disappointed with but given the conditions, I did well compared to many others who just sat the wind out rather than pushing into it.

The run was a different kettle of fish.  I can't say I wasn't trying but nothing that I did could lift my speed above 6.9 miles per hour... and I had been aiming for 7.3.
So obviously struggling in the first 200m

I spent the whole thing looking at my watch and trying to think of things to motivate myself.  The live music (complete with acoustic guitar and amp) and the water spray hose momentarily increased my speed but I was just being passed the whole time.  My legs didn't feel empty they just felt sore and demolished.  As I approached the finish line, I lady came by and said, "Don't worry, different age group to you".  I looked at her leg, where a stout "I" was printed in neat writing.  She was 5 years older than me and I should have been kicking her ass.

No one else was around as I pushed my sorry ass over the finish line.

Looking only slightly more like a runner.
Later I take some positives from this.  My race was still good enough to qualify for Europeans (had it been a euro's qualifier), even if I didn't get a world's place (which I'm not bothered about really because it clashes with TNR).  I put 1 minute into another Yorkshire competitor who I have never met but her name always stands out as beating me by quite some margin (Claire Smith, but not THEE Claire Smith).  I didn't foresee the windy ride and so pretty much nailed the predictions on 2 of my three disciplines and these are areas where I thought I'd get close to my best time.  I knew I had to do more running and my run proved it.  I don't seem to have demolished myself too badly and am looking forwards to doing all other races this season on my other bike.

Mostly, I enjoyed hanging out with Sarah Harrison who won our age group cat and having a good gossip about the whole AG process and qualifying and she's given me the impetus to stand up and do some more fast tri's in the UK rather than ploughing so much effort into the international scene.  I'll still enjoy Pentincton and look forwards to Estonia next year if my legs will carry me there but I think there's a point that national championships races are far more exiting and far more challenging at AG level than Euro and Worlds races where money and time to travel count for as much as athletic ability.

Ripon wasn't my kind of course, race or venue.  With TSK getting a cold, we missed out on the social aspect so music till 10pm just kept us awake, the showers were cold at the campsite and it took us an extra hour to leave the campsite the next day due to marshals who didn't know whether they were going to close the course or not.  Camping 1m from other peoples kids wasn't really our bag so in spite of this being a club favourite, I doubt I'll be back there.  I'm looking forwards to tougher races next year with a few pokey hilly halfs on the cards.  Watch this space bitches!