Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hill repeats - the original Etape du Tour 2013 training plan

Up-down, up-down, up-down...
"Ride up hills. Lots of hills," I was told back in November shortly after signing up to do the Etape.
Pez was told to "find the longest hill you can, then cycle up it 10 times, maybe more".

My April training plan hasn't really got a section for hill repeats - although it fits with the general theme of "train for volume of miles one weekend, and intensity on the next next". Hill repeats definitely count as intensity.

So, to aid the "ride up lots of hills" plan, Pez sat down with multiple Etape veteran and prince of Strava Phil Binney (his King of The Mountains honours stretch over two pages, and include Alpine Cols). He also came about 300th in last year's Etape, works with Pez and lives a few miles from us.

They worked out a route, just a short train ride from London, that has a 12-mile warm up (including a 3-mile warm up climb that averages 3% and never gets above 7%) then hits our "Alpine training loop".

Toys Hill - the start of the hill repeat loop
This is a 10-mile loop that takes in two hills, two descents then deposits you back at the start again.

When you've had enough, it's a 10-mile ride to the train station home, taking in a final climb just to sap anything out of your legs you might have left.

We did three laps, that's 8 hill repeats and close to 1,400m climbing in total (albeit four different hills) over 50 miles. And at the end of it I felt, well, good.

...and repeat

Our Alpine training loop

The first ride on the loop is Toys Hill, 2 miles at 4.6%, with decently long sections over 7%. A quick descent and you're at the bottom of Ide Hill - a mile long at 6% with the second half averaging well over 8% (and up to 11.1%).

It's not exactly Mont Revard or Annecy Semnoz, but the gradients aren't too dissimilar. The problem is that you're descending between them so getting a break. Still, at more or less 250m climbing a lap, you can get a feel for the effort you'll need. 4 laps, being a Mont Revard of climbing, for example.

It's also easy to ride, all left turns, no traffic lights and with a nice cafe at the foot of Toys Hill for cake.

Starr Hill, the final kick in the teeth the route offers on the way home, is 0.75 miles at 8.1% - topping out at 11.5%. It's affectionately known as 1/12 of Alpe D'Huez, but the intensity is similar to the Semnoz at the end of the Etape so it fits in rather well.

Quick re-fuel between the second and third lap

So, how did we do then?

Since being chastened by my experiences in the last sportive - the Woking RideIt - I've been training properly.

One on-road intensity session, coupled with lots of 8-mile commutes and evening turbo rides doing base (Zone 2) and interval sessions. I've also been dieting harder. It's been miserable if I'm honest, but the effort showed.

We were going for volume of climbing ahead of power, but I still kept pace, more or less, with Pez over the ride. Our times on the main hills were remarkably close (he edged it, but I'd have scored it a close 2-1 win, rather than the thrashing he gave me last time).

More, I finished the ride feeling good.

That said, the 8%+ sections were a real pain. I couldn't "sit and spin", which meant I was grinding instead. I got up them all, but I seriously envied Pez - who never even got into his giant 32-tooth bottom gear.

The 2013 Etape du Tour has sections at 15% and my odd gearing could become a problem. But for £30 I can get a standard 34-tooth compact ring to fit to my chainset, instead of my current slightly weird 36-tooth.

It might not be a lot, but would give me a bit more freedom when the road tilts up. And, as they say*, no one ever failed to finish the Etape because their gears were too easy.

Next week is a 78-mile sportive, and a silver time is - just about - possible (I need to climb as well as I did on the Alpine training loop and cover the remaining flat 29 miles at 18.5mph. It's doable, but far from easy).

So back to the turbo for me to prepare.

*I have no idea who "they" are

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lonliness, love and another Etape 2013 training sportive

I'm writing this in pain - everything from my neck downwards hurts.

My thumb has been wrenched by a pot hole. My arms and hands are tired from absorbing  shaking and supporting my torso over the bars, it's worst in my triceps. My shoulders are aching, as is back. My legs, naturally, are tired with quads the worst off, while my left knee and right foot protest loudly at use.

On the plus side, my nose is fine.

Why? Well it was Sportive Sunday of course!

I rode 70 miles yesterday, with less than a kilometer of climbing, and my body hates me for it.

I've been trying (sort of) to boost my fitness, riding harder and more often, but I haven't really done a big volume of miles in one go. 40 or 50 miles was a common distance for a longer rides, with 30 to 40 for higher intensity, but that's not enough to get used to the sheer amount of time I'll need to spend in the saddle on the Etape.

Sunday was meant to help with that - a 60 mile sportive with twelvish miles getting to and from the start (with a train ride in the middle). Topping out at about 72ish overall. Not far from Etape distance.

I did my best to prepare. I ate a vast quantity of pasta the night before, had porridge and coffee the morning of, while sipping my carb-protein drink frequently and eating energy bars at regular intervals (every 20 miles or so).  Afterwards I stretched off and downed a recovery shake, ate a load of chicken and bread as soon as I could, had a biggish dinner and then another recovery shake before bed.

Basically everything I could think of bar compression socks (which I don't own). But I still hurt.

And the mental anguish is worst. Pez and Paul are now far better than me.

The ride

Longish and mostly flat

After frost, ice, wind and rain on our last two sportives, Sunday dawned bright, clear, dry and with temperatures the highest of the year (almost 10 degrees!).

Pez started hard, riding at 20mph or above on the flat. I was struggling early to hold his wheel. It got worse when some serious riders went by. They were, for a change, tall enough for him to draft, so he accelerated onto their wheels. The pace went up again.

I foolishly overtook the lot of them on a descent, as Pez was moving up to do his turn on the front of our group of five. The group disintegrated, and Pez easily overhauled me on the next climb.

That was how it went for 25 miles or so. If I could get on Pez or Paul's wheel I could handle their pace, at the next hill I was spat out the back, then it was a long lonely drag to get back on the rear tyre. Then we hit a hill and the process repeated. With me needing to ride longer, push harder, to catch their wheels.

After 25 miles of this, I gave up. Deciding to ride at my own pace as, in theory, it was about time in the saddle not speed; but, in fact, because it was too depressing slogging on my own to try and latch on to the group time after time after time.

And depressing is the word for it. Mile after mile after mile. Alone.

For a short period I worked with another rider, who took a tow from my wheel for a bit without me realising, then moved ahead and allowed me to latch onto his wheel. We repeated this for a few kilometres, despite never exchanging a word, look or gesture beyond the speed of our bikes.

My speed rose. Or, rather, I could hold 20mph comfortably for longer as I was getting a rest every minute or so. I began reeling in Paul. Then I lost the mystery man in the red jersey in traffic -  facing another slog to get onto a wheel I let him go too. He cycled off alone, glancing back periodically to see me further and further behind and no longer in a position to help.

My mind drifted as I rode on, generally with no other cyclists or cars visible ahead or behind me. It got weirder as the miles stacked up. Route markings were signs of love and reassurance left behind by a benevolent other. Through a pink arrow I felt briefly loved and remembered despite my isolation.

Other cyclists were sources of shame as they passed me or foes to be vanquished as I spied them ahead. I began to hate the very road, then love it just as fiercely when the surface changed from broken tarmac to become like marble beneath my tyres - my speed rose and fell as the surface changed.

I met up with Pez and Paul at break stops on 35 and 48 miles, but didn't stick with them as they rode on. It was about me, alone, covering the miles now. Spinning my pedals in the lowest gear up 4% hills, feeling a surge of energy and covering a false flat at 23 miles an hour, resting up at 15 for another mile.

My back began to hurt somewhere around mile 40. The discomfort there was worse than the pain in my legs - which I'd minimised by basically not exerting myself. I stopped to stretch.

I ended up needing to get off the bike twice to stretch my back, the second time someone asked if I was OK as they rode by. The human contact and words of concern almost broke me.

Then the ride ended in a rush - I'd almost reeled in another rider and was looking forward to a draft and then a time trial/sprint to the end when the flags of the finish line were suddenly right there.

After so long on my own on the road, it felt odd (although good to my back) to get off and walk. Talk to people. A bit of back and forth with Pez (resplendent in a pink Lampre top, making him look like he'd forgotten a jersey under his gilet) and Paul.

How did we do then?

From almost 200 riders on the day, Pez finished three places outside the top third, Paul seven places back.

Of course, Pez and Paul had waited for me at the break stops, longer than they might have if I hadn't dropped back, so their times were hurt by that. I came in 8 minutes after Paul and ten and a bit behind Pez.

That was enough, by the skin of my teeth, to get me into the top half.

Last time out I was 15 mins from the top half just outside the bottom third. It might not feel like it as Pez and Paul shot off ahead of me, but it seems I am - slowly - getting better, and when my body stops hurting I might even feel a little pride.

Now if I can just learn to climb...

Stats and such from Strava: