Based in the Lake District, the Fred Whitton cycle sportive covers 112 miles of some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. It also houses some of the most infamous cycling climbs known in Britain, with 6 of the climbs included in the book “100 greatest cycling climbs in Britain”. The Lake District is also notorious for being the wettest place in the UK, and with the event on the 10th May, this ride is most likely going to be one of the toughest rides I’ve attempted. No target time was set. The only target was to try and make it around the route without getting off the bike and walking up the climbs.
In preparation for this ride, there were lots of turbo sessions. Plenty of early morning and evening rides. All importantly, if I spotted a hill, I went up that hill multiple times. The tougher the hill, the better.
Arriving in the lakes, me and my cycle buddy went for a little walk around Keswick and a couple of other local towns. With the old brick buildings and being surrounded by mountains, by English standards, I always enjoy my visits up here.
Checking out the weather report the night before, this brought a bit of fear into our minds. As you can see from the weather map below, it looks like we were going to be swimming the route.
After a nice early start (approx 4am) to get suited and booted and demolish a hefty bowl of porridge, it was off to the start. With a bit of a drizzle to start, we soon realised the weather wasn’t going to be as bad as first anticipated. We soon approached the first big hill of the day, and not before long we were up and over. Not too bad we thought…
A side note with a GroPro mounted on your helmet. I found with the strong winds and after clocking up the miles, my kneck felt pretty strained so I had to take it off. As good as it is it a look, point and shoot sense, my neck felt bloody sore after, which I was not expecting. Maybe it is useful for short journeys, but on long sportives less so. Unless you are willing to stop every so often to put it on and off. Plus it is tricky to get the photos without guessing what setting you are on.
Around Honister pass, there was a tea and food stop. We refilled our empty water bottles, warmed up our frozen feet and hands and demolished the fruitcake and other treats they had laid out for us. The food stop on this ride was top notch. Only shame was having to leave the warmth. Maybe we got a tad too comfy as personally I felt it took a while to get back into pedalling when back on the bike. A know there is a big debate on whether to stop or continue at these fuel stations. But we were cold, water bottles empty and needed some well-earned calories. Maybe we just won’t stop as long next time.
We made steady progress along the route, with me and my cycling buddy going up the hills at our own pace and meeting back up again on the other side. Then it was time for Hardknott and Wrynose pass. You could see Hardnott approaching from miles away. Will be honest, it was an intimidating view. With the impending screaming legs feeling, we had a few gels, hydrated and took off a few layers as we knew we would soon warm up. Unfortunately, the gopro had run out of batteries at this point so there are no pictures on the way up.
Hardknott Vital statistics
Average gradient: 13 per cent
Maximum gradient: 33 per cent
The first half on Hardknott is tough as you zigzag up and the gradient reaching 20% in stages. It then levels out to a gentler gradient for the middle section before the gradient kicks up again to what seemed near verticle slopes. As well as fighting against gravity you have to have your witts about you to avoid the cyclists in front dismounting and those failing over from the steepness. F**k me Hardknott hurt. The infamous left turn before the right turn which steps up to 33% was a killer. A cyclist fell Infront of me as he turned into the 33% section, quick evasive action to avoid a collision probably helped disguise the scream from the legs. Once that section was out, the gradient relented and you go into autopilot mode just spinning the legs to try and keep going. If I had stopped, I doubt I would have been able to get going again. The feeling of making over the top of the hill, unreal. Proud, definitely.
I had to keep the legs spinning so did not wait for my buddy at the top, as I knew Wrynose was just a couple of miles down the road. A 2.7 km long climb with an average gradient of 8% but peaks at ~25%.
The Relief of making up Wrynose was incredible. The achievement of not having to get off the bike and walk up and of the hills, even better. I waited at the top of the Wrynose for my cycling buddy and we descended towards the finish line.
The quote I remember my cycling buddy said on the way to the finish amazed me. There is me, legs destroyed, barely able to keep going on the flat. Out he pops “I’m feeling pretty warmed up now. Legs feeling strong”….. My response a simple “F*** off?!
Our reward for our epic efforts -pie and gravy with mushy peas, washed down back at the hostel with a some glorious beers.
Fred Whitton sportive: 15/10
ps. This may not be the best review of the ride, but there are plenty of others out there that will go into considerable detail of climb by climb analysis. To much detail for me as I’m writing this almost a year later! But they are useful for anyone planning on riding this route just to get an idea of how to taclke each climb.
What an absolute shocker, I’ve not written a post since February! I’d love to say I’ve been living the high life and been too busy to write while living a nomadic lifestyle, but only half of that sentence would be true. Too busy, yes. A nomadic lifestyle, some might say that. Living the high life, anything but.
So what has 2015 had in stall for me? As you may of seen from a previous post I had a number of challenges lined up, these included;
1. The Fred Whitton Challenge sportive
2. The Outlaw half triathlon
3. Completing my PhD
4. Getting a job.
1. I will write a proper race report for the Fred Whitton Challenge and the Outlaw half but to quickly fill you in, the Fred Whitton cycle sportive was the toughest and most gruelling ride in the most spectacular up in the Lake District. This 112 mile ride involved starting at Grasmere and taking in climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott (32% gradient at mile 98!) & Wrynose passes which all totted up to a total of 3,200 metres of climbing. The day started early, a 4:30 am get up time for a prompt 6:30 start. The day started in clouds and rain, but the clouds breaking through the mountains and hills only made for a spectacular view which took away the pain from the legs. The weather of which thankfully improved throughout the day, otherwise it would of made cycling up some of these passes near on impossible for us mere mortals with the wheel spin it would of led too. My crowning glory of this trip was climbing Hardknott pass at a snails pace , but importantly I dug in deep and powered my way up without having to walk up (I have photographic evidence!). Some how I also managed to avoid a falling rider around the left hand turn where the gradient kicks really kicks in. Needless the final 10 miles was the hardest just to keep the legs pedalling away to the finishing straight. Sadistically, Mr H my cycling buddy for the trip found those last 10 miles some of the easiest as if the previous 100 were just a warm up! A proper race review is on its way!
2. The Outlaw half, now this will be a quick report as I now have a DNF next to my name. On a windy, wet day with water temperatures nudging 12ish degrees C, things were going to be hard. And with a cold water temperature this is where it all went wrong for me. While I did all things correctly to warm up my wetsuit, unfortunately I could not keep this heat in. Towards the end of the 1K mark of the swim I was struggling, fingers were going numb and it was if I was clawing my way through the water. Eventually it was swimming with fists. With a last push to swim correctly to make it through I finished the swim in over 40 minutes. And things went from bad to worse. In transition one, shivering and the onset of hypothermia kicked in. It took about 20-30 minutes to get onto the bike, and when I did eventually start cycling I was shaking so uncontrollably I was all over the tarmac. Getting to the first marshalled point, someone in a high vis jacket stopped in front of me (I must of been going slow) and buddled me into a car with a thermal jacket, silver blanket and the car heating blasting. Half hour later I was in the medical tent after being picked up by the race doctor. Howler. At least I got to cheer on my cycling and triathlon buddy Mr H around the course on the running leg. A breakdown of what went wrong/what to do better next time is on its way.
3. So the biggest challenge, finishing my PhD and writing a thesis. As mentally challenging as this was for so many reasons more than the obvious, it also became one of the biggest physical battles I have known.
Writing a thesis is very much like writing a book. You need a introduction, a middle and an end. Most of all you need to make a story of your research to make it all link together. For many, it will be like writing your undergraduate dissertation, but on a much bigger scale considering the number of years you have been researching you subject area. I know I am not the quickest writer, and definitely the not most able when it comes to structuring sentences and grammar. So as much time as I gave myself it was not enough. Here comes tip number one, always give yourself more time than you’ll think you’ll need when it comes to writing up!!!!!!!!! So as mentally demanding as it was compiling and writing up 3 and a half years of research, its the arduous task of sitting in front of a computer day in day out for a couple of months on end. While I tried to keep running and swimming I finally succumbed to having to cut these out with my IT band issues preventing me from running and well, my morning swims were cut as I needed that extra hour in the morning for those long days of 8am until late (an early night would be stop writing by 10 pm, but this was rare and was more like 12 am pushing 1-2 am).
One of the biggest and most shocking parts of the physical aspect of writing, was the fitness that was lost due to sitting down for hours on end. This in addition to a fast declining diet, which eventually became a couple of cereal bars, chocolate bars, porridge, omeletes and coffee. Not the healthiest, but at least it was only like that on worst of days. But if it was not for the help of my house mates looking out for me, my sanity and healthy may of gone long before that.
Everyone has there own way of writing and getting on with this ultra endurance event. Mine, simply getting up and getting on with it. The final week though was the most stressful I’ve known, and the final 24 hours before the official hand in deadline I can barely remember through sleep deprivation, stress, caffeine, adrenaline, cortisol and eventually alcohol all running through my blood (yes I pushed it to the limit in terms of timings which is a massive regret but one I could not help, this I shall explain in a PhD thesis survival blog).
But the thesis was completed and handed in. Job done. While not the most satisfactory job in parts, it is an achievement that tops most on the list. Just time to pass the viva now….
This brings me onto target number 5, getting a job. A quick update there, I’m still looking. While I have had a couple of interviews, they have not all gone very well. Considering there are few positions in my research area using the techniques I have learned I cannot be too picky, yet I don’t have the opportunity to just simply use this as “practice”. As when a good opportunity comes along that ticks the right boxes, its all or nothing. Just need to sharpening my interview skills and try and loose those nerves. Just need to think of it as a race, channel those nerves into excrement and let the excitement come through as enthusiasm and determination. But this is where patients comes in.
At least it gives me a chance to sort out my niggling IT band injury and get back into training for next years Outlaw half. Yes I’m heading back with unfinished business. I have a race to finish.
While this is not the best post ever written as many parts will be written up as individual posts (now I have all the time in the world), it was time to brush off those cobwebs and get back into writing. As one of the reasons I started this blog originally, was not only for motivation for training, it was also to help my writing when it comes to writing my thesis and manuscripts to publish scientific papers. And it was also time to let you know how things are getting on!
Monday nights are swim training nights with the uni tri club. The session is led by a brilliant coach who writes regular articles for 220 and triathlete europe magazines and has made numerous improvements to my swim stroke. However Monday just gone I skipped out deliberately on. a training session. The trouble is my head just was not in the right place, nor was my body.
A swim might of been what was needed to sort my head out. But after a couple of late nights and early mornings finishing work for a lab meeting and compiling a report for my PhD project I was pretty sleepy my Monday evening. Yes I could come up with a whole heap of excuses such as, being sleeping and hard exercise can comprise my training, recovery, immune system…… blar de blah. But the fact is there is no real excuse. I know that others will know have the upper hand as they may have trained when not feeling up to it but I know I’m going to make up for this slip.
But what I can say is however, I enjoyed getting home at a relatively earlier time on a Monday night from work to have a relaxing dinner with my flat mates. And that was what was needed for mind and body. As my wise flat mate said;
Don’t worry on what you should of done or may of done, but just enjoy what you do otherwise”.
I’ve been working hard over the past few months to improve on my swimming. I’d like to think that the form of my stroke as improve significantly, as mentioned on a couple of occasions by the swim coaches at tri swim sessions. Although they admit there is still work to be done.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been focusing on:
1. strengthening the catch part of my swim
2. Decreasing the length of my glide and taking the catch earlier
3. Keeping the elbows slightly bent with no crossing over.
4. Following all the way through with my stroke so my hands exit further down my body than my hips (the full press up equivalence).
Points 1 and 2 I’ve been working on particularly and my stroke is beginning to feel much more efficient and as I am starting to swim more continuously by removing the dead spot in my swim where you have to keep constantly accelerating and slowing down in parts due to an inefficient stroke. However I’m still one of the slower ones in my lane. But attempting to keep up is a goal to keep striving for.
But after looking at my swim split times of tonight’s session I spotted something. Firstly I need to work on my pacing as even when going “hard” my pace is similar to my “moderate” pace. Secondly, the split from my 70.3 swim tri (37:20 min) was 1:46 min/100yrds (1:56 min/100 min). Tonight, feeling relatively good, my pace split ranged from 1:44 min/100 yrds to 1:32 min/100 yrd. Yes, this might be quite a range, but the fastest split of 1:32/100 yrd I guess was smaller progress than I anticipated. But I must remember my stroke is changing for the better, and I need to give it a bit more time. As these few seconds will overall lead to a time of approx 32:50 min to 36:41 mins. A decrease on a previous time should always be thought of as improvement.
Another thought this bought to me is that, when swimming solo, is that I am not doing enough speed work at a high intensity and have been spending too much time during sessions focusing on the form of my stroke. I guess this is where the phrase swings and round abouts comes into play. Improving my form will transfer into faster splits, but for even faster splits one must remember to train at a faster pace with this improve technique to avoid being a one speed swimmer.
This blog contains a fantastic swim split time guide to help you out.
2015 is shaping up to to be a busy year. Both in terms of life and race targets. I am now in my 4th and final year of my PhD, so this year is about finishing up experiments in the upcoming months before writing my thesis. I place my main goal (surprisingly) on completing my thesis, everything else unfortunately has to take a bit of a back seat this year as I do not of wanted to have wasted the past 4 years for not much in return! As excited as I am insanely nervous about nearing the end of this part of my life, I am beginning to look forward to getting a job where I will have fewer financial worries, and be able to afford to enter a few more races
1. Fred Whitton Challenge, Lake District (10th August)
112 mile cycle, 3,900 metres of vertical climbing. This is no easy ride. This sportive commonly comes out on top as the toughest race in the UK due to the never ending supply of leg breaking, ball busting hills. Yes they may not be as long as those in the Alps or other exotic locations. But they make up with it with their terrifying gradients (30% gradients is not uncommon). And for those who know the Lake District however, will appreciate the views that come with the hills.
Here is the event route: http://www.fredwhittonchallenge.co.uk/the-route/
2. 70.3 Outlaw Triathlon, Nottingham (31st May)
My 2nd Middle distance event. Training so far hampered by the knee injury, but I’m slowly getting back into all things tri. Been using the winter season to improve my swim, with my technique (I feel personally) is getting to something that is resembling a not to bad swim stroke. Goal is to beat my previous 1.2 mile swim of 37 mins to below 35 mins (30 is the dream target!). With this being 3 weeks after the Fred Whitton challenge I hope my cycling will be strong enough on the flat roads of Nottingham. Just need to make sure I remember that a triathlon also involves a run!!
3. RideLondon (depending on the outcome of the ballot entry)
I may have ridden this in 2014, but it remains unfinished business as it was cut short by 12 miles due to bad weather.
3. Completing my PhD
Surviving to complete my PhD is what 2015 is all about for me. Can only think triathlon training will be a welcome distraction to help keep me somewhat sane and is some sort of reasonable health.
4. Finding a job
My 2nd big goal of the year. Time to enter the real world and get myself a job!
My old faithful Mizuno Wave Inspire 8 running shoes have now been placed into retirement :(. These trainers, have been incredibly comfortable over the couple years I have had them, and will remain as my go to trainers for just general going about. However, after taking some severe beating they are no longer able to act as the great stability trainer they once were.
I know the Wave Inspire series has suffered a couple of hiccups during their development, but I found them to be brilliant. Great cushioning, superb stability and long wearing. And in the past year, they have taken me from a casual jogger, to training for triathlons. They have helped me set a few PBs in the process;
5K – 19:58
10K – 38:30
13.2 miles – 1:41:02
I decided to head to the local running shop Moti in Bristol due to the simple reason being that it has an incredible reputation among runners in Bristol. They may have a slightly limited stock to choose from, but there reputation more than overcomes that for stocking what they believe to be quality products. The shop assistant first thought for me to try the update Mizuno wave inspire 10 shoes. After trying them on the treadmill I couldn’t quite agree with them. The “wave” technology in them was quite uncomfortably stiff. They are meant to help with stability and prevent with over pronation. However I found the plastic in the heel seemed to push through the sole of the shoe and into the bottom of my feet so as if something was prodding them. The overall effect was if they tried to push my feet out the shoe. To the reject pile with them!
She then next gave me some Brooks Vapor 2 to try on. After getting me on the treadmill again and compared my gait while running with these compared to the Inspire 10 shoes. Both provided the required stability, however the heel of my foot was slightly loose in the Mizuno’s while it was safe and secure in the Brooks. So off home with the Brooks it was. I asked what was the difference between the vapor and adrenaline brooks were and it seemed to be simply down to price and Brooks trying to aggressively market the adrenalines. I was also pleased for another reason she suggested the Vapors. They were £20 cheaper. The Vapors may well be cheaper, I just hope however they are as good a shoe as the Inspire8’s were.
Might be strange writing a post about a pair of running trainers, but as the point of contact between me and the ground they can never be understated enough.
Training of late, has mainly consisted of plenty of swimming and strength work in the gym of late. More of which ill go into later.
from a blog from some time ago I mentioned about a niggling knee problem. One MRI scan later (no meniscus tear or any tendon problems found) and a couple of physio sessions later, I’m finally walking without any pain. The feeling of being able to walk or simply walk up some steps without the knowing of the upcoming feeling of discomfort and pain was amazing. I know it was not the most serious of injury at all, but the fear of walking in daily discomfort felt like a real possibility.
So, what was the problem? What has been the solution?
The physio diagnosed it to a number of likely possibilities that are likely all interconnected. Firstly, it is possibly a consequence of my ankle injury last January which likely resulted in muscle imbalance in my legs and hips. Any imbalances can be massively exaggerated by cycling which as a result will make any conditions worse. Even without your knowledge.
Secondly, he believes I did not get enough long distance running in before the 70.3 tri. The reasoning for this I can know understand after a little explanation. It simply comes down to adaptation and training my body to endure long distance running. Before the race I had only ever run one time a half marathon distance. My training had only really composed of 5k, 10k and 1.5 hr run sessions (hills, sprints, intervals, brick etc). So yes I could comfortably run these distances but as my body was not use to running much more, especially when tired after swimming or cycling it is more likely to be prone to injury.
Finally, my legs and hip joints are tighter than an otters pocket so a lack of stretching and flexibility routine is hampering recovery and exacerbating my weak hips, in addition to my now developed IT band issues.
these issues all manifested itself into weak tight hip, IT band issue and an overactive muscle in my upper leg, which with the IT band tightness, was pulling on my kneecap to decrease it’s freedom of movement and left it being pulled in different directions and thus be resulting in pain.
With possible diagnosis after a couple of sessions, and the physio stating he will ignore the MRI results as he convincingly claims that even if there is damage, surgery is a last resort as surgery itself will only delay any later issues and give you an extra few years of sports until you have to retire from progressive injury. So he wanted to focus on rehabilitation and recovery through strength and conditions with a stretching routine as well.
He prescribed tapping up my knee daily for two weeks as well as plenty of ibuprofen gel to help keep the kneecap in place and help reduce any inflammation present. The tape itself worked wonders in just helping reduce the pain of walking.
In addition, I’ve signed up to Pilates class to help increase my flexibility and core strength on his recommendation.
The strength and condition work consisted of: Calf raises, squats, single leg squats, dead lifts, step ups, forward/backward lunges, hopping, skipping, hip bridges, lots of core work (strengthen core and hips) and preceded and followed by a number of stretching exercises to increase the flexibility of my hips. I’ve also invested im a foam roller to help here as well.
this done in rotation with some upper body work. Of course, with it being Christmas and a pretty hectic work schedule over this time I had to manage around around both work and social commitments.
I can walk without or with limited pain now. My legs feel stronger. I have managed a couple of easy rides without any discomfort in the knee (but some still remaining in the hip) and also managed a number of runs designed by the physio. The runs consisting of alternating between running and walking between set distances. All cardio being strictly followed by a stretching routine.
the difference a few exercises and a couple of weeks make is amazing. From doubting whether id be running in my next 70.3 to know knowing that if I keep it up I will hopefully come back stronger and better. But that is half the battle of training and racing. Battling the mind games.
Hope you’ve all had an amazing Christmas. I know I’ve definitely overindulged!
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