bikebritain News March 2, 2016

Winter Rides and Irregular Running

It has been a few months since any new material has been published on the bikebritain website. This has not been a deliberate strategy but in the run up to the new-year and the first couple of months of 2016 life has somewhat taken over. You know, exciting things like buying a house and going to Lapland with Brendan and Em to see Father Christmas at his house. Put another way, I’ve had to prioritise getting out on the bike in my free time rather than sitting at the key board typing. But here I am.

First though, a quick look over my shoulder. If the objective for 2015 was distance, then it was a great a year. I rode 1200 km more than in 2014, finishing 2015 just over 7000 km. So if we judge a year on year distance gain as improvement, I achieved that goal. There was an opportunity cost to this, in that a greater portion of my spare time was spent in the saddle than doing anything else. This was also reflected in the sum of organised events I participated in. I had set a lofty ambition of riding 12 Sportives during 2015. I think I managed 3 and one of those was the Haywards Heath Howler which was effectively held on our doorstep. This, however, is not quite the full story and nor does it explain why last month, February just gone, was a time for satisfied reflection.

In February 2015 Em and I rode in wiggle’s ‘No excuses’ which we both enjoyed very much. By riding in that Sportive it bumped up my then flagging mileage for the month to a semi-respectable 425 km. A plan began to form. From March I would set myself a distance target of 500 km that I commit to every month. Initially I would focus on completing it for the rest of 2015, then 12 full months and then see how I went from there. There would be ‘No Excuses’. It’s very simple. 500 km in the calendar month, regardless of anything life throws at me. So if I was away for work (like I was in September) for 2 weeks, I have 3 weeks to complete the distance. 500 km was a stretch target, but with focus it was not in itself a hard number to attain. It felt about right.

If ever I needed an example to illustrate to myself the benefit of realistic goal setting, this has been it. Having the monthly target in my head contributed hugely to the distance step change in 2015. Strangely it took me to the summer months until I felt I had acquired the stamina that you get from riding regularly. However because consistency is a large part of maintaining good aerobic condition, those rides where it would have been easy not to bother, have happened, because of the target. It has meant that at times I have been obsessed with cycling, particularly over winter. I have become creative regarding how I squeeze rides in because I have had to. That said, optimising spare time is a positive thing and makes me feel good. A few of the months, November and January especially were tough; in both instances I was riding with Frank on the last day of the month making up the required distance. Going for a ride is one thing, but I found having to go out and ride a specific distance can be mentally challenging. Perhaps it is the need to achieve something there and then which makes it harder? I don’t know.

And so to February 2016.  

Now did I mention that in September 2015 I signed up for the Vitality Brighton Half Marathon? No? Well I did. On many levels this was a ridiculous thing to do. I have a history of calf and hamstring problems which significantly impede my ability to run on a consistent basis. I received the email having recently returned from Maastrict where Frank and Matt became Ironmen. I wanted to do something different that I knew would challenge me. I had not run a half marathon for probably 10 years. I experienced a number of set-backs, which I had mentally prepared for. I knew the legs would struggle, but, like cycling, I just took my opportunities to run when they were presented to me. 

My targets were:-

(a) finish at all costs 

(b) finish having run the entire distance and

(c) (very optimistically) run a 2 hour race

Mid-way through February the hamstrings had pinged again and no amount of stretching and cold baths were having an effect. The way the timings had worked out I would also be completing my cycling distance target the week prior to the race. Whilst this was not ideal, I vowed I would not fail at both tasks! 

On Friday 26th I finished a 65 km ride that meant I had achieved my goal of 12 consecutive months riding 500 km +. Now all I had to do was enjoy a day off and then run a half marathon. I was not feeling confident.

At 06.00 on the morning of Sunday 28th February I was feeling even less confident. My hamstrings resembled piano strings. Fast forward 3 hours and I was lined up in my starting pen with Emma’s Sister Kate, thinking this could just be a monumental waste of time. After less than half a mile my left calf started pinging me. I slowed to a trot and then a fast walk for 20 meters and began trotting again. I’d see how it went. And that’s how I approached every single stride. I slowed down when it felt tight(er) and sped up (that’s ‘sped’ up) when I felt ok. The crowds were out in force. There was a gentle easterly wind. Engine wise I was comfortable. I dared myself to enjoy it.

At the 4 mile mark I saw my Dad taking photos from the grassy bank at Ovingdean. We exchanged waves and I continued. For the next 5 miles all I had to do was run along the flat to Hove Lagoon. Each mile ticked away. I went through 6 mile waving at Em, Hannah, Frank and his family. I went through 9 miles, marking the farthest I run for years. At the turn, heading back to Brighton and the finish line, there was 3 miles to go. I was still running. No one was more surprised than me.

I looked at my watch for the first time. I judged I could make a 2 hour finish time. I was treading a fine line between speeding up and not causing too much additional strain on my legs. By the time I got to the Steine, you could see the finish line. There was a terrific atmosphere, lots of spectators had turned out to cheer and wave. You could see a steam of multi-coloured runners, all headed in the same direction, aiming for the pink Vitality finish line. Time to go for it. I opened up my legs, something I had not dared to do. They still felt ok. I saw Em, Hannah and Barry shouting from the barriers. I roared something unintelligible at them. It just seemed the right thing to do. I was off, sprinting past everyone ahead.

With 6 seconds to spare I finished under 2 hours. Suffice to say I was absolutely delighted. In fact, elated. Quite rightly, Em couldn’t believe it either. This performance had not been expected by either of us. She had been very supportive since September and had provided plenty of encouragement especially when they my hamstrings had been bad. I was extremely stiff on Monday, but they are already loosening up. Tomorrow I shall be back on the bike making a start on March mileage.

As far as targets go for 2016, I want to ride more Sportives. I will exceed my mileage target again – 8000 km for the year is the objective. Plus I would like to run another half marathon. I am going to Mallorca on my own later this month to have a couple of heavy training days, so this will help the distance target. In May I will be riding the Dulux London Revolution with Lukey which I am looking forward to and in November we’ll be attending the wedding of the co-owners of Ms Cycles in Shoreham (my non-LBS) which will offer some riding opportunities in Tobago! Between now and then, they’ll be more to come…..

Thanks to Barry Hillman for the lifts to and from the start/finish line on the day.

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