Friday, 29 January 2010

Getting nowhere fast

Two steps forward, one step back. Not sure Paula Abdul had my cycling training in mind when she sang Opposites Attract, but she's hit the nail on the head all the same.

The week started well, with a properly difficult session on Sunday, a couple of days' break, then a really intense turbo hour on Wednesday while watching the Carling Cup semi-final. Real progress was being made.

Only for Thursday to come along and with it the first of the year's cycle commutes. A piddling distance of just less than four miles proved infinitely more difficult than the hours I've been putting in on the trainer and this has filled me with an awful sense of foreboding. I'm aware proper outdoor riding is more difficult than the pseudo-cycling I do indoors, but after only 500 yards I was feeling the pressure.

Granted, my old Specialized Crossroads Hu8, complete with juggernaut-weight rear wheel, is difficult to shift even with a tail wind. But I was seriously wheezing by the time I got to work and that's poor.

It could be something to do with the return of the catarrh, which yet again has raised it's mucoid head and ruined the end of my week. I've also had a visit to the doctors to get this aching chest pain looked at, but at least that was reassuring. Mind you, I came away with appointments for an ECG, a chest x-ray and, worst of all, a blood test. I fucking hate hypodermic needles, so Monday morning is going to take on an even more fearsome aura than usual.

Still, if I get a clean bill of health at least I'll know I can start hammering the training with more reassurance. I am beginning to feel slightly fitter and the doctor did say I have quite a low resting pulse rate, which apparently is a good thing.

The fear of Monday will be marginally offset by the fact I'm off to drool at bikes on Sunday. Can't buy one yet, but it's about time I started getting measured up and putting a few through their paces. And now the work steed is all fixed up, by my own hand as well, I can at least start testing myself against the local hills.

Meanwhile, I still haven't got around to sorting the justgiving sites. It's proving problematic as I don't know whether I need two separate ones for each charity or whether I can just set one up and divvy the moolah up at the end. If anyone knows, be a looby, let me know, yeah?


Sunday, 24 January 2010

Pay as you churn

Wheels keep on turning and turning and turning and nothing's disturbing the way they go around.

Clearly Edie Brickell never did any turbo training, or she'd know there's plenty disturbing about the way these wheels go around.

But it's with a certain sense of relief that I can report the training has gone rather better than the blog updating this week.

Nothing doing for Monday or Tuesday, but since then I've been hammering the virtual hills, with Friday the only day I haven't been on the turbo trainer. It definitely feels like I've started in earnest.

As well as building up leg strength, turbo training gives you plenty of time to think. Perhaps too much time. This week, I've been mostly thinking about what kind of frame the bike I eventually use for the Marmotte will be made of. On Wednesday, I was still convinced carbon was the way to go. But Thursday and Saturday's training sessions had me thinking I might plump for aluminium. Friday was all about titanium and, for a brief period, custom-built steel.

Of course, it's entirely possible it doesn't matter a jot what the frame's made out of, it's what you do with it that counts. I expect most people doing the sportive will be riding carbon bikes as it is the lightest material, but I'm worried about how it'll hold up if I crash it. Not that I'm planning on crashing it, of course. But it could happen and I'd rather get something that can be repaired rather than something I'll just have to throw in the nearest ditch while I wait for the broom wagon.

I think I've decided on an aluminium framed CAAD9 (pictured above), which has been getting rave reviews in the cycling press and from owners. But this is by no means my final answer and I've been scouring web pages and bike forums for clues that I hope will help inform my decision.

My wife thinks I should write to a range of manufacturers to see if they'll give me a bike to do the training and race on, but I can't help thinking I do enough writing that isn't read by anyone, so there's little point adding to that burden.

Still, if anyone knows of any particularly generous manufacturers or pro teams with a bike to give away for a good cause, do get in touch. Rest assured, their name will be mentioned by me at every possible opportunity, wherever I am and whoever is there to listen.

But back to the training. I guess I must be getting stronger and fitter, but you wouldn't think it given my protests at the end of each session. Maybe I'm pushing myself harder each time, but that could be wishful thinking. Certainly they don't seem to be getting any easier. I dread to think what's going to happen once I start doing two-hour stints and actually getting out on the road.

Meanwhile, this week I'm determined to set up the websites through which you can all donate generously to my two chosen worthy causes. If nothing else, it'll give me a good excuse to update the blog.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

The daily grind

Balancing work with any kind of activity other than basic living is tricky at the best of times. So finding the time to train properly for the upcoming challenge is a bit like finding the eye of a needle and passing Giant Haystacks through it.

So it was pleasing to finally get back on the turbo trainer tonight for an hour's blast. After a five minute warm-up, I slapped the chain on to the big chainring, shifted down to the 16-tooth cog and ground it out for 10 minutes. For the next 20 minutes, I moved down to the 15-tooth, then the 14-tooth cog, before going back to the 16-tooth for a further 15 minutes, all at as high a cadence as I could manage. I shifted down again for five minutes, then had a five-minute warm down on the small chainring. If that was as interesting for you to read as it was for me to type, you'll be on your way to empathising with the monotony of turbo training.

My guess is that I simulated grinding away up a reasonably long but not particularly steep hill, but I've no real way of knowing. It's certainly the kind of thing I'll have to be doing more regularly and for much longer than I did today. What will be almost as difficult as the physical effort is the mental strain of being on a non-moving bike for periods of more than an hour. It really is deathly dull stuff. I've set the trainer up in front of the telly and had the football on this evening, but even then it was a struggle keeping the interest levels up.

Still, I'll need to crack that and keep pushing on. In the first three weeks of training, I've been on the bike three times. It's not good enough. By contrast, I've read thousands of words about cycling, looked at countless routes to try out, pored over a million permutations of frame/wheels/groupset that will help me in my quest to conquer La Marmotte and even bought a heart rate monitor to target my training better. Pretty much everything I can do except put in the actual hours in the saddle. This needs to change soon, which will either mean bunking off work earlier or, more worryingly, getting up a couple of hours before breakfast and doing a pre-work stint. Neither option is particularly appealing, but I guess both are preferable to blowing up on the first climb and having to limp back down the mountain and wait for the broom wagon.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

That's the one I'd get

We've only just started. Four words that have forever blighted mankind's slow and solemn plod from the murky morass of creation.

Uncle Mort's gloomy pronouncement to nephew Carter Brandon on the advent of their hilarious Peter Tinniswood-penned trip down south rings eerily true in these ears as I step off the bike after my first turbo training session of the year.

Only an hour long, I was suffrin', as Stephen Roche would say, after the first relatively gentle half hour. On the evidence of that last half hour, I've got an extremely long way to go.

It's nice to report the trusty steed held up pretty well under the strain. As did the CycleOps Magneto, which sounds a lot like a mythical Greek ice cream dessert but is actually a device you kind of plug your bike into, which allows you to pedal like mad without getting anywhere. Good for the legs and the Zen Buddhism at the same time, then.

And it's going to take some rather monk-like sacrifice to get myself into any kind of shape for the Herculean task ahead. Having just weighed myself post-cycle, I clock in at 78 kilos, or just over 12 stone for the older reader. I'm guessing I need to shed at least eight of those kilos - the weight of an entire bike, to give you some perspective - before July. Needless to say I'll keep you updated on my progress or otherwise.

Nevertheless, I do feel like I've got this ridiculous journey properly under way and that's heartening. What's frightening is that it's only going to get worse from here on in.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Not the kind of turbo I had in mind

Well, as excuses for not getting on the bike go, this one's up there with the best.

Honest, guv'nor, I was just about to pull on the lycra and don the cleated shoes when - wallop. Some clown drives into the side of our flat, smashing the bathroom window in the process.

It's icy out there at the moment, but you'd have thought people would bear that in mind when approaching a t-junction. But no. So I'm sitting down at the kitchen table contemplating an hour of intensive spinning on the turbo and the next thing I hear is the thud of a turbocharged Toyota getting on first-name terms with our bathroom. I pull the curtain back to check what's going on and see a middle-aged, dark-haired, worried-looking woman reverse and pull away briskly.

Thing is, I know she saw me looking at her, but she obviously thought it was best to just brazen it out and clear off. She also must have seen me jotting down her registration number, so why she didn't just pull over and face the music I'll never know.

Still, she'll be getting a visit from the Plod soon enough and doubtless will learn a valuable and expensive lesson.

Speaking of which, the entire episode has taught me a lesson too, to wit: doing nothing and contemplating training can be just as bad for you as getting on with it. I will get on that bike tomorrow.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Enter the Dragon

Day four of the intensive training regime sees me no nearer to actually sitting on the bike or pedalling. Although as this shot proves, I've succeeded in getting the trainer tyre on.

I have also taken the bold step of entering the Dragon Ride, a 190-km schlep through the hills and valleys of south Wales. According to the organisers and one or two tour operators who run packages for La Marmotte, this is a good sportive to get under your belt before the big day as the climbs are of a similar gradient (but not length) to those you'll be tackling in the Alps.

For a giggle, I did the 130km route last year, although not as part of the ride itself. The climbs seemed to go on forever. Grind after grind of relentless pedal turning and seemingly getting no nearer the top. On the last ascent - an approach from the west of The Bwlch - I honestly thought I was going to have to get off and walk. That I didn't says more about my misplaced masculine pride than it does about any particular cycling prowess.

But according to my cycling mate, that's just the kind of spirit you need to get yourself over the big continental climbs. That and considerably bigger thighs, I expect.

And it's the latter that's bothering me. I've been too ill to begin any kind of training, haven't touched a bike in well over a month and fear I've lost all the muscle I built up over the summer and autumn. No amount of reading cycling magazines, poring over websites vending expensive and lightweight bikes or entering long rides is going to get me to the finish line in July in one piece. As Robert Millar was once quoted as saying: "You don't get big legs by watching television." As well as having a slight cold, I expect I'm still mentally on my Christmas break.

I'd love to report that my diet, at least, is something approaching on the right track, but it's not. Mince pies are still a staple, as is that huge block of Stilton I bought before Christmas and have barely even made a dent in.

Worryingly, Enter The Dragon is also known as the Deadly Three. It's entirely possible the trio of peaks I've to scale in France may prove as liable to kill unless I start bucking my ideas up pronto.