Sunday 28 March 2010

Getting nowhere fast

You're not looking forward and you're not looking back
You've lost your warranty, you'll never get your money back
My baby's buying me another life, getting nowhere fast.

So sang David Gedge of the Wedding Present more than 23 years ago, but little could he have known back then how prescient he was being about my current predicament. In short, I don't feel like I'm getting anywhere. Warning: this could get self-indulgent, so gloss over the next few paragraphs if you'd rather.

Training seems like one long, tedious drudge. And that's when I get the chance to train. I felt quite upbeat at the end of last week after the Kentish excursion, but in the seven short days since then, that optimism has evaporated. I've managed three hour-long turbo sessions since then and plan a two-hour one tonight, but I desperately need to get out for rides of four hours or more if I'm going to get the necessary miles in my legs. Unfortunately this weekend's weather report psyched me out of doing so. Relatively happy I didn't try yesterday having seen the filthy rain, but today would have been fine. Pleasant even. But the forecast said heavy showers, so I cowered indoors instead.

And it's not like I have bucketfuls of time to train. Full time job, two young kids and a missus who's just going back to work after an absence of several years mean my spare hours are about as rare as a clean Tour de France. With the race looming just over three months away, now's the time I should really be stepping up the mileage and hours rather than sitting here writing about it instead.

Then there's the knee, which has started playing up again after last week's ride. I broke my left leg when I was 15 by cycling into the back of a parked car at great speed. Wasn't looking where I was going, you see. Ever since, my left knee has felt dodgy in cold or wet weather and I swear I have one bow leg, which can't be any good for the poor patella. I'm beginning to wonder whether it'll hold out over the course of my training regime and, crucially, during the race.

Flat still hasn't sold either, so new bike purchase is as far away as it could possibly be. Still, it could be that I have the dubious cachet of having the oldest, heaviest bike in the race, so it'll be a terrific excuse if I fail to make the finish.

Which shouldn't matter too much, as the fundraising seems to have stagnated too. After a promising start, it's tailed off alarmingly (bit like the training, in fact) and I'm still a long way off reaching the target.

All of this, of course, is having a perfectly dreadful effect on the psyche, which is far from ideal and I'm sure a major contributor to the current malaise. Wading through treacle with snow-shoes is how it feels right now.

The weight doesn't seem to be shifting either, although one positive note is that it's not going up. And I appear to have added two centimetres to the thigh girth, which I'm taking as a good sign since there seem to be so few others.

I think I need a really good week to set me back on track. This will mean more cycle commuting to work, fewer fatty foods, longer turbo sessions, less knee pain, promising news on the flat front and, at the end of the week, a 60-plus mile ride in warm, sunny weather.

Sunday 21 March 2010

Uphill hardener

If it's uphill all the way, you should be used to it by now.

And get used to it I'll have to, because on the evidence of today's 50-miler in the rolling Kent countryside, I'm a long way short of where I need to be.

Granted, there were some stiff climbs along the way and it's the furthest I've cycled for some considerable time, but after only 28 miles, I was beginning to feel the effects. And the climbs, as I've called them, were never longer than a couple of miles, unless you count the long drag up to Biggin Hill, which although undulating is around seven miles and gains about 600 metres.

By far the toughest of the day was Hogtrough Hill. It's got one of those chevron things on the Ordnance Survey map and rates at more than 14%. Mercifully, it's less than a kilometre long, but it feels longer, probably because I'm going so slowly I could keel over at any second. That it comes after I've tackled Toys Hill from the more difficult south side doesn't help one iota.

Mind you, I went down some absolute stinkers, including one incline that's named Cudham Test Hill and has a leaning road sign at the top that shows it's a 25% gradient. I think if I'd had to climb it, I'd have just sat down at the bottom and cried. On the route profile, it just looks like a sheer drop. As it happened, there was a bit of a tester at the other side of the valley, but thankfully not in the same league.

On the plus side, it was the first day out on the bike that my feet didn't freeze. If anything, I was too hot, having dressed for the weekend before.

The scenery was quite literally breathtaking too and I was kept amused by the fact I had to go up Pratt's Bottom twice. It was funnier the second time, but I put that down to my sense of giddiness along with my diminished responsibility by that point.

Next week, I'm going to put an extra 15 miles or so on the distance and try doing one or two of the hills in reverse. Not backwards, you understand. Just the other way up. If that's clear.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

The body is illing

Just because you're going forwards doesn't mean I'm going backwards.

Unshakeable logic from Billy Bragg there, but I'm afraid to say I do feel like I'm going backwards of late. I had great plans at the start of the week after posting a faster time on the Richmond Park Three-lap Challenge, shaving a considerable 44 seconds off my previous best and that after a six-mile round trip and a schlep up Star and Garter Hill. I now have a personal best of 67 minutes and 28 seconds, which isn't bad, but I'm aiming to be a lot quicker than that.

But after changing my tyre back to the trainer on Monday in another record time, the wheels have come off.

While fitting the trainer tyre, I began to feel the onset of a nagging and insistent sore throat. This developed overnight into a raging head cold that's since slipped down to the chest; hardly an ideal state in which to put in marathon training efforts.

I'm just about coming out the other side of it, so hope to get back on it tomorrow evening. But I'm beginning to feel that it's already too late to prepare adequately. In quieter moments, I'm really questioning whether I can get enough training done before the event. Whatever happens, it's going to be a compressed schedule.

And then there's the bike, or lack of it. Still the flat doesn't sell, so dreams of sleek, lightweight, fit-for-purpose bikes remain in the head rather than with even one foot in reality. It may well be I end up having to hire one, which is far from ideal, but I don't have much choice as it stands.

In short, things need to start coming together in a big way over the course of the next month, otherwise I'll be really up against it.

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Penance extra

"Put me back on my bike," as Tom Simpson famously didn't actually say when he was dying on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.

And after last week's dismal effort, getting back on my bike is exactly what I've done so far this week to startling effect. Started out gently on Sunday with an hour's effort during the exciting but ultimately disappointing Carling Cup Final, then upped the ante on Monday with a gruelling series of five 'pyramid' reps - three minutes on the centre cog, two minutes on the penultimate cog and one minute on the smallest cog, all at 80 rpm on the big chain ring. Two minutes recovery spinning between each.

Last night, I went for brutal grinding. The usual 10-minute warm-up followed by 10 minutes in the centre cog, 10 minutes in the penultimate cog, five minutes in the smallest, all on the big chain ring at as high a cadence as possible. Three minutes rest followed by another 10 minutes in the centre cog, five minutes in the penultimate cog and five minutes in the smallest.

Now I know this all sounds highly technical and tremendously boring, but I had the good fortune of being able to watch highlights of the duel between Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador on the Plateau de Beille in the 2007 Tour de France while doing it. I was as spent as Cadel Evans by the end of the effort too.

So heartening progress thus far and there's more punishment afoot tonight. Terrific progress too in the quest to raise a grand for charity. I've got a world of work drumming up more publicity to boost those numbers, so watch this space. Although quite when I'm going to get around to it under the new, strict training regime is anyone's guess.