Training for the Transcontinental Race

How do you train for a 2,500 mile solo unsupported bicycle race?

I’ve never done one before, so in all honesty I don’t really know. What I do know is that I love riding my bike, and I believe that as long as I’m doing that I’m at least on the right track. Now, what I do know has led to me a basic plan. A lot of people have asked me what training I’m doing, and I thought I would share this loose plan in order to ‘get fit’ for this race. There are a few parts to this…

1. Consistency

I’ve always believed that this is fundamental to training for anything, and as long as you get this right, training regularly and maintaining consistency, you will go a long way. Fortunately for me, I’ve got a core  outline of training available to me.

  • Daily Commute: Riding 45km every day as a minimum through the week has been the core for my bike fitness for years. Ok, I’ve only been riding my bike 5 years, but this has been the basis for me losing 5 stone in weight!
  • G!RO CHAINGANG: Once a week, a short high intensity ride with mates followed by a short high intensity session at the pub! I’m still not quite sure if I undo everything I put into the ride while drinking beer and grazing on crisps & nuts right after.
  • Weekend café rides: My favourite part of the week. A social ride from G!RO Cycles in Esher every Sunday all year round. Although it’s not always what could be described as a training ride, getting out there and enjoying riding my bike is what its all about. Obviously there’s always the sections where you sprint for the sign, or a section with a bit of full gas just for fun helps a lot, and adds to the enjoyment.
  • Big rides on Saturday: These don’t always happen, but taking the odd Saturday out to head to the coast, find new lanes or just an old favourite are a treat. I’m lucky that I’ve got various cycling buddies that are foolish enough to come with me on these rides through the winter, and means that I can get a really good bit of distance in the legs along with some great mates. I’ve helped work with G!RO Cycles to do a monthly G!RO 100 (miles), a big ride 130-190 km depending on the route that has helped me find even more mates to ride big distances with

2. Mixing it up

Ok, so as not to contradict consistency, what I mean has a few layers:

  • First, keep the training varied in order to keep it interesting. I have the basic outline in order to do this, but it is just that – I often add extra KMs in the evening through the week, more so now there is much more light in the evening. 45km can easily be extended to 80-100km. On top of this I like to add in some higher intensity rides into the commute. This basically means sprinting from and to every set of traffic lights. I won’t ever jump a red light, as it’s another chance to put in a sprint effort!
  • Secondly, a little bit of cross training is good. I’ve no real idea if running is actually any good for cycling fitness, but I occasionally add a run in through the week to break up the train journey to or from work. If I’m honest, I don’t really like running, and my body tells me that it doesn’t after each short run, but I do get a buzz out of it.
  • One thing that I’m looking to do next in this area is around strengthening my core and improving my stretching through physio & Pilates, as well as keeping the basic stretching in order. With the amount of training coming up, injury prevention is going to be critical.

Diet & Weight Loss

So I think this is one part of my training that will give me the most benefits all round, especially when travelling through the various mountainous regions of Europe, but is also the one area that I struggle with the most.

At the start of the year,  weighing in at 87kg I set a target weight of 75kg. For the start of the Transcontinental race, or at least the start of the mountains – i.e. going in a little heavy so I had something to fuel getting there. Still, a big goal.

It has been a real struggle for me to get there. In January, I quit drinking, stopped all sweets & snacks, and within 3 weeks was down to 84kg, which was the best part of Christmas burnt off. Then I went to the US with work, started drinking and really fell of the wagon with my diet. Food is full of sugar there! I managed to recover somewhat in February, getting down to 82kg at one point, but I keep bouncing back to the 84/85kg mark.

The yo-yo is a struggle, and definitely means I have to reassess my target weight for 29th July, but as we get nearer and pressure builds I believe I’m going to get closer to this. I also think that as we get closer to the summer months, riding more will be easier. As long as I don’t eat more, losing weight will happen naturally. Don’t get me wrong, I will be adjusting my diet more and more. I’m no dietitian, but have a good idea of where I go wrong every day, and have a good idea of what I need to do to fix this. I will look at posting a weekly food diary at some point, just to give you all an idea of where I go wrong

4. General Health & Wellbeing

I think this is something that when I started out on this training path I hadn’t considered. The closer the TCR gets, I think this is going to be key for me to get to the start line. Here are a few things that I’ve started to try, and are in some ways really quite natural to me:

  • Work life balance: I started this year at work at 100 miles an hour. This probably feeds into many of the other points here, but it’s important to get this right. Training time, eating right, managing stress and whether I am happy or feeling down depends on this. I nearly forgot how to switch off from work when I leave the office, and in some ways not getting this right was affecting the work I was doing as well.
  • Attitude: I’ve always had a very laid back and outwardly relaxed attitude. I don’t like to panic or get stressed, and I’m rarely productive when I do. I’ve been able to spot when this starts to happen, and being able to control it. When I can’t, I find that riding a bike really helps me clear my head.
  • Illness: I’ve been reasonably fortunate not to get too many issues. I’ve been quite cautious when colds or minor bugs have come along and rested when they have. I’m currently writing this with tonsillitis and haven’t ridden my bike in over a week which is really frustrating.
  • Rest…! : I’m really bad at this, and is possibly why I’m sick right now (absolutely nothing to do with all the excess at the Tour of Flanders..). Rest is one thing that I’m going to be baking more into my training schedule.
  • Enjoying Riding: I said it many times; this is the most important part for me. If I’m not enjoying riding my bike, then we’re in trouble!

5. Endurance Rides – Learning

You’re probably wondering why this is so far down on the list? I don’t really know how much distance training is needed, or how valuable it really is to my fitness, but I do know it is required.

I’ve been doing ‘100’ mile rides, or there abouts, pretty much every weekend since November, but regular training rides in excess of 200/250km I’m not convinced will really add much benefit physically and potentially do harm. They also take up a considerable amount of time!

All said, I’m relatively confident that #1. Consistency will carry me most of the way to Çanakkale from a fitness perspective. I guess there may be a few more things I may be able to do to help make me more competitive…

I’ve already done a couple huge rides (see last blog post here: TCR Training Ride), but they were more to test me and my kit, and ultimately learn stuff. That’s the key with the big, multi day rides – making it a learning experience.

6. Events – Goals

As part of my training, I’ve always found it important to set markers down, and have shorter term goals that get you to the main goal. I’ve to a busy schedule already planned out to this end, and have been executing it for some time now. You can see my training log on Strava

  • Easter: 432km to my mums – Done
  • Heart of England Audax – 300km – 16th April
  • London – Paris – London – May Bank Holiday weekend
  • London Revolution – 14th & 15th May
  • TBC Wiggle Dragon Ride 300km – 5th June
  • TBC Maratona dles Dolomites – 3rd July
  • To Geraardsbergen – 28th July

I’m also planning a multi day ride through France, possibly on May’s other bank holiday weekend, as well as looking to add in another Audax weekend most likely in June.

What did I miss?

I expect there are many things that I could be doing, but I believe I’ve got all the things I should be doing covered (feel free to point out anything!). I love my numbers and stats, and Strava has some useful info to help track fitness, and also show how its crashed in 1 week off the bike…

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I do have a power meter, but only use it occasionally, due to issues with the battery, so training to power is not something I’m planning.

Reading through the past and present riders blogs has reassured me of what I’m doing, but I’m well aware that what works for one, might not work for another. Also, it might appear that I’m calm and relaxed about my training on the outside, but it is a constant concern on the inside, and I’m always on the lookout for tips and advice.

 

 

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TCR Training Ride

So, are we ready?

Well, in many respects, I think I’m on the right track, however after a small tester of a trip I’ve realised that there is still much work to be done! It’s quite handy then that there is still 4 months left to prepare…

So far, I’ve spent many hours and days planning my route for the TCR, researching equipment and pulling together my bikepacking kit, bike, and methods for getting from A to B.

So what was this training ride about? The plan: cycle from my home in Thames Ditton to my mums in my home city, St. David’s in Pembrokeshire in Wales. 436km. In one go. Easy.

The point of this? She makes the BEST Mac n Cheese. Also, to test myself physically, to test the gear, route planning, and ultimately learn stuff about myself, and riding long distances alone.

I built my bike. This has been several months in the making, and quite expensive. Building up some custom wheels, finding an ideal frame and adding all the components and kit to go with it. The result is this beauty from Bowman Cycles, a 54″ Pilgrims loaded with Apidura bags (there’s a lot more to it than that, but I will cover that in the near future… watch this space!), booted with some custom wheels from Noble Wheels:

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Training has been constant, but relatively unstructured. My main focus has been on riding my bike and enjoying it – that has always been key for me. Commuting, with some occasional intensity through the week, adding some bigger rides rides with mates on the weekend. Winter riding has been tough with some hard weather at times, but not many points have I thought I’m really not enjoying it. This is good!

So how did I get this point?

This particular training ride has come about through a couple of reasons. The TCR is such a deviation from what I would normally consider doing, I really wanted to get some test in place to know what I can do physically, mentally and logistically. I’ve also always wanted to cycle all the way to my mums in West Wales.

Ok, lets do this!

All through the day I had been preparing the last few bits of the bike, and managed to get everything ready a few hours before the planned start. I tried snoozing for an hour or so, but just managed to lie there thinking about the day’s ride ahead.

I lined up my sister to be a ‘dot watcher’ using the find my friends app on the iPhone. Having the knowledge that someone was watching over me on the ride, and sharing my progress on facebook where so many friends and family were cheering me on was such a boost through the day. She was also on hand to keep my mum informed of my progress, so I wouldn’t have to worry about stopping and sending updates.

Setting out into the night was weird. It’s just not normal. You’re nervous, but calm; it’s dark, knowing I’m going to be pedaling for about 18 hours and you’ve not been to bed – it’s not easy to grasp what lies ahead.

In true TCR style, I decided to start my ride at midnight. Why I chose a cold and windy day in March I’m not quite sure, but it’s all good experience, right?!

I started off with a good speed heading into the night, and made really good time. Getting to Reading was fairly quick. I may have been over cooking it a bit, but this was where I came to my first climb. Its also where I realised that I was getting a bit cold. The chill was a result of sweating from the effort, and it being around 3 or 4 degrees C. I had plenty of layers on, but as I was calming down and the night was settling in, it was getting colder. I had a bit of a break 100km in Wantage, and managed to get this selfie next to a statue of Alfred the Great while taking on a bit of food. Coming through Oxfordshire it got really dark. One of the next things I learned around this time was that the whole of the UK does their muck spreading at this time of year. This was a constant smell, and bain throughout the ride.

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I had some light drizzle came through a few times through the night, but on the whole the cross tail wind was kind to me. Just as I was starting to feel tired, around 100 miles in, dawn started breaking over the Cotswolds. It’s quite nice what a bit of daylight can do to your spirits and alertness. Shortly after ‘waking up’, I rolled into Gloucester at around 7am and back into civilization.

Gloucester was annoying, as had many of the towns I’d passed through in the night, have a number of traffic lights that just don’t recognise cyclists. With no cars around I had to run a few red lights otherwise I’d probably still be waiting for them to change.

My first proper stop of the day was on 200 km in Ross-on-Wye and a Greggs bakery – the only place open. I was quite cold and some food, coke, crisps, coffee and a break off the bike felt good. Till now, I’d only managed to drink one bottle. This was not good, and would be a pattern that I would pay for later in the day, but was a chance to get some refills.

After Ross-on-Wye, I headed across the Welsh border towards Abergavenny, lots of grippy roads and drizzle. The countryside was beautiful, but hard and slow going. Got a bit worried at one point as I couldn’t recall if I had plotted a route over The Tumble mountain near Abergavenny. Fortunately this was not the case, and once some of the lumpier welsh borderlands had been navigated, I started getting a good pace going. I really enjoyed this part of the ride. The roads were great, and the views spectacular.

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I had another stop in Brecon. I was quite hungry by this point, and had planned to eat lots, so I did just that. I hadn’t travelled particularly far from Ross-on-Wye, however Wales was lumpy and I’d earned the feed.It was a good place to stop and re-fuel.

I set off again on the A40, conscious that I had added a few detours over some mountains to my Garmin route. I figured that it probably wasn’t such a good idea to follow them, so skipped the first one. The second one however, I failed to have the foresight to avoid. Probably as I was really enjoying riding my bike, I felt quite good about it. So I took a left turn up a mountain in Trecastle. Straight away, I was almost regretting it as the road ramped up quite steeply and stayed that way.

I carried on regardless, and found some amazing views. However, soon after I ran out of tarmac. A cattle grid separated an off road track lay ahead. In hindsight, I really should have turned back at this point. I figured however, that this would just be a short track and all part of the adventure – I’d made loads of time and was just enjoying the moment.

THis lasted about 10 minutes, before it got really bad. I had to get off and carry the bike over some of the larger boulder sections, and those puddles that looked a little too deep…

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In all honesty, the Bowman Pilgrims handled the task superbly, but some of my poor workshop skills were showing through as parts of the bike started to rattle. It was mostly holding together, so I pressed on.

Coming off the mountain was tough, and involved walking the bike down what was effectively a cliff face. Through a gate and back onto tarmac, before long all the worry of being lost on top of a mountain was behind me. A new one lay ahead – I had lost nearly 1.5 hours messing around on the hill. So I pushed on.

I started spending too much time worrying about how much further was left to go, and if there was a hill going up or down ahead. This got to me a bit, and is something I’ll have to change in the future. No distance countdown! Neat features, but they mess with my head.

On top of this I was so much further behind than I thought I was. Wales is big, and lumpy too! I managed to plot  a route through all of the big bits, with the final climb of the ride being the largest, Preseli Mountain in Pembrokeshire.

The best part of mountains and hills is the view. And the descent! Together, they make for a fun picture!

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So good a view, I had to capture a selfie to show I was there!

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The last part of the journey was a dark one. Internally and externally. I was still able to keep pedaling, but was feeling the tiredness of it all.

All through the ride I had been receiving messages of support which really helped me push on through right to the end. My sister was posting updates to facebook while dot watching, which meant she knew exactly when I was going to arrive at my mums, who was waiting at the door for me when I arrived as a result. This was a really nice touch, I just wish I could have been coherent enough.

So the ride – 432 km, 5644 m elevation, 17 hr 36 min riding (19 hr 25 min total). Check it out here: TCR Test Ride

The best part of it all though was my mum’s Macaroni Cheese, beer, ice cream after a bath while sat in front of a roaring fire. I’m not sure where I’m going to find all of these things every day on the Transcontinental Race however…

What did I learn?

I learned a lot. I made a list, but not all of it will make sense to anyone but me.

  • Check route before – make sure its an actual road!
  • Drink more often – need to stay hydrated
  • Turn back its ok. Its not a road!
  • Check bike properly before trip!
  • Take less food – too much weighed me down!
  • The UK smells in March – muc spreaders…
  • Zero tabs turn to dust in plastic tubes.
  • M&Ms rattle. A lot. This can get very irratating.
  • Food bag rubs knee when out of saddle. Use only when needed, or remove when climbing.
  • Food bag also handy for phone/GoPro. Need it lots!
  • Make right side clear for right knee – it bends in and rubs the frame bag
  • Wear less, sweat less, stay warm
  • Torch lasts 5.5 hours – Cateye volt 700. A great light!
  • Wales is stunning. Glad I took a camera!
  • Cotswolds are very nice, but need to go back when its not dark!
  • Wales is mega grippy. For Grimpeurs.
  • Don’t use a mile countdown!
  • Consider hills in a time schedule. It takes longer to go up hill apparently.
  • Front Gear issues? Check cranks! These came undone with 56km to go. Good catch!
  • Back shoulder pain caused by position and hydration – yeah, drink more!
  • Feeling sick? Eat and drink something. This was not nice in the last 60km.
  • Can’t eat? Small bites, single m&m s. You have to eat!
  • Take gloves off to eat! Hoping the TCR does not require full finger gloves.
  • 432 km is great for weight loss. 5kg! Maybe dehydration is part of that though…
  • Saddle sores are inevitable. Management is required.
  • Keep going!
  • Plan flatter routes!
  • Must try a 32 cassette. Hills get harder.
  • New shoes for distance. My Fiziik R3B’s are not comfortable.
  • Check headset before the ride. Probably should have fitted it properly.. Oops!
  • Check Dynamo light fitting – make sure it’s tight.
  • Check Cranks. Did I say that?

Whats Next?

I’ve a number of things coming up in April to continue the training. The Heart of England Audax is one I’m looking forward to, as well as a London-Paris-London adventure. Watch this space for updates!