Bournemouth Bay 10K Run 2018

Running has been making a resurgence in my life lately. I tend to pick up the running during the Winter when the prospect of riding on cold, wet and slippery roads can seem less appealing. But this year I have experienced a renewed enjoyment of running as my fitness has improved.

Before I became an enlightened cyclist, I ran for exercise. Nothing too serious, just a series of 10K’s, half marathons and a marathon during my 20’s. My 10K PB was 40:12 – missing out on a sub-40 minute by 12 seconds had been hugely disappointing and always felt like unfinished business. However, a series of knee injuries and then the passing of time had made that goal seem out of reach to someone rapidly approaching 40. Until last year when I surprised myself by running 41 minutes on a hilly 10K. I decided to reignite the sub-40 10K goal.

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This weekend I ran the Bournemouth Bay 10K. It was a bit of a family running festival with a total of 6 of us taking part in either the 10K, 5K or Junior 1K, the latter being my four year old daughter’s first ever race. We were all told in no uncertain terms that “it’s not a race, it’s a fun run”, presumably unless she won. The competitive streak is strong with this one. She ended up sprinting the first 100 metres, trying to match the older children before stopping, crying, hobbling, hopping, having a meltdown, refusing to continue and eventually crossing the finish line on my wife’s shoulders. All fairly standard four year old behaviour.

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Real super-heros don’t wear capes – they carry toddlers

There was a field of 1000 people running the 10K. I arrived a bit late at the start line and ended up about 10 rows back so had a bit of a slow start as I weaved my way forward. I usually set off too fast in races so this probably prevented me from repeating my daughter’s race tactics. It was a flat 5K along the beach front, before climbing 35 metres up the “zig-zags” pathway to the cliff tops and then along the roads above the cliff before heading back down to the beach front for a 2km return to the start line. I settled in with a group of 3 at a pace that felt right. Due to my start position I had no idea how many people were ahead of me, and no particular interest either. I was focussed on keeping my pace below 4 minutes per km. I hit the 2km marker on 7:30 and despite feeling ok, decided to rein it in slightly – 3:45/km was faster than I needed to run and potentially risked blowing up. I let my group go and ran solo.

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Puffin on the beach

I reached the zig-zags and the 5km marker at a time of 19:15 (3:50/km pace). I’d caught a runner from a local club so decided to use their local knowledge and pace up the climb. It felt a little slow but I was unsure how long the climb would last so stayed cautious and stuck at the pace. Near the top I overtook. I came past another couple of runners along the cliff top road.  By this point I knew that I would easily beat 40 minutes and started thinking about beating 39. The downhill section was a gift – a long and easy descent on wide, closed roads. It felt like I was free-falling, my main concern was slipping on the wet tarmac or running too hard and hurting my knees. For the final 2km I raised the pace, hunting down the sub-39 time. This was the first and only time that I looked behind during the race and was relieved to see a long gap to the following runner, removing the unpleasant chance of being overtaken just before the line. With a hundred metres to go I heard the encouraging shouts of my family and saw the finish line clock which confirmed that I had the sub-39 in the bag.

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Finishing time – 38:53

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In another couple of years the veterans podium could be calling …

The final race of the day was the 5K, featuring my Dad and brothers. My Dad’s original idea was for all of us to do the 10K, but in the end he decided that the shorter distance would ensure that they’d beat my time. It seemed like a slightly unfair handicap, and despite my time being a bit quicker than they were all expecting, I had to concede this particular race to them!

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Victorious in their quest to beat 38:53 in the 5K

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Gent-Wevelgem Cyclosportive 2018

I headed down to Flanders to ride the Gent-Wevelgem cyclo on Saturday. The sportive largely follows the route of the Gent-Wevelgem pro race on the Sunday, the main difference being that it starts and finishes in Wevelgem and goes nowhere near Gent. Presumably ‘Wevelgem-Wevelgem’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!

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Today’s menu will mostly feature cobbles, bergs and dirt roads

I’d been quite ill for most of the two weeks prior to the event, to the extent that I’d written off any hope of riding the full 135 mile / 215km distance. Fortunately I was feeling better by the time we headed out to Belgium and decided that the cycling-downtime might actually serve as a useful pre-event taper.

The furthest distance I’d ridden on a bike was 125 miles (200km) on the warm and sunny, pan-flat roads of the Loire Valley. So this ride would be a step into the unknown, especially when combined with the cobbles, hills and dirt-road sections.

We road as a four man chain-gang for the first 60 miles, heading North towards the coast along narrow farm tracks and country lanes. It was an exciting route of short, straight stretches followed by sharp ninety-degree turns, interspersed by rumbling across cobbled village squares.

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We turned South to work our way along the French border and were met by the wind. The more experienced member of our group shouted at us to “echelon the f**k out of it”, probably the funniest and most repeated quote of the weekend.

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The flatlands and headwinds were eventually replaced by the greater challenge of the ‘bergs’ – the hills. We had 12 in total to conquer, the most famous of which being the cobbled climb up the Kemmelberg. Individually, none of the climbs were too bad, mostly just short and steep hills. But within the context of such a long ride they began to take their toll. We broke up on the ascents and regrouped on the other side of each one. I was either 3rd of 4th in our little group so had the added nasty challenge of always having to fight to catch back up with a couple of riders who were rested and ready to burn again. The disadvantage tends to compound in these circumstances.

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The Kemmelberg – avoiding the larger gaps in the cobbles

The bergs finally ended, but the final 25 flat miles were a battle to keep going, We still had our headwind so it was infinitely preferable to be in a group than riding solo. But I constantly felt the stretching of that invisible piece of elastic connecting my bike to the one in front. Over the last 12 months I’ve had more races and more hard training sessions than in all my previous years of cycling added together. I’ve been forced to quit a few times, and despite the macho-BS of statements like “pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever”, there is still a certain truth to it. Giving up can really sting afterwards. With this in mind, I just kept pedalling.

 

The feeling of relief and accomplishment at the finish line was fantastic. Plus the sun had unexpectedly come out so we stuffed our faces with frites, burgers and beer and enjoyed the warm glow of the first sun in six months, combined with the pumping Euro dance beats. Party time.

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Bristol South Road Race 2018

I entered the Bristol South Road Race a few months ago. It was one of those spontaneous mid-winter decisions taken while browsing the following season’s race calendar. The race starts less than 5 miles from my house and is on familiar local roads so I couldn’t think of any good reason not to enter. However, as the race drew nearer and with my place secured, I began to think of several:

  1. I had never been in a road race before
  2. The race was Category 3 & 4, therefore the field was likely to contain a lot of better and more experienced riders
  3. The course is brutal (8 laps over rolling terrain with a significant hill)
  4. The race was on Mothers Day so asking my wife to look after the kids would mean  spending all of the credit in my cycling brownie points account
  5. The race was the same week as my duathlon race
  6. I was scared, mostly of crashing but also partly of just being crushed by the opposition

To add to the list I woke on the morning of the race with a sore throat and what felt like the onset of a cold so considered withdrawing. But in the end, I decided that I’d already lost too much sleep over the race to be a ‘DNS’ so whatever the outcome I would just try to enjoy the experience and not worry about the result.

 

Following the riders’ briefing at the HQ I scored my first newbie notch by being a bit slow to collect my bike and head to the start line. The result being that I started near the back of the 80 man field. Despite the start of the race being neutralised, the concertina effect of the peloton meant that we were constantly braking and accelerating at the back. There was a fair bit of shouting and jostling but it was less scary than I was expecting. I just held my line and tried to remember to keep breathing.

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The view from the back

The biggest surprise was how quickly the field was decimated. Less than 10 miles into the race I looked behind expecting to see 20 riders and realised I was at the back of the pack. It wasn’t long after that my own race ended. We were halfway up Stowey Hill for the second time when I realised that I was following riders who were being dropped from the peloton. I moved past them to try and regain contact. But by the top of the climb there was still a small gap in front, then I was hit by the headwind. The gap grew. I gave it everything but could only watch the field gradually leaving me behind. Suddenly two of the other dropped riders came past me shouting so I dug even deeper and caught them. We rode as a three man chain-gang for a few miles, taking turns fighting the wind but the peloton remained tantalisingly just out of reach. Eventually we received our sign that our race was done when we were overtaken by the motorcycle outriders, marshals car and ambulance. I stopped pedalling and relaxed.

Realising that I had a fair bit of time before the race ended, I unpinned my numbers and headed off for an enjoyable warm-down cruise around the lake before then heading up to the finish line where I met the majority of the field cheering on the few remaining riders.

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Andrew Kirby wins by a healthy margin

The race was won by Andrew Kirby – after mistakenly celebrating a lap too early he incredibly managed to ride on solo for another lap and hang on for the win. Second place was Ollie Bratchell and third George Jones. All three in their teens or early twenties which made me feel like a bit of oldie. What is wrong with the youth of today – wasting the best years of their life!

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With Will, celebrating being in one piece ahead of our trip to Belgium in a fortnight – funds are urgently needed in the personal brownie point account! 

Getting spat out of the back of your first Cat 4 race is apparently a rite of passage. The fact that this race was also Cat 3 and over a hilly course meant there was only likely to be one outcome for me. My first priority was to avoid any crashes; my second was to try and finish. I think in the end there were only 15 or so finishers so I’m mostly just happy to have survived in one piece. I’m taking a few weeks break from racing now to focus on some training and some enjoyment. Next on the agenda is a lads’ weekend in Belgium to watch some of the Classics and ride a cyclo-sportive.

Royal Navy Duathlon Championships 2018

This week I was a guest at the Royal Navy Duathlon Championships which took place at Merryfield Airfield in Somerset. The race consisted of a 2.5 mile run, 10 mile cycle and then a slightly shorter 1.5 mile run. After all the recent cold weather, the temperature of 8°C felt tropical as I set up in the sunshine. However, the sun briefly disappeared and it started to hail and I found myself questioning the wisdom of entering so many early season races. Fortunately the sun soon returned along with my positivity, to the extent that I decided it was a prime moment to expose my milky-white legs to their first dose of Vitamin D for the year.

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Checking how long I had before applying the Factor 50

At the start I took my place at the front, mostly due to the width of the track allowing the field to spread right out. But also partly as a show of intent to my Dad who’d travelled to watch the race. He told me he hadn’t travelled all this way to watch me plodding along at the back. I think he was joking!

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If everything else went pear-shaped, at least I could say I experienced the front of the race

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Go time

With a field of around 100 people I was hoping for a top 20 finish, but had no real idea of the caliber of the competition. Certainly the quantity of military and triathlete national team kits were enough to indicate the seriousness of some competitors. After the first 100 metres I was in 6th position as the field began to string out. A group of four elite-looking runners were disappearing in front of me, pursued by a solo runner, then a gap and then me with a fair bit of heavy breathing and foot stomping for company. I dared not look back.

It was a windy day and as we came around the first bend and into a headwind, I considered dropping back a couple of places to benefit from some wind protection. But then decided that the feeling of being overtaken might have a net negative effect on my pace. The first test of heart vs head in the race – heart won this time. I held my position without letting the gaps in front grow too large. Within the last few hundred metres, two runners came past me but I was able to stick to their pace and we entered the transition as a threesome. It was feeling good to be in an actual race rather than just a personal time trial.

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Transition 1 

My transition was methodical rather than quick, but definitely better than my last race. My first lap of the three was again my slowest, whether this was due to my pacing or from being above my cycling limit after the run is hard to say. But after being overtaken by a couple of riders on the first lap I managed to hold my position for the rest of the ride.

Duathlons are peculiar races in that they have 2 false finish lines where I naively hope that the pain will lessen once that leg ends, only to find that it actually increases.

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I ended up in a battle with these guys for most of the race

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Considering a flying dismount before bottling it

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Stopping during a race, however briefly, is generally a bad move 

My final transition was representative of someone who just hasn’t practiced the discipline. I came to a complete stop to dismount, too afraid of crashing spectacularly. I marvelled at someone else as they came gliding past with one foot on the pedal before effortlessly breaking into a run with their bike. Note to self – practice this fundamental part of the race.

I exited transition alongside a competitor doing my perfect pace so I decided to sit on his shoulder rather than hurt myself trying to overtake. We overtook one person. I considered passing him but just the thought of increasing my pace hurt my chest and lungs. With the finish line in sight I decided it would be ungentlemanly to overtake him, having benefitted from his pacing. In the end this proved inconsequential as he stretched away in a sprint for the line. I could hear heavy breathing behind me, and with my Dad at the finish line counting places I decided to cement my position and also charge for the line. I held on for 12th place.

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The pleasure and pain of giving everything

I was really pleased with this race and result. Not only am I beginning to feel like I may be at my highest ever fitness level, it was a great experience to have been in a proper race – one where I was mostly aware of my placing throughout. I’m looking forward to pushing on and increasing my fitness further.

However, if I want to continue with duathlons (or enter a triathlon) then the race results confirm that an area in need of work is my transitions. I was 9th fastest in the runs, 10th in the cycle but ended up finishing 12th overall.

 

Salt & Sham 10 Mile TT 2018

I took part in an early season time trial on the U102 course in Iron Acton this past weekend. It was a bright and sunny day but also typically freezing for February, so it seemed slightly mad to be out racing in nothing but tight-fitting lycra. This was the inaugural event of Salt & Sham (SAS) cycling club, so I wanted to take part and show my support for a local club. The fact that I might catch pneumonia seemed a small price to pay.

After signing on and collecting my race number I headed out for what would normally have been a warm up, but was more a case of just keeping moving to avoid freezing. There was a headwind for the slightly longer outward leg, and combined with a hill leading up to the turnaround it could potentially have made the first half of the race a tough mental challenge. But I felt like I found a good rhythm, walking that fine tightrope between going bloody hard but not overdoing it. Plus I overtook my minute man and then two-minute man on the outward leg which always helps the confidence.

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There were 42 riders taking part, plus a healthy number of spectators along the route shouting encouragement and shaking cowbells making it an enjoyable event. And the tailwind and downhill stretch from the turnaround improved things even further. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be buzzing along at high speed with nothing but the sound of the whistling wind and a disc wheel whooshing for company.

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With the wind on my back, I kept my momentum up most of the small rises without losing too much speed and for the final couple of miles I was hanging on, wanting to give it everything but also knowing that I was already at my limit.

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Emptying the tank

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LOL 

My finishing time was 25:41 giving an average speed of 23.4mph. I rode the race blind in terms of data on my bike computer, but looking at it afterwards I averaged just over 300 watts which is a personal best power output, a significantly positive outcome for such an early season race. The winner was Josh Griffiths from Bristol South CC in a time of 22:51. I ended up placing 16th.

So if I want to start threatening the podium I need to find another 3 minutes from somewhere. I’m not sure whether this could come from improved aerodynamics, increased specific fitness or better rest and nutrition. These are all areas that I’ve only recently started paying better attention to. However, I do have enough experience of cycling to know that whatever the question, a new bike is usually the answer.

The Chilly Duathlon 2018

I kicked off my racing for 2018 with the ‘Chilly Duathlon’ at Castle Combe race circuit in Chippenham. My cycling club-mates made me fully aware that a duathlon is a major breach of the cycling rules but I’d been doing a reasonable amount of running over the winter and felt like putting it to good use.

The duathlon consists of a 2 mile run around the perimeter of the circuit, followed by a 10 mile cycle (5 laps of the race track) before finishing off with another 2 mile run. My previous best was 56 minutes, a time I was hoping to smash … mostly due to the increasing aerodynamic arsenal that I’ve acquired since then. However, while it’s possible to buy time on the bike with new slippery weaponry, there’s not much you can do to improve your running apart from good old fashioned training.

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I scraped under 12 minutes for the first run before being uncharacteristically faffy in the transition and taking a minute and 15 seconds to get going again. Running in cycling shoes before coming to a complete stop to clamber on my bike, I probably looked like some piss-head in high-heels trying to get a piggy-back. If I want to get quicker I may need to practice some of that stuff.

My heart rate when I run is always higher than my heart rate at threshold on the bike. About 10 beats higher. So the first lap on the bike felt dreadful. I wasn’t going fast enough, my heart felt like it was about to explode and my shoulders were burning from swinging for 12 minutes before being locked in the TT position. It felt like the thread was totally unravelling.

Fortunately I had a moment of clarity and decided to just ease off the pace and bring my heart rate down to a more normal level. It seemed incongruous to slow down mid-race but within a minute I was at a more comfortable level and able to focus on riding faster. For the following four laps I had the satisfaction of seeing my average speed climb.

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My bike dismount was another stuttering display before I ran into the transition zone and failed to find my spot. During the first transition I’d located my bike by looking at the numbers of all the neighbouring bikes. But the transition zone was now mostly empty of bikes and I wasn’t the only owner of blue running shoes. My visor was steaming up so I took my helmet off to get a better look and ended up being stopped by the marshall and given a time penalty for unclipping my helmet before racking my bike. It was pure comedy and wasted a lot of valuable time.

I started my final run completely vexed and well off the pace. But once my back had relaxed from the aggressive bike position and I’d stopped mumbling naughty words under my breath about the time penalty I actually decided to start running properly and finished strong in a total time of 51 minutes and 24 seconds.

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If you learn from your mistakes, then this duathlon was an epic learning experience! It was also really enjoyable and well organised so I look forward to doing it again some time and trying to smash my new PB.

 

Bristol South Hill Climb 2017

For the final hill climb of the series I decided to try something different. Instead of just going full gas and then dragging my oxygen-deprived body to the top, I tried actual pacing. This was partly from a realisation that the previous “tactic” wasn’t working for the longer climbs, but also because I didn’t feel like putting myself through that depth of suffering two days in a row. This psychological barrier is worth bearing in mind next season if I ever contemplate racing two days on the bounce again.

Burrington Coombe is my local hill and one that I use for most of my training rides, so I looked at my previous results on the ascent and set a target heart rate and power for the climb which was slightly above my PB. Not exactly the heights of scientific analysis but it seemed like a sensibly ambitious approach.

I also put deep-section wheels on my bike. There was a slight sacrifice in terms of weight, but I decided that this would be offset by the aero advantage on a 2 mile climb at 6%. Also, it made the bike look significantly more badass which cannot be dismissed in terms of an added psychological edge!

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Looking fast is surely the first step in being fast?

A few friends and family turned up to offer support which was greatly appreciated. It always helps maintain a positive mentality when you hear people shouting encouragement mid-climb. I gave them an anguished glance in the midst of my struggle, deciding not to smile. Smiling on a hill climb looks like you’re not trying. If I’m honest I’m not sure I could have mustered a smile, so I guess I must have been doing something right.

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Focussing on something

The race went to plan and I hit my target power. However I was below my max heart rate which indicates that I probably could have gone harder. My time placed me in the top half of the finishers, but I still felt like I could have gone faster. I did set a PB on the hill which I have climbed most weeks for the last 6 years so can’t really be too disappointed with the end result.

There’s a fine line between going too hard and taking it too easy. It’s obviously also very easy to think in hindsight that you could have pushed harder, but in reality once that number has been pinned on your back and people are shouting at you from the roadside, one of the the hardest things to do is pace yourself sensibly. Overall, my learning from this race is that riding too conservatively will not result in a fast time.

One thing’s for sure – whether you attack or try to pace yourself, hill climbing is hard. It’s certainly left me with plenty to ruminate for the next 11 months …

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Hanging with my MTB bro’s after the race