Cross country training

This weekend I was up at Leanachan Forest (Fort William) checking out the route for 10 Under the Ben which is at the end of May.  Much to my surprise, all my LEJOG training has put me in pretty good stead for this.  The course largely consists of long energy-sapping climbs on big wide roads!  Hurrah, that’s the course for me!  Having said that, there’s plenty of weaving through trees (yay!) and the odd heartstopping (potentially literally) rockstrewn descent.

The drive up to Fort William took us across Rannoch Moor and through Glencoe, which is the route I’ll be cycling during LEJOG.  Awesome scenery, but nowhere to shelter from the wind.  So, as an experiment I’ve borrowed a set of aero bars for my bike (thanks Tim!) which I’m going to try out over the next few weeks.  It’s 600g extra weight to carry, but the reduction in drag is significant (when you can use them).  I’m not too sure whether the posture will give me a sore back, so I’ll try them out for a while and see.

I have now ordered a 22 tooth sprocket for my road bike.  The internet suggests that you can switch them over just using a screwdriver, so my plan is to take a 20t and a 22t sprocket and switch between them as required.

A huge thankyou to all the people who have sponsored me.  I got an email from the Sick Kids hospital the other week saying thanks for the fundraising, and so I wanted to pass that thanks onto all of you who’ve donated money!

ObRandom:  Whilst scouring flickr today, I found this.  It’s not a staged photo.  This guy really did cycle Lands End to John O’Groats on a unicycle – read about it in his blog.

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What a difference a day makes

After yesterdays trials, I was a bit nervous of the 65 mile return ride.  When I woke up, my legs felt pretty stiff after pounding against the wind for 7 hours yesterday.  So I took things easy in the morning and didn’t leave until midday – and a good multistage breakfast (cereal, orange juice, two lots of toast + marmalade and a bacon roll).

The wind had dropped down to 5mph, but more importantly it was now behind me.   What a difference!  I streamed along using the top three gears rather than the bottom three.  After taking the first few hills easy to test my tired legs, I started picking up the pace and, by the time I got to Douglas I was actively attacking hills – changing up and dancing on the pedals to power up them.  These were the same hills that caused my suffering yesterday, and today they were like a red rag to a bull.

To tell the truth, I’d pulled out all the psychological tricks.  I listened to music most of the way – and it was cheese like Feeder’s Buck Rodger and Just A Day that worked the magic.  I must’ve listened to that track about four or five times whilst attacking the steeper hills.  And, thanks to yotube, I needed something catchy to keep this evil song out of my head – “if this don’t make your booty move, your booty must be dead!”.  Psychological warfare, I tell you!

I left the GPS and cycle computer in my panniers so that they could discuss numbers with each other wihtout distracting me.

I ended up doing the 65 miles in 4h50m.  So that’s 130 miles and nearly 12 hours of cycling this weekend.  It’s probably my last big training effort before doing the LEJOG ride itself.   I still have a month to go, but apart from riding the XC course at Fort William, I’m doing real world (non-cycling) stuff the rest of the time.  I’ll do some speed training during my cycle to work, but pretty soon I’m going to taper off my training and rest to repair my body.

Food for the day: about 1l of water, plus 400ml of lucozade, wine gums, macaroon, a bounty bar, most of a fruit&nut bar.  The macaroon was the win of the day – the top ingredient is sugar, next on the list is glucose!

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The wind, the wind

I cycled the 65 miles from Edinburgh down to Auchinleck today, hoping to do it in maybe 5 hours because there was a bit of a headwind forecast.  It started out well – the climb up through Currie and Balerno felt okay.  But whenever I got out of the city I encountered the wind that would be my nemesis all day long.  The forecast said it would be 8mph, gusting up to 12mph.  This didn’t sound too bad – I’d done a shorter training ride in 20mph wind before.  But, having followed the A70 out into the countryside, there was no shelter and no respite.  The wind was constant all day long, making ascents much harder and sapping all the fun out of descents.  Even on the steep downhills, I could feel the wind pressing back on me, stopping me from picking up any speed.  And once onto the flat, my momentum was blown away immediately.  I spent almost all day in the bottom three gears.  After the first two hours, I was finding it hard going – and it took me a while to realise that, averaging a mere 9mph, I would be in the saddle for 7 hours.  I occasionally checked ‘distance remaining’ on the GPS, but each time the number was worryingly high and it didn’t seem to go down very quickly.  The only time the GPS gave good news was when I got down to single digits.  But even that good news was somewhat dampened by the realisation that I still had an hour of cycling remaining.

Jeez, that was tough.  I stuck at it, because it’s a training ride and I know there’ll be bad days during LEJOG – therefore, I need to get used to toughing it out.  At the end of the day, I made it.  And, had I not tricked myself into believing I’d do it in 5 hours, I think the psychological effect of the wind would’ve been lessened.  As it was, I felt the wind was fighting against me, slowing me down .. stopping me going at the speed I should’ve been going at.  But there’s no speed other than the one that you do on the day.  In some ways, I’m beginning to view cycling as an activity where you pass through air rather than passing along the ground.  I can do hills.  I can do distance.  But I need to accept that, on a windy day, the weather is going to choose my pace.

I did a ‘trial packing’ earlier in the week.  This (first!) attempt ended up with pannier + all my gear weighing basically 10kg.  I think my bike weighs something like 14kg.  And I weigh around 74kg.  Put like that, it doesn’t sound that much.  But, still, I’m not going hacksaw any bits off the bike and I’m pretty sure that removing any of my own limbs would be counter-productive.  So, prompted by today’s suffering, I’m going to rethink what I’m taking.  I don’t think there’s much wiggle room.  But any weight saved will make a difference.

The other lesson from today is that I definitely could benefit from lower gearing.  I got up all the hills fine, but the combination of full panniers and wind meant that grinding along in first gear was flavour of the day.  It could easily be windy on a hilly day during LEJOG, and I’d gladly sacrifice some top end speed (ha! the thought!) for some more options low down.  So I’m going to get a 22 tooth sprocket for the rear and see what difference that makes.

Food munched today: cereal + toast + tea for breakfast,  1.5 litres of water, two bananas, one jam sandwich, one snickers bar, two caramel wafers, one Wispa, one wee box of sultanas and raisins (today’s tastiest snack!) and three barley sugar sweets.

Todays lessons:

1.  Carry cash – petrol stations are good for chocolate stops, but today’s garage had a “minimum 7.50 purchase on card” sign.  I only had £1 in cash, and ended up doing maths puzzles to try and maximize the amount of calories I could get for my pound.

2. Carry spare food in case that tasty cafe you stopped at last time in Glespin is shut, boo.  Following my recent blog post, I resolved to stop for lunch like a good boy, but I was thwarted because apparently it’s easter and that means cafes are shut.

3. You can get sunburned even on a day where the wind is so cold you need to wear winter leggings and windproof jacket all day long.  I am a dumbass who thought to bring suncream in his panniers but not put it on his face.  Hindsight is 20/20.  What’s worse, I was cycling southwest all day long, so it’s not even symmetric.

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Staying warm, eating food

Twice during my training, I’ve stupidly failed to eat enough during the ride, and both times the effect has been pretty severe.  Typically, I’ve been out on a ride which turned out to be longer than I expected (eg. because of a strong headwind).  Then I run out of food/water, and I think “stuff it, I just want to get home” and press on rather than stopping to refuel.

This is a really bad idea.

Three things happen.  Firstly, your energy just goes away and cycling suddenly becomes hard.  Secondly, your body temperature seems to drop rapidly – but you don’t realise how chilled you’ve got until you stop cycling.  Thirdly, your concentration, risk perception and reaction times become seriously impaired.  The worst part of this is this: It happens fast, and I don’t realise that its happening.  I mean, I know I’m tired and hungry, but I don’t notice the temperature drop, and once you’re in the bad zone you’re just thinking about getting home and nothing else.

Boy, this is all good stuff to learn during training.  Actually, I’m much more conscientious about eating and drinking when I’m on long rides.  Every time I even think about water or drinking, I take a drink.  And I eat something at least every 10 miles or 45 minutes.  But I seem to have a dumb blindspot during ride of about two hours.

I guess the main risk during the actual LEJOG ride is towards the end of the day when I’ll be tempted to “just get there”.  Or to try and take a ‘late lunch’ instead of stopping at the right time.  So I hope that writing this down will help me remember this!  And I’m definitely going to pack some glucose sweets for instant emergency refueling.

Edit:  It’s just occurred to me that there was also something else in common on both these rides.  The first part of the ride was slow and hard work (hills, or against the wind) so I was hot and sweating.  Then the second part of the ride was at higher speeds and colder weather.  So, the temperature drop combined with the wind chill on damp cycling gear makes for a nasty combo.  A wise cyclist would stop, adjust layers and be comfortable …

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The Lang Whang

The Lang Whang

I’ve always thought the Lang Whang was a strange name for a road, but it’s certainly descriptive.  Long, hilly, goes through the middle of nowhere – well, Carstairs/Carnwath to Edinburgh anyway.  The best bit about the route is that, once you are past Tarbrax, you get a huge amount of high speed downhilling into Edinburgh.  Even once you’re back in the city, the route through Juniper Green is top-gear speed-camera-taunting stuff.

The magic numbers for today were: 65 miles in 4h13m, averaging 15mph, and my hrm says 125bpm average.  The ride was fueled by a multistage breakfast (cereal, bacon sandwich, big pancake, 2 cups of tea), a litre of liquid (sports juice and water), one fruit&nut chocolate bar, two caramel wafers, half a packet of wine gums and a banana.  I feel like a machine for turning chocolate into heat.

After yesterday’s hill riding I did a lot of stretches and felt totally fine this morning.  I never used to bother stretching, until last year I went to a yoga class and realised how tight/short my leg muscles were.  Now I’m much more aware of this, I don’t just think ‘oh well, my legs must just be sore from cycling’.

Mmm, large amounts of tasty food await …

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Auchinleck to Mennock, then up the hill to Wanlockhead
Auchinleck to Mennock, then up the hill to Wanlockhead

In preperation for the hills of Devon and Cornwall, I sought out the hilliest hill I could find – the road up the Lead Hills to Wanlockhead, the highest village in Scotland.  It was a super windy day (30mph according to the Met Office) which offered some assistance.   The climb started after about 33km, rising from 130m above sea level to about 450m at the top.  A lot of the route was steady climbing, but there were three or four very steep sections which had me pushing hard in my lowest gear (8 speed nexus).  There’s a nasty steep section at the start – I was worried it was going to be that steep the whole way!  But then it settles down for a while, with only a couple of hard bits.  The longest hard section was right at the top.  I nearly got off and pushed, but stuck with it and was rewarded with the sight of the village of Wanlockhead over the top.  There was one further steep climb beyond the village which I did for completeness (amazing how much extra energy you suddenly get when you realise that you ‘are there’).  It took 1h20m to get to Mennock, and then 40mins of climbing to get to Wanlockhead.  In total, I did 39 miles.

The descent was almost worse than the ascent – the weather turned worse and I was cycling into the teeth of a rain laced gale.  I had to stop and put on a rain coat, just to stop getting froozen with the wind chill.  Then later I put on waterproof trousers and a beanie under my helmet to ward off the freezing wind.  A couple of cattle grids and some loose grit on a wet corner kept me focused.  I’m doing all these training rides fully loaded with two panniers and two full water bottles.  But today I was glad to have all my ’emergency clothes’ with me – I needed them!  On my way down, I saw a racer guy pedalling uphill in basic race gear.  I can’t imagine how chilly he’ll have got on the way down!

The photos are on flickr.

Overall, I’m really pleased – the ~400m climbs in Dartmoor won’t be a total surprise to me now.  I’m glad my new bike will have some lower gears though.  The 8-speed nexus hub gear bike was totally ridable today, but it was always sobering to realise that you’d ran out of gears and just needed to muscle up the hill.  Tomorrow, I’ll cycle the 62 miles back up into Edinburgh which’ll take between 4 and 5 hours (depending on which way the wind is blowing!).

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The Story

At some point last year, I decided that cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats was something that I could attempt.   Since then I’ve been doing lots of training rides, cycling to work as much as possible, deciding on gear and tech and plotting potential routes on maps.  I intend to keep this blog updated as I complete the buildup and will also send updates whilst en-route.

I’m raising money for the Sick Kids hospital, and you can visit my sponsorship page at

I’ll be getting the train down to Penzance and then starting the ride from Lands End on May 11th.  I’ll be doing the ride solo and unsupported (ie. carrying all my own stuff) and will be staying in B&B’s along the way.  The total distance is over 1000 miles, passing up the west coast of England, through Glasgow and then heading north along Loch Ness towards the highlands.  I picked the start date to avoid busy school holidays and to try to get decent cycling weather (neither too hot or too cold, fingers crossed).

I originally intended to do the ride on my hub-geared Courier Nexus bike because I love hub gears, but after doing lots of longer rides I found that wind resistance is a big deal.  So now I’ll be doing the ride on a Ridgeback Horizon touring bike with drop handlebars.  For navigation, I’ll have pages torn out of a road atlas, plus a GPS system to keep me going in the right direction.

For training, I’ve been gradually doing longer rides.  Last summer, I cycled to my parents place and back (~50miles).  Then in September I cycled to my inlaws place (60miles) and then back the next day (another 60 miles).  I try to cycle to work when life allows it (10 miles there, 10 miles back).  I got back into training in January with a freezing cold 25 mile loop through Musselburgh, Dalkeith and Loanhead – made the mistake of not taking enough food, and underestimated the effect of getting chilled.  Then, a few weekends later, I did a 20 ride out to Gullane with the wind behind me, followed by a painful return home against a gale.  Last weekend, I did a 55 mile loop around via the Kincardine bridge – it was even warm and sunny at one point!  And this weekend I’m planning a 65 mile ride.  I seem to be averaging about 14mph over a typical 4 hour ride.

Training also involves getting used to eating more food than I normally do.  Last weekend’s ride burned something like 2,500 calories and I need to keep myself fueled during the big ride.  So I’m trying to get used to loading up with extra food.

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