What does winter training look like for an academic athlete?

pudding

I think it’s fair to say winter is here and since my return from Madrid, lots have asked me what I am up to. I think most hope I am going to say that I am vegetating on the sofa. I know quite a few triathletes who like to take it easy, to virtual standstill in winter. I think I understand that, let’s be honest, it can get pretty tough sometimes. However, training in winter is fundamental to my academic world and is also where I believe I earn the summer’s results. I also train because it’s my love my drug and I can. Here’s a short little update for those interested.

My recovery from Madrid was quite incredible, just 8 hours post-race finish line I was spinning my legs in the hotel gym! In the immediate week I enjoyed running and cycling relatively gently in and around my favourite part of Spain. By 7 days after the event I was able to ride and very much enjoy 106 miles in the glorious Autumn sun (without a horrid brick run after!). I carefully tracked my heart rate and its variation, and all was good. Don’t get me wrong, I understand my body and know when it’s OK for more effort or when it needs a rest.

I knew in those first few weeks post racing that I didn’t have long until the clocks changed in the UK and so switched to winter training and routine almost immediately. This means religiously being at the gym early doors to keep to routine and sleep patterns and by continuing to get up early I don’t tend to notice the shift to Greenwich Meantime too much. It also helps keep up writing routine (the drill stays the same, woken up by Lumie light from 5.35am, train 6.30-8.30am fasted, shower, coffee, breakfast at 10am post first block of writing). I also cut down some of the very long-distance riding like 6-hour death rides outside in the freezing cold. I find it pointless going out for several hours when I have to wear everything I own and still struggle to keep my heart rate up to a reasonable work load. I feel the cold quite badly and I have a borg like heart that requires substantial effort to get it to rise. I therefore train mostly indoors, cycling up to 150 miles a week on my Wattbike and running for circa 4 hours on the treadmill.

My weekly training load will stay the same now until probably the 1st of week February and is basically what Ironman would call week 12 of a 24-week full distance plan. The sessions are shorter but can produce a much higher training score stress. I love to race and train for long periods, but some of these shorter sessions give me the most amount of pleasure. There’s something about being on your Wattbike, drowning in sweat with Blink 182, riding at your threshold. Those are some of the hardest sessions I complete all year and because I don’t have to be ‘race fit’ it doesn’t matter if I take a few days to recover from a giant effort. The same can be said about brutal leg training.

With some slight variations a week normally looks like this:

30-mile ride (largely spent in the sweet spot)

50-mile ride (sometimes split into two)

30-mile ride plus 5K run just below race pace

60 minute all out ride (bucket often needed)

90-minute hill run on treadmill plus short abs workout

60-minute interval running session (800 metres beyond race pace /200 metres rest), upper body weights #1

30 minute cross training, leg weight training, 30 minute swim

10K fast run plus upper body weights #2

1 hour/ circa 2 mile swim

A bit of rest and then whatever else I fancy, which usually means chucking myself on my Wattbike.

I only make minor adjustments to my diet and keep to pretty much 90% on it, 10% a bit more relaxed, occasionally 80%/20%. One can relax a little more in winter nutritionally, but I am always mindful that what I put on now will have to be worked off come Spring. Admittedly I am vain and tend to like my abs! Training on a Wattbike also burns considerable energy and needs to be fuelled even more than riding outside sometimes. I therefore will use carbs mostly around training and in conjunction with the day’s effort levels. Cue the rice pudding above. If I start getting fatter, I’ll do a bit of ketosis but I don’t expect that to happen this year.

But winter isn’t just about training hard and protecting my academic sanity, it’s also the time a triathlete gets to make adjustments. Some of my aims this year include: perfecting my swim stroke and breathing, building a new aero bike to take more pressure off feet, running in a new pair of insoles, studying my Oura ring and sleep patterns, and lastly trying to increase my cycling cadence and pedal stroke. The latter is a big job but one I am confident will save me foot pain. In four weeks I have already increased 2 rpm.

At the moment my first planned race next year is Marbella 70.3 in April. I am heading to Tenerife for two weeks over the festive period and will put some long hours base training in then, almost certainly riding up and down Mt. Teide.

Time for hard graft.

Charlie’s taxis: Loving the labour of driving the disco bus

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A slightly off the wall post this one on driving, even if it is something relatively mundane in the modern world and just seen as a mere accompaniment to what we do nearly every day. It’s often framed as an annoying and exhausting addition to a working day when we want to get home and put up our feet. It’s considered laborious, but not work per se and we supposedly get no payment, at least not in monetary form. However, I am not with the majority here and have never really understood it in that way. It’s a space closely connected with being an academic and an athlete and for me far more than time eaten up just travelling to work and training. It’s not uncommon for an academic to make long commutes at some stage and as experience is gained as a triathlete there is no choice but to travel to bigger races.

Wherever we are going, whatever the time of day or driving conditions, the type of roads, however tired I am or how far we will go, you’ll have to wrestle me for the keys. I only drive circa 19,000 miles a year at the moment (about ten hours a week), but it genuinely gives me the utmost pleasure, so much so that I am usually sad when I park the car after only 10 minutes driving. This is not an arduous form of labour in my life that might be expected. I can understand why many commuters think it’s a waste of their time and money, but I’ve never felt that way, perhaps surprising giving that I cram every minute into my working and training day and devote every bit of spare money to either bike parts or race fees. However, I never find it tiring, perhaps being quite fit helps. Similar to racing drivers who are exceptionality fit outside of driving and are often endurance athletes themselves, Jenson Button and Mark Webber two notable examples. On a tiny bit of caffeine chewing gum I can drive for hours on end.

Of course, we all know I adore riding and racing bikes and a cyclist as a driver is supposedly more proficient in reading the road, has quicker reactions, is more aware of other cyclists, is more adept at controlling and steering a vehicle etc., at least that’s what some insurance companies who give reduced premiums suggest. I certainly drive a car like I ride a bike but more on that analogy later. I adore racing and I can’t deny the similarity in occurrence when driving. I love the intuition with the car itself but also the memories of the regular journeys and things gone past. Precisely nailing every corner, roundabout, overtake, and gear change to perfection is my love and drug. It’s also a chance for me to enjoy music and I never ever drive without my iPod on shuffle. OK, I am destroying the environment and spending a fortune on fuel I won’t deny but it’s also a very effective means of sustaining some sanity, especially if I can’t get out to ride much. It thus remains a fundamental part of my lifestyle that I factor in every week and never feel guilty about it. It’s simply what I do.

Beyond the physical labour and enjoyment of driving the car, there is more concerning the labour on myself during the drive. Like most people, I tend to drive two types of journeys, either longer ones or shorter versions ten minutes to work, the shops or gym (yeah, I am lazy, an athlete never uses extra energy when they don’t want or have to). The shorter ones become more of a transition, usually from training to work in the office or work at home. Those shorter journeys enable me to enjoy myself for a few minutes before shifting to a work mind set in a different physical space. After ticking off my training tasks, I then put the academic ones to the forefront of my mind. Driving also gives me the greatest sense of calm and distraction, probably because I just love to control something moving, ten minutes in the car before an anxious appointment or meeting works wonders like you wouldn’t believe.

During the longer journeys, I love being away from my 3G/4G/Wifi, namely my iPhone and MacBook. No TouchId here, I am out of touch. One of my more frequent drives consists of the A6 and 55 junctions of the A14 and those miles happen automatically, on repeat without any thought. Even though I am not thinking about the drive, I don’t get bored or lonely either, I like that I have to have a lot of trust in the driver in front, but I also like that I don’t have to talk to them. Thinking time. Academically I conjure up my blog posts, lectures, seminar exercises, paper ideas and various other forms of writing. I try to store ten points and if I can remember them when I get home, then they are keepers (of course I can’t or don’t write them down in transit). I also think on a broader conceptual level about myself as an academic rather than my academic work, what’s my research identity? What are my one, three and five-year plans? In this sense both of these pursuits remind me of one of the great benefits of an academic job. I am not always welded to a desk, I think fora job, rather than solely just about my job. In my solitary journeys I find I can think far more easily and freely without the noise of emails, other worries or simply the noise of my own mind telling me I am thinking non-sense. Without the commitment of a screen or piece of paper I can also think far more liberally and give myself a chance to wander with impossible ideas. I don’t have to subject them to a premature death by writing them down until I am ready.

During those long journeys I don’t have a list of things I work through. I just let things pop into my head. So naturally I can’t help thinking about triathlon things given that it’s such a huge part of me. I plan races, strategies, I consider the order of next week’s training sessions, and I believe without restriction. I also use it as a form of recovery. I am sitting comfortably, pretty much resting my body from the week’s or day’s efforts and barely burning calories. I therefore use my drive as time to make sure I am up to scratch with the day’s eating and drinking and if it’s after a long race or ride I will usually be driving on recovery shake. I can’t obviously have a three-course set-down meal but you’d be amazed what can be made portable these days.

On that note re portability, I have recently moved to driving a ‘bus’ which is unavoidable given the amount of kit I shift each week. An athlete virtually lives out of their car. Never go anywhere without anything, just in case an opportunity for a few minutes training presents itself. It makes the labour of shifting to training before or after work much easier when you don’t have to prepare too much kit.

So there, as an academic and athlete, it’s safe to say driving is like my own version of an after-work or training feet up TV show.

The journey from triathlon to Ironman to Team GB Long-distance Athlete 2018

IMG_1568IMG_1641Starting and finishing my first Ironman and raising over 3K for charity was a little scary and a big challenge.

Not finishing my second due to a bike mechanical was a hard but lesson well learnt.

Completing my third with a big personal best brought the realization I could race at that distance.

Coming 6th in my fourth after throwing away 3rd place on the run was OK.

Preparing to be on the start line of my 5th in July 2018 is already making me think of last year’s unfinished business.

Starting my 6th in September 2018 in Team GB kit is everything I’ve been waiting for.

My journey as a long distance triathlete began a fair while ago, perhaps when I was a competitive swimmer until I was 16 years old. I don’t remember my route into swimming but I raced the hardest discipline, 200 metres butterfly. I’ve had a lifelong passion for endurance sport. Racing forward a few years and I was brought my first road bike at around 20 years old. Almost immediately I began riding 100 miles for fun. I had always run in various guises (another story for another day) but suffered from biomechanical foot pain which meant anything beyond 5 miles was agony.

I got to work. I knew if I could run a marathon then I would become an Ironman at some stage. It was the last part of the jigsaw. I had a biomechanical assessment and then with orthotics and many blisters did my first marathon at Bungay and happened to run it fast enough to qualify for London the following year. No ballot lottery for me.

Once my running was secure I headed to Bolton for my first Ironman. Training for your first full distance 140.6 miles is no small thing and like every other “virgin” (their words not mine) I was happy to just finish. Well perhaps not “happy” I thought I was about to die. However, I remember to this day standing in the Macron Stadium and looking at the results. I was around the top ten but in reality I wasn’t bothered about that. I had my eyes on qualifying for Kona (Ironman’s branded World Champs), in the days when you could get there by racing lots. But, even more than that I wanted to race for Team GB. From that day on it was my target but I kept it quiet. In the course of those 14 hours I had gone from completing my first Ironman to racing them. Huge difference, completing is dragging self around and having a cheeky rest when you feel you can justify it. Racing one is a significantly bigger more focused effort for 12-14 hours. Every female you chase because you can’t always see their age group on their race belt. Seconds count, places count. Eyes on the prize. So you chase, everyone, no matter how much everything hurts. Find a way, make a way, do whatever.

December 2016 brought some nice news, I had become an All-World-Athlete for Ironman – in the top 10% worldwide. That was nice but you could get that status by racing lots rather than being fast and beating people. That wasn’t necessarily the case for me though, I made my position up with just two races.

Throughout 2017 I raced pretty sound, although as I have already said elsewhere, I literally threw away third place at my only full distance triathlon with foot pain and then the flu. Neither were a fitness issue. That was all forgotten when I qualified for Team GB age-group cycling the very next day. I remember saying to a friend at work that I am not quite ready for Team GB triathlon yet, and so I had a trip to Albi for the World Cycling champs instead. Apart from the foot pain and cost and commercialisation issues I have already written about, I probably said what I did about the triathlon because I wanted that place more than you will ever know and I was beginning to dream. At some point I have also bribed myself with qualifying just for the half Ironman distance and that indeed was my aim for 2018. Little did I know I had qualified last July for the triathlon long distance World and European championships.

Now, I don’t believe in luck, sorry for the cliché but I make my own if I can. I do however have a bit more time for superstition and a few things have fallen into place. Last Autumn I purchased my own bike box with the intention to travel internationally a lot more. I have also spent a lot of time this winter when not training getting my feet fixed, sorting my running orthotics out etc. The off season this year has also been successful from a training point of view and I am lean and fit for the end of February. The latest readings on the bike suggest I am putting out somewhere around an extra 20 percent of power compared to January 2017.

I have had a two week wait for the news after submitting my intention to qualify for Team GB in mid February. To pass that time I have trained like a demon, safe in the knowledge that even if it didn’t work out I would be ready at some stage. Just last week my feet are well enough to run again and today I have managed an hour non-stop up and down a hill. I had also previously arranged my race season so I reach peak fitness again in September. Just so happens the long distance European championships are in Madrid in September. The day before I submitted my intention to qualify and had done the maths I had booked a project meeting for July. I didn’t know it clashed with the triathlon World Championships. I now firmly believe in that start line in Madrid in September for the European Championships. I have no intention of stopping all of this anytime soon but to some extent tonight I feel I have arrived at my destination and “made it”, at least with my own goals.

Right now, though, I have a ‘Q’ next to my name and I think I need a new tri-suit. It’s blue, red and white and has my name on it. I’m dead excited to see what happens next. Let’s goooooo. Pick up the pace and the volume.

 

Riding outside in the UK winter is…

…Looking at 5 different apps on your phone before finally grasping it will never actually be 20 degrees and dry in the UK in January

…Dressing to go to the artic then sweating like you have the flu before even putting your    shoes on

…On that note, cursing everything in the world whilst you navigate your latex overshoes    over your cycling shoes

…Wobbling like a toddler when your first head out after months of a stable indoor bike

…Needing a wee within five minutes despite going ten times before leaving the house

…On the flat noticing just how much power you’ve built this winter. Nice one rocket

…And then having your hopes dashed as you hit one of Suffolk’s slight bumps and Thursday’s legs day smarts the whole way up

…Enjoying the burn in your lungs from the fresh air and feeling the beat of your lower heart rate. Thanks Watt Bike

…Loving the sound and feel of the rubber tyres on the tarmac. The hum. Yes, the hum

…Doing an out and back route just to get the benefit of a tailwind on the way home

…Snot everywhere, everywhere, despite the best directed snot rockets

…Seeing a slither of blue in the sky and telling yourself Spring will be here tomorrow

…Being thrown sporadically into the middle of the road due to the wind and using deep    rims

…Enjoying swearing at drivers again. It would seem the British public haven’t developed     their driving awareness over the winter like you have your cycling prowess

…Forgetting about work for a bit, too busy avoiding being flung in the ditch

…Whacking up the volume on your bone conduction headphones and riding like you stole your own several grands worth of bike

…Going the long way home just to go down a good hill at 42mph. Cheap thrills, eh.

…Hoping you beat a few by being out today

…Enjoying a post ride bath a bit too much, knowing in a few week’s time that will be ice     cold and after a brick run

…Looking forward to a lunch of champions before remembering it’s measly chicken and    leaves. Again. The six pack thanks you

…Realising after a quick snooze that you’ve only been 45 miles, still time to do some work and writing

…Having a bright red face for hours after. Horrible wind burn. I’d prefer sun burn

…Being able to walk on a Monday

…Buying a new bike. The January sales are dragging on. Damn. Welcome home #7.

Here’s a little snippet of a memorable tune from my ride as I climbed the last hill home:

“Staring at my empty glass just trying to figure out what to do

And I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

I caught myself around the kind of thoughts I never knew I could have

Show me how to move on, show me what it’s like to be a (wo)man

Yeah, I needed you, to tell me what I already knew

Anyone can tow line, the choice is yours son to live a life, find a way to rise above

Your only here once now

What goes around comes around

Grit your teeth when they kick you down

Find you way, find your love, your only here once now, your only here once now”

Ben McKelvey – Only Here Once.

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On journeying with my turbo trainer: Part One

One Wednesday night in December turned out to be sadder than I expected. That day I lost a friend. Except this wasn’t a human friend, it was a machine, my Tacx I-Magic Turbo Trainer, the crème de la crème in its prime ten years ago and the first “virtual” turbo trainer that meant riders could train to videos (more on that in part two). On that night, “Doctor Bike” (my Dad) had just texted me and said the motor was finished. The worst bit. The lifeblood and the point of no return. As I sat there, with a tear trickling down my face (you all think I’m nuts anyway so admitting that won’t change things), it was a tear not primarily consisting of sweat for a change but one imbued with sad emotions, I was overcome with a flood of memories.

It’s not unusual for an athlete to have their favorite piece of equipment perhaps a bike, racket, a pair of boots or trainers, type of golf ball, and that’s usually the case either because of functionality or some seductive commercialized appeal. However, to be honest this wasn’t about either of those aspects. As it aged, my Dad and I did everything we could to prolong both the mechanism and the bike that I rode on it. It had new tyres, it had updated speed sensors, I invested in different software, it had new pedals, new cogs, new cables, I ditched the headset display etc. It was quite frankly well past its sell and use-by-date years ago and we spent so much money on it that I could have easily have had a shiny new one a few years previously. I say “we” because the bank of Mum and Dad was always open and welcoming.

So why was I upset about this knackered bit of kit going to heaven?

That emotion arose from the journeys physically and metaphorically that I had travelled in and with its life. My tears were filled with the utmost of nostalgic pride. The Tacx trainer was housed in “The Sweat Box” – literally a box room portioned off from the conservatory that permanently reeks and is generally pretty damp and cold, particularly after I have sweated in it. But these few square metres represent one of the closest marriages of my two worlds: being an academic and an athlete.

Some big, important and significant things in my life happened in and around that box. It was my saving grace more times than I remember but some notable ones include: the morning of my PhD viva, the day before an interview for my first academic post, the days before virtually every half or full Ironman I’ve done, travelling to the World Champs to represent Team GB, when I had just put my 15 year old cat to sleep and had one last ride “for Harry”, when I had my first (and second and third) tattoo and didn’t want to bend or train my arms too much, when I put it on the highest climb mode to prepare for the Tour of Wales, when I had my wisdom teeth out and was told not to exercise, when I would leave for an early morning flight and have a quick ride in the middle of the night, when I had more anxiety than was physically possible to contain, when I needed endorphins, when I couldn’t sleep, when I couldn’t write, when I needed to burn calories for a treat for tea and even a decade of Christmas mornings preparing for gluttony. That’s the short version of a very long list.

The message is clear though: it was and still is up there with being one of the most fruitful spaces where I can believe in myself and my two worlds.

Beyond that, it was the place and bit of kit I used to learn to become a cyclist and endurance athlete. I’m too modest but I can at least recognize that it was a huge factor in training to ride for Team GB at the World Champs (2017) and becoming an All-World-Ironman Athlete in 2016.

It might have seemed liked a wussing out option when I didn’t want to face the British weather, indeed, I hate riding in anything below 10 degrees, but the idea of it being an easier option couldn’t have been further from the truth. It just wasn’t cold. That was all. For all other intents and purposes, I trained like a machine and more precisely and harder than I could do outside. It had every level of intensity from recovery ride to endurance training and sprint efforts requiring a bucket. I even won a Virtual Tour where I rode about 15 hours on it in one week in 2015.

It only ever got a bit boring when I was there over 3 hours but even then I liked that it tested my resolve. It taught me how to learn to handle pain, be patient, it taught me discipline, it taught me how to train in power zones, it taught me precision and consistent pedaling, to stay still etc. As the years went on, I also took great pleasure in learning to deal with its “surprises”, namely the gears jumping up and down circa 3 at a time, or its sporadic flat tyre or less than smooth riding.

By being easily accessible at home it also supported me in my disciplinary pursuit of consistency. If I wanted to train, I could. There were no places to look for excuses. If it’s the middle of the night and I didn’t want to be in the dark, put the light on, if I needed fuel, walk ten steps to the kitchen, fifteen more for a wee, if I needed a dry shirt, climb thirty steps upstairs (of course not with your cycling shoes on) etc.

The consistency it afforded me I believe was also fundamental in my improvement. The best athlete isn’t the one who trains exceptionally but not regularly enough, the best athletes in my view are the ones who train regularly, well enough to improve their fitness but more importantly within themselves enough to maintain regularity of sessions. The results come from consistency and navigating life’s challenges 365 days a year. If there’s not enough time, 45-60 minutes on a turbo trainer will do the job. That isn’t just something for a more performance minded athlete, to my mind its resonance travels to the average recreational gym user.

Of course, in replacement I have a new Wattbike Atom now. Spoiler alert: in part 2 I will surely tell you how much I love that. But I really hope I don’t forget how far I’ve come with my Tacx I-magic.

Never worry about having a favourite. Favourites are winners whether they are functional or are your comfort blanket.

Being a responsive academic: On the radio and in “the zone”?

Monday and Tuesday this week involved very long hours with end to end meetings and a lot of travel, and so by the time Wednesday came around I was well up for a day that involved just 6 hours of meetings and stuff. A whole two hours spare in my working day for….a power nap? Catching up on emails? Filing an expenses claim? Eating food sat at my desk rather than chewing and walking to or from it?

In my usual 5.30am wake-up quick morning news check (before I peel myself out of bed for training) I could see there was a lot of traffic on the Government’s launched inquiry into vaping and e-cigarettes late on Tuesday night. No time for in-depth reading, interesting, but one for later – and to send to my wonderful research assistant for safe keeping.

Anyway, Wednesday ‘hump day’ didn’t quite live up to its alluded expectations of a gentler pursuit in the journey to the weekend. Mid-morning during a meeting I did a quick cursory glance of my emails and saw the BBC in the subject. “XXX from BBC Radio 5 live here, can you give us a call as soon as you get this, we would like you to talk about the Government vaping inquiry this afternoon”.

For someone who is relatively new to this academia game, I surprisingly have a lot of nostalgia for an ancient scholarly way of living that I have never actually lived. The kind who reads and writes in a dark room without an internet connection and engages with civilization and people about once a week when they go to buy groceries from a shop 15 miles away up a mountain.

Should an academic drop everything at short notice to response to news related to their funded project? Or is it perhaps not a little churlish of me to say no when we are supposedly the experts on this topic? Or do I ought to remember that Impact, Dissemination and Outreach are the boxes that a modern academic is required to tick?

I had two days notice when I last went on BBC Radio Leicester and 3 weeks when I went on BBC Radio 4. Ample time to prepare. Can I really do this in circa three hours?

Can I speak about a project that has no data yet? How will I wake the cat in time to deliver him the obligatory ten practices of key points?

I’m an academic, who is supposed to talk for part of her living but who in other guises is a perfectionist and does not suffer a lack of control at all well. Can I be “on form” in three hours and avoid making an entire plonker of myself?

I suppose the answer is yes. Game time.

ISDN line and room booked: CHECK

Key aims of project rehearsed: CHECK

Notes prepared to key questions anticipated by BBC: CHECK

Early afternoon meetings re-arranged: CHECK

Lunch eaten: CHECK

With those bits seen to it was then very soon time to get in “the zone”. “Good afternoon, this is your captain speaking….” (it does actually feel like that!).

At that point the adrenaline was flowing, a gentle raise in heartbeat, safe in the knowledge that there is little I can do in this moment but live it in full force and be myself. I am no expert in the psychology of speaking but just like when I race, I cherish those rare moments and opportunities to be the best that I can be in any moment whilst being me and also being me who carried earlier reservations.

Unsurprisingly it all went very fast from there on in. Done and dusted in a flash 7 minutes and the world didn’t end. All good. Job done. One up to Pocket Rocket.

Out of “the zone”, leaving the dungeons on campus (where the recording studio resides), feeling a little relieved I reflected on the past few hours. How had I got myself through a minor state of terror being the academic and person that I am towards doing something that was actually rather fun, enjoyable and filled me with pride to do what I do? And with the added bonus of being able to talk about something affecting people’s lives right now?

It’s all rather easy, really. Just like being a triathlete at a race.

The months and months of training and learning are etched on my liver and can be delivered in an instant. I wasn’t going to forget the key aims and debates of our project. I live and breathe those virtually every day. Instead I prepared and organized the more local situation and made sure I could press the “on” switch at short notice. In those moments that embrace the more immediate and short-lived performative elements of academic work, I often draw on the embodiment of being very fit and healthy and that in itself brings a load of energy and confidence too. I had the fundamentals already and just added the magic ingredients of food/fuel, a few tracks of my favorite tunes (always headies before something big) and armed myself to deliver.

Over and out.

On riding for 24 hours: Discipline got us there!

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Two weekends ago I embarked on quite an adventure, even by my endurance athlete standards. A 24-hour solo bike ride around Brands Hatch race course. Before I head into the gory details, the short of it was that the result was 3rd female soloist, over 18 hours moving, 108 laps and circa 20,000 calories burnt. Mileage was 262. And let’s also get one thing straight: this was the hardest thing I have ever done. I went to places I didn’t even know existed. Full Ironmans are a walk in the park compared to this and the fact I still believe that two weeks later is a firm indicator its true.

I had already written in the days before about the enormous military mission that we were about to embark on and so when we arrived at the track, already feeling a little bedraggled, it’s easy to understand why for the first time in my life I had chills down my spine. I have never had that before in a race setting. Immediately I went to my default race philosophy, one also used by the cyclist Geraint Thomas: “Convince yourself that none of it matters, even when it matters more than anything you will ever know”.

I’d been training and looking forward to this since Janaury 2017 but at 2pm on the Saturday afternoon before the 3pm start I just could not get my head around the fact that this was the last hour before I would be getting on my bike for 24 hours. N.B. It was called something less polite than a bike after about 10 hours of riding.

So, here are the high/low lights:

At 4pm (the first hour!) it absolutely tipped it down. Wet and cold rider. First kit trashed and needed to be worn for 5 more hours.

After dry clothes at 6pm (I couldn’t wait any longer) I rode for about 3 hours which was pretty non-eventual really as there was too much further to go. In the zone.

9-10pm I could see our plan was working and I was starting to make progress up the field as others tired so I decided to keep pushing into the night.

11pm brought a big smile, as I left the paddock for my next one and a quarter hours stint my Dad put my freshly charged lights on my bike and said, “See you tomorrow”, as I wouldn’t be back until after midnight. That genuinely brought home what we were doing.

2am. Delirious. I remember going to the toilet, I didn’t need to, it was just something to do rather than ride my bike. The whole thing was all starting to feel a little odd. My eyes were blood shot and stinging, and I felt so spaced out I could barely manage to even open the door handle to the toilets, let alone hold a conversation.

Sometime during the early hours, my dad also joked that “We are going home today!” that made it feel temporarily better too.

3-4am past delirium, now into “The waking dead” shift. The coldest part of the night and pedalling without even knowing I was doing it. After the tenth jam sandwich I realised I never wanted another. I was also approaching the point of never wanting to ride my bike again. Ever.

4.58 am I couldn’t take anymore. Yes, I remember the exact minute! Because my body was spending all my calories keeping warm, I was just getting too tired and could have easily slept on my bike. It was getting really quite manic because of the fog, lack of visibility and slippery track. So I sat in the car with the intension of 20 minutes sleep. After just 5 minutes I got such bad cramp in my legs and was shivering so profusely that I called it a day. “Up you get, back on that thing”. Relentless.

8am – Breakfast! One’s sense of taste and appetite after so much food and sugar tends to go a bit crazy. So I had cold chicken noodles. Delicious and perfect to take us up until lunch.  The fog was at last lifting and so I could dispense of lights and my headlight. Good job.

At about 1.30pm my Mum had managed to work out that if I could do 10 more laps then I would secure 3rd place and that became my mission. Once done I had a brief sleep on a cold concrete floor at 2pm, before heading out for the final time at 2.20pm for 40 minutes of victory laps.

When the chequered flag came down at 3pm that was one very proud moment. In a flash all the bad bits had been forgotten and the gushing moments of pleasure from being an endurance athlete came flooding back. Pure elation and very surreal.

The recovery?

Well, that was all very fun. The legs were a bit sore but nothing in compared to my self-diagnosed “endurance-flu”. I often get it in events more than 12 hours and it goes along the lines of a sore throat, indigestion from so much sports energy stuff, dehydration, sick, headache, groggy, sleep deprived and generally feeling rotten. And Oh My God. Blood sugar crashes like never before. In the three days post riding, I ate the world. Given the calorie and sleep deficit, recovery necessitated a very managed approach with light riding but all is good now!

I won’t lie, I was disappointed with the mileage, a cyclist of my ability should be heading for at least 350 miles. Of course, there are a huge number of factors to take into account but I firmly believe in warmer and flatter conditions then I would get closer to that. I am minded to do another attempt early next summer but I can’t drag my parents through that again. The poor souls! I will be needing a hand. The job description includes (in no order of importance): stay awake for 24 hours, charge Garmin, feed and water rider, pain relief, provide and dry clothes, keep tabs on distance, sort out mechanicals, monitor and charge lights, be visible to me when riding and do the transport stuff. Contact me if interested!

Ultimately, regardless of my moaning about the mileage, this was a pretty big achievement. If there’s one thing that got us to the end, and on the podium, it was good ole fashioned discipline and consistency. I rode for 75 minutes with 5-10 minute breaks for 24 hours. Although the “breaks” were hardly rests, I don’t remember sitting down with a cup of tea chilling during any of those. I was busy shoving a little food in, changing clothes at 6 hours, keeping tabs on battery in lights and garmin, and massaging my feet. However bad I was feeling, we rarely changed anything unless absolutely essential to the performance. No big sprints or efforts, just plod all day long, literally.

I should have done this first but I owe a massive thanks to all of those who dragged me through the night in what turned out to be one of the hardest things I’ve done. You will never know how much those words and support helped me. An equal giant thanks to my parents. If my job was hard, then I feel damn sure they had it harder. I was kept awake fuelled by an inordinate amount of sugar and adrenaline and a bit between my teeth to just get the job done. They just had to drag themselves through the night working their hardest for a cyclist.

That’s almost certainly me done racing until next February/March, I’ll be back soon with something other than race reports and promise to keep developing and updating my page during the darkest months.