2017 round up

It’s the time for New Year’s Resolutions, goals, all that sort of stuff. But who actually looks at what they got up to last year? Surely planning goals is pointless if you don’t then think about if you achieved them…?

Winter climbing

My winter climbing objectives were modest in the extreme. They were something along the line of ‘do some nice routes and have some great days out’. How could I fail? The weather and one of the worst winter Scottish seasons in recent memory put paid to hopes of Styrofoam ice and blue skies, but I managed a couple of decent days out. The highlight was a day out with the Hiking Club taking a couple of guys out doing some easier winter climbs and generally doing a lot of miles on semi-technical terrain. We had fantastic weather the first day and good snow in the Nevis gullies. Other great days were had out on Kinder Scout – it was freezing, it might as well have been the moon for all the similarities to the normal ‘tame’ Peak District – the Aonach Eagach under blue skies, Munro bagging from a (very) remote Air B&B, and a fun day out in the Norries too. So, ‘tick’ on the fun Scottish winter season, despite the very mild winter.

DSC00133

Blasting up and down Number 3 and Number 4 gully on the Ben.

DSC00230

Kinder Scout on a seriously cold day.

DSC00332

Classic gully action in the Cairngorms.

Cycling

I had a lot of cycling objectives for this year, a lot of which were pretty ambitious. I’d improved more as a cyclist in 2016 than I thought possible, and there was still tonnes of room for getting better.

The terrible winter cycling season was a big blessing for cycling as there were only a couple of nights where I couldn’t ride due to ice. It also meant the normal weight gain borne of winter climbing didn’t really materialise.

My big objectives were:

  • Find this year’s spring training camp a bit easier than last year. Don’t just get absolutely smashed every day.
  • Complete the Fred Whitton for Paul’s stag do and ride every single bit of it (no pushing).
  • Complete the Etape du Dales in under 7 hours (Gold).
  • Beat my PB on the local hilly TT course.
  • Compete in a local flat time trial.
  • Get a Strava KOM on a fairly decent local segment, not just some crap one.

From January onwards my cycling was getting better and better. I had an amazing reliability ride in Leeds where I felt like I could pull all day on the front and then when breaks went I kept reeling people back in. Only in the last five miles was I starting to tire. That was a good sign for the spring training camp.

The spring training camp was also great. Run by the absolute monster that is Pete Barusevicus at Arrivee Travel, I’d been on the camp last year in Spain and while it was hugely enjoyable and inspirational, it also mind-blowingly hard. Almost just too hard for me. This year I had more miles in the legs, more experience, a better bike, and better tactics. It was a brilliant week and I left it feeling super strong, as opposed to just completely wasted.

If you want to improve as a rider then I can think of no better way to progress, as well as getting a whole heap of inspiration.

IMG_20170321_112747975

Not your typical bunch of overweight cyclists.

The Fred Whitton was a funny objective as until it was mentioned as a stag do idea I had no desire to ride it. However, on the day it was mega. I rode it with good mates and within myself.

IMG_20170402_150118895

Paul at the top of Hardknott on a training recce.

Regarding gearing for the Fred, I’ve heard all sorts of weird things mentioned by various people…

 

Firstly, Hardknott is really hard. It’s an exceptionally difficult climb at the best of times, and with 100 miles in your legs it really is very tough.

It’s a totally difficult league to anything I’ve ridden in the Peak or even the Dales. On the day itself I rode it on 30×25, which is a gear I’ve never had trouble getting up anything with. However, that day was hard and I had to dig deep. However, it’s absolutely possible to ride Hardknott on a way bigger gear. On a training recce I rode it on 36×28 with 50 miles in the legs, and someone strong could ride it on 36×25 no problem. Some could ride it on 39×25 but that just sounds savage. So, for people who tell you 34×28 is minimum it’s just not true as long as you’re willing to suffer a bit and have the legs to back it up. I was pretty tired after the Fred but had 7 days to recover before the real deal…

DSC_8314

Going up Honister on the Fred. It had been cold first thing – overshoes – but by this point was getting pretty warm. Ideal conditions basically.

The Etape du Dales was my biggest objective of the year. It was, above all else, the thing I’d been training for. However, I almost totally screwed up on the day by getting my tactics wrong. As with many tough sportives, strong riders often set off late and then try to see how many parties they can catch on the way round the course. I got there a bit late and decided I’d just join the strong guys. Meeting Andy Cunningham (7th in national hill climbing champs, multiple hill climb records, all round animal) who I knew well from the Spring training camps was an ominous sign for what was about to go down. I set off a few minutes ahead of Andy and the Harrogate Nova guys who currently hold the course record, just to make sure I wasn’t racing hard out of the gate. About 20 minutes later I was caught by the Nova train and then immediately we were on to Fleet Moss, the first big climb of the day. I climbed alongside Andy, cresting the hill just behind him.

The big difference between us was that he was cruising, but I was absolutely dying behind my sunglasses.

DSC_9356

Trying to hold on to the flying Andy.

We screamed down the hill and while some guys stopped at the first checkpoint I kept rolling to try and recover from the onslaught a bit. I rode steadily up Buttertubs and down Swaledale but then the train was back and we were screaming out of Swaledale on one of the ‘unknown’ viscous climbs of the day.

I was hurting hard as we went through and off into a fearsome headwind, and soon I was missing my turns.

Miles of headwind followed and I was dropped from the group. This was where the problems started. My big issue was that no one who we’d caught could work for me, basically nobody was going quick enough for me to still finish in under 7 hours. So I worked like a dog into the wind, feeling sick and with no one coming through and a growing group of people following my wheel as I picked up riders ahead. At the next check point I was in trouble but I ate a lot, drank a lot, and didn’t rush. Then I was back on the road, still riding effectively solo. About an hour later though and I got a good partnership going with a strong rider, and we each worked hard to the final checkpoint, which I rode straight past. I had an hour for the last 20 miles, and by now I had a tailwind. It was still possible to make the time gap, but it would be balls out. I rode as hard as I could for the last hour, now completely on my own, and screamed into the finish knowing it’d be super close. I’d managed it with a minute to spare. I was delighted. It was the hardest ride I’d ever done given how I’d had to ride it: as hard as I could basically all day.­­

Fullscreen capture 03012018 210926.bmp

The Etape du Dales. A hard day out.

Following the training camp I managed to get a KOM without too much difficulty. I found a great segment locally that favoured me – hilly but requiring multiple efforts with a bit of recovery between them – and which had no big hitters who’d yet ridden it hard. I rode at 180 bpm for 7 minutes and got the KOM. Another tick in the box!

I rode the flat TT – a pretty simple objective completed – but rode it badly so wasn’t particularly satisfied. As for the other TT, well that effectively marked the end of my cycling for the year. Overloaded and possibly with a bad bike setup I was in a bad way as I rode the TT and despite putting in a time on the way out which would have smashed my previous best my knee felt bad on the way back and so I abandoned. More on that below…

Running

For running I had two objectives: beat my long-standing 5k PB, and to do that bit better in some local fell races. I managed both of these, but not through doing any training! My fitness from all the cycling translated well into fell running fitness and I placed 12th, 14th, and 14th in the three races I did. I was very pleased with that and it was a big improvement over the top 25 finishes I’d been getting in previous years. My 5k PB fell when I came back from the Alps: I thought two weeks of altitude would have done my running fitness no harm, and so I set off to try and break 19.08. On an unfamiliar but flat Parkrun course I furiously tried to stay with the strong woman ahead of me, but she eventually pulled away. However, nearing the final bend I looked at my watch and could barely believe the time: I was going to do it! 18.53 was the official result, 15 seconds off my previous best. That was a good Saturday morning.

DSC00357.JPG

Liz on a sunny training run round Langdale.

As an aside, back in Feburuary I managed to find a suitably niche event that I could do fairly well at. It was a duathlon which combined cross country running with a punchy bike course, and it was all over in just over an hour which is perfect for me. I was fourth in both running legs but third on the bike and so came second overall. The winner was super strong, being fastest on the bike (he was a Cat 2 rider) and second quickest runner too. That was my best ever position in a solo race, so I was psyched.

Climbing

My climbing objectives were pretty poorly defined. However, I’ve had the best climbing year I can remember, so that turned out to be no bad thing. I’m never going to be a good climber, partly because – unlike with cycling and running – I’m not particularly driven by pure performance and am more into it for good times. The other reason is I don’t train properly and am a big wuss.

However, I’ve had a lot of fun climbing this year, which definitely counts for something.

I’ve climbed amazing routes all over the UK and some spectacular routes in the Alps too. A day bouldering with good mates at Burbage, climbing 400 metres of bolted granite in the Alps in under 3 hours, Northumberland rock, loads of gritstone, Pembroke… it’s been awesome. I’ve also done a lot more plastic pulling than in previous years, and for the first time ever have learnt to enjoy indoor leading. I’ve always enjoyed indoor bouldering, but indoor leading makes you a lot fitter, rather than just stronger. That’s definitely helped on longer routes.

DSC01035

The Cobbler. A fantastic mountain in a fantastic setting.

DSC00901

Climbing at Peel Crag and Crag Lough: totally fantastic and yet deserted!

DSC00495

Belay duty for Ross in the Alps.

DSC00417

Liz gets to work on a pretty steep Pembroke VS.

DSC00266

Dave Macleod: inspiration personified.

DSC_0028

That moment when you’re trying really hard but your spotters don’t seem to care.

DSC_0085

The end of a great day out.

Injuries

The above list reads like a huge line of successes, and I suppose it has been. I’ve ticked every objective that I had for the year with one major exception. My first objective was ‘don’t get injured’. It’s always my first objective, it’s always impossible, but this year’s been worse than most. In January I had a back injury but that’s now cleared up thanks to some excellent physio, a lot of core exercises to turn off my previously inactive deep abdominals, a lot of hamstring stretching, and a bit of fiddling over the bike setup. However, the big one which I’ve now had since about May-time is in my right knee. Broadly speaking it’s patellofemoral pain, and it’s a pain in the arse. Knee. I’ve not ridden my bike apart from to work for over 6 months now, and haven’t run save for the odd jog for the same time. However, it doesn’t affect climbing or hill walking one bit, which is partly why they’ve prospered. A lot of physio, two professional bike fits, and literally hundreds of hours of stretching haven’t fixed it yet, but it is slowly, oh so slowly, getting better. I think a combination of factors including overload and bad bike setup caused it, but it’s been a massive downer for the second half of the year. Objective for 2018? Simple: fix my knee.

DSC01165

A bonus winter day: a great way to finish the year’s big days out was a day out on North Buttress on Buachaille Etive Mor. A long day, but a good one.

Advertisements

What could cyclists and mountaineers learn from one another?

Dedicated and driven, thighs and calves that eclipse the sun, upper bodies eclipsed when they turn sideways. Not many hikers or mountaineers would fit that description, but a few cyclists would. There’s some important lessons these two groups could learn from one another, all without having to shave their legs.

What cyclists could teach mountaineers

Heart rate zones

If you talked to almost any hiker or mountaineer about heart rate zones or perceived exertion they’d probably give you a look as blank as Brexit is depressing. And yet talk to almost any club cyclist and suddenly you’re on a rocketship heading to zone 5, via FTP and of course a bit of sweet spot. Heart rates and perceived exertion let you know how hard you are working on a bike: it’s important to knowing whether you can maintain it, whether you’ll blow up, how wasted you’ll feel later. It’s pretty important to know these things in the mountains or on harder routes too, where you need to go fast but must be able to maintain that pace. Using a heart rate monitor might be a bit keen for most people, but keeping your perceived exertion in mind on a scale of 1 to 10 might be a good idea, and if you’re regularly pushing above about a 4 (steady but definitely doing something) on a long day then its going to get very hard at some point.

Bottom line, though, is if you can’t hold steady conversation when you’re out mountaineering then you’re going too fast: you’re no longer efficient and that’ll do you no good on a long day out.

RPE-scale

Some familiarity with perceived exertion is a good way to measure efforts on a long hill day. Many cyclists are used to doing this sort of thing.

Diet

Weighing grams of quinoa, chia seeds, and pomlaa essence into a bowl isn’t for everyone, and the amount of nonsense in some cycling publications about nutrition is staggering (but yet to reach the squashed aadvark, cucumber couli and rabbit anus potions promoted in some triathlon magazines). However, giving at least a bit of attention to diet, especially on the hill, could be useful to many hikers and mountaineers.

I’m not suggesting chugging gels until you void yourself, though some people do like that, but six flapjacks a day is not a balanced diet. I should know, I’ve been there.

And man cannot live on Snickers alone. Just a bit of attention to what you’re eating on big hill days can make a massive difference. Also, cycle-style snacking rather than the torrent-style download of a one-hour lunchbreak is definitely the way to go.

P1040772

It’s a vital part of any day – getting in the calories is essential, but pay a bit of attention to what you’re eating too.

Weight

I’m seriously into weight saving on my kit (see here and elsewhere on this blog for example) but even a mediocre cyclist will want to know the weights of everything on their bike. That’s a good starting point for making things lighter and therefore easier to get up a hill. The other thing is spending money… “This bottle cage is 4 g lighter than my current one and only costs £40? Sold!” Some cyclists are an absolute sucker for new stuff, and it’s not an attitude I particularly like (for what it’s worth, relatively few serious racers will spend stupid money on their bike: regular crashes make Dura-Ace a waste of money. Ultegra will be the limit for most people; Dura Ace being for posers or those dedicated and good enough to get free team kit).

But a lot of hikers and mountaineers are at the opposite end of the spectrum, willing to spend hundreds on petrol or beer, or both, but not invest in new kit which will make their life easier and more enjoyable.

If you upgrade all the krabs on your harness from those of ten years ago to modern ones you will save a kilo; if you get a good down sleeping bag you will save a kilo. They are big weight savings, and much better value than the cyclist’s bottle cage.

Bags

Four bags being used on the same overnight trip – size (and weight) matters to both cyclists and hikers.

Training

It’s obvious, and one I covered in a similar post about runners, but training really does make things easier. Not only easier, but it enables you to do more interesting routes more often, and with reduced risk of injury. Surely that’s worth doing?

Cycling

First big bike ride – Stage 1 of the 2014 Tour de France route – this was only possible because of training. Training let’s you do cool stuff, so it’s worth doing! And training itself might be cool stuff!

What mountaineers could teach cyclists

How to navigate

It’s a prerequisite of being in the mountains: you can navigate. You might not be brilliant, but you’re probably keen to improve and you realise its importance. You might well know that the hardest part of nav is getting out of the car park, and once that’s over it can only get easier…

Cyclists, on the other hand, are often terrible at navigating.

They will blindly follow their Garmins off a cliff, cycling into the sea and wondering if they might get a Strava KOM for their troubles. Reading a map on the bike is a pain but having some idea of where you are going is a good idea. It just takes a few more minutes of planning, rather than being the rat to the Garmin’s Pied Piper bleeps.

DSC_0869

Navigation with a map is a pain while on a bike, but having a rough idea of where you’re going is a great idea. Don’t blindly follow the Garmin.

How to dress for bad weather

Cycling clothing is generally pretty good at being aerodynamic, and cycle shorts are remarkably good at what is an extremely difficult job. In fact, cycling clothing is excellent except for one thing: in severe weather, it is rubbish. There are exceptions, but cycling clothing is so far behind mountaineering kit when it comes to foul weather performance it is laughable. However, that is a whole other post. Regardless, cyclists should stack things in their favour and at least wear the most appropriate kit available.

The traditional layering system for outdoors doesn’t really work for cyclists – you can’t take off layers easily and where would you put them? – but the basic concepts of baselayers, insulation, and shell layers don’t seem to have reached a lot of cyclists.

Also, don’t just put on a million layers because you’re cold when you set off: you’ll melt later then freeze when going down a hill or sitting in the bunch.

28504412382_fc8ec727f5_o

Cycling in nice weather is easy. It’s when the weather’s rubbish that it gets harder, and unfortunately that’s when the kit is often least effective.

Traveling for a trip

Mountaineers, unless they are lucky enough to live in the mountains, are used to traveling about to get to where they want to climb. They will travel across countries in their knackered cars and across continents on budget flights to get to where they want to be. Cyclists don’t do this. Many cyclists will do the same routes day in day out from their front door and never think to ride somewhere else. That’s mindless; it can’t be good for you. Putting a bike in a car is a pain, and on the train has its limitations (especially if a big fat man is sat in the bike reservation area), but once in a while it’s a great thing to do, opening up new roads. Do it once a month, and be thankful that you can do your hobby from your front door as and when you like.

IMG_20170318_101136599

Packing your bike for a trip away is a pain…

IMG_2906

…but a whole lot easier than packing for an expedition. Go somewhere!

There you have it. Be brave, go in that cafe, go in that pub, and talk to the weird Lycra-clad people with their espressos. And you cyclists, talk to those weathered Gore-Texers drinking the ales. We may all just learn something.