Friday, 17 June 2011

Soft lad

I planned to go out tonight for a quick training ride on my bike, but when I looked at the sky I decided I would rather not.  I don't think it will harm me too much if I skip just this once.  It may even be beneficial to have a complete rest day.  But if my friends heard such softie talk, not going for a ride because it is raining, they would probably say I have been out of the UK for far too long.

Yesterday I didn't do any cycling but I did do Pilates in the evening.  It was a toughie - in a one to one class you really can't get away with doing things half heartedly like you can in a group class.  I came out of the class having worked my butt off for one hour, which is great.  By the way I love the interesting names of the Pilates exercises such as "the teaser" and "the elephant".

I really hope my training has been sufficient.  It is fast approaching the point where I should start tapering down for La Marmotte.  I think the one hour nippy rides are fine and I can keep doing those for a while yet, but I shouldn't be doing any 3 or 4 pass rides the weekend before the race.  That means this weekend is the last chance for such pleasures.  The great thing about cycling is it doesn't have quite such a high injury risk as running does, being a low impact exercise.  If you recall I had a lot of problems with runner's knee to begin with when I started training for the Zurich marathon.  In the end I only had one month of uninterrupted running training before the Zurich marathon and managed to do pretty well for my first marathon.  So considering I have been training for two months for La Marmotte without interruption, and the fact I have done it twice before, I should do okay.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

More miles in the training bank

Today was another good training day.  At lunchtime I went for a run around the woods of Opfikon with my colleague and now I have just completed a one hour and a bit bike ride in the direction of the Katzensee.

It was pretty hot at lunchtime and I didn't feel my breathing was as easy as normal.  It is good for me to start getting used to running in hotter temperatures.  Last summer whenever it approached 30 degrees Celsius I cancelled my lunchtime runs, but this year I will go however high the temperature gets.  I usually tend to get headaches when I run in the heat, but I think this is probably because I am not paying enough attention to hydrating myself adequately beforehand.

The cycle ride I just completed was a nice fast ride out past the Katzensee and towards Niederhasli then back.  I couldn't get up to warp speed as there were various traffic lights and people blocking the cycle lanes.  But when it was clear I got up to 25mph (40km/h or so) - a decent pace but not all out sprinting.

I was rather happy with my self discipline today.  Two colleagues had a birthday and unlike in the UK where people buy you something for your birthday (e.g. a round of drinks), here in Switzerland (or at least in UBS) you buy cakes for everyone else in the department.  Usually I tuck in and get a rather generous helping of these cakes, but today I abstained completely.  I passed them twice and eyed them up, but decided I needed to let it go and walk on by.

Also at lunchtime instead of getting a veggie burger and chips like I often do, or lots of snacks from the kiosk, I got a simple plate of pasta with some sauce.  These adjustments to my diet combined with my cycle ride that just burnt 1,317 calories and my lunchtime run, which must have burnt quite a few hundred calories, I am doing some serious fat busting today.

If you are a fat cell in my body and think you are safe all I can say is muhahahahahahahaha in an evil tone.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Interesting question - how much difference is there between doing 3,000m of vertical ascent in the UK or in the Alps???

My friend Pete remarked on my training today, and the fact that I am lucky to be able to train in the mountains, which is not something really possible in the UK, where the mountains are more like hills (except for the Lake district, Peak district, Snowdon and the Scottish highlands for instance).

This got me thinking.  Pete and a few of the others who are also taking part in La Marmotte have done some rides in the UK recently with 3,000 metres of vertical ascent over the course of the ride.  And I have done similar rides but here in the Alps.

To get that kind of climbing in the UK they went up and down lots and lots of small hills, say on average 250m above sea level just for the purposes of my calculation.  I on the other hand did maybe 3 passes to get that same amount of vertical ascent, reaching altitudes of 2,200m above sea level or more.  What difference does this make in terms of getting used to the thinner air, and is the air really that much thinner at 2,200m above sea level compared to 250m above sea level?

I started googling to find a site that would allow me to get a quantitative calculation, and I found this one  You just type in the altitude and it tells you how much % of the oxygen is available at that altitude compared to at sea level.

So basically at 250m above sea level there is 97% of the oxygen available that there is at sea level.  At 2,200m above sea level on the other hand, there is only 78% of the oxygen available that there is at sea level.

All other factors aside, I guess it does make at least some difference to the training.  Also there is the difference in short climbs versus long ones.  In the UK you don't usually spend that long cycling up the hill, but in the Alps you may spend a good hour or two attacking the pass and being at higher altitude.  I wonder though if you could just simulate the thinner air in the Alps by using one of those devices that restricts your breathing - a power breather I believe they call them.

There is also the issue of momentum.  On short climbs some momentum from the downhill section can help you to get up the uphill section.  But that really doesn't make so much difference when the climb is 20km long.

And the last difference I can think of is letting your body get used to the temperature extremes - fluctuating between hot at the bottom of the pass and freezing cold with snow at the top of the pass, compared to a rather stable temperature on most UK rides.

I would be interested to know what others maybe think on this topic.

Yoga, massage and a 1 hour ride

I woke up this morning feeling fully recovered from last Sunday's escapade.  Not an ache in site.   At lunchtime the yoga was not too strenuous, so this allowed me to focus fully on correct posture and alignment during the moves, which sometimes when you can barely hold the move due to shaking it is hard to do.  I felt strong and powerful during the class.

Later in the afternoon I had my weekly sports massage.  I was expecting that despite feeling okay, the aches and tight spots would start to became obvious during the massage.  There were some parts of my calf muscle and upper thigh that seemed rather tender, but not as much as I could have imagined.

After work I headed off towards the airport onto the road that is closed to traffic for a quick spin.  The road is pretty flat and you can get up some decent speed.  The way back towards Opfikon always seems slightly faster so despite appearing flat I guess it must be slightly downhill in that direction.  The only danger on that road are the inline skaters who tend to think they own the road.  Sometimes it is necessary to cut inside of them and sometimes it is necessary to go out round them.  It makes for  a kind of moving obstacle course, where one wrong move could be rather painful, and reading the signals is the key.

At various points along the airport border road I hit the gas a little, and got the blood pumping and the heart racing.  I tried to keep up the pace for a good few minutes, so it was basically at the lactate threshold rather than aerobic, which is probably more appropriate for my needs at the moment.

After leaving the airport road it was back onto the normal streets and the usual traffic lights to stop at and the traffic to avoid.  It does't take too long though - somewhere around 15 minutes from Opfikon to my place.  Now it is time to clean up and then pasta pasta pasta time.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The day after the big one

After my ride with 4,155m of vertical ascent yesterday, I woke up with a lot less energy than normal today.  I am not aching at all, but energy wise I feel like a battery in need of a good recharge.  One thing is for sure, I will take it easy today and let my body reap the rewards of yesterday's training.  I am thankful for the fact that I didn't overdo it and get injured.  In fact I was expecting at least some aches today, so am doing much better than I had imagined I would be.

I will only be taking one day's rest though, and tomorrow I will be back on the bike.  I have proved to myself I am in shape for La Marmotte and am capable of completing both the distance and the vertical climbing, but time wise I would like to be faster.  If I predict my La Marmotte time based on yesterday's ride, and adapting it for the fact that I will be pushing harder in the event itself,  I am looking at a similar time to 2 years ago i.e. just under 10 hours.  Considering the extra training I have done this year I should be looking for a better time than that.  For this reason I will be doing some short, fast rides for the next few days to focus on increasing my power output, and in terms of big rides I will save that for the weekend.

On an aside note I checked my mass (because weight is actually a force and is measured in Newtons) on the scales this morning and I am 81kg, so it seems I have even managed to gain an extra kg.  I am guessing this in increased muscle mass in my legs, and hoping it is not fat.  As well as focussing a bit more on my diet, I can save half a kilogram or so by buying racing bike shoes instead of MTB shoes, plus they are stiffer and hence give better power transfer.  The other bonus is that I have always done my training rides carrying a rucksack but in the event itself I will stuff everything into my pockets instead.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

4,155m of vertical ascent over 4 passes

Today I was able to keep to my plan of doing what will probably be my biggest training ride before La Marmotte, which takes place in 3 weeks time.  I woke up at 5am to catch the train to Airolo at 6.09am (yes it really took me a few moments to ask myself whether it was worth it), and I managed to make the train with time to spare.  Before leaving I took a light breakfast but my main food source for the day would be energy gels.  Plus last night I had a huge dose of pasta for a little bit of extra help.

I arrived in Airolo at 8am and immediately set off up the Gotthard pass.  The Gotthard pass is fairly quiet in terms of traffic as there is a parallel road for the cars, and the old cobblestoned pass is pretty much used only by cyclists or maybe people who live next to the road.  It was lovely and scenic and owing to the lack of traffic I really enjoyed it.  I was as fresh as a daisy and the 900m vertical climb to the top posed no problem at all.  At the top there is a little lake and I stopped there to take my first of four power gels for the day, and to take a couple of photos.

Then it was time to descend towards Andermatt where the 2nd climb begins, the Furka pass.  The descent also had a lot of cobblestones and I felt like I was being shaken apart from the inside.  Also my wrist has not fully recovered from when I fell off in the tram tracks a few weeks back, so that was pretty sore going over the cobblestones at speed.  It wasn't too bad though, as after the initial cobblestoned section the road joins a much faster smoother road and that takes you to the start of the Furka pass turn.

Once I reached the start of the Furka pass I knew exactly what was awaiting me, as you may recall I did this part of the route a couple of weeks back (Furka, Grimsel, Susten).  I remembered from the previous time that the Furka and Grimsel pass posed no problem, but that I had been extremely tired on the Susten pass and had stopped quite a few times on the way up, so that was in the back of my mind.  I wasn't worried I would say, but rather I knew I would need to save some energy for that final pass (Susten), which just seems to go on forever.

I made it to the top of the Furka and still felt really good.  The top was full of bikers.  I guess the good weather in the midst of several bad days of weather, combined with the fact it is a long weekend, brought them out in their droves.  I only stopped for a few moments to put on my windproof jacket for the descent (something I always do nowadays after several instances of mild hypothermia in the past from not having additional layers for the descents), and to eat another power gel.

The descent from Furka is a fast one, but it doesn't go on for too long if you are taking Grimsel pass, since Grimsel pass joins Furka pass about half way up.  Rather handily though there is a self service restaurant just next to the turn off for Grimsel, so this was to be my lunch stop for the day.  My strategy this time was not too stuff my face with normal food like last time, and leave myself feeling bloated for several hours, but rather just to take a normal sized meal to supplement my power gels.

The climb up the Grimsel pass is very easy if you take it after descending the Furka, as like I mentioned previously you are joining it already half way up.  In fact the climb on the sign mentioned 400 and something vertical metres in 6km if I recall correctly, which is really not that much climbing at all.

On arriving at the top of the Grimselpass I felt great as I knew I had already completed 3 passes, and there only remained one to be done.  I took another power gel and an energy bar and put on my windproof jacket and then started descending.  The descent from Grimsel has several dark tunnels to pass through, and so this is certainly not one of my favourite descents.  I am fine when not in the tunnels, but in the tunnels I am really on edge as I am trying to look out for potholes in the road (which is hard because it is so dark), and at the same time watching out for cars and motorbikes coming up fast behind me that may not have noticed me.

Once in Innertkirchen I stopped to take off my windproofs and ingest the final power gel I had brought with me.  I really think these did the job as I was feeling much perkier than the last time when I had done one pass less.  In fact I was ascending Susten without struggling too much until the higher sections.  In the initial stages the only thing that bothered me was the heat, although I had been careful to keep myself well hydrated throughout the day.

On the way up the Susten I had plenty of other cyclists for company.   One was almost exactly the same pace as me on average, except he was faster when the gradient was lower and I was faster when the gradient was higher.  As I would find out later though, he hadn't realised how long the ascent would be, and he dropped right back after stopping at the water fountain half way up to ask me if there was much further left to go, to which I had to reply yes there was (as it was in fact the truth).

There seemed to be a nasty accident at some point on the pass, as there were several cars stopped and slowing the traffic, and as I passed I noticed a motorbike that had actually snapped into 2 pieces.  I saw no sign of the guy who was riding it, and I couldn't see any damage to the cars, but then again I didn't want to stare too much as there were already enough people to deal with the situation, and I am sure they didn't want more bystanders.  How on earth the motorbike got snapped into two pieces though I have no idea - I wondered if some kind of metal fatigue might have done that.  When I was higher up the pass I heard an ambulance in the distance, and a little bit later there was also what looked like a Rega helicopter, so I hope no one got killed or really seriously injured.

At the points where I had to stop last time I tackled Susten, I didn't feel the need to stop this time.  In fact I only stopped once and that was to get water from the fountain to cool down as it was pretty hot and I had run out of water.  I felt the fatigue really set in in the last 2km of the climb, but I still managed to climb steadily onwards.  The descent down the other side of Susten towards Göschenen is a pretty long one so I stopped for another meal at the top of the pass, a plate of spaghetti with an ice cream (I felt I deserved at least one sin today for having burnt 5,864 calories).

In fact as the descent down Susten is so long I really got into the flow of taking the curves, left then right then right then left then hairpin e.t.c.  I don't push to the point where I think I may crash, but I take the curves smoothly at a good pace.  I am constantly on the lookout for potholes in the road, as these can cause you to crash on a racing bike if you hit them at the wrong angle or when you are in the middle of taking a turn at speed.  The other thing I am always looking out for is loose gravel on the corners, as that can cause the bike to slide out from under you if you are turning.

The previous time I reached the bottom of Susten, the slight climb back up to Göschenen seemed to kill my already tired legs.  But this time I felt absolutely fine, and when I looked at my GPS and saw that the total distance would end up being somewhere around 135km, I even considered for a second or two to continue cycling another 40km or so (to make it a La Marmotte distance).  I thought this might be overdoing it a bit though as today's ride was already a hell of a lot of climbing, and I don't need to do a full La Marmotte in training.

Here is a quick post ride summary:

Route - 4 passes - Gotthard, Furka, Grimsel, Susten
Total ascent - 4,155m
Calories burnt - 5,864
Distance covered - 137.31km
Average heart rate - 126bpm
Time - 8 hours 49 minutes 50.61 seconds