Sunday, 5 September 2010

Developing the network support system

Afternoon All

It's pouring down here so I thought I would take the opportunity to post a few thoughts.

Since my last post on 'building strong roots' I'm really pleased with how these plans have gone.

Returning to swimming has breathed new life into me.

I often warble on about the whole lifestyle philosophy but it really does ring true.

Getting back into the discipline of early nights & early mornings gives me so much more natural energy.

Work permitting, I'm hitting the pool every week day morning and this is really paying dividends already.

The pace still isn't fantastic - although I did hit a few sub 1.35/100m on Tuesday - as part of the 30 x 100m set we were given.

However, my focus on improving my position in the water and holding / using my legs more effectively is starting to come along.

Don't get me wrong - it's not easy - my legs are hurting like hell at times as they struggle to stay high in the water and kick from the hip.

I've been doing a lot of swimming with the pull-buoy & band around the ankles - which helps get me legs higher and engage my core a lot more. Knowing what it should feel like to have my legs higher is helping me re-create when I've removed the pull-buoy from between my ankles.

The total volume is increasing and the swim fitness is returning. I'm no longer struggling to finish the session due to upper body fatigue as the strength is returning.

I now want to continue to improve my technique further by learning to tumble-turn WELL & also learn the other strokes - particularly back-stroke which will help with the high hips & legs chaLlenge.

I've got a pair of Speedo drag shorts which I'll be debuting tomorrow - again aimed at making things more difficult so that the technique has to improve for me to go faster easier.

It's almost like I want to make it as hard as possible for me to cheat so that I have to swim correctly if I am going to have a decent & productive session.

The mental freshness which swimming has brought me has carried over onto the bike - giving me a pick-me up and buzz about hitting the bike sessions on top form.

After a bit of post-France lull - not helped by the crash - I'm now really enjoying the riding again. The confidence has recovered from the knock it took after the crash and I'm now riding really well again.

Of course this is all in perspective, ie a top roadie would embarrass me silly but I can now hold my own when out on the local routes whereas in the past I would be spat out of the back on a regular basis.

We've had a few challenging rides of late - with the joys of the Cotswolds finest hills to take on - you get a good chance to test yourself on some brutal 25% climbs as well as some longer drags.

Of course, my definition of a longer drag has changed since France. When a long drag is a 30km long drag!

Naturally my confidence on riding uphill has increased significantly which is resulting in me climbing better than I ever have.

So swim & bike are a real source of pleasure at the moment - but what about the run?

Not a lot to say to be honest - as I haven't been doing a lot of it - as my run mojo has disappeared for now.

The run sessions I've enjoyed lately have been the shorter sessions which focus on intervals or technique.

My focus for the run over the next few weeks will be to run consistently again. Only shortish sessions - with technique and form as the priority. I'll be using the Vibrams & Newtons to help freshen me up & focus my mind a lot more than just churning out Km after Km.

It's 3 weeks today that I go over to Kona so will look to get the swim in half decent shape & the run into a condition where I can use the time in Kona & training partners to get me into half-marathon PB shape for when I return in mid-October.

Getting the TRX system was an inspired purchase. Adding these really beneficial strength & conditioning sessions into the mix will prove super beneficial. After only a couple of sessions this week I could feel the benefits to my core & upper body - especially helping stretch out those swimming muscles.

Adding to all of the above are some awesome nice additions to my nutrition portfolio which I'm really pleased with.

I've started taking Manuka Honey on a daily basis. Just adding a spoonful to my homemade smoothies plus another spoonful during the day is really enjoyable. The anti-bacterial strengths of the Manuka Honey will work well with the Biestmilch products I take to support & strengthen my immune system.

Hemp Milk is another great addition I have recently made. I've been taking Hemp Protein for ages -as it is the most complete protein source available - and the Hemp Milk just helps this even further.

Sports-nutrition wise, I'm really pleased that Clif Bar have launched an electrolyte drink and also some awesome recovery bars.

I really like Clif Bar products as they are as natural & organic as you can get - and are also the best tasting sports products I know.

Both the electrolyte drink (cranberry-razz flavour) and the Bullders (recovery) bars are the best tasting products in their field that I've ever tasted.

I like the electrolyte drink so much that I use it daily as my pre-swim drink and then on the bike as well. I find the 2 scoops works great for the shorter sessions and then up this to 4 scoops for the longer rides. I did take 4 scoops before Thursdays swim but found that this plus the morning double espresso got me a little too energized and the heart rate went through the roof!

Seriously though - if you are serious about looking after your health whilst training - I would check out the Clif Bar product range as they have the natural, organic & performance mix nailed.

So, as you can tell, I feeling pretty stoked with life at the moment. My support team is coming together nicely - the 2011 plans are shaping up and the tools are in place to enable me to have a really good crack at setting some serious new PBs.

Plus....Kona is only 3 weeks away....!

See you in seven....


PS - please see my previous post for details of my mate Dave Smiths fund-raising ride from Brighton to Barcelona. Please see if you could spare a few quid to help a really great cause and support a top bloke doing a tough challenge. This ain't no Race for Life....

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Only as strong as its roots...

Afternoon All, 

Just a quickie this week as busy flying around aiming to keep all my plates spinning....

A few things to share with you - all related to my current focus which is putting the plans together - both physical & non-physical for having an epic 2011. 

Training-wise - its great to be back to being a multi-sport athlete. 

I've talked about this before but I do really enjoy the feeling of being able to train well across the 3 disciplines - and then look to bring in the gym / floor work as well. 

I always said August was going to be all about my return to swimming - as this is coming true. Don't get me wrong - this hasn't been an easy return, in fact its been very difficult. Due to lack of focus, my swimming fitness & technique has completely eroded. 18 months ago, I was swimming better than ever - holding a cruise pace of 1:32/100m - now I'm struggling to hit 1:35-1:40. 

However - what I am excited about - is now looking to re-build myself into a better swimmer than I have ever been. It is these type of developmental challenges which I really relish. If I am to achieve my goal of becoming a sub-10 hour Ironman - I need to become a sub-60 min Ironman swimmer. Therefore, I need to rebuild my technique to such a standard than I can achieve this. 

Improving technique - more than absolute fitness - is my focus for the next quarter. I know my fitness (with some specific training) is good enough to complete a sub-11 hour finish - but whilst I can put a heck of lot of effort into trying to improve fitness for arguably marginal gains - if I can improve my technique in all 3 disciplines I can make step-changes in my performance. 

So - what does this look per discipline?

Swim - it means improved body position in the water. Simply put, I basically drag my legs along through the water. I need to start swimming in a more horizontal position - with my legs much higher in the water thna where they currently are. I've started to do a drill I know Brett Sutton gets his athletes to do regularly - swimming with a pull-buoy & band around the ankles - then bringing in paddles. Basically, this gets me in a horizontal position - giving me the feel for what this is like and how I can then develop the front-end catch & pull. 

These are tough sets - but really great for getting me used to swimming in a more horizontal position and are superb for developing my core strength & stability. 

Bike - I need to develop bike-power. Simple as. I need to work hard on becoming a solid time-trialist. Yes, my cycling has improved ten-fold since my last iron-distance race but I still feel I can go much further. This winter I HAVE to be disciplined enough to do power-focued turbo sessions. No excuses. 

Run - more efficiency is the goal here. The Ironman marathon doesn't scare me - I've run both of mine without walking. Its not the distance - its the pace I need to run at to hit a 3.30 Iron-marathon. I need to run more efficiently. Focus will be top-end speed with better run technique. 

So - there it is - technique, technique, technique. 

Which brings me on to my next point...

All of the above areas of development have one common physical link - the need to develop better core and lower body strength. 

Why can't I swim with my legs high in the water? 

Poor core strength - and low hip / glute strength & flexibility. 

Why can't produce my bike power? 

Poor core strength - and no glute power. 

Why can't I run a 3.30 Iron-marathon?

Poor core strength & low glute power.

Put it this way - my physio cannot believe that I have done what I have done with the lack of core & glute strength I have. 

As she eloquently puts it "for a bloke with no arse, I can't believe you managed to do all of that!". 

So - winter work will be in the gym - focusing on core & lower body. 

Plenty of lunges, single-leg work and core strength. This is going to hurt - but I need to do it - its not optional. 

I've paid lip-service to doing this type of work before but then reverted back to type and gone for a swim, bike or run instead - but this time its going to be different.... 

The TRX system has been ordered, the physio is giving me a training plan, sessions will be added into the plan. 

Swim sessions will be drills-based, turbo sessions will be stuck to, and runs will be technique-based. 

I feel like the Lee Majors TV character Steve Austin (I know I'm not that old either) - you know the one...."we can rebuild him". 

So - here we go - let the re-building commence.....

Lets hope we see the sub-10 hour opening ceremony at Roth 2011...!



Monday, 9 August 2010

Support a great cause....


Please check out the note below from my good friend Dave Smith at Clif Bar. 

Looks a great challenge - supporting a great cause. 

This stands out as a great opportunity to support a sponsored race - much better than those naff 5k Race for Life races....

Between Wednesday 15th and Saturday 25th September 2010 twelve of us will be cycling fromBrighton to Barcelona to raise money for St Barnabas Hospice in Worthing. We will be cycling between 70 and 100 miles approximately per day and the total distance covered will be over 830 miles. The route will take us from Brighton to Barcelona via Portsmouth, St Malo, east of Nantes, Bordeaux, over the Pyrenees into Spain and onto Barcelona. We will arrive in Barcelona at the Christopher Columbus monument on the 25th September (hopefully).

None of the group who are taking this challenge are long distance cyclists; we are simply a group of friends who want to do something worthwhile to try to make a difference.

We have set up a website through which we can keep people updated on how our training and planning is going, which can be found at

So, if you can, please dig deep and sponsor whatever you can afford. It’s going to be a tough challenge but it will really help me along knowing that I have the backing of you all. You can donate via the website or by going directly to our just giving page money then goes directly to the charity. Please be assured that every penny donated will be going to St Barnabas as we have covered all costs ourselves.

One of our sponsors is a company called AJ Walter has agreed to give us £1k for every £4k we raise, so we really need your help to get this extra sponsorship.  Please tell your friends and family about what we are doing too.

Less than 40 days to go so I’d better go off now and do some more training!

Thanks for listening and for your support.


Sunday, 8 August 2010

Living the life...

Hola amigos, 

Isn't life amazing?

Having booked a date with Challenge Roth in July 2011 - I feel like a new man...

A new man with a new, tangible, challenging but achievable target. 

I've mentioned it before but I'm going to put it out there again.....I want a sub-10 hour finish. 

I'm going to keep on repeating this to myself - and you guys! - throughout the next 11 months as its going to really focus my energy & passion into a more-specific target then say "set a new PB". 

I have found this a successful tactic in achieving other goals so hopefully it work again this time. 

Ok - so now thats done - lets look more at the present moment....

I'm really pleased with the last 7 days training and lifestyle enhancements. 

Its felt great to get back to the early starts & early evenings - it is a wonderful feeling to be living what I believe is the most natural way of life - up with the sun, down with the sun. 

To me - there is nothing better than getting up at dawn - putting the stove-top espresso on and getting ready to hit the pool. 

Don't get me wrong - staying in bed is always an appealing option - but once I get up & smell the coffee then I'm pleased with my decision. 

So now that the body clock is back in sync - I just need the swimming to follow!

Its been a tough week - I hate swimming poorly and this week has been ugly!

However - with 5 swims under my belt - things are starting to feel something like normal again...but there is still a long way to go. 

The upper body & core are enjoying the new workouts - and I enjoy the feeling that I am firming up again on the top-half of the body. 

I've ordered some paddles & a new pull-buoy so will look to introduce these into some of the drills this week - to help accelerate the re-learning of the feel for the catch & pull. 

I don't want to rush things - and risk damage or injury - but I do need to accelerate the re-development ahead of going over to Kona in 7 weeks. 

Its been a similar story with the running - getting some consistency back. 

I've run 3 times this week - nothing sensational - only 45 minutes a time but on the 3rd run - the legs did start to feel like some strength was returning. 

Interestingly - I've run in 3 different pairs of shoes this week - Asics Noosas, Newtons and then Asics DS Racers. 

The DS Racers won hands-down for me. They felt the most natural and gave me the biggest feeling of connecting with the road. 

The interesting point for me - is that the DS Racers are the most minimalistic of the shoes. They have less support & cushioning than the other two and allow a natural foot strike. 

I think I will continue to use the Newtons as a training aid - but will defer to the DS Racers for my serious work. 

I will also start to re-introduce the Vibram five-fingers into my training - maybe a joint-session with the Newtons - as a recovery/technique session....

Onto the bike - only 3 sessions this week - so I could accommodate the runs. I'm pleased with where my riding is at - but I am riding more like a "roadie" than a "time-trailist" so will need to calm down on the hills and look to hold a more consistent pace on the flats. 

I'll look to convert my developing bike-strength into becoming a stronger time-trailist - instead of looking to beat my mates up on the climbs. 

Finally - and this goes back to the natural life-style piece - I'm bringing yoga back into my routine. 

Early days - but a few poses at the start of the day whilst the coffee is brewing combined with some at the end of the day & post-session - are really helping ensure that the re-adjustment back into full tri training goes as smoothly as possible. 

I plan on up-weighting my yoga - and talking more about it - as I do see it as another discipline which should be added to the mix. 

To repeat myself - I love this lifestyle - and the feeling that yoga gives me in terms of strength, flexibility, breathing and posture - brings together all the benefits of this healthy, active lifestyle. 

During the winter months - I plan to make a return to surfing - which is when I started practising yoga - so these two will form a core (no pun!) part of my winter base programme. 

So over the coming months I plan on posting a lot more content of the wider lifestyle elements such as a clean & natural diet, yoga & surfing which I look to bring together into a healthy, active and holistic package. 

It would be great to get your feedback on whether you find this wider content interesting - so please get in touch via my social networks - and let me know if theres anything in particular you would like me to cover. 

It seems fitting that I leave you with a very pertinent quote from Scott Tinley - which is a great summary of all of that rambling I've just splurted out....

"Above all train hard, eat light and avoid TV and negative people" 

See you in 7....


Sunday, 1 August 2010

Exciting times....

Happy Sunday Everyone!

A bit of a mixed bag this week - but all positive and exciting stuff.

Training-wise, I've made a gentle return to running this week with 30-45 minute runs every day Monday - Thursday.

Nothing sensational - but it did feel good to get back out on the road again.

Obviously the legs have softened up but you also forget how the upper-body misses running. Sounds strange - and maybe its just me - but the upper back & shoulders always feel really tight and stiff when I haven't been running regularly.

So this week has just been about breaking myself back in. As I've only been doing short runs - I've worn the Newtons a few times - just as a 'training aid' to get me running on the fore-foot more.

Still undecided as to whether I would wear these for a marathon - but feel they work well at the shorter distances. However, I do know I've worn them the next morning - as my left Achilles can feel particularly sore. One to watch there...

I've been working in London all week - so had to get my bike work done on the weekend. 2 good rides at good intensity felt really good. Since returning from France, I can definitely feel that my cycling has moved up a notch and I know want to keep this development going by working hard to ride at a stronger pace for longer.

I'm hoping to get back into the pool this week - which will be a painful & embarrassing experience - but I can't put it off as it will only continue to get worse.

You may be asking yourself - why all of this triathlon training?

The exciting news is that I've decided to go over to Kona, Hawaii to watch some good friends compete at the Ford Ironman World Championships.

Therefore, I want to be in good shape - so I don't get to embarrassed on the training sessions or when the pose-ing goes on!

You may recall how last week I told how I have now got my "rev" back for triathlon - with a new harder, faster perspective - after mixing in the higher echelons of the sport of the last few weeks.

This "rev" got even more serious this week - especially after meeting up with a top Ironman age-grouper who I got to know via our mutual relationship with Skinfit.

Stuart Anderson is going to Kona for the 4th time this year - and it was great to meet and talk Ironman with Stuart in London this week.

Next year Stuart is racing at Roth - which I did in 2009 - so we were talking about what a great race, event, experience Roth is.

Later that evening - I entered Roth 2011.....!!!

It just HAD to be done.

After talking about Roth with Lothar & Macca, listening to their stories about racing hard & fast....a seed had started to grow....

...then when Sebastian Kienle went under 8 hours on his iron-distance at Roth 2010 - breaking the bike course record with a 4.14 grew some more....

...and then seeing my mate Nick Weston go under 10 hours at Roth grew some more....

...and then telling others to enter Roth 2011 because its so grew some more...

....then meeting Stuart and talking about Roth, Kona and some other exciting plans we grew to a point at which I had to pick it!

So - there it is - booked and in the diary - 10 July 2011 - Challenge Roth.

And boy - it feels good to have it there - as a real, tangible goal....sub 10 hours!

Plenty of work to be done between now & then - but I feel like I'm coming back to triathlon - a bigger & better athlete than when I left it after Challenge Barcelona last year.

Time will tell - but I promise you this - I will give this my all....

Hope you come along for the ride....


Sunday, 25 July 2010

Eye of the Tiger

Afternoon All,

I'm taking advantage of some nice evening sunshine to sit outside and post a few thoughts on where I've been of late, and where I'm looking to head to.

Last week I walked you through my amazing trip through the French Pyrenees and Alps - so now need to add in some supplementary details.

The second climb we did on Day 2 was called Horcquazette or something like that...

...then the epic climb we did on the day before La Vaujany was Col d'Izoard not the Col D'Soulor
as I over-enthusastically stated.

Apologies for the errors - guess it was the adrenalin kicking in!

After last weeks post a few people have enquired about my kit & nutrition choices
for such a long trip.

Kit-wise I wore some retro Santani bike tops from some of the old school teams
such as La Ve Claire & Mapei.

These are available from prendas ciclismo - and are really good quality - plus add a
bit of fun to the occasion.

You may have seen my photos from Alpe d'Huez when I wearing the full Mapei kit -
which definitely draws the attention!

Bib-shorts were a mix of Skinfit and Rapha - both really good quality and value for money
in my opinion. Believe me when I say it is worth investing in a good pair of nix as the consequences
of not can be brutal.

Shoes - I wear Sidi Carbon Genius - again very good quality.

Bike - Pinarello Prince - my baby, my love, my life...!

If any of you do have any questions about kit - please just ask - as I've tried out most things over the years
but have now settled on the key brands I've mentioned above.

At the end of the day - you usually get what you pay for.

Similar principles apply to nutrition - although there is a lot of over-priced, over-rated nutrition products out
there which would have you believe that they will make you perform like a world-beater.

Those of you who have been following the blog for a while will know that I now only use Clif Bar products
for my sports nutrition. I use both the Clif Bars and Clif Blok Shots as they taste great, are natural and
most of all have never let me down.

I can't tell you how many times either the Bars or the Shots have gotten me out of a hole and given me the fuel
I need to carry on.

So if you're sick of using gels, energy drinks, horrible tasting energy bars - I'd strongly recommend checking out
the Clif Bar product range.

A good place to get these from is

Finally the last key addition to my nutrition plan is from the guys at Biestmilch.

I've been using their Chewy Tablets and Biest Booster for a few months now and
have really noticed the difference in my physical & mental health.

The Boosters are a superb source of energy - which lasts for over 6 hours but doesn't have
any of the spikes & crashes that caffeine or sugar sources do.

The products are based on colostrum - so you know they are natural and are doing your body and
immune system a lot of good.

If you are looking to protect and improve your immune system - which you should be - and are looking for a source of long-lasting energy -
check out the Biestmilch product range.

The Biestmilch products provide a nice segue into my next piece...

As I have been so impressed with the Biestmilch products - several months ago - I got into with them to share my positive experiences
and complement them on their brand and products.

To cut a long story short - it quickly became clear that Biestmilch have a very similar philosophy to myself on
living a healthy, active & productive lifestyle.

So we both agreed that it would be good to share our thoughts & ideas on a few things so I went over to Germany to meet the team
for the first time in March - and had a great few days with the guys.

Then in June, the team got in touch with me as one of their sponsored athletes - Chris McCormack had been invited to race at Ironman Germany in July
- and the team were putting on some promo activities.

Obviously - the chance to mingle with the team and Chris (my triathlon hero) was too good an opportunity to turn down
so I agreed to go over again in early July.

A great few days were had - culminating in an afternoon spent in the company of some of the biggest names in Ironman triathlon (not including myself of course!)

I make no apologies in name-dropping here - so imagine Chris McCormack, Cameron Brown, Lothar Leder, Yvonne Van Vlerken, Nicole Leder,
Meike Krebs all hanging out, swapping stories and tales from the Pro circles.

I was in dream-land - and it was so refreshing to see how down to earth these Pros were - certainly compared to Pros from other sports I have met over the years.

It was amazing to hear there stories and thoughts on both the past & present of the sport The knowledge & experience these guys possess between them
could fill a library.

What all of this did to for me was make me realise that these guys are winners - not just in the races but in their mind-sets.

It has really given me a new focus and determination to return to Ironman racing with a new perspective - so not just complete but compete.

So that is exactly what I am planning to do in 2011.

I'm not going to go back to the full distance at first - I want to learn how to race hard at the middle distance first - take the learnings and then look
to have a real go at a sub 10 hour Iron-distance race in 2012.

This year - I've gone longer in the bike & run than I ever have - so now have the confidence to step down to the
"shorter" stuff without fearing the distance.

Next year - its going to be out not how far I can go but how hard I can go.

This will be a different challenge for me both physically & mentally - and one which following meeting with the
top of the Ironman world - is one which I am relishing on taking on.

I'll leave you with a link to a video of Chris McCormack which I find really inspiring - especially as this is how Chris is -
there is no spin or PR here - I know I'll be referring back to this many times over the coming months.

I hope you all find it as motivating as I do - not just for your sport - but for how you approach life in general...

"Above all train hard, eat light and avoid TV and negative people" - Scott Tinley


Tuesday, 20 July 2010

La Vaujany by markhughes10 at Garmin Connect - Details

Hey Guys

A bit of a mid-week treat for you here....

This is the Garmin Connect file from the La Vaujany Sportive - which we did on our last day of riding in France.

La Vaujany by markhughes10 at Garmin Connect - Details

Let me know if you find this stuff interesting - as happy to share more often moving forward.



PS - Very impressed by Garmin Connect - much more user-friendly than Training Peaks / WKO+

Sunday, 18 July 2010

France 2010 - a not so brief summary...

Wow - sorry its been so long but what an incredible few weeks!

OK, so I last posted just before I headed off to France for what promised to be an incredible 10 days in cyclings mecca.

I had been looking forward to this trip for months - it really was a dream come true. 10 days riding through the Pyrenees & Alps - with Mont Ventoux thrown in for good measure.

As someone who has come to cycling late and can vividly recall the days when he literally treaded getting on the bike - this trip was an embodiment of how I have developed both athletically but also personally (mentally) over the last few years.

We started our tour in the very wet & cold Pyrenees. The conditions were shocking - weren't we in south France in mid-June - wheres the bloody sunshine?!

On our first day we went over Col D'Aspin - onto Col Du Tourmalet and then back over Aspin - and I swear I have NEVER been so cold on a bike as I was that day.

Aspin isn't a tough climb and a nice intro to the trip but then you've got the biggest peak in the Pyrenees - the fabled Tourmalet.

This was my first Hors category climb - and it did not disappoint. I just couldn't believe that you could uphill for so long - and still have km's to go!

The conditions made it a very dark & atmospheric moment - very much like riding into the pits of hell....!

The tunnels, the mist, the cowbells, the ramps from La Mongie up to the summit - incredible.

After trying to get warm in the cafe and questioning whether I would be able to get back down from the 2115m peak without freezing to death - we set off on what would be an extremely painful & frightening descent.

Needless to say we all survived - but at the bottom - I did question whether I would be able to continue with no feeling in my hands and feet!

Once we got moving at the lower altitude I felt a lot better and rather enjoyed the climb back over Aspin at a awesome descent to make our way home.

Day 2 saw us go over Col d' Peyresourde plus another climb who's name I can't recall. Once again the weather was shocking but also added to the atmosphere.

I really enjoyed climbing Peyresourde - its not brutal at all and has some stunning views.

A really cool cafe waited for us at the top - where coffee, crepes & fries were hastily consumed in front of the piping hot bolier - bliss!

Another freezing cold descent was safely managed before we went over the "other climb" - which was a bitch - but fun nonetheless.

So 2 days down & I am feeling pretty broken - not so much physically but mentally the weather really got me down. I really struggle in the cold - both physically & mentally. The thought of going out the next day in the cold & wet was not very appealing at all.

So when I woke on Day 3 to see the sunshine I could have cried with joy!

A really huge day was waiting for us - about an hours drive away. It was our last day in the Pyrenees so we wanted to tick off Soulor, Aubsique & Luz Ardiden.

With the improved weather and the inspiration of these legendary climbs - I was like a new man and really pumped to have a good day.

After the beating of the first 2 days - it was like I had now accepted that these climbs were incredibly long & tough and that there is no point feeling sorry for yourself - just stick it in the 39/27 & pedal.

Soulor is tough - I don't care what the books say - this climb hurts. Once over the Soulor - the road over to the Aubsique is crazy - real 1910 Tour de France stuff!

We're talking pitch-black tunnels, sheer drops, gravel surfaces - it is bloody hairy stuff.

But what a feeling of achievement - the Aubsique - the 'Assasins' climb - done!

The descent was cautious to say the least - but from Soulor onwards - you can fly down - so i had a good go. Went past a few motorbikes & cars - which made me feel very pro indeed!

Feeling stoked that we'd done two of the best - we set off for Luz Ardiden - which is one I was particularly looking forward to.

After a decent pull to get over from the bottom of Soulor - we reached Luz Ardidien.

A pretty gentle start - only 6% for a few k's - gave way to some more serious ramps - but also the legendary switchbacks!

The switchbacks were such a bonus - as the gradient would less off - allowing me to increase my cadence and take that into the next stretch.

I really enjoyed this climb - famous for Lance getting brought down by a fans musette & Ullrich waiting - and I just smiled all the way to the top.

I was living the dream - Soulor, Aubsique & Luz Ardiden - what a day!

An incredible descent down Luz Ardiden - lined us up for a team trial back to the cars as we were late for dinner!

A very welcome can of Coke (its the real deal in times of need!) - and some serious big-ring Jens Voight effort - was just the icing on top of one of my all-time days!

Day 4 was a rest day - traveling over to Provence.

Day 5 was THE day- Mont Ventoux....

Now this is the one climb which before we left for the trip - truly freaked me out.

Now, its my favourite climb in France!

What a climb - a beast - but so rewarding that I can't truly explain how proud I am to have ridden up this freak of nature.

Getting through the woods was tough - 10% for k after k - but then it lessens to about 6% and I was pumped to see the weather station. The last few k's are deceptively tough but the feeling that you are riding Mont Ventoux just adds some much energy to your legs - that you are riding on a wave!

The descent was out of control - hitting 50mph at times - and I descended on the back of a group of 4 - so again, got that pro feeling weaving in & out of the corners at speed!

A well-earned afternoon in the sun - by the pool - was the perfect way to rest up.

Next day we did a quick spin and headed over to the Alps. A beautiful and memorable drive over some pretty hairy mountain roads is a memory which will last for a long time!

So we're now in the Alps...

Its Friday - so we head out to ride Alpe D'Huez - yes - that Alpe D'Huez - all 21 switchbacks, Lance's stare, Pantanis 38 mins etc....

I would say that this is the one climb that I under-estimated - its tough- don't let anyone tell you different.

The first 5 switchbacks are brutal - seriously difficult and put you in the red straightway.

From then on - you know the worst is over - so you just keep trying to push on. The switchbacks are incredible and you really get a sense that you are riding a legendary climbing. The sheer number of people on the road is unreal - so busy its untrue.

Its really strange but you do get a sense that the only way to ride the Alpe is hard. I mean its like its sucking you into racing it - kind of daring you to take it on....

An awesome experience - and I'll definitely go back and improve on my 64 minutes - now I know whats instore.

From the Alpe we rode across some aesome cliff-face roads over to Les Deux Alpes. Not the prettiest climb - but still worth doing - if only to get a sense of how amazingly quick Marco Pantanis 28 minutes was (drugs or no drugs - its quick!)

A pretty hairy moment on the descent when my back wheel slipped on some wet tar slowed me down - and from their it was a solid pull back to our accommodation - via the famous Dutch pub of course!

Ok, so now its Saturday already and we've got a massive 175km race tomorrow so lets take it easy.....and go and ride Col D'Soulor!?!

This is one big ol' climb which is deceptively tough in parts - before it really gets going and then its a cracker of a climb - all 2380 metres of it!

Again - so pleased to have this climb in my palmares - as it is known as a beast.

Another quick descent back to the cars - followed by a well-earned McDonalds stop - and we head back to rest up for the next days efforts.

So we've made it to the last day - a gentle 175km Sportive with 3.5km of ascent over 3 Cols in 35 degree heat!

After waking up at 5am and feeling like crap - with some stomach issues - I really didn't think I would be able to complete the full distance.

Getting on my bike and riding to the start line - I started to vomit and need the bathroom - not the best start to a long day.

Anyway - off we set. Unable to eat for the first 2.5 hours and feeling crap - i took it really easy and almost soft-pedalled up the first real climb of the day.

Eventually - I started to feel better and was able to keep fluids down so began to drink more regularly.

Well - short version of a long painful day - is that I finished the long course in 8 hrs 49.

The last 5kms are all at 12% and this was just the perfect way to finish the trip - in a world of pain!

I don't think I've ever been in a hole like that on a bike in my life - maybe in all of my races including Ironman I can't recall wanting to quit so much.

I remember that even with only 400 metres to go I wanted to get off - it was almost like I was too tired to get off - it was easier just to let the legs keep turing themselves a few more times!

...and that was France 2010.

8 days riding, 45 hours in the saddle, 765kms ridden, 20,000 metres climbed.

A truly life-changing experience - no exaggeration.

If you want to go and learn a lot about who & what you are - go & ride up a Hors category climb - on your own - in the wind & rain for 90 mins......and then do it again the next day...

Never have I believed the saying "what doesn't kill us, makes us stronger".

Hope you enjoyed this post as much I have writing it!

Love life!


Sunday, 13 June 2010

Angels & Demons

Hey Everyone,

Hope are all keeping fit and healthy.

Following last Sundays Dragon Ride this week has been a low volume / decent intensity week.

On Monday, I was very fatigued with a lot of lower back soreness. A superb massage from David Tabrizi at Cheltenham Holistic Health Centre really felt good - so good that I'm sure I nodded off on the bed! - but didn't cure the lower back stiffness.

A nice spin out on Tuesday night did the trick. I took the "training" bike out (how pro do I think I am - with a training bike?!) which has the compact 50/34 gearing. This enabled me to spin nicely and really loosened everything off.

The post-Dragon ride stiffness was slightly concerning but understandable - given the distance, the route and that it was only my 4th ride out on the Prince (53/39 gearing).

However, I will need to keep on top of my stretching & flexibility work in France to ensure the adaptation to the new gearing goes as smoothly as possible.

I'll also be un-afraid to use the inner ring whenever I feel tightness in my glutes & hamstrings coming on - theres no 'big ring" ego here - I'm more interested in riding well for the whole trip.

I took the Prince out on Wednesday night and she was making a few strange noises - I know I'm no bike mechanic but I know a good noise from a bad noise - so I took her into Echelon Cycles for a check-up on Friday morning.

The guys in Echelon are superb and really provide top service. They did a through review of the Prince, taking off the rear cassette, bottom bracket etc, and couldn't find anything wrong.

They gave me a lesson on the nuances between Shimano DA and Campag gearing - which was good to know - and particularly how Campag needs to bed in.

With my mind reassured, I took the Prince out on Saturday for a few hours - and she purred! In fact, she has never sounded better.

I just needed to get rid of any nagging doubts before my trip to France - I'm a real nervous Nerys when it comes to these things!

Speaking of Nervous Nerys - I've been reading about all the legendary climbs we have on our trip - and to be honest as fascinating as I find all the details - it is also playing with my mind!

So I've decided to park all of the reading, just ride what is in front of me, and then read all about what we did climb when we get back - otherwise I'm just going to create un-due stress.

For someone who considers themselves mentally strong - I am prone to letting little details or doubts pray on my mind.

On a more positive note, I had a great little run today. Just 45 minutes along my favourite riverside route - at a really nice pace which felt nice & loose. Its sessions like that which remind me why I love to run - I just felt free and alive!

Ok - so on that note - I'll let you go.

I'm off over to France on Friday so won't be posting next week - but will look to make up for it with trip summary the following week.

I'm also hoping to keep a video journal of the trip, capturing my thoughts & feelings as the days tick by, so will look to share this with you at some point.

As always, train hard, train smart.