Sunday, 25 April 2010

Weapons of Mass Destruction...

Yes, it is Sunday evening already but hopefully my weekly blurb will help ease the pain!

Well, if you're sitting comfortably then I'll begin....

A rather stop-start due to work commitments has actually proved to be a real breakthrough week.

A couple of nice rides on Monday & Tuesday were followed by three days of speed walking around London, carrying the worlds heaviest laptop and basically busting up with shoulders and back.

However, it was to great to catch up with some good friends and share our excitement about the forthcoming trip to France and all the important stuff like what kit are we all going to wear?!

For those who I hven't already told (there can't be many of you left!), a small group of friends are traveling over to France for 10 days in mid-June, to tour the Pyrenees and Alps. My friends have putting together an incredible itinerary for us, including 15 of the biggest cols France has to offer.

It really is going to be a dream come true for me, and is certainly my number one focus for the forthcoming months.

So, now knowing what the goal is, how has my training for such a challenge changed?

Well obviously the bike is the priority. Swimming will be active recovery, and running will focus on technique development.

Getting back on the bike after such a heavy run focus has proved easier than I thought it might be.

All of the tough winter running, especially the huge trial runs seem to have developed a lot of functional leg strength. By functional, I mean that my glutes and quads are now performing as they should do, leaving the hamstrings to focus on what they are good at and not having to do all the work on their own, as was the case.

My new found glutes and quads are making a huge difference to my cycling strength and power. Its safe to say that I have never ridden as powerfully as I currently am.

As I now ride with a power meter I can see the watts I'm putting out both during and post-ride so this is not wishful thinking, it is fact.

Numbers are great but what does this look like on the road. Well, my friends, it looks like me dropping my mate on the toughest local climb for the first time ever.

The climb is a beast, lasting about 2kms, starting at 7%, rising to 25% before "easing off" to 11%.

The best I've previously ridden this climb was my first time, when ignorance was bliss and I ground my way up stuck in the big ring. I've since always struggled, getting distracted by the watts, cadence, HR etc and never riding it well.

On Saturday, I promised myself that I wouldn't look at the numbers during the climb and to focus on riding it "blind".

As the climb kicked up I started to pull away from my mate and my legs felt great. I was riding at nice beat and whilst my legs were hurting, it was a nice pain. A combination of seating and standing worked really well and although the heart rate was super high and my chest was burning I felt like I could carry on "pouring" on the power!

As the climb eased back to the mere 11%, I did begin to struggle slightly but this was more because I knew the worst was over and I sublimely eased off and then struggled to get going again.

At the top of the climb my mate informed me that I had put 100 metres into him at one point and looked really good from behind with a very still upper body.

This climb was only 1 hour into our 4 hour ride and there were plenty more climbs to come so I wanted to see if I had peaked to soon. My chest was really burning and I had a painful cough. The climb had clearly opened up my lungs and all sorts of junk was now pouring out.

I thought this would be a perfect time to try out my new secret weapon....the Biestmilch Booster!

Biestmilch are a German-based company who specialize in the use of colostrum, the natural source of protein. Colostrum, as I've talked about previously, is an incredible product and one which I have been fascinated by for a while.

The studies which have proved its benefits to the immune system and subsequent performance are numerous and undeniable.

Biestmilch are world leaders in the creation of colostrum-based products working with top triathletes including Chris McCormack and Yvonne Van Vlerken.

I've recently begun using their daily chewy tablets as my source of colostrum. I need to ensure my immune system is in top condition and whilst I'm pleased with my diet, the results I've seen others have when using colostrum have convinced me to add this to my daily regime.

For note, I also take a multi-vitamin plus chlorella and fish oils on a daily basis.

Another product Biestmilch produce is the Booster. A combination of colostrum and guarana the purpose of the Booster is, as the name suggests, to give you a boost.

When I was recently over in Germany, meeting with the Biestmilch team, several athletes were raving about the Boosters so I decided to give them a try. The guys did warn me to use these selectively as they are really strong and shouldn't be taken too late in the day.

Note: I tell you more about my trip to meet the Biestmilch team later in the week.

Now I usually stay away from so-called energy drinks as I feel they are just junk and are not good for the body so I wasn't too sure about the Booster at this stage.

However, knowing Saturdays ride was going to be a beast with over 1k of climbing, I thought I would take one along and see whether it would handle the worst the Cotswolds has to offer.

So, after the first major climb and some more lumps I decided to take the Booster. This was 90 minutes into the ride and there was some fatigue starting to build up in the legs.

To be honest I never felt like I had received an energy boost, in a caffeine sort of way (which is a good thing in my opinion), but boy did I ever climb well.

I'm not exaggerating when I say that I can't recall ever climbing so well in my life.

Believe me, there were plenty of decent climbs, including another 25% beast and on every climb I dropped my mate.

Now, please understand, my mate usually drops me like a rock on any sign of a lump so for me to ride away from him on every climb was almost surreal.

A combination of a nice pedaling beat, legs feeling really strong, a new found willingness to enjoy the pain and what felt like a bottomless tank of energy all combined to make me feel like the Andy Schleck of the Cotswolds!

So based on my extensive scientific research I am pronouncing the Biestmilch Booster a resounding success!

For now on, the Booster will take its place alongside my constant companions of a Clif Bar and Clif Blok Shots on all of my long rides.

A really great addition to the nutrition portfolio which will work well with the Clif Bar (solid), Clif Blok Shots (solid gel) and Infinit sports drink (liquid).

Hey, if don't want to take my word for it, just ask my mate!

Todays ride was always going to be an anti-climax but it did in fact turn out to be a great tempo ride. A bit of friendly banter saw my put out 838 watts at one point when taking on the sprint premiums, further testament to this new found power.

So, in summary, a nice weeks work. 9 hours riding with some great outputs.

With a big week ahead of me, culminating in a tough 83km sportive on Sunday, I'm feeling really positive and loving my cycling. A may even venture back into the pool this week...

Don't get me wrong, I'm still nervous as hell about those French cols....did I not mention my lack of descending skills?!

Ciao for now comprades!


Sunday, 18 April 2010

Wake Up Legs!

Here we go with trying to get back to the old routine of posting on Sunday nights....
Will look to keep it short & simple as need to get some quality zzz's after some poor quality sleeps. Anywy,s lets get on with this weeks news...

I've really enjoyed this week. Managed to spend over 12 hours on the bike, riding most days and getting back into the swing of riding consistently again.

After being off the bike for so long, I've really noticed how my legs are not used to the higher turnover rate of cycling vs. running. Without consciously thinking about it, my legs have "settled" into riding at 70-75 rpm and preferring to turn a bigger gear.

Whilst I've been pleased with the strength in my legs, I know that this lower cadence/bigger gear is not suitable to my attributes and also the demands of long, endurance riding.

Therefore, my focus this week has been on higher cadence work, using the small chain ring more and really trying to maintain speed & power through the combination of gears and rpms.

Its been a real shock to the legs - almost like waking them up - and has proved really beneficial to both my cycling and general fatigue levels.

During the week I carried out my first FTP test of the season, to set a benchmark for my power data and see where I'm currently at. The positive news was that my numbers came out very close to where I was at when training for the Challenge Barcelona iron-distance race last October.

I'll be using an FTP of 225w to set my power benchmarks, and then re-testing once a month as the season progresses.

So, with a couple of nice weekdays rides in the bag, it was onto the longer stuff on the weekend. Thankfully, the weather was perfect for some long rides in the Cotswold hills.

On Saturday I had one of most enjoyable rides in a long time. Me & a mate rode over to the Malvern hills to take on some on the nice long climbs they have on offer. It was perfect training for the forthcoming sportives with plenty of "lumps" of between 4-8%, with some bigger climbs hitting 10-15%.

I was very pleased with how the ride went, especially the double-digit climbs. Holding a nice cadence and really using the gears I was able to hold a nice, consistent pace throughout the climbs without the heart rate going bananas.

An added bonus was the wonderful water of the Malvern spring waiting for us at the top of the second long climb - it felt like the fountain of youth and well worth the effort to get there.

After the climbs, I really focused on spinning the legs out and was pleased with still being able to hold a good pace and heart rate whilst in the smaller gears.

I really felt the benefit of the spinning post-ride as my legs, whilst tired, felt really light and fresh.

Sundays ride was an easier affair, just the 3 hours at 60-75% effort. The legs felt great and I continued to use the small ring to help maintain the higher cadence and "agreed" power output. With some nice 4-5% lumps and one decent climb hitting 12%, the session was far from boring and continued to help me getting a better understanding of how I can best adjust to challenge of climbing for long periods and distances.

With all the cycling required between now and June, I decided to reign in my swimming ambitions and just use these sessions as active recovery.

I did attempt a run this week but, and don't know whether it was the cycling or still post-Eco Trail "damage", it was very painful. I really struggled to hold any pace and any effort to lift the tempo was very difficult.

I think, for the time being, I'm going to scale my run sessions right back to minimal volume but aim for some higher frequency, ie more shorter runs. Just to help give the legs a change of stimulus but not asking them too many questions as to detract from what i need them to be - which are cyclists legs.

I'll use these shorter sessions to look at my run technique and will look to bring using my Vibrams and Newtons as effectively training-aids.

Anyway guys, not such a short post after all, but as I'm sure you've realised by now, I'm pretty pumped to back on my bike(s) again!

Hope this continues as the miles (and hills) continue to add up.

See you next Sunday.


Monday, 12 April 2010

2010 - The year so far....

Hey everyone,

Sorry if I've surprised you by dusting off the old blog magic, but I've finally got my act back in order and wished to bring you all up to speed on whats been going on in 'Sparky World'.

I can't believe that my last post was in December 2009. I knew it was a while ago but 3 months?!

So, I thought a Quarter 1 (Q1) summary would be pretty timely and hopefully interesting reading.

2010 is a really exciting year for me, due to the variety of goals, races and adventures I've got lined up.

After being totally focused on Ironman for the last few years, and then achieving that goal (twice) last year, I was keen to achieve some new goals this year. So, with no Ironman on the cards, I've lined up some different goals.

The main goal for Q1 was Eco-Trail de Paris. This is an extraordinary race held on the trails around Paris. I opted to go for the 80km Ultra distance, by far the longest foot race I've ever done.

The run focus really started in November and continued all the way through to the race on 20 March. It was tough to miss out on the swim & bike work, but there was just no way I could have developed the run volume whilst trying to fit in the other disciplines.

Firstly, I signed-up to the Endurance Life Coastal Trail Series event, a great series of trail races held on the south-west coast of the UK. This meant I had a trail marathon booked in for every 4 weeks from December onwards. Due to the off-road nature of these races, its near impossible to get the distance spot-on, so if they're in doubt they go longer!

Two of the three races I did came in at 28 miles, on some seriously challenging terrain. As tough as they were, they were perfect training for Eco-Trail, and knocking out 4 marathons in 10 weeks was a big factor in me hitting the cumulative volume target.

Eco-Trail on 20 March was an experience I'll never forget. It was pretty mind-blowing stuff both during and since the race. I remember when my friend Ian did the race last year, I couldn't comprehend running for 9 hours, it just seemed insane!

So to be lining up at the race this year with an aim to come in at under 10 hours is clearly an indication of my insanity!

I won't bore you with all the details, but in summary, I was really pleased with my race. I held a consistent pace throughout and was pleased with how I managed myself. Of course, it hurt like hell. 5000ft of climbing can do that to your legs.

The finish is on the 1st floor of the Eiffel Tower which is just a mind-blowing end to such an incredible experience. Maybe it was because I was so exhausted that it just made the whole experience kind of surreal but I know the memory will live with me for a long, long time.

With my Q1 goal achieved, I took the liberty of booking some much need vacation time and headed up to the Amalfi Coast in Italy. I had a wonderful time in an incredible part of the world. Doing absolutely nothing for 8 days was bliss, which just told me how much I needed the rest, as I'm using raring to go with 3-4 days.

I literally couldn't stay awake for the first few days and it was only the legendary Italian espressos which get me going!

I've got a few more points I'd like to share with you all over the coming days and weeks but will leave here for now as I've already gone on for too long.

Quarter 2 is already lining up to be a corker - so I can't wait to share some more tales and adventures with you all.

I've just to make sure I post more often!

Speak soon,