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!