For those of us who like cycling and live in the Lakes, the Fred Whitton Challenge ‘the Fred’ is an annual event that tugs at the sinews of curious cyclists. Is it achievable? Will I secure an entry? How much will it hurt? Do I have enough time to train?
Being no stranger to distance riding, friends assumed it would pose few fears – are they kidding?!! My RTW trip was years ago and the year before I’d ridden little due to shoulder surgery.
Marshaling in 2017 was an easy way to avoid the disappointment of not having a place, through the ballot. Confirmation of this came in the autumn… 7 months to seriously up my fitness.
Writing this in hindsight, here’s what I learned in the months prior and on the day;
Sports science and access to technology can make huge differences to one’s performance – we all know this. What I hadn’t realised was how easy it is to make gains using equipment at a local indoor venue: ‘Mapdec’ – how specific the data and feedback is. Being tailored to the individual (after a 20 minute functional fitness test) each turbo like session provides in the moment information, designed to encourage peak performance.
Sitting in a room on your own bicycle, surrounded by fellow cyclists, one simply follows instructions on a screen, with music playing – far better than slogging it out on my (borrowed) turbo in the gloom of my garage. The idea being to stick to a cadence (often 90rpm) and increase your effort as directed by your personalised computer screen. This may sound all rather 1984, but it works!
Admittedly, part of me, still rather likes the alternative – spinning classes run by a friend at the local leisure centre, as I prefer the social ambience. Unfortunately the lack of personalized feedback available during these times wasn’t ever going to offer the same level of improvements and practically, spinning sessions weren’t available very often.
During the winter, you’re going to train indoors – alternatives to solo garage/ home turbo sessions are worth their weight in monthly fees.
Thanks Paul* for keeping me and fellow Fred cyclists going.
Mallorca – always a great place to train, with guaranteed sun, smooth tarmac and sufficiently testing hills. 8 days of riding prior to tapering gave me a boost I was needing, with a couple of long rides. A must if you can take the time off work.
To keep one’s ageing body in relative nick, I’d always recommend yoga, regardless of preferred sport/ age/ gender.
For me, it’s Hatha; 2-3 sessions a week are sacred hours, where my focus is very simply on my breath and postures. Unlike some, I lack flexibility in my various joints and will never be able to squat, do the ‘Tree’ pose with one foot neatly tucked into my adductor or gracefully turn my left foot to 90 degrees in Warrior One. The inward focus and calm contemplation offered in early morning hours always set me up for the day ahead and offset some of the damage of sitting in a saddle the night or day prior. And hopefully will aid the slide into older age.
Thanks to Hannah who ran the beloved 6.30 – 7.30am slots that eased me into the days ahead.
I was lucky – responding to a call for ‘willing victims’ I signed up to free massage sessions – the only catch being the weekly drive to Grange over Sands, and the knowledge that my masseur was learning his trade.
One year on, I cannot thank ex-rugby playing masseur enough. Regular weekly massages repeatedly caused me pain in various muscle groups – namely, the classic regions for cyclists – the qlutes, IT bands and top of the hamstring insertion. Over the weeks and months, both Roger and I became attuned to tweaks and strains; Roger knew the limit of my pain threshold and I trusted him to do his utmost to heal my sore and tender regions.
I discovered quite how lazy my left glute was and how much of a potential problem this could be, over a long hilly, route – how much strain it put on my hamstring and why by lower right back was often sore during rides.
Thank you Roger.
Tracking progress: (An old fashioned way).
I bought a new A1 sized wall calendar, wrote mileage targets in pencil at the end of each month, then largely ignored them! Owning a pack of small sticky coloured ‘dots’ that I’d stick on each day of exercise/ activity, helped me to visually see at a glance, how I was spending my time. Red dots for cycling/ turbo sessions; yellow for yoga; green for massage and blue for any other form of exercise. Over the months, a quick glance at the array of colours helped when I worried that I hadn’t done enough to prepare. (I’m not bothered about comparing times/ speeds with others – I doesn’t motivate me, so I didn’t bother with Strava or other computer programmes, although many people find them extremely helpful.)
Diet & Sleep:
Essential items – luckily not ones I worried about. (An App I’ve used in the past to track %s of carbs/ fats and proteins is ‘My Fitness Pal’, which displays this info on a simple pie chart: being vegetarian it’s important that I’m eating sufficient protein, however I usually eat well and healthily; I didn’t feel this area of training required additional attention).
Ride the route, (I did this over a weekend and loved staying in a B&B – something I’d never normally do in the Lakes). Know the pot holes to avoid and which sections you know will (temporarily) hurt. Know where the public loos are, to avoid the crowds and where you’d like your support crew to be located on the day. Decide which lights you’re using and which setting you want your Garmin on. Try and test all the foods and the clothing/ kit you’ll be using- and ensure your bike is serviced just before. Leave nothing within your control to chance.
Ride the first section at a similar time to the one you’ll start on, so you feel confident about riding early in the morning, knowing that the first couple of climbs won’t phase you, regardless of weather conditions.
On the day:
As I wasn’t aiming for a specific time (I hadn’t trained for one and was unsure about my average speed) I knew that, to a degree, all I had to do was keep my legs spinning, avoid the trap of setting off too fast, and enjoy the views. I rode with two friends from Kendal Cycle Club (KCC) and crossed the line just under 9 hours of riding time later.
Things I noticed on the day, that hadn’t occurred to me previously included:
- The value of wearing a KCC club shirt… many people called out ‘Go Kendal!’ along the route and offered words of support. Thanks Helen for the shirt loan.
- The depth of kindness of supporters: at the top of the final climb, some friends from KCC had parked their VW and offered fresh strawberries, jaffa cakes, water etc. This was such a welcome surprise, I was blown away. I’d been impressed by the support offered by my partner and his friend, throughout the day, at strategic locations, but the surprise element of support, perfectly positioned, meant a lot.
- Without thinking too much about it, I realised that I do prepare reasonably well! When a friend had a puncture half way round, we noticed that her inner tube was an old one, which already had one patch repair. The replacement was with a cheap one and the valve snapped. Fixing the puncture took a little longer than anticipated. I realised that the checks I do, prior to such an event, are comprehensive.
- My view of Strava would need to be shifted, if I wanted to pull off graphs and information to inform me about how I rode each hill, and to look at feedback of this type. I was shocked to find that our rest stops had taken so long. If I’d had Strava linked to my Garmin, I could have had this to hand, post ride when a part of me was keen to establish timings for route sections, and to ponder how I could have ridden more efficiently/ harder/ etc.
- A generally hidden sense of competition emerged in my mind, on a few occasions, although I kept this at bay. I wasn’t racing, but a voice still echoed ‘Pick it up, Cress – last 10 miles or so to go!’ I had just rounded the last bend off the last descent and knew I’d done the hard work, and had energy left. I ignored the unhelpful voice and calmly waited for my friends to catch up…The day was testing, yes, but to my limits, not quite.
- When a friend was feeling overwhelmed, shedding tears near the end, I knew I had strength enough to tow her home, if necessary. I noticed how positively I responded to her need for hugs, words of encouragement and practical support. Leading the three of us to the end gave me a different sense of purpose; I had a role and value. I was part of the trio and we kept our pact: start together and finish together. This felt good.
- Crossing the line I noticed that I felt OK – happy to finish, yet not completely exhausted. This was unusual! I guess I typically approach events a bit differently. I couldn’t work out whether this was a good thing or not. By not putting myself under any time pressure, I’d enjoyed the ride. Surely this was a great way to do my first Fred? I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d trained differently, and harder, how much quicker I would have been. I’ll never know.
- Most significantly, I sussed, whilst we were fixing the puncture, that mentally, I’m quite strong. I had absolutely no intention of not finishing, and knew that the distance was in my grasp. I wondered quite why I’d doubted myself – of course I’d do the Fred! I’m hoping that I take this confidence with me, into my next event.
Only time will tell!
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