Hit the Downs 2 - getting bike fit for a 40 mile MTB ride

Simon P

Simon P

With 5 weeks to go before the ride I’ve decided on a training regime consisting of 3 rides a week of progressively increasing length. I’m going to supplement this with my usual daily 20-minute mash up of yoga sun salutes, press ups, planks and assorted stretches for my back, a unique self-created routine that I hope one day to turn into a 12 DVD series called something like the Ultimate Body Plan for the Over Fifties and sell on QVC for £99.99.

Like most men of my age I suffer from periodic lower back pain, and long periods of off road riding over uneven terrain tends to exacerbate this unless I take regular breaks and do lots of stretching. Andy Dog had recently invested in seat post suspension on his hard tail which he said helped smooth out the ride and should theoretically reduce the jarring on my lower back. I found a well-reviewed and not too expensive Suntour SP12 model on Amazon. To my frustration I had to send two back as neither exactly fitted my seat post stem, presumably because my bike is quite an old model and therefore the seat post is not a current standard diameter. I couldn’t face any more trips to the post office after returning the second seat and decided to stick with the hard tail in its unmodified form for the time being and keep stretching.

I’ve looked at my historical ride data from my training app on my phone and this indicates that my average ride speed on the South Downs is around 8-9 mph. This should mean I’ll be riding for around 5 hours to complete the 40-mile charity route. I decide that if I can get up to riding comfortably for 3-4 hrs then I should be able to complete the route in a reasonable time without having a major physical or mental breakdown.  The main challenge I soon realise is less my aging body and bike and more finding the time to complete 3 rides a week, given the competing demands of a young family and a full-time job as a freelance accountant. If only I was young, single and with an abundance of free time I think to myself but don’t say out loud in ear shot of my lovely partner Sally and 4-year-old son.

Training Diary

Week 1

After my dispiriting first ride the previous week I needed a morale boost so I chose to start with a relatively gentle 14-mile circular route. This begins with a 2-mile flat section along the under cliff path from Brighton out east past the marina to Rottingdean, weaving round walkers, and then winds its way gently up onto the Downs without any really long climbs before returning to Brighton via the racecourse. The weather was perfect, virtually no wind and pleasantly warm, the sky was cloudless and the ride was a timely reminder of why I enjoy off road cycling so much.

Ride Data distance 14 miles time 1 hr 29 height gain 1155ft av speed 9.4mph

My second ride of the week was a shorter, more intense ride around Ditchling Beacon with virtually no flat sections. I tried to push myself harder on this ride, and took only a couple of short rests, although at one point on a narrow path lined by hedgerows my way was blocked by a herd of slow moving cows.  They looked at me and my bike with what seemed like amusement, before one of them broke wind and then they slowly meandered off in search of something to eat.

2Cows

Ride Data 11 miles 1 hr 19 height gain 1131ft av speed 8.3 mph

Week 2

Only manage one ride this week down from two, so currently averaging 1.5 rides/week, exactly 50% below target. However, my one ride was entertaining as I had Andy Dog and his laconic commentary for company. He’s not one for effusive encouragement, at the end of a steep downhill section on which I was a bit tentative, he drily suggested that I would go a lot faster if I let go of the brakes.  We even managed to fit in a pint at the White Swan in Falmer towards the end of the ride to indulge Andy’s fondness for mid-strength lager and mine for mini cheddars, not exactly peak nutrition but good for team bonding. Andy and I are quite well matched, he’s faster on the descents, I’m faster climbing, I’m a few years older, he’s a few pounds heavier. We had managed 17 miles in just over 2 hours without really pushing ourselves, so with 3 weeks to go I’m starting to feel a lot more confident.

2Andy

Ride data - 17 miles 2 hrs 3 height gain 1566ft av speed 8.3 mph

Week 3

Once again only manged one ride this week, though I chose a route with a lot of height gain, getting close to 2000ft of gain in total. Towards the end of the ride there was a long steep climb from the A27 to the top of the Downs overlooking Kingston, a gain of around 350ft. At this point I was tiring and started to struggle and it became a matter of not thinking too far ahead, looking at the ground immediately in front of me and  just focusing on my breathing. This is a technique I’ll learned some years ago on long approach climbs in the Alps. I find it's a good way of mentally breaking difficult sections down into manageable chunks so you don't get dispirted by the size of the challenge ahead of you.

Ride data - 17 miles 2 hrs 18 height gain 1843ft av speed 7.4 mph

Week 4

This week for the first (and last) time I manage to fit in the planned 3 rides. The first a solo ride of almost 3 hours. The highlight of this ride was managing to get up the steep and technically difficult climb from Kingston without getting off. However, my pride at this achievement was slightly dented by a passing walker rushing over and asking with a concerned face if I was OK as a lay on the grass by my bike at the top of the climb, sweating and breathing heavily. In total, I clocked up 63 miles this week and by the final shorter ride at the end I felt like I was flying along with minimal effort. With one week to go until the ride I’m feeling a lot more positive. It’s surprising how much you can improve your fitness in a relatively short time, and it helps enormously to have a goal to give you a sense of purpose.

Ride data Ride 1 - Monday 24 miles 2hr 56 mins gain 2087ft av speed8.2 mph

Ride 2 - 24 miles 3hrs 15 mins gain 1856ft av speed 7.4mph

Ride 3 - 15 miles 1hr 45 mins gain 1504ft av speed 9.2mph

Simon P

Simon P

Simon - the yogic accountant Interests include football, running, yoga, mountain biking, Alpine climbing and long distance walking in no particular order. These days as the beginning of my 50th year on this planet stands waving at me from the not very great distance of June, my exercise regime seems to have settled into a mix of all my past passions. For me exercise at this point in my life is less about times and weights and scores, though these do still have a role to play. It’s much more about taking pleasure in, and trying to maintain and get the best out of this incredible collection of bones, muscles and tissue that is my body, aware that I’m not going to get another one.

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