One of things I most like about living in Brighton is the ease of access to the South Downs on my mountain bike. From my office or home I can be out of town and riding through some beautiful countryside within at most 20 minutes. I prefer off road to road biking in the UK as I’d much rather immerse myself in the quiet of nature than be constantly on the alert for the next car coming up behind me at high speed on a windy country road. During the winter however the Downs tends to get so wet and muddy that you often spend more of your time carrying your bike on your shoulder through sections of deep mud, than actually riding the thing. Then when you get home cold and wet your partner makes you hose the bike down in the road outside your house before you can even think about bring it through the house to the back garden bike shed. For these admitted rather feeble reasons my interest in mountain biking does tend to drop off over the winter months and I switch to running and football for my outdoor cardio-vascular kicks.
So this year true to form I’d only been out on the bike twice between November and February when my friend Andy Dog suggested a 40 mile off road event which was taking place at the beginning of May in aid of a local charity St Barnabas House. Sounds like a decent way of getting myself motivated and back on the bike I thought, so I signed up and then went off on holiday to Vietnam for 3 weeks and forgot about it. On my return at the beginning of March feeling sluggish and very unfit from a diet of cheap beer and noodles, Andy asked me how my training was going and I had to admit to him that I hadn’t actually done any yet. So from a rather low starting point my aim was to get myself into good enough shape within 5 weeks to get round the 40 mile route with 1138m of elevation in a reasonable time and more importantly enjoy the experience.
A short technical interlude before I get onto the training rides, feel free to skip if you’re not of a techie mind set. My bike is a 6 year old Specialised Rockhopper SL with front suspension only. The Rockhopper has served me well over the years on the Downs, it’s done a lot of miles, I’d guess around 500 a year. Nothing major has broken or failed in that time, though I go through a fair number of inner tubes, disc brake pads and cables as you would expect. I graduated to clip-in pedals a few years ago and feel comfortable using them though I’m aware that the idea of having your feet firmly attached to your pedals on a steep downhill off road path is not everyone’s idea of fun. The Rockhopper is in the middle of the Specialised range of hard tails and checking their website they now cost between £550 and £1100 depending on the spec. It’s I think viewed as a good value all round off road bike with decent performance as long as you’re not planning anything too technical, so perfect for the Downs but maybe not for a black run in Afan forest.
So enough of the preamble, my first training ride was 25 March, I chose a short route that takes me from my house directly up onto the Downs and to a local high point called Ditchling beacon and then back again in what is essentially a straight line up and down 10 miler. The omens weren’t good as there was a stiff wind from the north west directly into my face for most of the long climb up. There is nothing so dispiriting to the unfit cyclist as a head wind and I found my morale dipping almost immediately and my thighs and lungs showing a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the job. The problem with this route when you’re not at the top of your game is that it’s pretty much non-stop uphill grind for the first 40 minutes, with only a couple of short flat sections for respite. I ground my way to Ditchling Beacon in joyless fashion with several short stops on the way and then turned round and freewheeled most of the way back home.
Total distance was 9.78 miles, elevation gain 259m, time 1 hr 10 mins on a route that would normally take me under an hour. This ride made it abundantly clear to me that I would need to do a lot more training over the next 5 weeks if I was going to complete, let alone enjoy and set a decent time for the 40mile ride.
I’ve decide to set myself the goal of doing 3 rides a week. One of the 3, probably the weekend one, will be a progressively longer ride. This schedule, though not exactly at the pinnacle of modern day sport science, seemed to work fine for me when I used to run half marathons so I’m hoping the same goes for distance cycling...
We shall see....