Having only managed to complete 500 miles in a month once, what I obviously needed was another challenge to add to it. This one came ready made from the lovely people at Strava. I have been carefully giving them all my personal information since the beginning of the year and in return they give me graphs and numbers. Every month they also give challenges which you can join, and then watch as your achievements are made to look insignificant by one of the nutters who ride 5,000 km a month.
As part of the 100th tour celebrations, they made two challenges. The first was to cover half the distance of the (1680km) during the month, the second was to climb the combined height of four of the major climbs (Peyresourde, Ventoux, Sarenne and Alpe d’Huez – 7235m) during the final week of the tour (to coincide with the week they’re in the Alps).
The total distance was a bit of a long shot. I generally don’t make 500 miles a month. 1,000 would be a bit of a shock to the system. The climb on the other hand was achievable. Or I thought it was until I realised I was confusing feet and metres. Suddenly the 250-500m total climb in my usual rides seemed insignificant. The main problem was that they include the two biggest hills in a 20 mile radius of home. There was no where else I could find would add much to the ascent without being too far. Most rides work out at about 10m climb per 1km ridden. I’d have to ride about 500 miles within the one week to complete the challenge. I’d also have to compete with the first heatwave the UK’s had for 7 years.
Enter the return of hill reps. The first ride out, I added 10 laps of a hill – 3/4 mile peaking at 1 in 6. The first felt tough, it’s not nice at the best of times; knowing you’re doing it repeatedly leaves you without the mad abandon you can usually throw at hills. The second time around was slightly better. I knew what was coming and with no speed goal, I could sit and spin in a low gear (or as low a gear as you can when you’ve foolishly switched to a double crankset). The next few laps came and went in a blur of heavy breathing interspersed with short bursts of adrenaline. It was only when I tried to sprint the final lap that it hit me.
The upside of the loop (or possibly the downside) was the descent. I’d usually get one attempt at the hill on a ride (if I rode it the right direction, which I generally don’t). Each time would be the first in a while and I’d never really get to know it. I now had a chance to learn it. By the end of the ride I’d moved the braking point back about 30m and could carry more speed through the corners at the bottom. It added another challenge to the ride and gave me some rest between the intervals. I somehow managed to lose the data from my bike computer before reading it but the top speed from the GPS trace was 52mph. I’m slightly suspicious of it to be honest, my previous best was 48.
Even with the new addition I still only managed less than 1000m for the ride. I’d have to do the same every day to get anywhere. Top speed (from bike this time) was 48.3.
The next day I stepped it up a bit and rode a longer route and added an extra lap in for good measure. This brought the total for the ride up to 1200m. This was a slight improvement and the fact I’d climbed more than the height of Snowdon was quite satisfying.
On the third day I went back to the shorter route but did 15 laps of the hill. Almost Ben Nevis this time. By this stage, I was starting to feel the effects of climbing four times as far as I usually would. The first few laps went in a similar fashion to previous days, I was getting used to it and it was almost settling into being normal. By the tenth lap I was knackered. I’d used up any energy I’d usually have in reserve and was running on empty. Another few laps and I was feeling particularly not right. The heat had left me drenched in sweat, I’d reached the end of my second water bottle and my head was pounding. Not the usual ‘just run up the stairs’ pounding, but a ‘my music is fading in and out and everything’s looking slightly fuzzy’ pounding. I thought at that point I’d be better off cutting my losses and calling it a day.
In those three days I’d ridden 123 miles and climbed most of the way up Mt Blanc. By the fourth day it caught up with me. It was the first time in a long while that I’d ached from cycling rather than just being exhausted. I took a day off the hill reps and got the XC bike out again for a lap of the training loop I used before I had a road bike.
After a day off I went back out with the intention to complete another day’s laps. Before I reached the hill I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I was about five minutes slower (over half an hour) to that point and had no energy already. I settled for a UT2 ride (through being unable to push any harder) of the longer loop, finishing a casual 15 minutes outside my best.
This left me five days into the challenge with 4,500m climbed, 168 miles ridden and me on the verge of collapse. My attempt at the rest of the challenge was cut short by me returning to uni to watch the (slightly crazy) people who stayed to do a fourth year, graduate. All things considered I think I chose the right option. A good weekend seeing people for the first time in a while as opposed to dying slowly in a humid 30+’C.
And it didn’t kill me.
(For those interested, I was 8007/28359 of the people who joined. The top ten riders managed over 25k each)