A few months ago if someone had said that I’d be cycling from Bangor to Chester over 70 miles in one day I would’ve laughed and said yeah right. I mean, before I started training for this Switzerland adventure I’d maybe do 10 minutes on an exercise bike in the gym at a really slow pace and then think ‘hell yeah, go me’. As I’ve always enjoyed running, I put my lack of cycling skill down to having ‘runners legs’ and ‘weak cycling knees’. Very naive of me, because as soon as I’ve applied myself to cycling training, the positive results have been almost immediate.
My training regime has been pretty steady since I’ve started, I always start with a 20 minute run on the treadmill to get my heartbeat up and warm up my legs. Depending on what kind of night’s sleep I’ve had, or what kind of state of mind I’m in on a particular morning, this stint on the treadmill really sorts out my attitude aswell.
I then go on the training bikes with programmed screens that follow virtual cycle routes along varying terrains. It plays terrible music, but It’s very motivating having the crazy robot woman screaming “Push it, this section is going to be tough” through the headphones. I found it easier to train on these machines as opposed to the traditional ‘gym bikes’ because they resemble road bikes with drop handlebars and a slimmer saddle, so it feels like I’m getting used to the posture and stance of a road bike too. The on-screen route, that takes you on long open-road sprints or tough, rocky up-hill climbs is also considerably more interesting than staring at the gym wall.
Over the 4 months (approx.) training that I’ve been doing I’ve built up from doing a 10 minute jog to warm up and a 20 minute cycle (and then the spending the remaining time on other equipment and weights) at first, to now doing a 20 minute sprint to warm up and either a 40minute up-hill , high energy gym cycle and weights training or a 60 minute long-endurance cycle with occasional up-hill training. I’ve really started to notice a massive improvement in my distance stamina due to this way of training too. I think running contributes to my overall fitness and strengthens my legs.
Spin classes have also been incredibly beneficial for building the muscles in my legs and strengthening my knees. I try to vary my cycling training so that I can condition my body and fitness to cope with long-distance rides.
This type of high-energy sports training really prepared me for this first long-distance cycle from Bangor to Chester. I felt prepared for up-hill climbs, imagining some crazy spin-class lady shouting “go , go , go”, and my own will power went into autodrive and I concentrated on counting my breaths instead of how much farther I had to go. I found that I had to attack hills at a fast pace to get to the top, and if I began to slow I would lose momentum and feared I would stop.
Initially I panicked about the looming training weekend, thinking that attempting a 70 mile ride was ludicrous when my personal best was currently a 5mile trip up the road.
I really thought that I was in for a rude awakening, and that my training so far would’ve hardly scratched the surface. However, my fitness has improved so much so that I didn’t struggle with the distance too much. I found the hills challenging but not impossible, and I loved every single minute of the ride…Although my enthusiasm did start to falter when we reached yet more hills even after Ryan promised me there were no more!
What did make the hill climbs worth it however, was getting to the top and seeing how high we’d climbed from sea level, and seeing views like this:
The biggest challenge of the ride on Saturday was towards the end of the ride when the sun set and it became freezing. It was a very strange sensation, being absolutely frozen, with numb fingers, toes and feet whilst I was throwing what was left of my energy into a sprint along a long, pitch black cycle path with nothing but a small LED bike light that lit up about 3cm infront of me. The final 10 miles in these conditions were certainly character building to say the least, and my confidence got knocked down a couple of pegs. The extreme contrast between me sprinting along the coast paths in lovely sunshine, to later on averaging at 8mph in the freezing cold, just goes to show that the whole experience was a roller coaster of emotions.
From it all though, the most important question that I had to ask myself after the whole experience was, could you do that for 12 or more days straight, albeit in warmer weather, steeper hills and longer distances… and I thought hell yes! So the dark tunnel of doom didn’t completely put me off! yay!
Overall, the ride taught me a few good things:
-My training so far is on the right track…I’m not behind on training like I feared.
-I’m good at attacking short 200 meter (ish),steep hills at a fast pace, but need to improve my up-hill endurance in order to be able to tackle longer up-hill climbs at a steady pace that I can maintain.
-I need to gain some confidence on downhill descents, and become more comfortable with faster speeds without slamming on the breaks all the way down. Partly because my break pads will disintegrate if I do this in the Alps, and because it makes your hands resemble something like the Claw after a long time. (Especially when its cold- this is extremely uncomfortable and painful when they start to reheat).
-In moments of doubt, despair and exhaustion all I have to do is catch up with Ryan and get him singing Spice Girls covers. Instant mood lifter!
-I didn’t suffer from the common “sore saddle ASS” (as Ryan likes to call it). I like to accredit this to 2 things: I train on horrible, hard, standard issue saddles in the gym for lots of days straight (Although not all day long, granted) So my ASS is accustomed to sitting on a rock hard saddles. Secondly, when purchasing my road bike, the lovely people at Merlin Cycles advised me to get a women’s specific saddle, that can only be described as a super comfy, bike-sofa. My Tush was Cush to be honest, but I can only be optimistic about longer rides over several days, fingers crossed!
-My legs weren’t too sore the next morning. Jen and I did a very thorough “stretching-off” session once we got home. I mean, really all we did was imitate lots of animals: praying dog, Sphinx Cat, standing like a flamingo and Luke’s really fantastic stretch, the Frog. This was particularly entertaining.
The first training weekend has motivated me to train harder and I’m really excited about getting out and doing some long-distance routes of my own. The next training challenge is to be able to do the BangorChester-ness 2 days straight! So I need to get training to improve my stamina and endurance…and maybe pack warmer clothes as well next time! Training weekend numero deux come at me!