An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: Slogging, Eating, Racing! - Pedal Progression


25 February 2018

An Ordinary Bloke Vs. An Extraordinary Challenge: Slogging, Eating, Racing!

The last few weeks have been a mixture of riding mountain bikes, riding road bikes, workouts, lots of planking, absorbing as much information as possible, recording and analysing my progress, trying to make sure I am still ‘enjoying’ my training even when I am slogging up the same muddy fire road and occasionally feeling like I suck at this training and competition stuff….

I have been working hard on building my base fitness and have been generally pleased with how I have kept to my training plan. It’s been a bit ad hoc at times but I have tried my best to build in all the new stuff as I have learnt it. The strength work has been really useful and I’m starting to feel as though it’s paying back. I’ve been taking significant chunks out of my Strava times, my long rides have been getting longer and average speed improving week on week. I am feeling less fatigued after spending hours on the bike and feel recovered in a much shorter space of time. This has all been great for motivation, keeping me on track and working hard. What I would say is that keeping up with not just the training, but the logging of my training is starting to feel like a bit of a ‘job’. I am happy to put in the time on this, but it is something that is taking time that I hadn’t foreseen.

A couple of weeks back I met with guy called Adam Fraser. Adam is a qualified nutritionist, IronMan triathlete, ultra runner and trained in Neuro Linguistic Programming. He has vast amount of knowledge and experience in endurance sports and has offered to support me with some nutritional advice. We had a really interesting initial chat, in which I found out a bit about his approach to endurance training, healthy lifestyle,  and also gleaned some very useful information to get me started on the right path. I will be meeting him for a more detailed assessment in the coming weeks….so stay tuned if you feel like your training is often let down by what you put in your body to fuel and restore it!

On Saturday 10th February I ‘raced’ for the first time in 3 years. It was shortish 20k night race on the edge of Dartmoor. I thought this would be a great opportunity to get my head in the game and get some more experience of riding events in the dark. Also I wondered how I would fair and what I might learn by entering a race of this length. Previous races and events I have done have been long; Mountain Mayhem, Bikefest, Southdowns Challenge etc. I have always felt that my strength lies in keeping going over long periods of time so was a bit unsure what to expect of myself and how I might approach it, but figure the best way to find out was to get on and do it.

After arriving 3 hours early and doing a couple of practice laps (maybe not the best idea!) I sat in the car park and watched as other riders turned up and prepped their bikes. It looked like a real mix of riders, everything from full on lycra clad, carbon riding weight weenies, to people just out for some fun times with their mates. I have not tested myself against others for long while but was feeling quietly confident that I was at least going to come away pleased with my performance.

I had a couple of simple goals:

I wanted to control my nerves and ride my own race. I don’t have much recent experience racing mountain bikes but I know from running half marathons and 10ks that the mix of excitement, anticipation and nerves sends me off too fast before crashing in the last part of the race. I also find I get swept up with other peoples pace, if I keep getting passed by others it really affects my motivation, so I push harder but again am more likely to bonk (crash) towards the end. I had a good sense of how hard I could go for 1.5 hours and I wanted to try and stick to that speed. I didn’t want to come away feeling completely physically destroyed.

I really did not want to fall off. If you read my last blog with Ben at MTB Strength you will know that I have a vulnerable wrist injury, I really need to avoid falling on this at the moment, aggravating it could really affect my ability to train on my bike off road. Training on a turbo works, but anyone who has spent a long time on a turbo will tell you it gets boring pretty quick!

So, how’d it go…?

After deciding to start towards the back of the pack, I plugged my way up the first muddy fire road climb and managed to move through what felt like quite a few other riders. Instantly I felt better, shook off my nerves and ploughed on at what felt like a reasonable pace. After the first lap of 5k, I found myself slowly coming up on individual riders passing them then disappearing in the forest. Until I found my spot and from Lap 3 I rode the rest of the race almost entirely alone, except for being passed by the race leader!

After the race I was buzzing! As far as I was concerned it felt like a success. I stayed on my bike, rode my own race, and apart from the first few minutes, controlled my nerves pretty-well. I rode at what felt like an OK pace, over a muddy unfamiliar course at night. Not nearly as fast as my home trails but fast enough to do alright. I suppose at that stage I was hoping for a reasonable result. I had to rush off after that race so couldn’t stick around for the results but had to wait for them online the following day. When they came through I was pretty disappointed! I didn’t come last, hooray! But I was a fair bit away from where I hoped to be.

So what’s the resolve, how can I be better? Well in essence, not setting myself a specific goal meant that I had no real measure to ride by. I need to be fitter and stronger for sure but also, I think I need to work on my ‘race head’ and competitive spirit if I am going to push myself harder. For this I need to focus on more specific targets when I am training and when I am racing and doing events in the run up to the Pivot.

How do I take this learning into the 24 hour? I am starting to feel like I need to define my goal. I still want to keep going for 24 hours but actually if I am going to push myself in training and during the event it’s not just about pitching myself against myself but also against a time, average speed or lap target. This will give me focus for my training rides and give me a more defined aim. I am still working out what to do with this, and I think I will have an answer soon! On the recommendation of pretty much everyone I have spoken to about this, I finally got round to buying myself a heart rate monitor. This will help me to train more effectively, set more challenging but realistic goals and also enable me to monitor my efforts to pace myself more ‘scientifically’ when taking part in future events and races.

Following the race in Dartmoor I was feeling a bit disappointed and lack lustre, a few late nights and sick kids and suddenly my training week felt like a write off. So what to do to give myself a kick in arse? I decided to take European 24 hour solo champ, Matt Jones up on his suggestion that I join him for a 60K MTB marathon event in the Cotswolds. With my family away for a few days, this would give me plenty of time to prepare well, take on the Cotswold ride then follow up with long local ride the following day. I am told this is called working on my ‘back to back fatigue’ …Sounds pleasant! It also gave me a great opportunity to quiz Matt about all things endurance, and see what I could learn from someone already at the top of the game. Check in next week for some words of wisdom (from Matt not me!) and a run down of how event went down.


Written by:

Ollie Cain