In 2016 a couple of friends had completed the first ever Alps Epic, having followed their progress I decided this was the event for me in 2017, so when I noticed the early bird offer of €500 I entered straight away.
The Alps Epic is a pairs event but I hadn’t even thought that far ahead yet and just entered with a plan to sort the partner bit out later.
After posting on Facebook that I had entered I got a message from a friend who I had been riding with a while with a local club and within an hour he had entered as well and that was the partner issue sorted.
The next few months didn’t really go to plan with training and I will be the first to admit that I wasn’t anywhere near as well prepared as I could have been.
Jump forward to June and after a full day at work the car was packed up and off we headed to Dover to get a 10pm ferry to France, I then drove through the night until we reached a town called La Plange which was around a 4-hour drive from the race start, we had 2 nights here before then driving down to the start town of Montgenvre.
One of the first things we noticed was how cold it was at 1800m plus above sea level where we were staying which got me concerned as I didn’t really have any warm clothing with me except a Gillet and a waterproof top, so on route to Montgenvre we stopped off in Val D’isere and I managed to get myself a warm top.
The sights on route driving through the Alps were amazing and the #cantcopythealps is very fitting, for anyone that has never been it should be a must on your list of places to visit.
We arrived in Montgenvre and found our accommodation for the night, this night was €50 for the night and included food as well which was perfect so no hassle as this would be where we would stay for the next 3 nights.
We completed our registration and collected our packs and numbers.
Stage 1 was a short Prologue stage and didn’t start till the afternoon, I found this really tough, a combination of the altitude and heat, yes after all my concern a couple of days earlier of it being cold, it wasn’t it was really warm, mid to high 30’s every day.
After finishing stage one I noticed my chest felt tight, I thought nothing of it as it had happened before and I had been told by the doctor that it was probably just a cramp and nothing to worry about, it settled within mins so I thought nothing of it.
The next day was the first proper stage, loop back to Montgenerve of 61 Km and 2750m of climbing starting with a 7km climb.
All started off well and we got into a good rhythm on the climb until James chain snapped, after quickly fitting a power link we carried on and soon reached the first feed station, we didn’t take much as both still had a fair amount in our camel backs and there was another feed station in 20Km, so off we went onto the next climb before our first taste of the proper descents, tight switch back after tight switch back.
We passed through the time cut off point and started the climb to the next feed station, this is where I really began struggle and noticed I had the route sweeper and medic for company on an Ebike.
I pushed on to the feed station and by the time I made it there I was not in a good way, I sat down in the shade and took on some fluids and food as the medic checked me over before telling me I needed a drip as I was very dehydrated.
They called down to race HQ and another medic arrived and took over, allowing him to carry on following the route, James also carried on and finished the stage.
Meanwhile I had a drip put in at the feed station and was taken back down to the race finish in a 4×4.
At Race HQ I was given a once over by the event doctor and ate his salted crisps before being given the okay to carry on the next day.
The next day the plan was a different one and I took 3 litres of Torq Energy in my camel back and 2 x 750ml of Hypotonic drink in a bottle, by the first feed station a lot of this was gone, we filled everything back up and carried on. Unfortunately, we missed the cut off by a matter of minutes at the next feed station and couldn’t carry on the stage.
Day 4 was a much better day and we started well, apart from forgetting my gloves which led to some sunburn on the backs of my hands. We settled into a long climb at the start and the descents again were incredible and like nothing I have ridden before, this included a full on bucking bronco moment at 30mph that I somehow managed to keep hold of. The 29er carbon Hardtail was defiantly not the bike of choice for this event. We completed stage 4 in 7 hours 40 minutes.
Unfortunately, I was still struggling with getting my breath and even walking upstairs or a slight slope was hard work let alone riding a bike for 7-8 hours, I was also bringing up all kinds of funky stuff when I coughed! So, after a chat with James and the event doctor I decided to miss stage 5 and see how I felt after that.
So, I spent day 5 helping the organisers with laundry and whatever else I could do to help, unfortunately I was still not feeling any better for stage 6 so I sat it out and let James ride with a couple of guys from Oxfordshire with a team name of the Gnarly Nutters.
I was gutted to have missed the finish of the event but sometimes you just know something isn’t right.
The after party was great with lots of free beer and a huge BBQ. The food and hospitality throughout the event was incredible and everything was taken care of from your laundry to your bike.
At the end of every stage you racked your bike, it was then taken and washed before getting a once over from the team of mechanics before being taken to the over night secure storage area, all you had to do was check your tyre pressures and lube the chain and away you go again.
There was also massages at the end of the stage all included in the price and a huge buffet of food to refuel you along with an evening meal and huge and varied breakfast every day.
Everything was thought of and done for you, all you had to do was ride your bike, eat, sleep and repeat.
On returning from the event I visited my GP and was given an Inhaler and have since been diagnosed with exercise induced Asthma.
This is defiantly an event that I will be coming back to again maybe as a mixed pair with an eye on a podium.
I have learnt so much from this event and hopefully it will all help me in my next challenge.
Next year I am taking on the Transpyr solo, but I’m not making the same mistakes again. I was nowhere near well enough prepared physically and the work on that has already started with the help of my new coach and Mountain Bike Stage Race and Marathon Racing legend, Sally Bigham, who is really starting to put me through my paces and will have me in the best shape I can be in come June 2018.
I have also changed bikes and I’m now on a Santa Cruz Tallboy 2 full Suss with dropperpost as opposed to a Cube carbon hardtail 29er.
Camping and Mountaineering
This week I started my new Training Peaks training plan. I have edited it slightly so that it fits more inline with training for 24/12 hour endurance racing.
My main training sessions are around 3 to 4 hour session where I have two or three goals for the session.
On Monday my first 3 hour session was a sub-threshold (heart rate between 139 – 147) with tempo (HR between 131 – 138) phases and hard efforts on the hills. I kept my cadence high for this session and pushed hard, harder than I needed to but I felt good and I knew that my body was capable of working a little harder so I decided to go for it! When I got home I had done 64KM in 3 hours which was an okay distance for that time. I had spent 53 mins in my sub-threshold zone and 24 mins in my tempo zone with another big block in my anaerobic capacity zone (HR between 156 – 255) I was pretty tired for the rest of the day but felt happy with my first training session on my new plan.
The rest of the week comprised of a few sessions including going back to Pilates. It was great to be back in a Pilates class and Stacey is a great teacher I left Pilates nearly as tired as I was Monday from thinking about breathing, alignment and working muscles that had been asleep for a while!
Saturday was another big endurance day this time 3 hours with the same goals sub-threshold, give it some on the hills and high cadence. I chose a new route and it turned out to be rather hilly! 1000m of climbing in fact which made for some slow cadence sections and a lot of hard efforts on the hills, these hard efforts were added to, by the fact my bike wouldn’t change down into the small ring, no amount of limit screw fettling seemed to get it changing properly so I gave up and decided I would just use it as an extra training element!
At about 2 hours 40 I was still heading North away from home and made the decision to add on another hour to my ride. It was a beautiful day and I felt strong, the only thing I was running out of was water so a quick stop at a pub to get my bottle refilled kept me on the road for an extra circuit.
I arrived home after 4 hours covering 77.5KM with an average heart rate of 142 and a max of 181 I was really happy with my extra hour and the fact I climbed 1000m. I have only really just started training properly again since the end of February and I know from experience how quickly form drops so to pull off two good long rides in one week has left my feeling super happy.
I recommend Training Peaks to anyone looking to evaluate training it is simple to use and has some great features to help you stay on target and not over train.
Here is a brief outline on what the acronyms and numbers mean:
CTL (Chronic Training Load) is also called Fitness; it is a rolling 42-day average of your daily TSS (Training Stress Score). It indicates how much training load you are currently managing. If your Fitness(CTL) rises you are capable of handling a higher training load and therefore are more fit. If it decreases you are becoming unfit.
Watching this will indicate whether your training is working and you are improving or whether you need to put more in or have a rest day.
TSB (Training Stress Balance) is a way of measuring ‘form’ form is the magic term used for an athlete who is race ready.
Form in Training Peaks is measured by subtracting today’s Fatigue (Acute Training Load, or ATL) from today’s Fitness (Chronic Training Load, or CTL). Both Fatigue and Fitness are expressed as Training Stress Score, or TSS per day (TSS/d). Once the software has done the math, the remainder is your Form (by the way, the resulting Form value is for tomorrow—not for today.) It can be either a negative or a positive number depending on which is greater- Fitness or Fatigue. If Form is negative you are likely to be tired and probably not race ready. If Form is positive then you are probably rested and perhaps on form and ready to race.
If you would like to know more about using Training Peaks they have a brilliant blog or feel free to drop me an email.
It seems a very long time ago that I was lining up at Battle on the Beach for my first race of the season.
I went up to elite this year which was a bit of a baptism of fire! My first nationals were a real eye opener to the speed needed to be competitive in cross-country. Although the race was really hard I learnt a lot from the experience. I went away and worked on my technical skills.
Over the winter I had been doing some longer rides and found these suited me. I have always found the power and pace of cross-country a challenge but this year decided to try endurance racing.
My first six hour solo was tough but showed me that I could turn to endurance racing. I worked hard to improve my endurance building up from 3 hour nonstop rides to 5 hour nonstop rides. These were hard but I enjoyed pushing myself in a new direction and worked hard on my fitness.
The next challenge was a 24 hour race with Martyn where we got an unexpected 3rd place.
After Mountain Meyhem I had my own time of mayhem with buying our first house my training was disrupted. I decided to use this time when I was feeling rather stressed to concentrate on training and getting used to being on my bike for long periods of time and perfecting my nutrition during those rides.
I entered the last round of the Southern XC series and was happy that my training had paid off when I managed 3rd place.
My next priority race was Torq in your Sleep, my first 12 hour solo. I didn’t really know what to expect but I had a plan which I stuck too and that paid off. I learnt so much from this race like make sure you eat little and often so that you don’t get stomach cramp, don’t take the dodgy head torch light out as coming back to change it costs a lot of time (20 mins to be precise).
The next few months I will be working on my endurance and stamina clocking up the miles and building a good base over the winter.
My aim for 2016 is to race the Trans Alp and continue to improve on my endurance results from this year.
Thank you to my coach Mark at Velo coaching for your help with my training.
Thanks to my sponsors Grip Grab and Bike Fixers. Thanks to Silverback for my brilliant Syncra which has kept me competitive all year.
If you would be interested in supporting me in 2016 please contact email@example.com
No race would be complete without a bit of drama! Torq 12:12 was no exception. On Saturday my newly tubeless tyres decided they were not happy with this arrangement and both went flat! Mild panic set in as I considered getting a flat tyre in my first ever 12 hour solo race on Sunday. So I popped in some tubes to keep punctures at bay.
Arriving Sunday morning I was eager to ride the course and face the much talked about Minley bombhole! I was accompanied on my practice lap by super star of the hour Fred who won his race the previous day in the under 7’s and Seb, feeling the need to be talked through the A lines it was nice to have some company!
The course was brilliant, singletrack linked by fire roads. It was mainly flat with 3 good climbs, the first was a short sharp up, a long gravel road climb and the worst one of all was a grassy climb, which considering it was not steep or long seemed to suck energy out of my legs! Considering the level of rain there had been the course was pretty dry with a couple of ‘sticky’ patches. Arriving at the Minley bombhole I rode it twice and was happy with my line choice.
After rider briefing I was feeling nervous but had prepared well so tried to relax before the mass start. Karen and I lined up together and it soon was time to begin our epic ride!
I got a good start and was not caught in too much congestion going into the singletrack.
The first three laps were good fun I pushed it on the climbs recovered on the downhills and ate on the flats. The singletrack was really good fun, especially a section with some off camber turns through the trees.
After the third lap I had a pot noodle break, this was the wrong time to stop as I got held up behind the six hour race in the singletrack which was frustrating, as soon as we got out of the first section I worked hard to pass as many slower riders as I could before entering the second section, however this high burst of energy with a half digested pot noodle made me feel rather sick and I got bad stomach cramps afterwards.
Lap five and six passed quickly I rode consistently picking up a new bottle and small snack. After lap 7 I stopped again for a porridge pot, it had just started to rain. I then felt a bit better so had a slice on banana bread and a packet of marmite crisps as I was craving savoury after so many jelly babies and sweet energy drinks.
Riding at night was a really cool experience. Under the tree canopy with only my headlight beam in front of me I felt like I was the only one out on the course, with only the sound of the ground under my wheels for company. Every now and again a shimmer of light and the sound of others would catch me up and then usually over take! Other riders where so supportive giving me encouragement which kept me going. Sometimes I felt like I had been riding alone for nearly a whole lap and then in the distance a carving beam of light would appear, this was really uplifting and gave me a target to aim for and catch.
At one point the course opened up into a field and through the trees I could make out tiny lights shimmering through like stars.
Near the end of the lap through a dark section of forest the organisers had put loads of glow sticks in the trees it was really pretty, like entering a magical forest and with the music from the disco pumping in the background I had a surge of energy and felt happy with my progress.
As I went out for lap 9 I had a technical issue as my head torch stopped working, I cut off the track and picked up a new one but had to then re-do part of the course again, this cost me valuable time and I felt a bit flustered and came off on a silly root.
Going back out for my 10th lap was the hardest I was cold, my knees ached and I just wanted to curl up and sleep. Martyn was an amazing support and convinced me to do another lap or two! I managed to do one more getting in just after the mid night cut off.
I felt pretty overwhelmed with what I had achieved coming third in my first solo 12 hour race was something I had never expected.
I want to say a huge thank you to Martyn who was an amazing support keeping me going every lap.
Thank you to Mark my coach who has helped me with my training.
Thank you to Silverback for my amazing bike, Bike Fixers for keeping it in tip top condition and Grip Grab for keeping my hands and feet toasty in all conditions!
Read the Pedal 2 Pedal team race report here.
This year I have been promoted to elite and taken on a new challenge of endurance racing! Its similar to cross country with a mix of open trail and singletrack, but the distances start at around 24 miles which is a vast difference from the short sharp cross country racing I am used, where laps are around 3 – 5 miles long.
As this is going to be a big change for me I decided to hire a coach to help me plan my training and focus.
So far this is working really well. Mark Grange at Velo Coaching writes my weekly programme and we use Training Peaks to log and monitor my training. The system links directly into my Garmin making it simple and easy to use.
Like most people I work full time. I usually train 5 days a week, which is a lot of hours to get in! I also run my own coaching company on the side so sometimes trying to fit in time to spend with loved ones and training all seems a bit much.
To balance out this training load I have started training before work starting around 6.30/7.00. I am able to get a good hour or two of training in at a time when I would usually be tucked up in bed! Being an early bird this doesn’t affect me and as long as I’m in bed by 10.30 I haven’t found that the reduction in sleep has impacted on me.
Getting up early is about mental determination and also preparation the night before. I get all of my stuff out and ready. Clothes on the radiator, shoes at the door, lights on the bike, then its just a case of rolling out of bed and getting out of the door!
The other part of this is having a clear goal, especially when its dark and raining, going out with no really clear goal is tough. Therefore having a clear training plan and knowing exactly how long and what I have to achieve in that time makes it easier to get up and go.
There is a certain joy to training early. When I first roll out of my driveway its pitch black and the only noises are my breathing and my bikes wheels turning. If I am going through the countryside then ill often meet the odd runner or dog walker but apart from that everything is still. Slowly the birds start to come alive and the sky turns from inky blue to a lighter more brighter shade. It’s a peaceful and pretty time to ride, run or walk. So, if your struggling to keep to your New Year’s resolution to go to the gym or go to a class because of time, then try an early morning run or ride you might just find this is a good time for you too!