The past three months or so of preparing for the Strathpuffer have been a bit of a struggle. Not a struggle physically, I’m more than capable and fit enough right now to cope with the training I should have been doing – nope, my struggles have been with motivation to get outdoors in the cold, wet and dark to put in the saddle time. It’s always harder to get the miles in during the dark winter months but this time has been different – I’ve thought about it carefully because at one point I was ready to walk away from cycling altogether, but I’ve simply come to the conclusion that I need a break from cycling as I’ve not had an ‘off season’ for over a year.
I don’t mean a long break, just a few weeks. A few weeks to have some rest and devote some time to other things. The house needs some sorting out and I’m mad keen to start trail running again.
The 6, 7, 8 and 9 hour rides that I’d normally do in prep for a 24 hour solo just haven’t happened. OK, I’ve done two or three big rides (I even managed to put in a 22 hour week a couple of weeks ago) but I decided after a major wobble when I almost withdrew from the event some weeks ago that I’d get my head down, tough it out, do the rides and the training that I actually felt like doing, stop whining and go and do the race. Just one more race….how hard can it be?
Luckily for me I’m riding the Strathpuffer on a singlespeed again (bear with me). On a normal bike ride, singlespeeding isn’t that much different from riding with gears. It’s just pedalling. But the longer the duration of the ride, the bigger the differences become. There’s just nowhere to hide – you can’t slip into an easier gear and ‘ride easy’ for a while when you start to ache all over and your body is screaming at you to stop – once you hit any sort of gradient you’ve got to commit 100%. My choice of gear is quite tall for 24 hour racing too – I don’t want to lose too much speed on the easier parts of the course so my bikes are set up so that I can match the lap times of other riders with a full complement of gear ratios. It seemed to work ok at the hilly Todmorden cyclocross race a couple of weeks ago….I didn’t get completely humiliated anyway 😉
It can be done, but the training needs to be different so rather than concerning myself with hours and hours of saddle time, I’ve been focussing more on short (if you can call three hour rides ‘short’) intense training, specific singlespeeding techniques to preserve my lower back and also spending more time lifting weights in the gym – building my upper body, core and altering my body composition. If I’m taking part in a race where I can expect to be stood up out of the saddle for three quarters of it, I’m going to have to toughen up.
In some ways it’s ideal winter training. Not being outside for too long, turbo training, lifting weights…not quite winter hibernation but certainly not the adventurous, epic, fast bike rides in horrible weather of years gone by. Most of the rides I’ve done have taken place within 3 miles of my house. Will it be enough? I’ve no idea.
Whatever happens, it’s a good starting point for the rest of the year and I have to admit I’ve enjoyed working hard in the gym and I think I’ve even started to like interval training. It’s done and dusted in a couple of hours and that’s probably the only reason I’m still on the Strathpuffer start list. I even lost weight over Christmas.
As usual, I’m fortunate to be heading up there in the Team JMC van with some brilliant kit – an ace bike from Niner, proper warm clothing from Craft and Armadillo Merino and 17 hours of darkness-busting Exposure Lights.
The all-important weather forecast? High winds and snow….