Saturday 25 February 2012

The first event on the 2012 race calendar

Tomorrow is the first event of the year, "Hell of the Ashdown" organised by Catford Cycling Club. A choice of 55km or 110km sportive in and around the Ashdown forest (in, around, and crucially up and down). It's all about the hills.

For the revised 2012 route there are 8 major climbs on the 110km route. Taken from their website:
  1. Cudham Test Hill – New in 2009, this literally gives a short sharp shock in the first mile or so. Don’t worry if you have to walk the 1 in 4 stretch at the top because in any case we ask you to dismount to turn right at the T junction.
  2. Toys Hill – You'll need to settle in for this 2 mile steady grind.
  3. Up to Mark Beech – A new one for 2012
  4. Forest Row to Ashdown Forest Heights - Another 2 mile steady slog up the same escarpment as the Wall
  5. "The Wall" - This daunting climb was considered so hard that the Tour de France gave it a miss when the stage went over the Ashdown in 1994. On the Ordinance Survey map it’s steep enough to warrant a 'chevron' on two stretches. Although Kidds Hill is 1.5 miles long you will climb for a total of 2.5 miles to the summit of the Ashdown Forest at King's Standing.
  6. "Nouvelle Col de Groombridge" - A new addition to the HOTA which we have just discovered. This narrow lane soars skywards seemingly forever.
  7. Bayley's Hill – New in 2009 it replaces Ide Hill. We are not surprised if you've never heard of it because it's wisely shunned by those in the know. The quite lane starts on the low levels of the Weald of Kent and arduously toils up for about 2.5 miles, easy at first but it gets steeper until it rears up to crest the North Down’s Greensand Ridge.
  8. Star Hill – 'The sting in the tail'. This is the one everybody talks about as it is a vicious climb coming towards the end of a gruelling ride.
I'm excited about this event. It's the first "proper" event since I've started the Ironman training. I definitely feel fitter and faster, and so I'm intrigued to see what difference that makes on the clock.

I've entered the 110km route in the last two years. It used to be held on the last Sunday in January to make it a real winter test, but the bitterly cold and icy days they had in 2009 and 2010 meant that from 2011 it was moved to the last Sunday in February. I can definitely agree that 2010 was a true winter day of near Arctic proportions!

In 2010 I had my only real experience of "bonking" (the cycling equivalent of "hitting the wall") - I ran completely dry - it was one of the most horrible experiences I've ever had. I couldn't get up any hills (even a slight rise) and was so weak that I couldn't keep the bike going in a straight line on the down hills. This kicked in after about 5 hours in the saddle. I sat in a car park by the side of the road and gave up. Tried to call Mrs (or Miss, as she was then), but there was no reception. I felt sorry for myself for a while and realised that if I didn't get my arse into gear I was going to be stuck in the car park for the rest of my life.

After hauling myself up, I was amazed to find the next feed station literally (and I mean literally) around the next corner. I stocked up on hot sweet coffee and the wonder that is Mule Bar, and rode the final hour to the finish. I learned a lot that day, I've never been on empty before, or since, and I never want to repeat the experience.

In 2011 I had a pocket full of Power Bar products so I could fuel on the bike (or by the road) and performed much better. I also stopped at the first feed station (I hadn't done in 2010, a really stupid and junior mistake, and the primary reason for my energy depletion later).

This time, I'm trying an idea for Ironamn fuelling - to put a load of liquid gels into a drinks bottle. You need to use thin liquid ones like the Science in Sport ones below, or the High5 IsoGel, otherwise the mixture is too thick to get through the nozzle.

Save time, pocket space, and stickiness!

There's nothing fiddlier whilst cycling than trying to extract a gel from your pocket, unwrap it, and consume it without dropping any rubbish. This could save a huge amount of time in an Ironman race, so it's a good opportunity to try it out.

12 gels fit, almost to the from

The bottle feels oddly heavy, and I'm pretty sure it's going to be very weird "drinking" the gels, but let's see how it turns out.

Heavy duty bag, perfect for car boot protection

We also took advantage of a good accessories sale at Evans and picked up a couple of soft bike bags - total bargain at about £35 each - 10% off total for two items, with 15% off if you buy 3 items, so we got two of these and a £1.99 water bottle. A bargain for saving the interior of the car!

This was the last two years' performance:
This year, I'd like to get sub-5 hours, but there is a different route so let's see what happens. Finishing in the bottom fifth (80th percentile or below) is a pretty poor show too, I'd like to be in the middle third (33-66%), but there are some kick-arse cyclists that do this every year, so let's just see how it goes.

Oh, and just to make it fun (and more Ironman relevant), I'm tack ing a 15-minute run onto the end as soon as I finish!

So that's it, all ready for the morning. I'll let you know what happens...

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