Saturday, 28 May 2011

To push it harder, or to get more comfortable with the current training volume/intensity??

I was having a chat with one of my friends the other day (who likes to go under the name of Devonshire Pig Farmer), and was talking with him about my plans for tomorrow's ride.  Last week I did a loop including the 3 passes of Furka-Grimsel-Susten, a combined vertical climb of 3,600 odd metres.  Whilst I completed it, I was struggling up the final pass (Susten) and stopped several times to take a short break.  I was telling Devonshire Pig Farmer that I might go even further this weekend, maybe including another pass (so 4 passes in total), and he was saying that I should first do last weeks route again and try not to stop so much on the final climb.

This is always an interesting question - when to increase the training volume and when to stay at the current training volume until your body is fully adapted before moving on.  I love pushing my limits so I am always inclined to increase the length and vertical distance covered with each ride I do.  Like this my body can never feel it is prepared enough and has to constantly adapt to keep up.  The downside is that I am much more likely to get injured this way.

The mental aspect is quite an important one for me though.  Doing the same ride several times in a row is for me a little boring.  I know I can do the Furka-Grimsel-Susten route, so why not test myself and see if I can do for example the Gotthard-Furka-Grimsel-Susten route.  That would be an additional 1,000 vertical metres so it would be a tough ride with a total vertical climb of around 4,500m.  If I do this without getting injured, I will at least know I will be able to cope with La Marmotte in July.  Then I will even be able to think about not just completing La Marmotte again like the other 2 times, but actually improving my time.  The last 2 times it really was about completing it, as I hadn't done enough training to consider racing it.  I would love to cut an hour of my PB from 2009, and bring it down to under 9 hours.  If the training continues like this, that may well be possible, as in 2009 the biggest rides I did in training were 2,500 vertical metres.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Great news on the fundraising front

Holmes Place Zurich are just fantastic and have been very helpful to me yet again.

As you may know already, and as is mentioned on my blog, they had already agreed to donate a 12 month membership to their gym and spa that I could use as a raffle prize to attract new sponsors.  The idea was that each person in the Zurich area that sponsored me a minimum of £10 and mentioned Holmes Place in their message would be entered into a draw to win the membership.  This was what I had agreed with them  at the beginning.

Whilst a lot of people seem interested in the idea, not much money has been forthcoming so far as a result.  And I still have a minimum of £3,400 sponsorship left to raise.  So a few days ago I asked the manager of Holmes Place Zurich if I could change my tactics slightly in order to be more sure of some sponsorship as a result of the prize.  I asked him if I could auction 6 months membership on a site like and then to use the remaining 6 months for the raffle as per the original plan.

I wasn't sure what his response would be, but he came back to me today with a positive one, that I could go ahead with my plan.  The reason this is great news is because hopefully by auctioning 6 months membership I can get some sponsorship money guaranteed, but then I still have the raffle running to afford people the chance to win the other 6 months membership, where the resultant sponsorship potential is not limited.

If you are interested in buying the 6 months Holmes Place gym and spa membership, with all proceeds going to Mencap, please let me know so I can have a better idea of the reserve price to put on the auction.  The membership is worth around 1,390CHF.

For more info on the Holmes Place Zurich spa please see and for more info on the Holmes Place Zurich gym please see  Remember that the membership I have available includes both the spa and the gym.  It's a great way to try out the facilities first without being committed to a full year.

Leisurely Sunday bikeride in aid of charity

Sunday I woke up feeling fine after my hard training ride the previous day.  It was a good job, as Anny's company had organised a bike ride around the Greifensee, and I had agreed to join her.  They have a fitness initiative where for each employee that participates in such events, a certain amount of money per km is donated to charity.  I find this a great idea, as the company is not only donating money to charity, but also getting their employees in better shape at the same time.  And we all know that healthy employees tend to take less time off work for illness than unfit ones (in general).

We took the train, along with the bikes and Negrita (our dog) to Uster where the ride started.  I wasn't sure how much of the 21km route Negrita would be able to run alongside the bike, as cycling tends to be a lot faster than running.  She can run 21km (the distance around the Greifensee) just fine, but not at at a pace that would be comfortable for me to cycle at, without having to stop pedalling all the time.  So I took her dog bag along with me, the one that we use to carry her in when she flies with us.

After waiting for everyone to arrive, the group members all set off at their own pace.  To begin with Negrita was running alongside the bike just fine, and even trying to stay ahead of me.  But after 5km or so I decided she needed a rest and put her inside the dog bag which was slung over my shoulder.  It wasn't so easy to cycle one handed so that I could hold the bag with the other hand and stop it from swinging, and to brake when needed at the same time, but I managed.  Negrita seemed perfectly at ease and later a few of the group members remarked on this, saying they were surprised she doesn't get scared.

The group consisted of employees and their families so the pace was very gentle.  I was cycling with Anny and a few of her colleagues for a while, but I found the pace wasn't comfortable for me as I had to stop pedalling every few strokes in order to avoid getting too far ahead.  This is probably due to the difference in efficiency between a MTB and a road bike, as I was hardly pedalling yet still struggling to go slow enough, yet the guys on the MTBs were pedalling constantly (albeit lightly).  For this reason Anny said I should just go on ahead at a pace that was comfortable for me, and this I did.

After the ride we all had a nice picnic and then it was back to Zurich to rest a bit before the weekend was out.

Monday, 23 May 2011

It's a Furka of a pass - the Furka-Grimsel-Susten pass trio

Well last Saturday went exactly as planned.  I took the train to Göschenen and then cycled the 3 passes of Furka, Grimsel and Susten.  I usually prefer to start off with a flat section to get warmed up, but as soon as I got out of the train station I was greeted with the first climb up towards Andermatt.  The climb was not too difficult but there was a lot of traffic and several dark tunnels where the cars don't see you so well to contend with.

After making it safely to Andermatt I found the signs for Furka pass and headed eagerly towards it, ready for the serious hill climbing to begin.  There is a long flat section after Andermatt before the climbing begins.  Once the climb starts though you begin to ascend rather rapidly with a series of short, sharp switchbacks.  The weather at this stage of the ride was beautiful and there were quite a few other cyclists ascending the pass.  I overtook 2 and was gaining ground on another without trying too hard.  I think the last month of cycle specific training is really starting to pay off now.  I reached the top of Furka pass without too much problem, took a few photos and then descended towards Gletsch.

Furka pass 2,436m

In Gletsch I stopped for some food.  Time was getting on and I didn't want to hang around, but at the same time I wanted to keep up my strength for the following 2 climbs.  I loaded up on a large plate of pasta and vegetables, accompanied by a random croissant, and washed down with a bottle of gatorade.  I knew that I would need more food later on though, so I took a baguette, crisps and a cake with me in my rucksack.  The next pass to tackle was Grimsel, but it wasn't too much of a big deal as from Gletsch you are already joining the Grimsel pass over half way up.  In fact the sign just after Gletsch warned of an ascent of only 400 and something metres.  So that was basically 2 passes conquered within a few hours of starting the ride.

Grimsel pass 2,165m

The descent down the Grimsel pass is an enjoyable one, but there are quite a few dark tunnels to pass through, where you try to get through as quickly as possible owing to the low visibility and the fact that cars may not see you so well.  It is fine as long as the cars see you enter the tunnel, but if they come up from behind and aren't expecting you then it isn't ideal.  The other problem with these tunnels is that it is sometimes difficult to make out the road surface, and the likelihood of hitting a pothole without warning in increased.  One hopes that the quality of the roads in these tunnels is kept higher than the quality of the surrounding roads, due to this low visibility factor putting cyclists at more risk of an accident which in normal visibility they could avoid.

As I was descending the Grimsel pass towards Innertkirchen where the Susten pass begins, I was keeping an eye on my GPS device's altitude reading.  The fact that it was getting lower and lower meant only one thing, that there would be an awful lot of climbing yet to come on the final pass.  With this in mind I stopped in Innertkirchen to eat the remainder of the food I was carrying with me, to fuel myself for the ride.

The journey up Susten is a very scenic one as the route passes through lush farmland in it's lower stretches.  The temperature by now was a little overwhelming for me, and this combined with the amount I had already climbed in the previous 2 passes, I was beginning to suffer.  It was even more apparent how much I was suffering when a veteran cyclist passed me on an uphill section with complete ease.  As I reached higher up the pass I felt a few spots of rain, and was praying that it would start to rain properly so I could cool off.  My prayers were answered and within 10 minutes or so it was pouring down.  It was so refreshing and for once I was enjoying cycling in the rain.  The reduction in temperature was so much so that I had to stop and put on my jacket as I was becoming rather cold.  The progress up the second half of the pass was constant but slow, and I was stopping to take short breaks for each 500 feet climbed.  When I saw the top was approaching I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed steadily onwards.  Upon reaching the top itself, I was extremely happy knowing that the worst was over and I had done what I set out to do.  I paused to take some pictures of the sign displaying the altitude and then began my descent.

Susten pass 2,224m

This time the descent was not pleasant.  The fact that it was raining heavily meant I was constantly braking to keep my speed under control, for fear that if I didn't then I wouldn't be able to stop if needed.  I was also beginning to shiver from my bottom half being soaked by spray coming up from my tyres.  At least I was better prepared than on previous occasions in terms of the additional clothes I brought with me in my rucksack.

As I was descending I was again keeping a close eye on the altitude readings.  I remembered the altitude from when I had started the ride in Göschenen, and was hoping that it would be downhill all the way from the top of Susten to Göschenen.  It wasn't however, and as the altitude reading dropped below the starting altitude I knew there was still some additional climbing to be done.  Luckily the climb was only a few hundred vertical metres or so, but by this time I was crawling along like a snail.  When I pulled in to Göschenen station I was elated to have finally finished.

Looking at my GPS device, the total distance covered was 122.35km and 3,607 vertical metres.  That is about 70% of the distance and climbing that I will be doing in the Marmotte in July, so if I can become comfortable with this route then I am sure I will be in good shape for the event itself.