Saturday, 25 June 2011

New shoes and faster than ever - was it the shoes or just psychological?

Today I went shopping for the various cycling accessories I mentioned I was going to get in one of my previous posts.  The main thing I wanted was a new pair of shoes as till now I have been using my road bike with mountain bike shoes, which were quite heavy and flex quite a lot.  Not just that, but I think they have stretched over the years, as my feet slide quite a lot inside them now, and I end up clenching my toes to try to keep some grip leading to occasional foot cramps.

So with my credit card in my pocket I went to one of the bike shops where I usually go, as I find the guy rather helpful, he speaks good english, and he tends to give me a bit of a discount.  I was initially looking to get shoes that would fit with my existing pedals and cleats, but they didn't have any compatible road shoes and I didn't really want to get mountain bike shoes again, so I decided I would go for the full shabang and get pedals, cleats and shoes.

An hour later I came out of the shop with a pair of carbon fibre moulded Bont racing shoes, Look pedals and cleats, Aesos gloves, Alpina sunglasses with reactive lenses, a box of power gels, Aesos cycling socks and last but not least an Aesos cycling top with lots of Swiss flags on it (to be patriotic to my adopted country of what must be 7 or 8 years between Geneva and Zürich).

The special thing about the moulded carbon fibre Bont shoes is that you can put them in the oven (up to 80 degrees Celsius) or heat them up with a hairdryer and then mould them better to the shape of your foot.  Apparently it takes some time to get them exactly right but once you do they are meant to be top notch.  I was interested to see how I would get on with them.

Once I got back home I went to the bike shop next door and asked the guy to lend me some tools for swapping my old pedals for new ones, and in the end the guy was nice enough to put them on for me without charging me, despite the fact I had bought them in another shop.  So now I was all set.

I got all kitted up and both Anny and her mum said I looked extremely professional.  Anny has seen me many times in cycling kit before, but the cycling kit I wore before today was all many years old and way past its best.  I carried my bike downstairs waddling in my new road shoes (which are much harder to walk in than mountain bike shoes), and prepared to set off.

The first thing I noticed was that the new shoes clipped into the new pedals much easier than my old ones, and once clipped in, they felt much more solid and less likely to come out.  The other thing I noticed was that the shoes were much much stiffer and it seemed I could accelerate faster from a standing start.  However, I thought I better try getting the shoes out of the pedals before I needed to do it for real, and what I noticed was that it took a really firm motion to unclip them, much more than it took to unclip my old ones.  I guess this will be okay, but I hope that if I fall they will unclip easily like my old ones did.

I started my GPS running as soon as I got out of the apartment, and it took a good few minutes to get down to the lake through the traffic.  Once down by the lake however I really stepped on the gas and stayed on the road rather than going on the cycle path, which tends to get blocked by slower cyclists and pedestrians.  Everything just seemed so easy, and I was going at 22mph without really pushing too much.  In the end I must have stayed at this kind of pace or higher the whole way to Rapperswil as I arrived in Rapperswil 55 minutes after setting off from my apartment in Wipkingen, Zürich.  I was really happy with this time as I usually arrive in Rapperswil 1 hour and 10 minutes after setting off from home. But today I just felt so fast.  Whether it was the shoes or whether the shoes just gave me a psychological boost I am not sure but something went very right today.  In fact by the time I normally arrive in Rapperswil I was already past Pfäffikon on the other side of the lake.

I wasn't sure how long I could keep up this kind of speed without getting overly tired, but I realised that if I did keep this up I was going to do a complete lap of the Zürichsee in under 2 hours, which I have only dreamed of before.  The funny thing was that I wasn't even blowing that hard and I felt I could have stepped on the gas a little bit more if I had been in a race, or if I knew I didn't have the Marmotte next weekend.  I realised how much faster I was going than usual by the way I was catching up the other road cyclists and passing them.  Also on the hills I didn't need to stand up at all and my hands were on the handlebar drops the whole way round the lake.  In the end I did the complete lap of the Zürichsee plus the distance from the apartment down to the lake (with the associated hold ups in traffic) in a time of 1 hour 55 minutes and 27 seconds.

The only factor apart from the shoes, cleats and pedals that could have helped my time other than psychological factors is the fact that I was not carrying a rucksack and I was wearing a tighter top than normal, both of which helped to make me more aerodynamic.  I personally think it was the shoes, cleats and pedals that made the most difference though, as they just felt so solid.

Ride statistics from my Garmin GPS:
Distance: 65.70 km
Time 1 hour 55 minutes and 27 seconds
Average speed 34.1 km/h
Maximum speed 51.4 km/h
Calories burnt 2,976
Average heart rate 145 bpm
Maximum heart rate 170 bpm

Friday, 24 June 2011

Plans for the weekend before the Marmotte

I haven't cycled the last couple of days, as I have been cross training a bit instead.  But I did cycle home from work today.  It is a rather short ride but anything is better than nothing.  This is the time when I wished I lived in Cham again, as that would have been a really nice long ride home.  Where I am now though, the time it takes to put on and take off the kit is actually longer than the ride itself.

This weekend is the last weekend before the Marmotte cyclosportive, so I don't have any crazy plans like 4 pass rides for the next few days.  I will be going out on the bike though.  Anny's mum is visiting so I will spend some time with Anny and her mum and some time on my bike.  I haven't decided exactly how far I will go yet, but I may well do 1 lap of the Zürichsee on Saturday and 1 lap of the Zürichsee on Sunday.  Being a flat route I can put in as much power as I want.  The distance is around 70km so that should take 2 and a bit hours.

If I feel like a 1,000m climb or so there is always the option to turn off at Richterswil, head up towards Finstersee and then go up to the nature reserve on the hill there.  I will really just base everything on how I feel, although a 1,000m climb at the moment is really not that challenging for my fitness level and should be perfectly possible to do without overexerting myself.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sweating like a piggy - oink oink

Tonight's Pilates lesson was a really good one.  It challenged me a lot and at various points my legs were quivering like jelly.  I was also sweating like a little piggy.  The powerhouse was activated of course, but in addition the legs and arms had a good workout too.

The teacher is still surprised I am unable to do a couple of the moves properly yet.  She says it doesn't make sense as I am certainly strong enough to do them.  I think it might be a question of my centre of balance being in a slightly different place to where it is for most people.  I mean I think that my legs are pretty chunky and maybe that means that my centre of gravity is lower than most peoples'.  On the other hand though my chest is pretty wide too, so I can't really say with certainty that I am more bottom heavy than most people are.

That last bit of belly fat won't seem to shift itself either, and that is a little annoying considering how much training I have been doing.  There is only one time I remember having a perfect six pack and that was when I came back from Belize.  I went out there on a 3 month Raleigh International expedition.  When I left for the expedition I was around 85kg and when I came back I was somewhere around 75kg. The difference in Belize was that in addition to lots of physical exertion the food was heavily rationed.   Maybe the same will happen during my Vuelta Sudamericana bike ride in the Andes, where I guess it won't be easy to get tons of veggie food, and I will probably be living off simple foods.

I have been trying to make various modifications to my diet though - I don't consume sugary drinks like coca cola and I don't take any sugars in my tea of coffee, I try to eat wholemeal bread instead of white bread, semi skimmed milk instead of full fat milk, not so much cheese and so on.  It is really down to the point now though where the only fat left is on my belly.  The rest of me is pretty much solid muscle.  So maybe it is just a matter of staying focussed on my training and diet and having to be patient.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

For all you bike techies out there (of which I am not one) - would I notice the difference between a 12-27 and an 11-28 rear cassette?

Today's post is rather technical.  I have been absolutely fine during training with my 12-27 rear cassette but I remember the last time I did La Marmotte I really wished I had an extra gear on the Gallibier climb, as I felt like I was grinding out every pedal stroke, and so I am considering changing to an 11-28 rear cassette.  Apparently this can easily be fitted on my bike without any major modifications.  The question though is will I notice the difference on the tough climbs going from 27 to 28?  Or would I be better going a little higher again?  Can anyone answer that?  Pete perhaps?

That is the first modification I would like to make.  Another is that I will buy carbon fibre racing shoes to replace my MTB shoes, which are rather heavy and flex a lot.  Besides the weight and the flex I think the shoes are slightly too big for my feet as I feel like I have to grip the bottom of the shoe by squeezing my toes in order to stop them sliding, and this gave rise to some nasty foot cramps during the last Marmotte.

In my training rides I have always carried a rucksack, but I am going to see if I can fit everything I need into the pockets of my cycling top and save some weight and backache from carrying a pack.  I may also invest in a bag that will fit under my saddle to put a multi purpose tool, spare tube, tyre levers and energy gels inside.

I am also going to get my bike quickly serviced again, as during the ride on the weekend it seems some water got into some of the parts and it doesn't sound so smooth running at the moment.  I could ask my friend Pete to help me, but I think it is probably easier if I get the bike shop next to my house to do it.

Hopefully with these small modifications I will have a much nicer pain free ride than last time.  Pain free ride is a relative term though, as 5,000 plus vertical metres of ascending is never going to be a complete walk in the park when you are racing against the clock to beat your previous PB.

Monday, 20 June 2011

7,806 calories up in smoke

7,806 calories seems quite a lot if you imagine eating that many calories in a day.  But what about burning that many calories in one day?  On Saturday I did just that!

The week before was my biggest ride, but on Saturday I still wanted to get in a descent ride.  It was raining cats and dogs, or raining ropes as the French would say when translated into english, but I couldn't afford to miss the training opportunity.

Due to the bad weather it was a bit chilly and I had to wear my trusted red jacket from the offset.  Every super hero has his or her cape or his or her mask, and I have my trusted red waterproof jacket that will get me through any kind of weather.

I didn't want to go into the Alps and do lots of ascending as it would have been too cold, especially on the descents, so I set off from the apartment and went round the lake.  I got to Rapperswil in a reasonable time and then continued round the lake to Richterswil where I decided to do at least some ascending and headed towards Einsideln.  Before reaching Einsideln I took one of my favourite routes as of late - I took the turn off to Hütten and then at the village of Finstersee I turned off the main road and did a very nice quiet ascent where you hardly see a soul save for the cafe at the top.

I could have continued on to Zug after descending back down to Finstersee, but I chose instead to retrace my steps and go back along the lake in the opposite direction.  Anny had a friend over to stay for the weekend and they were exploring Rapperswil, so as I passed Rapperswil for the second time of the day I stopped and met up with them for a nice big plate of pasta.  I decided as I was burning so many calories I could afford a tiramisu, but this was to turn out to be a big mistake.  For the rest of the ride the tiramisu didn't really want to be digested, and decided to hang around in my stomach.

After the lunch stop I injected some pace into the ride, and for the remainder of the ride I hardly went below 30km/h except at traffic lights.  Once I reached Zürich I looked at my GPS and it showed I had done 75 miles.  La Marmotte is 105 miles, so I decided I would continue along the Thalwil side of the lake until the GPS read 89 miles and then head back home, so that the total distance would be the equivalent of La Marmotte.

Usually when I cycle on the flat I start to get lower back ache after 50 miles or so.  Strangely enough this doesn't happen when I am climbing hills, one more reason as if I need one to love hills.  As this ride was mostly flat I was worried that my back would start aching.  Most of the time on long rides I cycle with my hands resting on top of the handlebar stem, maintaining quite an upright position on the bike.  I had assumed that this position would minimise my back ache.  However, on Saturday I spent a lot of time on the handlebar drops, in a more streamlined racing position, and actually I found that my back felt much better.  Maybe this helps to stretch my back and the aching usually comes from it being overly compressed.  I would need to do some more rides like this to find out if it was just chance, or whether it really is better for my back if I maintain a racing position.  But one thing is for sure - even if it is not better for the back it certainly helps reduce the drag from the wind and improve the average speed.

This week I will do a few more hour long, faster rides to keep the cobwebs at bay, but I won't be doing anything crazy this late in the game.  A longer ride at the weekend is possible, but I will take it easy and there won't be much vertical ascent.  Whatever is done is done and whatever hasn't been done can't be caught up now.  Que sera sera, whatever will be will be.................