Saturday, 1 November 2014

Snowdonia Marathon 2014 - Reflection on training

My highlights inc Team Buff UK - Duane Roberts, Sarah Gardner-hall and me.
Well that was an enjoyable marathon! I know I know... no one should use 'enjoyable' and 'marathon' in the same sentence. It usually means you didn't push yourself hard enough or just didn't care about your time. You hear many utter these words just before the start "I just want to enjoy this one". For me to 'enjoy' a marathon I have to know that I have given it 100%. It's the classic long distance event that in many ways is way harder than an ultra. A perfect blend of speed, stamina and endurance which if you get it right is the most satisfying feeling in the world! 

I enjoyed Snowdonia immensely this year because I felt that I used up every drop of fuel from the tank and did so in a measured and calculated way from the start to the finish. I've learnt the hard way from going out too fast in marathons and now I'm able to subconsciously manage my effort and speed without constantly looking at the Garmin. From the first 3 mile continuous climb up Pen y Pass to the last 2 mile monumental slog up Bwlch y Groes I moved forward with determination, a smile on my face and resolve in my heart. 

Snowdonia Marathon profile and my pace
I love this marathon. The route, the scenery, the organisation, the camaraderie and the side line support are all first class. You really can't fault it. My target time was 3:30 which was based on nothing more than a feeling. I had no right to expect to be able to run this time. The build up to my race was very different to last year. In 2013 I ran a 1:20 half at MK, and 2:59 at London which was all part of the continuous build up to Western States and UTMB where I was clocking consistent 50 miles weeks.

To say that my training this year was a little different would be an understatement. It was... well... non-existent. If you look at run miles in my 16 week build up to Snowdonia then you would probably be wondering how I even finished the race. On average I ran just once a week and less than 10 miles. You won't find this training schedule in Runners World! 

16 week Snowdonia build up: 
July - 4 runs. 48 miles 
August - 4 runs. 35 miles 
September - 2 runs. 10 miles 
October - 6 runs. 47 miles 
TOTAL - 16 runs. 140 miles. 

 So with ALL that training behind me I stood on the start line feeling no pressure and "just looking to enjoy it". Oh no I've fallen in my own trap.

There is no blow by blow account of the race. I just stuck firmly to my game plan of a very steady start up Pen y Pass whilst everyone else took off, easing my way into the race, minimising my effort on the hills and then staying strong throughout the second half when everyone else fades, and saving just enough for the final brutal climb up Bwlch y Groes. It went to the letter. I crossed the finish line in 3:27 and smiled with extreme satisfaction of a job done.

Race splits and stage position
Strava log here

So if I put in just 140 run miles in 4 months how did manage a 3:27 in Snowdonia. Well its not like I was just laid out on the sofa. The ElliptiGO is my recipe for success! :-) Here's my mileage for the same period on the ElliptiGO: 

July - 9 rides. 291 miles 
August - 10 rides. 365 miles 
September - 8 rides. 649 miles 
October - 0 rides. 0 miles 
TOTAL - 27 rides. 1,305 miles

I think it's evident if there was any doubt that training on the ElliptiGO definitely transfers to running and can even produce solid results. I didn't just get around Snowdonia. I was able to run strong, maintain my pace and finish strong. One of the reasons I'm posting this blog is that I think far too many runners still believe that cross-training doesn't really cut the mustard. Its mostly something that runners talk about doing but don't really believe in. They get caught in a continuous cycle of run training that slowly wears them down, leads to injury and unsatisfactory results.

So why not jump on an ElliptiGO and see the difference it can make to your running. It's the best investment you will ever make to the longevity of your running career and it's damn good fun too. 

To read more about how training on an ElliptiGO compares to running and cycling click here.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

ElliptiGO - Audax Flatlands 600km

Just 6 days after my exploits at Thruxton 100 I was back on the ElliptiGO to arguably take on a far bigger and scarier challenge! Myself and fellow ElliptiGOers Idai, Alan and Carl were taking on the Audax Flatlands 600. A continuous 600km ride from Great Dunmow in Essex to Goole in Lincolnshire (possibly Yorkshire!!) and back. It was so far North I didn't even know where we were heading. And with so little planning and preparation for this ride (the others included) it literally was a case of turn up at the start, point ourselves in the right direction and GO!

And that's pretty much what happened. We all stayed nearby the start location at St Mary's Church the previous night for the 6am start. Breakfast was served at 5am which consisted of pain au chocolate, grain bars, flapjack, muffins and bananas so not very Paleo!! I think I may have ODed on pain au chocolate!

At 6am on the dot Alan and I were on the start line but there was no sign of Idai or Carl! 100 or so cyclists had set off and there was Alan and I left waiting there! They were still fuelling up but this allowed me time to set up my garmin etrex with the maps for the rides. That didn't go well! It seemed the GPX map files I had got from one of the other riders exchanged online weren't compatible with my garmin. Damn. This was a bit of a blow as it now meant we had to resort to navigating 600km of English country roads following a turn by turn route description. Not the best start to the ride but you deal with these things and just get on with it. The 9 stages of the route were as follows. The longest stage being 90km and shortest 49km. But to be honest the stages distances were pretty irrelevant as the Controls were all unmanned so we just had to pass through the relevant town and get evidence as proof of passage such as an ATM or shop receipt.

Stage                                          Stage Distance Cumulative      
1]   Great Dunmow – Red Lodge     61km                 61km                   
2]   Red Lodge – Whittlesey           69km                130km            
3]   Whittlesey – Boston                57km                 187km
4]   Boston – Kirton-in-Lindsey       90km                 277km                 
5]   Kirton – Goole                         51km                 328km                   
6]   Goole – Gainsborough             49km                 377km                 
7]   Gainsborough – Sleaford          57km                 434km                 
8]   Sleaford – Chatteris                 90km                 524km                 
9]   Chatteris – Great Dunmow        82km                 606km  
Carl and Idai finally emerged stomachs full at 6:15am. We took the opportunity for a start line photo before we set off into the morning mist and the start of our Adventure! 

On the start line of The Flatlands 600
The plan was to stay together as a group for the entire ride so the first section (61km) to Red Lodge for second breakfast was all about finding a sustainable pace that suited everyone. We had no plan regarding who would lead out so we just took it in turns in these early stages to establish who was most comfortable at the front and didn't kill those behind with an unsustainable pace. Idai voiced some concern that we were going too fast and I guess I may have still been in Thruxton mode!! :-) hehe. However slowly but surely we got into our groove and before long we had arrived at Control 1 - Red Lodge for 'proper' breakfast. Fry ups all round for the crew and we were fuelled and ready for the day ahead and the real work to begin.

Now we've talking!! Proper Paleo food :-) with Idai to busy eating to get in shot :-D
I think because we all spent so little time thinking, preparing or planning for this ride this actually helped in that we were all very relaxed and just GOing with the flow. The route north would cut right through the Fens crossing the Rivers Cam, Ouse and Nene. It was unbelievably flat but because of this there was also the inevitable wind factor. So on the one hand you benefitted but when there was no shelter from the elements it could get pretty tough. For me the 'real' work started earlier than the others and came as a bit of a shock. Of course I wasn't sure how much the Thruxton100 had taken out of me but I soon found out. Between 50 - 100 miles I was really out of sorts and finding it rough. It wasn't the pace or wind or any other external factor that caused this but the simple fact that I was spent and already felt like I was 'running on empty'. And we hadn't even reached 100 miles of a near as damn it 400 mile ride!! The thought that I felt like this already and had the best part of 300 miles still to ride was not one that filled me with glee. 

We pulled into a garage where I told the others that my legs felt trashed already. Idai was genuinely concerned but at the same time there was nothing that anyone or I could do about it. This was a continuous point to point and back ride with no Plan B or escape route We were all here for the long-haul no matter what happened and I just had to suck it up, quit feeling sorry for myself and get on with it. 
Stopping for just 20 minutes can make all the difference to mind and body. And there was only one answer - ice cream!! It worked a treat on Mille Cymru when I was at my lowest ebb and it worked here too. We chilled out in the garage forecourt ate, drunk and reset for the next section. And that's exactly how we would roll through this ride for the next day and a half. It was simple really. We rode from stop to stop refuelling and recharging ourselves like we were on a conveyor belt that would stop until we reached the end. And even the landscape and the long flat straight roads resembled exactly this. There was no getting off, checking out or throwing in the towel. 
The others didn't appear to be unduly effected by the distance and soon I was back in the groove too as if my earlier melt down had never happened. Isn't it strange that the body can feel like that... Like it couldn't GO on for another mile let alone 300 and now I'm 'normal'. We arrived at Control 2 (130km) in Whittlesey in time for lunch. We found a nice pub and a place to park the ElliptiGOs. Once again time off your feet makes all the difference. We gorged ourselves on pub grub (burgers and chips) and I even had a cheeky pint of Ale. Why not I thought to myself and it really helps to break up the enormity of the challenge by doing 'normal' things like enjoying a pint.

The George Pub, Whittlesey
Stomachs once again full and we were headed for Boston which was a shorter 57km stage. We rode through the afternoon sunshine with the winds still battling against us. At times the whole group would just ride in comfortable silence as we went about our business and at other times we would chat, laugh and bond with our shared goal to reach the end. As far as our pacing was concerned this was now taking care of itself with whoever felt like leading the bunch taking up the front spot and pushing on as we carved a path through the endless Fens.
By Boston (Control 3 - 187km) there was just one thing on our minds - Coffee!! But it was getting on for 5:30pm and the town centre seemed to be closing for business. We bumped into two other cyclists who had spent the last 3hrs at the bike shop get a broken gear shifter replaced. Ouch! They joined us for coffee at a nearby Cafe Nero (Result!!) and it was once again feet up, relax, and refuel. I'm sure you are getting the picture by now on the routine. And this is how we rolled deep into the night and through to the next day.

A few miles after leaving Boston Control Idai got a puncture from a huge thorn!
The night section was tough. And I can't understate just how much so. Clearly fatigue is starting to set in by now and tiredness is inevitable. As a group we hadn't really discussed the subject of sleep. We didn't have anywhere booked so if we did have time to sleep it would be outside or in a late night services. I think we all knew in reality that we wouldn't be sleeping but no one was really prepared to say it. It was 1am when we rolled into the delightful Scarborough and saw the Golden Arches in the distance. This was the only thing open at this hour but it presented the opportunity to take an extended period of time to rest and eat. I'm not fussy when it comes to fuelling on long rides and I polished off a McTasty meal. The others weren't so thrilled with the food on offer but it's calories that count and at 800+ it's a no-brainer with a long night of riding ahead.

Idai never stops smiling - as we ride through the night
As we all sat in the restaurant we were definitely all at our lowest ebb. This was crunch time. We were all tired but with a complete lack of real alternatives we faced only two options. Carry on through the night or waste time here (which we didn't have). We agreed we'd spend 1 hour here and then head on to Goole (327km) and the turn around point.

I love this photo as it captures exactly how we were all feeling! blurred vision and exhausted...

The stage to the half way Control at Goole was the toughest in the whole ride. It wasn't tough physically (the legs were still working well) .... this was purely mental and it was changing my perspective on the ride. The three others would pull away and I would try to catch them but mentally didn't have the motivation to try, which resulted in a gap that grew and grew. I could always see them but the red tail lights grew smaller and fainter, and as the roads wound through the countryside I lost sight of them. I expected them to slow and allow me to catch and perhaps they did but I wasn't pushing by this point. The gap was only a minute in reality but because of the general fatigue and my mental awareness dipping it may as well have been an hour. 

Outside of Goole the guys stopped and I caught up. Apparently we had come into Goole on a different route which I was completely unaware of. Audax rules require you to visit each of the official Controls (and collect evidence such as an ATM or till receipt as proof of passage) but the route you take in between is somewhat flexible. We had no plan to go off route but it seems that our desire to visit McDs in Scarborough brought us into Goole from a different direction. 
We didn't stay long (gratefully!) and we would have been even quicker if it wasn't for the interest being shown by the local late night (early morning!) revellers in the ElliptiGOs. We left Goole after 3am and headed back South. It felt great to be heading home and despite only being half way into the ride it felt like we had reached a real turning point in the ride. I was once again feeling a lot more positive about things.
Alan lead out and we filed in formation and pushed on through to dawn. We were now thinking about the next fuel stop and breakfast! For me this is where all the remaining towns, garage forecourts, causeways and scenery is a bit of a blur. I was in the moment but clearly after having ridden for over 24 hours you don't tend to hang onto every memory. For the reader this probably comes as a relief! Haha.

One of many garage forecourts visited on our travels....
The memories I do have of the second day is one of a very enjoyable day riding with friends, interspersed with some hellish sections with wicked head winds. But we were getting nearer and nearer to our destination so it felt ok under the circumstances. There was just the small challenge of navigating our way in and out of Cambridge. The highlight of Cambridge was getting on to the Guided Bus Way which had a dedicated 8 mile footpath and cycle way that carved out a traffic free path. Once in Cambridge however we still had to negotiate the Ring Road and get off that and take the correct road south. No Garmin assistance and the route notes were very vague. We eventually got out but it did feel like a very long time and far more than we had anticipated. By this point we were all doing the maths on our required pace to finish under the 40 hour cut off. In fact we had been doing the maths most of the night and into the day. There was never a moment where I didn't think we would compete it in under the 40 hour cut off, but I had hoped we'd be a good few hours under it. As we exited Cambridge however this didn't look like being the case. 

We pressed on and reached the final Control at Chatteris (525km covered). From here we had 80km to go and 6 hours to do it. Judging by our pace it looked like we would in fact push into the final hour and finish after 9pm.

Enjoying a cuppa at the final control in Chatteris (80km to GO!)
The final section was the hilliest section of the entire ride. I'm not complaining and the change in terrain kept it interesting but it also slowed us down further. The worst part however was in the final few hours riding in the dark along a twisty country road where we witnessed some insane driving. Why drivers take such extreme and dangerous risks when overtaking defies belief. I was pacing at this point when a car came over the brow of the hill and at the same time a car behind me started to over us. There was room but the overtaking car was completely on the opposite side of the road and cause the oncoming car to swerve. I was fully expecting a collision (not with us!) but the two cars. Somehow and I don't know how but they missed each other by what must have been fractions of an inch. The guys behind saw more than me and knew it was a close shave.

After this we were just counting down the miles back to Great Dunmow. The entire ride was meant to be 606k but we had already done 615k and were still GOing! It can't be far now surely.... In fact all of the 9 stages were like this as we would approach the destination town. You would spot a sign with the distance and miles later you saw another sign and you were no closer!! Finally though after over 39 hours of riding we were back in Great Dunmow. All that remained was to find the actual Control. Erm.... Does anyone know where we are going!? Nope it appeared not. We overshot the turn we were suppose to take and rode into town only to have to retrace back and finally make it to the Control - the Pub!! Haha the best Control of the race. It was a mix of relief that the ride was over, understated celebration that we'd made it under the cut off and quiet satisfaction at a job well done. We all worked so well as a team which isn't as easy as it sounds on an ElliptiGO. To all ride together for that length of time and distance and find that our pace matched one another and that everyone contributed to the effort was the most pleasing aspect of the whole ride. Hats off to Idai, Alan and especially Carl who for him was taking on his first multi day event and whom hadn't ridden further than 180 miles before! In total we had covered 386 continuous miles. It was my longest ride also by a considerable margin.
Toasting our success!
We toasted success with a drink, and took some time to reflect. However it was late and we all had homes to get back to. The challenge in fact hadn't ended as getting home raised some questions with the lack of sleep. I decided I would drive but had a good slap up mixed kebab first (the only place open on the high street) but boy was it good!!! I made it home safely but on reflection would allow myself a sleep next time.

To view a video of our ride captured by Idai click here ( that was that. One week apart and two very different rides. You can't even start to compare the Thruxton 100 and Flatlands 600. Both were very enjoyable and challenging rides but for very different reasons. One was a heart pumping thrill seeking solo record breaker whilst the other pushed ElliptiGO endurance riding to another level and was shared with great company. Both have given me immense satisfaction which is a great way to effectively wind down the season. Nothing much planned ElliptiGO wise for the rest of the year. I've just joined Audax UK so I expect one or two 200k rides will be on the cards to keep me ticking over. And who knows what 2015 holds.... But if you want a clue Google 'PBP' and see what you find. The B doesn't stand for a Baguette, however that is a clue ;-)

Monday, 22 September 2014

Pushing new limits - Thruxton100 ElliptiGO race report

Well it's being quite a start to September with two major ElliptiGO rides having taken place. We live so much of our life through Social Media these days that I'm starting to wonder where a post race blog fits into it all? I was taking photos and posting updates on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter before, during and after with the (self-imposed) pressure to provide live updates to folk that (may) be interested.
However a blog presents an opportunity to reach out to a different audience that is more interested in the detail rather than just a quick sound byte that disappears within an instant. It also allows me to relive the moment and capture it for future learning, reflection and posterity. So anyway with that here's a walk through (or should that be ride through!) of the Thruxton 100 where I was attempting to break the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for 100 miles on an ElliptiGO (5:50), which took place at Thruxton Racing Circuit in Hampshire on the 7th September

I'd waited over a year to ride the Thruxton 100 event. In 2013 I had an entry and training was going really well (mostly because I was in build up for Western States and UTMB). But British Cycling who despite their name, clearly don't understand what's happening in cycling (in the broadest sense) banned all non-traditional cycles from the event which included ElliptiGOs. Another one of those organisations run by a few at the top completely out of touch with the modern scene. Anyway rant over and happily Action Medical Research who organise the Thruxton 100 ended their association with BC (good on them!!) and ElliptiGO were back in! :-) And so 18 months later from when I first registered for this ride (always with the intent of having a crack at the ElliptiGO 100m FKT here I was. That kinda raised the bar a little as to expectations on what I might achieve but in my heart of hearts I felt that I wasn't anywhere near the fitness levels that I reached in 2013. Back then I PBed at the Half Marathon in 1:20 and now I'd be lucky to run 1:30! But endurance riding on the ElliptiGO isn't quite the same as road racing on foot and I just hoped I could perform on the day and see what happens. One thing for sure is that I was going to give it 110% for all 42 laps of the 2.4 mile circuit. And if I fall short so be it but I would fail having given it by very best shot.

As just described the format was very simple and I liked it this way. All that stood between me and glory was 42 laps of the smoothest (so I'm told) racing circuit in the UK. But significantly though it's not he flattest either with a noticeable rise in elevation in the final part of the lap. I arrived the evening before to take in the surprisingly low key atmosphere. There was a 24 hour event taking place side by side the 100 mile alternative. Ride24 was the main event with the Thruxton100 just a side show. I had the choice of four different start times and opted for the last one starting at 6am on the Sunday which coincided with the last 6 hours of the Ride24 event. There were a few reasons for this choice.... I'm definitely a morning person and I hoped having ridden for 18 hours already that the soloists, pairs and team of cyclists in Ride24 would be knackered and provide me with a target and the motivation I need to whip around the circuit :-)

I slept track side in my small pop up tent and had an ok nights sleep although did get up at 3am to wander over to the start/finish straight to see the riders push on through the early hours. Impressive stuff! It wouldn't be long before it was my turn. My strategy for fuelling my FKT attempt was simple - get in a full english breakfast one hour before I set off! It didn't touch the sides and I was soon in a mild panic at 5:45 still getting the ElliptiGO race ready having also had a quick massage to warm up the muscles. There was no warm up lap so I would be straight into the required pace from the very start.

I had no time to reflect or walk through in my mind what I was about to be doing. I rushed over to the start at 5:55 to file in line with about 10 other cyclists. Sarah the AMR race director briefly talked through the race format but I was too busy fiddling with the Strava app on my iPhone and Garmin. I wanted to make doubly sure I recorded this one (and it's a good thing I did as you will see later). At exactly 6am we were off. Obviously no one else knew what I was attempting and quite frankly it wouldn't mean too much to them even if they did. So there was a real feeling of being both on the track with other riders whilst at the same time being totally alone in my endeavour. I loved it. My pace strategy was to ride as evenly as possible from start to finish. To break the current 5:50 record I'd need to maintain an average speed of 17.5 mph so that was my target pace. I'd hoped and expected that this pace would come easy in the first half as I was fresh and would (just) require me to dig deep to hold on in the later stages. That didn't happen and my first few laps were below the required pace already. I couldn't believe it! I wanted to start conservatively to save something for the second half but the required pace simply didn't allow this. I had to ride hard from the start. There was no safety cushion or room for error.

I was having a lot fun out there!
When working in averages it wasn't a case of significantly increasing my pace or getting carried away. I just had to up my effort my a few percent to up the pace. It wasn't too significant now but I had no idea what it would feel like in 50 or 75 miles. The 2.4 mile lap was varied and kept me fully engaged. After the flat start/finish straight (Gear 11 - top gear) the circuit climbs ever so slightly (Gear 10) whilst curving left before a quick right and left that starts to descend ever so slightly. It then curves right for a long series of sweeping curves (Gear 11). The wind in the early stages could be felt the most on this section but wasn't significant. The circuit then swings right and descends for the quickest most thrilling section with a long sweeping bend reaching the lowest point on the circuit. What goes down must though go up! And the climb (Gear 10 and then Gear 9) was the slowest part of the course. At the top of the ascent you reached the tightest section on the circuit with a right / left / right chicane before finishing the lap and starting all over.

Thruxton Racing Circuit - 2.4 miles
So that was what I did for lap after lap after lap. Clearly there's no point in relaying all 42 laps (you will be relived to know!). But what I want to try and convey is the intensity of the ride and effort throughout. It was intense but in a great way. I was so focused and concentrated so hard on everything I was doing. Keeping every gear change as smooth as possible and ensuring my effort was as even as possible. 

The scare of the first few laps and my lower than required record pace settled and my average steadily climbed from below 17mph to 17.2 and soon 17.5. Every lap from there on after was about maintaining equilibrium and doing nothing different. Just going through the motions whilst staying focused and keeping the intensity high. My average pace continued to rise however and soon I found myself riding and maintaining a 17.8mph pace. It was decision time on whether I felt this effort was sustainable for another 80 or so miles or whether I needed to back off. I assessed how I felt and couldn't really see a need to back off at this stage. I felt great and was thoroughly enjoying myself so I didn't want to change anything. From then on it was just a case of subconsciously reassessing my effort on every lap and making micro adjustments accordingly. 
Looking very relaxed which is the only way to ride
As I hit 50 miles my average pace increased further and now I'd hit 18 mph. I used the 25/50/75 milestones (on my garmin) to mentally tick off each part of the race and look at the total time. At 50 miles I wanted to clock 2:50 so when I rolled through at 2:45 I was pretty excited and was already doing the simple maths to work out a realistic finish time. I couldn't believe how well the first half had gone and just prayed that the second half would go equally well and that I could maintain the same pace or at least not completely implode.

Clearly things were going to get more difficult not easier as the miles and laps ticked by. That's of course an inevitable part of riding a 100 miles. I just kept looking at the Garmin on every lap expecting the 18mph average pace to drop but it didn't. The toughest test in the second half came not from the miles but from the strengthening wind. Now I'm not talking here about anything hugely significantly but it was still strong enough to know that I was having to put in extra effort to maintain the same average speed. I continued looking at the Garmin and the speed still didn't drop. 

I could very occasionally get in the slip-stream of other riders whilst I fiddle with the Garmin 
It was time to think about nutrition for the ride. I basically had a few Cliff bars and shot blocks in my rear pockets. Because the intensity was so constant throughout I knew I wouldn't eat too much on the ride but needed something to keep my energy stores topped up from the big breakfast. So basically throughout the ride I ate one cliff bar and about 6 cliff shot blocks. Those things are awesome and way better than sticky gooey gels when riding! I don't often eat such things at all but for this ride it did call for something easily digestible that would deliver a quick release of energy just enough to keep me GOing strong.

And so we got to the business end of the ride and the last 25 miles. Now it was all about holding it together and hoping nothing dramatic happened e.g. A puncture or mechanical failure of the hub (this was the first proper ride on my now functioning 11-speed Alfine Hub which had given me so much grief for weeks prior to this event). I just carried on doing what I was doing and did allow myself to enjoy what was unfolding and what looked like being a new ElliptiGO record far quicker than I could ever have hoped or dreamed of.

The Hill!!! Doesn't look much but in the second half I could feel it!
A note at this point on the actual race format and the 42 laps that I needed to cover. There was nothing that told me what lap I was on as I crossed the start/finish line. Therefore I was just going on the distance being recorded on my Garmin. However 42 laps wasn't exactly 100 miles and was over-distance and worst still the timing system for the whole event was suffering from technical difficulties. What this lead to in the final laps was not knowing exactly what lap I was on and how many left I would therefore need to ride to officially finish the event. This really started playing on my mind and was the only stressful part of the entire ride. I knew I could trust the Garmin on it's accuracy to record the distance but the organisers were an unknown. 

It was also in these late closing stages with less than 5 laps to go (10 miles) that for the first time my legs were REALLY starting to feel it. Despite this and because I was getting close to the end I had upped the pace and my average speed was now 18.1mph. I was giving it everything I had whilst still keeping things smooth. I hit 100 miles on what must have been 41.5 laps. I allowed myself a moment to celebrate and stopped my Garmin on 5:32. Wow that's frigging crazy I thought to myself in utter disbelief that I had managed to maintain that pace throughout. 

But the hard work wasn't over and I still had at least another lap to ride as I didn't want to take any risks. This is when it got really interesting. It's as if because my brain knew it had completed the 100 miles that the job was done, and all of a sudden my legs completely lost power. It was simply unbelievable to feel and sense in the space of just 1/2 mile going from super strong to having to fight really hard just to maintain forward momentum. I reached what I thought was the end of lap 42 but a board held up for me by someone at the start/finish line indicated I had another lap to go. No way!!! I was completely gone but had no choice but to carry on. It was a struggle and meant I couldn't really celebrate or feel good about the ride as I now just wanted it to end. That last lap felt like it took the effort of the last 42 combined. Of course like everything it was soon over as I climbed up towards the finish straight for the last time and pulled right into the pitlane area where I rolled across the timing mat and came to a finish. 

Celebrating on the last few laps
Now I could relax and enjoy the moment and get off the ElliptiGO for the first time in a very hard 5 and 1/2 hours of riding on the edge. A few spectators and marshals came over to congratulate me on finishing the 100. Of course they had no idea of the significance to me of the time. But this wasn't a ride where I was looking for some kind of external validation of my performance. This was a personal goal that I had set myself some 18 months prior to this day and it felt so damn good to accomplish that goal in way I had never quite imagined. 

Mission Thruxton Accomplished!
The end of the Thruxton 100 coincided with the end of the whole Ride24 event too and so at exactly midday everyone has finished and was soon off the circuit. They even opened up lots of champagne in true 'racing' tradition and damn it tasted so good. 

And so that was that. I had set a new FKT for the 100 mile distance taking 18 minutes off the previous record finishing in 5:32.34 (my official finishing time). I know it won't stand forever but it's a great feeling to set the bar higher and I hope that this effort will spur others to give this distance a good crack. Other stats of the ride was a total elevation gain of 2, 183 feet.

Garmin Connect File of the ride here

All Official ElliptiGO Records

And I must also mention an amazing performance by Carrie Hook who rode the 100 on the Saturday on her ElliptiGO in her very first 100 mile event and set a new women's record of 7:18. Way to GO Carrie! :-)

Carrie and I after she set a new female World Record on the Saturday

Sunday, 31 August 2014

ElliptiGO - Evans 'Ride It' Liphook Sportive‏ Report

I'm continuing to train for the Thruxton 100 which is just one week away now and will see whether I can break the 100 mile ElliptiGO WR (5h50m). Two weekends ago I took part in an Evans Ride It Sportive. These events are really good value all priced at £17.50 regardless of the distance you select. And there's usually 3-4 distances to cater for all abilities. 

I went for the value for money 90 mile option and had booked this whilst holidaying in Hungary as something to focus on when I returned and get me straight back into it. I had a good drive down to Liphook (South of Farnborough). For most folk a 70 mile trip isn't something you have to plan for... You just jump in the car, tap in the postcode and off you go right. But things change when you own a full electric car. I'd identified a rapid charger on the M3 (Fleet Sevices) which charge the Leaf to 80% battery capacity in just 45 mins. And it worked out perfectly to get me there and back home  So with the Leaf fully laden with the ElliptiGO I set off. One cappuccino and a breakfast wrap later the Leaf was charged and I was soon at Liphook school and registering. 

I chose the earliest depart time (8:30am) and lined up alongside other cyclists. The GO getting a bit of attention from the organisers. When there's different distances the question is always - "are you doing the long route"!? A smile and positive affirmation is my usual response.

The route difficulty was categorised as a 3/5 so it was by no means flat and would meander through the best countryside that Hampshire has to offer with many climbs on route. Some steep and some long, but with plenty of flattish sections too. The Elevation profile from Strava is below:

When I registered for the event my only intention was to get the miles in and not to ride at a particular pace or push it to hard. But with Thruxton only weeks away and little doubts over my fitness and ability to challenge the World Record creeping in I needed to put in a performance that would encourage me and show that the record attempt is a possibility. So I decided to push the pace hard from start to finish.

This was also the first real test too of the new 11-speed hub in 'race conditions'. This would give me more top end speed and enable me to push on whilst riding the flatter sections and even downhill maintaining a much higher tempo.

It was a great ride, well organised with bright pink arrows at every turn so you couldn't go wrong. The roads left a little to be desired with many surfaces sending constant vibrations through the handle bars. But the scenery on route as you rolled through the English countryside kept me engaged throughout as the miles rolled on. 

The other 'dry run' for Thruxton was to not stop at any of the aid stations on route but ride straight through. I had enough fluids for the 90 miles plus some cereal bars. It all worked out great and I pushed hard throughout the ride especially on the hills to strengthen the legs and hopefully make a very flat Thruxton race track feel that bit easier.

The summary stats of my ride are as follows:

I managed to maintain 17mph average speed for the first 50 miles (which is the speed I need for Thruxton) but the hills got steeper and longer in the second half so obviously the average speed dropped. I was still very happy however to maintain 16mph over 90 miles and finish in a time of 5:38. An honest morning's work which has given me a lot more confidence for Thruxton :-)

Saturday, 9 August 2014

#1 ElliptiGO Tech Talk - Tyres

In #1 Ultra Disco Stu's ElliptiGO Tech Talk I'm discussing tyre choice.
The great tyre debate seems to rumble on on the ElliptiGO Facebook Group page. The intention here is to outline the main brands and tyres used by riders that are compatible with the ElliptiGO to provide a useful resource to new ElliptiGO riders as well as seasoned riders looking to replace/upgrade their existing tyres. I haven't ridden them all so I can't provide an in-depth review on how good each one is but where I have I will chime in with my thoughts. And if you have an opinion on any of the tyres featured then why not post a comment on this post for the benefit of other readers.

All ElliptiGOs come out of the factory with Kenda Kwest (20" x 1.5") fitted as standard.

Kenda Kwest (20" x 1.5")
Described on the website as a 'performance road tyre'. It's been a while since I rode the ElliptiGO with the Kwest's - they are a solid touring tyre but with no stand out features. They roll quite well but are heavy and don't feature any additional puncture resistance which is something ElliptiGO riders tend to look for to avoid any roadside incidents. They are however the cheapest tyre in this review so if you are buying on a budget then they will serve you well.

The tyre of choice for most ElliptiGO riders looking to replace/upgrade the factory Kenda Kwest's is a tyre from the Schwalbe Marathon range. The entire Marathon range comes with GreenGuard or SmartGuard - a patented puncture resistance rubber cushion that runs inside the length of the tyre and provides great protection from glass, nails and other foreign objects out to ruin your ride. There are three main tyres suitable for the ElliptiGO in the Marathon range: Marathon Original, Marathon Racer, and Marathon Plus.

The Schwalbe Marathon Original tyre is the cheapest in the range and provides good puncture resistance with GreenGuard protection - a 3mm elastic rubber cushion.

Marathon Original tyre with GreenGuard
The Marathon Original is NOT a low profile tyre however and has a much larger depth than the factory fitted Kwest's. As a result this tyre is ONLY compatible with the ElliptiGO 8s and 11R which have a larger clearance on the front fork. The Marathon Original will NOT FIT the C series (3C / 8C).

I have happily ridden the Originals for thousands of miles on my 8S. They are bomb proof and perform well in the wet so overall they score very well as an all rounder. If you are looking for real speed then the Original is probably best avoided as they have a higher rolling resistance but for most riders the difference is only noticeable if you are really pushing it.

The Schwalbe Marathon Racer is a much lower profile version of the Marathon Original which is compatible with ALL ElliptiGO models. It's described by Schwalbe as the fastest and lightest Marathon (part of their Evolution Line).

Schwalbe Marathon Racer
It features HD-Speed-Guard providing the highest level of Kevlar Guard, but doesn't in my opinion quite offer the same level of protection as GreenGuard on the Originals. As expected is has a lower rolling resistance and slightly less aggressive tread pattern than the Originals but I think these differences are subtle. Overall the Racer is a great all rounder that is a serious contender if you are prepared to compromise slightly on puncture resistance in favour of speed and a tyre that weighs half of the Originals.

The Schwalbe Marathon Plus is the tyre is choice for many ElliptiGO riders. It does everything extremely well, and features the best puncture resistance in the range with SmartGuard which is a major benefit for many riders not keen or confident removing the rear wheel on the ElliptiGO.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus - SmartGuard
The Marathon Plus is also the lowest profile tyre in the Marathon range too, providing the lowest rolling resistance and looks the business too. The Plus has a good tread pattern similar to the Racer which clears water fast in the wet, and provides great all round grip in all conditions. Many riders who ride the Plus speak very highly of them. They can't really be faulted.

As an aside if you are a bit of an Eco Warrior like me and like to do your bit for the environment then you may be interested to know that the special rubber puncture compound in the Marathon range is made partly from recycled materials.

GOing the extra mile to help the environment
In summary all the tyres in the Marathon range have great durability and last many many 1000s of miles. So you really can't go wrong with any of them. If pushed to recommend one particular tyre from this range it would have to be the Marathon Plus. They're definitely worth the extra money and you can't put a price on the extra peace of mind they provide.

Racing Tyres

Schwalbe also have a new entrant to rival the Marathon which is specifically designed for speed. Now we're talking!!! :-) The Schwalbe Durano Plus still features their patented puncture resistance technology (unusual in a racing tyre) but is very low profile and much narrower than the Marathon range.

Schwalbe Durano Plus
Available in 20" (wheel diameter) so suitable for the ElliptiGO too (20x1.1). The Durano features two choices of puncture resistance - RaceGuard, and SmartGuard. SmartGuard provides the highest level of puncture resistance and adds a little extra weight to the tyre. But with the ElliptiGO this is hardly a concern as shaving off precious ounces isn't a priority. Early reports from Carl Nanton who recently purchased the Duranos are that these are a great tyre. Fast with very low rolling resistance (so especially great for climbing hills!) and also provide great grip. They aren't the cheapest tyre but other reviews online report them being very durable and lasting a long time so cost per mile is probably comparable with the Marathons.

The final tyre in our review is from well-known tyre brand Continental. They know a thing or two about tyres so I was excited when I came across the 'SportContact'. Like the Durano it's a very low profile and narrow tyre. The lowest profile tyre in this review in fact, and placed side by side with the Marathon Original it's half the size! It also features a puncture resistant band which works. I didn't get a single puncture in over 2,000 miles of riding.

Continental SportCONTACT
SportCONTACT Puncture Resistant Band
The SportContact is a super slick tyre with the tread seemingly non-existent, but look more closely and there is a wave along the centre of the tyre which is actually extremely effective at clearing water quickly on wet surfaces. I was extremely impressed with this tyre having purchased it - it is a high performance tyre and coped very well with everything I threw at it on tough UK roads (these aren't the smooth Californian boulevards!). It is a very fast tyre too.

The disappointment with the SportContact is it's durability. Even after just 500 miles it was showing signs of wear and tear and by 2000 miles approx my rear tyre had worn through the rubber to reveal the weave underneath. I only paid £22 each for these but I still expected it to last much longer than this. In comparison to the Marathons which last many many 1000s of miles, the Marathons and even the Duranos represent much better value for money a day to day tyre. In summary the SportContact is a great racing tyre but best reserved just for this purpose and not daily riding. It's worth noting that it's not the easiest tyre to fit on the rim either.

Inner Tubes

A note on inner tubes is that the Kenda's and Schwalbe Marathon range all take standard 20" 1.5-1.75 inner tube. The Durano and SportContact are best fitted with a narrower inner tube (20x1.1-1.5) making it far easier to fit the tyre and reduce risk of ripping the tube during fitting. Note also that the ElliptiGO rims are ONLY compatible with Presta (narrower) valves.

Presta Valve

Any tubes with car valves will not fit as the valve hole in the rim is too narrow.