OK, it looks like everything has gone quiet here. I tell you now that looks are deceiving. Things are actually ramping up quite a lot.
The key point is that I’ve been getting in some good training. You can do all the planning that you want, and turn up with the best selection of gear, but if you can’t pedal the bike then it will all end pretty quickly. But my training is going along alright. Of course it isn’t as much as I want, but it isn’t bad.
Route planning is a bit slowed down while I wait for further information from the race organisers. If I plan around a checkpoint that turns out to be in a different place then I will just have to replan, and frankly I haven’t got time for that so although the routes have been tweaked a little they won’t be finalised for another month or so. The good news is that with spring in Europe all of the mountain passes are re-opening so the route planning software is starting to be able to calculate routes over them again.
My equipment list is still being refined, but I’ve learnt a lot and figured out some things that I really needed to know, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I’ll be taking. I took a trip over a couple of days the other week, just to give the gear a test run, and things are looking ok there as well. The good news is that this time the sleeping mat was great!
And then of course there is my bike. I’m getting a new one, I know what it is, and I’ve held a few bits of it in my hand. Stay tuned for an announcement about that in the next week or so.
Finally, I’ve started meeting other people who will be racing. I had the pleasure of racing against one of the entrants last week, and we’re now looking at a little training run sometime soon.
So really, everything is happening. We’re all still awaiting further information from the organisers, and there are certainly some things behind schedule, but for me everything is looking like it will be ready on the day!
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been watching the IndyPac – The Indian Pacific Wheel Race. Five and a half thousand kilometres from Freemantle to Sydney, following a set course but otherwise pretty similar in concept to the Transcontinental. I have to tell you, it has been scary.
There were some early departures, and that was no surprise. There will always be a lot of people who talk the talk but then turn out to not walk the walk (or ride the ride, as it is). So I wasn’t worried by that. The first scary moment though was 2,000km in when one of my cycling heroes pulled the pin. Now after many years of having heroes in the pro-peloton who turned out to be druggies and cheats I don’t have many cycling heroes. Probably about half a dozen, and most of them are guys I ride with and against on a regular basis. Some of them I beat quite regularly too, but they are still cycling heroes to me in that they show something on the bike that I would like to see in myself.
That particular hero is a friend of mine. He is strong and fast and well prepared and efficient, and all of those things were showing for the first 2,000km as he raced into third spot and looked like a strong contender for a higher place. A few video clips and interviews along the way showed him to be strong and focused. But he was riding a bit erratically, and finally a picture on facebook showed me why. Seeing his two feet and ankles together it was pretty clear that one of them was stuffed. There was really no way he was going to be able to ride effectively without having quite a bit of time to recover first. Of course, I immediately thought about that happening to me. He had talked about little niggles getting more annoying and harder to deal with – well I am about a decade older with another decade worth of accumulated niggles that could blow up with minimal provocation.
The next scary thing was seeing another of my heroes, who happens to be his partner, also pull the pin. Another great rider who had started more slowly but was steadily working her way up through the rankings, until she decided that fatigue was getting the better of her. Part of me screamed “but you can just go slower” but realistically there is always a time limit to these things. It could easily be that I end up being unable to finish. And that thought was a little bit scary. The fact is that this race is a big focus of my life. I have already put a lot of thought, a lot of time and a lot of effort into it, and to not make it to the finish line is a scary thought.
Meanwhile, at the front of the race there was a fantastic battle going on between two of the best ultra-cycling racers in the world. There were tactics and changes of lead and amazing amounts of strength and endurance. It was a fantastic race, gripping to follow. And then tragedy struck. Mike Hall, founder of the Transcontinental race and holder of more records than I care to list, all round good guy and second place on the road, was struck and killed by a car. I didn’t believe it at first. But it was true. This guy, who was so much larger than life in such an understated way, was suddenly gone.
As a result the IndyPac was immediately cancelled and basically transformed into another of the many, many rides to commemorate Mike that took place around the world. As I write there are still some people following the course to Sydney, but I don’t think that there was anyone who didn’t stop for some time to comprehend when they heard that awful news.
Every road cyclist knows that it is a possibility. It could happen to any of us, at any time. But when it does, it’s still shocking. And it’s scary. It brought home the dangers of what I do, once again. It made me ask myself if it was wise, if I should be riding on the road when there are so many dangers about. Several other people have asked me about it. And several of them have asked if the Transcontinental will be cancelled.
But the race will go ahead. It won’t be the same, of course it won’t. Mike was the driving force behind the race, and it was very much his race, so without him it will change. Having said that, there are several other people involved, and there is no question that they can run a great race. But all of them had a close relationship to Mike. I can barely imagine how hard it must be for those people to think about the race, or indeed to cope with daily life, right now. I imagine that right now they aren’t sure that they want to run a race. I’ve had several people ask me if it will be cancelled, and I can see why. But the race will go ahead.
It just happened that as Mike was hit I was also on my bike, for the last ride I would be able to manage for several days. When I finally got back on my bike three days later, and straight out onto the road, I did of course think of the danger of cars. I also thought of Mike. I thought that I could be driving instead. There was a little bit of rain, it was getting dark, it was chilly. But I was riding. I enjoyed the ride. I was probably more nervous than normal, but I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the drive. I could have driven, but I’m glad I rode. Assessing the risks, I choose to take the risk of cycling and enjoying it, compared to the risk of driving and not enjoying it.
Now it may be that there is no formal Transcontinental No.5. I doubt it, because I think everyone involved will want to run the race in honour of Mike as much as anything else, but I could be wrong. Before I got my entry slot though, I had come up with a cunning plan of what to do if I didn’t get a slot. You see, the race is unsupported. There are people at checkpoints and start and finish lines to record your times, but I have a watch myself and I can figure out my own times. There are people watching dots or taking photos and videos on the road to post to social media and keep all of the people at home informed, but I don’t need anyone following my progress so that I can pedal. The beauty of an unsupported event is that by its very definition, you don’t need support. You can just get on your bike and ride.
Some of the checkpoints have already been described with enough detail that they can pretty easily be locked in. Others haven’t been quite as clearly stipulated, but I don’t think it would be too tough to work out where Mike had planned for them to be. There may be some sections and challenges that Mike had in mind that we will never hear about, but I think in general from here it would be pretty easy to determine what his plan was, and to ride that. So, at 10pm on the 28thof July I will be on the start line. Because although I realistically may not reach the finish, the scariest thought of all is the thought of not trying. So, I will be there.
I hope there is someone there to say go, and I hope there will be people with a kind word as I pass through the checkpoints. But even if there are no race officials, I’m sure I won’t be the only rider on the start line. And I’m sure every one of us will ride remembering Mike, and grateful that once again he has made at least our worlds better places.
So I had a pretty hard day last Saturday, starting with racing a tough race (my legs weren’t great and it showed in the results, but I rode an honest race so I am pretty happy about it) and then going on for quite a lot of climbing, which was very, very slow.
On my ride though I met, and then met again, a young bloke new to the area who was looking to get into road racing. He said he had just arrived from China, they didn’t do much road riding where he was from, and that he wasn’t a fan of hills. He pretty much had a track sprinter’s build and even while we were riding together I could see that hills were not his friend. He was on a nice enough bike but he had enhanced it with his own graphics, and they seemed to have been applied with a thick black marker pen. He had written his name on there, which I thought was sensible, but he had also written, all the way along the downtube, “Victory Loves Preparation”. It was, I thought, a great motto. And here he was, out riding in the hills. So while he may not have been a climber that day, he was preparing to be one.
I liked the motto, and I repeated it to myself a few times over the next few hours. The next morning when I woke to the sound of falling rain knowing that I had 200km in my program for the day it was that line that came to mind as I dragged myself out of bed, for what turned out to be a great (if somewhat wet) ride.
Of course good intentions for preparation are all very well, but sometimes life gets in the way. This week has not been a good one at work, and somehow what was meant to be a week of lots of racing and a trip away to ride on some bigger hills has become late nights at the office, no riding at all except on the wind trainer, and right now I am about 600km behind my distance goal for the week. So forget that bit of preparation.
The other view of course is that it is great preparation for the fact that in Transcontinental there will be things that don’t go as planned. Getting up tomorrow and doing whatever training I have time for without beating myself up over a missed goal or pushing so hard that I end up doing myself damage is probably an essential sort of preparation!
I got an email the other day asking for some of the more detailed statistics of the ride. Now of course the big problem is that I don’t actually know what they are. For a start, I don’t yet have the exact location of the control points or the required sections. I’m expecting that these will be announced sometime in April or May (last year it was towards the end of May), mainly because for a big chunk of March the guy who created the race, Mike Hall, will actually be racing in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race and won’t be working on this. But they will be announced eventually. When they are announced I will be able to decide on the route I will take, work out just how much climbing there will be and how long it should take me all together in riding time, make some decisions regarding sleeping and stopping time, and figure out riding times and distances for each day. Maybe even make some plans about stopping points, but that might be a bit much!
I do have some constraints. There is a finisher party in Meteora on 12th of August that I would love to be at. Unfortunately, some dear friends are getting married in Frankfurt on 12th of August and I am not missing that, so no finisher party this year for me. That obviously means that I will need to do it again later so I can attend the finisher party, and to ensure myself an entry in the future I probably need to finish at least top 20 this year. Now last year, finishing in less than 12 days, 14 hours and 30 minutes would have got me into the top 20. So that is the goal. Of course, faster is better.
But this will have me arriving in Meteora around lunchtime on Thursday. From there it is around 280km (so an easy day’s ride) to Thessaloniki Airport, where you can get a pretty good flight to Frankfurt. So that sounds like the go.
In terms of distance, that works out to be about 321km per full day. Of course, that isn’t how it will go, because some days will have a lot of climbing, some days a lot of wind, some days terrible weather and some days all of the above! Some days will be perfect though, so there will be a fair variation in the distance covered each day. You usually go a lot faster across a plain than up a hill! I tend to think that this year the times might be a little faster as well, so I will probably be aiming for slightly over 321km, on average. Now that I see the number written down I have to say that it seems like a lot – I am pretty sure that I can count the number of days I have ridden further than that on one hand, and the only two specific examples I can think of had me finishing pretty well exhausted. Happily though I still have around 19 weeks to train…
I also got asked to put up a picture of myself, so here is me thinking about riding 321km a day…
…for 12 days…
…over mountains and through the driving rain…
I’m sure it’ll be fun!
I’ve been reading. Getting inspired. Specifically, I’ve been reading the blogs of Kristoff Allegaert, the guy who won the first edition of the race in 2013, backed up in 2014 to win the second edition, skipped the third edition to win the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme instead, and then came back in 2016 to win the last edition by a big margin. I’m not sure if he will be lining up this year (he’s actually starting in the Indian Pacific Wheel Race from Freemantle to Sydney in 14 days, so he might still be recovering when the Transcontinental starts in July) but I really hope so (as well as being terrified by the thought).
Specifically, a few things stand out to me. The first is that he seems to have been physically pedaling his bike for over 18 hours most days. This is a little more than I have been hoping for – it doesn’t really leave a lot of time to sleep, eat, get supplies and enjoy the view! The next point is that it seems from his blogs as though it rained for most of the time, in all three of the previous editions he has ridden. Now my thoughts have certainly involved some level of precipitation, and a rain jacket is very much on the packing list, but I might have to think a bit more seriously about wet weather gear. The third thing that stood out to me was the line “Waiting around for the weather to change is not a solution”. I think it’s pretty clear that there will be some rain, and equally clear that if I am thinking about overall placings at all I’m going to have to ride through it. So again, more thought on wet weather gear.
Happily, this morning I got in some good practice. Waking up and hearing rain I nearly rolled over and went back to sleep, but a little part of me that can’t resist a race took over and pushed me out of the door to roll up to a local club race. It was over a particularly pleasant course so I figured I might as well. Unfortunately it rained basically all the way out, all the way through the race and most of the way back home.
So that is how my hands were looking by the end, and I only rode 80km! Maybe I’ll just hope that it is an unusually fine edition of the race!
The good news though is that the riding wasn’t actually that bad. My bike computer shows the average temperature as 15 degrees, and I felt fine while I was riding. I put on a rain jacket for the ride home, not to keep my dry (too late for that) but just to cut the wind and keep me a bit warmer while I wasn’t working so hard. I did pretty badly in the race unfortunately, and there were two reasons. The first is that I was loosing a lot of ground on the descents. My race bike has top end rim brakes on it and in the dry they are fantastic, but when the rain pours down they lose a LOT of their stopping power. This reinforces my decision to go with discs for Transcontinental. I’m slowly closing in on the perfect bike, and am hoping I’ll be able to tell you what it is in a couple of weeks.
The second reason I did badly is a little more disappointing – I just wasn’t fast enough. I’ve been fighting off a cold for the last couple of weeks, and I am feeling better, but I’m still not at a hundred percent. I’m hoping that was the problem, but it might also just be that I need to try harder. Anyway, still got 20 weeks to figure that out…
I’m amazed. Blown away. Within three days of launching my fund-raising for beyondblue I’m already over 15% of the way to my target. A huge thanks to everyone who has got behind this fantastic cause! For anyone still wanting to, there is plenty of time to head over here and donate.
Of course, now the pressure is on, I better ride well!
Ok, things are starting to gain momentum. As some of you may remember, in the past I have linked some of my more challenging rides to fund raising for charity. This was actually inspired by Lance Armstrong. I hold a grudge against the guy for the damage that he did to my sport, but I admire and respect the work he did to bring help and hope to a whole lot of people around the world. It inspired me to try and use my riding as a way to make the world a better place, and so for the PEdAL Ed Transcontinental Race I’m proud to say that I will be raising funds for beyondblue. If you want to help, you can donate here!
beyondblue are a charity working to help people with their mental health, focused on help, recovery and resilience. If you’ve never looked at statistics on mental health, I can tell you now that they are scary. If you’re thinking that your mental health is fine and you will never have problems with it, then I am very glad of that. If you’re thinking the same about all of your friends and family, then I’m sorry to say that you are almost certainly wrong. The statistics are that 45% of people in Australia will experience a mental health condition at some time in their lifetime, and the number is similar for most of the western world. It may not be too serious and it may not last too long, but that means that at one time or another nearly half of the people you know will have some kind of mental health problem.
If you don’t believe that, if you’re thinking that number is much too high and wondering why, if it is so high, you haven’t heard about it, the answer is really simple. People don’t talk about it. In fact, a lot of people actively hide it. And it is one of those things that not talking about makes much worse. So I’m funding for beyondblue to raise funds to help them continue their great work on help, recovery and resilience, and also to bring it to the front of people’s minds. On that basis, I encourage everyone to go and check out the beyondblue website over here and learn more about mental health, so that when someone around you has a problem, and it could be your work colleague, your friend, your parent, your sibling, your child, or even yourself, you will be better equipped to spot the issue and then respond in the best way. Almost eight Australians take their lives every day, and that is just way too many.
I’ve set myself the target of raising one dollar for every kilometre that I race. Now that isn’t very much, and as long as I don’t get lost too often it will probably end up being less than $4,000. Of course, more is better! $4,000 is enough that it will help though, because every single dollar will help. It may be that you have no spare cash right now, or that you just don’t feel like giving it away, or even that you are giving what you can spare to a different charity that means more to you, and all of them are fine too. They are fine because it isn’t just about the money, it’s also about the awareness and the openness. So if you aren’t donating, then just go along to the beyondbluewebsite and have a read, and maybe a share, and you can still know that you have done your part. Thank you!
I just rode my fourth race in 36 hours. Now admittedly the first three were all virtual races and in the last of them the computer crashed out after 12 km, but I was still expecting to be totally cooked for this race.
A break went away and I could see it was time to bridge, but it was a long way to a strong bunch. I gave it a go anyway, and before I knew it I was there! I was nearly dropped a bit later on (I actually think they may have sat up for me) but managed to finish with the break, which is better than I’ve done in that race for a while. So I’m not sure why, but it seems that something is going right!
P.S. Let’s not not talk about that torque effectiveness number, I’ll worry about that later!
Well, things are rolling along. I managed a good ride last week, 327km of mainly dirt. It took longer than I hoped, but I still have six months to train (at least I did, when I did the ride)! Still, my basic plan at the moment is just to gradually do more longer rides, with maybe a bit of light touring in a couple of months.
Right now the long rides are all happening on my mountain bike. This is reinforcing a few things to me, including the fact that weight is actually a consideration, despite what some people seem to claim, and that saddle choice is critical. Since the day I bought that bike I have been meaning to swap the saddle, and given that I am likely to be doing quite a bit more time on it over the coming months I think the time is now.
I thought I had sorted out my accommodation, but things are not that simple. I really want to be able to pull up and be in bed very quickly – I figure if I have eaten on the bike then all I should have to do is get my accommodation set up, spend 3 minutes servicing the bike and 7 minutes brushing my teeth and taking care of any physical issues that have come up during the day (which will include a bit of stretching). That should mean that I can be in bed within 10 minutes of pulling up, assuming that it takes zero time to set up my accommodation. I’m pretty well on the way to this goal at the moment – I’ve got my trusty ultralight sleeping bag that has accompanied me on a few adventures already, and I now have a fantastic “Alpine Cocoon” bivy bag from Macpac. This thing is light, durable and packs up to be nice and small. The only thing missing is a sleeping mat, because frankly I’m getting older and sleeping on the dirt sucks. But sleeping mats are huge and heavy. Well, most of them are. I did find one though that promised to be a bit smaller, a bit lighter, and even a bit quicker to set up. I even found a shop that stocks them. The only problem was that they only had one single example, and it had been sitting on the showroom floor for quite a while. It had been subject to the whims and rough treatment of any number of passing punters. It is a fairly light weight model mind you and I had my doubts about the comfort levels it would provide, so I tried it out in the shop (just like the rest of the punters had). It was all good there, and it wasn’t until a few nights later when I went to use it in anger for the first time, quite a long way from anywhere, that I realised that it actually went down after about 5 minutes. Yep, somehow while on display it had acquired a hole. So that was a bit of a let-down. Anyway, the shop is a pretty good one, so I am sure I will be able to take it back and swap it without a problem, at which time the accommodation should be sorted. 10 minutes to be in bed will be pretty reasonable (the mat only takes three breaths to inflate it, when it doesn’t have a hole), and this set-up should pack up small and light in pretty good time, so I think 20 minutes to be back on the bike is a reasonable target.
The other key issue to be addressed is that of the bike I will race on. I’m pretty clear about what I want from this bike, the only problem is that I am not sure if I can find someone who will be able to make it for me, and even harder will be to find someone who will make it for me in time. I’m still looking at options at the moment, but am well aware that the clock is ticking!