Sometimes the biggest battles happen inside your own head…
Category Archives: cycling
To keep my positive focus I’ve now booked time off work for the 600km spin. It starts Saturday 10th June so I’ve booked a couple of days to allow time to panic properly and get my bike and gear sorted. I’ve also booked the week off after for a bit of a holiday. I hope I don’t need it all for recovery!
I’m having some real doubts about the Audax Challenge I’ve set myself this year. The turn of the month, my reasonable success restarting training in January and starting to increase my training for February has made it all more real than it was in the early days of January.
My first big marker is April 23rd with the Dark Hedges 200. I’m mostly confident that I will be able to manage that ride. I’ve done both the course and the distance a number of times and know what to expect. It’s the next BIG marker that has me really worried – Coast to Coast 600 on June 10th just 7 weeks after the Dark Hedges! I’ve no experience of distances over 200km and none of multi day rides either. That scares the 💩 out of me right now!
Where the brain starts to screw me now is with those doubts. I’m finding it much harder this month to keep the same motivation for my training. Some of this is that the initial excitement is wearing off and that shit’s getting real. Mentally it would be much easier to find an excuse to give up than deal with the possibility of failure. However, I keep setting targets, making plans and focusing on the next ride.
On Sunday I rode almost 60km, slightly longer than I expected and my longest ride since August 2021! Milestones like that keep me motivated.
Perspective? My blogger friend Jim at Fit Recovery is dealing with the shock of being made redundant after 25 years with the same company and the prospect of starting all over again with a new company. Good luck with the new job Jim 👍
Video: January Cycling Review
A review of my progress so far and setting my targets for February.
Light Up My Life
As requested by Paul over on 36×25.blog here is a rundown of the lights I use to keep me safe and allow me to ride at night.
I know a lot of people who dismiss the usefulness of lights during the day but I’m very much a “be safe, be seen” type of person and ride virtually every time with a rear and front flashing light.
Up front I have a Lezyne Micro Drive 500 XL. This has nine different modes including flash, pulse and various levels of steady light. It has an integrated adjustable silicone strap that fits pretty much any handlebar size and a weatherproof full size USB plug (no lead required) for charging. The USB plug is protected by a removable, chunky rubber cover which is its only niggle. This cover is not attached to the light body and can fall off or get mislaid. Thankfully these are available to buy separately despite the light now being discontinued (other current models use the same charging system). Despite having mine about 5 years I still haven’t gotten around to creating a fixing system and yes, I have managed to lose a couple of them!
The photo above shows the light on the top of the bar but I prefer it under the bar and the adjustable strap allows for this very easily especially as the light can swivel on the strap. Keeping the light under the bar gives a cleaner looking cockpit and more space on the bars.
My rear light (Cateye Viz 300) resides on my seatpost as I use a bottle style tool kit in my second bottle holder and no rear saddle bag.
This light is pretty new and really good. I was lucky to avail of a deal with my club where they bought a batch of these and subsidised the cost to members. It only cost me €15 which is an absolute bargain.
I run it on flash mode (but not the most annoying pattern) and having seen it on other club members’ bikes it’s really noticeable.
spot the guy with the same light
Removing the light from the holder is a bit of a faff and rather than potentially breaking it I tend to remove the whole thing, strap and all for charging. This means I could potentially lose the strap but on the flipside I’m unlikely to lose the light while out.
First of all I use both the above lights, still in flashing mode. I don’t use the Lezyne light on full beam mode. I found it weak for night time MTBing and upgraded to a better light (below) but I haven’t tried it on the road. I think I’ll see what it’s like this week in case I ever need it as a backup. As a flashing light it’s an effective additional eye catcher for approaching traffic.
My main headlight is the Moon Meteor Storm Pro which was originally purchased for MTB riding off road on forest tracks and trails. The level 5 full beam is really good for this kind of use.
Using it on the road though, it’s not as good. L5 is way too bright for cars while L4 or 3 are less dazzling but don’t provide as much visibility. Changing through the levels requires cycling down and through the flashing modes which isn’t practical when riding fast. The light did come with a remote that I’ve never used (and had forgotten about until now!) that might make this a bit easier and I will investigate that this week also. The model I have (max 1700 lumen) is now discontinued but there’s a very similar new version available with a 2000 lumen boost.
The major downside of this light is its weight. Including the mount it weighs 260g. It comes with a helmet mount but I wouldn’t fancy that weight on my head!
This light though is rock solid. When properly tightened the mount will not move no matter how rough the road surface. This was especially good on fast forest tracks on the MTB. However, I managed to break the clip on the base of the light on an Audax ride when trying to adjust the angle while riding. I was concerned about blinding oncoming traffic so tried to twist it down by manipulating the light itself. Of course it moved, the mount didn’t and the plastic clip broke. As it is part of the light body it can’t be replaced. A bodge repair using electrical tape saved me that night and a slightly tidier wrap of tape now secures the light to the mount.
This year the club is repeating the light subsidy but this time it’s front lights – Cateye AMPP 500. At €15 again it’s too good to miss and even if it isn’t as good as the Moon light it will be a good replacement for the Lezyne. I’m hoping to get mine this week and I’m looking forward to testing it.
On my helmet I use two additional lights. My old rear light (Cateye Rapid Mini) is now on the back as a blinking high level visibility light.
On top I have a second Lezyne Micro Drive 500 XL. This is set on the lowest full beam level and I find it incredibly useful for reading my Garmin screen and checking gears, seeing my pedals for clipping in etc. On this mode it gives me just enough light and lasts forever. Also it’s not very heavy meaning it doesn’t annoy me at all. A heavy light could cause a sore neck or cause the helmet to tilt annoyingly to one side or down over my eyes.
This setup works well for me and I’ve used it successfully on Winter 200km Audax rides when shorter days mean that I have to start and finish in the dark. However, if I’m going to ride 400km and 600km this year I’ll need to upgrade my headlights for longer lasting performance.
The ultimate Audax setup would be a hub based dynamo but I don’t fancy spending that amount of money. This light could be a very good alternative – IXON IQ Premium from Busch + Müller. It runs on AA size batteries and two sets will provide 10 hrs lighting and if I run out of rechargeables then regular Duracell will work in a pinch. At €80 on most sites it’s a lot cheaper than a dynamo wheel!
not the sexiest of lights!
It’s important not to forget the second part of that saying and make sure that as well as being able to see I can also be seen. On local roads round home I’m riding shorter loops and I’m happy wearing a reflective harness. This doesn’t interfere with my pockets and is enough that I can be seen by following or oncoming cars.
On Audax rides when I spend a lot longer riding in the dark and being a lot more tired I prefer something a lot more visible and have used a light reflective workman’s shirt over my gear. This is heavier, less fitted and restricts access to my rear pockets but is incredibly visible at night.
Header image by Reactual.com
In order to rebuild a good cycling habit and also build fitness I need to be cycling regularly through the week and spread out to allow for recovery between rides. As I have to fit this in around my full-time job it means I have no choice but to cycle at least 2 evenings a week. At this time of the year that means riding in the dark.
I’ve done a bit of night riding before but this has mainly been off road with the Club MTB group. There’s a definite sense of security riding in the dark on chunky tyres and with company that is absent when riding a road bike solo.
To make things easier on myself I’ve chosen a route that is mostly on quiet country roads or with a good hard shoulder when I can’t avoid the busier sections. The downside of this is that the roads are narrower and rougher. Meeting traffic can be difficult if they have bright lights or don’t dip but so far I’ve had very few issues. In fact cars are often confused by my lights at night thinking I’m a much larger vehicle and holding back giving me space to pass safely.
Getting set up for night riding can be reasonably expensive but over the years I’ve already invested in good headlights, helmet light, tail light and reflective harness. I’m probably more visible to many drivers at night than during the day!
The most significant difference riding at night so far has been visibility. While my headlight is pretty bright and gives good coverage it is limited and I have to be careful that I’m not blinding other road users. Unless you have a floodlight style light with a high capacity battery it’s never going to be as good as a car headlight so the limit of visibility will always be restricted and you have to ride to the limit of what you can see. This is where the rougher nature of the roads comes into play and speed is reduced as you have to keep a good eye for potholes or gravel deposits to avoid taking a spill or damaging a wheel. Apart from one heart-stopping wobble last night I’ve managed to avoid all of that so far too.
Last night was my 3rd night ride having lost last week to the snow and ice that covered most roads for 5-6 days. The first two were wet nights but last night was dry. I was pleasantly surprised how much this improved visibility. Not only did my light have better penetration, showing me more of the road, but the road itself was easier to see and read. When wet the road is a uniform black at night but it dries out to a much lighter grey with potholes and cracks showing up as darker patches. Much easier to identify and avoid. Gravelly patches are still difficult to spot though.
Reduced visibility means a reduction in overall speed. This suits me right now as I need to concentrate on building fitness rather than exhausting myself. With cycling you often need to go slower to get faster so that’s my excuse for now! The need for less speed is most evident on downhill sections. It’s just not possible to tuck in and fly down those descents when you can’t see enough of the road ahead. It also has a pronounced impact on cornering. Normally on corners you need to look well ahead and the bike will naturally follow where you are looking. Only being able to see 4-5m ahead means I’m often looking at the wrong section of the road on a corner meaning the bike flows differently forcing me into corners at a different angle and having to scrub off a lot of speed.
Overall I’m enjoying the night rides so far. The roads are quieter and it’s definitely adding a bit of variety. Last night was particularly enjoyable with a dry, mild night, less bulky clothing and that little bit of extra visibility. Having lost last week to what is hopefully the last gasp of winter, it’s given me a new boost to keep going.
Header image by Reactual.com
Yesterday marked what I hope is a new start for me on my cycling journey. My cycling activities have declined significantly starting in the second half of 2021 but completely collapsing during 2022 with only 860km in total and my longest ride being slightly over 56km back in May.
Some of my decrease in activity I put down to a decrease in Club group activities during Covid. The majority of my cycling in 2020-21 was solo and I’ve always found it more difficult to self motivate. The social aspect of Club riding can be challenging at times but overall I found it having a positive effect. As my cycling became more erratic during 2021 and I lost fitness I found it increasingly difficult to take part in Club activities as the group I was a part of became too strong for me and I couldn’t stay with them. I did do some rides with this group and while a few of them were understanding and helpful it quickly became frustrating for everyone and I stopped riding with them. I then found it difficult to find a new group that I fitted with as comfortably and the Club became less attractive for me. Then I got into a spiral of decreasing interest and declining fitness resulting in my worst year since I started cycling back in 2013.
The other reason for my lack of cycling motivation last year was the lack of a goal. Yearly distance goals are too long term for me and a randomly selected weekly mileage doesn’t really motivate me either. My two best years on the bike were 2016 and 2017. It’s no coincidence that I was very active with the Club in 2016 and had two big events that year.
Wicklow 200: June 2016
Causeway Coast Sportive: September 2016
In 2017 I discovered Audax and that gave me a series of goals to work towards that year with the 4 Provinces Challenge. It’s also significant that my cycling dropped off very quickly shortly after I completed that challenge in October 2017 and 2018 was a much poorer year without a specific goal to aim for.
All that is a long way of saying I’m planning to turn things around by setting myself a goal for 2023. I turn 50 this July so as well as having a goal I want it to be something special as a milestone for the year. I’ve decided to take on the Audax Super Randonneur Challenge. This is a series of Audax events that comprise the full set of distances and requires completion of at least one each of a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km event during the Audax calendar year (November 1st – October 31st).
I have selected 4 events that will also allow me to complete the 4 Provinces Challenge for a second time as events can be used to qualify for more than one challenge at a time. The first of these events is the Dark Hedges 200 on April 23rd. This is a route I’ve ridden a few times now and one I’ve enjoyed. It’s a challenging route with a lot of climbing in the second half but will be a good test of my fitness and an indicator of my chances of success at the longer distances.
My first ride of the year and my first step on the road back to Audax fitness was yesterday afternoon. A simple 27km with a little climbing to break me back into the cycling habit. My “plan” is to use this loop to rebuild my cycling habit and some form of base fitness throughout January by completing it 3 times each week. In February I’ll start to increase the distance and elevation and add in some more structured training. For now though I want to focus on getting back to a regular cycling routine.
Header image by alexandre saraiva carniato from Pexels.com
Riding at night on the MTB, sounds take on a much greater significance….
click, click, click as we clip in and leave the yard
calls of “clear” as we head out on the road
the whirr of knobbly tyres on the tarmac
puffs and pants as we hit the first hill before we’re properly warmed up
conversation petering out
the buzz of the transformer on the electric pole at the forest entrance
the first crunches of gravel as we enter the forest trail
the clunk of changing gears as the trail steepens
calls of “straight on” as the lead man almost takes the wrong turn
the blood thumping in my ears as the climb hits 12%
splashing through puddles as we descend the far side
the wind whistling past my ears as the descent picks up speed
the irritating rub of grit in my brakes from the earlier puddles
skidding tyres as we stop abruptly for the forest gate
calls of “holes!” as the lead rider discovers the massive potholes on the next descent
the noisy stream as it cascades down the hill in full spate
the clatter of a falling bike as one of the guys mistimes clipping in after the short break
the unwelcome intrusion of car engines as we briefly rejoin the main road
the beep of my Garmin as I complete another 5km – why so long since the last one!
the whirr of the power assist as one of the guys passes me on his ebike on the next steep hill
the crunch of metal cleats on tarmac as I step off and walk the hill that I swear was 20%+
bark, bark, bark of the dog – stay away from my house
silence then BARK! BARK! BARK! – I’m going to catch you and kill you all!
the rhythmic whoosh, whoosh of the windmills hidden by the darkness
the sound of rain hitting the plastic shell of my helmet as a short, sharp shower passes over
calls of “car back!” as we get closer to town
the crunch of beech nuts as I take the slightly longer route through Drumboe Woods
the “quack” of ducks on the river and splashes as they squabble
the rumble of tyres on wood on the small forest bridge
the squelch of wet leaves under my bike on the bicycle path
tyres on concrete as I lap the yard to avoid finishing on 29.9km
beeps of my Garmin as it confirms my ride is saved
rain thumping on the roof of the van just minutes after finishing my ride
hellos! as I finally come through the front door
Header image from mbr.co.uk
catch up 2.0
For anyone that is still reading this blog or following me on Facebook it looks like all I’ve done for the last 5-6 weeks is read, listen to music and play Wordle. Although all those things have occupied quite a bit of my time I’ve also been messing about getting back in the cycling groove.
I’d decided that group cycling probably wasn’t the best idea just yet as I haven’t really ridden anywhere close to consistently since July last year. I was out with a couple of guys early February and on the Club MTB rides a few times over the following weeks but somehow managed to drift away again after that.
Shortly after my Barnesmore Hike I somehow started getting the urge to get back on the bike. Possibly influenced by lengthening days, improving weather but also by the realisation that time was running out if I was going to get any meaningful cycling done this year. I’d already drifted through Spring and if I lost Summer too then that would be it really.
I knew my weight was way up and that my fitness was shot to hell. This was partly my reason for not cycling with the Club yet. I was also wary of embarrassing myself in front of guys I’d fallen way behind. Anyway my cunning plan was to increase my fitness by completing a weekly routine of a couple of short solo runs after work and a longer spin at the weekend while keeping up the reasonably regular early morning walking habit I’d developed.
The theory was a short run of approximately 25-30km would be long enough to push me back to fitness but not painful enough to discourage. Going straight after work meant I didn’t have the opportunity to talk myself out of it by going home first. I figured a few weeks of this would be enough to get me confident enough to get back out with the Club on a Sunday morning.
I’d identified a few routes around Omagh but one really grabbed my attention. This was a spin out towards Gortin and the Gortin Glens Forest Park. This is a slightly hilly road (good warmup) and there is a tarmac forest drive that I figured would be a bit hilly but traffic free with a good road surface. The last two bits were correct but I seriously misjudged the hills and I really should have known better!
forest park entrance
insane elevation profile
A number of climbs were >15% with at least one of them being >20%. I stopped on three of them and had to stop twice on the last and eventually walked a section as my legs were like jelly. Of the total 390m climbing I had 360m at the 18km mark! It’s a great training ride when my fitness is built back up but was a bad idea for a returning, get back into the swing of things kind of ride! After that I came up with a few other routes that were a bit less punishing.
I also knew it was going to rain a bit that evening so had a waterproof gillet with me. What I didn’t expect was heavy rain for most of the ride. I ended up soaked to the skin, chilly and driving home wet due to lack of preparation. Over the next couple of days I developed a rotten cold that took me a good 3 weeks to shift completely. I had a cough, breathlessness and a snotty head that kept returning when I thought I was OK and went out for another spin 🤨
I didn’t do too badly though. During May I managed 6 rides totalling almost 240km and two 50+km rides which were each my longest since July last year.
What did take a hit was my walking. At the end of last month and into the start of this month I’d developed a good routine of a short 4.5km walk each morning before work. It was setting me up well for the day and as Catriona has been walking a lot recently and also before work, I was used to being awake at that time of the day anyway. The head cold knocked that a bit. It left me quite tired and I didn’t feel able for both cycling and walking especially on the same day. I also felt that I needed that extra hour of sleep each day to knock the cold properly and not getting it was part of the reason it was dragging on.
© strava “training” log
If you’ve come this far with me you might notice a drop in activities completely in the last week of the month. Part of that was lingering tiredness (laziness? 🤔) and working extra days at work (2 x 6 day weeks) but also prep for going on holidays. I’ve been off work since Wednesday for the start of a 2 week break. The highlight of that is a week away so I’m very happy to say that I’m writing this from a holiday resort on the shores of Lake Garda…
accommodation area at 10am
We arrived very late last night after a very long 15 hour journey (long story!), hungry, tired and dehydrated. Today has been about exploring the resort, getting our bearings and recovering from the journey. Tomorrow the proper touristy stuff begins…
pan celtic race
As part of my interest in longer distance Audax cycling I came across this fantastic event a couple of years ago. It’s a self-supported ultra long-distance endurance cycling event. The 2019 event was the first as far as I know and the route was simply amazing.
The 2020 event was scuppered by Covid but by keeping it restricted to England & Wales, they managed to put together a route and run the event for 2021.
As part of the celebration of the 2021 event they created a really good film and I’ve linked it below. I’d recommend it for anyone with even a passing interest in cycling or endurance sport of any kind. The standout for me was the camaraderie of the riders and how ordinary so many of them are while still being extraordinary.
The 2022 route has been released and as a nod to the fact that they couldn’t get to Ireland in 2021 it’s almost exclusively here this year. I’m especially glad to see that they are also visiting Donegal.
All images © Pan Celtic Race