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SCU 12 hour time trial

Over the winter of 2000 / 2001 I had decided to focus training so as to make 25 mile time trials my main objective in the coming summer, with a view to knocking a few minutes off my PB, while at the same time putting in a few useful ‘10’ times on a Tuesday. However, despite a fortnight's high quality training with Alasdair and Malcolm in Majorca in March, things did not go quite to plan! A severe viral or flu-type illness which developed shortly after the training camp laid me low for many weeks (it is suggested that the packed flights to and from holiday destinations carry a risk of infection, especially on the return when hard training early in the season may have suppressed immunity to infection – see later article). It was not until the weekend of the 26-27 May that my form recovered with marginal PB’s at 10 and 25, some 6 weeks after Majorca.

However, every cloud has a silver lining and I had learnt a couple of important things from the training camp.

Firstly, recovering properly after tough efforts and so protecting the immune system and stabilising the body in preparation for the next race is critical, especially for older riders like myself who simply take longer to recover. Recovery time can as I understand it be shortened, even for older riders, if they have the time and means to maintain a very high level of fitness – but in my case I am not normally able to spend more than about 8 hours a week on the bike, therefore all I can do is to try and make the best use of that time. The training camp, despite being extremely enjoyable, probably took more out of my body than I had expected. Many riders report similar problems after these camps – the sunshine, warmth and motivation of riding in groups create an acute sense of well-being and off you go.

Secondly, and more significantly as far as this article is concerned, I quickly developed an aptitude for pacing myself economically during demanding circumstances such as riding up long hills. The longest climbs ascended some 3000 feet over 5 or 6 miles, and a measured but deliberate effort is required to reach the top without falling by the wayside.

After falling ill again with a heavy cold in early June, and another lay-off, it looked increasingly unlikely that my form in the shorter time trials would peak to give me any good PB’s without a much greater effort on my part – but with family and work constraints this was not feasible at this stage of the summer. However after some almost enjoyable and seemingly effortless long rides in June I decided that perhaps long distance races requiring less intense effort might be a better option for the rest of the season, so I entered the forthcoming SCU ‘50’ on 24th June, and then the NOSCA ‘100’ the Sunday after on 1st July, both on Invergordon courses. I still retained the option of not starting in the ‘100’ if I didn’t feel right – I did in fact feel quite afraid of failing at this ‘unknown’ distance, remembering last years race when riders struggled in windy conditions. Although I had cycled over 100 miles on several occasions, that had largely been at my own chosen pace.

As it happened I turned in a decent ‘50’ time, so I felt a bit easier about the ‘100’ the following week. This required a bit more preparation and as support was not available to me on that day I carried three 750ml bottles of Techno-fuel, two in a triathlon-style carrier behind the seat kindly lent to me by Malcolm. This proved to be very convenient, it was easy to swop bottles to the down tube, and with minimal drag. The extra weight – some 31/4 pounds – is probably not very significant in an endurance time trial on this flat course. I drank the last drop at 99 miles, and throughout the race ate 2 bananas and 3 energy bars, consuming 260g carbohydrate and 2.25 litres of water (almost 4 pints) in total. I was, however, very stiff on completion and it was over an hour before I could straighten up properly. I had no aches and pains after this to speak of though. My time of 4:52:18 was pleasing, and I had bettered my target of 5 hours / 20 mph.

So what now? The only logical target, if I were to have a new one at all this year, was the SCU 12 hour championship 6 weeks later – a possible medal if I completed the race, and likely inclusion in the SCU Senior BAR (Best All Rounder) list – completion of the 25, 50 and 100 mile time trials already ensures an entry in the Middle Distance BAR as published in the annually produced SCU Championship and National Series Results booklet. It’s probably the only way an old-timer like myself will get an entry! I make no apologies for promoting such indicators of our achievements; although I started cycle racing primarily for fitness, I do find that motivation comes from reaching such targets, whether it be a PB, a very long ride, the end-to-end or whatever. Targets in life are important and can give day-to-day activities more meaning.

Preparation for the 12 hour required much more thought than for the ‘100’. Web searches threw up several good articles by riders who had actually undergone these races, in particular I found the MSF Online and Lewes Wanderer's CC websites very useful. The former contains a method for working out how to pace the race, that I decided to try. This involves:-

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Predicting your likely 12-hour distance from a previous’100’ or ‘50’ time. For me, this turned out to be about 220 miles. This also tallied approximately with riders of similar ability to myself listed in the SCU BAR table of times and distances. This estimate can be tested and refined without riding a full 12 hour ride, and the MSF article shows you how. Some knowledge of the course also allows adjustment of the estimate – whether flat, undulating, exposed etc.
 

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Devising a schedule for the ‘12’. Patience is definitely a virtue – by all accounts first-timers tend to go too fast too soon, and pay later on. A constant effort rather than constant speed is preferable; heart rate staying fairly constant throughout, as speed almost certainly will decrease. The recommended method is to calculate an average 25 mile time from the estimated distance – in my case, at 220 miles for 12 hours this gives a 25 of 1:22:00. Now make this your middle 25 (i.e. from 100 to 125 miles) and subtract 1 minute from each of the first 4 25’s backwards in turn, similarly adding 1 minute to each of the subsequent ones. For me this meant a target starting / finishing speed of 18.7/17.1 mph respectively – an overall average of 18.1 mph. In the event, I actually averaged 18.0 mph, but due to the windy conditions speed varied widely according to the wind direction. Nevertheless, I had certainly taken on board the need to set off slowly, and this helped me get through the 12 hours. Not least, you can keep a check on average speed as you go along – I carried a waterproof card that among other things told me what my average speed should be at any point of the race, given my 220 mile target – this is strongly recommended as an aid to motivation. (see actual schedule, attached).
 

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The weather can play havoc with your schedules. The actual race on 19th August saw incessant rain and moderate winds. Muscles were cold, and tired legs weakened further on windward legs. The 30 mile leg up to Portmahomack and back to the A9 was taken out due to flooding, so my ‘milepost’ schedule was useless after that point. Whilst I still had my average speed to check on (even with windy conditions this become an increasingly valid indicator as the race proceeds and wind effect balances speed variations). I had also done some calculations of likely heart rate, loosely based on comparisons with others in the various articles, but more so on self-tests during long rides and in the ‘100’. I had concluded that a heart rate of 138 should be sustainable for 12 hours. I regretted that average heart rate was not featured on my computer, but regular checks throughout the race would put me right surely? It was of use for the first few hours, however having turned into the wind at 5 hours and 100 miles I started to struggle as I passed south on the Tain bypass. A nauseous feeling developed which stopped me eating and drinking for a while and by 7 hours I was feeling quite weak, and unable to maintain more than 125 bpm. After this time I lost track of what my heart rate should be, and just splashed on doggedly. I forced down a banana, gradually felt less sick, and was thankful to note that I had not slowed down too much, and for the last 2 hours I was back up to 135 or 140 bpm and almost enjoying the race again! A downwind leg between the Nigg and Cromarty Bridge roundabouts allowed greater speed and I dug in – even nudging 30 mph on slightly downhill sections.
 

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I was not physically sick in the middle hours, but queasy and uncomfortable until 10 hours or so had expired, during which time I ate and drank less than I should have. It was a great effort to get through a banana, food I usually enjoy. I was unable to drink the flat coke and Lucozade that I had available, sources of caffeine and carbo selected as alternatives to the excellent Ultra Buffer sports drink that I mostly used. And definitely not the chicken legs included in Patsy’s ‘hamper’ brought as an alternative to sweet things! During the whole race I drank 3.8 litres (61/2 pints) of water containing mostly Ultra Buffer – supplying 260g as well as small amounts of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. I also ate 4 bananas and 6 Ultra bars giving 144g carbs – a total of 404g carbohydrate during the 12 hours. With hindsight – in terms of how I felt during the race, and from what more experienced riders have confirmed, I concluded that my nutrition strategy was not quite correct. On the one hand I had not taken in enough fluid - however I did in fact intend to drink 6.4 litres (111/4 pints) drink, and I still feel this would have been correct had I not felt nauseous. Then I stopped eating and drinking for some time to hopefully get rid of this feeling. I had great difficulty in even eating a banana at this stage. This lack of fluid and carbs probably caused a dip in energy levels between 6 and 10 hours, not helped by the wind and cold conditions. I also think it possible that the nausea was due to my taking on too many carbs (168g) too early in the race – i.e. within the first 3 hours or so. This may have overfilled my stomach to cause maldigestion and sickness until the system settled down later in the race. I had later got Patsy to make up and hand me a bottle of Ultra Refresher recovery drink that I started taking 30 minutes from the end of the race. Despite the feeding problems I was pleased to record 215.5 miles – only 5 miles short of my target. Considering the wet and windy conditions I judged the overall effort a success, and felt I could have managed 220 miles had the weather been kinder and with an improved feeding strategy.

The key to success in this type of event is heavily dependent on planning. To know that you have (hopefully) thought of everything gives confidence - following is a summary of my preparations, and other ideas that I found helpful:-

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training sessions – a long ride of 100 to 125 miles for each of 5 or 6 weeks before the race – these also reveal clues as to what speed, effort, pacing and nutrition is required for the real thing. A couple of these rides involved 8 or 9 hours in the saddle at low intensity, just to get the body used to ‘suffering’ in a low position for long periods.
 

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Stretching – every 15 minutes or so during the ride, I stretched each shoulder backwards in a rolling motion; got up out of the saddle putting more weight on the arms for 16 revs or so to relax the back and legs; circled the head a little when it was safe to do so to ease neck muscles, and changed breathing rhythm by taking a few very deep breaths. I did not suffer any pain or major discomfort both during and in the days after the race, unlike after the ‘100’ when I was very stiff for a while.
 

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Spare food – I carried a couple of spare Ultra energy bars, jelly babies, mints, chewing gum just in case I fancied these, along with a few caffeine tablets which can give a boost when flagging. I was unable to take the latter since they became wet, and disintegrated. My support also carried a couple of well-salted chicken legs and a flask of strong coffee but I could not face either.
 

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Schedule – feedback on progress is useful, but as it was not possible to obtain this from my support I carried a (supposedly) waterproof schedule taped to the top tube – this recorded the actual time at which I should reach each of the 9 turns, given that the distances of the turns were detailed on the start sheet and that I intended to cover 220 miles in 12 hours. I had also recorded my predicted instantaneous and cumulative average speed relative to both distance and real time, so was able to see that I wasn’t doing too badly. For interest I also recorded the numbers, names and handicap times for the rest of the field, so that I would have some idea how I might be doing relative to the others, and this also gave me motivation, as I was able to gauge my progress against some other good riders who I was evidently gaining on. I noted that I averaged 17.7 mph over the last 2 hours, not far down on my overall average of 18.0 mph, so despite problems I had been fairly consistent in effort.
 

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The bike – I stripped the bike down more or less completely two weeks before the race, checking every nut, bolt and spoke for tightness, cleaning the chain and derailleur etc. – together with careful preparation in every other aspect. This gives confidence knowing that one has done as much as one possibly can to avoid problems. Since my support was not able to be close to me all of the time, I carried a spare tube and tyre levers in a small under-saddle bag, with a small pump on the bottle cage.
 

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Illness / injury / communications etc - I carried a few paracaetomol with me just in case of any aches and pains, and my support kept a first aid kit. An essential was a fully-charged mobile for me and my support – her number was placed before the race so as to ensure two-touch dialling. I carried dry cycling gear, including shoes, in the support car, but in the event did not use any. I would just have got wet again, and didn’t feel particularly cold at any time. I did however take on a fit of violent shivering 5 minutes after dismounting at the end of the race and turned the heater up fully in the car.

What did I learn from the race that might make any future endurance race more successful? How would I change my strategy? …….

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Heart rate – I need to review my expected HR for the race and test in long practice sessions. As a first guess, I reckon in a 12 hour TT 133 bpm would be more appropriate for me than 138
 

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Nutrition – hopefully the nausea experienced can be avoided in future by eating small chunks of food more regularly, rather than a full banana or energy bar at one go. I probably over-estimated carbohydrate requirements, especially early on in the race – I have since concluded that in a long endurance race such as the 12 hour, fat mobilisation reduces the needs for glycogen replenishment by carbohydrate ingestion. I was surprised that three days after the race, when hydration was presumably back to normal, I nevertheless weighed some three pounds less than just before the race.
 

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Weight – I was 11st 7lbs (72 kg) at the start of the race and felt that this was about right for my height of 5’11" (1.80m) – I would try and achieve this weight before any future long races. The bike itself (Cannondale R1000 Aero) is very light at only 18 lbs (10.2 kg) but wet clothing and the extras carried – particularly the three 750 ml bottles carried for some of the time at least – added up to another 7lbs (4kg). I would gain marginal advantage by minimising weight, taking food and drinks only as required in future, requiring closer support.
 

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Data – in future I intend to gather more information on my performance in order to hopefully discover more clearly how I might improve. Whilst some would not go down this road, preferring instead to rely on instinct or experience, I find this scientific approach both helpful and interesting. I intend to record fuller data in future, in particular on heart rate, speed, distance etc., together with cadence and possibly power. The new generation of HRM / bike computers are able to perform all these functions and record greater quantities of data that can be downloaded simply to a computer at home.
 

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Maintenance – after the 12 hours my chain, despite being newly cleaned and lubricated beforehand, was completely dry and showed traces of rust! Undoubtedly the permanently wet conditions played their part, but this should not have happened and I will seek a remedy, possibly a good quality dry lubricant, to avoid this happening again.
 

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Knowledge – I intend to read as many articles and books about the subject as possible over the winter period, and make a list of potentially important pointers.

Last modified: Sunday August 26, 2018 21:29