“How training going?” is one of the most popular questions people ask me along with “I bet you’re really excited aren’t you?”
The second question is easier to answer, if not what people want to hear: There is still so much to do in terms of logistics even the start line seems a very long way away and I’m pretty sure I won’t feel excited until I’m actually in the backseat of the bike!
The juggling act of a full time job as a veterinary surgeon, training, staying healthy, planning the route, finding and keeping in touch with sponsors, making contacts in our drop points, podcasting, you-tubing, organising the bike build and then learning how to build it ourselves, sourcing all the kit, booking flights, arranging visas, checking WiFi access / currency / vaccinations we need, updating social media and building our following and then organising our leaving do leave little time or energy for feeling excited about the trip of the lifetime yet! I also am expecting and prepared for the last minute dilemmas which will undoubtedly prevent too much excitement creeping in until we are on the road and speeding East. So, no I am not excited, but I am very much looking forward to the point I can be!!
But as far as training is concerned that is not as straightforward as you might imagine. In my first year of meeting Stevie we played our now typical double act of him “making” me “train” for a 100 mile sportif ride I had set my sights on by sending me up immense infamous hills such as Wrynose and Hardknott on my old hybrid bike or “making” me do laps on the pool whilst on holiday in Crete.
Anyone that knows us well enough quickly sees through this façade and is quite clear I rarely do anything I do not want to and of is more of a spoof of couples and athletes that take themselves too seriously.
Stevie does have more of a background in sport than I and knows what it is to train at high intensity and develop those fast twitch muscle fibres. Neither of us have ever particularly worked with heart rate or wattage though (with the exception of my running high intensity session I did in preparation for coast to coast run but more on that later.)
The easier way to “train” is not to, or rather make it part of your day to day life. We have both been avid bicycle commuters for many years, although Ste has arguably managed to get much more benefit from it that me on heavy steel or fixed wheel bikes pushing his pace all the way home whereas I am prone to stump into the saddle after a long day and fail to put the effort in. But all miles count for something and in my heyday I was commuting 36 miles a day around night shifts which quickly boosted my yearly miles. Aside from that not owning a car means many trips to town, friends or the shops are done by bike and if I have a meeting away I will opt for a train/bicycle combination.
This goes someway to a baseline fitness, but in reality I suspect more comes from our consistent riding on events and holidays. We love a good cycle tour and in the Summer months usually find a couple of weekends to fill up our panniers and disappear into the sunset. A (usually) full calendar of tempting audax events also lures us in as we conveniently forget the ” never again ” we cried the previous year. Aside from 2020 we have completed an Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400 and 600km event) every year after that first one and the jump in fitness is noticeable especially after we’ve recovered from the bigger rides.
But that leaves the challenge of the winter months. This is where staying bike fit really takes some focus and training tricks. Some years we have attempted the “Randonneur round the year” award where we must ride a 200km event every month and this encourages us to either book on events or make them up ourselves. Riding 200km in the winter is tough; cold, dark and all around a hard ride so there needs to be some motivation to do it. This year catching Covid19 in October left us still not healthy enough to complete a ride in November so the Challenge failed and we needed another goal. For me this was in the form of “riding home for Christmas” and the Festive 500km run by Rapha. “Riding home for Christmas” has become a bit of a tradition over the past few years, where we take the tandem from our home in Derby to my parents near Thatcham: a 135miles ride around what time I have off over Christmas, and then back again. The festive 500km is a fairy crazy challenge to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New year so riding home for Christmas is a great way to get the majority of this done. Despite an epic effort in awful weather last year to complete the challenge, Stevie wasn’t on form enough to undertake it this year so I decided to brave it alone. Its the furthest I’d ridden since October so made for a tough couple of days but a good way to kick-start training before the New Year.
Now the festivities are over it is time to build a more structured plan. The only time I have actually worked to a “training plan” was last year in the build up to my Coast to Coast run, which worked well in the end but certainly wasn’t the most professional approach. This year my aim is similar but with more cycling and less running. Having said that I’m still using running whilst daylight is short and the weather is icy as a great way to get shorter sessions in than if I went out on the bike. Cross-training has a lot of benefits in terms of cardiovascular fitness, using different muscle groups and, for me as a female especially, bone strength and density. I also practice yoga for improved strength and suppleness (and it helps keep me sane) so currently am aiming for a run and a yoga session a week. Then on top of my usual commute to work I am initially aiming for 1 longer ride per week, building gradually up over the next few months to 1 ultra long ride, 1 medium ride and a fast session per week as we get closer to June. This will have to be flexible around my work schedule (for example I work 1:4 Saturdays) and some weekends we will be looking to do back to back longer rides to build up endurance as well as fitness.
Recovery can be just as important too and the faster/higher intensity rides will need to be timed when our bodies are fresh to get the most benefit of pushing our upper end threshold. We will not be doing any super long 400km or 600km rides though as these are well beyond the remit of our daily planned mileage around the World and the recovery is just too long. Focusing and being faster and more efficient over a 200km or 110mile distance will be of more benefit as even though this is a distance we are already very comfortable with the faster we can go, the more time we will have for rest and recovery everyday.
This challenge is as much about the time off the bike as on it and the logistics and time taken to do tasks off the bike to allow us to rest sufficiently to ride strongly daily for 180 days. We are planning a “training trip” to test run out entire set up: packing, navigation, camping, cooking, charging devices and even updating blogs and social media on the road! Hopefully this will put us in a strong position of knowing how everything works before we leave and trimming down what we need and what we don’t. We are used to packing light on the bike but sometimes it’s hard to gauge the specifics you need until you are on the road.
Which leads us to another main issue: weight. The bike itself is of course a fixed weight but we then have two main variables: what we pack and how much we weigh. We are already sourcing specialist lightweight kit and are very grateful for companies who’s like Alpkit for their support with this and have a tremendous set of frame bags and panniers from Cycle Touring Adventures to pack it in.
But there will be some places e.g. the Nullabor plain in Australia where we will be carrying a significant weight of food and water. Obviously the weight on the bike is going to contribute to how much energy it takes to move it and the heavier the load the harder the handling and increased wear of component parts, especially on the back wheel. So we can make a significant difference ahead of our trip by controlling our own weight. I’m aware this can be a sensitive subject and there will be those that will be crying out that we are skinny enough already, to those that will know what it is to monitor your bodyweight to power ratio be conscious of the effects this has on top end performance and endurance (two very different things…). We certainly do not intend to set off looking like Chris Froome or like we are going to snap in two in a strong breeze; more and more RED (relative energy deficiency) syndrome in ultra-distance athletes is being talked about and this could have a negative effect on our performance as well as risk of injury or illness. But despite this we both know our bodies well enough to know that some weight loss before this trip will be of benefit- I was around the 57kg mark after the Christmas indulgence and although my lowest weight has been a potentially too lean 46kg. Around 50-53kg I know from experience will leave me plenty of strength and reserves but improves my performance and power to weight. I can be impressively efficient with food and my metabolism burns fat well (one large pizza once got me 140 miles…) so it will take a bit of care with my diet on and off the bike to keep it healthy and gradually reduce. I have gone down the route of specific fad diets before including the 5:2 diet, which at the time was a great way to learn how to deal with being hungry and not eating constantly, but nowadays feel its much healthier to eat lots of fruit and veg, avoid processed foods and aim for a healthy balance of different food groups depending on what I want my body to do that day- carbs for pre ride energy and protein for recovery. We mainly eat vegetarian home cooked meals on weekdays but our occasional pizza and curry blow outs at weekends will have to be saved for post ride treats too…
We love cooking!
I write this knowing opinions on this may vary and Mark Beaumont famously went around the World being not a dissimilar height from Stevie but 10kg heavier! But after several years of long distance riding we know what works for us and how we want to approach this (especially when we have to lug 20kg of water across the Nullabor…)
So with the training plan, test run and weight loss plan in place we have a structured timeline leading up to our trip. We will be looking for our speed to increase on set rides, our weight to drop and our recovery time to shorten. This may not be the most scientific ,or even the best approach, but we know what works for us and every attempted circumnavigation will be planned in a different manner so we must trust in our own processes to make it happen.