On Brutal Weekend, I am going to be riding 360km, with just under 5000m of climbing. It’s pretty difficult to try to recreate that level of endurance in training, but I needed to have a really long, all day ride that would give me some idea of how my body would react to such a long time in the saddle.
This weekend, I rode the West Yorkshire Cycle Route. The published route is 260km with over 5000m of climbing, so I reasoned I could add a flat loop at the end to make it up to 300km, and we would have a pretty decent race simulation.
It was a hot day, and I drank twelve bottles of water through the day – not including the cans of Coke and Irn Bru I bought at meal stops! I stopped in Marsden for breakfast (excellent crumpets at Mingles), and Haworth for lunch (a home made pork pie that was the best thing I have ever had in my mouth). That’s the plan for Brutal – use gels and bars but supplement with some real solid food, especially throughout the bike.
The route was fabulous. The first 80km was fairly familiar as I looped around South Elmsall and then west over Wolley Edge, Jebb Lane, and up to Hade Edge. I knew the climbing was only going to get tougher and, to be honest, I felt a bit crap in this first few hours. Maybe I just need three hours to warm up these days, because I really bucked up as we entered (for me) uncharted territory.
The second 100km consists of crazy climbing, and I spent 90% of the time in either the top or bottom gear – there was no middle ground. There are a few of the climbs which are included in the Ronde von Calderdale, taking you through Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge, and then you make your way slowly over Silsden to Ilkley. It was a hot day, and I was sweating so much that water was dripping out from my helmet into my face – I just kept drinking as much as I could.
Having climbed the Cow and Calf out of Ilkley before, I was almost relieved to see a familiar stretch of road after so many hours of magical mystery touring. I was also genuinely surprised at how short the climb felt. It’s a serious climb, but relatively dwarfed by some of the monsters I’d tackled earlier in the day.
From this point on, I got a little fast and loose with the official route. I had been following a map on my phone, but the battery was running very low so I decided to rely on the road signs that intermittently pointed me along the route. There were one or two junctions where the sign was either absent or well enough camouflaged that I missed it. At any rate, I knew that I had to climb up to Chevin Edge – another climb that seemed a lot less challenging today than on previous occasions – and then loop around north Leeds towards home.
I’m making it sound like I was on the home straight, but I still had to do 100km to make up the distance. Although the worst of the climbing was over, I knew I still had four hours left in the saddle. I stopped for more water and treated myself to a Mars bar.
The last section was surprisingly pleasant as the miles ticked away much more easily and painlessly then they had in the hills. I took the inclines easy and managed to get down on my aerobars on the flatter sections. A minor panic occurred as my watch started to tell me that its battery was running low, but I made it to 300km with a short diverting loop around Normanton, and reached home in one piece.
After the ride, my legs were certainly tired, but not completely destroyed. I had a tender undercarriage, but the most painful part of my body was my neck and shoulders, which were very stiff. As I tried to get comfortable on the settee watching the Tour de France, I wondered to myself how climbing Snowdon would go down right now…
This was, however, an important milestone in my training, more psychologically than physically. I am now comfortable that I will get to T2 on Brutal weekend, and I'm a lot less worried about Saturday’s riding than I was before. Sunday’s running is another thing, but that’s to deal with on another training day.