Friday, 26 October 2012

Killer Welsh Hills and Testing Times

Early October and it was time for me to go over and see Simon at Total Cycling Performance for my mid training programme assessment. When I say "mid" it was actually about three weeks late due to me having been on holiday and deciding that I was going to re-complete the the two weeks of my programme that I had missed and the week immediately prior to me going on holiday as I wasn't happy with the levels of training I had completed in those weeks. An overview of the training I managed to complete whilst on holiday can be found here "August training update"

In addition to completing the assessment to see if my performance and fitness were improving, Simon and I decided we should try and complete a ride utilising some of the hills that are right on his doorstep on the same day (this was a ride that we had arranged previously and cancelled due to bad weather and had subsequently been unable to re-arrange)

When I arrived on the day it was at worst a "a little on the damp side" with a bit of mist and drizzle in evidence, not enough to abort the ride and with both of us keen to get out on the road we wasted no time in putting my bike together and setting off.

Simon informed me that we would probably only be going about 30 miles, however he had planned in some nice hills to see how my climbing ability was progressing.

The killer Welsh hills waiting for the Pixie  

If you ever go for a ride with Simon and you start from his premises, be warned, there is no warm up in the ride before you start climbing - its basically uphill as soon as you clip into your pedals! Within 0.4 miles we were on a gentle 7.5% incline as we made our way to the start of the ride proper.
I have to say that at this point I was a little apprehensive as my heart rate was merrily skipping along at around 155 beats per minute and I was already having to ease my pace up to manage it in the way Simon had taught me to in order to avoid "blowing up" early in the ride.

At around 2.5 miles we arrived at the bottom of the first serious climb of the day, the "Maerdy Road" Simon had warned me that parts of this climb were over 14% and that it was a longish climb of around 2.75-3 miles of varying degrees of difficulty with some "alpine" hairpin bends thrown in for good measure. It was at this point that the weather changed and it went from being "a little on the damp side" to "very, very wet" It's safe to say that as we climbed up this hill I was glad that I had left my 12-30 rear cassette on and hadn't changed it out for the new 12-27 I had sitting on the workbench at home!

Maerdy road hairpin bends - very steep on the inside! 

The picture above shows one of the hairpin bends on the Maerdy road with Aberdare in the background, and its a whole lot harder riding up this hill than it is riding up the hill in a bus! According to my Strava data the elevation gain on this hill was around 759 feet.

As this was the first real climb of the day I found it encouraging that I was able to maintain a good average speed and most importantly have enough power in reserve to be able to manage my pace and therefore my heart rate to keep it below my lactic threshold. It's true you know, hills are much easier to climb in a low gear with a high cadence rate - Again it seems that Simon knows what he is talking about! - No more gear grinding for the Pixie.
The Maerdy road from about halfway up

Once up on top of the hill, the rain was properly "lashing down" and the sky was a nice shade of dark grey, however that didn't detract from the fast descent down into Maerdy which highlighted how woefully inadequate the Tektro brake calipers on the Secteur are and how much a bike moves around (even in a straight line) when the road is basically awash with water - All excellent and exciting stuff! 

Our ride continued for a further five miles until I found myself turning onto an ominously steep looking road, we had arrived at the bottom of the Penrhys Road. My Strava data from the ride tells me that this hill starts out at around 12% increases to 14% and reduces back down to around 11.5% (its always nice when a hills steepness reduces towards the end of the climb!)

Of course "what goes up, must come down" and the reward for toiling up one side was a glorious descent down into Treorchy. Again this descent showed me that if I was going to ride the hills through the winter, I would need to do something about my brakes which were largely ineffective in this amount of rain.

A brisk ride through Treorchy brought us to the bottom of the Rhigos, which heralded the start of a steady 4 mile climb to the top with an elevation gain of circa 1011 feet. The climb to the top of the Rhigos from Treorchy is best described as a steady "grind" at its steepest its around 13% but on the whole its generally between 5 and 7.5% and the hardest part of the climb is the fact that you can see it stretching out for miles in front of you.

The Rhigos from Treorchy 
I had originally planned to ride the Rhigos with Simon in July so in a weird kind of way I was actually quite looking forward to riding this particular hill and having driven up and down it with Simon earlier in the year I sort of knew what to expect. Due to the nature of the climb I didn't find it necessary to resort to my lowest gears for much of the climb and found that I was able to keep my heart rate around 140-145 beats per minute for the majority of the climb, which I was quite pleased with. Chatting to Simon on the way up the climb revealed that their was little difference in our respective heart rates when travelling at the same speed on the climb, which again I was quite pleased with.

It's bleak at the top of the Rhigos on a "dark and brooding" day

By the time we arrived at the top of the Rhigos the weather had improved and it had stopped raining just in time for the the fast descent down into Hirwaun. The descent down the other side of the Rhigos culminates in a mile long long straight piece of road which is graded at around 5-6% that allows the rider to build up some speed and recover from the climb that has just been completed - Again exciting and exhilarating stuff! 

You can go very fast going down this part of the Rhigos! 

Our ride finished off with a brisk paced 3 mile run back to Simon's premises, most of which was either flat or slightly downhill and very welcome after the rain soaked climbs completed earlier in the day.

Strava Profile Data For Complete Ride

Simon is planning to run either a guided "VIP" ride or Sportive next year of around 100-120 mile duration using these and many other hills in the area as part of the course and if you are in training for a major European or UK sportive that takes in hilly terrain I would recommend joining Simon on his ride as it really will be an excellent training opportunity.  

Once we got back to Simon's and had changed into dry clothes it was time to get on with the business of testing whether all the training I had been completing had improved my strength and cycling performance, compared to the results that had been attained during my intitial assessment in July (details of my intial assessment can be found here )   

The following is a snap shot of the results achieved during the reassessment. I think it's fair to say that both Simon and I were happy with the improvements given that immediately prior to completing the tests I had just ridden 30 miles across undulating terrain, in very wet and windy conditions. 

  • 110kg increase in leg press strength
  • Power to weight ratio of legs now 4.30
  • Total of 17 pounds in weight lost
  • 5.6 pounds of muscle gained
  • Net weight loss 12 pounds
  • 10mph increase in sustainable road speed
  • Post ride blood lactate level 4Mmol (indicating ability to hold increased speed at an aerobic level) 
As always, I had a thoroughly enjoyable and informative day with Simon and as I write this I am well into the second eight week block of my plan. Will I be going back for more "Welsh hill action"? - Absolutely, I need to be riding more and more on hills like the ones I rode with Simon if I am to ride l'etape in a credible manner and I will be making regular visits to the area over the next few months.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read the Pixies ramblings and I hope you are able to come back again in the near future.

Dha weles diwettha



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