Variation on a Theme

Variety has been the theme for this week’s cycle training. First the Wattbike at home, then cycling along a stretch of the East Coast of Scotland and finally a few days cycling in Madrid. The training mileage wasn’t high, compared to some recent weeks but over a variety of terrains, in a variety of conditions, it has certainly proved to be a valuable training experience. 

A great training tool during the winter months, the Wattbike is a firm favourite amongst the team. It can however, be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security on the Wattbike. It is stable and secure, rooted on one spot, so whilst not impossible, falling off is improbable! Because of this stability, the Wattbike doesn’t provide the same amount of balance related practice. There is no traffic to contend with and no danger of being knocked off balance by pedestrians, dogs or other road users. It’s always warm, there’s no wind and no chance of rain on a Wattbike, so there is no need to second guess what the Great British weather might throw our way and gauge the right clothing to wear. Preparation is easy. There is no need to plan a route, programme a navigation device or check tyre pressures. There is no chance of a puncture on a Wattbike, even when cycling over the rough terrain of Zwift’s Wattopia and reaching speeds of 50km/hr brings no fear of hitting a pothole and coming flying off it. It’s the perfect training tool except for the fact that we are not doing the challenge on a Wattbike and training over different terrains in different conditions will each present different challenges, so we need gain experience in as many of these environments as possible before we set off. The Wattbike does however allow us to cycle when the climate might dictate otherwise, it is convenient, it can be as physically demanding as we choose and is a great adjunct to outdoor training.

This week’s training started on the Wattbike with a couple of short, a safe, enjoyable, high intensity rides. This was followed a couple of days later by some cycling along the East Coast of Scotland in a variety of conditions and weather (see previous blog) and finally a few days cycling in Madrid.

Arriving in Madrid to find a sunny, 230C warmth, was in stark contrast to the blustery 10C experienced when I left Scotland a few short hours before. We hired some bikes, an experience which in itself served to reinforce the importance of how much a good bike fit, a good saddle fit and a well maintained bike contribute to an enjoyable and confident cycle. All three were lacking on my hire bike! Not to be deterred, we confidently planned a 40km route from the bike hire shop, taking in the Parque Case de Campo and ending up at our hotel. We confidently uploaded the route to our respective Garmin devices and set off in the glorious sunshine. The holder on my hire bike would only mount my Garmin sideways which added an interesting element to following the route but even with my reputation for being able to get lost anywhere, I was confident I could follow the route. However, it wasn’t long before we encountered problems with our Garmin’s continually redirecting us through the park each time we tried to leave. We were in no hurry, we could spend time resetting our Garmins, adapting the route, taking numerous wrong turns and ending up in the same place multiple times, so it wasn’t a problem. Fast forward to Day One of Bike to Barcelona, we need our GPS devices tried, tested and fully loaded. We won’t have the luxury of spending time familiarising ourselves with our navigation devices, we have a tough schedule to get through and setting off on time will be important as will not spending unnecessary time and energy on the wrong route!

If I’d realised what followed next, I might not have tried so hard to emerge from the tranquility of the park! A 10km cycle through the rush hour traffic of central Madrid was an experience I won’t be repeating any time soon. Having survived the experience (not something I took for granted), I reached our hotel absolutely exhausted. The mental as well as physical demands of cycling in a busy, chaotic and noisy environment cannot be underestimated. Give me my Wattbike anytime! There will be many challenges as we cycle to Barcelona, I don’t want a crisis of confidence to be one of them, so I placated myself with the knowledge that this was another valuable training experience. and that very little of our Bike to Barcelona challenge will actually be in busy city centre environments.  

This week also confirmed for me, how Parkinson’s symptoms and their variability and unpredictability add a considerable challenge to cycling, particularly over long distances. This has become more noticeable as the condition progresses and can have a negative impact on confidence. At my best, my balance is steady, confidence good, posture symmetrical, reaction time reliably good and the enjoyment I get from cycling, great. Within minutes, I can find myself unsteady, unable to balance, brake, or change gear as well as I might like to. It is at this time that my posture drops on one side, my energy levels drop and my thinking becomes as slow as my pedalling. Those of us doing the challenge with Parkinson’s will each have our own experiences of how it impacts on our cycling but suffice to say, it will add another dimension to the Bike to Barcelona challenge as we each try to minimise the impact of these symptoms by ensuring we keep sufficiently rested, relaxed and hydrated, that our nutrition and medications are juggled appropriately and that we can relax and enjoy the challenge. Which takes me back again to our tour leader, Steve’s words of wisdom. ‘Never has anyone ever complained that they trained too hard for a challenge.’ So, I shall be training hard this week out on my familiar local roads, which might be easier than it is for our Canadian teammates!

Jim Lawrence. Brighton to Barcelona team member.

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