Odd year. A year of two distinct halves.
January through June we’re dominated by the one thing, the Tour Divide. Nothing else mattered. Work, nope. Friends, nope. Family, nope. Home…well yes, the only thing that mattered except training was homelife and future plans. Oddly, this near sole focus had little impact on the rest of my “normal” outside appearance. A bit slimmer, a bit less prone to staying out late, a little more inclined to eat anything that wasn’t kept firmly in your grasp and out of my face. All in all, it really wasn’t that much of a burden training for the Divide. Surprisingly, I got to ride with some real friends, people I don’t get to spend much time with but want to, they became the focus for free time. It oddly coincided with making some new friends, one of whom I’ve respected for years and only known from afar.
Perhaps the knowledge that I was committed to this path over the past two years made the transition from JRA, to training with no other goal that mattered, easy. Dropping climbing, running everything bar riding-working-riding-recovering every day simplified my life to a manner that I’d not appreciated since I’d stopped doing longer seasons dirtbagging in the mountains. The simplicity of focusing one one thing above all else, with total commitment was releasing, and I’d not realised it, addictive.
The peak training load for the year was a two week period where I had aimed to do two back to back 40 hour training weeks, while working my normal 40 hour week. 25 hours of each of these weeks would be fit in Monday – Friday with over 4 hours riding each day. When they came around I was surprised at how easy they were to knock out without impacting my day job. Next time, I’ll aim for more, and significantly faster training speeds.
I clocked up a decent training volume during the first 6 months of the year – just over 10,000km distance and 115,000m of elevation. I hit my lowest race weight of 76kg (I’m 183cm tall) without getting sick – something that I’ve hit before for peak races, but never managed to not get sick directly after the event. My body fat hit the lowest I’ve recorded it at, 7.5%. I came back from the Divide the same weight, but a lower BF percentage having gained 1.5kg of muscle. I’d be doubtful I’ll be able to pull that off again.
The latter part of the year was interesting for it’s own sake. Previous experience of training with a level of deep commitment to one goal has allowed me to recognise with age that I fall off a veritable mental cliff when the goal has passed. It doesn’t matter if I succeeded or failed. I will fall off this edge. It will not be pretty. All I can do now is pre-create a method to slow my decent, and then cushion the inevitable crash landing.
I was worried about how bad the fall was going to be after the Divide. That ride has been in my head since 2011. It was executed faster than planned, but not as fast as it could have been by a stretch of the imagination. The drogue chute was two weeks in the USA getting used to being a human again with the aid of my wife. Slowing the initial momentum. Two weeks sleeping, road-tripping, hiking and relaxing through movement and quiet places. Three weeks after that a 50 mile ultra-marathon in the Lake District provided the parachute that helped slow the descent further.
After the Lakeland 50 I was good to stop. My body was happy that it could take a break from competitive movement, it just wanted to move differently. The crashmat was weekend after weekend running and walking in the Lakes, the odd long bike ride with friends, a few fell races, and a trip to Scotland to visit Jura. Alcohol may also have been involved. Usually in surprisingly small quantities before I failed to deal with it. Cheap date.
I was lucky to be invited to take a role as an instructor for the FRA on their navigation course earlier in the year. For all the years I’ve spent moving in the mountains I never realised how much I’d taken it for granted. Years of gameplay in Scouts taught me to navigate by feel, and taking it out into the wild became something I just did. I took the opportunity to try and give this back to people and help them learn how to get in, and out, of the places they want to go to. A mental distraction that was needed.
The highlight of the second part of the year was without a doubt a return to mountain marathon racing. I’d not done one in over 10 years, and when my wife had jokingly suggested we do the OMM for our wedding anniversary (her having never done one) it was a matter of moments before I’d entered us as a team and refused to withdraw – not that it was suggested really. The OMM in Glentrool was a total blast, we didn’t take it seriously, enjoyed it, and yet still placed competitively despite a minor medical issue in the background that kept us at a slower pace than normal.
I did very little riding in the second part of the year, I think only around 350km excluding day to day commuting distance. I ran over 700km and I still managed to clock another 35,000m of climbing – mostly on foot. I managed to clock the highest weight I’ve been since my PhD ended at 86kg. We won’t talk about BF percentages, lets just say it’s not muscle that I gained. To top it off, I finished the year with a lower limb stress fracture. But we bought a home. C’est la vie.
It’s already been an odd year. Not being able to define myself by how I chose to live, movement, has been a challenge. 19 days in and I’ve ridden twice. Yet to run. Yet to climb. Yet to do anything really physical. But, there are other things to focus on for now. Both will have an impact on my long term goals and outlooks. Both are positive. One is possible, one is inevitable. Both, exciting in their own way.
I don’t really have any aims for this year that feel like they come close to the scope or commitment of the Divide. I want to ride my bike in nice places at speed. I want to run in the mountains for longer and higher than I’ve done before. I want to give something more back to the communities that have created me. I want to take more, and better, photos than I did last year. Yes I will race both foot and bike. But it’s a longer term goal now. Physical conditioning for 2018 when I plan to go back, and finish much, much faster.