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Making (very) slow but steady progress, training for the RAB

We’ll get there, Deloitte, honest…

When you sign up for the nine-day Deloitte Ride Across Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats, you need to be prepared to train for it, and to make sure you’re on track you have to fill in a progress report type thing. That was emailed to me a few weeks ago, but I’ve put off filling it in because… I’m not quite there yet.

A bit like last year, when we – hubby and I – were training for just the four days of riding across Scotland, this time round we’re training for three days. If you don't want to do the whole challenge in one go, it's now split as a six-day England leg, Land’s End to Edinburgh, and a three-day Scotland leg, Edinburgh to John o’Groats.

(Quick recap: in 2017 we started in Land’s End and had to pull out in Penrith; last year we started in Penrith and rode to Edinburgh but again had to pull out; this year we’re starting again where we left off – third time lucky.)

Deloitte RAB Scotland!

So, after training last year for ‘just four days’, this year it's ‘only three days – how hard can it be?’. We've certainly been out there, getting the miles in, and the hills in, in the rain and the sun, but we possibly haven't done quite enough, yet.

Riders – certainly those doing the full nine days – are (strongly) encouraged to complete at least one 80+ miler ahead of the event (for some riders the first day, from Land’s End to Okehampton, is the first time they've ridden 100 miles in a day). We’ve done a few 60-milers, and got to 84 once, but we really ought to be doing that kind of mileage more regularly. 

It's also wise to have ridden some back-to-back rides. Long rides. And we haven't. (Our commutes probably don't count – even if the homeward journey has horrible Hinton Hill at the end.) 

It’s not that we don’t want to – the idea really appeals. I frequently flick through my lovely Lost Lanes West book and feel inspired by Jack Thurston’s words and pics to ride off down leafy country lanes, stop for lunch in a nice old pub, book a room in a quaint B&B…

It’s just that the usual things get in the way: chores, children, dog, garden, other people’s demands. 

Another problem is that, in our heads we think we can do it. We’ve done five hard days before. We did one long day last year. We can keep turning the pedals. It's only three days…

We’ve got a couple of strategies – though they’re slightly at odds. One is, do hills. It's quite hard not to where we live. We’ve got a 20ish-mile route up and down the hills around Bath, totting up something like 2,000-2,500ft of climbing. That’s almost Cornwall levels!

My preferred strategy is to go on longer rides to nice places. Be tempted to get on my bike not just to put in the miles, or get up the hills, but to enjoy the ride.

Occasionally, the two have collided: a 45-mile ride on lovely lanes through pretty villages to Bruton and back also involved 4,500ft of climbing (and some huge views). 

Brutal to Bruton.jpg

Actually, there’s a third strategy… go slow, turn the pedals, enjoy the ride. The furthest we’ve ridden so far is to Salisbury and back, down the lovely Wylye valley (again). It coincided with hubby’s Cannondale needing a new back wheel, so he rode his Kinesis G2 gravel bike. Comfy tyres, slower paced, sarnies by the cathedral, cakes in Wilton… It poured with rain on the way home, but it was relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t even think our average speed was down by that much.

Don't get me wrong, I love a fast descent and whizzing along on the flat with a tailwind, though it's usually a headwind – I even like the challenge of a steep climb – but sometimes it's nice to go slow.

Just last weekend, for example, our daughter Izzy was home and keen to join us on our regular 30-mile Longleat loop. It’s the first time she’s been on a bike for about three years, and the first time in about 10 years she’s ridden just for pleasure. (She might argue it wasn’t all pleasure.) Our average speed dropped to about 10mph, but as we pootled along we chatted, we looked at the scenery, we stopped for drinks and food… (though not the coffee and cake we’d planned to have at Longleat – cyclists aren’t welcome in the cafe unless they’ve paid the £30-odd entry fee).

Tass + Izzy.JPG

It reminded me of the 50-mile Wye Valley Warrior ride I did years ago with our other daughter, Harry – the slowest but one of the most pleasurable sportives I’ve ridden. We rode slowly, we stopped on hills and rested when she needed to, we took our time at the feedstops… we enjoyed the ride.

I know it’s going to be hard in September and we do need to up our training – we’re talking 119 miles on the middle day, including climbing up The Lecht early on in the morning – but we’ve got 12 hours in which to do them. As long as we’ve completed each day between the hours of 7am and 7pm, all will be fine.

Now, where did I put that copy of Lost Lanes, I've got a two-day ride to plan…

• Entries for the 2020 Deloitte Ride Across Britain, 5-13 September, are now open:

Tass is our production pedant, who boldly goes hunting for split infinitives, rogue apostrophes and other things up with which she will not put. She joined in 2015 but first began working on bike magazines way back in 1991 as production editor on Mountain Biking UK, then deputy editor of MTB Pro, before changing allegiance to road cycling as senior production editor on Cycling Plus. She's ridden off-road but much prefers on, hasn't done half the touring she'd like to, and loves paper maps.

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alltalk | 4 years ago

Having done RAB 2018 I agree with most of the comments - not doing 100 mile rides as training is a little naive.  If your first 100 miler is Cornwall on day 1 you're likely to be in trouble.  Back to backs are a must, just so you know how it feels to get back on the bike - London revolution was a great event for me as it gave me confidence and stamina.

I did hear a of people who said they trained at quite a slow pace which was also a worry, it does put a lot of pressure on so I think if you do a number of 40mile rides at a high pace (my Sunday club rides are really quite punishing)  when you get on the RAB and knock it back a bit suddenly a reasonable pace becomes comfortable.

... which leads me to hills which I think are overated  ... I live in Cambridgeshire !!!!! and was fine .... I did a couple of trips to the chilterns but with the right gearing and the knowledge that you can go hard for short periods you get up them.



paulrattew | 4 years ago

Having done the full route last year (and north to south way back in 2013) the one thing I recommend to everyone is to do as much hill training as possible. The cairngorms broke a lot of people last year, with the sweep coach being full relatively early on days 7 and 8. Getting lots of vertical ascent in your training will stand you in much better stead than distance, even though you will be doing 3 days of well over 100 miles a day - especially as you know based on experience you can gut out the distance side of things. 

Day 7 was over 2,300 metres of climbing, with 3 big climbs towards the end of the day (the first of which is the Cairnwell, taking you up to the Glenshee Ski Station - a massive climb in UK terms). Day 8 was over 2000 metres of climbing, and kicked off with the frankly brutal climb of The Lecht (which forced well over half the riders to walk sections). Day 9 was only about 1,400 metres of climbing, but there are four unpleasant climbs in short succession after Bettyhill. 

So many of the people who ended up being swept last year would have been fine on the old route, but the new route with all the difficult climbing through the Cairngorms is so much harder. 

I hope everything goes well for you this year - you deserve some good luck!

Oh, one more bit of advice (not that you need it) - warm cycling kit! It got down to freezing overnight in the caringorms - loads of people didn't seem to have suitable kit to deal with the 10/12C+ temperature swings

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