May 3, 2012

Ride Hard to Breathe Easy: the final week (and a bit)

It was a good thing I’d already completed the Ride Hard to Breathe Easy Challenge before the final week of April. The first five days of that final week were extremely quiet cycling-wise and, in fact, it wasn’t until the weekend that I managed to get back out on the road.

But when I did, it was certainly worth the wait.

Marcus (left) and Fletch (right) laying down some pain near the Brisbane Ranges.

Sunday April 22 to Friday April 27

Rather than write a separate entry about each of the six days from Sunday to Friday I thought I’d sum them up in one short phrase: no riding. A combination of rain, early mornings at work, after-work engagements and, to be honest, a little bit of laziness saw me take six full days off the bike. Not ideal.

That said, I did get to a leg-smashing spin class on Tuesday afternoon which had me feeling as if I was about to become reacquainted with my lunch. Sadly, spin-class kilometres don’t count toward Ride Hard to Breathe Easy and so, for the first six days of week four I didn’t add to my total of 904km.

Day 28: Saturday April 28

Ride: Laps of the Brunswick Velodrome and Sharon’s first ride
Distance: 48.2km (952km total)

After six days off the bike I was starting to get pretty antsy. So when the weather fined up on Saturday afternoon I headed out to the B’Drome to get in a few laps. I’d been having a bit of trouble with my saddle being uncomfortable — putting pressure in all the wrong areas — and so I took the trip to the ‘drome as an opportunity to make some adjustments and test them as I went.

Rather than go for a single-lap PB I thought I’d see how quickly I could do five laps (roughly 1.6km). I managed 2 minutes 33 seconds on my first try. The second time around I was keen to go under 2 minutes 30 seconds (30 seconds per lap) and I did, posting a time of 2 minutes 27 seconds.

This was an average speed of around 39km/h and I reckon I can go faster than that without too many problems. I’d be interested to see how some of the Equipo Tranquilo boys go with that challenge, Fletch, Douggie and the Donvale Demon in particular.

After getting back home my partner Sharon and I headed out for a quick ride down the local bike track. This was significant because it was Sharon’s first bike ride since she was a kid. We took it nice and slow and Sharon did a great job. It was only a very short ride — 8km — but Sharon seemed to enjoy it. Hopefully we’ll be able to ride together more often.

Day 29: Sunday April 29

Ride: Brisbane Ranges loop, including Balliang, Meredith and Anakie
Distance: 102km (1,054km total)

The start of the Glenmore Ride climb, made (in)famous by the Hell of the West.

I’d always wanted to ride in the Brisbane Ranges west of Melbourne so when Marcus Nyeholt, a mate from Twitter with whom I’d ridden a couple of times before, said he was heading out there, I was keen to join him.

We were supposed to have a fairly large group for the day — Marcus, myself, the Demon, Brendan, Fletch, Douggie and Marcus’ mate Chris. But in the end it was just four of us that made the drive out to Balliang East: Marcus, Fletch, Douggie and myself.

After a few introductions we set off, following, more or less, the route from the Hell of the West a week earlier. All four of us had been keen to ride in the race but had missed out due to entries selling out within a day or so. So, without the pressure of race conditions, we decided to try out some of the roads ridden during the race.

At least you get plenty of warning.

The ride started with a cruisy 20-odd kilometres along some basically flat roads as we approached the biggest obstacle we would face all day: the Glenmore Road climb. It’s only 1km long but, thanks partly to Shane Miller’s terrific account of Hell of the West, we knew it was going to hurt. Not surprising when you consider it rises at an average of 13% with several ramps above 20%.

I was pretty keen to have a good hard crack at the climb and see where my legs were at. As soon as we started to climb I put my head down and went as hard as I could manage. For most of the climb my heartrate hovered about 190BPM and on several occasions it peaked at 196BPM — the highest I’ve ever seen. And while my heartrate was high and I was doing everything I could to get enough oxygen on board, my legs felt strong.

One of the hardest parts about climbing a road that steep is the act of simply keeping the front wheel on the ground. It seemed as if my front tyre was lifting a centimetre or two off the ground with every pedal stroke. Loose gravel on the road didn’t help with traction either.

I crested the hill in 5 minutes 26 seconds, putting me in the top 30 out of roughly 110 on Strava. Marcus, Fletch and Douggie joined me a short time later and we pushed on.

At the end of Glenmore Road we turned left on to Geelong-Ballan Road and found ourselves riding into a strong headwind. Those next few kilometres were pretty challenging as we tried to keep up a good tempo while fighting against the breeze.

Douggie (left) and Fletch (right) tapping it out.

One of the things that stands out about the Brisbane Ranges is the steepness of the climbs. There don’t seem to be many long, gentle climbs, rather it’s all about short, sharp rises. We faced one of these climbs as we neared Meredith, shortly after enjoying a nice fast descent. That’s the other thing about the Brisbane Ranges — no free descents. If you’ve just been descending, chances are you’ll be climbing straight back up in no time.

We stopped in Meredith to fuel up on such healthy options as spring rolls, dim sims and chicko rolls. Much was made of Douggie’s decision to down an epic-looking milkshake, having been sucked in by a “Sale! Milkshakes $3.50!” sign on the front door of the general store. Some speculated that ingesting such a large volume of milk mid-ride would have had Douggie painting the pavement in no time, but to his credit he managed to keep it all down.

After leaving Meredith we headed south east toward Steiglitz. This was probably the most enjoyable part of the ride (apart from the Glenmore Road climb) thanks to some quiet, narrow roads and some challenging little climbs. We faced several steep descents followed by sharp climbs with the most challenging being the De Motts Road climb. It might have only been a kilometre long (if that) but the average gradient of 10%+ certainly didn’t tickle.

With Douggie's bike out of action, it was just Marcus (left), Fletch (right) and I for the last 35km.

As Marcus, Fletch and I reached the top of the climb we turned around to see if Douggie was far behind but he was nowhere to be seen. Sure enough Fletch’s phone rang and it was Douggie. He was climbing the steep pinch when he broke a spoke on his back wheel, meaning he had to walk his bike up the hill to meet us. More worryingly, we were still 30km (at least) from the car and Douggie’s bike was unrideable.

He decided to call a taxi to take him back to Balliang East and so Marcus, Fletch and I continued on, getting to Anakie and turning left up toward Balliang. Straight out of Anakie the road starts climbing and rather than heading back toward the car we took the advice of David Blom who’d emailed me earlier in the week with a suggestion.

He recommended following the Geelong-Ballan Road to take in the 3.8km climb that features in the Tour of Geelong. Now I’d like to tell myself that I was worn out from my hard effort on the Glenmore Road climb earlier in the day and that’s why Marcus and Fletch smashed me. The truth is, they’re probably both just stronger than me and I wasn’t able to keep up on the climb.

At the top we turned around, came back down and took a left turn back toward the car. It was a cruisy, flat 23km from there to Balliang East and yet I really struggled to keep up. Fletch had said to me not long before that I was looking far stronger on the flats but he might have jumped the gun. On several occassions I found myself hanging off the back, unable to keep up with the cracking pace being set by Marcus and Fletch.

Hanging on for dear life as Marcus and Fletch set a cracking pace.

On the final stretch of the ride we can across Douggie who had been dropped off at the car and changed his back wheel. We swept him up and rode back to the car to complete the ride. I left Balliang East feeling pretty smashed, not used to the high tempo being set by the other guys. I’ve got a lot of work to do to get to their level in the flatlands, that’s for sure.

An otherwise terrific ride was marred slightly by growing concern about my uncomfortable saddle. Despite a range of tweaks and adjustments I just can’t seem to stay comfortable and the resultant numbness is very troubling. It’s even more troubling given that it’s started happening out of nowhere, after several years of cycling.

Day 30: Monday April 30

Ride: To and from work, via physio
Distance: 19km (1.073km total)

With one day to go and 1,054km complete I’d thought about pushing for the 1,100km mark. In the end laziness and a lack of daylight won out. I rode straight to work for an early morning meeting and on the way home I rode to physio in East Melbourne and straight home from there.

It would seem that my ITB is definitely on the mend but that I’ve still got work to do in strengthening up my weak glutes. When I spoke to my physio about the uncomfortable saddle issue he suggested I head to Beasley Cycles in Footscray to get fitted for a Specialized cut-out saddle.

I think I’ll do that this weekend as it’s seriously diminshing my enjoyment on the bike. I don’t know if being worried about it is making it seem worse than it is, but I’m not going to hang around to find out.

Ride Hard to Breathe Easy complete!

And that’s it. April was all about riding 800km in order to support Ride Hard to Breathe Easy in their endeavours to raise awareness about lung cancer. In the end I covered 1,073km — an average of roughly 265km a week — and, hopefully, introduced a few people to this great cause.

If you get a couple of minutes, it’s worth checking out some of the amazing numbers on the Strava challenge’s overall leaderboard. Nearly 4,900 riders took part in the challenge and, together, we covered more than 3.8 million kilometres — a wonderful effort and one that was well in excess of the organisers’ expectations.

I’ve mentioned him a couple of times in the past few weeks but credit must again go to Guido Gadomsky from Perth who clocked up the most kilometres for the month. In 40 rides over 30 days Guido clocked up an astonishing 4,042km — more than 1,000km a week and more than five times the target distance. His longest ride? A lazy 358km spin up and down the Kwinana Highway south of Perth. Incredible.

Thanks to Ride Hard to Breathe Easy and Strava for putting on this terrific challenge and well done to everyone that competed. It was a great month’s riding and a satisfying way for me, personally, to keep my fitness up post-3-Peaks.

Now I just need something else to focus on …

If you’d like to stay up to date with the fantastic work being done by Ride Hard to Breathe Easy please visit their website.

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7 Comments

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  1. lefthandside / May 4 2012

    Interesting post, Matt – the glenmore road climb is a goodie (I was one of the ones who got their entries in for Hell of the West). An absolute screamer if you go hard – I certainly learned a lesson (again) during the D grade race this year. http://gobravedave.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/nc-2012-hell-of-the-west-by-lachlan-harrison-smith/

    Sorry to hear you’re having trouble with your saddle. They can wear out and as another poster above has said, the shape can change to make you settle into it a bit more and sit differently. +1 on the specialized romin (I still get a sore butt on long rides – doesn’t everybody? maybe i’ll try a toupe next time). other people rave about the selle SMP saddles though i’ve always been scared by the confusing sizing/range (maybe those in Sydney who’ve been to see Steve Hogg can comment).

    off to try skenes creek this weekend as it’s on your ‘must climb’ list. spent last weekend up in Bright climbing all the old faves. love your site – keep the posts coming.

    • Matt / May 4 2012

      Great stuff LHS – thanks! I’ll be sure to read your post from HotW – I can only imagine it was all kinds of hellish racing up that climb!

  2. Tanya Bosch / May 3 2012

    Thanks for making us aware of the challenge. I will definitely do it next year. I used to compete against Karen on the velodrome. With all your climbing and the physio exs the way you sit on the bike will change

  3. kosh / May 3 2012

    I too started to experience numbness when cycling. Either my body changed – which is possible, as we age – or perhaps all the cycling had slowly induced chronic nerve or vascular damage. Anyhow, at the insistence of my concerned wife I went scouting for saddles that had been designed to relieve this condition. There are a few on the market, the ISM Adamo, the Cobb V-Flow, the Specialized Toupe & Romin, maybe a couple of others I looked at too.

    Saddles are a very personal selection so what works for me may not work for you, but my choice ended up being the Romin. A bit heavier that my previous San Marco but still with good racing lines and that all-important central cutout.

    The other thing that could have happened is that your saddle has collapsed a little at the wings (many do so with use), you are now bearing more weight on soft tissues rather than your sitting bones, and you just need a new one.

    • Matt / May 3 2012

      This is valuable insight – thanks Kosh. :)

  4. norm / May 3 2012

    Nice post Matt. Do you have a separate bike for track days at the velodrome? And I’m also having trouble with my saddle as well… has your riding style changed recently?

    • Matt / May 3 2012

      Hey norm — good to hear from you. :) Nope, just the one bike for me. And as for my riding style, I’m not really sure. I don’t think so?

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