Ride Hard to Breathe Easy: week one

View from the Whitfield-Mansfield road.

In the four months after last year’s 3 Peaks Challenge I only rode my bike twice. After completing the epic task I’d set myself, I found my motivation waning and I had no real desire to get back on the bike.

This time around, I’m not letting my fitness go to waste. I’ve signed up for the Ride Hard to Breathe Easy challenge on Strava — a fabulous cause and one I’m proud to be raising awareness about.

The goal is simple: ride 800km in April. That boils down to more or less 200km a week. Now, with one week completed, I’ve ridden 341km and I’m well ahead of schedule. Here’s how I got there:

Day 1: Sunday April 1

Ride: Thornbury to Frankston, return (home via Eastlink)
Distance: 126km

The Donvale Demon (left), Brendan and Andy (right) on the way to the Eastlink Trail.

Andy van Bergen organised this ride as the official launch of the Ride Hard to Breathe Easy challenge. While there were only a handful of us there (including Brendan and the Donvale Demon) it was a great way to kickstart the month.

We worked our way through the city and headed out to Beach Road before bunching up and speeding down toward ‘Franga’. The low-point of the day came at the Mordialloc roundabout when the Demon and another rider in our small group collided, leaving them both on the tarmac. Fortunately no-one was injured and there seemed to be no serious damage to the bikes either.

By the time we reached Frankston and a quick break for food and drink (the dimmies were tempting) it was only myself, Brendan, Andy and the Demon remaining. Rather than heading straight back up Beach Road, we decided to try out the Eastlink Trail from start to finish.

We road back to Carrum along the beach and then turned inland, working our way toward the freeway trail. The surface for the first five-or-so kilometres was gravel and while it didn’t slow us down too much, Andy did sustain a puncture.

Once back on the bitumen it was time to ramp up the pace. All four of us spent some time at the front, driving hard as we followed the freeway north. The Demon did some particularly brutal turns out front, with a couple of us reckoning he must have been getting stronger the closer he got to his lair.

We followed the path through the Mullum Mullum Creek area with Andy producing some ridiculous efforts on the sharp climbs. Back at the front again, the Demon drove hard along the Koonung Trail, the rest of us trying desperately to hold on.

When I got home a little while later I was completely knackered. It was my first proper ride since 3 Peaks having taken three weeks of the bike and my lack of fitness was noticeable. Still, a great way to start the month and, as an added bonus, I didn’t get any ITB pain for the whole day. Perhaps I just need to stop climbing!

Andy (left) and Brendan (right) leaving Carrum on the gravel.

Day 2: Monday April 2

Ride: To and from work (home via East Melbourne)
Distance: 20km (146km total)

My morning ride was a boring-old work commute but the ride home was a little different. I went home via the East Melbourne clinic of the Olympic Park Sports Medicine Centre where I was booked in for a professional bike fit session.

The 90-minute session was packed with so much information and analysis of my bike and body that I’m sure I’ve forgotten much of what was said, but here are some points that stood out:

  • I have very weak glutes, hamstrings and ITBs thanks to my overzealous quads. It seems I prefer (subconciously) to get out of the saddle and mash down with my quads rather than letting other muscles do their share.
  • My core is very weak which is related to poor sitting and standing posture.
  • My right leg is 1cm longer than my left.
  • I’ve got a bunch of work to do to strengthen my glutes and associated muscle groups if I want to be able to ride without ITB pain.

By the end of the session I’d been given a bunch more stretches to do, my seat had been moved back a centimetre, down a centimetre and my handlebars had been moved up 15mm. By the end of the session my wallet was also several hundred dollars lighter – I’m just hoping it’s a worthwhile investment!

Day 3: Tuesday April 3

Ride: To and from work (return via Yarra Boulevard and North Fitzroy)
Distance: 48km (194km total)

Sunset from Yarra Boulevard.

Again my morning commute was nothing special, but the ride home was a bit more interesting. Brendan and I were planning to go to spin class at 7.30pm and we were keen to get in a few kilometres between work and the start of class.

While I was waiting for Brendan I did a couple of laps of the crit track loop near Johnston Street, wondering how on earth A-graders manage to average 40km/h+ around that track. Brendan and I then did one lap of the Boulevard as the sun set.

One lesson I learnt from Tuesday night was that the ‘Vard gets very dark after sundown. There are no street lights along there and our basic commuter lights did little to light the way. After completing the lap we headed back to Nicholson Street and up to North Fitzroy only to find that we were the only ones who had turned up for spin class. Not surprisingly, the class was cancelled and so Brendan and I rode home.

Sunset over the city.

Day 4: Wednesday April 4

No ride on Wednesday but the Demon, Fletch, Douggie and I did head along to the UCI Track Cycling World Championships at Hisense Arena. It was my first track cycling meet and, despite the roasting heat inside the arena, it was a great evening with some thrilling races. Exciting stuff!

Hisense Arena

Day 5: Thursday April 5

Ride: To work via Brunswick Velodrome and home via Merri Creek Trail
Distance: 35km (229km)

Early morning at the Brunswick Velodrome.

Inspired by the Track Cycling World Championships of the previous evening, I decided to start the day with a couple of laps of the nearby Brunswick Velodrome. After a bunch of warm-up laps (it was freezing) I went all-out for one lap and managed to average 47km/h. I was reasonably impressed with my effort, until I realised that the pros had been average well over 60km/h the night before. Demoralising.

After work the Donvale Demon and I headed back out to the Brunswick Velodrome to have another crack. When we got there some folks from the Brunswick Cycling Club were there and we didn’t get the impression we were very welcome. We rode off down the Merri Creek trail to get in some junk kays, disappointed that we couldn’t get on the track. Next week …

Day 6: Friday April 6

I spent most of Friday with my partner Sharon, driving up to her family’s property near Tolmie before heading off to do some research for the site later in the day. I’ve got two great new climbs to add to the site — stay posted for those.

Day 7: Saturday April 7

Ride: Tolmie to Lake William Hovell, return
Distance: 112km (341km total)

View from the climb out of Whitfield.

On the final day of week one I completed a ride I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. In the freezing fog of the early Tolmie morning I set off toward Whitfield, warming up on the rollers before the long descent. I descended the 10km or so into Whitfield before taking a right-turn and heading toward Lake William Hovell.

To this point I’d managed to average around 30km/h but as soon as I entered the King Valley, that average started to drop. I’d found myself riding into a block headwind and at times I couldn’t go any faster than about 21km/h. The wind fairly blasts along the valley floor and in the many long, straight exposed sections it was tough to motivate myself just to keep going.

But keep going I did, pushing through the wind and some horrible road surfaces to get to Lake William Hovell.

Autumn at Lake William Hovell.

I stopped just long enough to have something to eat and a chat to a local mountain bike rider before I set off, heading back toward Whitfield.

Thankfully the wind was still blasting along and the way back to town was marvellous. I averaged well over 30km/h all the way back to Whitfield and those long, straight exposed sections that had been so horrible on the ride out allowed me to sit at around 45km/h without too much trouble.

Back at Whitfield I took a quick toilet break and then got stuck into the climb. I’d driven the climb the day before so I knew roughly what to expect: roughly 10km of manageable climbing with some great views and a couple of steep pinches.

It was my first climb since 3 Peaks and I was worried that my ITBs were going to flare up again. Fortunately, the most pain I got was a slight bit of discomfort later in the ride and even then, it was sporadic and didn’t slow me down. It’s heartening to see that the stretches are starting to work!

Since the bike fit on Monday I’ve also been concious of the fact I need to work on my glute strength. So, whenever my glutes would hurt, I stopped myself from getting out of the saddle straight away. Perhaps not giving myself an easy out helped to share the load a bit more equally, taking pressure off my ITBs. Either way, it was great to have almost no ITB pain at all!

The climb itself was over in less than an hour and it was into the up-and-down section between Tolmie. As you can see from the photos, it’s a gorgeous part of the world and one I’m keen to explore again some time.

One of the many great views on the way from Whitfield to Tolmie.

So, what’s next?

Well, I’ve managed to come down with some sort of cold/flu and so I’ve had to postpone the ride I was going to go on today. With any luck I’ll be right to head out tomorrow and get myself over the halfway mark in this challenge.

It feels good to be almost halfway after only a week and gives me confidence that I’ll be able to get through the 800km without too many hassles. Touch wood.

If you haven’t already joined the Ride Hard to Breathe Easy challenge on Strava, get on it! It’s free to enter and all you need is a smartphone with the Strava app or a compatible Garmin device.

Previous instalments:

2 Replies to “Ride Hard to Breathe Easy: week one”

  1. Hmm, I’m trying the reverse (4 days off over Easter didn’t help!). My strategy is get as far behind on the total kms in the first 2 weeks and flog myself up in Bright over 4 days after ANZAC day 😉

    If only ergos/spin classes counted as strava KMs! But it’s a good incentive to get outside, rather than pretending it’s too cold, which just isn’t true (yet)

    178kms down… 622 to go

  2. Wha a great start to the challenge – always feels good to have a bit of a buffer in there at the start, and means when you do feel a bit rubbish you have the room to ease off.

    I’ve got to get out for that Whitfield ride – I’ve heard many great things.. Thanks for sharing!

    Keep cracking on!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *