We recently wrote about how getting out of your comfort zone can be a good way of challenging yourself and ultra-runner Robbie Britton is certainly doing that.
In a special guest blog, Robbie tells us how he's swapped his running shoes for two wheels in preparation for the upcoming TransPyrenees ultra distance cycling event...
If you want to keep progressing, then sometimes you have to do something that scares you. The TransPyrenees cycle race scares me.
After a summer spent cycling more than running due to a small niggle, the competitor in me went looking for a race to do. The obvious choice for a first bike race might have been a sportive or the bike version of Parkrun (does that exist?). Obviously I chose a 1600km, self-supported mountain adventure - the TransPyrenees Race.
The premise is simple - start in Biarritz, cycle across the Pyrenees (via various checkpoints and parlours) to Cap de Creus, then cycle back again via the Grand Raid Pyrenee.
Oh and the main rule of the ride is “don’t be a d%$k”, which was a tagline that was inspired by Mike Hall, who designed this race before he sadly passed away following a collision with a car during a cycle race in Australia in 2017.
Preparation with focus
So, normally people enter these events with years of cycling experience under their belts. Well, I cycled to Copenhagen in December 2009 with a friend and I rode a 'fixie' from South East London to Bristol a few years later, but in between those events I spent a lot more time running.
That said, I’m not inexperienced with running multi-day adventures and the mountains. Just how transferable the skills are to cycling will be interesting to see.
Over the past two months my training has involved consistent 320-400km weeks on the bike, a lot of which involved Alpine climbing, as well as a longest ride of 286km in one go.
I chatted to experienced riders in the build-up to the TransPyrenees and their advice suggested a longer ride might have been helpful, but I also knew digging too deep wasn’t going to work for me either. Finding a balance was key.
Distance is only one element of the adventure and I felt that focusing on the aspects of route-planning, fuelling, riding my road bike on gravel, and my choices of kit would also pay dividends.
For some, it may feel like a day sat at the computer wasn’t as worthwhile as an extra day in the saddle, but for me planning and familiarising myself with the route could make a bigger difference than one extra ride.
Image source: Robbie Britton ©
Hydration and fuelling
Now this is the fun part. Riders have to be self-supported in this endeavour so I won't have the usual support I might get from a crew or checkpoints during an ultra-running race or adventure. Instead, every shop along the way becomes a checkpoint.
Rather than preparing and carrying all my food beforehand, which for 1600km becomes a substantial amount, you have to make do with what you can find. Like the Tour de France riders of yesteryear, I’ll be raiding any shops I see, although paying for the items instead of just cycling off!
I will have a stock of Precision Hydration SweatSalt Capsules and PH 1500 tablets with me to make sure I have a decent electrolyte balance. Mountainside fountains will become my friends and I’ve even got a filter for stream water if needs be.
I'll maybe take a couple of emergency gels, but otherwise I’ll be eating on the go.
The idea is to stop as little as possible, so every few hours I’ll grab food from a petrol station or cafe and keep going.
How do you plan for a week in the mountains when you have to carry everything?
My planning for a mountain ultra of similar time span would be easier, but cycling poses different challenges, particularly with the risks of getting cold on the long descents, especially at night.
Add into the equation that you carry your sleeping gear too (or check into hotels along the way, which takes up chunks of possible cycling, eating or sleeping time) and staying warm and dry is going to be key. Getting soaked or cold is fine if you have a hot shower at the end of the day, but not ideal if you don't have such luxuries and have to keep cycling.
I will be going minimal with my gear, but not dangerously. I’ve been in the Pyrenees in October before and we could see thunderstorms, snow or (hopefully) beautiful crisp Autumn sunshine.
Image Source: James Vincent Photography (via Robbie Britton)©
Oslo have given me some high end cycling gear and I’ll be packing one of their lightweight down jackets and a decent quality waterproof jacket too.
The Cairngorm waterproof jacket is hopefully capable of dealing with the weather on the mountain range. It’s named after the Cairngorm plateau, where I once faced the worst weather conditions of my life - hopefully there aren't any 'whiteouts' and frozen water bottles this time.
Carrying all this kit is a conundrum too.
It’s less about weight (although that’s important) and more about space. I’ll be using Apidura bike-packing bags - one on the handlebars, one on the saddle and a couple of top tube bags.
I think staying well hydrated will be key, so I’ll have two PH Electrolitre bottles on my bike frame and this eradicates the need for a frame bag, but I’ll fill one of them with food if I find I don’t need 2 litres of fluid between stops (especially if the weather is cooler).
Adapting my fluid intake to conditions is something I have worked on over the years with PH and I like to think I have a good idea of how to adapt on the go.
So, if this intrigues you at all, or if you simply want to see an ultra-runner get his ass handed to him in a bicycle race, then join in the 'dot watching'. It’s almost a sport within itself.
I’ll be cap #30 and I’ll be wearing a SPOT tracker the whole way. Social media links are listed below and the fun starts around 5am on Friday 4th October.
Whatever happens, it’s a big, new adventure for me and I’ll still be more excited than scared. A good balance of both is always good.
For race updates follow: