"The world's toughest amateur bike event", quote Red Bull.
I have watched "Icarus", a dramatic documentary in which the journalist takes on the most brutal amateur race in the world. The Haute Route Alps. Watching from my sofa, I sense his pain, hear his breathing, feel the acid in his legs, and almost think I taste blood in my mouth. As he grinds up another alpine peak and into high mountain rarefied air, his suffering bounces out of the screen. An amateur is attempting a race of professional magnitude.
I recognise his pain as the same pain I feel on a bike deep into a challenging ride or on the back of many training days. It is the point at which all grace goes out of the window! It strikes a chord with the months of relentless training I have been putting myself through towards my own Haute Route. Endless hours on the bike, snotty sleeves, red-faced and delving for another Haribo. "Train like a pro", yes, but in everything else, I fall short!
Five months ago, a dream came true. I had the opportunity to race in the Alps over three gruelling stages on my Aethos Sworks road bike. I read the Red Bull article, and it reassures me that this race will "break your mind and body".
Part of me regrets wanting to step up to a bigger challenge. Only a tiny amount: I am, of course, a mad cyclist! The back to back 5 hour rides over Welsh mountains in cold winter and spring conditions; then mid-week "hardest types of interval sessions you can do" (quote coach). Other forms of torture include sitting on a turbo in May and churning out another performance test. My sister Lizzie had her wedding in April, and this represents another challenge. How do I balance my cycling goals and training with everything else? Liam reassures me a single day of celebration won't derail my preparation. I leave plenty of energy on the dancefloor celebrating!
Yesterday, I organised a concrete slab pouring at one of the construction sites where I am the architectural designer and project manager. There was a big push on-site to get the slab ready for our 3pm cut-off when the concrete lorry would arrive. With two hours to go and everything in hand, I whip my bike out of the back of my van and announce, "I'm sure you don't need me whilst I get my ride in before the concrete arrives". More of a statement than a question! Everyone is okay with this; it is nice. I get back at 3pm in time for the concrete. Pros would crash onto a sofa whilst I grabbed a shovel.
To "train to the demands of the event" (another coach quote), I studied the routes for each day in the Haute Route. I try to recreate a similar route in Wales to replicate the elevation gain and gradients I will have to ascend in the race. Luckily I have the second-highest road pass Bwlch Y Groes, on my doorstep, next to three other equally high passes (Hinnant, The Ranges and Llangynog). I connect them all together as a route and still fall short by 1000m of one day of the Haute Route Alps. I usually ride over Bwlch Y Groes two or three times a year; it's hard and high. But, preparing for the Haute Route, I've been riding it every week (sometimes twice) and at the end of a 150km day. It is all just another level of toughness!
I see improvements, slow gains, and very fleetingly worth the pain when Liam sends me a nice graph showing new peak performances. Having confidence that the training is working makes the sacrifice and commitment easy. I feel pretty comfortable over these long rides. But at night, I dream about being very slow, the last in a race. Interesting where the subconscious goes!