Dan Murtagh is Regional Area Manager at Rutland Cycling. Earlier this year he took part in the Fred Whitton Challenge in Cumbria - widely regarded as one of the toughest sportives in the UK - in preparation for riding La Marmotte
Last year, I decided to ride La Marmotte in the French Alps this July. I'd been thinking about it for a few years and I just needed to have that 'click the button' moment - there is nothing like entering something to give you a focus, so quickly following this I also decided it was a good idea to do a tester event in May in the form of the Fred Whitton Challenge in Cumbria. So, what had I signed up for?
- Fred Whitton Challenge - 112 miles / 3,250 meters taking in Honister, Whinlatter, Hardknott, Wrynose
I'd learnt a lot of stuff over time from reading and speaking with colleagues who have been there and done it but I wanted to make my life simple and make sure I was doing something worthwhile in training. I have to say, I've always just ridden my bike and never 'trained' for anything. There is a difference, and there is only so much you can achieve by aimlessly riding around so I found My Energy Lab online. It's really good if you just want to be told what to do - you enter all your personal info, your level, how often you can train and what you are aiming for and it spits out a plan. I did 17 weeks leading up to Fred Whitton, only 3 rides a week which included sitting on the turbo in the kitchen twice a week. It started out short with strength training, and slowly moved up to 5.5 hour rides and hour-plus turbo sessions focussing on speed etc. I have a Tacx Bushido smart trainer which paired with my Garmin 820, so this meant I had some metrics from which to work off when training and I used just heart rate when out on endurance rides. I was pretty tired by the end of it all - not from the physical load necessarily but just committing to 50 odd rides all without compromise is tricky. I really take my hat off to anyone who works full time and does more than 6 hours a week riding. After the 17 weeks I'd stuck to the plan and went to do the Fred Whitton feeling stronger than I have before. Everything is relative, I'm bang average on a bike but doing what I could to make sure I'm 'good' for 7, 8, 9, even 10 hours on a bike is sensible.
The Fred Whitton
I was really looking forward to the Fred - it's billed as one of Britain's hardest sportives and along with a few others it's certainly up there. I'd visited the Lakes before but hadn't ridden any of the big climbs so when we got there Alex and I drove over to Hardknott and Wrynose to recon the route, as well as to test Alex's two gearing options. It was helpful as we knew what was coming, but it turns out it's actually not that easy to even drive up, or down. Knowing what you have to deal with is good, it just took me by surprise what a 30% gradient actually looks like. Alex later opted for the compact set up rather than the single ring option he was insistent on trying. A good choice I think.
I didn't have much sleep the night before as my colleague (who shall remain nameless) who I shared a room with the night before snores. He is loud. I imagine it's what cuddling a grizzly bear would be like. I had just about 5 hours sleep. Note to self - bring ear plugs, or sleep in your van.
The route and event itself were brilliant. Alex (not named above, much) and I set off slowly as the aim of the day was just to finish and enjoy it. David and Sally set off 20 minutes after us with the same aim. The first couple of climbs were ok, as were the descents - certainly out of the saddle stuff at points but we were rolling along chatting. Then, we hit the bottom of Honister (one of the 30% climbs). Straight into 34x30 for me, no messing about. It's hard to believe someone, at some point thought it was a good idea to put a road there - the first part is mega hard until it eases off. I think at that point it was funny. The climbs before and after Honister were not too bad but I was always conscious of the two big ones at the end. By now I was well over dressed in my Castelli Perfetto jersey but I couldn't do much about it. Nano Flex Warmers, long gloves and cap had been discarded with Alex's friend who was staying up there and met us at the side of the road. Alex and I split at the 80 mile feed station, he wanted to sit and have a coffee and I was keen to press on. Now, the big event - Strava tells you all you need to know - The one mile section up to and on Hardknott I averaged 4.2 miles per hour, at 186 bpm average and maxed out a 199 bpm. That's 4.2 miles an hour on a bike, not walking! I couldn't have gone faster, especially with nearly 96 miles in my legs. It was ridiculous. I made it over the top, shortly followed by Wrynose which is similar but not quite as bad. I'm pleased to report Alex, David and Sally made it all the way up too, amongst a sea of bodies either falling off in front of you or taking a break. The run in after that was good, and fast. I finished in just under 8 hours and felt like I could knock off a good chunk if I didn't stop as much as I did or pressed on a bit more. It was a Gold time for my age group - didn't have a clue what I was aiming for so I was pleased with that, and the pint of non-alcoholic beer they give you as you cross the finish line. Alex finished shortly after, as did David and Sally. A good effort by all and a good test for La Marmotte.