• On Ya Bike! – Dan Donnelly

On Ya Bike! – Dan Donnelly

Dan Donnelly at the Tour de Yorkshire and Leeds ITU

Ever been tempted to nip over to the Dark Side? Come on, you know you have – especially as there’s a super-motivating friendly HPH triathlon club now! I’m a runner who commutes by bike, and I have dabbled in triathlon since 2011 (about one per year to keep things interesting). I would not class myself as a (sports) cyclist or a triathlete but I do find a trip to the Dark Side every now and then quite rewarding. Here are a couple of my 2018 experiences to help to tempt you over.

In 2017 managed to pick up a persistent foot injury last November, due to running too hard after my October marathon. I took time out, keeping myself ticking over with my usual daily bike commuting, but the after-effects of a tentative Jan 1st outing at Bushy parkrun suggested it was still not right. No running in sight on New Year’s Resolutions day!!! What a disaster! I needed a plan… and gradually one emerged … start with cycling … transition through triathlon … and end up with an autumn marathon. Even better, there were 3 ideally placed events – Tour de Yorkshire in Leeds in May, Leeds ITU in June, and the Yorkshire marathon in October. A tidy triplet of Yorkshire endurance events was just too tempting.

I’d done the first Leeds ITU standard distance in 2016 – I took it relatively seriously as it was my first standard distance tri and also my first open water event. It was the same weekend as my 50th and so a great challenge to prove to myself that I wasn’t dead yet. However, in 2017 I entered again but this time I was focussed on the London marathon, so it was a case of some “last minute revision” on the swimming front and a couple of longer rides to top up the bike commuting. But I got away with it, so I wasn’t too worried about doing it again in 2018.

However, the same cannot be said for the Tour de Yorkshire. I’d never done a cycling sportive before and, being an idiot, I signed up for the long route without really thinking it though. Once I’d looked at the route, I realised that my 50ish miles per week bike commuting wasn’t going to get me anywhere near where I’d need to be. What had I done! Fear. It’s a really useful motivator.

TdY long route
The 2018 TdY long route was very hilly – 2059m of ascent and barely a flat part in the whole 80 miles. And there were 4 particularly hard climbs, two I knew well – East Chevin Rd and Black Hill Rd. I’d tried Black Hill twice in the past but had given up and turned around … and I’d only managed East Chevin without stopping for the first time in 2017. But these had all been on fairly short rides, while in the TdY 2018, East Chevin came at 63 miles. And I’d never even cycled 63 miles before! And then you faced Black Hill 10 miles later. Oh, and the first two TdY climbs, Hartwith Bank and Greenhow Hill, were even harder. What had I done! Fear. It’s a really useful motivator.

I’d already cycled 700 miles in 2018 via commuting by the time I went on my first ever group ride on Good Friday… organised by Naomi and Graeme, it ended up as almost 58 miles via Bolton Abbey. I was now in the zone and over April I then racked up 442 bike miles, with 4 big rides that included Black Hill twice, East Chevin Rd three times, Norwood Edge twice, Langbar once … and a trip up the mighty Greenhow Hill too. The difference between cycling and running is that you can increase volume quite quickly without injury risk, and consequently I saw some rapid improvement during that month. However, it’s incredibly time-consuming and not something that’s sustainable for me… even marathon training is more time-efficient!

Race day! Photos with the awesome long route HPH crew … and then we were off for 80 miles of hilly hell.

I had two targets: not to stop on any of the hills; and to get home in under 6 hours. I really didn’t know what to expect. Probably for the best. The first mega climb was Hartwith Bank, the steep hill from Summerbridge to Brimham Rocks, which came at 26 miles. It was 1.5 km long with some 20% gradients … I swear I thought my heart was going to pound its way out of my rib cage during the climb. Hard hard hard work! It caused carnage, with many folk giving in and walking. You had to be very careful about trailing someone who might stop as, once dismounted, it was too steep to remount. I was on my limit and cycling at a snail’s pace but I finally made it up. I caught up with Nicola and Jack shortly after and we rode in a similar vicinity up until the feed station at Pateley Bridge. The 2nd climb was Greenhow Hill at 46 miles, just as you came out of Pateley Bridge. I’d done this once in training and knew it was very tough, so took advantage of the feed station beforehand to eat chocolate brownies and top up on drinks. The hill is nearly 4km in length with 3 ramps of 18%, 16% and 15% in the first half. That first half was grim beyond words! The mental battle to keep pedalling was immense. Pure hell on earth. A very different kind of torture to the end game of the marathon but nonetheless similarly traumatising. Eventually the gradient calms down and you can grind your way to the top.

Once recovered, I raced hard along a rare and very welcome long flat/descending section, Blake Gate, sharing drafting duties with a Wakefield rider. We joined the riders from the medium route and then crossed the A59 at Blubberhouses, heading up Shepherd Hill and over Askwith Moor via Snowden Bank … not one of the “nasty 4” but I really struggled here as the fatigue was beginning to settle in. So, yes, I was now really dreading climb #3 … the evil Chevin Bank coming out of Otley. I ate all my remaining food and a gel on the flat section at the top of Snowden Bank, and then enjoyed the fast decent into Otley. I felt a lot better. Chevin Bank is a little over a mile long but most of that is basically a single ramp that goes in an arrow-straight line. Relentless – you feel like you’re getting nowhere – you daren’t look up as it always looks the same. Carnage again, with riders grinding to a halt and dismounting – especially as this was the first nasty climb for the middle distance riders. It was painful but I just put my head down and ground it out. I was just thinking about the descent down Pool Bank and the final feed station as I was desperate to get more water. Then it was the nasty Black Hill Road – 1.5 km and it hits 19% on a sharp left bend … I have never had that level of lactic acid burn in my legs … I literally whelped out in pain! Once over that I felt it was done even though there was still another 8-9 miles back into Leeds. I worked hard as the clock was ticking. I was right on the edge of cramp all this time – even my arms were in pain. The Headrow was very welcome and I mustered the legs for a great sprint finish. Final time, including the two feed station stops, was 5:55 … and no stopping on any hills. Job done. 5 weeks to remember how to swim and run.

Leeds ITU 2018

I don’t like swimming. Well, once I’m in the water I’m OK but it’s the whole faff of getting there/back/changed etc. HPH Tri a have a swim session on Wed nights which would be a great motivator to swim more, but alas I have dad taxi duties that night. So, basically I don’t go swimming unless I have a triathlon event. After getting out of the lake in Roundhay in June 2017, I racked up 11 months of no swimming. Rubbish. But fear motivated me in the end and I got in 384 x 25m emergency lengths in May/June, and a coached open water swim with HPH tri. As it happened, the 1500m swim was reduced on race morning to 750m due to mist on the lake … although once all the men had set off, the lake was deemed safe, so it was put back up to 1500m for the women. Despite my aversion to swimming, I was actually disappointed not to do the full distance. Well I would have been disappointed only I was in a crazy panic as I had managed to drop my timing chip in the dining room on the way out to Roundhay and was nervously waiting for my son to get it to me via taxi with 30 min notice (yes, he was asleep at 07:30 when I phoned). I hung around until the last moment, missed the race briefing, and eventually gave up just before 08:00 and went down to the jetty and got in the water. I wasn’t mentally prepared. I forgot to start my watch and pull my wet suit over it, so had to stop swimming and tread water to sort this. Then I calmed down and swam because that’s better than drowning.

About 17-18 min later I got out and ran up the long hill to T1 … and enroute spotted my son! Woohooo – what a hero! He’d been in bed 45 minutes earlier and here he was with my chip (unlike a run, you don’t need it to trigger your start time as you start in the water … start time is the gun time)! I went through my T1 regime … almost lost my chip again (triathlon is such a faff) … and then was pushing the bike on the long route to the mount line, getting support from my son and suddenly feeling very motivated. I felt good as soon as I started cycling and really enjoyed the ride. Great fun passing the HPH support in Headingly too – they sang me Happy Birthday! I took a whopping 6:39 off last year’s bike time – same route and same bike – so that demonstrates the difference TdY training made. I managed 18.1 mph on a pretty hilly route on a standard road bike (don’t own a fancy TT bike). However, the same cannot be said for the run where I was 2:48 down on last year! My main issue was a bad lower back from the hard cycling and just couldn’t get moving comfortably. I usually enjoy the run stage but this one was grim – I’ve only managed 230 miles in the last 6 months, so perhaps not surprising.

Give it a go!

They say a change is as good as a rest – when it comes to being injured, a change is often better than a rest. Using the bike (and occasionally the water) had kept me motivated and focused on training while I’ve been unable to run properly and it means I am now ready to crack on with readying myself for event #3 – the Yorkshire marathon. Even if you’re not injured, a change can help you to re-energise and re-motivate yourself.

The great thing about cycling is that you recover very quickly. After TdY, I was heavy-duty gardening the next morning (bank holiday Monday) and was back bike commuting to work on Tuesday morning. Likewise, after the ITU, I was up the next morning bike commuting. Compare that to post marathon when you can’t get out of bed or walk down stairs! So using a bike is a great way to add in extra aerobic exercise to your running regime, without the equivalent training strain. Give it a try! Look out for opportunities to cycle and swim on the HPH Tri Facebook group and join in!

Despite the running down time, I feel in pretty good shape and I feel the running legs will come back very quickly (but hopefully not the foot issues!). And I am now rather looking forward to the purity and simplicity of marathon training … no equipment to worry about or lists of kit to collect together – just me and my legs and the long lonely miles.

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