Keeping pace.

To complete a mountain bike ride as quickly as possible you basically just need to maintain the same amount of effort throughout the exercise, getting gradually more tired. With luck you’ll reach exhaustion as you cross the finish line. This may be possible in a velodrome or maybe a flat road with no wind but on a trail it’s more like impossible. The constant changes of gradient and surface mean that you have to make lots of gear changes to try to keep a steady cadence. Some climbs are so steep that you have to grind up, turning the pedals rather slowly, because you’re already in your lowest gear. Corners often mean braking and turning without pedaling so pace needs considerable concentration. Today I decided to ride 5 identical laps of Healey Nab with around 200 feet of ascent and descent each circuit. I wanted it to be a good training ride where I maintained, as much as possible, the same pace on each lap.

I’d already climbed around 350 feet by the time I reached the start of my first lap, clicked the stopwatch and was away. It’s too easy to lap quickly on your first lap whilst fresh and you could find that lap one is your fastest lap of all. I’m well aware of this so started at an easy pace only to find a fallen tree over my original route. I found an alternative track but the delay meant that my time of 11 minutes 27 seconds was unrepresentative. Lap 2, at 11 minutes and 8, would be the time to try to match on subsequent laps.

I’ve often found in the past that it’s too easy to record a slow time on the third lap of 5 so increased my work rate so that I started to feel it more in the legs, giving me a time of 11 minutes and 3, so fairly consistent. What the times can never betray is that in hazy, November sunshine and with damp, slippery trails I was having a blast! The main downhill takes 3 minutes of full commitment to speed. Daring myself to leave the brakes alone and enter corners as quick as I believed possible, the tyres scrabbling for grip and the heart pumping. There’s nothing quite like it.

I upped the effort again on lap 4 and treated it more like a last lap to record an even faster 10 minutes 55. For the final lap I pushed myself as hard as I could. It’s important to keep the concentration up whilst climbing, too, because any lapse can mean a loss of momentum, which will ultimately cost you time. On the final climb to the finish I seemed to have no power left. I’d presumably spent the fast twitch muscles in my legs so made sure I kept the pedals spinning quickly to promote breathing and use the stamina oriented slow twitch parts of the muscles. I was reaching my end but managed my fastest lap at 10 minutes 37. I could have ridden 5 laps a fraction quicker if I’d been more consistent and I would normally have expected my times to be closer. I can only think that I’d started too slowly because I increased the pace slightly each lap, as I tired. The whole ride was a real treat at this time of year and left me buzzing.

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