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There are many journeys to being an expert in anything – my journey in cycling training is no different though it has a few wrinkles. My life with bicycles started in a very difficult way. Around age 8 or 9, I received a bike for Christmas. It was a 24″ black shiny Raleigh with back brakes. The difficult part was it was stolen before I had learned how to ride and i had to wait for a while before a replacement was found. I eventually taught myself to ride – it was not as hard as I thought. Find a nice grassy slope – sit and let the slope do the work to create enough momentum and I was riding a bike. I relished the freedom that bike gave me. In an age where there was a lot less traffic and on the outskirts of a big city, we had an amazing scope to relish the freedom that getting a few miles away from home supervision could give. Johannesburg is a hilly place – a fixed gear bike and those hills was a hard way to go but for sure I got very fit by riding hills – it is the best way to get fit on a bike – ride hills.

My older brother went to sea as a marine engineer at age 18 and I got his bike. This was an interesting bike – it had 3 Sturmey Archer (hub) gears. To this he had added a 3 gear derailleur system to give an effective 4 or 5 gear bike. I started to ride that bike regularly when I went to Cape Town to attend university – and it was in this time that I learned to love serious bike riding (on top of the hockey and squash that I played). Cape Town provides a fantastic array of hilly rides of varying distances – many now encapsulated in the now famous Argus Cycle Tour (http://www.cycletour.co.za/). In my last couple of years at university, I rode those hills with avengeance – very seldom venturing over the metric century distance (100 kilometres). By this time my bike had gone through an upgrade path through a Peugeot racer and back to Raleigh. I rode the 2nd Argus Tour ever held – it was a grand event with not too many riders. Who would guess that the event would grow to 35,000 riders now? This was probably my first ride over 100 kms in a day.

After final examinations in 1980, a friend and I planned a cycling tour to celebrate an end to full time university life. We planned an itinerary from Stellenbosch, in the winelands of the Cape, to cross the mountains via Sir Lowrys Pass and to head up the Garden Route to Plettenberg Bay and then returning inland over the mountains via George and Oudtshoorn, Ladismith and Barrydale. This then took us over Outeniqua Pass to Oudtshoorn and Sewe Weke Pass to Ladismith and eventually crossing back into the winelands by Bains Kloof Pass. In all a round trip of around 1,000 kms in 10 days. We stayed in cabins and hotels and carried a minimum of clothing and a sleeping bag. Day 1 was an adventure with a big southerly storm blowing us over the first two mountain passes. We did a few legs of over 100 kms through the rolling wheatfields of the Southern Cape. The mountain passes were the real challenge as we had never ridden a hill any longer than 2 or 3 kms and coming over Sewe Weke Pass at 42C was the hardest of all.

Moving to Johannesburg and to London put an end to cycling for some time. A move to Sydney, Australia in 2000 provided impetus and weather to start riding again. The old Raleigh bike was swapped for a new Giant this time equipped with a triple derailleur. Sydney is a hilly pace to ride with many climbs from river bottom to ridge line of 400 metres or so giving a climb length of about 4 kms. In 2002, I signed up to do my first ride across Australia planning to ride from Perth to Melbourne. Reading preparation was provided by Ed Pavelka’s book – The Complete Book of Long Distance Cycling: Build the Strength, Skills and Confidence to Ride as Far as You Want. Food preparation was based on research by Dr Tim Noakes, the leading South African sports scientist. The road preparation was provided by the hills of Sydney. I did about 1,000 miles of training and felt reasonably well equipped on account of a lot of hill climbing. Day 1 was the test – a ride over 100 kms on a warm day with a group of riders who had not met before – I rode too hard chasing the rider in front and suffered serious cramps in the last few kms of the ride. The legs stayed stiff for the whole of the 5 weeks of the ride. We also faced headwinds for the first 3 weeks or so – a hard test on an open road. The 2nd day of the trip required a first ride for me over 100 miles – I had no idea of what that would require as i had only ever ridden 120 kms in a day till then. Luckily I was able to draft for a fair amount of that day with one of the experienced racing types. He did leave me behind though when I developed stomach problems and I had to finish the day on my own. The day after was another day of 100 miles and the next stage of my learning began – how to get up and ride over 100 kms day after day. Over 5 weeks, we did several 100 mile days – the hardest was in 42C of heat and only 3 out of 12 riders completed that in one day. I was one of them. In all this trip spanned 4,500 kms – and what struck me was that it was an extraordinary achievement made by pretty ordinary people – not superstars of track and field – just ordinary folk.

In 2004, I repeated the trip from Perth to Melbourne. I did a lot more training in the lead up and did not get carried away on day 1. Most pleasingly, the wind was a lot friendlier and it was an easier trip overall. A route change also introduced the chance to complete a first day ride of over 200 kms from Kalgoorlie to Norseman plus a little bit and back into town. The long distance bug had firmly bitten. The next stage of my cycling apprenticeship began when I stumbled upon randonneuring (Audax in UK and Australia) as a variation on the theme of long distance cycling. The idea of a randonnee is to ride a fixed distance (typically 200 kms and longer) in a set time all in (averaging no less than 15 km/h). My first randonnee attempt was a 200 km ride into the Blue Mountains from Sydney. We had a hot day for this with temperature touching 48C when we came back down from the mountains. I foolishly spent a lot of effort chasing two riders ahead of me – this caused a lot of knee pain to develop and at 155 kms I withdrew from the event and caught a train home. That might well have been a good thing as one of the riders who did finsih fetched up in hospital with heat exhaustion and was off the bike for many months after. Lesson learned. This event though did ignite an interest in completing the Alpine Classic, Australia’s premier Audax event over 200 kms in the Victorian Alps and from there to qualify for Paris Brest Paris (PBP), the premier randonnee in the world held every 4 years and covering 1,200 kms. Late in 2004, I completed my first randonnee over 300 kms and 2005 saw me complete the Alpine Classic in 42C heat when 35% of the riders did not complete.

2006 was my peak cycling year in the build up to qualifying for PBP. I went from a total mileage in a normal year of 8,000 kms to over 12,000 kms – not something that a person with a full time job or with a family could really do. Training for this included a ride from Darwin to Adelaide followed by 6 weeks of cycle touring in Western Australia, my first fully loaded cycle tour – that is another topic dear to my heart. Qualification for PBP requires the completion of 4 qualifying rides in a 6 month period covering distances of 200, 300, 400 and 600 kms. In November 2006, we set out to complete all the qualifying rides in one month – in fact I rode 200, 300 and 600 km rides in 10 days starting on November 1. I had to postpone the 400 km ride for a few months because of other commitments. These rides are altogether different as they are very much about conserving one’s body and about being self-sufficient to deal with all manner of problems (flats, mechancials, health, lighting, allergies, accidents, rain, cold, rough roads, etc). Rides are best done in small groups so that one can help each other out though they ultimately require one to dig deep into the inner core to make the next pedal turn – I certainly reall many an hour on the road alone – the ultimate test of an endurance athlete.

PBP was an amazing experience with the roads lined with people at all hours of the day and night and in all weathers. And we had the worst weather that has ever been around for PBP. It started to rain just as my group of riders left Paris at 10:40 pm on an August night. And it rained pretty well all that night and most of the next day. Sadly, I tweaked a knee in the cold of that first night – before long both knees were no longer keen to party. I made a decision in the early morning of the 2nd day to cut short the ride – to protect my knees, to save myself for a tour after PBP and to help out a friend who was suffering from bronchitis and failed lights. I pulled the plug at Loudeac – a ride of 456 kms and have not done an Audax ride since. My heart really is in cycle touring rather than in endurance riding in a circle.

In these pages I plan to share my experiences – on a bicycle and otherwise – to share the things that worked for me (and continue to work for me) and to share the ways I have overcome the challenges from food intolerance to relationship breakdown to divorce to hypertension to “heart attack” to depression. I will share the fun and the pain. I will introduce you to some of the people who have shared this experience with me – to some of the greats and to some of the ordinary folk who do extraordinary things. This is my story about how to use the bicycle to breathe your dreams. I will include materials on cycling training, one cycling a century, on using time trial techniques, on using intervals and hills for training. I will include materials on managing food intake and ensuring proper electrolyte management especially for cycling on hot days. I will include materials dealing with health and mind fitness too.