Amongst my usual Sunday ride crew, we have in recent years tended to make the “Kentish Killer” sportive our first test of the season. Organised by local club gs avanti, it falls in mid to late February, vying with the “Hell of Ashdown”, organised by Catford CC, to be the toughest early season challenge in this part of the world. (Chapeau to anyone who takes on both, by the way.) Having never done the HOTA, I can’t tell you which is better (i.e. harder), but the KK generally lives up to its name.
The short route is 45 miles, the long one is 70. We generally go for the long one (obviously), although it has to be said that the reduced version looks pretty tough too, as it cuts out a long draggy climb and a similarly long fast descent, but keeps all the nasty climbs. And nasty climbs is pretty much the name of the game with the KK, with notable rises including Carter’s Hill, Hubbard’s Hill, Ide Hill, Sundridge Hill, Row Dow and Tinker Pot Lane. It’s about 2000m of climbing in all. So it is, quiet literally, not for the faint-hearted.
At this time of year, conditions vary, but the one thing you know you won’t get is sunny and warm. Last year was very cold – about 3 degrees for most of the ride. This year was mild but quite windy (in the aftermath of Storm Doris) with some early drizzle. The roads were pretty wet from rain the previous day’s rain, and there were a lot of punctures, including both of my mates but fortunately not me this year.
So how did it go? Pretty well actually. I was 15 minutes faster than last year (when knocking off 10 minutes spent helping fix a flat), which considering I am a year older and 2kgs heavier, I am pleased with. Just outside the top quartile when including the 10 minutes, and a “silver” time for my age group (’twas ever thus).
Interesting that I have not felt in particularly good form so far this season – looking at some of my favourite Strava segments shows some particularly slow riding – and yet I put in a good performance when it “mattered”. What can we ascribe this to? What did I change for this ride? Five things:
1. Carbs. I don’t generally eat a lot of refined carbs (bread, pastry, pasta, anything sugary). Being a bit of a weight worrier (I can’t help it), I think they are an easy way to put in lots of calories without necessarily feeling full. I suspect that can sometimes leave me feel me low on energy. The day or two before a big event however, that goes in the bin and I pretty much eat all the bread and pasta I can find.
2. Beetroot. For about five days prior to an event, I take one Beet It shot a day. The theory is that the very high level of nitrates in the concentrated beetroot juice aid performance somehow. The science does not seem to be completely proven, but I do feel it makes a difference for me. (For instance, this article suggests 1% improvement in time to exhaustion in well-trained individuals, but no change in other measures https://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/09/25/nitrates-beetroot/ )
3. Tapering. I normally do turbo sessions on Wednesday and Friday. I skipped Friday and went for a swim instead. So by Sunday morning the legs were feeling pretty fresh. A no brainier.
4. Caffeine. It is well documented that caffeine is a performance enhancing and entirely legal drug. You can buy sports energy products containing caffeine, but I took the DIY route and put a couple of crushed Pro Plus tablets in each bidon.
5. The good bike. The one with the lighter wheels and the Di2 gears. It generally stays on the rack in the garage most of the winter, only coming out for special occasions such as this. And it definitely makes a difference. It is immediately more nimble and effort turns into acceleration much more readily. A real treat compared to the winter bike.
So which of these made the difference? That is the million dollar question. I suspect they all contributed. But I would say that, otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered doing each of them. Carbs, tapering and caffeine are pretty uncontroversial, as is using a better bike. Dosing myself with nitrates is a little bit more leftfield, but it is not as though I am dabbling with the occult – it definitely works for some people.
And what do I learn from all this? In order to be in better form for the Sunday ride (as I have previously discussed, a highlight of my week), Saturday shall now be pasta day and I might knock back a couple of shots of Beet It too. I don’t think I’ll be filling my water bottles with espressos, but I’m going to look at caffeinated sports drinks.
Anyway, enough self-analysis. I can heartily recommend the Kentish Killer as a curtain-raiser for the season – it blows away any remaining cobwebs, gives you a marker for where your fitness is, and sets you up nicely for the bigger challenges to come. Speaking of which, I need to book the Castle 100 in May down in Tonbridge. They’ve added a 125-mile version this year… being someone who rarely chooses to pass on a stupidly hard challenge, I guess I’ll be signing up for that then.