Thursday, 29 October 2015

Snowdonia Marathon 2015 race report

This year was my fifth consecutive Snowdonia marathon. I always look forward to coming here and can't imagine not doing so. Everything about this marathon is top draw from the support you get from the marshals and spectators to the amazing scenery and then of course there is the marathon route itself. It's simply the best road marathon in the UK.

Snowdonia Marathon route
So on to this year. My preparation was textbook stuff. A solid 1 and a bit weeks of marathon training including a longest run of 12 miles, one hill session (Tring Parkrun), and one speed session (Race the Pain) with my running club LBAC. I was ready!

Team Buff UK kit ready!!
All the prerace talk is about one thing (as it is every year) - the weather. Not so much 'whether' it will rain but what type of rain can we expect. This year it chucked it down and I actually loved it. The video highlights on S4C captured that for sure.

My dad and I before the start
The course itself for those that don't know it, is best described as undulating and worst described as bloody hilly. The reality though is that it's actually very runnable which many don't realise, and because it is a loop there are the downhill sections to let loose and regain some time.

I always start this race full of confidence no matter what my fitness. No nerves, just excitement, expectation and and a knowing that this is where I belong. The race plan was a simple one. Stick to 8 minute mile pace from the start and hold on, hence a 3:30ish finish. The only thing stopping me was the small matter of not having run this distance or that speed for over a year. But I didn't let trivial details get in the way of a good plan.

We set off in the pouring rain having enjoyed the frontman of famous Welsh band (apparently) The Alarm. The course descends for a mile before leveling off and then rising slowly at first before quickly climbing for 3 miles up to the top of Pen-y-pass. I reached the top at 5 miles in averaging 8:30 mpm pace. Pleased with that. The next few miles are all down hill and before I knew it I was back below 8 mpm pace. Get in I might actually do this. Of course getting excited at 8 miles into a marathon is not advised and there was a long way to go yet. I ran on in the company of two MK lakeside runners Stephen and Rob who were also pacing for a 3:30-3:45 finish. Chatting with Stephen kept things nice and relaxed and made the miles flyby.

The pace felt mildly sustainable at this stage but I had no idea how my body would hold up beyond half way. What I was relying on was the residual fitness from my summer of ElliptiGOing. We hit halfway in the small town of Beddgelert full of beans soaking up the great atmosphere and the rain. 1:44 and right on the button in terms of pacing. All I had to do now was hold it. Let the mental battle commence.

Dad taking in the snowdonia scenery!
The second half of the course has two climbs. 13 to 16 miles is a continuous gradual ascent that can eat away at your pace if you are not hyper aware. I've learnt to love this section more and more over the years as despite the hill it is very runnable and an opportunity to pass those who got too excited in the first half of which there are many.

However at first I wasn't particularly on pace and my garmin suggested I was running a 8:43 current mile. Damn that won't do and soon after two guys looking strong passed me. That won't do either. It was decision time. At this point it was the furthest I'd run since Snowdonia last year. So no recent form to rely on but I'd been here before so what was stopping me from doing it again (other than my mind and tiring legs). So back to 'that' decision. I told my legs that they had to pick up the pace and they actually responded. At first with a grumble but I had the two guys ahead in my sights who were passing everyone else up this long climb so I just focused on them and worked hard. And it was pretty much the same story for miles 16-22. After seeing my family at Mile 16 and feeling good I just continued plugging away and took advantage of some downhill sections. My legs were really feeling it now but it's a marathon so just accept it and push harder.

Children and mum waiting at Mile 16 
I hit mile 22 in Waunfawr in 7:59mpm avg pace which marks the start of the sting in the Snowdonia marathon tail. A steep 2 mile climb up Bwlch y groes. Many fear this hill - yes it's hard especially when you've just run the best part of a marathon but it's also what makes this race so special. If you want flat and boring go and run Abingdon. I relish the challenge and it's another opportunity to make up places in the closing stages which is always satisfying. So with my fourth energy gel of day sucked up I got my head down and powered up never stopping to walk. 10 minute miling might sound slow but on this hill it's pretty good going.

Crossed the road to greet my wonderful family
Eventually up the top, or so you think, there is one false summit before you then have 1.5 miles of trail down to the finish in Llanberis. The rain had stopped but it had still left its mark on the extremely slippery descent that caught out many runners who came crashing down, some with comedy effect, whilst others clearly coming off a lot worst. I stayed upright (just) and managed a 7 minute final mile. I hit the last steep section of tarmac with my toes crushed into the front of my shoes and eventually rounded the last bend back onto the high street and the finish straight. I sped for home hands aloft and rousing the crowds and crossed the finish line in 3:33. Result!

Why not enjoy the moment I say!
To say I was pleased would be an understatement. I was ecstatic not just with my time but from the way I paced the race. I only lost 5 minutes in the second half which included those two climbs so translating that to a flat course I'd say it was a negative split in terms of pure effort. This wasn't my fastest time at snowdonia, in fact it was my slowest, but it was my best all-round performance. This gives me new found confidence that whilst running has taken more than a back step in 2015 I can look forward to better times and refind my form.

My fifth Snowdonia marathon coaster!
I'll put this into practice too with immediate effect. The MK winter half marathon is 6 weeks away so I plan to get down to some proper training now and get in shape for 2016.

I'm already looking forward to Snowdonia 2016 which could be something a bit special....

Entries open 01.01.2016 00:01. And will sell out in 48hrs guaranteed.

Monday, 31 August 2015

ElliptiGO Disc Brake conversion + Dynamo Hub

The ElliptiGO is a great machine which is extremely well-built and has served me well for 4.5 years and counting. The only modifications I've done to my 8S in that time is to convert the rear geared hub to an 11 speed and upgrade the chain ring to a 54 tooth. However I've since replaced this with the original chain ring (53 tooth) as the replacement lasted less than 12 months before identifying 4 broken teeth just 2 weeks ago. Last year I also upgraded the standard brake calipers (front and back) from the factory Avids to Shimano XT’s.

But anyone that read my report of the Pendle 600 ride will know that my rim brakes didn't survive that test. This wasn't really down to the quality or inadequacy of rim brakes under 99% of conditions you will find, but it’s not every day that you find yourself descending 30% gradients for hours on end. This one experience left me asking what the available alternatives were. Disc brakes and the proven benefits that come with them was the obvious answer. Hugely enhanced stopping power and no fade.

Enter stage left – Mr Andrew Nuttall (ElliptiGO Preston team) who has quietly gone about converting his own ElliptiGO with a front disc conversion. I watched on with much interest and Andy kept me fully informed as to its success. In short – it worked brilliantly. I was sold on being Andy’s first test subject.

Andy Nuttall - ElliptiGO Preston - Paris Brest Paris
What follows is a pictorial of the full conversion. Because the conversion requires a new wheel build I also took the opportunity to upgrade the hub to a dynamo hub which generates power for a dynamo specific LED headlight as well as charging mobile phones and GPS devices. This is also covered below as well as a full costed list of the parts and components used in the conversion.

I welcome any questions and will answer them if I can.

The Parts

  • New standard ElliptiGO fork (pre modification)
  • Velocity Aeroheat 20" Rim (1.5 32H)
  • Shutter Precision (SP) Dynamo Hub PD-8 (6V 3W output)
  • Standard Shimano skewer 
Velocity Aeroheat rim - stunning!

Rim spec - 20 x 1.5  32 Hole
Shimano twin-piston hydraulic brake lever & caliper
Shimano disc brake pads
Extended 1700mm brake hose to reach ElliptiGO handlebar

Fork modification

The fork modification is the major element of the whole project because without it there is simply no way to attach the disc brake calliper to the fork. The work on the fork was undertaken by Steve Goff Cycles & Frames. and designed with the requirements from Andrew Nuttall. Steve is a master craftsman with 30 years of experience so there is no better person to tackle this unique ElliptiGO project. The project required Steve to manufacture a bespoke bracket for the Shimano disc brake caliper that was then brazed onto the steel chro-moly fork. Steve also removed the existing stays for the rim brake calipers as they were redundant. This provides a very ascetically pleasing clear finish to the top of the fork. Steve also brazed on eyelets to thread the wiring for the dynamo hub, as well as a c-clip holder for the hydraulic hose. The results are below.

New caliper bracket brazed onto the ElliptiGO fork
Caliper bracket, dynamo wiring eyelets, and C-clip holder all brazed on
Dynamo eyelets up close (Shimano brake lever in shot)

C-clip holder for hydraulic brake hose
First test assembly - It all fits!
Sprayed up fork - courtesy of Andy Nuttall Custom Paints Ltd! :-)
Perfection - A thing of beauty and skill
Andy Custom Paints - fork prepared for the ElliptiGO Swoosh!
Andy Custom Paints - keep the masking tape industry afloat 
ElliptiGO swoosh added
Final Swoosh. Great job Andy Nuttall!
The Assembly

SP Dynamo hub PD-8 and brake disc
SP Dynamo Hub PD-8 in-situ - a fantastic bit of kit!
Dynamo and disc in-situ 1
Dynamo and disc in-situ 2
Dynamo and disc in-situ 3

Shimano hydraulic brake lever in-situ

32 spoke wheel built and assembled - I opted for semi-wave brake disc

Assembled built wheel with Shimano caliper attached  
Bracket and caliper up close
Final assembly on the ElliptiGO - incs Schwalbe Durano Plus 1.1 tyre
Alans BMX who calculated the length and supplied FREE spokes!!! Thanks guys :-)

Dynamo headlamp + generator hub

I did a lot research on dynamo hubs and headlamps. There is a lot of choice out there so it was important to get the right set up for the ElliptiGO and at the right price. A great resource to read up on headlamp and dynamo technology is PeterWhiteCycles.

There is also a very good article from CTC comparing the Top 5 dynamo hubs here. This article includes the SP dynamo hub PD-8 that I purchased. A key factor in my decision was the average speed that I would be riding my ElliptiGO. Dynamo hubs produce different output (Watts) at different speeds. Paris Brest Paris was a major factor here and I knew that we would be looking to ride no faster than 15-18kph. And the ElliptiGO is inherently a lot slower than a standard bike. And remember that you will also only being using the light at night when you are unlikely to be riding that fast anyway.

SP Dynamo Hub PD-8
The graph below is really helpful to understand the output of different dynamo hubs. It includes the most popular dynamo generator hubs on the market. The market leader is the SON Delux which retails at £180. However compare the Watts generated at 15kph and you can see that there is no difference between the SON and the SP Dynamo which is half the price. So for my needs the SP was perfect.

Output (W) for different hub generators
You also often hear people asking whether a dynamo significantly adds to the effort required to pedal along at a given speed (known as 'generator drag'). In the old days this was certainly true but the new breed of hubs are so good that you would be very hard pressed to even tell they are on. The chart below illustrates this by expressing the extra effort required to ride (with the hub switched off and on) in ascent (ft) per mile.

Dynamo hub generator efficiency
The SP dynamo that I purchased equates to an extra 4.5 feet of ascent per mile in effort. The CTC article linked (from which these graphs were published) go into more detail if you are interested.

When it comes to headlamps there is a lot of choice. After much research I opted for the Busch & Müller IQ2 Luxos U headlamp which received rave reviews, with many folk on the Audax UK facebook group singing its praises. One of the key factors when deciding on the lamp is whether you want just a standard light, or some of the extra bells and whistles that come with others. The Luxos U is a very clever bit of kit and incorporates a cache battery which is charged by the dynamo hub. So as well as using the battery to power the light it can also be used to charge other devices. This is what sold it for me allowing me to keep my mobile phone charged throughout Paris Brest Paris, and it worked perfectly. 

I shot the video below on my first night test ride. It compares the Luxos U headlight versus my existing battery powered Hope Vision 1 lamp.

Video of my test ride demonstrating the B&M Luxos U headlight in action

Pictures below.

Busch & Müller IQ2 Luxos U LED headlamp
Busch & Müller IQ2 Luxos U headlamp - provides a car headlamp shaped beam
Busch & Müller Luxos U headlamp affixed to ElliptiGO fork fixing point
Busch & Müller Luxos U - perfect fixing point for the lamp
Really nifty remote button to control the Luxos U lamp 

Very handy for charging mobile phones, GPS devices and bluetooth speakers! :-)
Remote button affixed to ElliptiGO stem
(Button couldn't mount on the handlebar as it came with a short cable - I didn't realise they do it in 3 lengths!)
Final Set-up :-)
At night after my first successful test ride

Final full set-up for Paris Brest Paris
Headlamp & dynamo doing its job brilliantly on Paris Brest Paris 2015

So how did the SP hub, B&M Luxos and disc brake perform on PBP?

In a word - brilliantly! I'll start with the hub and light set-up. In the day I was able to charge my Garmin etrex30 from the dynamo and also keep my mobile phone topped up. At night the dynamo was still capable of powering the Garmin whilst simultaneously powering the B&M Luxos headlamp. The illumination on the road ahead was absolutely superb with both a long and very wide beam (much like a car headlight pattern). Night riding was a real pleasure to the point where I was actually looking forward to using the light. At one point I rode along fellow ElliptiGOer Bill who also has exactly the same B&M Luxos light, but with the SON Delux hub. The SON costs twice as much as the SP hub but there was no discernible different in the light output at all. Result! I would definitely recommend a dynamo light set up to anyone that wants better light output, no hassle from batteries and the ability to power other devices. Note however that not all light have a cache battery with this capability.

Now on to the Shimano hydraulic disc brake and I also can not fault it. I'm glad I made the modification purely because it is a bit different to the standard set up. PBP certainly wasn't a flat course and so it allowed me to test the brake on all gradients. I had complete confidence in it and the key difference from a rim brake is that it doesn't fade under braking. The bite is instantly there and squeeze just a little harder and the ElliptiGO was coming to a complete halt in seconds. So a BIG thumbs up! The only consideration to take into account is that a hydraulic brake is not as easy to service as a rim brake, but on the other hand it should require less servicing. The pads pop out and can be replaced in seconds. It was only the initial sponginess of the brake that gave me doubt, but after a re-bleed from Grant (qualified bike mechanic) it was sorted. I just need to learn to do this myself.

Cost breakdown suppliers

My huge thanks to Andy Nuttall for making this project possible. Thanks mate! 

Note: Please contact Andy for advice if you are thinking about this upgrade due to the Safety implications of such a modification. Andy can provide full details of the design if anyone else would like to do the modification themselves. 

Thanks also to Broadgate Cycles, Steve Goff Frames, and Alans BMX.

Fork Disc Brake conversion

£47 - Velocity Aeroheat rim - Ordered from Bricklane Bikes, London
£80 - Standard ElliptiGO fork - ElliptiGO Preston, UK
£10 - Shimano skewer SJS Cycles, UK
£45 - Shimano twin-piston hydraulic caliper and brake lever kit - Broadgate Cycles, UK
£7 - Shimano Mount Adaptor Rear Post to IS - Broadgate Cycles
£20 - Hydraulic hose 1700mm - Broadgate Cycles
£10 - Hydraulic oil and bleed kit - Broadgate Cycles
£13 – Shimano Wavy 160mm Disc - Broadgate Cycles
£20 - Wheel build - Broadgate Cycles
£145 - labour on fork conversion - Steve Goff Frames & Cycles, UK
FREE - Spokes - Alans BMX, UK

Dynamo hub + light

£95 - SP Dynamo hub PD-8 (32H) - SJS Cycles, UK
£85 - Busch & Müller Luxos U - Rose Bikes, Germany