Best training plan for the Fred Whitton challenge

Hmmm reading these I probably need to re-evaluate my goals…

I think sub 7 at 4w/kg is maybe doable if you meet 2 key conditions:

  1. you’re in an organised group that sticks together and
  2. you really, really limit stopping times. I met my wife en route for a change of bottles and some more gels, but other than that, my only stops were a couple of calls of nature and the crash.

Also keep in mind that LT1 or your all day diesel pace is arguably as important as threshold. One rider with an FTP of 250 but at LT1 of 200 will likely get round the Fred quicker than one with an FTP of 260 and an LT1 of 180. What complicates it a bit is just how savage the climbs are: there’s just no way of getting up Honister, Newlands and Hardknott without going more or less all in unless you’ve got serious watts or very low gears indeed.

One tip: I did it on my gravel bike last year with my road wheels and that’s absolutely what I’ll be doing this year. Spinning out on the descents is a non-issue, because most of the time they’re too sketchy, and if they’re not you can tuck and try and recover, while there’s no such thing as a bottom gear that’s too low.

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Yeah, I’ll be meeting some friends for some water/fuel at whinlatter but that will be it. I walked up hardknott last time I did it so another target is to get up it riding.

LT1 ?

My moving time was 7:13 and elapsed 7:34 just checked.

First lactate threshold. Roughly equal to the top of z2, aka maximum all-day pace.

Here is a link to my 2015 ride

7:00:22 off the back of a 3.6 W/Kg FTP. Weather wasn’t great and set off solo picking up groups where I could. The course is now longer so your looking at an extra 10ish minutes to ride it now.

This is what I wrote afterwards.

Picked up a group around north end of Rydal. Tempo was steady to the foot of K’stone.
Ascent of K’stone was FAST

Descent was steady, group had splintered over the top but quickly re-assembled.

Pace through P’dale was FAST but was sitting in. Ascent of Matterdale was FAST but at this point I thought that keeping with this group was going to push me over the edge. Rode my own pace for the top half of the climb. Spent the stretch from here along the A66 to Keswick on my own jumping between groups. At Keswick was passed by the KMB boys and a peloton quickly formed. Again didn’t push on as the early pace was worrying me. Rode most of the stretch on my own over Honister, Newlands. Weather was deteriorating and it was a strong head wind up honister. Possibly a tail wind up Newlands but not as strong. Descent of Newlands was delayed slightly by two cars struggling to pass each other. Climb up Whinlatter was ok but not spectacular. Picked up first feed bag. As soon as I dropped into Lorton I hit the headwind and went into survival mode. Didn’t feel great but kept plodding.

Hooked up with a group of Honister lads off Fangs and rode with them to the cattle grid on Cold Fell. Rode from that point to the finish on on my own. Stopped at Calder to dump the first musette and avoid taking extra stuff from the second. Pushed on and with the turn at Gosforth finally got some respite from the wind. Ride up Eskdale went ok. Hardknott felt very hard but wasn’t a bad time. Made good progress off Hardknott, Wrynoes again felt rough but was OK. At Wrynoes was approx 6.5 min off schedule (6:58). Pushed as hard as poss all the way to the finish and made up 4 min. Was held up by cars behind slower cyclists after Skelwith and coming into Grasmere.

IMO sub 7 off 4 W/Kg is achievable but not a given, I was stationary for 90 seconds during the whole ride that day.

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Champion thanks so much Peter!

For what it’s worth, here’s what Best Bike Split gives me for the GPX currently on the Fred Whitton site, although I’m not sure how useful BBS is for a course/event like this given the potential for group riding and the importance on this route of descending skills too (I haven’t done a huge amount of group riding and am a very cautious descender!).

I set a target in BBS of 75% IF. FTP now from TrainerRoad AI is 273, my full-kit weight is 70kg and bike weight with bottles, spares etc is 11kg.

Will be my first Fred and I’ve been doing low volume plans, so given Peter’s comments 75% IF target seems appropriate. I think my goals will be ride to plan, enjoy myself and aim for sub-7.

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That’s interesting. I’ve checked, and I rode at 209 NP (FTP 278) last year at a weight of 71kg. Bike weight with 2 bottles, spares etc was probably 10.5kg.

Aside from the crash, which probably cost 3-4 minutes, the conditions were ideal. I’d also note that by the time I hit Blea Tarn, I also knew my chances of sub 7 were gone, so I didn’t push it hard into the finish. That’s probably 10 mins (max) saved, but to find another 20 would have been tough.

Where I could perhaps have made up time, on reflection, was in the section up to the far side of Kirkstone. I was in a large group which trundled very gently down to Ambleside, and I rode most of Kirkstone at solid tempo rather than anything harder as I was a bit wary of blowing up. Even so…

Perhaps I’m as aero as a brick, but whenever I’ve used BBS I’ve found it consistently 4-6% optimistic.

I did write quite a long guide for the Fred for a couple of friends who are more ‘recreational’ and whose goal is just to get round. If anyone’s interested, I’m happy to post it.

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Re time lost/gained on descending. The difference between a fast and slow descent on each of the main climbs isn’t massive. You will be much better served taking it easy and riding within your limits rather than pushing on. Almost every year we have the air ambulance out and it’s a horrible way for your day to end.

Kirkstone Pass is potentially very fast but narrow, twisty and likely very busy with other cyclists.
Matterdale End is fast but a wide road with good lines of sight and no particularly sharp turns. There is a very fast right hander.
Honister pass is very steep and rough at the top and the penalty for mistakes is very very high. Every year someone will hit a slate drystone wall at speed and make a very big mess of themselves. Once you pass over a small bridge (a right, over the bridge then left) it levels off and you can let the bike run from there
Newlands starts with a very steep and straight chute off the summit. It’s fairly rough so will probably be modulating your speed to keep the bike under control. From there it is pedally all the way to Braithwaite. There are two sets of hairpin bends you should make sure you are aware of. These are steep and in contrast to the rest of the descent.
Whinlatter is mostly fast and non technical but there are a few tight bends through the wood that can catch people out.
Cold fell is fast and pedally, rough in places and tightens up right near the bottom with a sharp right, left, right combo.
Hardknott is rough, steep, very narrow and very tight bends. You won’t be going that fast down here.
Wrynose is fast, steep, rough and dangerous. Starts off quite twisty then opens up into a straight line dive bomb. It also has the surface integrity of a cheese grater. Keep cautious here as this is also in the top three air ambulance landing places along with Kirkstone and Honister.
Blea Tarn is like a mini Hardknott. There is a 90 degree bend over a cattlegrid at the bottom. Dodgy at the best of times.

From observation I would say that most people set off too hard. You shouldn’t feel like you’ve turned a pedal in anger until Honister. The first half of Honister is awful after a long time spent in the big ring at speed. It is super steep and you will likely see people off and walking already. Once you hit the cattle grid it eases off and you have chance to catch your breath. Newlands is better and Whinlatter is a dream in comparison!

The summit of Whinlatter is half way and if you feel bad now you’re in for rough ride back down the coast. The back half of the course is fairly lumpy but nothing terrifying. There are a lot of ‘grippy roads’, wider tyres and lower pressures may help here. Irton Pike at Santon Bridge is an unwelcome surprise for a lot of people. A steep 5 minute climb after a long flat run really hurts the legs again. After that you are into Eskdale and a lumpy ride up the valley to Hardknott. At this stage you will just do whatever is left in your legs. If you have fuelled well and conserved some energy it will be tolerable if not it’s going to be an horrific 20 minutes! Wrynose is shorter and less severe but steepens dramatically near the top. Blea Tarn is easier again but there is a few hundred meters of 25%

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Great info, thank you. I thought looking at this BBS plan that it looks too good to be true.

Please do post that guide - sounds very helpful.

Here you go…

You start with the roll out from the showground at Grasmere and down to Ambleside. This is gently undulating but trends downhill, and is a very easy start. However, the road will be very busy with riders, so do pay attention. The ‘real’ Fred starts somewhere around the 10km mark, with a very tight left turn onto Holbeck Lane, which is a short, moderately steep little climb. More to the point, it’s very narrow and will be very congested at this point in the event. Just navigate it safely, don’t expend too much energy, and after about 1km, the gradient eases as you go through Troutbeck, before the road leads on to Kirkstone Pass (5.0km, average 5.5%, max 16%).

Kirkstone is the longest of the major climbs you’ll encounter on the route, but it’s definitely the easiest. In terms of approach, it’s a (fairly) steady ~6% most of the way, with just a few sharper ramps to disrupt you, so you should be able to find the right gear and spin at tempo. Moreover, the slightly grindy feel of the climb will be offset by adrenaline and (weather permitting) the first spectacular view of the day. Take it easy up here; you don’t want to overreach this early, whatever you do.

The pub marks the summit, and at this point it’s advisable to re-don a layer as it’s a long and fast downhill and likely still chilly. The way down from Kirkstone features a few chicanes, there will still be lots of riders around, and do remember it’s not a closed road. There’s then quite a long, m gently rolling, pretty section of road. It’s worth getting in a group here, as long as you can do so without overstretching. After just over 30 km, you turn sharp left off the main road, and you hit the second big climb, Matterdale End (1.9km, av 7.7%, max 11%)

This something of a reality check after ~15km of easy and fast riding. However, if you ride most of the whole thing in the saddle, at steady pace, it shouldn’t present any real problems. Remind yourself there is a long way to go.

After this, it’s the A66 (including some dual carriageway) section of the course (from 41km). This can go one of two ways; if you’re off early, in a decent group and you get a tailwind, it can be very fast, mostly quiet, and will allow you to tick off a sizeable chunk of distance for little physical investment. On the other hand, if you’re on your own, riding later, into a headwind, with traffic, it can be a draining and stressful experience. This is the single section of the course where riding a little (a little!) harder than you’re really comfortable with to be in a group is probably worth the trade-off.

The A66 deposits you at Keswick (at c.55km), after which the roads get narrower, more undulating, the groups tend to splinter, and before you know it, you’re facing the first real test of the day: Honister Pass (2.4km, av 9.9%, max 25%).

To be very clear, Honister is a horrible climb. Additionally, for some reason, even though I’ve ridden it quite a few times now, it always surprises me with just how hard it is. Part of that, I suspect, is the start: the road rears up to 25% almost immediately as you go around the corner, and stays very steep for the best part of a km. There aren’t many options here - you’re going to be almost flat out whatever you do. The middle part of the climb (after the cattle grid) eases off significantly, and you will need to use this to recover as much as possible, because the last section ramps back up to about 20% over the top. While it’s not as frankly ridiculous as Hardknott, it’s still a very, very challenging section of road, and you’ll be grateful for the descent into Buttermere to recover. It is, though, a tricky downhill and caution is needed.

As a side note, the section between the bottom of Honister and the start of Newlands is stunningly beautiful and my favourite part of the route. I’d advise you to slow down just a little here, spin some fatigue out of your legs, and prioritise taking in the surroundings for a few minutes.

Buttermere also sees the first feed station (75km). Avoid it: it’s typically very busy, there are usually only 2-3 loos and, unless you’re one of the very first riders to arrive, stopping here will likely slow you down significantly. The much better option, if you can, is to take enough food and liquid to get you until the halfway point, and then meet a helper (see comments about Whinlatter Pass, below). Only a few hundred metres after the feed stop, you turn onto the next major climb: Newlands Pass (1.9km, av 10.7%, max 25%).

Newlands (after 77km) is certainly a taxing climb, but it’s also a bit of an odd one. On paper, it’s maybe even harder than Honister, especially given the route doesn’t allow for much rest between them (assuming you haven’t stopped). Nonetheless, most people agree that it just doesn’t feel as difficult, though it’s hard to say precisely why. It’s an unforgiving start, that is for sure, with the gradient hitting close to 20% soon after turning off. It subsequently gives way to an almost completely flat middle section, but be aware that the last km just gets steeper, and steeper, and steeper, touching 25% around the very last corner.

After the descent from Newlands (which is fairly straightforward) you’ll hit the first checkpoint/cut-off at Braithwaite, at about the 81-82km point. This should be academic for most earlier starters, but those beginning later and targeting finish times over 9 hours can fall foul of it, as can those who’ve been visited by mechanical gremlins or who have lingered/been held up at the first feed stop (see comments above on this).

You may have noticed from the elevation profile that the second quarter of the course packs in the big climbs more-or-less one after the other, and sure enough, you’re soon faced with Whinlatter Pass (3.3km, av 6.4%, max 15%). While Whinlatter is quite long, and there are some steep-ish kickers, it’s actually quite a fun part of the event. The gradient is generally steady, your energy levels should still be good at this stage, and the forest gives it a very Alpine feel. Most crucially, there are always large numbers of spectators at this point in the course, which is (genuinely) inspiring. The top of the pass marks, at 91km, almost exactly the halfway point of the course, and the visitor centre car park is the perfect place to meet a helper for more supplies and a bit of moral support. You MUST plan to get to and leave this point with energy in the tank.

I think this next section – specifically, from the far side of Whinlatter to the far side of Cold Fell - has a rather different character to the rest of the Fred; it is more remote both geographically and in feel, has fewer spectators, and is usually the point where most people are really starting to feel the effort. For motivation alone, it can be worth getting in a group around here, even if the constant twists and turns and lumps and bumps tend to work against especially effective drafting. A word of warning: while there are no famous climbs in this area, and the going is generally easier, there are some hills that would be real features in other parts of the country (e.g. Scale Hill, Fangs Brow) and some of the descents are quite sketchy. Work on maintaining your focus, keep eating, and just let the miles tick by.

You’ll reach Cold Fell (3.7km, av 4.8%, max 21%) after 115km, just beyond Ennerdale, and the summit is roughly the 2/3 point on the route. I’m just going to put it out there: I hate Cold Fell. As noted, it’s at the most far-flung and bleak part of the course, is seemingly always cold, damp and windy, and comes just at the point where your legs are probably starting to protest in real earnest. The climb itself is an odd mix of seemingly interminable false flats and short, steep ramps; it’s hard to get into a rhythm, and unless you know the road very well, it’s tricky to tell how far you’ve got left, too. You’re also probably carrying quite a lot of fatigue by now, and you know you need to save a bit with Hardknott and Wrynose to come… Like I said, I hate it.

The descent from Cold Fell is as stop-and-start as the climb, but the sight lines tend to be poor, and there is a steep and dicey section just before you come into Calder Bridge. Calder Bridge is also the location of the second and final feed station (128km) and, literally a few hundred metres up the road, the second checkpoint. If you are running a bit short, a stop here tends to be less problematic than at Buttermere, as it’s usually less crowded (and there are more toilets). Remember the clock is still ticking, however.

Shortly after leaving/passing the feed station, everyone’s mind turns to Hardknott. There’s 30km of undulating riding beforehand, mind you, and the roads tend to be very narrow; a few tired and distracted riders come down around here every year, so keep concentrating. After a short section of busy main road, you pass through the villages of Gosforth (which is the three-quarter point of the ride), Santon Bridge, and Eskdale Green, before you turn right, the road narrows, and the ‘extreme gradient ahead’ signs begin to appear, as does your sense of impending doom. The ribbon of tarmac winding up the mountain is visible from about 1km away, and when you pass the famous red phone box, Hardknott Pass (2.2km, av 13.3%, max 33%) begins.

There’s no way around it: Hardknott is incredibly difficult on fresh legs. Coming after almost 160 km, it’s beyond hard. Possibly only 5% of the field will ride this from top to bottom without putting a foot down; far more that that will walk almost all of it, and pushing riders can be a serious obstruction for those trying to keep pedalling. It is savagely steep (20-25%) from the very start, and stays well over 15% for much of the first km. The first series of hairpins eventually gives way to around 600m of 5-6% straight road; recover as much as you can here, because what follows is just about the toughest section of tarmac anywhere in the UK. Now, you’re faced with a succession of impossibly steep hairpins, the last of which touches 33% (slightly steeper than a standard staircase, for reference), before the climb finally shows some mercy and eases off to a mere 10% over the top. Finally, practise the descent if at all possible; jokes aside, it is absolutely terrifying and there is very little like it you’ll have seen before. Take a minute at the top (but get off the road and out of the way!) to catch your breath and compose yourself, get in the drops from the start (that’s a good idea on all the big descents, really) and be very, very conservative. There are serious accidents here every year.

Most people’s lungs have largely recovered by the bottom of Hardknott, but their nerves will be frayed, and perhaps more to the point, already sore backs, necks and hands may be reaching their limit. It’s one of the few occasions when stopping after a descent can be a good plan: stretch, shake your hands out, take on the last bit of food, and compose yourself again for Wrynose Pass (1.8km, av 8%, max 25%), which starts in just a couple of km.

On its own, Wrynose isn’t that hard. Yes, the last few hundred metres are very, very steep (around 25%), but much of it is (or should be) really quite manageable. What makes it a grim prospect now is thar you have the small matter of over 165km of riding and 3000m of climbing (including Hardknott) in your legs. Ride it steady until the final stretch, and take comfort from knowing that this last effort over the top is (almost) your last push of the day. The descent isn’t as quite as steep or as twisting as Hardknott, but it is just as dangerous: it starts out very straight, which makes it very, very fast, and it’s also extremely bumpy, with a terrifying drop to the right, and there are some evil hairpins towards the base.

You’re now in the final stretch. However, there’s still one last climb to drag yourself up. Any respite after Wrynose is minimal, as the course turns sharp left just a few hundred metres after the descent, and you take on Blea Tarn (1.7km, av 7.2%, max 18%). Now, I like Blea Tarn; it is a beautiful climb – on a sunny day, one of the prettiest in the Lakes. Nevertheless, I’m confident in suggesting that very few riders will appreciate it at this moment. At this stage, it’s not about strategy so much as what you have left in the tank, both physically and mentally. One pointer, though; the descent as you ride it in the Fred is actually the steeper route to/from the peak and has possibly the worst road surface of anywhere on the course, so take real care with line choice and don’t take any risks; you don’t want to get within 10km of the finish, and over all the hills, only to spoil it now.

Now it’s the run in. There are no hills left, and you can either power home (if you have anything remaining in your legs) or relax a little and start reflecting on your accomplishment. Stay vigilant, though; the road through Loughrigg is narrow, can be a rat-run for traffic, and the bridge on the far side deposits you straight onto the main road! Ok, this is usually well-marshalled, but tired bodies and minds make poor decisions, so caution is the watchword. Only a few km of flat road remain; just remember this is the busiest bit of road on the whole course, some drivers will be very frustrated by the (probably awful) traffic problems, and you’re not going to make up much time at this juncture. Spin it in back to the showground.

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Another set of stats to help > 7:03 finish, 231W NP at 72kg, ~4800 calories so plan your feeding well. This was riding 2 up for the majority of the day just swapping turns. I rode a standard road bike with 52/36 and 11-28 gearing.

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Yes regarding that slate wall on the descent of Honsiter, there’s a corner there that nips round sharply to the right and can catch even the best riders out, i’ve had the misfortune of seeing one of my best friends hit that wall and requiring an air ambulance and spending a week in a coma. take it easy.

I’m sorry to hear that and hope that they have made a full recovery.

The stakes are high so please all ride well within your limits on the descents.

Just uploaded the Honister Pass and Hardknott Pass descents from 2022

Honister

Hardknott

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https://www.strava.com/activities/1569871853

My Fred Whitton effort from 2018, rode it on my gravel bike with road tyres mainly to give me more gears for the steeper climbs. Got held up when the route was closed after a crash and could’ve fuelled better, remember running out of energy after Wrynose

Didn’t have a power meter at the time but was probably around 4.5w/kg and preparation was all unstructured riding with lots of long rides with plenty hills of sprinkled in

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I just double checked (I did it in 2018 as well)

I was 4.17 w/kg FTP 284w

I did 225 NP for 7 hours 13 minutes (moving.)

I did stop at aid stations but I could have only stopped for water or got hand ups which I think would have been a couple of minutes, by my thought was why? It was lovely and sunny and I enjoyed the day greatly.

I seem to remember my moving time was 10 minutes slower than BBS prediction.

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Just a note for anyone doing it, I went and did 6 passes yesterday. I’ve mainly been doing riding indoors.

I forgot how much upper body muscles are used on the super steep sections, by the final pass I had no strength in my arms to use as leverage out the saddle. So if you haven’t I’d suggest do some upper body work to survive the hills.

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Can I do my usual of throwing in a hippy angle?
It’s a big day out in a gorgeous place. Times, placings, do they actually matter?
Ride with your eyes open; feel the wind, the hills and smell the air. It’s good to be alive, never forget that.
It’ll all play out in one way or another. An hour here or there, who cares?
Hope the clag lifts for the passes. It’s a beautiful place to spend time.

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I’m doing the Fred this year for the first time (but using join not TR) and I’m definitely planning to take my time and enjoy it!

Yes I would second that. On the Marmotte my wrists and arms were destroyed from all the out of saddle efforts on the steep sections.