If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…
Category Archives: Training
June 5, 2015Posted by on
For a middle aged man, I’ve spent an suspicious amount of 2015 on the scales. Unlike normal people though, us cyclists aren’t obsessed with losing weight in order to look slimmer, although there’s no denying that lycra and beer bellies aren’t a good match. No, for us cyclists losing weight really is about just weighing less. The theory isn’t exactly rocket science: in order to cycle up hills faster you either need to generate more power or gain an advantage on gravity by weighing less. Ideally, both.
Whilst I’m not actually overweight, I’m certainly not lean enough to be mistaken for a pro cyclist. Looking back, it seems ridiculous that I’ve spent large sums of money on making my bikes lighter, yet never really had the discipline to make myself lighter. It seemed that my love of food and drink was becoming my limiting factor, so when I started 2015 overweight and out of shape I knew it was time to sort it out.
This wasn’t rocket science either: cut out the take-aways, reduce the alcohol intake and generally try and eat better/less food. One notable change though, was the addition of juicing. My fiancé had embarked on a strict juice diet and I (mostly) went along for the ride. With the exception of emergency sandwiches, I embraced a juicing plan by the over-enthusiastic Jason Vale aka ‘The Juice Master’. I’m as cynical about fad diets as the next man, but you can’t argue with the idea of swapping burgers for large quantities of natural fruit and vegetable juice.
By April, 4kg had been lost and my third trip to Tenerife was set to be the test of the science. Thanks to the the ingenious http://gniza.org/segments site, my Garmin Edge 810 was going to let me race against my previous all-out efforts on the slopes of Mount Teidi to see whether the upgraded waist line had been worth the effort. The results were almost unbelievable. The steeper the road got, the more improvement I saw. I slashed over 8 minutes off the final category 1 climb from Vilafor to the top. I was now a mere 15 minutes behind Chris Froome’s right hand man Davide Lopez (and another 500 riders) on the Strava leader board. Riding that strongly felt incredible though, more than a marginal gain that Team Sky would look for and more like the advantage that a blood bag would have given the previous generation of pro riders.
Unfortunately, more typical holiday behaviour then took hold, followed by weeks on the road supporting cyclists and eating as much as them regardless of whether I was riding or driving. So whilst I’m not back to January’s podginess, I’m not quite the lean, mean, hill climbing machine that I was last month. But having experienced how dramatic the improvements are, I’m not going to stray too far up the scales again.
So next time you’re about to splash out on the latest weight saving carbon component for your bike, save yourself some money and take a look at your diet.
March 31, 2014Posted by on
That’s the question I asked myself at one point during today’s 104 mile fixed gear training ride. I’d been going well, but found myself going through that phase where everything just hurts and the end seems like a very long way away. I’ve been doing some big training rides recently. Last week I did 70 miles of mountain biking, intentionally biting off more than I could chew and suffering so badly in the last 20 miles that having a quick sleep under a hedge started to seem like a good plan.
So what the hell am I playing at? Is this rational behaviour for a man now in his 40’s? I’m not deluded enough to think that I can turn professional – I should have thought about that at least 25 years ago – but I’m obsessed with trying to push my body to some higher level of fitness. I’m not the only one either, there’s a lot of us at it.
Sometimes when I get home with wobbly legs and too exhausted to properly explain myself, my wonderfully tolerant partner looks at me more with a mixture of pity and bewilderment than any admiration for my athletic achievement. “Are you insane?” Did you have to do that much?”. Both valid questions, but I’m a man on a mission. I like to set myself a goal, even if it’s just beating my best time at an amateur challenge event like the Fred Whitton. It gives me a sense of focus and something to throw my energies at. Admittedly, devoting myself to charitable causes could be more spiritually rewarding or putting the same energy into my career could be more financially rewarding, but it’s the cycling for me.
But there’s more to it than that, it’s everything that goes with it. The euphoria of powering over the final climb and sprinting back home, the contrasting comfort of the hot shower afterwards, there’s a sense of adventure to it all and it keeps this 41 year old feeling alive and well. Some people go out to night clubs and take pills to get their endorphins going – and it’s not for me to say that my way is better – but the cycling works for me. I have been known to get a cycling come-down mid week though…
Graeme Obree recently said that “there is no better vehicle for obsessional behaviour than a bike” and whilst I’m not quite as afflicted as him, there’s nothing better after a ride than some Strava analysis to see check of your performance improvements. Likewise with the bikes themselves, there’s so much to learn about (and spend your money on…) that I just don’t seem to get bored of it. I’m sure there’s worse things in life to be obsessed with.
So next time I ask myself why I do it, I’ve got my answers ready. I can’t ever remember regretting doing a hard session on the bike and the memories of even the grimmest and toughest of rides soon fade away once you get out of the shower. So keep pedalling, it’ll all be worth it!
March 11, 2014Posted by on
After a brutally wet and windy UK winter, this weekend’s fine weather seemed to mark the start of spring as far as us amateur road cyclists go. The Peak District’s roads get a decent amount of cycle traffic every weekend anyway, but there were subtle differences this time. Overshoes had been left at home, thermal bib-longs were replaced by standard lycra and there was even the sight of bare arms and legs. But the weather was clearly the signal for everyone to bring their ‘best bike’ out of hibernation. It’s been my first year of having a dedicated ‘winter bike’ with full mudguards, but I’m completely sold on the idea. The Planet X Uncle John’s dealt with everything the winter’s thrown at it and has gone above and beyond the call of duty. As well as letting my beloved Boardman Pro Carbon avoid the worst of the weather, it’s got me out pedalling when I previously wouldn’t have.
I hadn’t even ridden the Boardman since the Tenerife trip back in November, but once I’d dusted it off and got going, everything fell right back into place. The slightly racier position, the higher spec shifters with lighter wheels and tyres, it all felt amazing. So did the lighter overall weight and the responsiveness of the carbon frame compared to the Uncle John’s aluminium bulk. The Uncle John’s taken the blows all winter though and there’s been rides so windy that it’s extra weight has allowed me to stay upright when the Boardman would have been blown right off the road. It almost felt unfair that the ‘posh bike’ should emerge victorious to grab all the glory and Strava achievements, but I suppose that’s the point; I’ve been slogging up and down the hills on a heavy bike all winter and still performing well, so once I got back on the light bike it felt like I’d let the handbrake off!
I won’t be forgetting those winter rides though – the time’s I’d be shivering and numb at the bottom of a descent, that time I got caught in snow and fog and feared for my safety – I appreciate now that they were all worthwhile. I’ve paid for my spring and I’ve earned the right to race around in the sunshine on a high spec bike with a big grin on my face. No offence to anyone who’s only now decided that the weather’s good enough to cycle (and it’s not my style to discourage anyone who wants to get out pedalling) but do they truly appreciate what they’ve got?
Character building (or sometimes just “stupid”) is what people might call those winter rides, but despite some tough conditions, I can’t say that I’ve regretted a single ride. I used to just rely on fixed gear riding and mountain biking for winter rides, but thanks to the winter bike I’ve put in more way more distance and climbing than I usually would have by this point in the year. Things are surely looking good for the Fred Whitton in May!
January 27, 2014Posted by on
There’s always been mixed opinion about how much cyclists benefit from doing other disciplines, or cross training as it’s become known. When the great Eddy Merckx* was once asked for some training advice, his three suggestions were: “Ride the bike, ride the bike, ride the bike”. Not all cyclists are such purists though. The winter sport of cyclocross, with all it’s muddy running about with a bike on your shoulder, was originally devised as winter training for the pro’s. Nowadays there’s even more riding options being explored in the ‘off season’ and personally I reckon it’s hard to beat mountain biking as an all round workout. I’ve heard that Norwegian cyclists such as Edvald Boasson Hagen get stuck into some cross-country skiing every winter, but ski’s would be a poor investment for where I live.
But what about running? Triathletes obviously do their share of pavement pounding, but what about those of us who who prefer to class ourselves as cyclists? I did a lot of running in 2010 as part of a conscious effort to train for the Etape du Tour and I still suspect that it was my fittest year as a rider. I’ve done the occasional run since, but I’d let the trainers get dusty for two years until deciding to pull them on again yesterday.
There’s a school of thought that claims that running damages the body and I admit that if I’ve not ran for a while, my legs ache for days afterwards whilst they adapt to the different stresses. Yesterdays run got off to a particularly bad start as I hurt my back bending down to pull my running pants on – maybe it’s true?
I was surprised at how fit I felt though. I wasn’t running hard, but my heart rate was nowhere near as high as even a moderate ride, though I still remember hitting my highest ever heart rate as I wobbled across the line of the Manchester 10k run a few years ago. I’ll be entering it again this year so there’s plenty more running ahead of me.
Right now I’m so sore that I had to cut todays ride short and can barely get up and down the stairs. But will all this running actually make me any fitter? Who knows, I suppose I’ll have to wait and see…
* so dominating was Eddy Merckx during his time as a professional cyclist, that it’s pretty much obligatory to precede his name with the word ‘great’ or at least refer to him by his nickname, ‘The Canibal’
November 27, 2013Posted by on
It’s an interesting thought that the oldest and most simplistic form of the modern bicycle also attracts the most diverse cultural groups and usage. For those unfamiliar with fixed gear bikes, they have no gears or even a freewheel – if the wheels are moving then so are your legs!
Historically, fixed gear bikes were the norm until some clever sod invented the freewheel, which then allowed you to ‘coast’ once you were up to speed (very useful when going downhill). Early professional road cyclists used them and track cyclists at velodromes still do. Track bikes also have the distinction of not having brakes, which is also how some people like to ride them on the road. This style of riding, which requires the rider to lock their legs to skid to a halt, became popular with New York couriers before spreading to the rest of the world. The current ‘fixie’ scene combines this often precarious form of riding with fashion, both for the rider and bike and has even spawned the sport of bicycle polo.
So what’s my involvement with fixed gear? Well for me, it’s nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with riding. What started as a cost-effective commuter bike (the obligatory Specialized Langster) developed into a whole new appreciation of pedalling. People often talk about the zen like quality of riding fixed and how you’re connected to the road in a more positive way and whilst I don’t disagree with such thoughts, here’s eight quantifiable reasons for riding fixed.
If you consider how much riding time you’d usually spend coasting, you begin to realise how beneficial this style of riding is for your legs. In 2010 whilst starting training for the Etape du Tour I spent long, cold, dark winter evenings hurtling round the flat lanes of Cheshire on the Langster, often up to 50 miles and was amazed at the fitness I gained. Coaches refer to a ‘base’ of fitness that you can develop and riding fixed is the old school base building method that’s been around for years.
2. Pedalling technique
Non-obsessive cyclists might assume that there is no real technique to pedalling – your legs simply turn the pedals round. Those of us in the know appreciate that it’s not quite that simple. You should be producing even power throughout the whole circle and riding fixed can help achieve that even pedalling style, even when going downhill with a ridiculously high cadence. For maximum fun, try riding a fixed gear bike indoors on the rollers – it’s nowhere near as easy as the pro’s make it look at the velodrome…
3. Ultimate control in traffic
I admit that I was initially apprehensive about riding fixed gear through city centre traffic. It’s only since doing it on a non-fixed bike that I’ve realised the benefits. Weaving through traffic at slow speeds is so much easier to control when you’re controlling your acceleration and deceleration with your legs.
4. Track stands
It was through riding fixed that I mastered the art of standing still on the bicycle. Not massively exciting, but useful at traffic lights as it saves you having to unclip your feet. This is due to being able to put your bars at 45˚ and control your forward and backwards motion. It’s not just a cool trick though, as the control and technique helps with the mountain biking.
5. Hill climbing
Hills with no gears? Oh yes! I’m not talking long alpine climbs, but any short ramp of up to 15% can be ‘attacked’ on a fixed gear bike in a way that you just wouldn’t on your normal road bike. Maybe it’s the lack of gears to wimp out with, or that if you don’t commit your whole body to it 100% then you’ll grind to a halt and fall over. Strava’s proved to me that my best efforts on short hills are when riding a fixed gear bike and the Monsal Hill climb course record set by Malcom Elliot in 1981 whilst riding a fixed wheel bike still stands to this day.
6. No gears, no hassles
Keeping your gears working well isn’t exactly rocket science, but if you’re going to be riding a bike through city centre grime and winter country lanes then it’s nice not to have to have any to collect muck in. All you need to do is give the chain a wipe and lube from time to time and occasionally re-tension the rear wheel as the chain inevitably stretches.
7. A cheaper bike
Whether you’re building or buying, a fixed gear bike is way cheaper than a geared road bike. If you’ve ever specced up your own road bike then you’ll have realised how much goes on the gear levers and derailleurs. Not a problem on the fixie so you either get a much cheaper bike, or if you spend the same money you’ll get a better quality of important components, such as wheels.
8. The fitness gauge
One thing about having to turn the one same gear is that you know how your legs are feeling, there’s no hiding behind easier gears. I used to commute in and out of town on a 48×17 fixed wheel every day and it was the best measurement of fitness I’ve ever had. If I ever started considering changing to a 16t sprocket then I knew I was on form. If I was struggling to turn the pedals it was time for an easy week…
Having already cycled up the height of Mount Everest 12 times this year, it’s nice to just enjoy the rhythm of some flat or gently rolling roads on a fixed gear bike. Too much of anything can wear you down and we all need variety, so the hills can wait whilst I recondition my legs and perfect my pedalling ready for 2014. It’s going to be a good year!
November 4, 2013Posted by on
As Greg Lemond, the American Tour De France winner once said: “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster”. Returning to Tenerife for another training camp (or ‘holiday’ as I tactfully refer to them at home) was a painful reminder of the first half of Greg’s famous quote. Somewhere in my cycling obsessed brain, I’d decided that having pedalled up Mount Teidi several times earlier in the year that it would somehow be easier this time.
Obviously this was not the case. I might have moved to the edge of the Peak District, but any UK climb starts to look like a pathetic pimple once you leave your Tenerife hotel by the sea and embark on a continual climb to the lip of the crater at 7200ft/2200m. For an average amateur like me, that’s three hours of non-stop climbing, depending on route, fitness and form. For more specific route advice check out the blog from the last ‘holiday’.
Coping with the climb
If you’re not a veteran of long climbs you’ll be needing some coping strategies to get you through. 25 miles of uphill is obviously a lot to come to terms with, so break it into the three sections, but ride straight through onto the next one though or you might be tempted to stop. There’s plenty of time to think, although if you’re really serious you’ll only be concentrating on your pedalling and breathing. I can’t claim to be that disciplined yet though, so for me, life gets evaluated, perspective is gained and often these blogs get written.
I don’t think I could cope with any kind of long ride without a decent amount of data to look at, which is where the Garmin 705 comes in. Average speed, heart rate, cadence, gradient – they’re aIl decent distractions, but you can’t beat watching the altitude readout on a long climb. On a climb like Mount Teidi you see altitude figures on your Garmin that would normally have you planning a system reset and thoughts like ‘only another 2000 feet of climbing’ become almost normal.
I’ve gone off the route into the actual crater, with it’s howling winds, broken Tarmac and coaches, in favour of pausing to eat my squashed sandwich before the frantic hour of descent back to the hotel. It’s worth doing once though, just for the spectacle of it. In the UK I go out of my way to create rides that form perfect loops, or at least interesting shapes (that’ll be the OCD…) Out here though, I’m perfectly happy to retrace my route in order to relive and celebrate every hard earned slope and hairpin whilst (almost) graciously swooping downwards with gravity now very much on my side.
What wasn’t on my side this visit though, was the wind. Having quickly realised that none of the weather forecasts could be relied on, I just set off each time regardless. Whilst it was never an issue on the way up, and once past Vilaflor it was ghostly still, the descents lower down became somewhat terrifying for a man trying to cling on to a lightweight carbon bike.
So was Greg right?
I’d certainly not found it any easier this time, but was I any quicker? Via the magic of Strava, it turned out that I was! Without the ability to upload my rides until returning to the UK, I’d been attacking the routes based on fairly imprecise targets and maximum efforts. It seemed to have worked though, as I’d shaved minutes off every category 1 segment and even PR’d on every descent as well. Although I did the same amount of rides as last time, I didn’t actually do as many miles and climbing, but what I did do was ride harder. And maybe it’s that intensity that’s been lacking from my riding this year. So whilst I’ve not achieved any of the sportive results I wanted this year, I’m treating my performance on Teidi as an achievement.
Here’s the evidence on Strava: ride 1, ride 2, ride 3, ride 4. I feel like I’ve ‘done’ Teidi properly now and having been there twice, it’s probably time to find another training camp destination. Oops, I mean holiday…
August 16, 2013Posted by on
Ok, I know it’s a cycling blog and I have no pretensions of culinary greatness, but I feel the need to share the recipe for my cycling fuel with you. Until two years ago, I used to buy those expensive sports nutrition bars to eat on big rides. Then I realised that it was essentially just posh flapjack, so after some investigative Googling I decided to start making my own. I should tell you up front that I am not especially known for my skills in the kitchen, in fact I’d say that I’m fairly inept. Toast and the occasional pasta dish were the previous extent of my repertoire, so making flapjack was into a whole new area of cooking for me.
I tell you this by way of encouragement: once you get the hang of this, you’ll be in and out of the kitchen in half an hour, from prep to cleaning up afterwards. You’ll also start tweaking the recipe to suit your own tastes. And the results? Rocket fuel! The first time I took this out on a group mountain bike I had some just before the final tough climb at the end of a long ride. I flew up the climb like it was the first of the day. So, if you want to make your own cheap, tasty and high performance cycling fuel then read on.
Baking tray (I use one 12″ x 8″ x 1″)
Scales (the same scales that you secretly weigh bike components on)
Bowls (just for weighing ingredients in)
Wok (or half the ingredients if you only have a large frying pan)
16oz block of butter
18oz of porridge oats (I’ve recently been using Museli as well)
12oz of dried fruit (the cheapo stuff from the baking aisle in the supermarket works fine)
4oz of castor sugar (or any sugar to be honest)
12oz of golden syrup (using treacle or honey as part of the 12oz can be interesting)
- Put the oven on to 180 degrees, turn on the radio/stereo/iPod.
- Thoroughly grease the baking tray with butter.
- Cube the butter and start melting it in the wok over a medium heat. Try not to boil it.
- Weight out 4oz of sugar and 12oz of syrup into a bowl.
- Once the butter’s almost melted, throw the sugar/syrup combo in.
- Stir it all in so it’s melted into a sickly mess that looks dangerously unhealthy.
- Weigh out and add 18oz of oats and stir in. It’ll seem too much, but keep turning it in until there’s no whiteness in the oats.
- Weigh out and add in the fruit. Feel free to add anything else at this point. Seeds are good, if you’re into that kind of thing.
- Once it’s all blended in, transfer it to the greased baking tray. I find that the back of a spoon works best to press it in firmly.
- Place in the middle of the oven for 12 minutes.
And that’s it. Clean up whilst it’s cooking to avoid getting in trouble, taking care to wipe the syrup tin or it will gunk up the cupboard. After 12 minutes, take it out and leave to cool. It should just be browned round the edges – don’t panic and bake it for longer though, as it will be properly done once it’s cooled. When it is cooled, you can take out and chop up into your preferred shapes/sizes and wrap in cling film or foil. This is my least favourite stage of the whole operation, but if you do it now you’ve got a convenient stock to grab from on your way out for a ride.
My other advice would be to only eat this stuff when you’re actually out riding. A decent slice of this fuels a couple of hours in the saddle so don’t be tempted by a slice when you’re just sat on the couch or you’ll notice massive weight gains…
April 10, 2013Posted by on
With a holiday in Tenerife booked, it would be a very strange cyclist who didn’t take/hire a bike. After the ‘shit hire bike and defective inner tubes’ episode in Portugal last year, I splashed out on a ‘Polaris Bike Pod Eva’ to protect my precious Boardman Pro Carbon – which it thankfully did.
So here’s some info for anyone planning a training camp (or ‘holiday’ as we refer to it to our partners). We stayed near Costa del Silencio on the South coast, just to the west of South airport, but most of this info should apply to anywhere round the south coast.
Routes up to Mount Teidi:
- The first section (from where I was staying) was to climb up to San Miguel at 2000ft. The TF-65 is great once you get over the TF-1 (the only road you really need to avoid!). It’s fairly steady 7% ish, though I still got rapidly overtaken by a BMC pro rider who didn’t even have the courtesy to look like he was trying.
- From San Miguel there’s a few options up to Vilaflor. My fave was to cut across East to Granadilla then embark on the gloriously twisty TF-21. There was one point where I was almost convinced the road had managed to tie itself in a knot, though it was probably just fatigue messing with my head.
The TF-563 is also very nice – quieter and narrower but with super smooth tarmac. It gets a bit steep towards Vilaflor, but for me this road excels as the best downhill ever! The TF-565 option was also ok, but a bit rough as a downhill.
- Fill your bottles at the garage on the left in Vilaflor (don’t continue if you’re running low!) as it’s way cheaper than the cafes, before taking the one and only road up to the top. This road’s a cracker – fairly steady gradient but a good 9 miles of slog. At about 6000ft my arms and legs would go tingly and I felt like I could only half fill my lungs, though altitude may affect you more or less.
- The road peaks at about 7300ft before heading down into the crater. There’s a good layby on the left that I used as a feed point. If you want more, descend down into the crater and enjoy the wacko scenery, crap tarmac and possible cross winds. The hotel has a cafe, or you can carry on past to do more climbing. I did this on the first day, then settled for just ascending to the rim (!) and back via different routes.
- For early April, it was 24 celsius at the bottom but a bit cooler at the top. I wore bib shorts/short sleeved shirt and though I could never be arsed taking any extra clothes up, it did get a bit chilly descending, especially if the clouds had come up. I was back at the hotel within 50 minutes though, so no major trauma! One odd thing I noticed was that my belly was stone cold on reaching the top, which was pretty weird.
- There was one day that was ferociously windy, so I had a rest day. It would have been scary on a light bike in 25mph+ winds!
- I was nagged into putting sun cream on my arms and neck and was glad I had no choice in the matter.
- If you follow pro cycling you’ll love this place. I got overtaken (either up or down) by riders from Lotto Bellisol, BMC, Cannondale and Team Sky, including ‘the Kenyan born Chris Froome’. I managed to hold Froomey’s wheel for about 200m, by which point I’d set a new max HR and elected to give it up. I saw six Blanco riders getting out of their van and marvelled at Team Astana launching themselves down the mountain in full aero tuck formation.
In conclusion? I absolutely loved it; I did four rides totalling about 220 miles and 30,000ft of climbing and I’m already dreaming of getting back in the autumn!
Here’s my rides: