E3coach Endurance Sports Blog
Consistency of Controlled Effort Pattern Training (CCFPT)
This a training method theory, which is not new and has been in and out of fashion (so to speak) I am wanting to put a new light on it, give it a way cooler name and expand on the old theories.
Let me state at the start, we need to train in all our zones even as endurance athletes, what I am explaining here is lower end fitness, our engine, base fitness or our building block fitness. I will also mention all athletes respond differently to different training methods, thus this is one method that I believe does fit many athlete types, but as a coach working with an athlete I always look at what will work for the individual.
This training method is for those wishing to improve their performance for a given event, if you are just wanting to have fun then do please play around and don’t make it feel too much like work or else this will cause you to drop out and resent your chosen sport.
When we learn a skill there is an approach to it, we need to teach ourselves the correct form, then once, when understand and can perform the skill correctly we then repeat the skill until it becomes instilled and can be done without thought.
Now when we look at fitness, it is pretty much the same as getting the skill correct. This is making sure we have the correct training zones for ourselves and we fully understand the event/discipline we are undertaking, for the sake of this article lets taking running as our example.
Having undergone a maximal heart rate test and built our training zones (See figure 1)
Figure 1example of maximal test result
we then establish our event/distance etc, that we need to train for.
Now our repetition is set for the correct training zone for our event.
If we take that we have entered this event with 6 months to train, we need to apply CCFPT starting with our low end effort. (How long spent in this period depends on athlete history)
Now the part science, our bodies like our mind (funny they are connected) learns from repetition
“Repetition is a key learning aid because it helps transition a skill from the conscious to the subconscious. Through repetition, a skill is practised and rehearsed over time and gradually becomes easier”
as with any other muscle our heart needs to be trained. If we perform 4 (no need to be longer than 30 minutes) runs a week at our base effort and we make one of these run a bench mark or gauge run (to monitor progress) the bench mark run is worth putting a climb you know well in it (Climbs give us exaggerated feed back). Now if we follow this Consistent controlled effort pattern for 4 weeks by your 4thweek you will be running faster for your same base effort (zone 2)
On the bench mark run you will also be able to run up the hill faster for the same effort as you started with in week one.
This is a positive training effect and can bring much large gains to an endurance athlete than spending time playing in lots of training zones and trying to follow the media hype of you can cut corners and perform better by following zone 5 sessions etc.
A counter argument to this training theory has been that you need 20 plus hours a week to get any gains or be a pro that can train full time, no this is not true you just need to be disciplined and consistent, the main reason this method will not work is because you get bored and start playing around with your intensities, all this does is through your body off its fitness curve, slowing down or even stopping the fitness gains. 4-5 short sessions at the correct intensity will develop this endurance fitness in most athletes.
I have applied this training method to 100s of athletes over the years and over 90% have responded positively, these athletes range from complete beginners to world champions.
I still apply this method to my own base training period and still 15 years later it is still working, even today on my bench mark run route I got a low effort PB, this route has a hard long climb and my heart rate stayed at 150 beats and I dropped the loop time by a couple of minutes.
Teaching your body what to do is amazing fun and when you make that gain you will totally get it and understand, but be patient, believe in the process.
When it comes to making gains in fitness, strength or even psychological development it takes time, the pros don’t wake up and suddenly they are that good, the guy or girl on the front of that magazine with a 6 pack did not get it in 3 weeks. Hard work and dedication will bring much more genuine reward than any quick fix solution.
Now for the fun part, if you have stuck at this training method and you want to start training in your other zones, your body will be much better at coping with this and allow you to progress further at high intensity training.
“For an athlete a big base provides a better tolerance to training, a faster recovery from training and the ability to handle more speed work”. Jon Ackland, Endurance Training 2007
and start your training journey today.
Lap of My Mind
Lap of My Mind is a charity cycle ride around the UK coast that I along with a few fellow endurance mtb riders devised. The idea being that we’d doing something mega hard over the winter to raise awareness of mental health and at the same time raise some funds that would be split between charities Mind and Calm and in support of Mind Over Mountain World Record Attempt in 2019.
Since coming up with the idea in the summer the challenge had grown massively and it became a big piece of work getting everyone to the start line. Recruiting riders was just the tip of the iceberg. The challenge became a moving feast with riders changing up until the last minute. Although I’m sure I’ll look back on this amazing adventure with pride in the long run, it’s being quite an ordeal trying to hold the challenge together. I do solo endurance events for a reason and I’m not very good at relying on others so throwing 9 other riders and their support crews into the mix was always going to be something that put me out of my comfort zone. Not only that but I had the small matter of riding the anchor leg myself finishing on the darkest day of the year on the rather hilly Devon and Cornwall coastline.
I had recruited a great bunch to support me on my leg and decided that splitting the support crew in to two batches of people would cause the least burden for those people and hopefully keep everyone as fresh as possible. Oli from Pedal Progression volunteered to help on leg 1 with Lee and Rachel Eaton as backup as well, Lee planning to do a fair bit of riding on the first day. Taylored Cycles had loaned their van which turned out to be a godsend once the carnage commenced. Sarah and mate Chris took over for the second 24 hours so Oli could get back in time for his daughters xmas school event!
Day 1 was over 170 miles from Falmouth to Wadebridge via lizard point and Lands End where a little bet would have to be delivered upon. We hooked up with Max as he finished his leg having had a mega set of weather to deal with. Max isn’t someone to drop his head in bad weather but knowing he had had to take a couple of shortcuts to keep on track had me worried as both our legs had similar terrain aka steep ups and downs on crappy singletrack roads. Setting off was in some way a massive relief for me as I could focus on just myself rather than worry about everyone else’s legs and helping their support crews. Lee set off with me and the miles started ticking down. Once we hit the first minor roads it was clear that there was going to be a major average speed challenge caused by the state of the lanes. A combination of recent hedge cutting work and general crap that had washed on the the roads made them a complete nightmare to ride both up and down at any speed. In particular the steep gradients on the downs and twists meant painfully slow progress and hard work pulling on the brakes when I should be resting and recovering.
Despite sharing some concerns about the conditions on the roads we cracked on and despite a headwind it wasn’t until we got towards Lizard’s point that the shit started to hit the fan weather wise. The other riders had really had some awful weather so I almost felt relieved in a completely masochist way when golf ball hail started hitting us. I could say I had had some crap weather now like the rest. That said we didn’t immediately need to don rain jackets a mile out of the set off but somehow that didn’t seem much of a major weather event compared to what came. The hailstorm was like getting hit repeatedly by a paintball gun and along with some driving rain really took it out of me and Lee. I took a wrong turn around Lizard point and we ended up going back on ourselves, it was then I noticed Lee had dropped right back and by the time we met up with the support van at Lizard he was shaking and had to get in the van to warm up for the next few hours. I quickly changed top, buff and gloves and carried on not wanting to let my core body temperature drop. This was to be a theme across the whole ride - keep warm, keep moving.
Lee rejoined in time for the Lands End pose in my pants spectacular. It was deserted and dark, a good thing seeing as I was in a pair of skimpy budgie smugglers. This all came about after a bet with Steve Day that if he rode his entire leg singlespeed I would deliver some laughs at Lands End.
After the Lands End faffing which turned out to be the longest van meet up stop on the whole leg, Lee carried on again +4 jackets. Once we got going up the coast we had a beautiful period of about 2 hours with a lovely tailwind. This really helpful us pick up some badly needed time lost earlier on the twisty lanes. Lee ended up parting ways a bit earlier than planned as I think the temptation of riding past near his house was too much and the fear of freezing to death again was a risk! I was joined later on by Gary who appeared at the side of the road and provided some welcome company for a couple of hours just before Newquay. The spirit of the event all the way round the UK has been amazing with people turning out randomly to support riders.
With the company went the tailwind and more swirling conditions on the ups and downs continued. I had planned to hold back on all the climbs on day 1 but the sheer gradient meant I was having to stand on the pedals just to get up them. It’s something I occasionally practice in training to hold back on the climbs so that came in handy (thanks E3coach!).
My eating and drinking was going well. I had originally planned to intersperse ‘real’ food with my usual Torq energy stuff but after feeling a little bit dodgy from a mini roll early on I decided to stick to what I knew worked drinking full strength energy powder mixed in with energy gels/bars and the occasional much of a protein bar. I only added in some soup and rice pudding occasionally to warm up a bit.
The clock ticked away and my planned 1am bedtime was way gone as I was climbing up the last hill of the day to the Wadebridge Travelodge. Oli had been mega all day and had gone ahead to get lights charging and the room sorted out before my arrival in the middle of the night. I munched a couple of chicken wraps before tired hands spilt a can of soup on the floor but I was just itching to get in to bed to grab a couple of hours before the 5.15 wakeup call to get on the road again. Some tossing and turning meant only a couple of hours sleep before jumping back on the bike again and although tired I wasn’t feeling as bad as I thought I would be. 220 miles on 2 hours sleep wasn’t the most enticing prospect.
I rode the morning solo until the point where Chris and Sarah were handing over from Oli somewhere at the top of yet another big ass climb. Chris eventually joined me for some company which was welcome as we faced some of the hardest sections on the whole challenge constantly dipping down to Cornwall coves and straight back up. I lost count of the number of 25% signs I saw. Things got even more interesting when rough roads turned to mountain biking for a section before Hartland. Unbelievably I cleaned a technical rocky climb, Hutchinson tubeless road tyres highly recommended!
Andy Deacon eventually met up with us around Barnstaple area after our first meet up miscommunication with the van meaning a bit more faffing and lost time. Once Andy joined we made good progress again. Night fell early and Chris jumped back in the van and helped Sarah whilst me and Andy took on some savage and relentless climbing all the way along the coast. We were getting blown about in the weather to boot and I was quickly getting through my entire stock of clothing. Andy pulled a mega shift with me and such was the length of the day that it was brilliant to have him along. His ride in itself was no mean feat and we both had some highs and lows. I nearly cracked up the 35 minutes it took to get up the climb out of Combe Martin, head was down and I was feeling like closing my eyes. My heart rate plummeted and I couldn’t make any progress. I was drained mentally and the hills just kept coming. I was really having to start managing the pain of the ride in my neck and shoulders as well as the obvious legs. I just couldn’t see how I would get through another 90 miles of this before the end of the day. Sarah and Chris were met with serious grumpiness at the top of the climb, so much so that next time we met up they were cringing expecting me to have had a serious meltdown. Fortunately despite the terrain my head had cleared a bit. I lost sense of location, time and mileage though, the only focus was to keep moving forward and keep pit stops short.
By Bridgewater a short stop at McDonalds 18 miles from the end I was completely spent and Andy had also taken the chance to jump in the van. Chris’s relentless enthusiasm and energy popped up though and dragged me to the end of day 2. I was literally hanging over the handlebars and the arrival time yet again later than scheduled meant another 2-3 hours kip was about the maximum I would get before the last 40 miles back to Bristol. I lay in bed trying to get to sleep, totally drained fearful about whether I could even get to the end the next day.
A brilliant effort by Chris in the morning and Sarah got us out of the door at 8am and it was judgement time in terms of whether or not my body would keep going. Amazingly, despite aching everywhere, within a couple of pedal strokes I knew I would make it. It wouldn’t be fast or pretty but given the last 40 miles were pretty flat I just needed to turn the pedals. This was a huge relief. It then turned into a fabulous morning ride with lots of riders turning out to see us through to the end at the Clifton Bridge via a quick mince pie stop at Alan’s house.
Just as we were coming on to the suspension bridge there was an unbelievable moment where the sun came out at last and shone on the riders as they came to the end. If I’m totally honest it wasn’t quite the jubilation I had expected as I think that came with that second pedal stroke earlier in the day. This whole thing had taken a massive emotional toil in the run up and a huge physical one during. I was just relieved to finish as I had felt a lot of pressure to ride my entire route on time. It was great to see the people who had turned out to the finish and then the riders as well with Oli also making a re-appearance which was great.
There are so many people to thank in pulling this whole thing together. On my own leg all the support crew and riders who joined. Ollie, Chris and Sarah in particular were awesome in the van whilst Andy and Lee did some serious support work on the bike.
To all the riders and their support crews around the UK, what an effort. We hadn’t completed it in the same way as planned but nonetheless we’d achieved something significant in terms of raising awareness of mental health and the sheer scale of the task in hand. Personally I’d like to thank Budge for his amazing work in the background to make a lot of the stuff you don’t see happen.
The days following this thing have hit me pretty hard. I’ve had to sit on the sofa for more time than at any point in the last few years as I came down with a serious hit of exhaustion. I didn’t ride a bike for four whole days. I can’t remember last time that happened?! Onwards to 2019 now and I really don’t know what but hopefully better times.
We’ve raised awareness and a few quid for our causes and Jon and Alan now take up the Exposure Lights Baton to take on to their next challenges that culminate in the world cycle altitude record in 2019. Check out Mind Over Mountain to hear more about that one.
Go and follow, support and donate at http://mindovermountain.bike
A great blog idea from Matt Jones, thanks to all riders partners for their insights.
Life from the pit lane: long suffering other halves tales
It’s a well known fact that behind every endurance athlete often lies a supporting rock of some sort. Whether that be a husband, wife, friend or other family member, having someone who is there to support athletes both emotionally and lesser said, financially, is fundamental to success and happiness! But what’s it like being in the pit lane both literally and back at home, the latter of which is the lesser seen or talked about part of the iceberg? Here are some insights from some of E3’s top endurance athletes and their coach’s other halves! We’ve not named names about who said what but you can probably guess from some of the other halves of the below interviewed, enjoy! Thanks to coach Jon, Steve Chapman, Alex Watts, Tony Revell and Matt Jones and particularly their other halves for being good sports!
Why do you think your other half does what they do?
- It’s his job and he has to exercise or he’s grumpier and less calm when he’s been exercised!
- Fundamental brain wiring problem
- Ridiculously competitive and keeps him out of trouble.
- He is ambitious and has an addictive personality, so he puts a lot of effort and focus into something that is of interest to him
- I think it’s because he realised he can! I’m not sure even he knows one particular reason why he does it but I think he’s afraid to see what will happen if he stops. It seems to have been a slippery slope that started with a commute to work and ended up with 15 hours a week training and racing for 24 hours. Now he’s hooked. That or he really dislikes me.
What do you think they would they do with their time if they weren’t training/racing so much?
- Never going to happen!
- Bike packing / music and thinking about boobs
- Canoeing, climbing, dirtbiking, sitting in pants in front of the Telly
- Drinking down the pub!!
- Spend less time faffing in the garage and diarising life. Eat more, drink more, sleep more, see mates more and get more DIY done.
What’s the best thing about them being an athlete?
- Encourages me to run
- Seeing drive and enthusiasm
- Amazing thighs! Also being introduced to the world of bike racing - it's actually pretty cool
- He is fit and healthy. His lifestyle changed for the better when he found cycling, he smoked and drank a lot before and now he has realised the importance of keeping healthy.
- His hardworking, committed ethos tends to follow through into all aspects of life. Also the bum and thighs
What’s the worst thing?!
- Bikes all over the place
- Being crabby and tired with training and 24hr shifts at work
- Lack of quality time together, mood swings, not being able to go on leisurely bike rides
- Not seeing him as much as sometimes I would like. It isn’t easy doing all the typical “family things”, but I have found it easier to become the “cycling family”- we travel around all together and as much as sometimes it is tricky juggling his bottles and baby bottles it is worth seeing how much our eldest is already wanting to “be a cyclist like daddy” when he is older.
- The fear of carbs. He loves his food and having a few beers with his mates so the food and alcohol guilt gets pretty tedious after a while
What’s the biggest mess you’ve seen them in?
- Lost on South Downs way when running it stressed, cross and tired
- After racing first 24hr with a broken fork and so much hand damage he couldn't feed himself for a week
- Probably during a 24hr solo when it rained for the full 24 hours and his leg was held together with gaffer tape after gashing it open on a caravan minutes before the race
- When he was so determined to not let the weather get the better of him he got kitted up and went on his ride in the middle of storm Doris... he returned shortly after and collapsed at the front door complaining he couldn’t feel his legs. I restrained from saying “I told you so” and helped to bring his legs back to life! And then said it! I’ll leave the pub stories for another day…
- Vomiting across the finish line at a 12 hour race at Gisburn (sorry for making you think you the guy behind you was a few minutes behind, not a lap + a few minutes…oops) or waking up in the middle of the night having a minor panic attack the first time his hands went numb after his first Fort William 24
Top tips for balancing life around an athlete/family/work etc?
- Not an issue as he does it whilst I’m at work
- Be adaptable and supportive where you can / realise gold standard is rarely achievable so sometimes bronze will do
- Not sure I've mastered that yet. Lots of patience and low expectations
- As mentioned before, to start with I didn’t find it easy being the wife of an athlete. However, I would definitely say becoming a team and doing it together has really helped. And that doesn’t mean going out and riding or training together, as that isn’t possible with a family to run, but for me I try and keep the nutrition side under control; cooking dinners, prepping lunch and being “pit bitch” at the races! He works during the day and then trains in the evening, sometimes he is lucky enough to spend an hour with the kids before training if he finishes work early but other times he is straight out after work. A lot of people have said to me “I wouldn’t do what you do” or “I wouldn’t put up with my husband being out as much as he does” but if I am completely honest, it just works for us. We do racing as a family, and the kids enjoy travelling the country, hopefully one day we will be doing it to watch our children race too. And when he isn’t training we make a point of doing something else, from sitting on the sofa and having a duvet day or taking a trip to legoland. At the end of the day as long as we are all together we are all making memories.
- Make the most of the “dead time”. Driving to visit friends and family for the weekend? Have him cycle and you drive. That way when you are both somewhere together you don’t have to carve out time for training.
We’ve all been there at that moment where throwing the towel seems like the only option that our bodies and minds or other factors will allow. Having done a fair amount of races and events over the years now I’ve come to learn that resisting the urge to quit can be a massive strength to any endurance athlete. No matter how fit, strong or fast you are, somebody who keeps going when you stop will finish ahead of you.
The theory of the towel is one that I think is a decent way to think about what you can take from any event you undertake. The towel is a thing that you know will bring you comfort. It’s warm when you are cold, you can wrap yourself up in it and feel refreshed instantly. The features of the towel are also it’s downfalls. Once you have experienced the joys of the towel you know what it feels like and the comfort it brings. The temptation is always there to feel the caress of the towel again once you have felt it once. I’d argue towel throwing is habitual. Fear not though, I think there are ways to reduce the likelihood of towel throwing and the negative feelings that follow suit such as guilt and regret. Break the habit.
So for those who want to learn how to drip dry here are a few tips:
If you are in a situation where the towel is close, ask yourself if you can just carry on a bit longer, can you squeeze something more out?
Think about how good it will feel to get to the end. Think of the rewards!
Take a minute to compose your thoughts and take stock of the situation. A puncture might spoil your race but it shouldn’t end it.
Re-evaluate your race goals if needed to take a positive achievement from the situation.
Talk yourself into the race not out of it.
Put yourself in tough situations in training so you’ve been there done that when it comes to an event. Character building winter rides are good for this.
Remove barriers to quitting. If you don’t give yourself options then it’s much easier to carry on.
Of course if there aren’t any other options ensure your health and safety comes first.
Recently I’ve had a couple of races where things haven’t gone to plan, here’s how I dealt with the situations to try and make the most of them.
Wantage MTB Marathon
Some local joker had moved a sign early on meaning a small group of us went the wrong way cutting out most of the course. I then got a puncture so lost the group and quickly realised our error, the race was over. I’d planned this event to be part of a big day involving a few hours afterwards at an easier pace after a hard race effort. I stopped at the feed station and had a chat to a few people and took on a few extra jelly babies for consolation. My morale was dented, I wasn’t really feeling like pushing hard till the end of the shortened route and indeed it’s pretty hard to do this when it’s clearly not a race anymore. So I rolled back chatting to some fellow riders. Thoughts popped up like I’ll just go out tomorrow and do some hours instead to make up for it. I then managed to talk myself in to doing the second part of the day a few hours there and back on the Ridgeway. I knew that missing this opportunity when I’d already planned to be out for the day would take time away from other life activities if I postponed. I knew that a quick refuel at the car was key to get me straight back out and resist the temptation to throw the towel so that’s what I did. Although gutted to miss the full route I took away a really nice afternoon with great views. Not as planned but the day was salvaged partially and I felt like I still got something out of it.
Only a couple of weeks after the UK 24 hour championships that I ended up riding with a cold which led to a chest infection afterwards and a stomach bug to boot, I wasn’t expecting too much from the 6 hour event. However my attitude was positive going in, we’ll start off normally and see what the body says and go from there.
After an hour of racing I was going quite well but that’s when it became evident the tank was emptied and I had nothing in the legs. At that point I could feel the comfort of the towel, oh well I’ve got some good excuses to stop now and not look like a quitter I thought. Now time to evaluate, what could I take from this situation? Chuck it in now and start the recovery, carry on to the end riding at a snail's pace? Well the first thing to do was to drain every last ounce to make sure I’d given my best effort. I carried on for another 2 hours. In that time lots of riders streamed past which was a bit demoralising but I knew that I was in my own battle now. I think it’s important in these situations to give your legs a sense check. By that I mean sometimes our head controls our legs and just tells them to stop working. So when a couple of riders I knew I’d normally be as fast as or faster came past me I would have a dig to keep up for a few minutes to test if I was my head stopping me. Chasing someone kicks in the adrenaline that can sometimes jolt you out of lulls in race situations I think. Anyhow, on both attempts it was clear the tank was empty. So another thought to try and take out a positive from the situation popped in to my head. How about practicing some xc trail pumping skills if my legs won’t do the work. I could just try and keep off the brakes and keep the momentum etc. So I did that for a couple more increasingly slow laps. Calling it a day after 3 hours was a bit disappointing given I had been on the podium at Bikfest for the last 3 years but I had to look at the bigger picture and try and recover for bigger goals coming up.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received which I still draw on a lot in race situations is from past WEMBO world 24 hour podium finisher Craig Bowles “You can talk yourself out of a race, talk yourself in to it instead”.
So get out there and learn how to drain every last ounce out of yourself, you’ll feel much the better for it.
An Etape with a sting in the tail
With lots of focus being put on the early climbs of the Etape I feel it is really worth mentioning the last 2 climbs.
As you draw close to the finish of this year’s Etape you will be greeted by 2 Cols, firstly the Col de Romme, 10K of steep tarmac wall awaits you as you turn off the main road and head up, you as many before you will be asking how long does this go on for like this? Well 6 of the 10K are brutal and will leave you wishing for more gears. After 6K things do get a little easier but by no means easy.
Once over the Romme the event organisers have left you with the 7 hardest Kilometer of the Col de la Colombiere, some classic switch backs through La Reposoir then the last 3K of 11% will just about push you to your limits, once up and over you will have an amazing descent to the finish in Le Grand-Bornand.
So that was the doom and gloom, all is not lost. You need to ride a little conservative on those first few climbs to make sure you do not over stretch yourself, which will leave you walking or DNF. Think about the last 2 climbs as you take on the first 2 and this will help you hold back a little.
As always nutrition and hydration are going to be so important and if this hot run of weather continues fluids will be of the utmost importance, have a plan don’t wait until you feel thirsty or hungry stick to your plan. Be it every 20 mins drink every 30 mins food.
Watch the weather while you ride, the alps create their own weather and the forecast is not always the most accurate, prepare for 4 seasons in one day and hope for a cool, dry day.
I have just spent the last week taking riders over the last section of the Etape and have ridden these climbs more times than I can remember, so this knowledge is first hand.
Good Luck and if you have any questions please do and I will be happy to help.
Comfort within discomfort –psychological approach to racing.
The comfortable discomfort zone
This is a short and simple article that a lot of athletes can reflect on and see if it applies to them.
While working with endurance athletes and looking at ways to raise performance, I have found a common theme, mental approach to race day.
Yes we all know we must be positive and control anxiety etc right nothing new, got it. Now take a deeper look at yourself as the athlete in the race. Your race is uncomfortable and you are working hard, but, can you get a couple more % by using your mind to allow a little more discomfort?
Are you settling for a placing or are you thinking I can get further up the field of athletes if I can just push a little more.
I name this the comfortable discomfort zone!
The human brain is so clever and can convince us of all sorts of things. When it comes to endurance events we are having to manage discomfort for 3-24hrs and our ability to use self-preservation is amazing.
Our bodies will naturally want to protect themselves, in doing so send messages to our brain saying wow there, you can’t do anymore or we will die, this is when we need to use psychology to push just outside of this area and feel a little bit more discomfort in our discomfort zone.
This is the area that races are won, podiums are gained.
So take a look deeply at your own racing head and see if you are really getting the most out of yourself, stop looking at data on Training Peaks/Strava/Garmin and look inside yourself.
If you feel you can get more out of yourself mentally, you can then refer back to your data to see what tricks you can use to persuade that little extra bit of performance.
If you would like help finding that extra few percent then its all in your mind.
How to deal with illness and when to start training again
This is topic is really important to riders of all levels as it can affect anyone.
As a coach I have worked with many athletes and most at some point in their training have caught a cold, had flu etc. and this means we need to know how to treat our rest/recovery and when and how we come back to our training.
If you have become ill follow the points below: (obviously if seriously ill contact GP or get to A&E)
- Stop training
- Work out what you have caught, cold, cough, flu etc. (don’t use Google)
- Make sure you are hydrating and eating well (our body needs fuel when ill as it is fighting a bug or virus and this uses a lot of energy)
- Use medication to help with temperature
- Check resting heart rate (can be elevated when ill)
When/how to come back to training:
- As you start to feel everyday activity becoming easy and non-exhausting
- Chose a route that you know and is short (or use a turbo)
- Aim to ride/run this route at sub base intensity (zone1)
- Watch heart rate while riding, if it is feeling very hard even at low intensity then back off and head home
- If heart rate is higher or lower than normal by 10 beats plus then head home
- Trust in how you feel, if you are not happy then head home
- If heart rate is reflecting effort, then all is good
- Keep next few rides/runs as above to allow your body the chance to fully recover
We need to look after ourselves, as much as we feel that urge to get out and train we must rest and make sure we are recovered.
We find it hard psychologically as we are wired to be active and so anything causing involuntary sedentary behaviour will tend to have a negative mental impact and so we must have a process in place to deal with this.
Understanding how our body deals with illness, will help us to go through the steps above as these steps will get you back to training properly much quicker.
We can go and train when ill but you are putting your body through too much stress and so it is having a powerful negative impact which delays repairs to your health this delay will cause more psychological impact and this will increase the delay further to getting back to health.
The reason I state keep first test session at zone 1 is because it is the most likely achievable target zone after being ill, you achieve this and your mental state will improve (it’s about setting sensible, achievable goals, see goal setting)
I hope this article will be of help and can act as a reminder for you if you get ill and help you deal with it in a positive and constructive manner.
If you have any questions on this article or any other areas of training or racing in the endurance sports world, then please
Trying to up your run distance but picking up injuries?
We find with runners that are relatively new to the sport, when they try to increase the mileage as the desire to reach longer event goals kicks in, they start to pick up injuries which just seem to keep coming back and act as a real hindrance to progress.
Why is this?
The pattern is simple to see, you choose to take up running, you join a club or take part in park run with friends and all seems good (which it is) we then feel a 10K would be great and so add more running or maybe we follow a static training plan we achieve this goal and then its half marathon time, what do we do? We increase the mileage. Clubs unfortunately do not tend to offer strength and stretching sessions (would be good to add) Static plans tend to focus on miles and time rather than any extra strength.
Several things are now starting to go wrong that can and most likely will be heading us towards injury.
Firstly our joints need protecting and just running will not do this, we need to add in some strength work (don’t panic no gym membership needed) a series of 5-10 minute routines done at home 2-3 times a week can focus on these weak areas.
- step or chair step ups
- side lunges calf raises
- core work
All the above can all be done at home and help strengthen the weak areas by building muscle to protect them. The best time to add these in is post run, your in your kit so just add 5 minutes and then session is done and more beneficial plus prevention of injury.
Make sure you start on a low number of reps for example 3 x 5 and build these up over time.
A prime case is the knee, we need to build muscle around our knees as this is the only way we can protect them.
Now we have added strength into our plan we need one more thing, STRETCHING yes you do need to do it. This can be in the form of a yoga class once a week or home stretching post exercise. Flexibility is so important in looking after our joints and muscles but also our ability to become fitter.
Now I know there will be people reading this and saying well Joe Bloggs has been running for years and does not do core or any stretching, well this article is not for Joe Bloggs its for people who are getting injuries not those who are not. I also know people who neglect strength and stretching and who do not get issues, but I guarantee you when they do add it they find performance gains that would not have gotten without it.
I personally have sports massage once a month to make sure muscles are free of niggles and I have a foam roller at home which I use (not often as rubbish at this kind of self-torture)
The key is do not compare yourself to other athletes/runners, over 15 years working with 100s of endurance athletes makes it clear we need to follow what works for us not Joe Bloggs.
If you would like any advice on strength, core and flexibility to add to your training then please and I will be happy to help.
Training Test Run SDW
Thursday night saw Lily the dogs and I head down to Arundel to get set up for a training run on the South Downs.
This run was to look at what areas I need to be focusing on in the run up to the Manx100 challenge. The plan was to run from Arundel back to Winchester (approx. 50 miles) and see how I was doing, how the kit was, nutrition etc.
After a chilly night in the van I got up at 5am, made a quick dession to wait for sunrise to get some warmth as it was freezing. Sure enough an amazing sunrise and so after a good fuel up I hit the trail.
First marker was 10 miles out, the easy to remember Cocking Farm. I had said to Lily looking at 1hr45-2hrs, got there in about an 1hr30, yep should have clicked at this point I was going too quick for the whole distance. The problem was I was only thinking to each marker and so pushed on to get there.
Next Marker was Queen Elizabeth Park, close to 13 miles on. After a quick fuel up I headed off up Cocking Hill and yes too quick again and by mile 18 I was definitely feeling the pace, slowed down and carried on making sure I was keeping to my fuel plan which was 2 gels an hour and 500ml energy drink, this always keeps me from getting hungry so was managing this fine.
Got to Lily at QE and made sure I took on some extra fuel here and arranged the next meeting point to be closer, approx. 6 miles away.
I was starting to feel my elbow joints swell, I was using the poles for the first time since September and the my arms were not used to it.
Off I went loving the straight up Buttser Hill climb to get me going. The climb went ok and I moved along at a good sensible pace but could start to feel a couple niggles coming through in my knee and ankle.
At mile 25 I was thinking do I push on through the discomfort or be sensible, I new my training had been lacking strength work which I focus on to protect my joints and so was not surprised that at mile 30 I chose to stop and get in the van with Lily and the dogs.
- Remember this is why we train to work out what we need to do, don’t beat yourself up over an unsuccessful session, just learn from it and then it becomes a successful session.
- Watch your pacing in longer events even if there are clear shorter markers don’t forget the big picture
- Nutrition was spot on
- Cardio Fitness was great
- Train more specifically (with poles)
- While running I was looking at what was happening, heart rate was great RPE great but strength lacking.
- Kit was comfortable and perfect for the conditions
Massive thanks to Lily and the dogs for all the support and the guys messaging to find out how it was going.
I only take positives from being out for 5hrs running in the beautiful country side in the glorious sunshine.
Cheers Alex Watts, I have evaluated. Cheers Matt Jones for the Road stop info. Thanks to Gore Wear for supporting my adventures and Torq for keeping my energy up, Exposure for helping me see round the van last night and this morning. My Garmin Fenix 5X for keeping me on track (if a little too fast)
Apologies for any grammar and spelling but just got home and thought I would blast it out while fresh.
Dealing with Set Backs
This article needs to start with “life happens” no matter how well we train, plan and focus, something can always go wrong. No one likes setbacks but we will come across them and so need to be equipped to deal with them.
We need to deal with these setbacks as we would in life… Step back and evaluate; what happened? Why? What can we do? Most importantly, was the set back within our realm of control?
What we need to do firstly is realise quickly that a set back is not permanent and we will move forward… Dwelling on it will not help but make it worse than it needs to be. Setbacks are a big cause of stress in our sport and this really inhibits performance so building coping strategies will enable you to perform and live a little healthier.
Set Back – Evaluate – Was it in our control? – How can we prevent in the future? – Move forward.
A sports psychologist will get you to set triggers (actions or thoughts to relate to positive outcomes) to help you build a positive response to a set back, for example:
You have a great start to your sportive which leads into a great overall sportive, you look back to how you felt at the start, how you felt before and during, then look at how your training was leading into the sportive. Once you have evaluated to positive process you then link it to something like a note written on your top tube like “feeling fast” “go go!” or something personal to you, or you can use self talk which literally means talking positively to yourself on the start line!
A few people will look at this and think ‘oh my what a load of rubbish?’ Well it’s not – we all do things already that are psychology based without even knowing it. Do you have a pair of lucky race socks or jersey and you feel better when you wear them? This is no different.
A famous example is Jonny Wilkinson’s trigger before he takes a kick. Watch a video clip and see what he does with his hands before each kick, this trigger reminds him of making the perfect kick, so reinforces a positive action.
This method is a preventative way of dealing with setbacks so keeping your mind in a positive place.
If we look at a negative event, like getting a cold the week before a sportive, and our training pre event suffers, we turn up at the sportive feeling back to normal but our sportive goes flat and we struggle the whole way round, we cannot get the power to our legs and heart rate will not elevate! Therefore we end up finishing down the field compared to normal. You need to quickly realise that this is a short term setback which will pass once you have rested properly. Do not dwell on it but move forwards.
As mentioned at the start we must treat each set back as we would in life and accept it is part of our journey to that perfect ride.
At some point in the year you’ll find yourself in that no mans land between transitioning from the joys of the end of season rest period and the getting back on it period. The training gooch?
I’m not the greatest at keeping ‘on it’ year round like some can do so here are a few tips on getting back on the wagon that might help.
1. Don’t force it. Training for endurance’s events at any level takes commitment and you need to want to do it. Putting too much pressure on yourself to get your fitness numbers going in the right direction again can mean some people end up trying to get back in to more structured training before they are mentally ready. This may make you unhappy, unhappy people don’t train hard. Your mojo will come back in good time and it’s much more likely to last all year if you don’t force it.
2. Enter a race where the only goal is to 100% enjoy yourself. Have a look out for local short xc races which are often low cost and not too time consuming in the winter slop. Getting yourself back to the start line when you’re ready is a good way to remind your body of the great feelings you get from racing. Getting back in the racing saddle can help start to focus your mind again on ‘proper’ training. For me it’s a good incentive as It makes me realise the impact over indulgence has had so gives me a kick to start the lean and clean living again.
3. Buy some new kit/ sort some sponsors out. It’s the time of year where you might look ahead to next season and think about new kit and sponsors if that’s your thing. Shiny new stuff and talking to others about what your plans are can be a good motivator to train hard again and test your new stuff out.
4. Goals. An obvious one but having some to aim for no matter how big or small can help long term motivation. If your main goal isn’t until later in the season think about interim things you might want to achieve or do to get you there. That pieces things back to where you are today and might help you think ‘well to do X I best get on with Y to get there’. A winter challenge of some sort can be a good idea to spark the motivation.
5. Remove excuses. What’s stopping you getting back out there? It might be a lack of a fully working bike which has surcomed to the winter slop or you’ve feeling tired after being ill. Whatever it is think about what is stopping you and take positive action to remove those excuses.
6. Ship shape your diet. It like me you have found yourself in a spiral of dining out on previous months achievements then it’s a good time to get back to your ‘on it’ diet. This for me is just one trigger that tells me I’m getting ready to train again. You might be equally motivated to ‘offset’ some of the upcoming turkey marathons by a few days of really nice healthy and nutritious eating. You’ll also feel much better in yourself as you give your body the right stuff to give you the energy to start smashing sessions again.
7. Most importantly when getting back on the wagon at this time of year is making the time to do things you most enjoy around your sport. Whether that’s doing a few more rides with mates or maybe even just some totally unstructured adventures on your favourite bike, just getting out there more regularly whatever you are doing will get the endorphins flowing again and get you back in the groove in no time.
How sports psychology can improve your cycling/running
For this topic, we will focus on one element of sports psychology known as Visualisation or Imagery. This technique is used at the highest level of sports and can be easily applied to any type of sport.
What is imagery?
It is a mental process involving your already existing cycling/running experiences in the absence of actual running /riding… For example, you can see yourself riding up your local hill feeling the pedals turning and the muscles working in your legs, as you get further up the hill you can feel your breathing getting harder and your legs starting to hurt more.
Our mental processes are key to our activities and it’s proven that imagery can improve performance dramatically. Now, for people who are time crunched and who cannot always get out, this is perfect. You can practise this sat on a train or bus, at your desk , not for too long though! You can pick a moment where you have a few minutes and start practising this.
For some, working on visualisation comes easily but for others it can take a bit of practise. Don’t dive straight in and try to visualise yourself taking on the biggest climb or toughest section of a race, keep it simple and start with visualising putting your bike shoes or run shoes on… What this will do is set triggers in your mind off, as you start to feel the sensation of putting your cycling/running shoes on your subconscious mind will send messages thinking you are really going out on your bike. This means that you can progress your imagery to being on the bike. Try and put as much detail in as you can to get the most out of this technique.
Mental rehearsal is the name of the game, the more we go through a process in our mind, the easier and more natural it becomes when performed in the real situation.
Some tips for visualisation to help bring the experience to life;
- How does it look
- How does it feel
- How does it smell
- How do you feel
- Pin point a specific part of your ride/run i.e. climbing
- Break down the specific part into smaller parts i.e. pedal lift/knee lift
- Break it down again i.e. your foot position as you lift
It is really important that when you visualise these cycling/running skills/techniques that you are doing them perfectly and that you always see yourself positively doing them, this will mean when you do them out on your bike, your mind will associate it with a good experience and help you to perform better.
If you have any questions on this method or any others, please or visit www.e3coach.com
Start the Year Right
We have nearly reached the start of 2018 and you are now on your training journey.
Let’s make sure we hit 2018 rolling in the right direction!! Working as an endurance coach means I have lots of athletes all heading towards their 2018 goals and it's key we get people on the right path from the start of the year - remember your event will come round quicker than you think.
My first tip is don’t give up! It can take from 4 – 6 weeks to notice physical changes as your brain will be making your body cope over this time. So if you’re a first timer and new to this, or perhaps your motivation is lacking, don’t give up.
My second tip is keep regular and steady... Consistency is the best way to train for endurance, even if your sessions are short, your body will build and adapt if you create a consistent pattern.
My third Tip is rest well; take a resting heart rate while in bed in the morning and then do this two or three times a week, if you find your resting heart rate increased by more than 10 beats you could be doing too much so take a short break of 1-2 days.
My fourth tip is to keep the fun in it. Find others to train with, stop at cafés, set Strava challenges etc and all these things will help keep you focused and out training which is the most important thing.
My fifth and final tip is to keep a food diary. Go and buy a small note book and keep a daily record of what you are eating, look at how many calories you are burning in training and if consumption is high, have a look at what you can change or cut out.
Following the above tips will help you start out 2018 on the right path and ease you into your Sportive journey in a positive way.
If you would like help with your 2018 endurance goals then please for more details or visit www.e3coach.com
In simple terms, a goal is a target of something we strive to achieve. In this sense, it’s a challenging endurance event; be it running, cycling or heading to the mountains, completing it is your goal. Now just using the Event as your goal can be a little too big to digest and so we need to break it down into more manageable chunks but before we do that I will explain the 3 types of goal.
- Outcome goals – these focus on an objectively defined social standard that we aim to achieve. For example, finishing top 10 in your event.
- Performance goals – these are focused on achieving a personal standard such as improving on a previous time
- Process goals – focusing on the process of cycling so breaking down the techniques into parts in order to progress the whole skill i.e. a 360-degree pedal stroke. or knee lift in running
You will probably be able to work out from the above, that we set our performance goal as the event itself as we can set ourselves a standard we wish to achieve within it, perhaps this will be to complete the event or maybe win the event?. This phase you will have already been through.
We can now break down the performance goal into smaller pieces that our mind can cope with… Our minds can take a large goal and make it negative, such as ‘I can never do this’ or ‘it’s too much’, ‘too long’ or ‘too difficult.’ It is really important to break this goal down quickly. For example, we look at a 100 mile, flat sportive: imagine you’re new to cycling, the furthest you have cycled is 10 miles and even that experience was tough. Your mind will be doing flips at the thought of the 100 miles, so your first goal now becomes dong a 20 mile ride then a 30 mile, 40, 50 and so on. Now, I am sure lots of you will already apply this approach and well that’s psychology! You are helping your mind deal with what’s ahead.
For the above, having structured training really helps the mental process and to see clearly how that big goal can be reached.
Let’s now look at process goals. You have entered a mountainous event and working on climbing technique will be a great goal. We can look at pedalling technique, as this is important so we engage all three major muscle groups while climbing. This can be measured by feel or, if you have access to a watt bike or vector power pedals, you can actually see how efficiently you are pedalling and so can work on the skill to improve it. If we are improving the skill of pedalling, then we can potentially climb better and then we are more likely to achieve our performance goal as well.
When taking on any challenge we always need break it down into parts and then build these parts back up as a whole. Most of the time you will find that these part goals have been set subconsciously but it’s what is done about these goals that’s important and how we work with them.
If you have any questions on setting your goals, then please feel free to email us.
Goal 1 Strathpuffer
How a coach plans his plan part one
Goals now being established means it’s time to crack on with the training. Being invited by USE/Exposure and Sam Pantling to race as a team of 4 at the Strathpuffer was an easy goal to except. January 20th!
This gives me my get back on an MTB focus and over winter training focus as well. I am super fortunate to have so many good friends that ride, which means I have people offering rides pretty regularly. So I am making sure I accept these offers to ensure I am getting out and teaching my muscles how to work on the bike again.
Cardio vascular fitness is great at the moment but I need to make it specific to cycling while maintaining my current run fitness. Given the size of my goals this year and going into 2019 I know I need to have some quality volume in both bike and run. No time to waste any sessions I will be really fine tuning my own training.
So for this period of training I am following weight strength sessions twice a week, an hour yoga class a week and a run and ride a day, how I balance the run and ride is currently shorter regular runs at low intensity.
The rides for November and December are focused on base effort getting longer in duration, with a few strength rides. I am aiming to work off around 15hrs a week mixing core and stretching with every cardio session.
What am I looking to see if the next two months? A shift in leg strength to cope with climbing on the bike again, also muscular endurance to catch up with Cardio endurance on the bike.
Run fitness to stay at a good level (if only at a steady pace) May have an Ultra Marathon in the mix early December.
Increased flexibility with use of structured yoga classes plus post sessions stretching.
I will be maintaining my weight at around 78kg which means I do not need to lose anymore as I worked hard to shift 5kg for this current season and feel for me looking after this weight is easier than putting on and then trying to lose it again.
Getting the work life balance, up to Goal 1 I have no training camps or planned trips abroad so I can get some good structure in place. As we head to spring and main focus moves to Goal 2 I will be running several road focused training camps so my next period training blog will have to cover dealing with those.
As I mentioned in a previous blog I have 4 goals, 2 MTB and 2 running. Now while I am talking about Goal 1 as a coach I am having to look at how this will impact my next goal, and making sure post Goal 1 I am in a good position to shift in to heavy run focus. This is where understanding our own bodies is a great help and gauging our recovery not just every month but each day is really important. I have been working closer with the team at Torq and making sure I am following great a recovery diet and listening to what my body is telling me.
There you have a small over view of how I am approaching my own training for my first race in January. If you have any questions about my training or your own please and I will happily discuss.
No Fuss November
October has now gone, my own rest and chill month (from training that is) has past, I now move into no fuss November This is the month that I find is key in my own prep. Training sessions are mostly in the dark now and they feel slow and sluggish but they need to get done and understanding that they will be slow and not feel great is really important to progressing and being able to get back to feeling good. The sooner I except this the quicker this phase passes.
Key for me now is having the goals for 2018 in place to help keep the motivation high especially in this month. For me I am super lucky and people have been coming to me with some great goals to take on, I have 4 goals now through 2018 2 bike 2 run (Once all confirmed I will share the goals).
I am super pleased to be getting back on the MTB with some focus as well as some tough running challenges.
With goals in place I can start now to look at outlining my training by researching the events and challenges of the courses etc. The more prep we can do prior to our events the better place we put ourselves on the start line.
Both runs and MTB events are long endurance focus and stage events so making sure recovery time is key and working on methods I have used myself and with others are engaged again, with a few new ideas that I love to create round this time of year.
November is my No Fuss month due to timing of my events in 2018, you may find you have a different month of No Fuss, just make sure you just get out there keep effort low and expectations of performance also keep low and build your training time and consistency up before you know it you will back and in a great place.
Use this time to help create plans for your events as well, this is a fun part and also really important.
If you would like help with your goals and working out how to get back on it, then drop us an email: and let us work with you.
Gore-tex Transalpine and what it meant to me!
Where to start? As you will see from the title this is a personal blog more than a professional one.
I have written so many professional articles/blogs for different areas of the endurance world and have done a few personal ones, but I feel this one will be a little more personal.
To start with this was not my idea. My good friend James Cadge came to me (as he often does) excited about a big challenge which, this time, was Transalpine 7 days running- 3 ultras, 2 marathons and 2 x 20 mile stages with over 2-3000m climbing and descending each day. When he first approached me I was anti the idea as I was really enjoying my MTB and had no real drive to get the running back up to that level. Added to this there was also the money to raise for the entry and logistic. So I said to James if he can find the funding then I would be up for it.
Over a month must have past and as I had heard nothing from James, I assumed I was going to be focused on riding still, when I get the call from James…
“So I have the funding for the whole event”
My first thought was oh shit! When’s the race?
We had just over 4 months to get sorted. James had managed to secure sponsorship from Mydleton Major Estate agents which was just amazing to get. I also managed to get Gore Apparel to supply racing kit and as ever, Torq Fuel were there for nutrition- so we were extremely lucky to get so much support.
Now I do run most days as I have a husky and so we are always out at some point on a run (nothing major though in summer) but it was time to get a focus on, get my drive back and find my motivation! Part of my motivation also came in an additional challenge- in 2015 I completed the Craft Transalp MTB race and so if I could complete the run version I could be the first athlete to do so.
First on my list was to sort my diet out- no more rubbish at all! Now anyone who knows me knows I am a person of extremes and so thanks to some guidance from Sam Humphrey who I was coaching for XC I got the hardest 2 weeks out the way and started to lose weight (just over 5kg by race start). My prime reason for this weight loss was to decrease the impact on my joints as I descended the mountains and therefore I wanted any unnecessary weight gone.
Training- well I know what I needed to do. Historically self-coaching had never been the best method for me, but this time I was on it. I had had so much success with my athletes over the last few years I had to get this right, I wanted to get it right.
I have coached ultra-runners before and still do and so looked at what had worked well for them and also how I could improve and adapt some training sessions. Now living in Salisbury was never going to give me 2-3000m climbs, so the tyre dragging method came out to create over load on all my local climbs. This, added with some free weight work at home was the strength I was going to need to climb.
The bigger problem would be the downhills as it requires technique to be smooth to ensure not too much load would go through the knees, hips and ankles. So on local hills again I would practise the skill of flying downhill, making as little contact with the ground as possible and focus on where I am landing each time. Just like on a Mountain bike picking the line is also so important. This along with the strength work would give my joints some protection.
The endurance! Well I have a coaching method for this that has worked for a lot of my athletes and so will not go into too much detail here, but consistency of correct intensity is vital and so I set about working out what I would need to be working at and then building my endurance training around this, with the odd trail marathon that I would beast myself on.
The extra part to the training was to run with James. We met for our longer runs mainly so I could gage his progress, and so we could bond as would be spending lot of time together. We also make sure we were eating and drinking properly. I was really impressed with James and training was spot on each time we meet up.
Personally once I ran my trail marathon and really pushed myself, I felt things were coming together really well.
One of the hardest things for me was refocusing on my running rather than MTB. I went to so many MTB events during my training (even WEMBO in Italy) and had to choose not to take my bike to any of them. I had to run and run and knew if I took a bike then I would end up riding. It was certainly not helped by everyone saying “man you should have brought your bike the trails are amazing” but I did find that heading off on foot still allowed me to see how amazing the trails were. Discipline is what is needed to succeed and so I kept to it.
As with many of us there were personal things to be dealing with as well as work and my training. My Dad, who had been poorly for some time but who always seemed to pull through passed away, not long after my Grandad- both of whom my Mum had cared for. This has left a massive void in my Mum’s life and has not been easy to move on from. This is where the training becomes more important than prep for an event, as it becomes a coping mechanism (as it does for so many others as well). It does not replace the loss but sure helps manage the emotions. I am very lucky to have a great group of friends and an amazing family that all offered support and so to you all, thank you for your help in a tough time.
A key part to the success of this event was going to be time in the mountains prior to the event start. I have worked in the mountains, climbed, hiked, cycled, mtb’d Transalp, skied and so had full respect for them. We needed at least a week before the race following a plan of little and often running and hiking- higher each day, and for this we would go to my second home Chamonix, where I have spent so much time and somewhere I knew we could get the right training done.
Now for the happy interlude, during this time I had met up with Lily which was amazing as we clicked perfectly. I am happy to say that while I write this I am at Pyla Dunes on the west coast of France working and recovering while Lily throws herself off monster sand dunes training to be a paragliding pilot, a holiday she had booked with no idea we would both be in France- perfect timing.
Again back to the story, we made the 11hr journey in the van to Chamonix. The timing was great as it was UTMB week, this meant a permeant buzz around the town (although I do prefer it when quieter). The real bonus was it gave me a chance to meet Kilian Jornet, an endurance hero of mine, was so chuffed!! Being in Chamonix also meant that we had every outdoor brand at our finger tips- very handy if during our training we found we needed anything else.
I must mention at this point that whilst in Chamonix, James and I (oh and Oakley) were all living in the van- a tight squeeze and a very good opportunity for James and I to bond before the event itself. To fit in each night, I slept on the bed with all luggage on it, James had a camping mat on the floor and Oakley pretty much went where ever he wanted (normally James pillow). James soon learnt how much a Husky can moult.
What better way to get to know your run buddy than sharing a T5 for 9 days!!! It was actually an amazing time, we got on really well, I did all the chores James read his many books, I cooked James read his book, and I discovered that James likes reading!
Our training in Chamonix was going great- we were all ready at 1000m and we got some great runs in. A big thanks to Sam Pantling (who has also lived in the region) for phoning and checking in with advice throughout the week.
Fuel was also going really well- we had been using Torq Bulq Pasta to help us get some good protein in, so easy to cook as just we used the jet boil to pour water over the pasta and in around 6 minutes the pasta was good to go. Big thank you to Matt and Torq for sorting this.
Our Gore kit was proving great as well, although we had 5 days of 30 plus degrees until we got to test out the water proofs.
We watched a few of the UTMB events start and finish so fuelling our own motivation to get to our own start line.
Whilst we were out in Chamonix we met up with Scott Cornish for a few drinks and also found Oakley’s dog career for the week of the race. Kelsey and Ross who had Chance a lovely huge malamute took Oakley in on the Friday morning that we headed off on the 5hr drive to Fischen in Germany.
Oh my god, what a shit drive! In the pouring rain mainly across Switzerland- the roads were pants, the Swiss drive slow (slow down for everything it would appear) and so we turned up in Fischen tired, hungry and frustrated from the drive. Except James- he read his book and slept, and therefore turned up refreshed and content! I turned up tired, frustrated and hungry.
Upon reaching Fischen we were not actually sure we had arrived in the right place. The clearly marked signage for the UTMB (the largest ultra race in the world) had not been replicated by our race organisers and the crowd of people in run kit had vanished. We were lost until we saw two guys that looked like runners appear- we pulled over and started speaking broken German, only to find out they were Dutch and fluent in English! More importantly we were in the right place- we had made it to the start line.
We registered on Saturday morning, and this made everything start to feel real. Although James was excited to collect all the goodies- Tshirts, our 100l Saloman bag, plus lots of other little bits. We also found the Expo area all set up and so we had a look around. Now if this were Transalp, your bike is second most important piece of kit after yourself. Well for a running event your shoes are the bike, and we both became convinced we needed a spare pair of shoes. However, peace of mind at this point was super important, so we both treated ourselves to a rather costly pair of new shoes!
Our final task before the race was to move all our kit we would need for the week into the 100L bag. With no support carrying spare kit to each stage finish like Transalp, James and I had opted to sleep on pre organised sports hall floors, which meant the event organisers would take our bag to the end of the stage each day. You can imagine two guys that had now been living in a T5 for 9 days trying to sort all their kit out, it was a smooth operation obviously!
Once we had finished registration, we found out the results of the last (biggest race) of the UTMB from a group from Munich that had it live on their Ipad. I was keen to know the results, as was super pleased to find that Kilian came in second- not bad after running up Everest twice this year!
7PM race brief, we stayed for half of this then went back to the van and read through all the details again for day 1. Race brief can start to play with your mind a little as they start talking about the dangers of running across mountains, I have spent so many years in the mountains in all different ways from MTB, Climbing, Mountaineering and so I had the most important tool for the mountains which is respect, never taking anything for granted when it comes to the hills.
Stage 1 Fischen - Lech
Race start morning came round super fast, we had breakfast with a few hundred other Ultra runners and then had to drop our bags off to the lorries. It was a very wet start and so we had most of our kit on or at least in our run vests. They were breaking us in easy on day one with approx 27 miles and 2200m of climbing and around 1600m descending.
James and I had gone through the profile and worked out all the cut off times, we had 3 feed stations to get through before heading to the finish line. We would run smooth on the flats, steady on the climbs and safely on the downs.
The count down starts with the music of road to hell (nice touch) gun goes and we are off, as we experience you get to a point where you need a race to start and we were definitely at that point.
Straight away we kept on the K’s pace for the gradual 10K incline, all going great. Rain eased so some kit off and back on it, now this is an important point, not carrying on in water proofs when not needed- it’s key to stop and remove layers and then go or you can over heat, need more fluid etc. I was reminded by Sam Pantlings words on the phone,
“any issues, anything- stop, sort it then move on” cheers Sam
It’s so true. Don’t push on or you can cause more harm/damage.
Our first disappointment, we made it to feed station 1 with well over an hour before cut off! Awesome and everything felt great, we have these great xmugs (folding mug) for hot drinks and on arriving we both went for Tea, typical Brits loving a cup of oh no what? Fruit tea!!!!! Come on really. (it was actually nice)
A quick 5 min pause here to take on fluids and eat before we started to climb for the next 10K, proper climb now heading up and up, the running poles now came into their own, a steady pace again saw us into the next feed station with plenty of time before cut off.
Being super on it I was looking around at the other pairs near us so for future reference we can see if we are holding pace dropping pace etc, another important point using people around as a loose gage on your own performance.
Stage 1 finish in Lech was a great feeling, we had done it, amazing views and tough conditions but our plan worked, fuel went well using Torq gels and Torq carb drinks then topping up with solid fuel at the feed stations. Our Gore Run Wear was awesome and we finished feeling pretty good. Now the prep for stage 2 starts!
Initially the thought of heading out again the following day was not all that appealing, though the race organisers where very smart and set the shortest day as day 2, but the climbing was the same in half the distance of day 1, so the little mental help you got from knowing it was shorter soon disappears when you look at the profile! That said we were both in great shape and so started the prep, recovery shake, more fluids, shower, wash kit, self massage and stretch, more fuel taken on board, into compression kit, short walk around the pretty town of Lech to help encourage blood flow to the muscles then lay down and chill until evening race meal.
The food was perfect each evening and it was always a great atmosphere with 600 plus other runners all talking and eating. If I am honest though, I still believe you are in your own world working out your own way of dealing with what is to come and so there is noise all around but I was definitely locked away in my own world planning how to deal with each part of the next day.
I have found with all the endurance events I have done, that this theme runs deep with me, I keep my head constantly working out each part of what is to come and how I will cope and manage the situations, it’s as if my body is there with everyone but my mind is busy sorting out my plan.
Stage 2 Lech – St Anton
Ohh a cold start -2 degrees
The first two stages we would be put up in hotels which was great as we could get into a routine in privacy before sharing a sports hall floor with 300 other athletes, it also meant kit can be washed and dried, and breakfast was easier to deal with.
This stage was the shortest of the whole week, 15 miles but with over 2500m of climbing which meant we were in for some steep hills! I set a pace for James and I for the first 2-3 k which were flatter through the town, the pace was to get us ahead of the traffic on the single file steep tracks. James protested and we dropped back a bit, then to be greeted with queues. “You knew this would happen didn’t you” said James, as we got a little frustrated as we watch time ticking by.
As we reached the snowline we could start to over take and get our own rhythm and pace going.
It was getting more icy and deeper snow, with a few sections of really concentrating on foot placement. This went on for at least an hour until we made it to the feed station, a quick fuel up and we were off but now trying to stay upright as we skied in our trainers down and out of the snow line.
Towards the end of the stage James was getting serious knee pain and I was having to coach and motivate him through it, use the poles on the down hills as well as the ups to try and take some load off. I started to use the mind games of just to the next river or just to the next uphill, trying to get him through the day to the finish.
Using other athletes around you is a great way to motivate yourself or a run partner, telling James we finished ahead of those two yesterday so let’s just get passed them and we are done. It worked we got through day two. James was not in a good place and so we had to set about a plan to get a sports massage and some tapping.
I am sure James won’t mind me mentioning, but he likes to keep himself to himself- and when it comes to the European theme of let’s all get naked and shower together etc he is definitely not keen. So for this following event to happen to James had us both in stitches. I came back to our room after booking a massage for James, to be greeted by James in a panic asking if I had any clean boxes! “ah no mate I have just compression kit for post running” I went out came back this time to “ I have sorted it! “ James was stood in his pyjama bottoms cutting the legs off making them into shorts. This was hilarious, I now told James the massage was with an Austrian chap called Marcus. Off he goes, me still dying with laughter.
James gets back, I asked if all ok he just goes into his room, 5 mins later walks out wearing a plastic thong over his new pyjama shorts and says “ he made me wear this!” that was it my stomach hurt so much from laughing, this was the world’s smallest jock made of plastic with elastic straps. What a laugh
As normal we head to pasta party number 3, still having the odd laugh at James. Once eaten back into prep routine for day 3.
Stage 3 St-Anton to Landeck
We were heading out on an Ultra today going to be at least 30 miles with 2500m up and 2600m down! James managed to sleep after waking in a few cold sweats about being massaged by big Austrian men!
After all the humiliation for James, his knee was still not feeling great and this was going to be a tough day. It was raining which meant conditions underfoot were going to be tough as well as the distance, climbing and descending. As was the norm we had a few K of flat before heading up, a long climb, 1hr30 at least of up, this seemed to be going ok and James knee was holding up, as soon as we hit the decent it was a different story. His pace slowed and he was doing all he could to protect his knee, this went on for at least 4k when we reached a medic on a quad, I had said to James a few K before we need to make a decision- can he carry on or not by the next aid station, that decision was made at 10k when the medic spoke to him and explained the rest of the day James knew there was no way he could cope with the descents in that amount of pain. So stood facing another 30 plus K on my own we parted ways. The medic said to me to get moving as cut off was close as without realising, James and I had lost a lot of time, so head down with around 5k still to go I headed off.
What followed was 5K of mud! I mean serious mud, all downhill, people were falling over everywhere, I took two big tumbles and got covered but eventually made it to the first Aid station after close to 3hrs moving time, quick fuel and off, now a flat section so I cranked the pace up to around 5min K pace, feeling good then as I hit the next climb started to feel really drained and weakness came across me! I paused and thought it through, and yes with the mud sliding I had not taken on fuel, then the faster pace and going through the aid station too quickly I was empty (idiot) I told myself off took on a gel and 500ml of fuel and told myself to keep on it. This is a key point to anyone taking on endurance events it can be anything that distracts you from your nutrition and this can be costly so pay attention at all times.
Surprise surprise, in about 10 minutes all was feeling good again, race saved.
Towards the end of the stage I had meet up with a Pro 70.3 triathlete on a break (as you do) Razza was a strong runner and she helped me run a strong last 5k to the finish where James was stood waiting.
What an epic day of physical and emotional feelings, it was done though. Time to catch up with James who had set up out camp spot in the sports hall.
I went to the event organisers and told them James was pulling out and I was now running as a solo, basically each morning you had to sign in with another pair then just head out on your own.
More emotions, James was getting a flight home the next day and although I did not say it, him leaving was tough, not having the banter and someone to share the highs and lows with was not going to be easy. I lost my Transalp ride partner on the penultimate day as he broke his shoulder and collar bone, I had support crew and so still had company but this was going to be me by myself.
James and I went into Town and grab a drink I even had a glass of red wine, looking at day 4 it was another Ultra, so I started the process of re-fuelling stretching, self massage then bed early!
Stage 4 Landeck to Samnaun
I woke early to 100s of athletes getting ready 3hrs before race start?? I was like get back to sleep for gods sake it does not take 3hrs to get ready! But not a lot you can do, I then got some great news, James was staying he was travelling with the race organisers to the finish each day and was going to support me! Yes! I think I could of cried. This piece of news turned a really tough day into just a tough one.
We are off, I signed in with a Dutch pair who James and I had meet in Fischen, these guys had done the event at least 4 times and were top blokes. I started the stage focused on my own fuel and pace and started to move up amongst the runners ahead. Day 4 went really well, I felt in control all day and over the top of some crazy high mountains but was strong and so pressed on.
There was a long descent to the finish today and on very uneven terrain at some point I over reached with my left leg and my adductors had to do a good job to stabilise me, onwards no issue. The last 3k I could see a few pairs up ahead and why oh why did I, but I did chase them down, then that adductor with 1k to go came back and reminded me of earlier, ouch some pain now through the finish line but man I was now in a lot of discomfort.
Day 4 was done but looking to day 5 was not positive at all.
At the end of stage 4 we had to get a bus to the sports hall 15 minutes away, add to this no James at the finish line so I had to just sit and wait 30 minutes seemed like forever I had raced harder today and with the pull in my leg was mentally getting a bit down.
Once James turned up we got the bus back and I messaged my sports physio Angela of Muscle Matters, who I have totally trust in. She explained what was likely to have happened and how to treat it, so I did all I could with massage and ibruprofen gel stretching and compression. We were meant to head back on the bus to then get a gondola up a mountain for dinner, really? I had spotted a restaurant about 5 min walk away and said to James no way am I going anywhere other than local.
James was a great help went to local shop picked up extra food and paid for our meal, oh we were in Switzerland so that was not a cheap meal.
I had been in touch with Lily (my girlfriend) and she was trying to motivate me. My kids called that evening as well which gave me a real lift. So I would get up go to the start line and see what happens, in my mind I was working out how to explain to people I had pulled out- so far I have never not finished any of my races that I have competed in! I told myself this is a positive and that I would get through, but man when I went to bed I was not in a good way, any movement hurt. I have one last massage in my sleeping bag, which James said looked so wrong (don’t know what he meant) I was asleep a good hour earlier than previous nights.
Stage 5 Samnaun to Scuol
Morning, I laid still not wanting to move as the fear of the pain and then not being able to start was so strong. In the end the need to pee won over, I got up, achiles a little stiff but adductor no pain? Walked to the loo, no pain. Ok start the getting ready- process was keeping quite- I told myself at any point it will come back! Breakfast done bus to start line, message Lily and just said at start line lets see what happens.
I think I spent the ascent waiting to feel the pain but nothing, then half way through the day every downhill movement was agony, I was not doing well, losing time and places on all downhills, I worked out in my head flats were fine, slight downhill manageable up hills all good, just proper downhill was torture. I made it to the last 5k of downhill sat down and had a real battle with myself as to how can I get down, I took pain killers and waited then got up and went, after 1k it started to ease. The pain killers were working! I was so pleased to see that finish line (Day 5 was brutal physically and mentally)
Stage 6 Scuol to Prad Am Stilfserjoch
After the pain of stage 5 this was going to be it for me I would start then stop. But no, the pain was gone, like the day before I waited for it to happen on the downhill but again nothing, so on wards and what a stage. I could not believe the pain was gone, I had bruising on my adductors so had definitely caused some damage, on my return Angela explained that my other muscles had managed to compensate and almost cut out using the damaged muscle! Got to love the human body.
The most amazing stage! I went with music today- 2hrs of Bob Marley as the sun shone. The trail was a gentle down hill for a good few K, the views were amazing. Today I truly felt the energy flowing through nature and in to me, we ran up through a beautiful gorge with the water powerfully running down, my pace and rhythm driven by this and the great music. This is the day that it all clicked, feeling physically strong, mentally strong and I completely believed I could finish Transalpine. We had the most amazing scenery and weather, you could not have asked for a better lead into the final day. It’s odd but the best day is the one I have least to say about. It just worked.
Stage 7 Prad Am Stilfserjoch to Sulden
At last, the morning of the final day. It was to be another early start as the weather was closing and and they wanted to get us to the finish before it became too bad.
The old saying save the best till last would not be fitting for this occasion, but for sure it was in many ways the hardest day. We were going over the most technical route of the 7 days with the weather being cold and damp and the fatigue from the 6 days previous this made the technical sections even harder. We had a few sections on steep drops and had to use the cable attached to rock face to get across, medics were on hand at all these sections as well which makes you even more aware.
I found myself nervous going across these sections and could not wait to get lower down the mountains.
Earlier in the stage I had Sam Pantlings words ringing in my ears any issues stop sort them out straight away, ok we were in a line runners in front and behind on my heels taking on a really steep section and narrow, if I stopped everyone would have to wait, typically I needed a pee! I had something in my shoe! And I was hungry, this lasted nearly an hour until I could get off the route and stop, oh the bliss of sorting those three things was immense.
Finally, the route dropped down and became wider and the end was now clearly in sight, the last 3K I upped my effort to catch everyone I could see including another Brit, he became my focus and drive and I got past him with 1 K to go, the finish line!! James Cadge and his Mum who had come out there cheering. It was done! Wet, cold, exhausted and hungry. What an adventure, what a race! Great places, great people amazing views as ever the mountains don’t disappoint.
I want to say a big thank you to Angela Burnikell of Muscle Maters for her help in keeping my legs in good shape while training and then giving great advice to treat my injury during the race.
Matt Hart and the team at Torq Fitness, the fuel that you guys produce is amazing and I am so lucky to be associated to you through my coaching.
Jon Petifor at Gore Apparel for sponsoring James and I with the most amazing kit that did not lets us down once.
Mydleton Major as prime sponsor that James worked hard to secure, thank you for making this event possible for us.
James Cadge for being a great friend, brilliant training and racing partner. If I could have designed my ideal van buddy and run buddy you would have been the outcome, thanks so much.
All my E3C athletes who took time to help keep me on it in the lead up and during the race.
Sam Pantling, man thank you so much for having my back. Your advice via text and even the calls during the race were so spot on, it means more knowing how crazy busy your life is at the moment yet you found time. Cheers buddy.
To my kids who continue to be and always will be my main motivation in all I do, I hope that you see in life you must live and go get your dreams. Love you.
My Mum who has always been there for all my adventures and races, I know sometimes you wonder why but you always support. Love you.
Lily, you are the breath of fresh air in my life and bring me comfort and balance and I am so lucky to have meet you and have you in my life.
To those past away Dad and Grandad. I will strive to be the best I can at every turn and be there for my family. Love to you both.
Well my chance for an event blog. With the rapidly approaching Gore-Tex Transalpine It was time to move from just training and put my mind and body under some pressure so I could look at what is working well and what not so well. As for event choice I will be honest I had never heard of On The Whistle until my other half mentioned she was doing one of their Ultra races, So I dived online and sure enough this would be perfect, Off Road, as far as you want in 12hrs overnight. So I broke the news to Lily who refused to believe me until I sent her my entry confirmation.
I don’t think Lily was expecting the organisation that then followed, (welcome to endurance coaching) Gazebo, table, chairs, all nutrition sorted, change of clothes, headlamps all charged and so on.
On arrival at the event the organisers were super friendly and just wanted to know more about E3C, and it was great to have the opportunity to talk to an endurance event company about how we work to help athletes achieve their best, and likewise, having never heard of ‘On the whistle’ events it was good to hear about their company and the events they host. Meanwhile Lily was fielding the questions about the furry husky friend!
Race start all lined up, lead out MTB rider for first lap to make sure no one got lost on the just under 5 mile lap. I was super relieved once we got going and the pace was right where I wanted it to be. 2012 was my last Ultra of 32 miles, so 5 years down the line and with working to my daily run training and under 15 miles for longest run to date this was going to highlight any issues.
I sat on the shoulders of the two lead runners for the first lap which had opened out a good gap on the rest of the field, these guys new each other and were chatting all the way, it’s nice to just listen sometimes. Now as we came through the pits I had enough fuel for another lap easily and so just got my stamp and carried on, now just by myself. It was a beautiful evening and so motivation was high to be out running somewhere new (Havant). The course was laid out such that the last 1.5 miles was the same as the start 1.5 miles and you saw all the other runners, and man these guys and girls were loving it. I always, no matter how broken I am, will smile and congratulate all other participants and so to be greeted with people high 5ing and people amazed to see how far out front you are is just brill.
So 2nd, 3rd and 4th laps all flew by with a nice comfortable pace, I had seen the two guys whose shoulders I was sat on on each lap and was almost a lap up, I made a point of being happy chatty but they were not so?
I had now set a goal of getting under 4hrs for full marathon, which for off road I would be chuffed with. At around mile 24 I was having a few ankle issues (thought this would happen) which caused me to shorten my stride and this in turn put pressure on my hips, this said 3.55 for marathon and finished on 6 laps having learned all I needed and with a marathon time I was pleased with.
What did I learn? I needed more cushioning in my trail shoes, more massage and stretching for my legs to ease my joints. Nutrition was spot on (Thanks to Torq Fuel) energy levels stayed high to the finish. Gore Apparel was the best, socks kept feet blister free, top super breathable and 2 in 1 shorts super comfy.
USE Exposure head light worked a treat.
Core strength was solid, no slouching good posture. Most importantly was my mind! Anyone who knows me back from racing round the world at Ironman will know that this was an area I really needed to work on, my mind stayed focused right up to up crossing the line and then after to evaluate my race.
Being at the sharp end was great fun again and being part of such a fun event with so many lovely runners was awesome. Made even better by being first event with Lily, she went and ran a PB distance which was great and we then both suffered and hobbled around the day after.
I would like to add that a lovely surprise visit from Ops Director, Lynn, in the night was unexpected and so nice. She had also been drumming up support from E3C athletes on social media for my event, which again was so unexpected and all your messages and comments were so welcome. I hope I did my athletes proud and I hope to battle through transalpine in September knowing you are all supporting me.
After enjoying some of the winter Mean and Dirty XC events I spotted that they put on a few mid week Thrash's this summer. I made it along to round 2.
Normally a 1 hour xc race essentially round a field in a park wouldn't appeal to me but I fancied something short and high intensity to get my race head back on ahead of the last few weeks before 24/12 UK Champs.
I got the train after work up to Gloucester which was novel for going to a race after I spotted an article that week which quite rightly pointed out that driving cars full of bikes to then ride bikes is a bit odd. After a few sprints to either end of the train after the guard had told me the wrong place where the bikes went I was kind of reminded why car is often king. After another sprint to catch a connecting train at Cheltenham I eventually made it to the boating lake venue. A super relaxed atmosphere and some familiar faces was nice and although the 1 mile course had a total of 6 inches of climbing it was non the less quite tight and twisty so not entirely without peril. The organisers definitely made the most of it.
There were a few team kits around so it looked like there might be a few keeno's to battle with. It turned out that three of us were pretty evenly matched throughout with some chopping and changing in the order over each of the 5 minute laps. I hung back on the first few letting the other two chaps set the pace. I had no idea what a 1 hour race pace would be but flat out it seems!
In my hanging around at the back of three I missed that the then leader had stolen a bit of a gap so by the time I moved up to 2nd he had put together enough of a gap to hold to the end.
It was great seeing a wide range of riders on course all being super polite and encouraging to each other. Goes to show that everyone can have fun at a race so long as it involves bikes and people.
Fortunately I got a lift most of the way home (thanks Lynn) so I didn't have to battle the trains again but pedalling back to the front door at 11pm was quite a nice way to take back part of the working week.
Lunch of champions - what to eat for lunch when you’re training in the afternoon or evening
Lunch ideas for afternoon training
If you have an afternoon training session, you need to make sure your energy levels are topped up. For this, carbs are key.Carbs come in two main types. They can contain fast release energy, like sports drinks, gels and other sugary foods, and give you a quick hit of energy; or they can contain slow release energy, like pasta and cereals, which give you a steady supply of energy. For afternoon sessions you need a mix of both, but more of the fast-release ones. A humble peanut butter and jam sandwich has a great balance of slow and fast release carbs for an afternoon session. Why not try my healthy take on the banana split, with 71g of carbs. It’s packed full of fast-release carbs so is ideal about an hour or two before you train.
Banana Split (serves 1)
3 largestrawberries, quartered
24g plain chocolate (4 average squares)
Halve the banana length-ways and put it in a bowl. Mix the porridge oats, honey and yogurt and place in the middle of the banana. Sprinkle with strawberries and raspberries. Drizzle with melted chocolate.
Lunch ideas for evening training
If you’re training in the later in the day you need to have more of the slow-release carbs. Pasta salads or chicken wraps with veg are perfect here. This rainbow couscous is packed with veg and contains a whopping 69g of carbohydrates per serving. As it mostly contains slow-release carbs it’ll hold off the fatigue and keep you going longer when you train later. And it’s packed full of anti-oxidants to help you recover.
Rainbow Couscous (serves 2)
2 tsp olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
1 vegetable stock cube
1 medium orange pepper, diced
¼ average Cucumber, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes
50g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp pesto, green
2 heaped tbsp sweetcorn kernels
Fry onions in olive oil until soft. Add stock cube to boiliing water and use it to make up couscous following the manufacturer’s instructions. In a large bowl, mix couscous, onions, vegetables and all other ingredients.
These are just some general tips for helping you to perform, but we're all individual and will respond slightly differently to food and drink. If you want to be the best you can, it's worth having your diet analysed in a nutrition consultation to get a nutrition plan that's personalised to you, your race and food preferences, and to help you meet your individual
Dr Ali Hill
Looking after yourself
I think one of the biggest ironies of getting fit and healthy through biking is that there comes a point when you can actually do too much and it becomes in some ways harmful to your health. I’m not going to delve in to anything scientific here about heart conditions or anything like that just flag a few things to be aware of as you go on your journey towards your goal.
About three years ago I started upping my training volume and taking things a bit more seriously. This coincided with moving down to the Bristol area and getting a job in Swindon. As I’m quite anti car when it comes to commuting, combined with being tight I decided to cycle Bristol to Swindon as much as possible for my commute. I didn’t do it every day but it marked a significant increase in riding volume. Things were going fine for about 5 weeks but then just before I had planned to have an easier week, half way home one day my legs turned to lead. I had literally had nothing in them, it was bonking whilst not even really putting in any effort. I had to bail out to get myself to the nearest train station to get home, fortunately there was a chippy next to the station so I ordered a massive fish and chips portion and sat on the platform eating it feeling rather wiped out. My legs were then sore to touch for the next week or so. I subsequently learned that this was over training, it was not nice.
After going to a physio I learned a couple of things. I should have taken a rest at about week 4 and although I was eating mountains of food I wasn’t eating enough protein to help my muscles recover. So I had exercised myself in to issues, who’d have thought too much exercise could be bad!
Below are a few pointers if you are starting to increase the volume of exercise whether that’s from already doing 8 hours a week or starting from zero hours, the same principles apply I think (this is based on my experience and a bit of reading around, everyone is different so take with a pinch of salt etc).
You want to gradually increase volume and pay attention to how you feel when doing so. You can easily over-do it if you jump in to massive hours each week. Those logging 20 hour a week plus on strava didn’t start off with that amount of riding, they built up. Don’t copy them from a standing start, learn what works for you, we are all different! Make yourself (or get someone to do it for you) a training plan which builds in rest weeks where you drop volume down to let your body soak it up and recover.
Eating well is always important but particularly when your body gets depleted from increasing the amount of exercise you do. I hear quite a lot of people say they haven’t lost any weight when they have started to exercise loads. I think that might be because they up their volume of food but in the wrong way like I did when commuting to Swindon. I would eat massive bowl fulls of cereal and big sandwiches at lunch but this was too carb heavy and not enough protein so wasn’t giving me what I needed to help recover. Protein is pretty important to help muscles repair themselves under heavy exercise. There are quite a few things on google you can look at as a guide to how much protein you should be taking depending on what hours you put in but you’ll be quite hard pushed (or out of pocket) to eat enough protein ‘naturally’ if you are doing a load of exercise. Have a look at protein shakes as an alternative or there are lots of nice recipes for homemade protein bars online. Try and make your snacks protein based as well in the office. I was getting through a load of cereal bars but still feeling hungry as they were just full of sugar and not enough good stuff like protein that also helps fill you up. Nuts and seeds are a winner on this front. Apart from protein make sure you get enough greens inside you as they contain lots of science that is good for recovery and like antioxidants and all that. Basically fill your plate with greenery.
I personally take vitamins, not of the Lance Armstrong nature... I eat well but I just think there isn’t much harm in making sure I’m topped up.
Although it reads like a long list daily I take:
- Multi vitamin (just in case I’m missing anything in diet)
- Magnesium (to aid muscle recovery)
- Gingko bilboa (to help my bad circulation)
- Glucosamine (to help keep the joints lubed)
- Echinacea (helps keep away the colds)
I expect I probably excrete most of the above out without absorbing it but I buy vitamins from poundland or online in bulk from ebay so it doesn’t really cost much, better safe than sorry I think (apparently there isn’t any different between cheap and expensive vitamins). I’ve not had a cold in 18 months so must be doing something right. Particularly if your diet isn’t great it might be worth considering taking some vitamins. Echinacea has been great in keeping the colds away as when you start doing more, particularly around the rest of your busy life, your immune system takes a fair kicking. That’s why you hear a lot of athletes getting colds regularly.
I don’t really know much about this side of things so I won’t pretend to. What I do know is that training for 24 hour racing can be pretty lonely and you need to be pretty happy about training to get up at 5am for a turbo session in the pain cave. So in short do things that make you happy and then you’re less likely to come to resent the training. Keep in touch with mates who just ride bikes for fun and don’t race. Ride with other people where possible, as humans we mostly like being around other people, it’s good for our wellbeing.
Pay attention to what happens when you become fatigued from training. I personally become irritable and really have to concentrate on not taking it out of others. When you are relying them to stand in a pit area for 24 hours at a time you don’t want to piss them off by highlighting how they haven’t got your dinner ready in perfect timing for your return from all dayer ride swanning around the countryside whilst they do the house work….
You will need to stretch if you are doing lots of exercise, nobody likes doing it but it’s really important to stop your limbs becoming inflexible and tight from exercise. Try and get this in to a routine so it’s just something you do rather than you have to make an effort to remember to do. So when I come in from a long ride, I grab a protein shake, cup of tea then roll around for a bit on the lounge floor stretching whilst I catch up with my wife before having a shower. You really want to be stretching after every training session if possible. Using standing around time in daily life to stretch, calves whilst brushing your teeth, hamstrings on the training, glutes whilst sat down in meetings (you soon get over the weird looks)! It’s good to get along to a yoga/pilates class once a week if you can as this will give you a much better stretching routine than you can be arsed to do at home. Get a foam roller and use it. It’s never going to be as good as a proper massage but I find it does help a bit. Get a proper sports massage if you can, particularly if you have increased volume substantially your body needs all the help it can get to adapt. Your recovery will be quick as tensions are released. For me personally I don’t take too well to lots of complicated stretches that physio’s sometimes prescribe as I usually forget how to do them properly, so if you’re like me try to keep things simple, remove any barriers to you doing stretching as it’s a really easy thing to skip.
Sleep helps you recover, feel better, so do more of it. Take a nap if you can to top up on sleep or if you miss some sleep try and get a couple of extra hours somewhere else in the week. Reduce your pre bed screen time and read a book instead to help wind down and relax, your thousands of followers can wait for those instabangers until the next day. I wear recovery leg sleeves to help keep the blood circulating overnight if I’ve had a big day in the saddle, I think it helps recovery but either way doesn’t harm. Take a rest week after 3 or 4 weeks to give your body chance to recover and adapt.
There is quite a lot to absorb above so get in touch with E3 Coach who can help advise and probably give far some scientific advise than I can. Training Peaks is good for tracking your training volume and the impact it’s having on your fitness, fatigue etc, they have a free version or the paid version is good value for the data you get back.
Breakfast of champions - what to eat for breakfast during training, rest days & sportive day
We've all had those days where you just can't seem to find the energy for training. But have you thought that maybe it's something to do with what you're eating? Or not eating?
Nutrition can make a huge difference to your training and racing. You might think it's just a case of making sure you eat right on race day, but if you're not training well because you're not eating well, then you won't race well either. If you start your day properly fuelled you're sure to notice the difference in your training.
Your nutrition priority here is making sure you have enough energy. Carbohydrates are your main energy sources and are vitally important for endurance sports. Carbohydrates come in two main types. They can contain fast release energy, like sports drinks, gels and other sugary foods, and give you a quick hit of energy; or they can contain slow release energy, like pasta and cereals, which give you a steady supply of energy through the day. Start your day with a slow release carbohydrate like porridge, toast or bagels to make sure you have the energy to train.
And make use of those long training rides to practice your competition breakfast. You don't want to find out half way through the event that your breakfast doesn't agree with you!
Below are a few examples of a good training day breakfasts
1 average bowl (60g) muesli – 220 Kcal- 40g carbs - 6g protein – 5g fat
2 tbsp (80g) low-fat yogurt – 34 Kcal – 5g carb – 6g protein
200ml skimmed milk – 66 Kcal – 10g carbs – 7g proten
1 glass (150ml) orange juice – 54 kcal – 13g carbs – 1g protein
2 slices wholegrain toast – 174 Kcal – 34g carbs – 7g protein – 2g fat
2 tsp (10g) olive oil spread – 57 Kcal – 6g fat
2 heaped tsp (30g) honey – 86 Kcal – 23g carbs
1 carton (150g) low-fat fruit yogurt – 135 kcal – 27g carbs – 6g protein – 1g fat
1 cup (60g) porridge oats – 241 Kcal – 44g carbs – 7g protein – 5g fat
300ml skimmed milk – 99 Kcal – 15g carbs – 10g protein
1 tbsp (30g) raisins – 82 Kcal – 21g carbs – 1g protein
1 glass (200ml) orange juice – 72 Kcal – 18g carbs – 1g protein
1 glass (150ml) orange juice – 53 Kcal – 13g carbs – 1g protein
2 slices (80g) wholegrain toast – 174 Kcal – 34g carbs – 7g protein – 2g fat
2 tsp (10g) olive oil spread – 57 Kcal – 6g fat
2 scrambled or poached eggs – 160 Kcal – 14g protein – 12g fat
3 shredded wheat (70g) – 228 Kcal - 48g carbs – 7g protein – 2g fat
200ml skimmed milk – 66 Kcal – 10g carbs – 7g protein
2 tbsp (60g) raisins – 163 Kcal – 42g carbs – 1g protein
1 glass (150ml) orange juice – 54 Kcal – 13g carbs – 1g protein
Rest day breakfast
Essentially what you eat on rest days should help your recovery so you're ready for your next training day. You are likely to need a smaller portion and less carbohydrate for breakfast than you'd have on a training day, as you're using less energy. You should also add more protein to your breakfast - this will help repair your muscles from the damage they get during training, allowing them to grow back stronger. Good protein sources include eggs, fish, milk and yogurt.
1 glass (150ml) orange juice – 53 Kcal – 13g carbs – 1g protein
2 scrambled or poached eggs – 160 Kcal – 14g protein – 12g fat
Mackerel, grilled 1 fillet – 359 Kcal – 31g protein
2 slices wholegrain toast – 174 Kcal – 34g carbs – 7g protein – 2g fat
2 tsp (10g) olive oil spread – 57 Kcal – 6g fat
Baked beans (205g) – 166 Kcal – 10g protein
2 scrambled or poached eggs – 160 Kcal – 14g protein – 12g fat
1 glass water (200ml)
Event day breakfast
The aim of breakfast on a event day is to have slow-releasing energy foods or drinks, which you can top up during the race with fast-releasing energy sources. About 2 to 4 hours before the event have a breakfast packed with slow release carbohydrates. You might find low fibre foods work best for you if you’re prone to gastrointestinal problems. In that case choose white bread or low fibre cereals such as cornflakes rather than porridge. If you find it difficult to eat on race day because of nerves, try drinking your breakfast instead of eating it and have a smoothie instead of food.
In the 2 to 4 hours before the event you also want to drink 5 to 10 ml of water per kilogram of your body weight. So, if you were 70kg and your event started at 10am, you'd need to drink 350 to 700ml between 6am and 8am. You're trying to make sure your urine is a pale yellow colour as this means you're well-hydrated. Although it may seem early to start hydrating, it means you have enough time to go to the toilet before the race starts.
Again, training days are perfect opportunities to practice your race day nutrition and find out what works well for you. You'll also feel more confident going into the sportive if you know you have tried and tested your race day breakfast.
Below are a few examples of a good Event day breakfasts
1 average bowl (60g) muesli – 220 Kcal- 40g carbs - 6g protein – 5g fat
2 tbsp (80g) low-fat yogurt – 34 Kcal – 5g carb – 6g protein
200ml skimmed milk – 66 Kcal – 10g carbs – 7g proten
1 glass (150ml) orange juice – 54 kcal – 13g carbs – 1g protein
1 slice (40g) wholegrain toast – 87 Kcal – 17g carbs – 4g protein – 1g fat
1 heaped tsp (7g) olive oil spread – 40 Kcal – 4g Fat
4 slices wholegrain toast – 347 Kcal – 67g carbs – 14g protein – 4g fat
4 tsp (20g) Olive oil spread – 114 Kcal – 13g fat
4 heaped tsp (60g) honey – 173 Kcal – 46g carbs –
1 carton (150g) low-fat fruit yogurt – 135 Kcal – 27g carbs – 6g protein – 1g fat
1 ½ cups (100g) porridge oats – 401 Kcal – 73g carbs – 12g protein – 9g fat
500ml skimmed milk 165 Kcal – 25g carbs – 16g protein – 1g fat
2 tbsp (60g) raisins – 163 Kcal – 42g carbs – 1g protein
1 glass (200ml) orange juice – 72 Kcal – 18g carbs – 1g protein
1 glass (150ml) orange juice – 54 Kcal – 13g carbs – 1g protein
3 slices (120g) wholegrain toast – 260 Kcal – 50g carbs – 11g protein – 3g fat
3 tsp (15g) olive oil spread – 85 Kcal – 9g fat
2 scrambled or poached eggs – 160 Kcal – 14g protein – 12g fat
4 shredded wheat (100g) – 325 Kcal – 68g carbs – 11g protein – 3g fat
300ml skimmed milk – 99Kcal – 15g carbs – 10g protein
2 tbsp (60g) raisins – 163 Kcal – 42g carbs – 1g protein
1 glass (150ml) orange juice – 54 Kcal – 13g carbs – 1g protein
These are just some general tips for helping you to perform, but we're all individual and will respond slightly differently to food and drink. If you want to be the best you can, it's worth having your diet analysed in a nutrition consultation to get a nutrition plan that's personalised to you, your race and food preferences, and to help you meet your individual goals.
if you would like a personalised nutrition plan
Have a read and if you would like to get intouch and find out more please email
Stretching and conditioning for the cyclist, some base exercises to do at home.
Life is busy and fitting in the training can be hard enough, then coach advices you to add in some off the bike conditioning exercises too. There is good reason for this. As more miles are put in along with more intense training sessions and being in that forward flexed cycling position for hours on end, the body needs to be conditioned to cope effectively with this and to help prevent aches and pains developing.
Conditioning exercises may also help to address any asymmetric, which most us will have, such as being stronger on one side, and/or more stable on the other. Perhaps an old injury is impacting on flexibility and comfort. Sciatic and lower back issues can often cause reduced flexibility down one side which can be compensated for when bent forward by a pelvic shift to one side slightly.
Having good flexibility means being able to comfortably maintain an efficient cycling position for the duration, along with having good core strength.
You don’t have to spend hours on stretches/strength exercises. 10-15 minutes sessions of stretches regularly in the week will make a positive difference.
NB: stretching isn’t about making you hurt. A stretch should be good feeling, not one of pain. Stretches - dynamic stretching (lengthening the muscle with movement) can be more effective than simply holding the muscle in a static position. come into the stretch slowly and repeat the movements 6-10x. There is no magic number of how many times which works best. I feel like I have had a good stretch after around 8x, everyone will be different.
Below are some stretches and exercises which I find work well. There are a huge number of variations and other exercises of course. Pick and choose some which work well for you.
Start from the lower leg and work upwards.
The calves: often neglected when time crunched, but they are an integral part of the lower limb mechanics too! Try doing both at the same time as we often have one which is tighter than the other and this helps to focus on that tighter side. With both feet pointing forwards, gradually lean into a wall to the point of a strong stretch, keeping heels on the floor and straight back. To alter the stretch, tighten your bottom muscles before coming into the movement.
Quadriceps/hip flexors: particularly good too if driving a lot or have a desk based job, i.e. spending a lot of time in a forward flexed posture.
Kneel on something soft (for knee comfort!). If you on the inflexible side, start with being up on your toes with the back foot (the higher the back foot is the stronger the stretch). Reaching up tall with the arms creates a more effective stretch for the hip flexors and the front (anterior) of the upper body.
Bring the hip forward slowly arching the back a little until a good stretch is felt in the quadriceps, hold for around 5 seconds, sit back until the stretch releases and repeat this movement. To make this more effective: Tighten your bottom muscles first (gluteal maximus), then come into the stretch and repeat as above. How far can you now get with those glutes engaged? This demonstrates the direct relationship between the anterior and posterior muscle groups.
Adding in rotation will lengthen though the outside (lateral) muscles more. Lower the arms a little whilst in the stretch position, then rotate away from the leg being stretched.
The lunge version: This is easier to do anywhere! Start by taking a good step (lunge) forward. Keep BOTH feet pointing forwards, (good for the balance too!) stretch up again with the arms whilst gradually dropping the back knee slowly towards the floor (yes, raise the heel on the back foot) and arching the back slightly, to the point of a strong stretch in the quadriceps of the back leg. Hold for around 5 seconds, come up off the stretch (you don’t have to stand fully up) and repeat. The knee should get closer to the floor with each drop. Whilst in the stretched position, bring the arms all the way down and you should feel the stretch come off the abdominal area. So keep those arms up, to really lengthen through the hip flexors and the anterior body!
Adductors (the inside thigh muscles, long and short): often get ignored too! The recommendation is usually to stretch the outside of the legs as this is where we often feel the soreness, but the adductors get tight too, generating a inward pulling force on the knee. For the short adductors, sit tall with the soles of the feet together and lower the knees by gently pushing down on them with your elbows and lean forward if you can. The 2nd position hits the long adductor muscles. Point 1 foot in the direction of movement and lean over to the that side to stretch the inside of the opposite leg.
The hamstrings: place your foot up something at an appropriate height for you. Be a little wary with this one though as to what structures are actually being stretched. Tension on the sciatic nerve is often mistaken for a muscular stretch. If the stretch is felt at the back of the knee, then the nerve is being put under tension, not what we want! To make sure that that the muscle is being stretched, start by pointing your foot away from you. (keeping the feet towards you tensions the neural tissue). Bend forward from the HIP, keeping the back straight, this may mean that you won’t get as far as you think! Repeat as for the other stretches. Bias can also be placed on either the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) hamstrings by rotating the foot. Rotate outwards to bias the inside group and vice versa for the outside. Give this a try, you may find one side tighter than the other.
Gluteal maximus (bottom muscle): Lying on your back, keep one leg straight and bring the other leg to a 90 degree bend at the pelvis and knee. Pull the knee towards your chest a little, then push the leg across your body. Take hold of the top of your shin (if you can’t reach without lifting your body, use a belt or an inner tube) and rotate the leg, bringing the knee towards the opposite shoulder. You should feel a good stretch deep in your bottom.
Piriformis: These are a couple of options. The first one starts as above, but keep the pelvis and knee position at 90 degrees. Push the knee a little further across your body this time. Using a belt or inner tube, wrap it around your foot and rotate the leg, trying to keep the pelvis on the floor. You should feel a good stretch at the side of the pelvis this time
This alternative brings in upper trunk rotation. Sitting as tall as possible, place one foot on the opposite side of the opposing knee. Bring the elbow across to the opposing bent knee. Bring the bent across the body and rotate. The more you push back on the knee with the elbow the greater the stretch through the piriformis.
For some base strength exercises, these are good ones to start with;
If you are starting out doing strength work, for the first 2-3 weeks I would suggest 2x per week, doing 3 sets of moderate effort completing as many repetitions as you can comfortably when using body weight or around 15 repetitions if using weights. This is to allow the body to adapt to the new demands placed upon it. Too much, too hard, too soon may lead to injury! Of course, everyone is different and only you can be the judge of what you can and can’t do. After this adaptation period, use greater loads to continue the process of getting stronger and drop the repetitions to 8-12.
Gluteal maximus: To get those glutes fired up, single leg bridging is a great exercise, and it also works pelvic stability. To warm up, do this as a double leg exercise first for 10-15 repetitions. Having the arms beside you will make it easier. As strength gains are made, work up to just having the upper arm on the floor, then to crossing your arms across your chest so that stability is entirely controlled from the pelvis. When going into the bridge position, concentrate on using the gluteals to push upwards. Don’t hyper extend the pelvis though, come up just to the point of being level. Hold for around 5 seconds, then slowly come back down, controlling the movement.
Squats/dead lifts - double leg: great for overall strength. Purchase a heavy resistance band such as one of these; http://www.physioroom.com/product/PhysioRoom.com_Resistance_Exercise_Band/2026/38990.html. Put your legs together and tie the band around the knees fairly tightly so that when you take the feet pelvic width apart there should be a reasonably strong inward pull on the the knees. Getting form correct with this exercise is important. Think bottom out and long through your back. You should feel the effort mostly in the bottom muscles, as well as the quadriceps.
The band is there to keep knees over the feet and help to effectively engage the lateral part of the glutes, by keeping tension on the band as you go up AND down. Using some weight (even when starting out) makes this exercise more effective, especially as a cyclist where the legs will be strong anyway. If you don’t have any weights, put heavy items in a backpack for example.
Start with the feet pointing forwards, pelvic width apart. As you squat down, keep knees over your feet pushing against the tension of the band. Heels should stay firmly on the floor. Squat down slowly and controlled, i.e. don’t drop quickly, then power back up.
If you are restricted in this movement, or there is too much stress on your knees, try it using a gym ball behind your back. Same start position. Use the gym ball for support, pushing back into the ball going down and up, but still making sure that the majority of the work is being done by those bottom muscles. Hold some weights in your hands and have the band between the knees as above.
Depending on ability to squat all the way down, this could be turned into a full range movement exercise, the dead lift. Starting with a light weight (dumbbells in each hand for example) and still using the band, squat down until the weights touch the ground, then back up.
Gluteal minimus/medius (muscles on the side of the pelvis which also attach directly into the ITB): One side is often weaker than the other. Lying on your side, keep the natural curve at the waist (hold the pelvis in this position or use a rolled up towel under the waist) to maintain proper pelvic position. Cross your arms so that you aren't pushing into the floor as you want the stability to come from the pelvis. Extending the top leg out, raise it to a comfortable point then slowly and controlled come back down, Tap your toes lightly on the floor then back up. Repeat as many times as able. You should feel the effort along the top of the leg near the pelvis.
Back in January this year I had an email come through at 7am. ‘Congratulations, you have been successful in your entry for the CCC!’ My friend from Finland, Mikko, and I had entered as a team, meaning that we either both got in or we didn’t, having entered the ballot about 8 weeks earlier. We had both been working over the past 18 months to get points just to enter the ballot, but due to the sheer number of people wanting to run this race, it’s always a case of ‘will we won’t we’ in terms of getting a place right up until you get the email.
For those who may not be familiar with the CCC, it’s part of the Ultra Trail du Monty Blanc- a trail running ‘festival’ is probably the best way I can describe it. There are 5 official races spread over a week of trail running madness all around the Mont Blanc massif- the full UTMB; 170km with 10,000m of climbing, the TDS; 119km with 7,250m of climbing, the CCC; 101km with 6,100 of ascent and the OCC; a 55km trail race with 3,500m of climb. There is also a 6 day stage race covering an eye watering 290km and 26,500m of climbing. In a nutshell, this is a bit of a ‘Mecca’ for all things ultra and alpine related! That being said however, we were just as anxious as we were excited to be running one of these great races.
We rocked up to Chamonix, the base for the UTMB a couple of days before the race to acclimatise a little, and sort our kit. One thing you don’t want is to be having, is concerns with your kit- shoes, pack, bladder, general gear. The benefit of having to qualify for this race, is that it essentially forces you to run A LOT! I was into double figures in terms of number of official marathons + multiple ultras over the marathon distance by the time I got to the start line so I was confident that all kit was well and truly road tested.
Our mantra for the race was to ‘keep eating, keep drinking, keep moving’ and putting previous training to one side, we knew a lot would come down to mental preparation and toughness. I’d actually had a pretty rough year training wise, with too much going on and an annoying planta fascia injury which had limited by long runs. It was super important however, not to let any negative thoughts creep into your head. It’s normal to be nervous and have concerns- this was after all the longest we had ever run, and there are so many unknowns when you put your body through such an event. But it turns out there is a pretty fine line between ‘I’ll suck it up and push on’, and withdrawing from the race. I believe that the right mental preparation and attitude is the bit that can help tip the balance is the right direction. Jon at E3 and I had been working together to make sure the key sessions had been hit in the lead up to the race, and Jon was great in re-assuring me that the mileage was in my legs (something I worried about a lot, but reassuring to hear it from him).
We set off from Courmayeur at a leisurely at 9am, which for those who have taken part in any organised runs or triathlon know that it’s usually a crack of dawn thing. In this instance we were actually wishing we’d set off a bit earlier as the forecast was 33 degrees, something which actually led to the highest dropout rate across all of the races (over 30%) in UTMB history. We gradually wound our way to Champex-Lac, before turning West and then South back to Chamonix, hence the ‘CCC’ nametag for the race. The scenery was really something else, and the people and volunteers along the way were awesome. Just writing this reminds me of so many cool people and moments that we encountered along the way.
Obviously I could write an essay on the race, but in the interest of time (spoiler alert!), we made it. It took us 23 hours and 20 minutes, but we were well within the 26 hour time limit and finished in the top 1/3 of the 2000 toeing the start line. I took a lot from the race, not just memories, but experience and mileage in the legs J For anyone who is looking to get into longer distance running, or perhaps you already are but want to ramp it up a bit, I have listed below some of the kit that I used. This is valid for any trail race over 21km I would say, although the amount of mandatory kit, fluids and food stash will obviously depend on the actual distance and number of aid stations along the way. This isn’t to say this is the best kit out there, or indeed that it will work for everyone but I wanted to make this blog useful as well as (hopefully!!) interesting to read…
Shoes- originally I was planning to run in my Inov 8 Roclite 295’s which have served me well up to 50km. In the end I opted to run in HOKA Speedgoat’s, which offer more cushioning at the expense of a little less grip and stability on super technical trails due to their built up nature. I bought them ½ size too big to allow for foot swelling over the course of the race.
Clothing- I opted for wicking Nike undershorts + regular running shorts. Many people do opt for an ‘all in one’ short with lining built in (my fiend Mikko ran in the Salomon Exo Pro’s). The benefit of either I find is that it helps increase wicking, and reduces chaffing (although never eliminates it completely…). I ran in a regular technical T-shirt (which I actually got for free at a café in Majorca!), but it’s seen 100’s of km’s and never causes me problems. Back to my point- run in your kit, and test it. I also wore compression calf guards, a cap and sunglasses.
Pack: I have done most of by runs with the Salomon Sense lab 3 which has actually been discontinued now, but upgraded to the Skin 5 for this race which gives a bit more space for the mandatory kit. It also allows you to carry a 1.5 litre bladder + 2 soft flasks. The benefit of this set up is that you can top-up on the go from rivers or streams, and you always know how much you have left once your bladder is empty. I had my fingers burnt once (which was enough) leaving an aid station thinking I had plenty in reserve. I ran through without stopping only to run out of fluid with the next sip 1km down the road, with 10Km+ to the next aid station! Not cool, especially when it’s hot, this can be a game changer.
Poles: As a Brit, I thought poles were reserved for retiree walking groups. How wrong I have been! I trained with them and raced with them, thinking I would stash them whenever I didn’t need them. Truth was, they never got put away and I would say a life saver for either very steep or technical runs. I used the Black Diamond Carbon Z- solid but super lightweight, and collapsible when needed.
Nutrition: Over the course of 24 hours you need a LOT of calories, but you have to accept that you’ll be in deficit for most of the race! I’d like to give you a one stop shop that would work for everyone. The truth is, you need to find what works for you, but you need to keep something going into your body. I took a selection of bars, gels, sweet and savoury to mix up the palette. I used SIS GO powder in my bladder to keep kcals trickling into the system when I didn’t have an appetite. We had a killer aid station at Trient after 70km, when we arrived starving hungry (a great sign!). I had 2 cheese baguettes, 2 pieces of cake, some chocolate, pretzels, 2 glasses of coke, 500ml of water and cup of hot sugary coffee! Amazing.
Bottom line is, I believe running makes you a happier person. Get out there and run, whether its 1km or 100km. Now is the time to set some goals and enter some events- we are after all in trail season! Breathe in the air no matter how cold, damp or windy. See the sights from a new angle, and enjoy it.
Believe it or not achievers of amazing endurance mountain bike feats were once just normal people with normal lives, jobs, families and lots of other life commitments. Despite standing on podiums and being hailed for their achievements, they still are. One of our riders Matt Jones current 24 hour solo European mountain bike champion gives us an insight on how to get started with endurance mountain biking and his journey.
Before going to University despite have done mountain biking for a few years I would say I was just a fairly bog standard rider, enjoying shorter 12 mile or so trail centre routes predominantly and not particularly enjoying any big long rides that required more than one water bottle. At Uni I continued to be a bog standard rider and even though I was ‘president’ of the cycling club this really just meant president of the boozing and party club with the occasional appearance at the weekly club ride where I was too unfit to keep up (or hungover). If I’m honest I always sort of dreaded the feeling of being left behind by the faster riders. This probably made me turn more to downhill where a couple of bimble push ups at Wharncliffe Woods were a bit more manageable! I played in goal in the Geography football team and died a death trying to keep up with my housemates on their weekly 2mile run (I joined them once only…). Looking back now I wish I had made more of the amazing peak district trails instead of the Sheffield Tavern’s! Still they were good times for sure.
It was only when I started full time work in Newcastle that I actually got a bit of fitness, really by accident. This was purely down to starting to ride my bike every day to work. I only had a full suspension santa cruz heckler (loved that bike!) so this was what I used. I even got fully geared up in cycling clothes for the 3 mile ride in to town. This base mileage although not amazing in total distance made a real difference to my fitness level on the off road stuff at the weekend. I didn’t do it for fitness it was just quicker and cheaper than the bus or car. I started to enjoy the feeling of being a bit fitter as the endorphins were released. Regularity of riding here was the key.
A few mates suggested I go up to Kielder Forest for a local mountain bike race. With the promise of a laid back atmosphere, decent trails and a soup and sandwich in the pub after for the £15 entry fee mostly for local charities, I was sold. I’m not sure I can remember that much of my first xc race other than it being quite hard. I expected to finish last on my full suspension heavy setup but came somewhere near the back a few hours later. I do remember discovering that for the first time I could push myself a little bit beyond what fitness I had by being determined to give it 100%. Like all first time long riders, my arse was sore and I wanted it to end about 2 hours before it did!
I’m not going to give a race by race blow by blow account of races since then but I thought it was useful to give a bit of context to mine and probably other people’s similar journey to fitness and beyond to getting to the sharp end of races. Everyone has some sort of adversity to overcome in their journey to their target fitness level, you can use this to your advantage. I personally had a health scare with the big C back in 2012 which after two operations left me off the bike for a few months and on a real downer. I came out the other side though with a renewed enthusiasm to ‘smash it’ and I know lots of other people who have drawn on life experiences to fuel their legs and motivation to much greater things than pre drama. The mind is such a powerful thing. Even now despite all the training I’m no world beater but I can think back to how much better I feel now about riding in general compared to being unfit.
So what am I saying about ‘getting started’ in endurance events. As the above is a little monologue I’ll go for some top tip more succinct bullet points which aren’t really what kit to use or what training to do but more on the philosophical and mind of matter game:
- Everyone starts somewhere, a fellow endurance athlete advised me on my first 24 hour race “keep going and you will surprise yourself” very true words. YOU CAN DO IT.
- Find some local races, there are some great ones out there that are low key, often for charity, usually involve cake at the end, check out pedalplanner and british cycling event websites
- Ask other more experienced riders for advice, everyone is happy to help, they have ALL been in your shoes. Get a coach for some guidance, you don’t have to be fast to have the benefit of someone helping you on your journey.
- Racing is a great way to help target your road to fitness around a goal. ‘Fear training’ is powerful motivation I find!
- Start small and work your way up. Nobody started mountain biking and said oh I’m going to ride the South Downs Way as my first outing. Build up gradually. Those Red Bull Rampage cliff hucking freeriders didn’t start off life by throwing themselves of 50ft drops, it was a set of 3 steps…
- We are all built differently, not everyone is naturally a racing snake. Always have in mind to give it 100% rather than worrying about the podium, the latter will come if you want it to.
- Enjoy your riding. Don’t lose sight of why you ride bikes, keep in touch with the Tuesday night riding crew who only do six miles before heading to the pub. This keeps things grounded and not always numbers focused and seriousness which can become a burden.
- As you get fitter, riding actually becomes more fun as you have more energy for the descents (which are of course the best bits)
- Make use of ‘dead’ travel time, ride to your parents for the weekend instead of driving!
- As you going longer, harder etc bear in mind that you’ll have to do things differently to keep progressing. Again ask around fellow riders. For example protein intake will need to take a hike if you are to keep your body able to recover from the training load.
- Use adversity to your advantage, draw strength from life events you’ve overcome or use training to get away from stresses.
I hope at least bits of this help you on your journey.
Going long on the mountain bike: fuelling the fire…
One of the great bonuses of doing endurance cycling races and events for me is the feeding frenzy that follows. It always amazes me how much I can process the week after a big race. From cakes to all you can eat buffets (pizza hut challenge anyone?!), post race, getting stuff down isn’t an issue. However, mid endurance event itself is an entirely different ballgame and a pizza followed by a chocolate sundae just isn't going to cut it!
I thought it might be useful to share some of my experiences of feeding before, during and after a endurance cycling event. I think this applies to both mtb and road but these experiences are my own and based mainly on experiences of 12-24hr mtb races where strain on the body and gut is pretty high. I use the same principles in shorter races with some modifications as I’ll go on to describe.
The most important thing to take from this in my view is to understand that everyone is different, you need to find out what works for you in each situation which there aren’t any shortcuts for. My experiences are based on trial and error and I’m certainly no nutrition expert! Chuddering 4 hours in to a the 12hour Bristol Bike Fest due to overheating was a particular highlight. Anything I say is either based on personal experience informed by stuff I’ve read somewhere but can’t be bothered to reference right now. Additionally, advice from seasoned racers is gold dust so never be shy to ask if you’re unsure. If you’re really serious get a coach who will help as well.
- Eat clean
Without going in to the usual white noise about diet etc, the weeks leading up to the race should revolve around ‘eating well’. By that I mean do the obvious things you think you should do regularly but never quite manage. It’s hard to do the right thing all year but even just getting the right stuff down in the lead up to event can help make sure your body gets what it needs for the thrashing to come. By eating well I just mean eating clean wherever you can. No processed rubbish, plenty ofveg, lean protein and quality carbs(google will help you hear so I won’t go in to more detail).
- Lay off the pasta
In my experience you don’t need to carb load in the sense of smashing a load of pasta the night before. In the week leading up to a big event you should be reducing the volume of your training particularly if it’s a long event you’re doing. Therefore if you continue with your normal clean eating plus a little bit extra you’ll naturally carb load anyway as you won’t be burning as much off. 1kg of pasta the night before will just sit on your stomach and make you feel sluggish. I prefer to eat earlier in the evening if it’s an early morning race to give plenty of time to get down to race weight the next morning ;)
- Keep it simple
Keeping meals simple particularly the day before a race is good practice in my view. Something like a chicken breast with pesto, roast veg and some cous cous is my preferred option. If you're eating something new or different you risk your stomach taking umbrage. Your stomach is apparently trainable so consuming something it’s used to makes sense, more on that later.
SCIENCE ALERT! Mark Cavendish does it so it must be right…I’ve experimented with upping my nitrate intake the week before important races, I have no way of measuring whether this has the desired effect of making me faster (again see google for details). Beetroot is the preferred method of upping nitrate levels but like a geek I had some contact with the original researchers and confirmed that it’s just as effective (if not a bit more inconvenient) to get nitrates through other forms such as salad. As I eat a lot of salad anyway it was just a case of stuffing a bit more on the plate at lunch and dinner.
- Practice makes perfect
It’s really important that you test out what you are planning to eat on race day prior to the event. This means trying to replicate as close as possible the strain that you will be putting on your body. For a 24 hour race I don’t go out and ride 24 hours in training but if something works for a 6 hour ride then you should be safe for longer hauls. I usually use Torq energy products for racing but here are a couple of cheaper options for riding in general:
- Homemade flapjack. Mix Oats with dates, honey, dried fruit and a bit of salt. Avoid butter as it clogs you up and makes digestion harder
- Oat cakes, come in handy packets, easy to digest carbs
- The king all energy products: Banana
The day before an event sometimes I will sip an energy drink (1 not several) through the day to make sure my electrolyte levels are topped up as I’ve had some problems with cramp previously. Again difficult to say the impact but if you regularly get cramp it could be something to consider.
- In the morning
On the morning of the event, KEEP IT SIMPLE, although advice varies I wouldn’t leave it later than 2 hours before an event to have your last meal. My races are usually in the morning so porridge with honey is pretty much my everyday breakfast so I have the same race day.
In the 2 hour window before the race starts I would usually eat a bit of something like half an energy bar or a banana. This is probably more useful for long events rather than short sub 2 hour jobs.
- During the race
During a race of any length I tend to stick to trying to consume on average 1g of carbohydrate for every kg of my bodyweight per hour. So currently around 73grams. Bearing in mind that you should have enough in the tank from your previous meal you shouldn’t need that much in the first 1-2hours. For me the balance is making sure you fuel from the off but not so much that the shock of the first couple of hours means your gut struggles to digest things as all your energy is being used elsewhere. I tend to consume around 60g per hour for the first 2 hours before building up gradually as the event goes on.
In terms of what I eat. I’ve experimented with lots of different things but what I’ve found to work out well is to KEEP IT SIMPLE. For me that means sticking to energy products from Torq that I (crucially) like the taste of so typically energy powder in my drink and a gel per hour to start then introduce energy bars as the event progresses. If you ride with energy products normally or at least in the run up to the event your gut actually gets used to that type of food which will help massively when it tries to process it whilst you’re blowing out of your arse mid race. Most people can’t survive on purely energy products, me included so I introduce bananas after about 4hours of riding but they are good to eat at any point. There’s a reason you see tennis players at Wimbledon munching them! If you’re going really long then something more substantial on the stomach is worth investing in. For me this is rice pudding, tea (this helps digestion as well) and soup, and maybe a protein shake or chopped up bits of protein bar so they are more digestible. Again the more different types of food you try and shovel in the more your gut has to deal with. It's important to remember that the alternative "give your stomach a break" food will also contain carbohydrate so try to adjust your intake of the other products accordingly so you are not consuming too much carbohydrate. In my experience, consuming too much can result in stomach pains / sickness as it is surplus to requirements. Stay off the caffeine the week before and then hit the caffeine gels mid race if you want a boost.
- The don'ts
So there are some do’s, how about the don’ts… Fatty food hinders the absorption of carbs and can make you feel bloated so avoid anything with high fat content. Think about climate on the day of your event. If it’s really hot you will struggle to take solid food down as being dehydrated makes this a lot harder. So you’ll need to be thinking about the balance of liquid vs solid food. With hotter conditions lean towards getting the amount of carbohydrate you need through liquids and colder conditions have more of a balance. As mentioned above there is a limit to the amount of food you can digest whilst exercising so if you find yourself bloated and having gut problems switching to just water or electrolyte only drink will help dilute the build up of the solid stuff. I was once in agony for 8 hours of a race as my stomach turned to soup by taking on too much food and not enough liquid on a hot day, not nice!
A nice little tip for food on the go on lapped races is to get some disposable plastic cups and fill them with your food ready to slip in to your back pocket and pick at or else get a highly uncool but highly effective top tube bag to snack from.
Getting a decent feed down you as soon as possible after the event will massively help recovery. Certainly drink a lot of water. People tend to use protein shakes as an easy way to get the necessary down you quickly and conveniently but a glass of milk does the same thing. I make my own protein bars with a bit of protein powder but lots of nuts and seeds and peanut butter in there which are a tasty post race treat. After that just enjoy the feeding frenzy and eat well to get set for tackling your next challenge!
Trial and error is key so on those training rides if you can establish what keeps you fuelled whilst not giving you stomach problems then half the battle of endurance events is won. I’ve never had to pull out of a race through stomach issues but I know many who have had to take regular trips into the woods mid race to relieve the pressure!
This blog post is to help new athletes and even some old one to get a better understanding of Base Training and why we do it.
The article below is taken from Training Peaks and was written by Joe Friel back in 2008, please have a read but also understand training is always subjective to each individual and their training history and goals.
"There seems to be a lot of confusion among athletes about the base period of training. This is the time of year when you train to train, not train to race. That means in base you are preparing the body for the greater stresses that will follow in the build period. Build starts immediately after base ends about 12 weeks before your first A-priority race of the season. In the build period you will be training with workouts that are very much like the stresses you will experience in racing. There is a big difference between training to train and training to race and yet I see athletes in base doing the very same workouts they will be doing a few weeks before their first big event – anaerobic intervals, hill repeats, tempo and bricks. These are all workouts intended to prepare you for the stresses of racing.
So what should you do differently in base period workouts? The best way to answer this question is to divide the base period into three sub-periods of three to four weeks each – base 1, base 2 and base 3. The training stress in each of these periods gradually increases so that by the end of base 3 you are much more generally fit than when you started base 1 and you are ready to begin training for the specific stresses of racing. Let’s take a look at the typical workouts for each of these three base periods.
But before we get into base training let’s discuss the prep period which proceeds it. Prior to base 1 you were in the prep period and basically just getting back into the routine of working out again. There was little or no structure to your training and you were doing, essentially, whatever you felt like in workouts. The sessions did not have to be limited to swimming, biking and running. You could do anything as long as it was fully aerobic, meaning low intensity.
The prep period is a time when I have the athletes I coach hiking, taking aerobics classes, using aerobic machines at the gym or anything else they enjoy. I also have them lifting weights and doing functional strength training with a focus on their unique physical needs. The weight loads are light and the repetitions high with an emphasis on good form. This prep period may last for two to six weeks.
Count backwards 23 weeks from your first A-priority race of the season to find the starting point for base 1. When it starts the training shifts toward an emphasis on swimming, biking and running. Functional strength and weight training continue only now the loads become heavier as the reps are decreased. Your purpose here is to create excellent strength for the muscles associated with the movements of swimming, biking and running. See The Triathlete’s Training Bible for details on this.
Sport-specific training consists of only two types of workouts for now – aerobic endurance and speed skills. Aerobic endurance workouts are long sessions done mostly in your heart rate 2 zone or its equivalent power and pace. These long, aerobic sessions get longer by about 10 to 20 percent each week until you reach your long workout goal durations based on the event for which you are training.
Speed skill workouts are intended to improve your technique in each sport. This should include drills for aspects of your techniques that are in need of refinement, paying close attention to your movement patterns, video recording and review and feedback from authorities such as coaches and knowledgeable athletes.
Base 2 starts 19 weeks before your A-priority race. There are two changes that occur now. The first is that you cut back on weight training, not only in terms of the number of days assigned to it each week but also the stress you apply with loads, sets and reps. Strength maintenance is now your goal. Functional strength training may continue as before.
The second change is that you introduce sport-specific muscular force training with hill work incorporated into steady, moderate effort bike and run workouts. For swimming paddles and drag devices will help to create more force. The intensity of these workouts stays below your lactate threshold and primarily in heart rate zone 3.
Aerobic endurance and speed skills workouts continue as before. The endurance sessions continue to get longer as the skills sessions continue as in base 1.
The last base period begins about 15 weeks before your A-priority event. Two more adjustments are made to your training now. Weight training is cut back even more to just once a week. In fact, if you are pressed for time it’s now ok to stop strength training altogether.
The second change is that muscular endurance training is introduced. This involves long intervals in the range of 6 to 12 minutes done at about the lactate threshold with very short recoveries that are about 25 percent of the work interval duration. Twenty to 40 minutes of cumulative lactate threshold training within one workout each week is generally quite effective. Build to a higher volume over the course of three weeks.
Aerobic endurance, speed skills and force training continue as in base 2.
It is usually best for athletes who recover slowly, such as older competitors and novices, to do four, three-week periods instead of three, four-week periods. So these athletes will follow a plan including base 1, base 2, base 3 and base 3 again. They will still end up with 12 weeks of base training but will have more frequent rest.
And as for rest, both groups, whether doing three-week or four-week periods, will recover with short and low-intensity workouts for four to six days in the last week of each base period. This will help to prevent overuse injury, illness, burnout and overtraining.
By following a base training program such as this you will arrive at the start of the build period some 11 weeks before the first A-priority race with good general fitness. In the build period the workouts will take on the characteristic stresses you expect to encounter in racing. This will be the time for anaerobic intervals, hill repeats, tempo and bricks."
How Serious is Transition in Triathlon?
As an endurance sports coach I have had many Triathletes over many years asking about what they should do in transition? How important is transition?
Now this ranges from Ironman to Super Sprint athletes, the theme is the same across all the distances, so I will start by giving my own personal experience.
My first Ironman, (I did not have a coach and there were no Facebook groups to help) I had raced many endurance events but this was my first Ironman and Triathlon.
At most Ironman events the bags for your transition are different colours for swim to bike and bike to run, these are big bags. I used mine to their maximum capacity. I loaded my bags up with every bit of kit I could possibly think of, and for all weather conditions, oh yes I was not going to get caught out. Luckily these bags are strong, and as an athlete I was able to carry them and hang them onto the peg with my race number, which I also had to stick on my bag.
Off we go ready to compete with my entire bike wardrobe in one bag and then same again in the run bag.
Key point here, psychologically this gave me peace of mind. There are no rules about how much you can put in the bag or even what (within reason), if its your first event then keeping your head straight is the most important aspect of Transition.
Before I progress, yes, you guessed it, I did not use all the kit in my bags, in fact no where near.
Fast forward one year to South Africa IM, and now looking at racing for Kona slots, my two bags were a little different. Swim to Bike bag had Helmet and sunglasses, Bike to Run had trainers and Sun visor.
Over the year I had learned and built confidence with what I really needed in Transition, and so looking for a speedy Transition I had removed nearly all the extra kit.
How do you apply this to your race, if it’s your first Super Sprint and you just want to survive, then have what will make you comfortable and mentally happy in your transition (most likely in a box by your bike for shorter Tri’s)
If you are looking for National qualification in an Olympic distance, then you need to go with minimalist in transition, your shoes attached to your bike, gels taped to top tube and then fly through.
Transition is transition. Be it Ironman or Sprint, approach it with your goal in mind, and then apply this so you can feel confident. I have had a good friend take 20mins in T1 having a cup of tea from her flask to help warm up after the swim, she was a sub 13hr triathlete even with this, so do what works for you.
Research your event. There will be videos of major events so you can see how the transition works. Just as you practise swimming, cycling and running, practise transition. Get it sorted before the event, again helping your mental state by removing a worry.
My penultimate piece of advice, is when you get to your race, no matter if Ironman or Sprint, walk through Transition over and over. You need to know where your bike is from swim exit, walk it through, you need to know where bike in and run out is, walk these from your racked bike. Do it until you are happy. Then chill and focus on your swim.
Last piece of advice is to ask people who have done the same event, making sure you ask athletes of your level, otherwise you will have lots of varied answers which will just cause you more stress.
Remember there are no silly questions!
For more advice or information on Transition practise
XC versus ENDURO really????
As a coach I look for ways to get the best performance from my athletes and 9 times out of 10 the answer is not that complicated. In fact, with a lot of coaching it can be about common sense and simplifying things. There is far too much info out there and people try to blind you with science, but really remove all the nonsense and it is pretty simple. Before people say it, yes science is really important which is why I go and use the testing facilities at Southampton University. For any of my athletes wishing to get this kind of data, the lab guys, and I am sure they wont mind me saying it, are the geeks of sport science. This really works for me as they do the best testing out there and I get this data to transfer to my athletes (science meets art)
Having been working in this industry for some time now we come across lots of rivalry between sports that maybe just maybe should be complementing each other rather than the whole 'we're better than you' mentality. We wear baggy shorts you look weird in that lycra stuff, or man get a hard tail and ride up that hill.
This is a perfect case and why I have my athletes already applying it. XC riders and ENDURO riders taking part in each others' events to help them with their weaknesses.
Many XC lycra wearing riders are weak on technical riding especially when at high speeds and so cost themselves time by slowing down. Enduro racing forces you to tackle technical sections at high speed and effort, normally far more technical than an average XC race, so what better way to improve than to go to the extreme and get skills lessons from ENDURO riders/skills coach. I have XC riders already doing this and have been working with great skills coaches too. My role, so to speak, is to get riders as strong and as fit as possible for racing and that means I have to look at help from experts in their fields.
A coach should never be afraid of using others to get the best out of their athletes, this is just good coaching.
Now to the baggy short ENDURO rider, these guys have loads of natural talent to throw a bike down a hard technical course, but in their racing they have lots of racing sections joined together by a non timed sections of heading back up hill. Once up the hill they need to be as fresh as possible to nail the next section, this is were we need that XC fitness to come in to play. Teaching these riders to recover while riding up hill, so getting them also to race non stop.
It is all about getting the riders to work on the areas of weakness. Now this said it's not for all! Some will want to ride a section full gas for a few mins then sit on the ground by their bike momentarily dying as they try to get their breath back. Others will want to hit the brakes and get off and walk over a technical section and then get back on and ride. These are just choices but if we are looking to improve our fitness to maximise our quality of riding, or just not to die every few mins, then maybe just maybe we can look at the other side of the fence for some ideas?
Andalucía Bike Race 2016
Two years ago, in my first ever stage race, I crashed out of the Andalucía Bike Race (ABR). This time I’d changed my approach and was more experienced to tackle six days of mountain bike racing of 450+kms and 14,000 metres of climbing.
Training for ABR
Last time I’d been training on average five hours a week more. I’d arrived over-trained and started the race ill. I’d under performed on the first stage and let my partner down. The rest of the race I’d spend chasing to make up, eventually crashing out on the second to last day from pushing too hard.
This time was different. I’d started a new and exciting job, so couldn’t afford any junk training miles. I’d done a sports science test with Jon Fearne of e3coaching in November. My training based on Jon’s plan was laser-focused on doing the right sessions for me, which meant I trained less, better, and harder.
The science – one of the best measures for a training program is blood lactate levels during different exercise intensities. This is what the sports science test measured. Having a high lactate threshold and turn point would enable me to exercise at a higher intensity for longer. Training at or above my lactate threshold and turn point would result in small but significant improvements. For me, that meant training at or above 170bpm, which is what I did a lot in the months leading up to ABR.
Andalucía Bike Race is based around the cities of Jaén and Córdoba. 2016 was the sixth edition of the race. It offers sublime single track, big climbs, and thrilling descents with a huge percentage taking place off road. ABR is a pairs event. This factor is easily the most difficult variable of this race. My partner was as experienced as they get – Nick Butler of Southfork Racing has been European water-ski racing champion before getting into cycling. He races Downhill and Mega Enduro in the UK and France, XC at national level and he is the ‘dark horse’ at many road races.
Nick and I made an unusual pair. Nick lost his right eye in an accident when he was sixteen. We both giggled when we realised that half-arsed had paired up with one-eyed racer. You’d never tell, the way Nick descends even the trickiest sections of trail.
In addition to Nick and I, Southfork also had an Elite team made up of Matt Loake and and Harry Snow. Matt is an experienced XC racer and Harry a motocross rider, who would perform spectacularly in one of his first mountain bike races. One to watch at this year’s National XC Series.
Distance – 52.8 km
Climbing – 1,454m
Day one is usually about setting a good pace and not smoking your legs out in big gears. ABR 2016 had a surprising start – a 50km mountain bike time trial, with the start and finish in the a beautiful little town of Martos. Nick had been sick in the run up to the event. It’s hard to train in the UK during winter, when sickness is everywhere, and make it to the race fit and well. This, added to our uncertainty about how we’d race together, meant that we didn’t set off too hard.
On the start ramp in the middle of town, with the sun shining, and crowds cheering, I was full of excitement. I thought of the people I’d leant on to make this possible, like Jane, Amy and Esme and the good folks at True where I work. Then we were off. Teams were sent off at 30 second intervals. We soon caught the team in front. Once we hit the first climb, a vicious section with 38% gradient, it became clear that being 10kg lighter would mean that I’d pull away from Nick on the climbs. At 10km we got to the real climb of the day and I felt good. Once we got to the first descent, it became clear that Nick had put his extra weight to great use as he hurtled down the descents. I had to pedal hard just to keep up, and often couldn’t.
On the next climb we set out our tactics. I’d go ahead on the climbs and Nick would catch up on the descents. This was working well until one section where there was no way to tell which line to take. Bike racing here is very different to the UK, where they’d mark technical sections with arrows. Here, you have to find out yourself. I was following Nick’s line when he hit the deck. I changed line but also went down. We were both okay and giggled at what looked like my sympathy fall.
I wasn’t happy with my descending. My downhill mojo was missing. I didn’t panic as I knew with six days, there was plenty of time to ride into it. In the meantime, it was highly entertaining following Nick, who as he admits, isn’t a follower. Wherever possible Nick, with his big 29er would take the straightest, fastest line instead of the well-trodden one. Over the course of the race, Nick would be instrumental in me finding my descending mojo and becoming a better descender from following his unconventional – and at times questionable – lines.
The second climb of the day came at 30km and had a steep section of cobble, which really hurt everyone, but particularly Nick, who slipped further back. On the descent, I began to cramp. I backed off to make sure it calmed. This cramping, I’ve found, often happens on the first day of a race like this. I think it’s because, for people who train for the race in the UK, it’s hard to mountain bike at race pace in our winter conditions, so it’s a shock to the system when you do. Luckily, this cramp usually only lasts a day or two. The countryside was littered with pockets of supporters shouting us on. I was in heaven. The sprint home was fast and fun. We got home in 2.36mins. Not blistering, but good for a first day.
Then it was straight into the stage race routine – warm down, clean bike, eat, rest up, eat, sleep and do it all again.
Distance – 78.9 km
Altitude – 1308 m
Climbing – 2686 m
This was to be the hardest climbing day of the race, rising to 1306 metres with 2630 metres of climbing and some huge gradients. The stage started with a 10km road section, which I done at an average speed of 35km per hour. Not bad on a mountain bike. It was frenetic and there were a couple of heavy crashes. Nick got off to such a flying start that he was in the first group on the road. I was a few groups back. The flat has never been my thing, especially at that pace. I’d recently changed my gearing. I was now running a single 32 ring on the front. My cadence was averaging 120, but I still couldn’t keep with Nick, who slowed up for me before we hit a left-hand turn for the first climb of the day. It was carnage as people bottled necked. We’d made very good ground and we were surrounded by elite riders for the first half of the day.
This stage involved 40kms of brutal climbing. We had progressed well but Nick was getting increasingly further back on the climbs, and was having to work hard on the descents to catch up – something (luckily) he was great at. The distance grew as the day went. Nick was having a tough day on the bike and was wheezing a lot. To be fair to Nick, he had been sick in the run up to the event, but he gritted his teeth and did all he could to limit our losses. In a six day stage race, it’s was unlikely that we would get to the finish without a bad day for at least one of us. At the end of the stage, we had moved from 26th to 23rd. Not bad but it should have been so much better.
As ever, I was blown away by the stunning Andalusian countryside. The climbing was tough, the descents were sketchy and the trails thrilling. All in all I felt truly privileged to be here – physically and mentally able to race with the support of those I love pushing me over every climb.
Distance – 72.04 km
Altitude – 673 m
Climbing – 2,056 m
We had a busy night and morning packing up ahead of the move to Cordoba that evening. Switching venues mid race is hard with tired bodies, but this change brings with it new trails and different racing. From 2014, this was a standout stage, with truly dizzying descents down dried-up river beds. After another frantic start of 5kms we hit single track and rolling hills with short, sharp climbs, which suited Nick and his power. This went on for a further 15kms before the first big climb of the day. This Buff section provided a kick up towards the end, before a wonderful descent to the finish. This was mountain biking at its fast, thrilling best and we were loving it. We came home 23rd in category. After the stage, we headed to the race’s third venue – the beautiful old city of Cordoba.
Stage 4 – Queens stage
Distance – 89.1 km
Altitude – 644 m
Climbing – 2,177 m
This stage was never going to be easy. The cumulative effect of three days of racing was starting to tell, although spirits in the Southfork camp were still high. We even had a glass of wine that evening. Staying in Cordoba, we were able to ride down hill to the start, which was in the centre. There was great support along the route. The first 10km was neutralised, but my speed was still 30km per hour. After the neutralised section, we hit gravel fire roads, which was where the wind was noticeable and large groups were formed. I was still really struggling on these flat starts. I found a group, dug in and held my position. When we hit the first climb I started to pick off lots of places and was soon back to Nick.
This was a turning point in the race for me. Once with Nick, I had lots in my legs to continue up the climb, but knew if I did, Nick would be lost behind. For this and the remaining days, it was about getting to the finish together at all costs. I couldn’t not finish again. I had to be a team player and it wasn’t all bad. Nick and I were still strong on the flats and making up lots of places on the descents – with smiles wide.
After a feed station Nick and I headed off to do a sublime section of descending down a dried up river bed with many challenging switch backs. We were caught behind a slower team, but Nick managed to pass on a corner where one of them came off. I was stuck behind as Nick descended at speed. When I reached the bottom, I knew Nick was ahead as I came to the the next time check. Now, here’s the rules with a pairs team in this race – you have to cross the time check within three minutes of each other or you get a time penalty. Nick and I had agreed that no one crosses a time check without the other person – so you wait up. When I got to the time check point – a large rubber mat going the whole way across the trail – to my surprise there was no Nick. I knew if I crossed then I’d be breaking our rule and what if Nick wasn’t ahead? After 10 minutes, I crossed and began the really difficult climb of the day, which I flew up to see Nick waiting on top. I was delighted to see him, but annoyed that he’d crossed without me. Nick’s defense was that he hadn’t seen the time check – a reasonable excuse for a one-eyed man. Either way, it was great to be back together and we hit for home. We’d get a 5 minute time penalty that day. I’d stopped checking our overall poison now, knowing that it didn’t represent where we should be.
Distance – 84.5 km
Altitude – 586 m
Climbing – 2,285 m
Yes, you guessed it – another 10km flat start from the town through the crowds before we hit a gravel track, where bunches formed. The start was less frantic today. Riders were getting tired. We were noticing how low our heart rates were. We just couldn’t get them up. Riders were less competitive and more likely to give way as the shared hardship formed bonds. Then it was straight into the first climb of the day. Today was proportionately a mountain biker’s dream with single track outweighing the climbs. My role now was helping Nick where ever possible. Nick, however, is a real fighter, and not one to take help easy. Today he had to capitulate and let me stay on the front as much as possible. The stage ended with an almost spirit-breaking series of climbs for Nick, which was luckily followed by another amazing descent back to the finish.
The finish was about 5km out of town. After each stage we’d grab some food, then drag our sorry asses back into town and up a long hill to our hotel. Then it was clean bike, get food, eat, rest up, eat, sleep and do it all again.
Distance – 71.7 km
Altitude – 644 m
Climbing – 2,038 m
Just 70km to go and we are done. Rumored to be the ‘fun’ stage, normally Nick and I would eat this for breakfast and do it in under 4 hours. Not today. It would take us four and half hours and nearly break Nick. There was a shorter flat start than normal, which I liked, then it was straight into the first climb of the day. This climb was the previous day’s wonderful descent, so wasn’t too steep. Nick started climbing well, and we were hopeful for the day. At the top of the climb there was major bottle-necking, which gave everyone time to catch their breath. What followed was some wonderful single track.
By stage six every climb was misery for Nick, as the cumulative effects of the week took its toll. While Nick worsening, I was getting stronger. This caused issues when I’d get on the front and leave Nick cursing me. So, I’d stay with Nick, let him draft, and occasionally push him one handed up longer climbs. Nick, like the competitor he is, didn’t like this, but he wasn’t well and had by now accepted that to get to the finish, we’d do whatever it took.
With all the hills out of the way, and as we approached the line, I felt really proud. Nick was relieved and happy too. We’d done it. Not the way we’d planned, but we’d done it, stayed friends and did the best we could as a team. Good result!
For me, I came to Andalucía to race. As it turned out I never really got to open up to see what I could really do. But I leave feeling very happy to have finally finished. I’m delighted with the new friends I made. I felt disappointed for Nick. He was sick in the run up to the event, and as it turns out, ill after it too. We should have guessed when Nick was wheezing later in the race on the climbs. He really struggled, but to his credit, Nick bit down and got it done when it really hurt and counted. A great teammate!
The backdrop to all of this was Andalucia and some of the best mountain you’ll find. If you ever considered doing a stage race, then this is one I can’t recommend highly enough.
What I learned
– Race every day like it’s the last
– Trust your body – it will recover
– Arrive rested
– Abandon all mental limitations – you really can do more than you think you can
– Adopt quickly the stage race routine – race, eat, sleep, repeat
– Don’t let that fact it’s your first time hold you back
– Listen and learn from others around you
– Find a partner of similar ability to you
– When you finish, you might be sorry you’re not racing again tomorrow!
The past few years have been all about new cycling experiences. This year will be no different. I could do the National XC series, but I’ve done all that. I’ll most likely do the Tour of Wessex, a road stage race, as I’ve never done anything on the road before. I’m definitely doing the hardest mountain bike marathon in Europe – the Salzkammergut. It looks mental – so I’m in for the longer distance of 211km with 7,500m of climbing. If I survive Salzkammergut, with a 50% drop out rate, I’ll see what other new adventures the rest of the season holds.
I wore predominantly Gore bikewear gear. I’ve been really impressed by two items in particular. Their Xenon 2.0 Active Shell Vest and Xenon 2.0 Active Shell Jacket. Both breathable, packable, warm and water resistant. On my arms and legs I wore Sportful No-Rain Knee Warmers, which stayed up, didn’t gather behind the knee or elbow and kept me warm when needed.
I stuck with what I knew to be gluten free, being a coeliac. I used Torq gels, High Five 4:1 energy powder and Torq recovery. For solids I had Battle Oats which were ace. I particularly liked the cranberry and blueberry fusion flavor. I also had Beet it juice with breakfast. The feed stations had everything you could need like walnuts, bananas, dates, water, Gatorade and Coke. I brought much of what I needed with me, like gluten free pasta, and porridge, which are the essentials of a stage race.
I can’t thank my wife, Jane enough and my daughters Amy and Esme for the unwavering support through the race, training and every other day in between.
The Druids Ridgeway Ultra
Earlier this year I decided that I’d like to enter the CCC in 2016, a sister race of the much longer and more brutal (170km) Ultra Trail du Month Blanc. In order to even enter such a race, you have to prove that you have completed races of a similar nature, and thus are less likely to drop down dead mid-way through the race if you get in! As such I started running a few trail ultra-marathons in order to increase my level of experience, fitness and indeed gather some qualification points. The more I hit the trail, the more I enjoyed it and off the back of some great races decided to enter my first multi day ultra. I duly signed up to the Druids Ridgeway challenge, a 135km trail race over 3 days along the length for the Druids footbath; the longest footway in the UK.
Going into the race I had no idea what to expect, and experienced all of the questions you might expect. How to prepare, how to pace and fuel, what kit to wear, how to manage salts and how the heck will my legs feel after 3 back to back marathons?! It’s fair to state now that the weather for all 3 days was atrocious, with heavy rain, gale force winds, and fluctuating temperatures. Accompanied by the fact that we were kipping ‘en mass’ on a sports hall floor each night, I’m comfortable stating that I was pretty nervous!
The start of the race was the usual registration, chit chat, checking and re-checking of your kit. We set off on Friday around 11am from Ivinghoe beacon, the start point for the Ridgeway on the Nort-Eastern tip of the Chilterns. Day 1 was 47km with a decent amount of climb (about 800m), meaning I paced the day fairly easily. Speaking with Jon the day before, I was conscious to make sure I ate enough and tried to focus on more gels than solids. Your body needs more energy to break down solid fuel, and running calorie deficit each day in wet cold conditions, I wanted to give my body energy in the easiest form possible. I was also told to try and keep eating right up to the end of the race to ensure I had enough energy for the following day.
Having finished day 1 in a steady 5hr 12 and 28th position, I was placed in the 9am start with top 40 quickest from day 1, meaning that everyone finishes the day as close together as possible. Saturday’s race was 43km with slightly less climbing, but into a mean headwind. The legs felt a little stiff for the first few k’s, but I soon found a rhythm. I’d not slept that well, but a good post-race nutrition and stretching regime meant I wasn’t feeling too bad. I aimed to eat every 40 minutes or so, alternating between gels and some solids picked up at the aid stations- pretzels, bananas, malt loaf and some pretty kick ass rocky road! I managed my salt intake via electrolyte tabs and salt tabs, as despite the wet and windy conditions I had to remind myself that I was still sweating. I felt myself feeling stronger as the race went on, and I upped the pace slightly to finish in 4hr 29 and 11th for the day. The great news was that I’d moved up from 28th to 18th overall.
Each day we were surrounded by the friendliest of people from all walks of life. It’s fair to say that the people I ran with had a staggering amount of experience between them, and I never got bored of hearing stories about the MDS, 100 milers’ and about a million other trail ultras up and down the country. Recovery time frustratingly passed by all too quickly, and lights went off around 22:00 after some great evening talks. The whole of the XNRG team were incredible, making life as easy as possible for around 200 hobbling runners both throughout the day and in the evenings. I can’t explain how much energy I took from those guys through the race, awesome.
I awoke on day 3 feeling rather drowsy to say the least. I delayed getting out of bed as late as humanly possible and before you knew it, we were toeing the start line of another 46km with the prospect of around 600m of rather tasty hills! I worked my way through the field gradually feeling stronger and stronger and allowed myself to push harder knowing I could leave anything I had left out on the trail. I passed through the marathon mark at around 3hr 50, and I ticked the last few k’s off at 4-4:30 pace with the prospect of a warm brew and some cake as a reward. I finished the day in 4hr 08 and 6th place for the day. I was super happy to have felt so good, and was even happier when I realised my total time of 13hr 51 nudged me into 9th place for the whole race. It was a fantastic event and one that I would thoroughly recommend for anyone tempted to push themselves into the boundaries of the unknown. Thanks to Jon at E3 Coaching for his support leading up to and during the race, and giving me the opportunity to share my experience through this blog. For anyone looking to embark on such a race, I thought it might be helpful to share my top 5 learnings from the race.
- Don’t be afraid to up the anti. Your body is capable of much more than you think, just train smart, recover smart. Work with a coach like Jon to ensure you are not pushing yourself too hard.
- “After the first day it’s all up in your head”. True, mental toughness will help you, but if you don’t eat, you WILL stop moving.
- What you do post-race is your platform for the next day. Get warm, eat, stretch, sleep.
- Pacing is like a haircut. You can always cut more off, but if you go too hard to early, you may struggle to put it back.
- Enjoy it. You’re surrounded be amazing like-minded people. Talk to them, learn from them and tick the miles off together…
Firstly don’t panic! Don’t stop reading! And try not to break into a cold sweat, these are the standard reactions to mentioning The Off Season, I come up against this every year with new athletes. As a coach it is a tough time, tougher than race season. Trying to convince people that live to be active and push them selves day in day out to chill and take a break, its as if I just asked them to drown their favourite pet!!
So what we are wanting to do in this article is try and put your mind at ease and allow you to see what the gains are and what OFF SEASON really is and is not.
If we follow a training plan be it our own or one from a club or a coach you will (should have) a build phase followed by a recovery week before starting to build or peak again, well here you go the OFF SEASON is your recovery week just a little longer, the science is the same the theory the same. We overreach/over train to force our bodies to adapt then we allow our body through rest to become stronger and take these adaptations on board.
Take away the recovery period and our bodies will become fatigued and refuse to progress(Known as a Plateau or worst as Burnout).
Now these week long recovery periods do not mean you sit on the sofa eat icecream and refuse to move, during these periods we drop the intensity of sessions down to (base) easy effort, we cut the length of sessions as well, maybe even like some of my Elite XC riders go for a swim (lots of benefits of 20 min swim)
For any of you that train on road as well as off road I ban my large front ring for 4 weeks this prevents me overloading my muscles in training sessions, so try and ban your harder gears so you are having to spin a little more to prevent overloading those tired legs.
So to go back to OFF SEASON all we are doing is allowing our bodies and minds to recover, take on board all the hard sessions and racing that we have done over the year. So it means go and ride easy and relaxed, go find some new routes no pressure, its also a chance to catch up with all those people you know that don’t ride a bike and your family that you have ignored for 8 months ? Go try some different sports and have a laugh with it, once you have done those get the Calendar out and yes plan your races for the next season.
By having 3-4 weeks OFF SEASON you will have given your body a rest it will be stronger for it. Your mind will be wanting to get back out there so motivation will have grown.You will have had a chance to ride new MTB routes, visit family and catch up on other areas of your life……..WOW off season is actually really busy! It will be a welcome break to get back on the serious training.
So with the ever expanding race season (well 12months of a year now) we know this is getting harder to do, MTB goes through spring summer autumn and winter oh yeah and the skinny tyre MTB known as CX racing has now expanded their once small season, so how do we even feature an OFF SEASON into our year??? Goals my dear readers GOALS prioritise your races then when you see which races are not so important make the dession to take a break.
With only 5 weeks to go until the World 24-hour Mountain Bike Championships in Weaverville, the Gorrick Torq12:12 was my last opportunity to confirm everything is in place for the trip to California. In usual British bank holiday tradition the forecast was looking ‘changeable’ with a pretty good chance of getting a soaking at some point during Sunday’s race.
Running behind on Saturday meant no pre-race lap... just a quick run around the arena and first bit of singletrack ahead of the start on Sunday which revealed a fast surface littered with the usual exposed roots and loamy surface. However unlike last year the dusty loam was a little more compact due to the recent rain, but not enough to make it hard going. Unlike last year I got to the line early & got a space amongst the fast boys and the quad bike for the lap of the arena to help spread people out, however trying to keep up with them once the quad started pulling away was always going to be a fruitless exercise on a singlespeed!
A midday start saw a bright start to the race, but a few nerves about the rain that was scheduled to hit around 8pm. A swift couple of laps saw people settling in to a rhythm on the 8-mile loop. On lap 2 I was joined by Richard Dunnet and we rode together for a couple of laps, however when he decided to put the hammer down on lap 4 I left him to it and watch him disappear in to the trees. I was rewarded a couple of laps later as I caught him back up again... Although he was riding in a different category, I was keen to see how I could finish overall. It was great for my head to know that I had made the right choice earlier to stick at my own pace.
At 3pm the 6-hour race kicked off, which meant all of a sudden there were pockets of more riders out on course that took some additional thought to get around, but kept things interesting. The course started to develop some new lines too giving some good passing places. By 8pm lights were on due to the gloomy, muggy conditions, but the forecast rain hadn’t turned up yet. A brief 5 minutes of light rain didn’t have any effect on the course and the pace stayed high and my pit crew of Ingrid & Erik kept me informed of progress, fed & watered.
All seemed well up to the end of my 14th lap when I was told that my 1-lap lead had been reduced and I needed to put the hammer down as second place was catching me. Fortunately as I entered the changeover area I was able to latch on to one of the fast team riders and upped the pace a bit for my last couple of laps. However, I was relieved to see that the times of my 12th & 13th laps had been combined so Javier Simon was still over a lap behind, meaning I won the Vets category as well as the singlespeed cat. I also placed 2nd overall solo, 10 minutes behind Will Mathews and 10 ahead of Richard Dunnet.
Once everyone was in the bar for the trophies & prizes, the rain finally came and didn’t let up...
Finally, a big thanks to Jon Fearne at E3coach.com for getting me this far... only 4 weeks to go! Also, thanks to Singular, Fibrax, Hope, Goldtec & EDS Bikes for their support this year.
Here are some helpful tips we give to all our clients starting a new coaching plan with us. They will help you ride faster and be more comfortable.
- Loosen your grip...
Holding on to the handle bars too tight will cause you to over exert your shoulders and arms, leading to aching. Over rough ground you should lift off the saddle and allow the bike to follow the road whilst keeping you body relaxed and independent (not moving up and down), your arms and legs will act as your suspension.
- Don't coast downhill...
Keeping the pedals turning will save you energy. To stop and start pedalling it uses more energy than keeping legs turning easily. We save energy and clear the lactate from our muscles preparing your muscles for that next effort..
- Hold back...
Going slow can help you go fast, consistency is key in cycling. Lots of easier rides are better than 1 or 2 flat out rides that leave you dead for a week. Every time you ride you are damaging your muscles, this is normal. If you ride at a lower intensity it takes less time to recover and build your muscles, allowing you to repeat this process building your base fitness.
- Use the front brake more...
Most people don't use the front brake enough, it should be roughly 60% front, 40% rear braking. In the wet brake earlier, lighter and only in a straight line, this reduces your chance of loosing control.
- Go commando...
Cycle shorts are designed to be worn on there own, without any underwear. Underwear can cause uncomfortable chaffing and sores, and it looks funny.
We hope you have found these tips helpful, if you would like to discuss these points further or start one of a training plan talk to one of our experienced coaches at
Bristol Bikefest is one of those must-do events on the calendar. 13 years old and still going strong. It is a relatively small, but hugely social and fun event. Many years ago it took my cherry as a virgin 12 hour solo rider, back in the day before the groomed trails. A race full of rookie errors, leaving me with bad saddle sores and a pummeled body from racing an alloy hardtail a harsh course. The prep, the bike, the route and the trails may have changed over the years, but what has never changed is the atmosphere, always fun, always sociable, seeing familiar and new faces each year. Included for the first time was the Steve Worland cup, a commemorative race on the Saturday, to remember a much loved and inspiring contributor to the cycle industry who died this year. Keep pedaling Steve.
Paul and the Bikefest team have done an exceptional job each year to put on the event, Paul’s lucky flipflops having kept impending bad weather at bay, nearly every time. Saturday wasn’t so lucky, as racers woke to heavy rain, but the flipflops eventually worked their magic later in the day, the sun finally bathing the race in some warmth. Not being able to make the 12 hour event for the first time in years, I opted for the 6 hour solo sunday race, the less busy option, but no less fun. WIth coaching from Jon Fearne at E3 coaching, he has had a tough challenge to work around my unpredictable illness, constantly modifying the training plan to fit in with the good and bad days.
Sunday racing is much more of a chilled affair, with less riders on course there was little in the way of bottlenecks in the first few laps. And the sun was out, finally, some warmth to top up the fading cyclists’ tan.
There may have had less riders lining up, but it didn’t seem like it as we all ran around each other, some quickly on bikes, in the Le Mans style start. It’s a grand sight, the melee of riders trying to run in stiff soled shoes up the gravel track. Fun chaos as always, with teammates and friends holding bikes. There was no mistaking mine, the bright green kermit green Niner Jet9 RDO, a full suspension for all occasions.
Riders hunkered over bikes, heads down, grunting and breathing rates spiking high in the mad dash up the steeper top half of the gravel climb, all fighting to get onto the first section of singletrack before the crowds to avoid any bottlenecks. Beggar Bush Lane is fast flowing singletrack, with plenty of jumps, berms, twist and turns. Skilled riders can shave seconds off lap times through here. A protruding tree at a 45 degree angle along here is a constant reminder of an early Bikefest, crashing into it, rupturing my AC joint, the bony prominence on the right shoulder a shining example of an AC joint injury!
Not the most skilled ST rider, the exit is where I can open up a little and a chance to munch on some MuleBar (liquorice of course) along the brief flat trail, with limited time to chew and swallow before putting in some speed up the gravel climb. With only 4 brief climbs and fun, winding ST trails inbetween, the course is like a long interval training session! I was just having one of those off days though , so kept it within limits on the first couple of laps to try to get the less than willing body to settle in.
This old dog could do with some singletrack coaching! Watching some riders, envious at just how smooth they roll through the ST twists and turns. The Jet9 RDO aided in keeping the Bontrager XR2 and XR3 tyres gripping for longer, but could I be faster? Overtaking many on the climbs seemed all but wasted as I hear their tyres rolling up behind on ST and descents, waiting for the inevitable shout of ‘can I get through’, pushing me to my limits of confidence in every turn in an attempt to keep ahead until the next climb. The fully may be heavier, but it allows you to be smoother through the choppy sections, staying seated pedaling. Turning the corner after the last incline towards the start/finish was probably the hardest bit, a strong headwind defeating any ambition of a fast ride in! Always great to hear shouts from friends coming through the arena, the loudest always being from MC Matt Carr. Thanks Matt!
I was keeping to a rhythm I knew that I could hold, all too easy to push into the red too often over the tops of every climb. 2 laps on and I was an hour in. No idea on placing, but I was on for 12 laps, all being well. Preferring to eat rather than down gels, it was all too easy to forget on a course like this, with limited sections to have enough time to swallow as opposed to inhaling food.
On lap 3, just before the zig zag descent I caught a glimpse of the eventual old gits solo winner, Ant White, in the opposite direction, seemingly far ahead. I kept to my plan though, to my rhythm, not wanting to force any errors.
Full kudos to the teams on tandems, some of the ST sections would have been super challenging to negotiate and especially inspiring was the tandem effort from Guy Kesteven and his young daughter in the solo 6 hour. She was doing a cracking job of keeping him going. There was an above knee amputee out there too, putting in the laps solo. Great to see so many friends out on course as well.
The sun was holding, the legs were holding, the pit crew were holding out (the gf’s 5 year old doing a grand job of handing out bottles) and the Jet9 RDO fully was taming the trails nicely, saving the aging body from a good beating. The Ergon GS1 grips doing the same for the hands. The lap times weren’t fast, but consistent, just not able to find any more seconds on the ST sections though. Coming in with 5 hours to go, I was on for 2 more laps, then the rain came in. Not heavy, but enough to dampen the course and turn the once grippy trails into an ice rink. The exposed stone just become super slippery, lean the bike as before and it’s down you go. Teetering my way along Beggar Bush Lane and the lower and upper quarry trails on the 11th lap, I was losing precious time. By the time I came back in, the crew had cleared the way for any more laps, but there was 29 minutes left, the rain had stopped, could I make another one? I thought that I would try. The trails were still slippery, almost losing it once or twice. I needed 11 minutes by the time I was far along the lower quarry trail. I had 10. I pushed on hard. The last climb and then the wall of wind. Watching my clock, I knew that I hadn’t made it, by about 30 seconds. Damn. 12 laps, even though 1 didn’t count.
Hearing Paul announce that I had come 2nd, it was a mad dash over to the podium with no clean jersey to wear. Ant won by around 4 minutes, so not so far ahead, but he had had a spill.
It’s always worth the effort for the Bikefest weekend. Get on down if you never done it, it’s a blast. Don’t forget Oktoberfest in October too! www.bike-fest.com
The cafe stop is an integral part of cycling culture. GCN stopped for lunch and took a closer look. Subscribe to GCN on YouTube: http://gcn.eu/gcnsubs Ex-pro…
This is a bit of fun but also some serious info!!
If you have a serious training goal then getting your data from a sports science test is key, it will help you target specific areas in your training, if you are hard pushed for time to train you can make sure you are maximising your sessions.