Insomniacs Challenge

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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.

 

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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.

Jon Fearne

Head Coach

E3Coach.com



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. 

 

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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)

1 mediumbanana

2 tbspyogurt

3 tbspoats

1 tsphoney

3 largestrawberries, quartered

5raspberries

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                           

166g couscous                         

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).

 

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Volume

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.

Nutrition

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.

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Mental Health

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….

Massage/ Stretching

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/ rest   

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.

Get help

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?

 

Training breakfast

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

Example 1

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

Example 2

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

Example 3

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

Example 4

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

Example 5

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.

Example 1

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

Example 2

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

 

Example 1

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

Example 2

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

Example 3

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

Example 4

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

Example 5

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.

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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.

scott2 

 

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!  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

 

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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.

Extras: sunblock, anti-chafe cream and salt tablets.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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. 

Following on from E3C’s recent newsletter that covered the topic of goals and stepping stones, I thought I would share what can happen after achieving these goals. I have experienced both great disappointment and highs in the last year, but also some unexpected feelings and reactions after these events. 
So, lets me start with the disappointment... After more than 12 months of hard work and build up to the Worlds 24hr championships in Weaverville in 2015 I arrived in what can only be described as ‘not the best condition’ due to an incident at SSUK that left me with a damaged rotator cuff. However, even the physio could see how determined I was and didn’t try to put me off, but gave me the best advice to deal with my shoulder and prepare me for the race. Likewise a friend and doctor gave me advice on pain management and I headed off to the USA in high spirits and with my fingers crossed. I ended up in the lead of my category after 2 laps and then lead until just over half way, at which point my shoulder injury got the better of me and eventually I was forced to retire after 16 hours. As you can imagine I was absolutely devastated. No other words for it. No-one could say anything to change the feeling.
 
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For a couple of days I struggled by dealing with the pain in my shoulder and putting on a brave face while we enjoyed the rest of our time in California on a bit of a holiday. It helped having Ingrid & Erik around me and messages from friends wishing me well. But the fact that the injury was down to my own stupidity didn’t help, and the thoughts of what could have been kept creeping back. However, on returning to the UK things quickly got back to ‘normal’ as I got back to work and had other things on my mind. Pretty soon conversations on Facebook got started about the Worlds for 2016 being in Rotorua, New Zealand and my mind got ticking trying to think of a way to broach the subject with Ingrid... This scared the crap out of me because of how much time I had already spent training, and it would mean another 5 months of pounding the trails. Eventually I plucked up courage to have that conversation and got the blessing to go as Ingrid knew how devastated I was about having to pull out in California. 
All of a sudden I had my focus back. I can definitely say that I have never been so determined to achieve something. Nothing was going to stop me! Nobody could say anything to put me off. In no way was this going to be easy... OK so my fitness was still there, but winter was starting, work was getting mental with 2 projects due to hit production in January & March, and my shoulder was still repairing. Regardless, I knew what was needed and Ingrid, Jon and my cycling friends helped fuel that feeling for the whole of the winter regardless of how foul the trails got and how often I had to get up at 4am to go riding in the cold wet conditions.
 
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So, now for the other end of the scale... New Zealand could not have gone any better (other than having Ingrid & Erik there with me!). What a feeling! I felt amazing (if not a little tired when I got back)! Getting the single speed title after such a close race felt awesome, so too did a top-10 overall. I got back home and I was absolutely buzzing and this was fuelled further by the numerous congratulations for everyone and the admiration I got at work – I even walked in to a senior managers meeting on the first day back and got a round of applause! I turned up to the pub on Wednesday night after my club had finished their ride and was greeted by the biggest cheer I have ever heard – even the owner of the pub came over & shook my hand. I was on top of the world, and this feeling lasted for weeks! I didn’t want it to stop, but... Eventually I came back to earth with a massive bump. After I got back from the press launch for one of the projects I had been finishing off at work, and all of a sudden things really had got back to normal – and to go with it I had seriously lost my riding mojo. I couldn’t get the motivation to go riding. The cold and dark of winter really wasn’t helping and I had lost my way. No matter what, I couldn’t imagine how anything could match what I had achieved. I was lost, without focus and not enjoying the sport I had loved for so long.
It took a lot to get me out of my stupor, but the advice I was given was to go ride somewhere different, no pressure – just enjoy riding again. I alsodid some decorating and spent time with my family and started getting my head straight again. Very soon I was bumping into people I hadn’t seen since my trip to NZ and they lifted my spirits as they wanted to know all about it. I owe them a lot for helping me sort myself out. Eventually I realised that each event is unique and has it’s own challenges, it’s just a matter of identifying future goals – some are just bigger than others, but often mean just as much when you get there. This became clear after Mountain Mayhem this year – OK so it’s not as big a deal as going to the World’s, but it still felt great and I had fun while competing there.
Having experienced these 2 extreme reactions I now know what to expect if I find myself in the similar situations again in the future. Expect the unexpected... don’t lose focus of why you’re doing what you do – at the end of the day, I mountain bike because I like being out in the countryside riding on dirt.
 
By Steve Day (World 24hr MTB single speed champion)

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.

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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.

Pre race

  • 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.

  • Nitrates

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.

Race day

  • 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.

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Post race

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.

Prep

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.

Base 1

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

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.

Base 3

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.

Other Matters

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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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)

 

TaylorTriscombe

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. 

 

JonFearne

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?

 Matthew Jones’ Winter South Downs Double

The South Downs Double is a demanding challenge at the best of times, let alone in February. Matthew Jones decided to tackle it though, and wrote about it for us.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

By Matthew Jones:

Wind, mud, hills, are all inevitable when being stupid enough to try and complete a Winter South Downs Double.

The South Downs Double is one of the best known off-road endurance mountain bike challenges in the UK. The concept is very simple, ride from Winchester to Eastbourne following the South Downs Way, then turn around and come back again. Once you throw in the stats of what this involves you start to get a picture of why it’s on a lot of bucket lists, and the members club of successful riders in the sub 24 hour bracket is rather small:

  • 200 miles
  • 7741m of climbing
  • A countless number of suicidal local wildlife

Setting winter challenges to keep things interesting before the more serious race season starts has become a bit of a habit of mine. Last year it was taking on a couple of monster trail centre days out at Afan and North Wales with riding buddies to keep it socialable. As seems to be the thing to do when setting oneself subsequent challenges is to always up the ante. So what better than REALLY upping the ante and attempting to be the first person to complete a Winter South Downs Double? Funnily enough none of my mates were up for joining me.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">It’s signposted. Should make 200 miles a doddle, right?

There is clearly a reason why nobody has completed or indeed even wanted to complete the double in winter. On several recce rides I had planned to test out the terrain and learn the route a bit before the main event I discovered all the reasons. Riding in that neck of the woods in winter is tough going! Those recce rides involved broken bikes, frozen limbs and biblical weather to the point of having to push my bike along the flat in massive headwinds! In all fairness this should have put me off, how could I get through 24 hours of this?

Stubbornness came in to play and I eventually set the date to give it a crack at the end of February.
Logistics was going to be a big thing in making this thing happen. Summer doubles usually involve doing it self supported but in winter I think keeping yourself warm and your bike serviceable would be near impossible, so I pulled out my endurance event trump card: my wife Sarah who as ever (not even that reluctantly) agreed to be no1 support crew. Why on earth she’s willing to do things like follow me round in the dead of night across the south coast I do not know, no bunches of flowers can pay for such dedication!

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">Preparation is key.

I’m a bit of a stickler for being very organised with all thing biking which usually involves me standing around in the cold waiting for mates who are ALWAYS 10-15mins late. Occasionally I try and be late on purpose but still arrive on time. It does come in handy for planning 24 hour bike rides though. Spreadsheets, support crew briefing notes, sounding out previous completers for advice, you get the idea of the level of preparedness I wanted to have behind me to make this happen. Fortunately having my coach Jon living just by the South Downs was a massive help in both supporting me on training rides down there and on the day itself. These events just don’t happen without the support around you. Solo rides are team sports.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">It all started out so shiny and clean…

On to the ride itself then. The weather forecast had been dry for a few days before so I was hopeful that the bog of previous recce’s might have dried out a bit. The wind was going to be a big factor along with the temperature. A 15mph headwind on the way out was forecast with 25mph gusts to boot. The wind would then shift to a crosswind so I wouldn’t even have it behind for the return leg. 5c during the day and 0c at night, not exactly clement if you throw in the wind chill, brrrrrrr. Fortunately I had a mountain of clothing packed that I could change into, and planned regular meetups meant I could swig some hot tea to keep me from freezing rock solid.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">Sticky field margins were the first of many challenges.

I set off and made some good ground straight away before coming to the first real challenge, a long field margin that was a mix of dirt and superglue! After first dragging and then carrying my bike through the clogging slime I then took the lead of a group of bikers in front and hopped the other side of the fence to a more passable field alongside the quagmire path. I got going again and had to use my foot to skim off the mud from the sides of the tyres as I freewheeled along. I panicked a bit at this point thinking there was no way my body or bike would stand up to this punishment all the way to Eastbourne and back. Fortunately the mud (although still making for draggy riding) subsided a bit and I made cracking time all the way to Eastbourne, the time flew by particularly when my buddy Ant joined to ride a section with me. I was running full front and rear mudguards to help keep the crap off me which really helped limit the number of clothing changes required. The worst bit was the headwind which had me crouching over the bars in full aero tuck at some points. The long drag to Truleigh Hill was particularly bad and it seemed to take forever to cover a short distance up there. Heading down grassy fields at 40mph was pretty wild with the gusts frequently sending you sideways off line! As always I planned to nail the downhills to keep my average speed up but this gets a bit more risky in slime and high winds. A few high speed drifts were pretty sketchy but otherwise I survived unscathed. I did suffer a bit of cramp around the hills of Eastbourne as the legs rejected the constant up downs but easing back a bit and focusing on smooth pedalling seemed to help clear it up.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">Gloopy at points, but spirits still high.

I circled the signpost at Eastbourne without stopping and went straight back up the long hill out of town at around 7pm. Just over 10 hours to get there was pretty solid going. Things then got a bit more dramatic, slashing a tyre whilst getting carried away on one of the fast rocky descents outside of Eastbourne which involved a fair amount of faffing with getting the sealant to bung up enough to fill the fairly big hole. The spaff in a can I had at the ready came in handy at that point! I called Sarah my wife to see if she could meet any sooner to swap bikes and we arranged a spot a bit sooner than was scheduled, so I lost a load of time sorting all that out.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">Night falls.

After getting going again on the spare bike not long after I got a call alerting me to the second slashed tyre of the day, on the support car! Sarah waited for the AA to arrive whilst we tried to figure out if I had enough food and water to keep me going for long enough until she could catch up again. Bonking at this point was a real threat, so I rode on focusing on getting food down me to recharge for the next couple of hours without digging too deep. My clothing choices were spot on so at least I was warm. Wind proof layers were crucial. I felt a lot more vulnerable to the decidedly testing conditions at this point. My coach Jon was fortunately en route to help with the night shift so it was all rather complicated to sort out a rendezvous with gusts making phone calls incoherent, me not wanting to stand still when talking so I didn’t get cold etc.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">The bikes weren’t the only thing to suffer mechanicals.

Further disaster struck when the AA tried to fit the spare tyre and it turned out it was the wrong size, thanks VW! An expensive emergency tyre call out later Sarah eventually caught up with me again which was a very welcome sight, although I was expecting to see Jon at a spot 50 yards back at the Truleigh Hill Youth Hostel. I stood outside the YHA looking around, slightly worriedly asking some kids gathered outside if they had seen a man in a van. To me I was making total sense but they looked somewhat confused by a man with a bike, alone at 11.30pm, covered in mud in the dark with what must have seemed like spaceship lights blinding them. I only vaguely remember their unanswered questions of what are you doing, are you ok, stay safe etc. Eventually I found Sarah just round the corner. The meetup was much needed, as I’d tried to fill water at one of the taps en route next to Housedean Farm, but it wasn’t working so I plugged on cautiously to the next one. The water from it was ice cold, so drinking it chilled me right through. My stomach was on top form though, and I’d been consuming a decent amount of fodder including the endurance riders ‘go to’ fabled warm rice pudding up until that point, so a gel, bar and bottle of water got me through what seemed an age to meet up with the support vehicle again at the YHA.

Matthew Jones - winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">It’d be impossible without long-suffering support…

Fortunately the wind at this point had changed direction a bit and wasn’t totally side on, which was heavenly on some of the wide open sections but still rather chilly, so after every pit stop I pushed a bit harder to warm up again (good advice Jon!).

The climbs are pretty massive on the Downs but what goes up must come down. During the day visibility was good for the route signage, but at night the signposts can be trickier to interpret with no one colour scheme and often multiple signs all saying bridleway: easy to get confused by! Fortunately, I had an Exposure piggy back battery attached to my Garmin so could take regular looks down to make sure I was on track. Although doing so in a farm track rut at 25 mph was a bit sketchy!

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">… and a lot more difficult without taps en route.

The biggest threat in the night was the suicidal wildlife. First rabbits, then bigger foe lay in wait – badgers, foxes, sheep and some other unknown furry things all desperate to end it all with a dash underneath my wheels. After thinking I had got the hang of their cross path movements one little rascal decided to double back for a second bite at the cherry causing a pretty terrifying high speed jack knife. I’m pretty sure that rabbit now has a 2mm shorter tail! Sheep were plentiful although somewhat lesser a challenge to navigate, although to maintain precious speed down the descents I did find myself making Mel Gibson style war cries in the pitch black to clear the path ahead. I probably dazzled or gave heart attacks to quite a few poor little creatures during the night.

Pit stops were getting longer as the body started to get colder, with the inevitable shut downs, but the muller rice and occasional soup kept me topped up before hitting the caffeine gels for the last few hours to keep me alert. Apart from the earlier slashed tyre, the bikes were spot on bar a couple of wet lube top ups keep things turning.

Matthew Jones - winter South Downs Double

In a strange way the actual event of these things seems to fly by as the harder work is done during the preparation. Getting up at 5.30am the day you’re flying up to Scotland for a wedding to sneak an hour on the turbo trainer to ‘offset’ the ‘impact’ of day to day life on race weight is just one example. I don’t think I’m really a natural athlete so have to work fairly hard doing the boring stuff to be able to train for this sort of challenge.

The wee hours became at bit of a blur and the miles just kept ticking off. I was getting pretty tired but the realisation came that I wouldn’t take the whole 24 hours to do it so I might actually finish the shift earlier! I only had an hour or so of daylight towards the end of the ride but these sections involved fewer hills so the adrenaline kicked in along with the high of being nearly at the end. A very last quick stop to put on another jacket at the top of the hill and seeing Sarah and Jon one last time was a really nice feeling. Jon as ever with the wise words “it’s not over yet, keep concentrating”.

Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

http://singletrackworld.com/wp-content/themes/singletrack/_inc/images/60pc_black.png); line-height: 17px; position: absolute; top: 0px; left: 0px; color: rgb(255, 255, 255); background-position: initial initial; background-repeat: repeat repeat;">Made it!

I was down in town what seemed like 2 minutes later, feeling a little sick with relief (if the public toilets were open when I tried to get in I probably would have hurled). Jon and Sarah were there and although Winchester was a bit quiet at 7am, those guys were more than enough welcome party to make the end a happy place. It had taken 22 hours, 10 minutes and 50 seconds. A new winter record but when you’re racing against yourself 1st place is somewhat inevitable. Good luck to any future challengers, wrap up warm and watch out for the sheep!

The ride was only possible due to sponsors and people helping out:

  • My wife Sarah for yet again biting her tongue when grumpy mumbling Matt comes through the pits
  • Jon at E3 coach getting me fit and helping with wise words on the day
  • Tenn Outdoors for keeping me sheltered from the elements
  • M Steels Cycles for supplying racey bikes
  • Roll for the Soul for keeping my bikes in tip top condition
  • Weldtite for lubes and tools
  • ESI Grips for keeping my hands in one piece
  • Mudhugger for keeping the gloop off me
  • Torq for keeping me fed
  • Exposure lights/ USE for lights and nice lightweight bits
  • Sally at Core Contact for keeping my legs going
Matthew Jones - Winter South Downs Double

Andalucía Bike Race 2016

On March 7, 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.

Startline

The race
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.

Stage 1
Marcos
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.

Downhill

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.

Stage 2
Jaén
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.

Rocks

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.

Stage 3

Andujar
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.

Grass

Stage 4 – Queens stage

Cordoba
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.

Cordoba start

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.

Stage 5
Cordoba
Distance – 84.5 km
Altitude – 586 m
Climbing – 2,285 m

Nearly there!

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.

Stage 6

Cordoba
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.

Another descent

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!

3 fingers

Final thoughts
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!

What next?
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.

Kit
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.

Nutrition
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.

Thanks
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.

Thanks also:
Andalucia Bike Race
Jon an e3coaching
Southfork racing
@ukxcnews
Bikram Yoga Bristol

Singular rider Steve Day sent though this report of his amazing win in the Singlespeed category of the 24hr solo mountain bike world championships held last weekend in Rotorua, New Zealand.

______________

 

This was going to be a short trip… Disappointment in Weaverville in October last year left me with unfinished business. After picking up a rotator cuff injury 4 weeks before WEMBO-2015, I was forced to retire after 16 hours having lead for 9 hours in the singlespeed category. Limited holiday allowance meant flying out as late as possible, and straight back, so I would only be in New Zealand for 3.5 days! Once my wife, Ingrid, had agreed to me having another crack at the race, a training plan was drafted with Jon Fearne at E3coach.com to get me ready, including a trip to Southampton university sports science lab to focus the training a bit more precisely. All of this had to work around letting my shoulder recover fully, whilst maintaining the fitness I had built ahead of Weaverville.

I also needed to find a way to finance the trip… A friend suggested crowdfunding. I had never thought that would work as well as it did. Within a few weeks I was on my way, having raised my target of £1500 to cover the flight, hire car & hotel costs. I have been completely taken aback by the pledges  and support that people have given me, including Singular Cycles, and am so grateful for the opportunity to have a second crack at the WEMBO singlespeed title.

It also meant it would be the first 24-hour race without my wife & son there to support me due to how the race fell in relation to school holidays – a somewhat daunting prospect as 24-hour racing isn’t just about the physical & mental strength, it’s also about the support in the pits too. However, one of my sponsors offered some unexpected support… Sam Alison at Singular Cycles put me in touch with his New Zealand distributor, Allan Eng. Not only did he offer support in the pits, he also arranged for a brand new Singular Swift to be there as a back-up bike together with a mechanic and accompanying camper van and family. He was also a good source of inside knowledge on the local riders and the trails. Straight away this made me feel more comfortable about the challenge ahead and helped take some of the stress out of being there without my family for support. Allan did a great job prepping the bike, with some high quality kit on what will be one of his Singular demo bikes after the race.

Thursday afternoon saw me arrive in Rotorua after 27 hours of travelling, having met up with Allan in Auckland to pick up the spare bike & tools. I am glad I decided to go for a hire car rather than the internal flight as, due to the really foul weather, a number of flights had been cancelled! Thursday night saw a massive amount of rain fall out of the sky, with my mechanic, Murray, saying the water level in his pool went up 3.5″! The rest of the evening allowed me to stock up on supplies & prep my bikes before crashing on the bed & sleeping like the dead.

The forecast for Friday was significantly better than earlier in the week, with a few showers forecast for early afternoon, but otherwise being sunny, hot & humid. The bikes were thrown in the back of my hire car and 10 minutes later saw me at the Rotorua trails where the organisers were desperately trying to clear the standing water by digging new drainage ditches due to the 200mm of rain that had fallen in the last few days.

Local info was that a rigid bike might be a challenge on the trails over a 24-hour race, so Friday saw me ride 2 laps – one on each bike. The trails… a bit damp in places, but nothing like the North Warwickshire trails that I have been riding for the last 5 months which have been ankle deep in wet clay. It appeared that the rain had simply left the trails in perfect condition, meaning no dust and a fast surface, but still described as ‘muddy’ by the locals.

My Singular Spitfire was spec’d with a rigid fork and was at home on the Rotorua trails straight away, but the Swift with its suspension fork up front helped absorb some of the braking bumps and roots that littered the course. The 2 laps also gave me some idea as to how tough the heat and humidity would be… especially seeing that my last 2 training rides were in conditions hovering at around freezing – a +25-degree difference! However, the course was excellent – 9 miles of mainly singletrack with enough climbing and technical bits to keep anyone amused for 24 hours – just my sort of riding… putting me in a very happy place ahead of race day. It was also good to see some friendly UK faces in Richard Dunnet (Elite men) and Jason Hynd (45-49 men) and have a chat about racing & bikes.

Saturday saw me getting up early after a really restless night’s sleep, nerves finally getting the better of me… The morning was spent filling time until the start, eating, chatting & prepping the pit crew on what’s required in bottles. It felt good to be in such great, relaxing company.

Race start was 12pm and it was getting hot, with clear blue skies. The elite riders got a traditional Hakka and a 10-minute head start over the rest of the pack to spread things out a bit on the first lap. The rest of us lined up, and I decided to get to the front to avoid getting caught up in traffic on the narrow twisty trails. This saw me riding with fellow a group of 4-5 other riders while watching Australian singlespeeder Ed McDonald disappear up the trail looking like he wanted to take some elite scalps. We spent a few laps chopping & changing positions before things started to spread out as pit-stop strategies began having an effect. I had settled in to a comfortable routine, but after 6 hours, at the point at which lights needed to be on my bike, I decided to swap bikes from the Spitfire to the Swift and take advantage of the front suspension as there were very few smooth line choices of the lap and a little bounce would postpone the onset of fatigue in my upper body.

My lap times were very consistent, and pit stops were slick, with Allan describing them as ‘like being mugged’ as they were so quick. I felt that things were going well as no-one had come past me in a while and I seemed to be picking off a few of the elite riders. At about the 1/2 way mark I received a message that Facebook had just ‘gone bonkers’ as I took the singlespeed lead having reeled Ed McDonald back in and finally put a couple of minutes in to him. I tried to keep my focus and to be consistent with my lap times, drinking and feeding which consisted of Torq bars & gels plus cold electrolyte drinks and cold coffee. At one point in the night I was lapping consistently 5 minutes faster per lap than my singlespeed rivals. These laps in the dark allowed me to stretch my lead slightly, my Exposure lights were faultless and allowed me to maintain my speed and open up a 30 minute lead (1/2 lap) at day-break… Not a massive lead, but a comfortable cushion to allow for any mishaps. Local favourite Garth Weinberg was in a close 3rd and just about a lap down, but putting in some quick laps meaning he was still in contention too.

As Sunday warmed up, riders started suffering. At 20-hours in there was a lot of wandering up and down the pits by support crews trying to get the inside line on Ed & Garth’s strategies for the end of the race and the condition of fellow riders. They were also doing the same in return, and on a number of occasions I pulled in to my pit only to be greeted by Ed’s crew asking me how things were going! Unfortunately Garth had no intention of backing off even though he was well clear of 4th, which would have allowed Ed & I to do some loitering and spare ourselves the pain of an extra lap. My lead was wavering between 15-25 minutes, so the last 4 hours were all about not giving in to the pressure and trying not to blow-up. My last lap was painful – my lower back was in agony and I was struggling to hold on with my left hand properly that saw me slip off a couple of times. I finally crossed the line after 24 hours and 21 minutes, collapsing with exhaustion and the effects of the heat & humidity, but had maintained my lead to take the singlespeed win and also finish 6th overall amongst the Elite men. Ed & Garth finished 2nd & 3rd singlespeed and 7th & 8th overall.

So, now I am the 2016 WEMBO 24-hour Singlespeed World Champion. Something that started over a beer after a 12-hour mountain bike race in August 2014, and has been my focus for the last 18 months. I am proud to bring the title back to the UK and hope to defend it in Italy next year. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my wife & son over the last year and a half and I am so grateful for their love and patience. Likewise, all of those people who made the trip to New Zealand possible through crowdfunder and helped keep me focused through the worst winter weather for training knowing that they thought this was possible too. Also, a thanks to Jon Fearne at e3coach and Julian Rider for their belief in me and their words of support – we got there in the end. Thanks to Allan, Murray, Nicky and Sapin for their time and support over race weekend. And finally a thanks to my other sponsors who have kept me moving over the last 18 months training: Singular Cycles, Fibrax, EDS Bikes, Exposure Lights, Torq, Repack and Hope.

 

 

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.

druids1.jpg   Druids2.jpg

 

    

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.

  1. 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.
  2. “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.
  3. What you do post-race is your platform for the next day. Get warm, eat, stretch, sleep.
  4. 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.
  5. Enjoy it. You’re surrounded be amazing like-minded people. Talk to them, learn from them and tick the miles off together…

               Druids3.png.jpgDruids4.png.jpg

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.

 

road fun 07

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.

How to avoid ten of the most common cycling mistakes. Subscribe to GCN on YouTube: http://gcn.eu/gcnsubs Ex-pro…

This is a bit of fun but also some serious info!!

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.

Thanks to Bikesoup and the Orbital Racing Collective

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.