Going long 2 – Trevor and Tommy’s

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Tomatoes on toast, luv, coming up”,  said the housecoat-clad lady behind the chipped wooden counter. Not for me, I might add. Tinned tomatoes on thick sliced white bread (bad for you bread, as my eldest sister was often fond of saying as she served me a hangover-busting bacon sandwich back in my Josh Tetley for PM days…) toasted very lightly is not my cup of tea and never was….even at aged 12. Speaking of tea…”What d’you want, luv?” “Tea” “Large mug, luv?” “Yeah”. The scene from a long-ago time in my youth…the once legendary Tommy’s café in Otley, West Yorks 1979. There were (and still are) a number of cafes that served as regular tea stops for club riders in the Wharfedale area and Tommy’s was multi-purpose. For me, I could ride from my home on the outskirts of Leeds and have a fast descent down any one of a number of climbs (East Chevin,  Arthington Bank, even the main Otley-Leeds road) before a quick stop at Chevin Cycles (not where it is now…further back out of town) and gaze longingly at their own steel Delta Sportiv frames and bikes (“It’s going to the Harrogate show, that one”), or pop in and get told off for not having my Lion tubs glued on properly (that’s a whole other story…) , before heading to Tommy’s – bikes stacked 6 or 7 deep outside under each window – for a cup of tea and a……..well, nothing. Back in the good old days I carried sandwiches for lunch and a Mars Bar was your get out of jail free card (see my earlier post about beans on toast!). The “bonk” was inevitable, and a frequent occurrence. And so it continued to be until (for me) the late 1980’s.

The arrival of glucose polymer and sports drink brands such as Maxim were a major revelation. Personally,  I went from feeling physically unwell on long rides on a diet of solid food/bonking badly in the 3rd hour of a ride to being able to do a 4 hour ride on one bottle…and, crucially, feeling stronger for longer. Race food (dried apricots – I still can’t face them now after having had them sweating away in my jersey pockets back in the 80s) and longer ride fuel (Kendal Mint Cake – recommended by a very experienced cyclist, along with cold rice pudding. The latter I like, the former has got to be one of the worst things imaginable for a man without a sweet tooth…) both went out of the window as I went scientific – and it really was a revelation in performance terms.

Now, of course, things have moved on even further and nutrition for cyclists and athletes generally underpins successful performance across disciplines and distances. I am frequently asked to provide nutritional advice and strategies for riders – particularly those taking on long events like the Marmotte or, closer to home, The Dragon Ride.  I am also regularly surprised that the sports nutrition explosion has passed some riders by……or has completely confused them. The best advice with regard to sports nutrition and what you should eat/drink I can give is that which has been passed on to me in a different context,  by a friend who trains others to defend themselves physically in potentially dangerous encounters they might have at work (I was trying to imagine this in a cycling coach context: I can’t presently think of a situation where my actions might enrage someone so much they would want to assault me with a blunt instrument. Well, maybe this blog.) – he said, and I quote : “About the worst thing you can do is nothing at all”. And I would add to that :  whatever you do make sure you practise it, make sure you know your Irmi Tenkan from your Irmi Nage…..see, I attained a low grading in Aikido so don’t mess with the coach. A classic example in nutrition terms is believing that an electrolyte tab in water is an energy drink – I have come across this a number of times, usually during or after an event, from glazed eyed individuals wolfing down Mars Bars…

So – the latest chapter in the Going Long series (and apologies for the delay) deals with the demands of long events and a practical guide to fuelling them. The text comes from Trevor Marshall, a client and very experienced rider who has, as you will find out, taken part very successfully in a number of cycling disciplines and has a real liking for long events…The Dulwich Dynamo one of his favourites from last year. Here is his take on nutrition – and I should point out  that I have used all the products he mentions, recommend all of them frequently to clients and share Trevor’s opinion that you should try a variety of products and find what works for you. Trevor will be joining us in Spain March 21st-28th for the Black Cat Training camp where we will be fuelled by sponsors High 5 – http://www.ciclocostablanca.com/en/events-2015/black-cat-cycle-coaching-camp-21-28-march-2.html


Sports Nutrition & me


The most noticeable thing about nutrition for me has been how the need t pay attention to doing it correctly it increases as you age and becomes more and more essential to get it right if you’re going to do well or even just enjoy the day. I can recall as a teenager going out for 100+ mile rides with nothing more than a drink bottle of Ribena and a Mars bar!

How that has changed! It’s almost become a “dark art” with just about everyone having an opinion on the best solution when, in reality, there isn’t a perfect solution as we are all different, work at different tempos and expend calories at different rates.

Up until my mid thirties, I knew nothing of sports drinks other than maybe Lucozade. Whilst I had competed occasionally in TT’s (10’s mostly) my main riding was touring so there was always an opportunity to stop when you were hungry or thirsty to refuel. In my 30’s I discovered TT’ing properly and so in the pursuit of improvement, I started to use sports drinks. I had read somewhere that even a small reduction is body fluid could have significant effect on performance and so I decided to see if using a sports drink was better than water alone. My first experience was SiS products. No reason why other than it was cheap to buy through the cycle club. This was “Go” I recall. To be honest, it would be impossible to tell if it had any effect alone, however I do think it was one of many “marginal gains” that helped me consistently ride sub hour 25’s and get some good results.

As I progressed at 25mile distance, I trained myself over the course of a year not to drink at all. This was just me being a “weight weenie”. Over a year, I slowly improved my pre-race hydration so I could max effort for 50 minutes without the need for fluid and that seemed to work just as well. Riding 50′ and up though, I definitely needed fluid.

Being quite good at 25 & 50mile distance, my friends persuaded me to enter a 100. At this distance I needed food as well. Looking for a sub 4 hour event the advice was to use “High 5” bars, but this was a disaster. Whether I didn’t have enough or it was just wrong for me I’ll never know but at 75 miles I bonked and crawled across the line with a disappointed 4:17. I decided 100’s were not for me and never did another one. Had I got the feeding right, it might have been an entirely different tale.

That event had a big impact on me and I decided then that to improve beyond where I was would take more time than I had so instead I looked for new challenges and set about gearing up to ride LEJOG. This was in ’99

I invested in plenty of “High5” mix and bars but nutritionally it was a disaster. After the 2nd day I found I just could not digest it and my body was rejecting it. So without proper daytime refuelling and no knowledge of recovery fuelling, it was a rapid downhill in terms of performance, and every day was a huge challenge just to get on the bike in the morning. Every day I could have just not started. Whilst we all completed the ride in the 7 days, I was no longer enjoying it and gave up road riding and discovered mtb’s. I had no drive to compete with mtb’s and spent a few years just having fun so nutrition was not an issue. Over these years, the products changed immensely which I discovered in 2010 when I came back to competition. Not having the “need for speed”, I knew however that I could ride at pace for significant periods so a friend and I decided to have a go at a marathon mtb 7 day race. Nutrition would be essential so we set about trying different products and mixes so we were ready for the event.

I started with High 5 but immediately found I couldn’t tolerate it so I switched to Go. This was good for me as I started to discover the benefits of post ride recovery and found ReGo was a miracle product. So I had electrolytes and recovery sorted, now it was just nutrition. Seeing how SIS worked for me, I went with the gels. These were ok as I only really used them when in need. Not an ideal strategy for “feeding the ride”

With this sorted, we entered the Trans-Wales 7 day mtb race, 350 miles of off road torture and 15,000m of ascending. My choice of SIS was ideal and worked really well for me especially the Rego. Through the day, the event was well provided for so I rarely used the gels and the evening feed was sufficient to prepare for the next day. This was clearly a part of our success as we came 2nd in category (team male) which we were astounded by. Woo hoo! When it goes well…..

I was now convinced of the need to feed and rehydrate on a long ride, and definitely on a multi day ride.

We were so impressed that we entered again the next year. Kept the formula the same and this time we won our category! Brilliant! I was now hooked on multi day events and set my goal to do one 7 day event every year. I joined a new road club and set up an off road section but to my disappointment, the Trans Wales was canned.

Some friends at the bike club had spoken of an article years ago in Cycling Weekly to ride 10 fabled climbs in your lifetime. They set up a group called the 10 Col Velo to record this. So I suggested we should do it and complete it in the week as a challenge. They bit and we were off.

Nutritionally this would be a huge task. I was finding that the SIS had less impact. Do you become tolerant of the products so they are less effective? I thought it possible and so switched to TORQ. As an energy product, this was like rocket fuel so something was working. For me, the TORQ was ideal for energy, tasted good and was easily digestible. I then supplemented this with Zero’s so had 1 700ml bottle of each. This worked really well. The challenge before us was 10 cols but by coincidence it was Etape week and being in the Pyrenees 3 of our cols were on the Etape route so we actually took in 2 more, just for the fun of it! (Coach’s note – told you Trevor was a mile muncher…). Riding 2 Alpine cols a day at our own pace was comfortable but we all knew that 5 cols on the Etape was a different story. The solution seemed to be take sufficient products with you and not rely on what was available. A lesson I forgot recently and paid the price for! Food wise, I ate what was available and just as much as I could cram in. Generally supplied food at events is small in size and tolerable so, not being too picky, it’s fairly easy for me to select a banana and some flap jack and I’m done. So now on a big day when I know I’m going to run out, I take extra zeros and extra Torq in canisters (use a plastic bag if you need to, it works well also). The entire trip was a complete success!

2013 saw a repeat of LEJOG in a week, 930 miles in 7 days. We were supported, so no need to carry fuel or food daily. I stuck with the TORQ/zero combination and again all good, but now, the need to feed during the day was becoming more noticeable. Riding with the club, my body had become accustomed to 40 miles segments and then stopping whether it’s a feed stop or a coffee stop in winter, so to keep fuelled, it was essential to eat solid food at these intervals.

After LEJOG the 2nd time, I found the TORQ was losing some of its effects. Again I considered I was becoming tolerant to it. I tired High 5 2:1 which was ok but didn’t taste too great and didn’t seem to have much effect to me. I then discovered High 5 4:1 which seemed the right product for me for long and multi day rides. It worked a treat. It contains electrolyte, energy product and a little protein so on a long / multi day event helps to refuel as you go. On hot days I can supplement this with Zero’s so I now have 2 bottles of the same mix. Being used to the 40 mile stints, I rarely eat food while riding but always make sure I have a cereal bar or 2 in my pocket just in case. I carry these as generally they are quite edible with fluid and I can digest them well – vital when you’re working hard. From time to time I carry a gel but, honestly, I can’t remember the last time I used one.

This year (2014) it’s the Raid Pyrenees. 440 miles, 18,000m of climbing in 100 hours. Nutrition is critical and I think for now I have it sorted. I wouldn’t even attempt these challenges without knowing my body and understanding what it needs to get me through a day

So for me, nutrition played a big part in my riding. So much of our sport is psychological and when it goes wrong, it can often be because we didn’t respect our body’s needs. Then when it’s gone wrong, we don’t want to repeat the challenge or experience again.

In my book there is no “one for all” solution. It’s such a personal thing so I would encourage you to try your nutrition out in lesser rides until you find what works for you. Don’t be swayed by others and be prepared to change if you feel it’s not working for you any longer.

Finally, recovery is vital – mentally, physically and nutritionally.

Look after yourselves!


Not sure I have anything much to add to that…..nutrition is like saddles: there’s a lot of choice and if you get it wrong it ends up being a pain in the a***. So – why not buy samples of some of the products mentioned and try them out? But make sure you do it in training first…..




Going long (1.5) : an interlude in the capital

995162_10153078259420648_743668515_nI interrupt this series of blog posts with…another blog post. Last year I coached a rider called Ben Connelly to Ride 100 in London for the MacMillan Cancer Charity. Ben kindly wrote a piece about his training in the lead up to the event…and a final piece about the event itself. With this year’s edition looming, and Ben and a number of Blackcat riders ready to get in the saddle again, it seems fitting to add his words to this series.

Ride 100 places are fiercely coveted and if you weren’t lucky enough to get one this year then I urge you to try for 2015: it’s a great event on home roads and Ben’s emotion (which you will read about below) may well come over you too……

“Well. My very first 100 miler was at this year’s RideLondon – what an amazing day!

Tim at http://www.blackcatcyclecoaching.com helped me out with a training programme 4 months before the event and I can honestly say that, without the structured plan that Tim put together, I wouldn’t have got anywhere close to the time I did; and all it took was 2 hour long turbo sessions a week and a weekend training ride.

The RideLondon was my first ever sportive event and I was nervous.

All the riders had to go to London the day before to register and collect badges etc, which also meant a stay in a hotel nearby. I was lucky enough to be given the last start time of 8 o’clock, which meant I only had to get up at 5:30 to be there for 7.

Initially, the thought of having to go to London the day before for registration, then be up early to get to the start knowing that it would most likely be a struggle was frustrating. But, seeing hundreds of cyclists heading to the Olympic Park got the adrenaline flowing before I’d even put the bike together. I was lucky enough that my wife agreed to drop my off within a couple of mile of the start and all I needed to do was put the wheels on and check over my kit once more – then I was off!

There was a fair bit of hanging around to do before my wave of approx. 900 riders were allowed to approach the start. I knew that my wave, being an 8 o’clock start, was the last wave of the day. So, I tried to make sure I was at the very front to help me set my own pace; and make sure that I wasn’t right at the back. We rolled out and headed to the official start gate; people were already puncturing too!

This being my first sportive, I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d done all my training on my own in the Cotswold Hills and knew that I wanted to keep an average of around 15-16mph. We set off at a speed of around 24 miles an hour. I know it’s flat but I could sense that other riders, and more importantly me, were getting overly excited by the occasion.

I noted that my heart rate was higher than it should be and I needed to ease off to give myself any chance of getting through this. Tim had given me particular zones to work in on the flats and in the hills, and already, in the first 5 miles, things weren’t going to plan. I picked a group of riders and tucked in close behind to take advantage of the slipstream effect – thankfully, it worked! I kept the pace up while bringing my heart rate right down.

The one thing that I leaned very quickly during the ride was that, having done all my training on my own, it took a while to get used to riding with people again – there were thousands of them. For my next sportive (I’ve already signed up to do it again next year!!J) I’ll certainly work in some training rides with others to make sure it’s not so alien.

When it came to nutrition, Tim had given me some guidance of what to eat and when. If I were able to do the ride again next year, I would probably try to be more self-sufficient with nutrition and only have to stop for water. I chose to stop at the ‘hubs’ to make the most use of my stop, getting water and a bite to eat. However, it seemed like every other rider had the same thought which resulted in a queue and, ultimately, longer off the bike than I had intended.

During my training, I’d made a point of training on the hills because they’re a weakness. It really paid off! I wouldn’t say that I flew up the hills, but they were manageable. Tim’s advice of monitoring the heart rate zone on the hills and not working too hard at the bottom meant that I could ride over the top feeling pretty good.

A real challenge of the ride was the fact that the first 40 miles was flat, giving a false sense that the ride was easier than expected. That said, I knew that the hills ended at around 70 miles; the last section should be a nice run in to the finish.

At around 80 miles, there was a short sharp hill that required a bit of a push to get over, and both legs started to cramp. It wasn’t too bad, but I still questioned whether I could do it. I knew I had it in me. I’d done the training and preparation – maybe this was where the wall was?

From around 85 miles, I knew that it was mostly flat to the end. I kept a note of my time and became aware that I could actually do this in under 6 hours. By this time, the number of riders around me had really thinned out. Speeds were in the mid-twenties as a couple of guys next to me had the same idea – it was almost a time trial to the finish.

I got to 90 miles and was going like the clappers. Then, all of a sudden, I got really emotional. Where had this come from? The training, the fundraising, and the support that had all been for this occasion was paying off; I was actually going to do this. In a respectable time too.

The previous day, I had been watching some of the races on the Mall. Now, I was the one riding down it with crowds either side banging on the barriers; this felt like being in the Olympics. I couldn’t help but ride down with both arms in the air in celebration!(and here he is on this year’s programme! Tim)


Throughout the ride, I’d had my phone on me with an earpiece in. I kept telling other riders that it was my team car – actually, it was my wife wanting to know how I was getting on! For me, this was a real booster as, although you were always around other riders, it could actually get a bit lonely out on the course. Another benefit was knowing exactly where my wife was stood at the finish as she waved me down the mall.


Would I do it again? – Absolutely!

Would I use a http://www.blackcatcyclecoaching.com again? Definitely!

Would I recommend ECoaching to others – Oh yes!!!!

By the way, when I registered, I put down an expected time of 7.5 hours; hoping to do it in under 7. I came across the finish line in 5 hours 58 minutes!!!!!!!!!!!”


So – good luck Ben, Ken Jones, Vicki Lee, Deborah Baxter, Emma Cooper (doing this one after a very bad crash and return to fitness- all the more respect), Tim Kingston, Iain Harper, Liz O’Riordan (doing this injured after completing the London tri on “one leg” – chapeau!), Rod Archibald, all the AdAlta boys, Nicolas McNamara…and anyone else I know who managed to get in. Enjoy the closed roads!!

Going Long (1) – The Fred Whitton

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Back in this coach’s youth, summer days were for long rides: .the trusty cheese sandwiches (made by Dad as he was always up early…a throwback to naval wartime when he did 4 hour watches, he never really slept a full night after that) in jersey pockets, one bottle of water, a bit of money, and the Cagoule safely on my back (whatever the weather) …ready for some of the priceless Yorkshire scenery (wasn’t it a treat to see that in the TDF this year? I had the pleasure of riding on closed roads to the Grand depart at Harewood House – which, by the way, is pronounced Hair wood unless you are very posh – and then watching the riders go off on the roads I travelled as a boy. Flat stage?? You try it……). As I got a bit more competitive it became a matter of who could ride the farthest – a ride to Hawes from Leeds, or Aysgarth Falls were always considered to be  very big days out. Later still I became much more interested in how fast, rather than how far…but of course one is closely related to the other!

In this series of blog posts I will be featuring accounts from Blackcat riders of their encounters with long, tough events both here and on the continent: also the attendant skills, nutrition and training that go hand-in-hand with this type of challenge. Hopefully each post will encourage some of you to up the quantities of white bread and Red Leicester cheese in your weekly supermarket trolley, hone your sandwich-making skills, and investigate entry into one of these tough events – maybe in 2015. If so, contact me tim@blackcatcyclecoaching.com and we can plan it together…

The first post is from a rider who, as I write this, is enjoying the pleasures of the Etape du tour 2014 – I hope he will contribute some words on that formidable event for a future post. Craig Fisher approached me in January this year with a number of aims in long and multi-day events both here and abroad.
More on the latter later but his first “appointment” (as Hinault might say) was the brutal Fred Whitton Challenge in the Lake district – a super-tough early season event.

The ride is for charity and in memory of Fred Whitton http://www.fredwhittonchallenge.co.uk/about-the-fred-whitton/about-fred/ .  The route is very simple – 112 miles over all the famous Lake District passes – Hardknott and Wynrose amonst them.

Craig did a RAMP test using my Wattbike (www.wattbike.com) at the Blackcat testing studio/torture chamber as a start. We established his maximal aerobic power, watts at threshold and his heart rate/power training zones. He also requested a nutritional analysis, body-fat analysis  and a nutrition strategy for the event itself – hugely important and, as Craig will testify, hugely beneficial. Craig doesn’t have a Wattbike or a power meter but his turbo trainer measures power and we were able to match things up sufficiently to have two different sets of power zones – one for when he re-tested on the Wattbike and one for his turbo work…and there was a lot of that! Time-poor with a demanding career, Craig was able to train on the roads at weekends but was limited in the week.  Specific intervals aimed initially at improving his aerobic engine evolved over the weeks into sessions which would help him to cope with the steep inclines and moderate-length climbs  (I use this in the context of continental climbs – there is absolutely nothing “moderate” about any of the climbs featured in the Fred route…). Craig also “enjoyed” regular hill rep work in Z4: repeated efforts with the throttle not quite on the floor…..or a similar big gear/low cadence session on the turbo trainer. All in all, as you will read, this resulted in big gains in fitness specific to this type of event – I use the term “specific” because that is a crucial part of a successful training programme, though in this context it didn’t mean riding 10 hours plus on every Sunday….

In terms of event-specifics that are difficult to prepare for, the weather plays a big part….and also the descents. I had a few riders in this event – Tim King,  Peter Lynk, William Nicholl were the other 3 (all completed the route)  – and all commented on how cautious you had to be on the steeper drops. Descending is something that you can learn, however, and participants in the Blackcat training camps (last year we were at http://www.ciclocostablanca.com and will be there again next Spring – watch my Facebook page for details http://www.facebook.com/pages/blackcatcyclecoachingcom/494426953937992) have the perfect roads to do it on and the benefit on hands-on coaching from the very experienced guides and a coach who always takes a safe line…….

So! For those of you who take your sportives strong and with lots of lumps here is Craig’s account of his successful ride…

“If you were thinking of going out for a quick Sunday training ride, The Fred Whitton Challenge isn’t something that would seem to fit the bill. At 112miles & 10,800ft climbing it’s been described as the “hardest sportive in the UK”. And yet – here I was, queued up in the rain and mud at 6am in Grasmere.  It’s ‘only’ a training ride for me by dint of the fact that I had rashly committed last year to improve myself enough to join a group of friends on the 450mile Raid Pyrenean in August.

I joined Black Cat in February when I decided that the determination, ad-hoc spinning and chamois cream combination that I used in the past wouldn’t work. Although it had got me from fat, non-cyclist to 7-day LEJOG survivor in two years, I didn’t think it would be enough get me along the Pyrenees in 100 hours.

Tim took my list of ‘WIBNI’ rides (Wouldn’t It Be Nice If) of The Fred, Dartmoor Classic, Etape du Tour and Raid Pyrenean. We added it all to a RAMP test in February, and put in place a plan to get me as far away from Homer Simpson and towards Chris Froome as possible. “The Fred” is the first test of that strategy.

The queue through the swampy sports field was already bedraggled when we set off in driving rain at 6.13 (having had little sleep the night before… but that’s another story) by the time we got to the top of Kirkstone Pass (453m) the rain and spirits had lifted slightly.  The descent from Kirkstone was excellent – steep, and quite fast without too much head-wind, but there was still a lot of rain-jacket bingo being played.

The next big climb is Matterdale End (347m) that takes you to what could have been a pleasant cruise to downhill to Keswick – if it also didn’t turn us straight into a 25mph headwind. It’s always galling having to pedal downhill!

Honister Pass (358m) was a hill that I’d failed to climb twice before – but the new, lightweight, stronger me was determined to get up it this time, and I felt gratified that whilst there were still younger, fitter people passing me – I was cycling past people walking!

The descent from Honister is very steep, twisty, and in the wet – treacherous. An hour or so after I passed it, and was stopping to refuel at the top of Newlands Pass, the air-ambulance flew low overhead: I discovered later it was going to a cyclist that had come off during the descent.

A pleasant run along the Buttermere Valley brought us to the first food stop at 52miles – but they’d sneakily put Newlands Pass (335m) 25yards out of the stop, which although was advertised as such, still came as a shock!

Another fab descent took us to the long slog up to Whinlatter Pass (318m)- with jackets still going on and off. As with many of the passes, the marshals and public at the top were fabulous, shouting and bell-ringing their encouragement throughout the day.

Only one more major climb before the second food stop – Cold Fell (295m). Although there are only 9 ‘named’ climbs, there are plenty of other decently-sized anonymous hills, all of which got tougher as the day went on. Cold Fell is well named – with a 25mph wind and blowing rain, the name is spot on. Thankfully, beyond the fell was the second feed stop at Calder Bridge (86 miles in) – where the surprisingly yummy joys of cream cheese with jam sandwiches was another first for me.

The thought of only being about 30miles from home spurred me on, with ‘just’ Hardnott and Wrynose (both 393m) as the major climbs left. And more importantly – we turned with the wind on our tails.

As the vertical green wall of Hardknott crept onto the right of my Garmin screen, I’d already decided that I would be better to make a tactical ‘no-bid’ on Hardknott, and save it for Wrynose. I wasn’t alone. Most people were pushing their steeds up the 25-30% hairpins that put the Hard into Hardknott. Chapeau to anyone who cycles it, there were a significant number panting past the rest of us mere mortals.

Over the top of Hardknott is yet another technical, brake-block-burning descent, with a cracking view of Wrynose ahead. The tail wind helped to get me most of the way up Wrynose – but my legs just ran out of juice on the last little kicker.

Both Hardknott and Wrynose descents are nasty – especially with wet roads, and it’s easy to pick up way too much speed within seconds. Unfortunately the air-ambulance had to be called out for another cyclist, and incredibly landed on an unfeasibly small hump-backed bridge to air-lift him to hospital. The road was closed for the duration, but had cleared by the time I got there. I understand that both casualties are ok thankfully, but there were quite a few other tumbles that were less serious, mainly on descents, they aren’t for the faint of heart.

Having now conquered all the big passes, with the wind on my tail, (relatively) flat roads ahead, and the finish line in sight, my legs found new energy and I pushed hard over the last 10miles to try and get in below 10h30m. It’s a testament to the hours on the turbo, Tim’s training plans and nutrition info that, although tired, I still felt fine at the end and could have carried on. Perhaps I should have tried Hardknott after all!

The supporters, marshals, and bike-laden cars increased as I pulled closer to Grasmere and finally rolled in at 10h20m elapsed (with 9h riding time).

I’d definitely recommend the Fred Whitton Challenge for anyone’s bucket-list, but make sure you get lots of hills into your legs, and if you’re aiming to get up Hardknott – get a triple!  I may make another attempt one day, but I’ll be doing the Four Seasons version (which you can do year-round), and making sure that the hills are a bigger part of the challenge than the weather.  The next ‘training ride’ of the Dartmoor Classic is in a month – bring it on!”

…which leads us nicely to the next post on, where there will be a focus on both descending and nutrition in the context of two tough events….Quebrantahuesos and the Dartmoor Classic!

A last word on descending from Doug,  the hardman of my previous post “You time it, I’ll ride it”: I followed Doug down a rain-sodden super-steep Dorset descent (tree cover, potholes, gravel, 1 in 6..you know the thing) at breakneck speed, having dropped everyone else and all the time wondering how he could go so fast and wasn’t this s big risk to take in your 50’s? At the bottom I asked him how, and why. His reply was beautifully simple: “I haven’t got my glasses on and I can’t really see anything so it doesn’t bother me”.

Now – go and get those sandwiches made….




Another time, another race.

David Billings1989. A 3rds and juniors road race (see my earlier post about this – no 4th cat then, everyone restricted to 52 x 15 gears..) in Dorset. Last lap. Approaching the final two hills…well, more like  lumps really. The zenith of a much younger Blackcat’s cycling career…. A flurry of attacks – Bang, Bang, Bang and three riders are away, one having gone and been caught, a counter-attack by another, then the original rider bridging up with his rival glued to his wheel. And I’m at the front (you should always be near the front…) …and I have no-one with me from my club…and I know I have good legs…..and I’m “mayking the calculaytion” as Sean Kelly  would say ….and wondering “should I try to go with them?”.

GO ON! I hear you cry…in these situations he who hesitates is lost! Some background, though. The three riders in front are all juniors and between them have won pretty much everything in the south during the season. One will go on to become National Junior Road Race Champion. They are all very fast indeed. This weighs on my mind as I wonder whether to keep my powder dry and wait for the sprint….I once actually got a 7th place in a road race that finished on the same hill. Or a similar hill. Anyway, I passed a lot of people.. apart from the 6 in front of me. We slow for a left turn before a small hill and no-one is chasing. Someone will go soon, surely……but no-one does so I slam it in the (ahem) 15 and “hit it flat stick”!

A gap!! I have a gap!! I know this because I keep looking behind me!!! An aside here – never do this in a race. Attack hard, settle into it and then look under your arm/through your legs but don’t ever, ever look over your shoulder. It’s un-aerodynamic, uncool and very unsafe as you will probably veer off into a ditch. I know. I’ve done it. It’s difficult to convince people of your cycle coaching credentials when this happens. You look like a berk.

So – off I go, head down and no-one is chasing me! I’m really shifting and all I can think about is 4th!! I want 4th!! I don’t care about winning, I can’t beat those guys, I just want to beat the bunch!! And I’ll get 2 points!!! Then…I round the corner and see them, not far off. OK – I’m committed, if I catch them I might be able to sit on and still get 4th!! And I’m closing on them!! Yes, closing!! They’re getting closer!! That’s because…..they’re sitting up looking at each other. What are they doing…..? Then I’m on them and the adrenaline goes “psssssst” out of me and I’m gasping for breath, legs burning. They glance at me, mouths closed, no expressions. Then the one who would go on to be National Junior Road Race Champion goes BANG and they are all gone. Me too!   But rather than Bang,  I go “phut”, and backwards,  and the entire bunch passes me as we start the final hill……..all of them. Dead last.

They had  been, for want of a better phrase, just p***ing around with each other. I hadn’t “caught” them. I had just happened to stumble upon them playing cat and mouse. As someone who I respect very much once said – “you made your move, then the real move went”. Since then….I’ve got points, gone up a category (well, back up to 3rd!!) and had some unsuccessful breakaways but that 1989 race was the one where I dared to believe in myself…even if it didn’t quite work out. For that reason (unless I suddenly get a lot fitter) I would classify it as the zenith of my cycling career. And the main reason for the description is that it was so exhilarating! Being very tired but completely wired at the same time, responding to a primal urge to attack, being alone on the road and smelling a (sort of) victory. Every cycling fan  wants to win a road race – and the best way  to do it, the most emphatic way, is on your own. No bunch, no breakaway group, just you. And if you can’t do that? Well, in the company of others who are better than you. If you beat them in the sprint by playing crafty then they have only themselves to blame…..

A long time since my last post and a lot has happened since then….but now the cycling season (we are a broad church – and this encompasses TT’s, sportives, charity rides, mtb events and road racing) is well and truly upon us. So- time to reflect on another race…maybe your first road race of the season? Of your cycling career? Some words of advice then…..

Road racing requires you to hurt yourself. Racing isn’t easy, only when everything comes together beautifully – and even then it isn’t really easy, you still suffer, but smoothly. So, as racing isn’t easy then, of course, neither should training be. If your training is all at 18mph and you do a race where you must do 30mph for short (or long!) bursts then there will be an inevitable disconnect between your ability and the demands being thrust upon you…..and if, at the other end of the scale, you can happily sit in a bunch at 26 mph but can’t break away at 28 then you are going to have to sprint….and it never ceases to surprise me how little time riders spend on this aspect of training, considering that it is the most likely scenario for the finish in the lower category (and therefore the majority of) road races.

The same year as my “zenith” race, I watched a road race where three riders from a local club broke away together and won convincingly. Rider 1 was a superb time triallist, rider 2 one of the riders I “caught” in the race described earlier, and rider 3 was a veteran who was very talented but was below his companion’s levels. Rider 3 saw riders 1 and 2 escape: he then turned himself inside out to cross the gap to them, and pretty much continued turning himself inside out just trying to stay with them…he finished 3rd. He was, as I say, very talented and had been a Divisional Road Race Champion as a junior. I congratulated him at the end and asked him how it had all happened. He was visibly exhausted, and the words he told me that day I have repeated to any rider who wants to start racing: “Road racing is basically 2-3 race winning sprints -could be to get over to a break, make a break yourself, or just hang on to the bunch. Whatever the outcome is going to be, unless you are prepared to commit to that level of effort – 100% – during the race, then you will not have the outcome you want.” This, of course, has since been couched in other terms – spending pennies, burning matches – but the advice remains every bit as valid.

Training tips then: road racing is basically a series of max intervals from 4s to 4-6 mins (if you’re really unlucky and have a successful breakaway then longer…Ok I mean lucky, I’m just thinking of the pain and blackness an all out, trying to get away effort entails..) and then a load of very unpleasant around threshold or just above efforts. In short, it isn’t a 2 x 20 FTP session, though this will help you overall.  So your training should include varied sessions where this happens. And specific sessions where you “plug gaps” . An example of this might be a classic pyramid training session where you go from 1-3 minutes with a steadily decreasing rest period – all reps at max. Or a 40/20 session, with long sprints followed by only very short rest periods…but, at the risk of offending other coaches and those who believe all sessions should target a separate energy system, a ride out with 3 or 4 others who are hopefully a bit better at some things (hills/sprints) than you are, and a bit worse at other things (going downhill,/riding in the wind) than you are, over 2-3 hours with some KoM points, some sprints and some putting each other under pressure parts, is a great workout. No mates? They’re all up the road, winning the nationals? Then try a Z3 starter for 20 mins, some 4-8min threshold reps with short rests, back to Z2 15 mins , some more Z3 (Sweetspot now) for 10:00, then put in some 15-40s 90% sprints over varying terrain (like a road race where you’re tired and closing gaps) with short recoveries, ride Z3 for 5 mins again and then empty your tank in Z4/5 and finish with a sprint.  That is, pretty much, the story of the 50K “zenith” road race of my  youth….I hope you get the jump on them.


Speaking of “them” – winner as far as I recall that day was Mark Armstrong from VC St Raphael/Waite Contracts. He used to come over from the Isle of Wight and murder everyone in the junior road races, and it was he who went on to win the National Junior Road Race Championships (Year? May have been 1989, maybe 1990). Very talented and, from what I can remember, a very nice chap. The picture is courtesy of Mick Waite, the man behind VC St Raphael and promoter of the Perf’s Pedal race – a prestigious early season road race who’s past winners is like a who’s who of cycle racing in the UK……and the sponsor of BlackCat rider David Billings (pictured at the top of this post) who is as aggressive a racer as you are likely to meet and who certainly wouldn’t have hung about waiting for the other guys to make a move, were he to have crossed the gap to them all those years ago…in fact, were he to have crossed the gap I would have been on his wheel and saved a load of energy, then I would have jumped, destroying them all on the 15….etc etc etc….

David has had a great winter, moving back up to 2nd cat with a win on the way, had a beginning of season break to get married and go on honeymoon, and is now back in the racing groove and looking for wins. The words below are his account of his last win at Odd Down and, in my opinion, really give an insight into the effort level and mindset needed to win a race. The win came on the second day of a weekend of winter racing, the purpose of which was to amass enough points to make it back to 2nd cat after mid-season illness:

“Saturday 28th Dec

Preston Park track – 3rds race

I started the long drive to Brighton, my target today was the 3rd Cat race followed by an E/1/2/3. I had planned to win the 3rd cat race and just use the E/1/2/3 for training as the turnout this time of year is low so I could at least guarantee some points from the second race. I’ve been working with Tim to focus on my top end early this year so I could regain my 2nd category licence before the season starts proper so I was feeling in good shape although a hilly 85 mile ride 2 days before meant my legs felt a little heavy.

I decided to forego my usual warm up and just go 5-10 minutes around the circuit to get the legs spinning safe in the knowledge that I could get another 5-10 minutes in the bunch before I started to race proper.

There was another racer who’d been in the break 2 weeks before with me and he asked me if I wanted to try something so I already had a breakaway partner before things kicked off. The race started quite slowly. I put in a little dig after a few minutes to see what the bench were feeling like and to finish off my warm up. The bunch closed me down after 20-30 seconds as expected.

After 10 or so minutes and a few digs by various people Johnny (the previous weeks breakaway partner) put in a dig and I went with him, we had a 3rd rider come with us also. I quickly got things organised and we started to take 1/2 lap turns on the front. We were working well and I was feeling strong, having blown the cobwebs off from the long ride a few days before. It took us about 15 or so minutes to almost lap the bunch, the other two were fading but I still had legs so I put in a big effort for a lap and closed the rest of the gap as the bunch had given up. I knew Johnny was a better sprinter than me so I tried to attack off the front again 4-5 times but Johnny stuck to my wheel like glue. I wasn’t going anywhere!

We got to the last few laps and Johnny was still on my wheel. I knew he would go soon and he’s a good racer even though it’s only his first season. I watched him start to go and got on his wheel…in the last corner he had opened up a little gap and in the home straight I started to close him down but run out of tarmac and he beat me by a bike length. A disappointing 2nd place as I had done a lot of the work bringing the other 2 round in the break but well done to Johnny he is a good racer and he played well.

Sunday 29th Dec*

*2/3 – Odd Down – Bath CC Crit*

I drove to Bath and to be honest I was stick of travelling at this point. My legs felt OK in the car with my usual “push the quads to see how much they hurt” method so I felt positive. However, when I got to Bath and started to warm up on the turbo everything felt like an effort! I did some high cadence spinning to try to work out the day before with a couple of 10 second 9/10 efforts to wake up the fast twitch. There was a good-sized turnout so I was thinking this might not be my day. My breakaway head is firmly attached at the moment and I knew if I sat in the bunch I’d just sit there feeling tired and sorry for myself so the plan was an ‘all or nothing’ breakaway attempt.

It didn’t take long for some attacks to start and I got in a break of 5 riders after 5 or so minutes, but that was caught by the bunch. I saw a Bath CC rider still powering on as the bunch slowed after catching the break (a great time to attack again!) I got on his wheel and quickly came past him in attack mode to show my intentions. We gained a 3rd rider and had a gap while the bunch sorted out who was going to do any work. The Bath rider and I quickly became frustrated with the 3rd rider as he was clearly not committed and glass pedalling. This is a huge frustration of mine in lower cat races – people who try to breakaway but then realise it hurts and are lazy and don’t want to do any work thinking that somehow they will magically stay away from the bunch! Nothing good is easy and that same principle applies to breakaways in bike races…it hurts…a lot…the sooner you accept it the sooner you can get on with your business of trying to stay away! The Bath CC rider signalled me to attack the 3rd rider out of the corner, we got into the corner and the BCC rider attacked hard with me on his wheel and we quickly dropped the free loader.

 (A note from the coach here – There are different techniques for getting rid of people who won’t contribute to the workload in a break…it is often referred to as taking someone off the back when, in a paceline, you let a gap develop with the non-worker on your wheel, then sprint quickly to close it up to the line again. If everyone in the line does this as they come through then the freeloader runs out of steam…unless he is playing the game too and still has the strength to outsprint everyone at the end…)

I looked down at my Garmin and we had only been racing for about 15 minutes and had been away for 5, so we had to stay away for a total of 55 minute (race was 1 hour + 3 laps) – a big ask…The BCC rider and I worked well together and somehow we were still away with 5 to go. The breakaway was the usual business of screaming pain on the front and sweet recovery when the other rider(s) take over: Tim’s training really helps with this sort of hard effort, recovery cycle (David is being generous here. I once met one of my riders doing a long interval session I had programmed for him at our local road racing track, Fowlmead Country Park. As he passed me, his face a mask of pain, he had the strength to force out the words “I hate you”).

With the last few laps in sight we pedalled hard and I nailed it at 100% effort down the back straight and round the corner into the wind to get as much distance as possible between us and the bunch. We were still away with a big gap – 15-20 seconds with one lap to go. The BCC rider was a big lad so I knew he had a sprint… just before the final corner, when he moved to let me go through, I attacked him hard as I didn’t think I’d win a straight drag race. He got on my wheel but I just had to keep going at 100% – Odd down has a long run to the finish and is slightly up hill so you don’t want to go too early. I was at 110%, my legs were screaming but I wasn’t going to let this go. The BCC rider started to come around and I got out of the saddle and stomped on the pedals for everything I was worth. He came round and we were neck and neck for the last 100m, but he faded in the last 20 m and I managed to pip him by 1/4 of a wheel. I let out an overzealous roar like I’d won the world champs! Yes, this was only a 2/3 winter race but after my terrible season last year a whole year of frustration and disappointment was let go at once my first win in 2 years!

David b wins!

All in all a good weekend picking up 21 BC points and almost regaining my 2nd cat in under a month.”

And there you have it. You need fitness, skill and a strong will………and specific training (or, non-specific!). And don’t let anyone tell you winter races are easy. they may have been easier 5 years ago when there weren’t may of them but now you need to be at the top of your game to get points in them.

Right, time to get the bike out and go training – this time I’m attacking and riding straight past that “soft” break………


You time it: I’ll ride it. The Comeback

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A club 10 mile time trial on the A351 near Wareham in Dorset. End of August and one of those evening TT’s where the start time had been pushed back because of fading light. And this particular night it was unseasonably cold and had been raining hard. This coach had made the journey from Bournemouth after work wondering why I was bothering and thinking of 100 reasons not to ride the TT, while listening to the best of The Jam (my mum’s car had a cassette player and the only two I had which would play in it without being chewed were this compilation of the type of angry young man music no-one makes anymore, and a copy of The Associates album Fourth Drawer Down: the type of beautifully harmonic yet darkly disjointed, complex yet ambiguous young man music no-one ever did make except Billy MacKenzie and Alan Rankine). When I arrived, there were three of us and a timekeeper. The timekeeper was, sensibly, talking about how dangerous the turn was at the Lychett Minster roundabout, and the poor visibility, and the poor turnout. You could virtually finish his sentence and it was tempting to do so and add “..and that’s why we’re all going to call it a night and all go home, only stopping at the Chick King take-away on the way home for an American double burger with an egg on the top of it”. However, the reason that I didn’t, and that I made the journey in the first place, was just about to ride up on a fixed wheel. We’ll call him Doug (not his real name, but “Doug” was real).

Doug was a comeback man. He to me, at that time, was very definitely a huge influence on my weak-willed approach to cycling. Doug, it has to be said, was hard. Right hard. Like bloody granite. If you are familiar with the late 80’s/early 90’s racing scene in the UK you will have heard of Wayne Randle. He’s also a certified hard man. Doug was like him. When he was riding he just had a face that was set in stone. Head down, no prisoners, totally committed  and never stopped. But the difference between Doug and Wayne was age – Doug was nearly 50, Wayne in his 20’s.

Doug had been a fantastically talented young rider. His level? There used to be a famous TT in the 1960’s – the Otley CC Mountain TT. It was 50 miles over some very testing climbs (I know them well, these were the formative climbs of the Cagouled BlackCat’s youth….). I mentioned to Doug that I used to live in that area and he told me that he had ridden the event. He had, at the time, been one of two favourites to win. The other favourite was Barry Hoban. But that had been a long time ago and, like some of us, a period of working, families, drinking, smoking, and general sitting in cars and listening to tapes had intervened (not sure Doug liked either The Jam or The Associates. I’m not sure that music would have featured in his list of “things to do when not murdering everyone off my wheel”. Not sure, if I’m honest, what else might have been on the list apart from his liking of deep sea fishing trips. Personally, I can’t think of a lot worse to do with a weekend than get up at 3am in order to get on a small boat and be tossed about for hours in the cold in the hope of catching something you probably feel too sick to eat at the end of it. Saying that, if you take the motif of “suffering” as bike riders do and apply it to “hobbies they might do” then it fits nicely). Fittingly, Doug junior had taken up cycling and had, I think, gently ribbed his Dad about just how good he was on a bike…….so Doug showed him!

So…back to the 10 and Doug was sitting on the side of the road, having turned his back wheel round on the track bike with drilled front brake he always rode for club 10s (it’s only a club 10, no need for the best bike) and changed his 72″ gear for an 86″ one. He was rubbing Elliman’s Embrocation into his legs (Yeah, you try it. My Dad used to rub it on his bowling arm when he was a young cricketer. Minute 1 – lovely smell. Minute 2 – quite a bit of heat. Minute 2:30 – bit hot, this, isn’t it? Minute 3 – AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!). Legs NOT shaved, I might add. Well, only a club 10. And the timekeeper looked, nervously, at him. And the rest of us looked at the floor. I murmured, “It’s a bit slippy…I don’t mind if we….”. Someone else half-heartedly said “Maybe we should…..?” – then his voice petered out as Doug finished his ministrations and looked squarely at the timekeeper, who asked in a reed-thin voice, “What do you think, Doug?” Doug squared his jaw, stood up with his legs already beginning to steam in the wet and chilly conditions, and replied in a growl which was full of gravel and dirt, “Well if you time it, I’ll ride it”. And that was it. We all rode it. And I don’t know about the others, but the reason I rode was that I was too damn frightened not to.

My whole cycling life I have wanted to be like Doug. Truth is, I’m not hard enough. However, I have had many more comebacks than he had and have often wondered why cyclists seem to be able to do comebacks much more frequently than other people in other sports. For this post, I did what any self-respecting time-poor cyclist would do and Googled the answer to the top ten sporting comebacks. Google is the Sweetspot equivalent in cycle training terms……or maybe HIIT. Why mess about in Z2 when you can step across Z3 and 4 and do it in half the time (cue a sports science discussion…..)?  Amongst the 10 are one of Armstrong’s (from cancer in 1999  – the other in 2009 is absent), Sir Steve Redgrave’s recant of his request to “shoot me if you see me near a rowing boat” at Sydney 2000, George Forman’s comeback (Boxing is the nearest sport to cycling in terms of toughness and sheer physical endurance, I have always felt. Based on my hardness score in the latter I wouldn’t be as good as my Dad at the former…..maybe the Ellimans toughened him up before the Navy?), and one I added myself: Michael Schumacher getting a drive for Mercedes in 2010 and being as superbly imperious as he always was. And having a couple more “racing incidents”.

Runners don’t seem to do comebacks. Or do they? Cyclists may well be able to because of the weight-bearing nature of riding a bike. Look around a club run here or abroad and you will see the elderly cyclist (The Italians do this much better than we do, this “ageing” bit. They manage to harness the sartorial elegance of Francesco Moser in his white jersey and immaculate shoes even with a paunch and crows feet around their eyes) . They may well rip your legs off too! A recent study which examined  the effects of ageing on a professional cyclist featured 5 times Tour de France winner and all-round extra-terrestrial Miguel Indurain.  Miguel retired in 1997 and has been just riding for pleasure since then but his maximal aerobic power was still around 450 watts. His watts per kilo (7 is Tour winner, 6 a gateway to Elite level, usually) was in the “4’s” but only because his weight had gone up significantly, rather than his power going down significantly (The study states “Larger declines in maximal and submaximal values relative to body mass (19.4-26.1%) indicate that body composition changed more than aerobic characteristics”) . That aside, he would have had to put out 450 watts plus for his successful hour record on the track back in the early 90’s – to produce 450 watts for the final minute of a RAMP test is one thing: to produce the same for an hour is quite another…but the message remains that your natural ability remains, even if your sizing in trousers varies as a result of trips to the Chick King take away in your car, tape player blaring out “Billy Hunt”.

Comebacks are definitely part of the culture in cycling. The best example? Lance’s 2009? Try Malcolm Elliot in the early 2000’s. One of the most incredibly naturally talented riders we have ever produced: Milk Race winner, Tour of Britain winner, Tour of Spain points jersey winner…….just a fantastic all-round rider. I remember reading an article in “The Comic” about Elliot, a couple of years before he made a successful comeback into Elite cycling. The author of the article knew Elliot well and said that he was simply the most naturally talented rider we have had and, were he to choose to cock his leg over a bike tomorrow, he would be winning the major domestic races in the UK within a year. He did, and he was.

So. Has the temptation of the American Double Egg Burger usurped the Spartan and stoic pursuit of Elliman’s Embro self-massage and deep sea fishing trips in winter? Have you found yourself at a club 10 uttering “No, I think it’s too wet and cold. Where’s my car? And my tapes? You’re all mad and your legs are starting to give me a sunburn”? Then the comeback is for you…….

Take inspiration from BlackCat rider Paul Winkley  (East Grinstead CC). Paul has been there, done that and got the t-shirt. Paul enjoyed road racing and contacted me because he wants to get back into it. He turns a nifty pedal and, when he RAMP tested with me, showed he still has it: particularly when he demonstrated in his 95% warm up 6 second sprints (You don’t do them? Wakes up the fast twitch fibres…) that he can still get near 1000w in Wattbike Pro resistance level 1 (the lowest….). Crucially, after we had a cup of tea and a “nice sit down” after the test, his legs didn’t give me a sunburn from the embro. Or, for that matter, make an orange stain on my leather sofa. Here is Paul’s story…

Making a comeback

“I’ve been cycling competitively since I was about 15, with a short break between 18 and 35 to discover cars and girls – I’m now 57.  Following a bad crash at Goodwood  4 years ago and losing my business in the recession, my cycle training was taking a bit of a back seat. I still get out on the clubrun each week and do all of my Club’s evening 10’s so, I’m in reasonable shape but no ‘racing snake’.

I know how to train having been coached over the internet for a few years previously. The trouble was motivating myself to go out to the garage when its sub zero to do intervals on the turbo trainer, never happens – I’m a little tired – there’s something on the telly – think I’m going down with a cold , you know the excuses! Step up Tim!

I just need someone to keep me on the ‘straight and narrow’ and apply some new training methods. I’d recommend a Ramp Test before you start, which is nothing to be frightened of. It sets some proper values and sorts out a few other basics such as pedalling style, individual leg strength and watts per kg.

So here we are week 4  – the 1st week was bit of a shock to the system but settling in nicely now and gaining in confidence. I’m ‘up a cog’ already on the turbo and giving a few club mates something to think about on Sunday rides.

One final thing – I run my own print business, have five children, five grandchildren and am a presenter on our local radio station so don’t tell me you don’t have the time!”

Paul Winkley

A busy man…..and proof that a lack of time shouldn’t hinder your pursuit of what you enjoy. Paul enjoys music and has a show on 107FM Meridian Radio – here he is doing what he loves to help others http://www.meridianfm.com/home/107-miles-to-go.html

You could do a lot worse than tune in to him. Each week Paul emails his feedback along with a list of turbo tracks….he has some very good tunes and is the only person I know who shares my liking for the odd Jethro Tull number.

So. Been out of cycling a while? Want to dish it out again? It’s never too late. Time to get the bike out of the shed and start training for 2014. Want some help?

Wishing you and your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a super-fast Boxing Day 10! Hey, and if it’s snowing, you time it…………

(This post dedicated to “Doug” and Ann and the cyclist’s teapot, and many a happy evening in the “sun lounge”. )

Meeting the Tarmac!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I swear when I’m in pain. Really, really badly. I suffer an almost acute sense of injustice at what has been meted out to me and my response is also to punch, kick or throw something at the often inanimate object that has stricken me with, no doubt, malice aforethought. So, cupboards, shelves, bikes, fridges – all of these things have felt the wrath of this (temporarily) angry, short man (the short bit is, unfortunately, not temporary. However, I am now conditioned to this affliction and the problem of being old rather than short has usurped vertically challenged in the list of things I would change if I could…). Nine times out of ten there are small children within earshot, however, and I have to use some of my late father’s vernacular – “Why,the fizzing thing!…..Well,  the bally idiot!….What the thundering blazes! …etc” – in order to save the ears of my young and impressionable Vicky Pendletons in waiting. Imagine, then, my delight on a rainy afternoon at having the entire tarmac road racing circuit of Fowlmead Country Park clear of children and only containing a fast disappearing adult bunch of racing cyclists plus a few more stricken heroes nearby! I was able to air my not inconsiderable (list on request) inventory of curses, all of them far too strong to print here. And at the top of my voice too! However, I was not able to follow this up with the usual satisfying violence to an inanimate object as I was laying face flat on it. The tarmac. Which had all of a sudden risen up to meet me from my bike in a rough manner, rubbed itself all over the parts of my body not covered by my skinsuit and was now turning it’s own internal thermostat down to chilly. And I started to think…..I’m quite fit at the moment. And there’s an event I’ve entered that I really want to ride in one month. I’m going to miss it, aren’t I? And even if I don’t, how much time will it take before I’m this fit again?

This, some might say, irrational train of thought often occurs to trained cyclists (Runners are worse. Triathletes are near-psychotic in this regard. Sorry!) when they see months of hard training being confronted by the spectre of illness or injury. Often, riders who are quite clearly in need of a hospital stay will cheerfully remark through gritted teeth “Oh well, if I start training on the turbo now with my leg/arm/lungs strapped up I can still make the New Year’s day 10 mile TT!”. This optimistic yet at the same time woeful mantra can be heard as the ambulance doors thud shut with the finality of a coffin nail entering it’s final rusting place. But this is a common problem – crashes, illness, injury, children. money, relationships….LIFE! all play their part in sabotaging a rider’s carefully-crafted plans for a Gold Standard Marmotte or a 22 minute 10.

So – how much time can you afford to have away from the bike? Well, this like most things is dependent upon a number of other factors and is a more complex question than the answer I once heard from a cyclist I respect very much indeed: “I don’t care what anyone says, if you have 10 days off you start from scratch”. It was me who had the 10 days off….and it was me who, thank the merciful Gods of cyclists who have families and want non-riding holidays, proved him wrong. This happened when I had a break for 8 days (no cycling), returned to find a major crisis at my then day job which involved 3 days further non-bike time, and jumped back into hard training sessions with the local road race training group. I regained all my “top-end” quickly – 2 weeks. Why? Because I was fit to begin with and this has a lot to do with it. I have also been training (as opposed to going out on my bike) regularly for 2-3 seasons beforehand – the previous years hadn’t been sedentary either, just not very structured and involving a lot more beer and food…….but don’t just take my word for it. There are quite a few studies out there that echo this opinion.

Of course, how much time-out affects your fitness also depends upon the reasons for it. If you have a virus then your immune system can be weakened considerably and you shouldn’t attempt to resume training until you feel fully recovered. Having a sore throat is a warning sign: ease off the training or have a rest day when this happens. Similarly, my own crash earlier in the year meant that I was physically unable to bend my left knee due to swelling. This took a couple of weeks to subside and, in that time, I was unable to do anything much apart from hobble about. Frustration sets in for most cyclists here and it is important to try and maintain a positive attitude and look at the evidence from studies which have focussed upon de-training – it seems fairly clear that the more you have done in the past, the longer it will take to lose it.

So – for those of you who have been similarly afflicted by the tarmac/ a nasty virus/ your partner’s insistence on holidaying WITHOUT BIKES (Can you believe it? I mean, who would entertain the notion…) there is some good news and some bad news. Good news – been training for a while? Then the top-end goes but the endurance doesn’t for a while. New to training? Then you may have to persuade your partner/the tarmac/your GP to let you get back into things a bit quicker…or just forget about the New Year’s Day 10 and hit the bubbly instead.

My own crash was a walk (or hobble) in the park compared to the very serious accident suffered by Ken Jones, a Blackcat rider who was taking on the Alpine Challenge earlier this year. A blow-out on a tricky descent (Ken is a great descender – unfortunately equipment was at the heart of this one…) left him with very bad injuries. He remained cheerful throughout (ex-fell runners are probably a lot more hardened to suffering and misfortune than we are…) and his account of things has appeared on the Wattbike Blog:


I am more than pleased to say that, at this time, Ken has got back the majority of his fitness and is on course for a very good 2014 – this in no small part thanks to his determination, but also due to the fact that he was able to complete workouts which were short but targeted at around 70% of his Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP) in a sequence where work and rest periods were manipulated progressively. In short, he’s going to be giving some riders a hard time next year in the TT events he likes….

Final note – for those of you eagerly awaiting the next instalment of Final Words from a Great Summer I am saving it for the shorter days in the hope that it inspires you in 2014!

The Final Words from a Great Summer (2) – Vicki Lee

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“I am never going to see my family again.”. 1979, on the road between Addingham and Ilkley, West Yorkshire on a fine, sunny summer’s afternoon. Words spoken with certainty by this very coach, aged 12. To fully appreciate this situation, any situation, you need the full story…..

…which begins the day previously when the phone rings at my family home in Leeds and a school friend says “Tim, time to test your new bike out. Fancy a ride to Malham?” A few things you need to know here. Firstly, the friend on the other end had been cycling with the Otley CC regularly on a Sunday, knocking out 60-80 miles in the hilly terrain of the Yorkshire Dales. In short, like most cyclists, he was an awful lot fitter than me. Secondly, although Malham is a beautiful place and of much geographic interest (indeed, I had endured a school trip there as a 10 year old. We sat in silence on the bus there as we weren’t allowed to speak. Then we had to climb a dried up waterfall, which is where I first discovered I had vertigo. Packed lunch at the top, terrified. 5 mile hike.Then we went home, again in silence. Ah, the heady days of Leeds Grammar School in the 70’s. What fun.)  it is a good 30 plus miles from my old family home. Rather a large percentage of those miles are uphill and on what you might call “lumpy” roads. Thirdly, my new bike was an interesting “racing” bike from Halfords and, if I had to estimate, I would put it’s weight at somewhere between a Rhodesian Ridgeback and American Pit Bull Terrier. Wearing a collar made of plutonium. And Doc Martens. Lastly, my font of cycling knowledge was only just beginning to trickle at that time, nurtured by the wonderful International Cycle Sport magazine and visits to Woodrup Cycles in Leeds.  In short I knew nothing at all about clothing, equipment, distance vs fitness and, crucially, correct nutrition (I was so green…..I had another good friend and his dad was a club rider who introduced us to cycling – thanks George – I had no idea about clothing and used to wear a kagoule as my cycling top at all times, prompting George’s wife to ask me on a 70 degree summer’s day “expecting rain, Tim?”).

The following day dawned, sunny and warm and off I went to Otley, enjoying what is now my favourite view of any: the descent into Otley from the main Leeds Road, running under Otley Chevin. Brief stop to pick up my friend and off we went along the Wharfe Valley, heading for Skipton. Finally approaching Malham after 30 plus hilly miles in the standard jeans/kagoule Junior Blackcat team issue strip I began to feel strange sensations in my legs and hear a whispered, far off voice in my brain. The sensation felt like I had been walking a while. The voice seemed to be saying  “yooo have bitten off more than yooo can choooooow” in a somewhat ghostly fashion.  I ignored this and in high spirits (and a sweaty waterproof) entered the café where we would have lunch.

And here lies the moral of the tale and the focus for this blog piece (in case you were thinking that I was just going to ramble on…which I will anyway)! Food! I was hungry at this time but not hugely. I had a sum of money with me which would have been enough to get a good meal in a cheap café but (a) I only ever ate sandwiches my dad made me on previous, shorter rides and (b) this was a café in what was then and is now a tourist trap, and very expensive. So we ordered beans on toast and tea. Beans on toast. I hate beans on toast. My friend kept saying “Eat your beans on toast, you’ll be glad of them later” and I just didn’t. In the end he had them and we set off again.

All was OK for the first 10 miles then the inevitable happened and I ran out of fuel. Visions of cups of tea containing 10 sugars and spoonfuls of jam began to haunt me. This is where we came in……..

I did make it home that day, though not on the bike. Reaching Otley and facing the long climb up to Bramhope I cracked and asked to call my dad from my friend’s house, much to the bemusement of his family who were tucking into their evening meal as we arrived. I’d like to say that this was beans on toast but I don’t think it was. I’d also like to say that they offered me some but they didn’t! When my dad arrived he simply didn’t believe me when I said I’d ridden to Malham. He continued to doubt me even when I couldn’t do anything but lie on the setee two days later. I’m still not sure he ever believed me and am surprised that, on his death bed, he didn’t motion me to come nearer to his head and whisper “You didn’t really cycle to Malham on that heavy bike wearing that ridiculous kagoule did you Timothy? Did you? Tell me you ate lunch you dunce……..”

So.. a lesson for all of you out there riding your first sportive or challenge ride. Eat. Before, during and after. What you eat and how much of it depends on the event duration and profile but, as a rule of thumb, eat more carbohydrate than you would normally. And if all there is available is beans then man up and swallow your taste buds!!!!

This summer has brought some exceptional performances from Blackcat riders, one of the most impressive being from Vicki Lee. Vicki contacted me after seeing a piece on the Wattbike blog about my coaching. She had entered the Etape and had a little over 10 weeks to train for it. Not joking. Vicki has her own nutrition business and, like most of my clients, is time-poor. But it was clear from our first Skype conversation that she has a steely determination and a huge work ethic. Of course she succeeded in fine style and that is a story in itself but what is also fascinating is her in-depth knowledge of nutrition and how her strategy worked brilliantly for her at the Etape and in lead-up outings. So, time to take off the kagoule, get the tin of beans opened, read on and try to ignore your dad shouting “Malham? I don’t believe it…”

Vicki Lee – an edited version of this post appeared this summer on the Wattbike blog http://wattbike.com/uk/blog/post/10_weeks_on_a_wattbike_to_conquer_letape_du_tour and this also features some of the training sessions she completed.

“I’m embarrassed now to admit that I hadn’t actually heard of L’Etape du Tour when I signed up for it.  I was sitting at my desk one afternoon back in November when a friend phoned to tell me there was a race in Annecy that I needed to enter that day or else I wouldn’t get a place.  “Why not?” I thought, it would give me the incentive I needed to get fit for a couple of beach holidays I had planned for that summer.  My new bike, a birthday present from my husband, was still sitting where I had unwrapped it a few weeks before.

In fact the bike continued to sit in my dining room, unused, for the next month.  The winter was miserable and there was no way I was going to take my first ride out in the rain on the London streets.  But I knew I ought to start some training.  I bought a turbo trainer and spent an hour every day pedalling away in the basement.  But boredom got to me and by the middle of February I was spending only a couple of hours a week on the turbo.  I was yet to get outside on the bike.  When I did finally ride outside I realised that clipping in and riding on the streets were very different from the turbo.  I was a nervous wreck on a bike.  In fact by 1st April I had ridden the bike outside exactly twice.  Things were not looking good for the Etape on 7th July.

A holiday in France in mid-April basically became make or break week.  At the start I could barely clip in on the mountain and had to be pushed off by my husband, by the end of the week I had cycled Mounts Revard and Semnoz (two of the biggest climbs on the Etape).  At this point I figured that if I could do them with virtually no training then if I was to put my mind to it and dedicate the next three months of my life to the Etape then I might be in with a chance of being able to do it.

Time was of the essence and the drive back home from France was spent devising a plan of attack.  By the time we reached London I had ordered a Wattbike and signed up with http://www.blackcatcyclecoaching.com.

Being a nutritional therapist the nutrition side was an easier box to tick.  I regularly devise nutrition strategies for triathletes, iron men and ultra-runners but this would be the first time I would use sports nutrition on myself.  I decided that I would use my training and preparation for the Etape as a project: to devise and implement a nutritional protocol to the letter, taking every food and supplement that would enhance my training, performance and recovery.  The protocol also included making all the lifestyle changes I would typically recommend to endurance athletes.  My mission became to prove the name of business: Nutritional Therapy Works (http://nutritionaltherapyworks.com/ ).

My brief to Tim Ramsden at http://www.blackcatcyclecoaching.com  was to devise a training schedule to get me fit for the Etape, based entirely on the Wattbike. Any “real cycling” would be viewed as a bonus. Vicki trained relentlessly on the Wattbike, undertaking specific climbing sessions sometimes twice a day and supplementing these with hill repeats in Highgate!

As a practitioner of Functional Sports Nutrition ensuring my underlying health was at an optimum level for such intensive training was the key.  I could not afford time out for illness or injury.  I kicked off the training program with a two-week metabolic detox, giving up a long list of foods including all alcohol, sugar, gluten and dairy products.  This was supported with specific anti-oxidants, to protect against free radicals generated during both the detox and excessive exercise.  Although I kept up my nutrient intake throughout the training program with a diet rich in protein, oily fish, fruits and vegetables I found I physically couldn’t eat the amount of “good stuff” I deemed necessary.  To get around this I supplemented key nutrients as well as making a pint of green juice per day and drinking fresh beetroot juice before each Wattbike session.  To boost my iron stores I ate liver every other day, supplemented chlorophyll and included 300g of spinach in my daily juices.  Carbohydrate intake was focused immediately before, during and after exercise using nutrient timing techniques.  To minimise the inevitable inflammation I boosted my oily fish consumption with Omega 3 oils and turmeric.  As the program intensified I supported ATP energy production with targeted nutrient supplementation and took several different magnesium formulations each day.  I used herbal formulas to increase my endurance and support my ability to cope with the stress of the exercise.

The Wattbike training was intense, particularly as I tried to fit it around my normal life.  This meant I was regularly up at 5am to train before my children woke, or trained late at night while they slept.  There was a period when I’m sure the children both went to sleep and arose to the sound of the Wattbike!  As the Etape got closer it was impossible for it not to take over my life. I seemed to wearing my heart rate monitor constantly and the washing machine was permanently full of cycling gear! Double training sessions meant I no longer went out in the evenings, which was probably a blessing for my friends as all I could talk about was cycling (surprising for most didn’t realise I even owned a bike).

To get some experience of cycling events I entered a couple of sportives (even I realised it wouldn’t be sensible for the Etape to be my first race) and was thrilled to find that the training was working.  I was among the fastest finishers both times.  This gave me the confidence I needed at just the right time, though it also served to change the goal posts in my mind.  Somewhere near the end of the ten weeks of intense training I realised that my initial goal of simply finishing the Etape had changed into finishing it in a respectable fashion.  I didn’t want to be climbing Semnoz with the broom wagon on my wheel……”

No broom wagon for Vicki – a stunning 7:49 ride and her nutritional strategy worked well for her…..it could for you too so if you are interested in what she could do for your sports nutrition why not check out http://nutritionaltherapyworks.com/ ? Now…where’s the tin opener….