Is it Spring Yet… April

April fool!

Ade's Road Cycling BlogI was up at 4am on the 1st April to drive down to South Wales – that’s a proper April fool for you!  Clear skies were nice enough but the temperature struggled to get above zero for the majority of the journey.  As I set my turbo trainer up in the car park of the HQ at Rhinos Rugby Club I could still see my breath even though the sun was up and shining.  R25/3H starts in an industrial estate and then joins a dual carriageway with a long downhill section.  The wind was behind us and so I found myself spinning out on 56-11 whilst doing around 45mph.  Even as the road flattened 32 mph was easily achieved without pushing big power numbers.  So the first 10 miles flashed by in a fraction over 19 minutes, the cold meaning my hands were already numb.  By the turn at 15 miles the clock was showing a little over 30 minutes.  Unfortunately, the last 10 miles would be back into the headwind and slightly uphill so this wouldn’t be the day where I PB’d.  The last 10 miles I averaged 25W more than the first 10 and it took nearly 24 minutes – 5 minutes longer!  Overall I was pretty pleased with my performance.  I managed to hold position and I felt pretty strong for most of the ride, although you always die a thousand deaths when you are slogging into a headwind.  25M in 53:23, 26th from 111 riders

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© Huw Fairclough Photography

Rain, rain go away

I was on holiday the next week.  Bank Holiday Monday rained from start to finish so I ended up doing a light turbo session.  On Tuesday the forecast was mostly dry with rain in the afternoon.  I went out early for a spin and the weather forecasting computer had obviously forgotten to put the clocks forward because I got soaked in the last hour of my ride.  On Wednesday I met up with old pal Chris and we rode the Monyash Peak Audax.  Again, the forecast suggested we might get wet at the end but it pretty much chucked it down from start to finish.

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Ominous heavens – soon to open and follow us for 65 miles!

The route is quite nice but it is extremely lumpy, managing to pack around 7,000-8,000ft of climbing into 65 miles or so – meaning it comes with 2.5AAA points.

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Some of the climbs were devilishly steep, covered in gravel and running water, meaning that traction was sometimes a problem, in addition to the fact that they were hard enough anyway!

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It’s been a while since I last rode with Chris so it was great to catch up on all the news and reminisce about all the fantastic rides we’d done before.  The cafe stop was very welcome – drying clothes on a wood-burning stove whilst eating scrambled eggs on toast!

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Drying out at the cafe. Soaked again 10 minutes after leaving!

It’s also been a long time since I last rode an audax – in fact it’s been about 3 years.  I last rode this particular one 6 years ago – read about it here.  Anyway, it was great fun despite being cold and wet – hopefully we’ll do something similar later in the summer when it’s a bit warmer and drier!

Half-arsed aero testing

As if to rub it in, the skies on Thursday were bright blue and cloudless, albeit it was still cold.  The big effort the day before (266TSS) meant I was never going to do much but I’d planned to go and do some rudimentary TT aero testing.  My original plan was to use part of the Seamons club 10 course on Swineyeard Lane but when I got there the lay-bys were full of road aggregate – presumably in preparation for forthcoming roadworks.  I drove over to Chelford and used part of the J2/3 course instead – basically down the A535 to Chelford and back.  It turned out to be about 7.5 miles.  I’d planned 5 or 6 runs but after the first one my legs were hurting and I was unhappy about the amount of traffic – lots of lorries on what is a relatively narrow country road.  So I just did one run with my S-Works TT helmet and one with the Giro Aerohead.  I’m clear that as a testing protocol one run with each on a busy road is pretty flawed but I just wanted conformation of what I was seeing in races.  Namely that however aero the S-Works is (and it is) the line of sight for me means I keep sticking my head up.  So the Giro, with a much larger field of vision and higher eyeline, allows me to keep my head in position much more.  Bestbikesplit (BBS) and Mywindsock (MWS) both seemed to confirm this with an approximate CdA difference of 0.02 on BBS and 0.01 on MWS.  A very rough rule of thumb is

100g drag = 10W = 0.01 CdA = 1 sec per km

So this difference could be worth as much as 10 to 20W or about 15 to 30s on a 10.  Notwithstanding that, the improved visibility the Giro gives me is a revelation so I shall be sticking with it.

When is a 25 not a 25…

The next race was on Saturday and was the first of the Cheshire 25’s around J2/9.  On the morning of the race the organiser emailed to say that the dreaded roadworks (the curse of Cheshire in 2017) had struck again.  The other 25 courses in the area were also affected so the race was shortened to a 10 using the J2/3 course.  I used BBS to model the race and it predicted that if I maintained an average power of 300W then I would record a time of 22:21.  However, this didn’t take into account the fact that I had been out again on the day before – making the most of my days off work – and so was coming into the race with a Training Stress Balance (TSB) of -5, which isn’t really recommended.

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Of course the forecast was for showers but it held off, although the roads remained very wet.  At the start it was nice to meet Robin who reads the blog – it’s pleasing to know that others get something out of it as well as it serving as an aide memoire to me.

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© Ellen Isherwood

It felt really hard and grippy.  My legs were hurting and it was difficult to really know from which way the wind was coming.  Anyway, I toughed it out and apart from a slight holdup at Chelford roundabout it was a pretty straightforward run.  As it was, BBS was out by only 6 seconds – which I think is quite impressive!  10M in 22:27, 7th from 78 riders (2nd vet on standard, £20, 1st team, £10)

A win’s a win!

The VTTA NW 10 is always held on a Tuesday afternoon.  Usually it is J2/1 but this year, thanks to the interminable roadworks, saw it being run on J2/3.

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The weather was damp and cold (again) and the traffic was much worse than usual presumably due to it being a weekday rather than a Saturday.  I was surprised how many lorries and HGVs there were on what are at best minor A-roads.  I suppose I shouldn’t be as I was here testing last week and I’ve ridden this event for the last few years.  Consequently I was slightly held up a couple of times but I imagine most of the field were at some point so it’s swings and roundabouts really.  I thought I’d pushed harder going out (into the headwind) but my average power coming back was a 10W higher – it definitely didn’t feel that way.  That said, the outbound leg included the turn onto the A535, the holdups and the roundabout so maybe that dragged the average down.  Anyway, I ended up within 1W and 1s of my time on Saturday, which at least proves I’m consistent!  It turned out to be good enough to win the event, both on actual time and on standard, so I was absolutely delighted.  That’s only my second open win ever and there is a strong chance it may be my last, so I was chuffed to bits. 10M in 22:26, 1st from 43 riders (1st actual, 1st vet on standard, 1st VTTA team on standard, £40)

Who’d have thought it all those years ago…

…back in 2009 when an overweight and unfit individual got a bike on the Cycle2Work scheme and started cycling the 5 miles to work and back that one day he’d appear on the all-time fastest 100 mile TT list, albeit at number 80.

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I certainly didn’t, but a very nice morale boost all the same now that this has gone up on the timetrialling forum.

The sun has got his hat on


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The BDCA 25 was due to run on the A25/11 course but due to roadworks ended up on the A25/11R version, which used part of the course several times.  The additional turns meant it was a bit slower, but for those of us used to J2/9 in Cheshire it was still fast!  It runs on the A50 dual carriageway and I know a lot of people don’t like DCs because the traffic is fast moving. However, compared to being passed by HGVs on narrow country lanes, I much prefer it as there is a lot of room and a lot of visibility.  Anyway, in terms of the race I went about as well as I possibly could at this time of year.  I put a lot of effort in, had decent enough power numbers and sustained them pretty well, despite my legs really hurting quite badly (my legs remained sore for most of the rest of the day too).  More importantly, it was really nice to race in relatively warm and sunny conditions after the weather we’ve been subjected to so far!  25M in 52:34, 12th from 70 riders

The week after was pretty eventful.  On a sour note I was hit by a car on my evening commute home.  It was on a straight bit of road with a cycle lane alongside queuing traffic.  At a joining side road a motorist clearly saw a gap in the traffic but not me, and so accelerated forward as I was almost level.  I was on my brakes anyway as I try to anticipate idiotic driving so I managed to stop quickly, which meant he “only” hit my front wheel, spinning the handlebars so that they hit my quadricep just above the knee.  He was very apologetic.  My bike wheel seemed pretty much okay, and all I had was some scraped skin, a growing bruise and a dead leg.  He then reversed back out of the road and only avoided hitting the car behind him because I shouted at him to stop!

The next night was the first Seamons Club 10 of the year.  Although it was a very pleasant 20C or so, it was windy and it felt very difficult, not least because I was pretty fatigued from training.  I was pleasantly surprised to manage 1st place (by only 1 second!) so that was nice, especially as I didn’t feel great.

On Saturday it was the Runcorn Cycling Club 10 and the 3rd race where the sun was out.  Seriously, you are spoiling us!

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It was still windy though and sections of the exposed Rainford course were a grind but I was happy with my race – power was okay, position felt good and only minor hold-ups at a couple of roundabouts.  When I started this game a few years back I never thought I’d be missing out on the podium (and a prize) because an Olympic gold medalist and former World Champion pursuit rider had beaten me by 27 seconds (Steven Burke MBE) but that’s the beauty of this sport. 10M in 22:36, 4th from 84 riders

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© Sam Carmichael

Normal service resumed…

The rain came back with a vengeance after the Runcorn 10.  I got soaked on my Sunday training ride and again during the week commuting to work.  And it was cold too.  At the moment my training is following the following rough timetable (including very short commute to and from work Monday to Friday)

  • Monday – easy turbo session
  • Tuesday – turbo – hard intervals
  • Wednesday – club 10
  • Thursday – turbo – hard intervals
  • Friday – off
  • Saturday – race
  • Sunday – 3hr-ish outdoor ride including hill efforts

Every 4th week is a recovery week where I substitute easy sessions for the hard intervals.

So my efforts in the club 10 on a Wednesday are usually on the back of a decent amount of fatigue – reflected in my power usually being about 10W down on what it should be – in fact I’ve noticed there is a correlation between how negative my TSB is and how many watts under my “normal” power I end up.

The final club 10 of the month was cold and damp, although we managed to dodge the rain.  I performed pretty much as expected but it’s always useful to try new things – for example I’m trying different clothing combinations to see if there is a difference.  As I mentioned earlier, anyone who does proper aero testing will balk at this because you need several iterations in similar conditions but it’s the best I can manage.  Anyway, I came 3rd overall and got a bit more data.  This may be the last Seamons Club 10 for a while as the course is scheduled for surface dressing over the next few weeks.  Then, a month later, it’s scheduled to be dug up again for gas works.  Only in the Britain!

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On Saturday the clouds were ominously dark and the temperature had dropped by 10˚C over the course of the week, just in time for the East Lancs RC open 10.  The J2/1 course is arguably the fastest course in Cheshire, assuming you don’t get stopped at Chelford roundabout and avoid the myriad of pave-like potholes, but the wind was also quite blustery.  Once I got started, however, it did feel quite quick.  I was aiming to have a negative power split because I was told the wind was harder coming back, so I was concentrating on keeping my pacing correct and my position as tight as possible.  It seemed to work because once I had turned for home I felt I had plenty left so I was able to push very hard on the inbound leg.  By the time I crossed the finish line I had recorded my best 10 power for some time – at least 2 years on a Cheshire course – and a course best for J2/1.  It was good enough for 4th place and I was definitely the fastest 50+ category rider.  The prize for 4th actual was less than the prize for 1st 50+, but under the “one rider, one prize” rule I ended up with the lesser prize, which is somewhat bizarre and if I am completely honest, a tiny bit annoying. 10M in 21:17, 4th from 83 riders (4th actual £10, 1st team, £20)

I managed to get out and about quite a lot more during May so I managed 663 miles outdoors with 37,653ft ascent at around 17.2mph average, which used up around 24,132kcals. This meant less time on the turbo so I spent 20 hours and 7 minutes using a further 14,012kcals. Total for the month was 3,176 TSS


March – Season 6 Begins (Despite Winter’s Best Efforts)

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Explosion in flourescent paint factory!  ©Craigzad photography

The worst weather in around a decade saw the temperature plummet to around -10˚C, resulting in the first of the season’s races being cancelled.

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A week later and the temperature had swung back around to 14˚C and the M&DTTA 10 went ahead in very wet, but warm, conditions.  Roadworks on all of the local courses meant we were racing on J4/20e – a course I’d not ridden before.  Warming up in the rain on a turbo in a muddy field just about sums up the glamour of the amateur time-trial scene.  The first race of the season is always a horror show as you reaquaint yourself with riding flat out in an aero position.  There’s only so much I can do on the turbo in preparation (putting aside the fact that I hate riding in position on the turbo) and so it turned out.  My position felt quite alien and I was way off the pace.  I mean a long way off the pace.  My armrests are narrower this year, which caused some shoulder issues I wasn’t expecting.  In addition, the non-countersunk bolts on my new armrests didn’t have sufficient padding and every bump (it’s Cheshire, there are a lot) sent a shooting pain into the bone on my forearms!  More padding needed – it’s thing like this you only find out through riding outside.  So I was uncomfortable pretty much from the off.  I guess it was therefore unsurprising when my average power was 20-22W down on the last 10 of last season, and 10-12W down on the same race last year (which itself was 20W down on  year before).  I did go off too hard but I ran out of steam fairly quickly and my legs felt pretty dead (and painful).  That said, the time was very similar, albeit it was probably a fast day (if you exclude sticking my head up too high because of the surface and a steamed-up visor).  Using and BestBikeSplit seemed to suggest my new position has a decent CdA and is therefore pretty aero if I can hold it.  But it’s at the cost of power which hopefully will come back as I adapt to it. 10M in 22:22, 6th from 47 riders (1st vet on standard, £20, 1st team, £10)

Clearly, with the amount of variables in software-based aero analysis, there is a limit to the accuracy of these figures, but it would suggest that if I can properly adapt to my new position and get back to decent power levels (which I know I can do easily out of aero position) then I should improve.  And if I needed a reminder of what it felt like to ride hard in my aero position it came the next morning – in the form of back-ache and pain in my neck.  Of course experience has taught me that this is short-lived and will only take a few more rides to sort itself out – which is what these March (and April) races are all about really.

Unfortunately, the weather turned again, with Scandinavian/Siberian winds blowing in the ice and snow for the weekend and resulting in the third race of the season being cancelled.  I was actually in mid-warmup on the turbo in the HQ car park when the call was made.  Strong winds and regular snow flurries meant it wasn’t safe to go ahead.

Thankfully the weather for the final M&DTTA 10 was relatively good.  This time the course was J2/20, which is mainly the same as J2/1 but with the start and finish on the J2/3 course.

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I felt much better this time.  Although my legs were very, very unhappy about it I managed to maintain a level of power not too far off what I was doing last season, and I felt a lot more relaxed in position.  On the way out I noticed a rider with a bloodied face being tended on the other side of the road and a bit further up I saw an ambulance heading in his direction.  Not great and a further reminder that riding a bike on the roads is always a risk unfortunately.  As I turned and headed back I was slightly held up by cars waiting to pass the now-stationary ambulance but it looked like the chap was being tended inside rather than whisked off to hospital – hopefully that is a good sign.  At the HQ I overheard somebody saying that he and a lady rider had collided (and both come off) after a car had startled one of them using their horn – I have no idea if this is actually what happened or just hearsay, but it doesn’t sound very pleasant at all.  Anyway, overall I was much happier with the ride.  I’m not sure I was very aero – I keep sticking my head up to see where I’m going properly.  I know I’m doing it but am struggling to stop it, especially around Cheshire because the road surface is appalling.  10M in 22:25, 9th from 54 riders (2nd vet on standard, £12, 1st team, £10)

Project 1849 is already dead in the water.  The Yorkshire District Committee of the CTT pre-empted any decision by the Highways Agency to ban cycling on the A63 by removing their support for any events to be held on V718 for the foreseeable future.  So that’s the chance of an 18 gone.  I might just rename it Project 49 now and concentrate on trying to do a 30mph 25.  Anyway, the Good Friday City Road Club event on the V718 was moved to the V714, which is just down the road but takes place on an out and back single carriageway road.

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The weather held, albeit very cold, and the surface on part of the course was absolutely superb.  There’s a pelican crossing near the end which could be a concern but it had 2 marshalls at it so it didn’t cause any problems as far as I know.  Overall the course was quite good and could be much quicker when warmer.  The headwind back was a bit of an ordeal and I’m a bit gutted not to get a 21, but I enjoyed it and will do it again. 10M in 22:01, 9th from 51 riders

March, like February before it, was another weather disrupted month, only allowing me to get in 354 miles outdoors with 18,405ft ascent at around 16.4mph average, which used up around 13,150kcals. I also spent 32 hours and 14 minutes on the turbo using a further 23,404kcals. Total for the month was 2,859TSS

Cheating in Sport – Follow Up

Did you know that in the very recent past, three Premier League Football Clubs, including current leaders Manchester City, have been charged and fined for anti-doping whereabouts regulation violations?

Nope, neither did I.

I imagine that if the best World Tour cycling team and two others were in the same position it would be front page news.

It seems I was not the only person to look to other sports in light of the Team Sky ethics/cheating debate that is currently raging.  The information above came from Lionel Birnie of the Cycling Podcast, who wrote this excellent blog post here.  It’s a great piece and I recommend you take a look.  He also has some posts on his relationship with Team Sky over the years which are also very much worth your time.

Cheating in Sport

It cannot have escaped most people’s attention that there is another storm in the world of cycling.  Many believed that after the Lance Armstrong “era” those days were behind the sport and that any future winners would be “clean”.  Prior to Armstrong cycling had long had question marks hanging over it, with many legends of the past the subject of suspicion, although it’s fair to say that Lance took it to the next level with an almost Mafia-like control keeping it as quiet as possible.  So when it all blew up, it exploded and many thought that was the last of it.  Indeed, success at the Tour de France from 2012 onwards and the continued cycling success during the London Olympics led to a lot of new people, possibly naively and particularly Brits, being attracted to the sport because of the (at least publicly facing) stance that Team Sky took against cheating.  Famously (maybe now infamously) when Team Sky were formed Sir David Brailsford, then just plain “Dave”, claimed they would win the Tour clean with a British rider within 5 years.

Fast forward and we have tales of mystery jiffy bags,  asthma and triamcinolon, asthma and salbutamol, disappearing medical records and finally a report from the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that has lit the blue touch paper again.

From the news headlines you’d think the report was just about cycling.  It isn’t.  The title is Combatting doping in sport.  It is 52 pages long of which cycling is covered in pages 19 to 32.  If you want to read it you can find it here

There are several reactions I have noted to both the press stories and the report itself.

  1. Team Sky, Wiggins and Froome are cheats and should be banned
  2. Team Sky, Wiggins and Froome haven’t broken the rules per se but ethically and morally they are cheats
  3. Team Sky, Wiggins and Froome haven’t broken the rules, they pushed the line which everyone does in sport – plus everyone else is quietly doing it too
  4. Any combination of the above whether you like or dislike Team Sky, Wiggins and/or Froome!

Several of my non-cycling friends have asked me what I think and the answer is, like most things, complicated.

Firstly, and the deliberate reason I titled this post “Cheating in Sport”, is that cheating is rife in every single sport.  Every single one.  For example, in every single Premier League Football match you will see one or more of the following

  • Diving to gain an advantage like a penalty
  • Feigning injury to get an opponent sanctioned in some way
  • Moving a freekick/throw-in forward to gain an advantage
  • Claiming a throw-in/corner/goal-kick even though the player clearly knows it isn’t his

Some people say it is gamesmanship, or pushing the line but it isn’t cheating.  Okay, what about injections?  Quite often a star footballer will “play through the pain” in a key match by having painkilling injections and they will receive plaudits for it.  The difference between that and a cyclist taking asthma medication is what, exactly, other than context?

But taking drugs to enhance performance is different right?  I suppose it is.  By the way, here are some figures from the UK Anti-Doping agency (UKAD) website.  They are numbers of UK athletes currently banned for doping offences

  • Cycling – 7
  • Football – 3
  • Rugby Union – 17
  • Rugby League – 12
  • Weight & Powerlifting – 7
  • Athletics – 4

It seems to me rugby has a bigger problem than cycling but nevertheless cheating is widespread.  What is a fact as I write this, is that none of those 7 cyclists is either Bradley Wiggins or Chris Froome.

The new head of the UCI, David Lappartient, has come out and said taking anything to enhance performance is cheating.  Er, I best put that strong espresso down then because caffeine is one of the few things scientifically proven to enhance athletic performance.  Even as a mediocre amateur racer I am bound by the UKAD rules that say I am responsible for what goes in my body and can be tested at any race against a set of banned substances.  But I do drink coffee.  Am I pushing the line?  Am I cheating?  What about creatine for footballers, athletes and rugby players?  Beta-alanine?  Bicarbonate of soda?  None are on the banned list but are routinely taken by athletes to enhance their performance (not me, I might add – I stick to the coffee).

Froome may yet get banned and people will continue to question the intent behind the use of medication by both him and Wiggins.  Was it for medical reasons or was it to enhance performance?  Very few people know the actual truth and it is a massive grey area – the area of intent.  So in the end most of what you read on the subject, here and elsewhere, will come down to opinions.

For what it’s worth, my view is that I am torn between wanting to believe it was all above-board, a mistake or some strange physiological trait in the case of Froome (who would cheat so blatantly when leading a Grand Tour when you are guaranteed to be tested?).  However, I do think that the line was being pushed by Team Sky.  Was it too far?  In most cases I’d say it wasn’t, but for Team Sky, with their holier-than-thou raison d’être it definitely was.  In the main I just feel disappointed and let down and I don’t believe Brailsford can survive.  He was either cheating or incompetent – both are untenable.

I will leave you with one final thought which I heard from François Thomazeau, occasional guest contributor to the Cycling Podcast (I saw their book tour at the Lowry recently – it was excellent!)  He says that doping is a legal issue, not a moral issue.  So you either break the rules, or you don’t.  Nice and simple – only it isn’t really, is it?


Motivation, Mind Games and the Power of Failure

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I’ve read a number of books on the subject of mental strength and self-improvement in my attempts to become the best amateur cyclist I can be.  Some of these have been profoundly useful whilst others less so.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t originally get on with “The Chimp Paradox” by Professor Steve Peters – he of British Cycling.  Not for me inner humans, chimps and computers the first time I read it.  In fact I stalled part way through.  However, the more I think about it, the more I realise I probably should give it a second chance and a re-read because it does provide methods to help cope with wider issues such as anxiety and unwelcome thoughts and feelings.  Maybe there is an irony in there – my inner chimp acted impulsively and got me to stop reading the book and now my human is taking control (this will only mean something to you if you read the book!)

“Black Box Thinking” by Matthew Syed is a good book but is really a different subject area – it is more about the process of improvement borne out of failure.  As somebody who has spent the last few years learning as much through my own trial and error it certainly resonated with my own experiences.

One other area where I’ve read quite a few articles and studies is the Central Governor Theory, where the brain is the limiter rather than the muscles.  I guess you could call this mind over matter.  Much of this theory is based around the premise that fatigue is simply the sub-conscious brain creating a perception or feeling in order to moderate the amount of damage you do to yourself – a bit like a valve.  This is where books like “Dig Deepest!” by Adam Topham and “How Bad Do You Want it” by Matt Fitzgerald come in, as they basically support this premise and then cover ways and means of pushing past it.  In the case of Fitzgerald, he refers to these as coping strategies.

At the moment my training is going quite badly, which is not where I really wanted to be as the season starts.  I have a stack of data that tells me it shouldn’t but it feels really hard.  I know, I know – training is meant to be hard.  The data includes figures that define my Chronic Training Load (CTL – it’s high ✅) and my Training Stress Balance (TSB – it’s positive ✅).  I should be flying.  But in terms of rate of perceived effort (RPE) my training feels harder than it should do.  And in addition my Heart-Rate Variability (HRV) has taken a worrying tumble (by the way, the last time it did that I was ill the week after so fingers crossed it’s just a blip).

So it is clear that physical conditioning is not the complete picture.  There is a massive psychological side to it as well.  And I don’t just mean during actual races.  To get yourself into the best condition requires great motivation and dedication to map out and stick to a plan at the macro level, but then during each individual workout you have to have the mental strength at the micro level to push through the discomfort (and yes, pain) to make the gains necessary to drive adaptation in physiological systems.  And it is that micro level that I’ve been struggling to sustain in the last few weeks as the intensity has stepped up.  My coping strategies in the past have included

  • Setting challenging goals
  • Remembering success and the feelings that come with it – repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Event visualisation – pre-riding a race in my mind, especially the last hard effort, with positive outcomes
  • Lying to myself – “One more minute and I’ll stop.  Okay, just one more minute…”
  • Fear of failure – use of social media (and this blog) to publicly state goals and intent
  • Reward – if I get to the end of this session then my reward will be…

Repetition plays a big part.  It’s important to repeat successful behaviour but also to avoid unsuccessful behaviour becoming a habit.  Just not bothering, or finding excuses for giving in can become habit forming, so I’ve always found it better to just get on with it and stick with the plan.

That all said, these last few weeks I think I’ve overreached a little bit as the strategies haven’t really been working, so I’ve decided to dial back the intensity a bit and rebuild some confidence.  You only really learn when things go wrong, so hopefully this will let me take one step back to then allow me to move forward again.

February update

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Well the cold snap has continued this month. The first weekend was a write-off – sleety rain on the Saturday forced me onto the turbo but I was determined to get out on the Sunday as cold as it was. However, I turned back after 10 miles because the roads were icy and I didn’t want to risk a fall. So I made do with 20 miles outdoors and then a bit of a turbo session to finish off. During the week on my commute, the mercury dropped as far as -5C which is, as they say, a bit nippy.  The following weekend was no better.  Rain, sleet and strong winds on Saturday.  Ice, hail and settled snow on Sunday and Monday.  Two more weekend days on the turbo and the tram to work on the Monday.  To cap it all my commuter bike was having freehub issues (kindly repaired/replaced by KeepPedalling) and I got my first p******e for ages on my backup Raleigh touring bike.  This turned out to be a large shard of glass that went right through my usually-bulletproof Schwalbe Marathon tyres.  Needless to say, in near zero temperatures, changing the tube was somewhat painful, mainly due to trying to get the tyre back on the rim!

After a brief respite (albeit remaining cold) the weather took a turn for the worse as we approached the end of the month, with a strong Easterly wind bringing in cold air from Siberia.  As is usual with any weather event in the UK, the media and associated meteorologists went overboard with tales of “feels like” temperatures of -10C and the “beast from the east”, but for once it did actually snow and lived up to the hype, stopping me commuting by bike.

As I publish this it has been compounded by a storm hitting from the south bringing strong winds that are making it feel even colder.

In other news, as I mentioned last month, Highways England had issued a TRO to ban cyclists from the A63, thereby removing the fastest 10 mile time-trial course in the country (V718) and any chance I had of #project 1849 being a success. I, and many others including the CTT and Cycling UK (formerly CTC), wrote off our letters of objection as per the official process and waited with bated breath to see what would happen.  The date for objections was then extended into March so it is still unclear whether this course will be available for racing in 2018.

At the start of February I attended the Seamons Cycling Club 69th Annual Awards Dinner and was presented with the trophies I’d won during the 2017 season. Here’s a picture of me with the Club President

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and one with the trophies I received during the evening.

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Overall a very satisfying year at the club and a great event to round it all off.

Training hasn’t been great. I somehow strained my hip flexor early in the month (I think – I had pain at the front and top of my right thigh) and that made things more difficult, although it did seem to recover.  To compound it, I am definitely finding VO2Max intervals much harder than I used to (intervals of between 2 and 4 minutes duration at between 120% and 115% of FTP).  I’ve definitely done less work in zones 4 and 5 this year than last – I hope this isn’t significant.

I swapped the old road bike I had on the turbo for my TT bike.  I’ve made some contact point changes to my bike for this year including a Specialized Sitero saddle and new angled Zipp Vuka 110 extensions.  I’m hoping this will improve comfort and allow for a more aero position but my expectation is that it will take me most of March and April to adapt to it properly.

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Very little chance of hitting this number in aero tuck

I re-tested on this bike using the new position and it seems to have cost me a small number of watts in power.  I’m hoping that as I adapt that will come back but I doubt I will be able to get all of the power out in the aero position if past seasons are any indicator.

To cheer me up and help keep me motivated I’ve now entered all my planned events for March and April. When the race list comes out in January I use post-it notes to plan in potential races on a wall planner and then Sharpie them in when I book the race.  A simple but effective way of making sure I keep track of what I’m planning and what I’m actually entering.

Finally, as I post this my first race is only days away subject to the snow/ice clearing, which is by no means certain.  I’m not sure I could have trained harder over the winter and my aim isn’t to peak for a while just yet, so although I’m nervous I’m excited.  As this is season 6 I know from experience that the first few races will be horrible so my expectations are quite low, especially as the field for the first race is a quality one.  We shall see.

In February the weather only allowed me to get in 342 miles outdoors with 20,584ft ascent at around 15.5mph average, which used up around 12,920kcals. I did, however, spend 32 hours and 54 minutes on the turbo using a further 23,660kcals. Total for the month was 2,830TSS

Happy New Year – January Update

January often feels like the month that never ends.  The post-Christmas blues, dark and miserable, cold and wet.  Not the most inspiring month in the calendar so it is easy to lose focus.  Add in the poor weather that leads to a couple of weekends stuck indoors on the turbo going stir crazy.  However, on the positive side, the days start to get a little bit longer and the number of weeks until racing begins drops into single figures – so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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Towards the end of the month I had a nice lunch at the M&DTTA annual luncheon and prize presentation and also picked up a few medals and team trophies as a result of last season’s endeavours.  On a personal basis I came 2nd in the M&DTTA BAR, 12hr and Middle Distance Championship (1st veteran on standard) and 3rd in the 50 and 100 mile championships.  As part of Seamons teams we won the 25 mile Tom White trophy, the 100 mile South Lancs shield and the LH Brooks cup for the 12hr (pictured above and below).  Events like these provide further motivation, if needed, to continue with the hard work, and to catch up with people you haven’t seen since the end of the race season.

In terms of my training, at the end of December I came out of  my base phase and started speed and power work.  VO2Max and supra-threshold intervals came as quite a shock to the system.  I found them really hard.  Harder than I remember, but then I hadn’t done a proper one since the end of last season.  I’m still finding them really hard and that I need the recovery day after completing a session.  Whereas in previous years I would have ignored a recovery and done back-to-back sessions, this year I have resolved not to be as stupid!  I’m hoping that will pay off but as with all training, only time will tell, and it’s fair to say I’m having a bit of a training wobble at the moment.  There is an old saying that races are not won in the summer, they are won in the winter – winter miles, summer smiles!  Hope so – things are going well with power edging upwards and I’m a lot lighter than this time last year.  The big question is whether I can transfer the gains from the turbo to the bike – something which proved difficult last year – so no complacency here.

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As an aside to training I watched the final evening in the Revolution series at the Manchester Velodrome.  I was interested but didn’t have particularly high expectations because track racing is not really my “thing” but I have to say it was absolutely brilliant.

The young riders were especially impressive, but it was good to see great Olympic and World Class riders like Jason Kenny, Katie Archibald, Dani Rowe and Elinor Barker. I really enjoyed it and will probably go again the next time it comes around.

Finally, Project 1849 looks like it may stall before it even starts!  Highways England are looking to ban all cyclists from the V718, which is realistically the only course where I was likely to even get close to a sub 19 minute 10.  It will be a shame if that happens, but we live in a car-centric society where the answer to cycling safety is to ban the victims rather than address the actual issue at hand.  I will write more on this subject as it unfolds.

In January I managed 345 miles outdoors with 20,292ft ascent at around 14.9mph average, which used up around 13,357kcals. I spent 35 hours and 2 minutes on the turbo using a further 25,521kcals. Total for the month was 3,088TSS

Project 1849 – Season 6 Goals

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As I write this the start of my season is only 8 weeks away so my thoughts have turned to goals I want to achieve.  Accepted theory is that goals should be SMART

  • Specific – check ☑️
  • Measurable – check ☑️
  • Achievable – hmmm…
  • Relevant – check ☑️
  • Timely – check ☑️

So here’s the thing.  I’m not sure I’m capable of achieving these goals.  Time, and physiology, is not on my side (unless I suddenly develop asthma 😂)

An “18 minute 10” and a “49 minute 25”.  Project 1849.

To be clear, that is to complete a 10 mile ride in 18 minutes and 59 seconds or less – which means riding for 10 miles at more than 31.6mph.  And similarly complete a 25 mile ride in 49 minutes and 59 seconds or less – which means riding 25 miles at 30mph or more.

My current bests are 19:39 and 51:40, which equate to 30.53mph and 29.03mph respectively.

About 1mph in both cases.  It doesn’t seem like a big increase but in reality it’s massive.

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I put both of my PB rides into BestBikeSplit.  This is a tool that takes your power, the profile of the course and the ambient weather conditions at the time, and then uses complex mathematical models to estimate your CdA (the aerodynamic drag of a rider).  You can then use the aero analyser to adjust aspects of your ride to see what the impact might be.

In reality I can either increase my power, or decrease my CdA.

The figures suggest that if all things remain equal I need to add around 20W in both cases and I don’t think I can increase my power that much.  My tests over the winter so far suggest that I can’t and I’m training as hard as I can.

I have a new position on the bike but I have been unable to test this so far so I don’t know if I can decrease my CdA.  However, let’s assume that I can by a small amount (I was pretty aero before).

Therefore I might, just might, be able to do combine a smaller increase in power with a smaller decrease in CdA.  If I catch the right ride on the right day, I might have a slim chance.  But it will rely on riding fast courses so I will have limited opportunities to do so.

I also have other specific goals which will be similar to previous seasons and revolve around PBs, Club and Local Championships and VTTA competitions.

All of this will be a big stretch but isn’t that what challenging goals are meant to be?

A Chill Wind Blows – December (and 2017 overview)

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Much of December was taken up with Sweet Spot Base 2, which means long turbo sessions at various intervals in the “sweet spot” – somewhere around 88-94% of FTP.  I say somewhere because a) everybody has different physiology and b) there is no such thing as exact levels or zones as it is really a continuum.  Anyway, what is true is that the sweet spot intervals are meant to be tough but manageable with relatively short recovery intervals between them, and the training effect comes from an accumulation of fatigue.  By the end of the 5 week period it was pretty hard going and I was ready for a recovery week just in time for Christmas.

In between I managed to squeeze in some outdoor rides as well as my daily commute to work – and I hit a personal goal of doing every single commute in 2017 in shorts!  I did think one day that riding to work with the temperature on my computer showing -4C was bad enough, but the very next day it dropped to -6C.  Did I mention the shorts!  In conditions like that the commute isn’t so bad as it uses very busy arterial routes into Manchester and therefore they are well gritted.  It’s a different story at weekends though and the risk of black ice has forced me to stay indoors and ride the turbo.  It’s something I don’t mind for training during the week but it’s a bit soul destroying having to do it at weekend, rather than be out in the fresh air.

The downside of having a recovery week just before Christmas was not just the opportunity to gain weight (I ate a ridiculous amount of the wrong food) but also the fact that the Sustained Power Build phase of training would start immediately after Christmas – with the opening FTP test on Boxing Day!  The test felt really tough and it showed a very slight improvement (2W) over the previous one; albeit not quite as high as at this time last year.  However, I am using both a different test protocol and a different power meter this year so there will be differences.  Last year I used the 8 minute protocol, this year 20 minute.  Last year I used Garmin Vector pedal power meter readings, this year Tacx Neo’s reading from the hub.  In theory, drivetrain losses (the difference between power at the pedal and power transferred to the hub) should mean my readings this year are 2-3 % lower anyway – so as long as I am improving relatively this year I’m happy.

In December I managed 410 miles outdoors with 26,995ft ascent at around 15.8mph average, which used up around 14,997kcals. I spent 33 hours exactly on the turbo using a further 24,217kcals, which just about covers Christmas Day! Total for the month was 3,437 TSS

My summary for 2017 is in the infographic above – I used canva to create it which is pretty cool.

I wish you all the best for 2018.  Happy New Year! 

November and Season 5 (2017) in Review

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VTTA Manchester & NW 2017 Awards Luncheon

Season 5 Roundup

I raced slightly less this year due to a number of reasons.  I was ill and forced to miss some races, I had a DNS (mechanical) and some races were simply cancelled due to roadworks – probably more than all of my previous seasons combined.  In the end I competed in 33 open races in total.  Doing fewer races probably contributed to me being more competitive at the end of the season in comparison to previous years, where my form and fitness were dropping off a cliff, especially after the 12 hour.  This year the 12 hour seemed to give me a form boost, which was a pleasant surprise.  That all said, I still raced for 1,393 miles at an average speed of 25.7mph, which used around 53,190kcals – a decent wedge of cake!  That’s made up of twelve 10s, one 15, ten 25s, six 50s, three 100s and a 12hr.  (I don’t include club 10’s as I treat them as training – but there were a further 14 of them)

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Freezing cold and wet in August – British Summer! (© Ellen Isherwood)

At the start of the season I’d had my best ever winter training and my numbers on the turbo were better than ever.  I’d also done some testing and had a new position that was pretty aero.  It was disheartening to then find out that I couldn’t transfer either the power numbers or the racing position to where it really mattered – in races!  My times were fine – in fact I posted course bests on many occasions – but the improvement I’d been expecting just wasn’t there.  I struggled on for a bit, adjusting my position to see if that helped, but in the end I realised that I wasn’t going to significantly increase my power in races during the year, and I could only edge towards the aggressive aero position, so the only other option open to me was to better manage my weight.  My thinking was that this would increase my W/Kg figure and my VO2 max but also reduce my frontal area to increase my W/CdA.  It would also hopefully allow me to maintain a more aero position for longer.  So I set about using an app called myfitnesspal to monitor my net nutrient intake.  In previous seasons I’d entered the season at race weight and then not really bothered about it during the year and I’d find that my weight drifted up so that at the end of the season I’d be as much as 3 or 4kg heavier.  I performed some tests in May at the University of Chester (read about it here) and I got a bit of a rude awakening due to my weight and bodyfat %.  Anyway, the results of taking it seriously are there to see

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Weight & Bodyfat % during Season 5 – 2017

I managed to lose a significant amount of weight and bodyfat.  My power dropped a bit as expected but my times and performances improved, and eventually the power returned.  In monitoring my food intake I’ve found I’m eating more – but it is generally better food, although I haven’t been going without treats or feeling deprived.  The net result is I’m now about 5kg lighter than I was earlier in April/May.  For what it’s worth, in April I rode a 10 and averaged 305W at 67.5kg, or 4.52W/Kg.  The last 10 I rode I averaged 304W at 61.2kg, or 4.97W/Kg.  I don’t know what the fastest riders are riding at but I suspect it’s nearer 6W/Kg which at my age is not going to happen!  And I’m not sure if 61kg is taking it too far so I’d be happy to maintain wight at anything around 63kg (10st) going forwards (which is where I am now).

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A rare hot day! Courtesy of and © Ellen Isherwood

In summary it felt like an up and down year.  If I average my results out I probably did slightly worse this season – I certainly only managed 2 podium places versus 1 win and 5 podiums the year before, and my percentage of top ten finishes was about 5% lower.  And I lost the Cheshire Points Series by 6 points rather than 4 – the gap is widening (although Ben must be nearly 20 years younger than me!)  He also beat me into 2nd place in the M&DTTA BAR as well, but at least a bronze medal last year becomes a silver this time.

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Last year 4 points, this year 6!!

I did manage to set personal course bests on most of the courses I’ve ridden this year, and I’ve had a very successful season with the VTTA Manchester & NW group, winning the BAR and a number of other trophies.  It’s always nice to see your name engraved on a trophy that goes back many, many years although I still feel out of place next to many of the names also on them.

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What has been clear is that everyone has moved on and it’s getting harder and harder to keep pace so I guess I should be satisfied, especially given that I’m getting on a bit!

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The dreaded roadworks appeared more than ever!

As mentioned above and frequently this year, roadworks have featured more often than I can remember in any previous season, resulting in changed courses and cancelled events.  The weather has felt worse too.  It’s definitely been wetter than last year and although there haven’t been more very windy days, there have hardly been any days where there was no real wind to speak of.  It seems like wet and windy summers are the new norm so I guess we’ll just have to get used to them.

So what of my targets for the year?  Well, I hit some and I missed some.

  • New PBs at all distances ridden with the exception of 10M – I missed that by 5s
  • I wanted power PBs at all distances.  I only managed those at 50M and 12 hour
  • I wanted to win the M&DTTA Cheshire Points Series – I came 2nd again!
  • I wanted to win one of the VTTA M&NW trophies which I did, including the BAR
  • I wanted to win the main Seamons club competitions – I won the Timetrial and BAR (Best All Rounder) but came 2nd in the Club 10 Series
  • I wanted to set a club record which I duly did and I only narrowly missed a couple of others during the season
  • I wanted to win at least one of the club championships and I managed to win the 25, 50, 100 and 12 hours (which is an improvement on last year when I won the 50 and 12 hour)
  • I wanted to finish top 20 in the UK Best All-Rounder (BAR) competition.  I was 22nd with an average speed of 26.027mph across 50M, 100M and 12 hour (versus 35th in 2016)
  • I wanted to win more prize money than 2016 – I fell slightly short but still won over £700

In addition, I was delighted to be part of a winning team on 11 occasions – I’m very proud to ride for Seamons CC, a club with a long and rich TT history.  I was also part of the teams that broke the club team records for 25M, 50M, 100M and 12 hours.

I don’t get a lot of satisfaction in my professional life these days so I make no apologies for taking pride in the things I’ve managed to achieve, and even in those where I have fallen short – because I know I gave it my best.  The key, as with everything, is hard work, application and effort and as I’ve said before – if I can do it, so can pretty much anyone.


My November training has been going well.  I completed Sweetspot Base I and started Base II – I managed to record a modest FTP increase in the 6 weeks.  I’m down on power versus this time last year but up on W/Kg (see above!) and I’m taking it more steadily this year and managing my own expectations.  I did suffer from some knee pain after a couple of long rides one weekend only to notice that my seat post had slipped and dropped my saddle by over 1cm.  It’s a lesson I’ve been taught many times – a sudden onset of pain is usually the result of some form of equipment change or malfunction.

In November I managed 425 miles outdoors with 25,430ft ascent at around 15.7mph average, which used up around 15,954kcals. I spent 32 hours and 50 minutes on the turbo using a further 23,629kcals. Total for the month was 3,178 TSS

This will be my last post before Christmas so I’ll take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful and happy time.  And if you are riding the Rapha 500, good luck and stay safe.