Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, enhancing, performance
I just found out I’m a doper. That’s right, me. Doped to the EYEBALLS. WIRED on the latest candidate for PED status. Nope, not GWR4920 (though getting a lift on that would certainly move me up a few Strava leaderboards). I’m out of my MIND on thyroxine. This, of course, explains why I BURST onto the CX scene last season from NOWHERE and, er, well. Yeah.
Thyroxine definitely improves my performance, mostly because I have an underactive thyroid and tend to fall asleep at 4pm without it. So I’ve got a note, and everything.
However, now I’ve Crossed The Line, I feel fully qualified to start dishing out advice on performance-enhancing substances. Here is my list of tried-and-tested supplements to give you that competitive edge.
- Ibuprofen. Best taken after CX training sessions, as it dulls the pain of the bruises from practising those pesky remounts.
- Vitamins. These are EXTREMELY important for effective recovery. An apple should do it.
- Coffee. Sadly, I can’t personally vouch for the effects of caffeine ingestion on performance, as I gave up drinking proper coffee last year. (Me: God, these HEADACHES. I can hardly SEE. Boyf: Maybe it’s the coffee? Me: Don’t be daft. It can’t be the coffee. (It was.)) However, the psychological boost of downing a couple of (fake) espressos before charging over to the start line is not to be underestimated. Especially if you do it while wearing your Rapha top, squinting slightly against the sunlight.
- Music. A bit of jolly salsa in the car on the way to a race can put you in the mood (or, alternatively, enable you to kid yourself that you’re going to be fine, and you really can’t possibly need another wee). More importantly, persuading the kids to sing LET’S BAKE A CAKE! at the tops of their voices all the way home will stop you falling asleep at the wheel after all the Trying Hard you’ve been doing.
- Beconase. If you’re lucky, you’ll have got rid of that lingering cold just in time for hayfever season to start. Ventolin might be frowned on, but a crafty snort of Beconase lets you tackle the grassiest summer ‘cross courses without fear.
- Sedatives. Alcohol is not recommended on race day itself, but if you’re haunted by memories of last year’s Brighouse course, a bottle of Rioja and a couple of whisky chasers will help you get to sleep the night before you tackle it this year.
- Protein supplements. Well, you can’t have a nice bottle of Rioja without a bit of cheese, can you?
- BreatheRight strips. These are ESSENTIAL for optimal performance. Attach one to your partner’s nose, and get a decent pre-race night’s sleep for once.
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, tips, training, turbo
So, winter. Proper winter, too, with snow and ice and freezing winds and two and a half hours of daylight* and all that. Around this time of year, a young [cough] cyclist’s thoughts turn to staying inside out of the ruddy weather, FGS, thank you very much, what do you think I am, crazy?
But sitting around eating cheese footballs and watching Masterchef only appeals for so long. While Christmas is traditionally a time for getting our fitness baseline right down so that we have something to work on in the New Year, by February most of us are surveying our rears in the mirror with growing distaste, unfriending people on Facebook because they’re on holiday in Tenerife, and biting anyone who suggests we might just go out for a little walk, you know, to clear our heads?
The solution, of course, is folded up in the corner of the spare room: the turbo. I’ll confess to a bit of a love-hate relationship with the turbo. I owe it a lot. My first winter of turbo training** revolutionised my cycling. The following summer, instead of trailing up French climbs throwing mental grenades at @spandelles as he disappeared over the horizon, I actually beat him up Mont Ventoux. (‘I’ve created a monster,’ he said ruefully over pizza that evening.) The turbo kept me sane during pregnancy, when I was dutifully trying to keep my HR down so as not to boil the baby, or whatever was supposed to happen if I exceeded 135bpm. When I gave myself an arch strain jumping around the kitchen in my socks to LCD Soundsystem*** and couldn’t run for nearly a year, the turbo saved me from going postal.
Despite all this, turbo-ing can be a depressing prospect. However, with a few tweaks to your routine, you CAN enjoy your turbo session. Based on extensive personal experience, here are my top tips. You’re welcome!
1. Have a playlist with some fast tracks on it, and some REALLY fast tracks. Choose ‘shuffle’, and try and keep up with the music.
2. Do 20/40s, or 30/30s, or 10/10s, or whatever other heinous alternation of sweating and wheezing you can muster.
3. Sing. This is the one time that singing along to your ipod is completely acceptable. (If you can sing along to ‘I Will Always Love You’, mind you, you may not be working hard enough.)
4. Take advantage of those inevitable trips to go to the loo/ answer the door/ get your towel/ check your @mentions by honing your cyclocross skills: dismounts, remounts and getting your feet in and out of the pedals at speed can all be practised on the turbo. (Well, maybe not the remounts. See ‘wonder why your arse hurts’, below.)
5. Fine-tune your raceface. Take a few pictures on your phone, to check yourself out. Make sure that your raceface is sufficiently distinct from your sexface. You don’t want your race pictures showing up on those sites, again.
6. Observe the functioning of your body under stress. Wonder why your elbows/ wrists/ knees sweat so much (delete as applicable). Try to get your HR into zone 5. Try to get your HR back down out of zone 5. Wonder if anyone will miss you if your drop off the turbo stone dead, or if you’ll be discovered three weeks later with the cat eating your face.
7. Think about bike fit. Does your arse hurt because your saddle is too high, or because you’re wearing your shortest shorts? When you’re in TT position, can people see down your top? (You’ll need a mirror, or a friend, for this one.)
8. Have a really brilliant idea for a blogpost/ million selling book/ dastardly world domination plan that you can’t write down. Forget it by the time you get in the shower.
* I may have been watching a bit too much Borgen, here
** by which I mean, riding my bike attached to the turbo; ‘training’ is overstating it a touch
*** When I told the doctor this story, she looked at me and went, ‘Idiot.’
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, dismount, remount, skills, training, women
Well. I’d been off work (and the bike) all week with sinusitis, and in a MASSIVE sulk as Sunday approached and I didn’t seem to be getting any better. But then on Saturday afternoon my fairy godmother appeared in the kitchen in a puff of WD40, dressed head to toe in Planet X kit. She waved a track pump at me and declared ‘You SHALL go to CX training with @sparkieturner and @crossjunkie!’ And miraculously, my head cleared, and I grinned like an idiot.
Sunday dawned beautiful, bright, and dry. I hefted my bike onto the car with the minimum of swearing, changed three times (longs? shorts & legwarmers? 3/4s?), and threw the rest of my cycling wardrobe into the back of the car (just in case). The boys hugged me distractedly, one eye on Charlie & Lola at all times.
Mark and Alan are keen to get women into ‘cross, and they’d rustled up a number of bright-eyed girls from Cycle Sport Pendle (CSP) for this session. Then there was @trio25, and me, and @waterrat77 and @millsphysio, who’d (impressively) got hold of CX bikes the week before and immediately entered Cyclists V. Harriers.
A bit of discussion about tyre pressure – and a mass letting-out of air – and we were off to practise remounts. Getting my leg over the saddle at slow speeds still eludes me, so I cheated and went straight to jog ‘n’ hop, which works, even if it’s not elegant. We then combined this with dismounting; everyone made a lot of progress very quickly, much to my dismay (avid readers will remember how many HOURS I spent falling off while practising this).
@crossjunkie got the sticks out and constructed a barrier, then videoed us all trying to coast up to it, dismount smoothly, hoik the bike up and over and leap back on without losing momentum. Here is @millsphysio, a complete newbie, doing it perfectly. I’m not jealous. Not at all.
We practised hoisting bikes onto shoulders without whacking fellow competitors in the face (my secret weapon, according to a video @spandelles took of me at Keighley), and running with them through the dog poo. There followed a discussion about shoulder bruises and the acceptability of sewing Joan Collins-style pads into your jersey. @crossjunkie said this was fine (it’s good enough for Rapha, anyhow) but if any of us put pipe lagging round the top tube he would disown us.
Then we were off for a ‘bimble’ (@sparkieturner’s word; it makes it sound so jolly and effortless, doesn’t it) through the woods. Towneley Park really is lovely, and even when your shoes are full of muddy water it’s a terrific place to ride your bike around. We picked up some pro tips on riding in the mud (weight back; stand up slightly; pull on the bars; pedal smoothly; be confident), judging lines (try going round the outside of churned up bits; standing water probably means there’s a hard bit underneath, so a good place to ride) and keeping your momentum up (when to get off and run; when to shoulder your bike, and when to push). We finished up with a bit of downhilling (the short sharp shock variety). Next time, we’re going to ride @crossjunkie’s CX loop, which has ‘everything’, apparently. Can’t wait.
Many thanks to Mark and Alan for this session, which was friendly, fun, unintimidating and packed with useful stuff. Everyone had made visible progress by the end, and we all left with grins on our faces. Brilliant.
- CSP are running a women-only race as part of their CX event at Waddow Hall on 15 December. It would be brilliant to have as many women as possible entering, to support the event and show the demand for this kind of racing, so please circulate the details far and wide!
- Thanks very much to Alan (@crossjunkie) for the photos and the video.
- And here is @trio25‘s take on the training session.
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, tips, training
Guess what? I’ve been doing some ROAD biking. I know! I’m as surprised as anyone. And I’ve been enjoying it! And getting better at it (these two are not unconnected, naturally).
Avid readers will remember me: I’m the one who took up cyclocross as a way of avoiding road riding. Road riding was dull, cold, depressing and dangerous. So whence the volte-face?
It’s not the weather, for sure; that’s been as rubbish as ever. No new steed: I’m still riding my ‘cross bike (complete with mudwrestlers, despite @spandelles threatening to put road wheels on it. I’m not keen; I like a bit of off-road optionality). I HAVE got some new kit, which is clinically proven to make you ride up to* 53% faster: I am looking the part in new (bargain) shoes and new (half-price) shorts. I even have a jersey with some pockets in it, for my tracker bars and lipsalve.
But the real reason it’s all going better is I’ve discovered the SECRET of TRAINING. Yes! Really. Get a pencil! It can be summed up as follows:
Try A Bit Harder.
To be more specific:
- Try and ride faster, all the time. On the flat? Change up a few gears, get down low and pretend you are Michael Hutchinson. Uphill? Someone shouted at me from a car as I was grinding up a hill, ‘Pedal faster!’ He was right.
- Pretend you are Emma Pooley, or Ellen van Dijk. Attack your imaginary bunch relentlessly on climbs. Try to pass someone in real life. Try to stay away.
- Do something counter-intuitive. When the going gets tough or you start feeling tired or bored, don’t slow down. Try harder. Up the pace. Get out of the saddle. Change up a gear.
- Don’t pace yourself, or worry about running out of steam. Just go for it as much as possible. I was stunned to see that I could completely bury myself on a short effort, then be ready for another one a minute or two later.
The completely unexpected side-effect of this approach is it is RIDICULOUSLY good fun. I ride around grinning like an idiot, puce in the face, sweat dripping off me. I shout SHUT UP LEGS! at myself, and sing going downhill (usually just as someone awesome on a Cervélo is passing me). I beam at other cyclists; they give me almost imperceptible Yorkshire head nods of recognition. I no longer feel like a fraud when pro types wave at me, because I am trying really hard. I can’t walk down the stairs when I get home, but I feel like I could conquer the WORLD.
I just need a bit of lunch first.
* statistics experts will note that the term ‘up to’ includes the number 0**
** this joke (c) Monty Python
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cold, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, doctor, headache, illness, tips
So. I was all set! Then an unscheduled visit to the doctor put paid to my racing plans. I’ll spare you the details, but antibiotics and painkillers are on the menu, and riding is off, for a bit.
Nevertheless! All clouds really DO have a silver lining: I have secured a medical expert* to illuminate our kvetching about minor illnesses. Below, she answers some common questions put to her by anxious athletes. Mahlzeit!
- Am I getting a cold?
- Can I stop myself getting colds?
Probably not. Washing your hands a lot is supposed to help. You could try a Neti Pot, though this carries a small chance of your brain being eaten by amoebas. Don’t bother with squirty First Defence-type stuff; it’s so horrid, you’re better off with the cold. (See also: indigestion, and Gaviscon.)
- I feel terrible. It’s flu, isn’t it. Oh, god.
- Can I still ride my bike with a cold?
Received wisdom states that if your symptoms are above the neck only, you can go out and exercise. In real life: STAY IN YOUR HOME. It won’t kill you to have a couple of days off. If at all possible, stay away from work too. And public transport. WE DON’T WANT YOUR GERMS.
- Can I make my cold go away more quickly?
No. However, fun cures are 43% more likely than sensible ones to give you the illusion of getting better. Fun cures for colds include:
- Sitting on the sofa in your dressing gown, flicking through Vogue and eating Mini Eggs;
- Hiding under the duvet, reading something by Michael Hutchinson;
- Spending an entire day on Twitter, trying to get @cyclingweekly to RT you;
- Drinking hot milk with whisky in it;
- Watching films, as long as they are the kind your partner doesn’t like;
- Eating raw garlic, and opening the door to the postman with an enthusiastic ‘HHHHALLO!’
- Herbal tea
- Daytime television
- Healthy people
- Is this headache a migraine?
If you have tunnel vision, or a flashing viper is coiled around the side of one eye, take two paracetamol, turn off your phone and go to bed IMMEDIATELY. Other migraine symptoms include feeling like your scalp is a Medium while your skull is a Large; bursting into tears when asked anything complicated, like whether you put a wash in; and an inability to string a, you know, what do you call those things. Sentence! An inability to sent a stringtence together. Yes.
- Should I see a doctor about this scratch on my leg?
If you can see bone, or it looks green, or black, yes. Otherwise, wash it and put a plaster on it, and hope for the best. Note: if you are from Yorkshire, go to A&E immediately so they can sew your leg back on.
* Well, she SAID she was an expert**
** This joke (c) Monty Python
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cycling, cyclocross, diary, food, nutrition, training
Well. I may not have been down the park practising my remounts just yet, but I’ve not been shirking. I have been TRAINING*. And getting hungry.
So. Sports nutrition! As you know, sports nutrition falls into three categories:
- Things you eat before you go out
- Things you eat while you are out
- Things you eat when you get back
I present here a detailed breakdown of these three categories, based on my extensive experience of eating and drinking the wrong things at the wrong times.
- Eating before you go out
This is the most important bit (apart from number 3, which is possibly even more important). Eat before you go out training. While some people swear training on an empty stomach encourages your body to use up fat stores, this has to be nonsense. Even crazy cabbage-soup-dieters know you need breakfast. Have some.
What to eat before you go out:
Porridge is recommended by lots of people. However, the high water content may mean you need to stop for a wee every ten minutes, which is inconvenient in bibshorts. Bananas are good, if you like them. Bread has a reputation for giving runners, well, the runs; but this may be worth it, for a bacon butty. @spandelles swears by eating an apple before riding about 90 miles. OK.
Note: Possibly more important than what you have for breakfast is what you ate the night before. Curry consumption has been shown in extensive testing** to be correlated with running very well the next day. And no, not for the reason you think.
- Eating while you are out
Drinking while going along is fine. Unless you are on course for a national 10-mile TT record, however, stop before you eat anything. Whether @Velominati approve or not, eating while riding along is only cool if you can do it without hitting the kerb and going over the handlebars. And take your wrappers home with you.
What to eat while you are out:
Even no-hopers like me can get away with a bit of energy drink while riding. As you zip past, passers-by will probably confuse you with someone who knows what they are doing. Avoid energy gels, sports beans, yogurt-coated technical filth bars and suchlike, though, if you are a bit rubbish. They’ll just emphasise to you the gaping chasm between you and Proper Sportspeople.
Instead, take something pocket-sized with you, and eat it. Tracker bars, fairy cakes, those strawberry fruit bars you buy for the kids’ lunchboxes, and chunks of bagel are all good. Anything with a bit of chocolate in it is cheery and motivating. Try to remember to eat something before you start wondering why you are bothering, you hate cycling anyway, bloody sunshine, what on earth are you doing, and snarling at riders who wave at you. These are classic symptoms of The Bonk, and mean it is already too late.
- Eating when you get back
On this, I’ll refer you to @Doctor_Hutch, who states correctly here that ‘you can’t leave eating till you’ve had a shower, done your hair and made some stylish selections from your wardrobe.’ However, the need to eat has to be balanced with the need to get out of your horrible sweaty rain-soaked kit immediately, before you lose your toes to frostbite. The best solution is to make a snack while your bath is running, then combine refuelling with decontamination.
What to eat when you get back
A yogurt and a cup of tea in the bath. Then have some normal lunch as soon as possible.
** in my home laboratory
Tags: advice, beginner, biking, cross, cross-training, cycling, diary, tips, training
So, remember all that remounting practice? I bashed my shin pretty hard on the pedal a couple of times, and thought that was why my lower leg and ankle hurt while walking afterwards. But I went for a run on the Sunday and ouch. Ow, ow, ow. Ankle pain. Had to walk home. Iced it and strapped it up and, well, it’s getting better slowly I think but, urgh. Very frustrated as I don’t dare to run or jump, so ‘cross practice (never mind racing) is off the agenda for a bit. Bah!
And what of you, poor blog readers, anxious for the next instalment? Well, it’s a well-kept secret, but if you look away for a moment while I nip into this Portaloo, I’ll emerge as… Training Tsarina! Here, this week only, to answer your training and injury queries*. Fire away!
Dear Training Tsarina: I know everyone says cross-train, but do I have to? I’m a cyclist! Running is for nutters! And if I swim, people might think I’m a triathlete! Thanks, @HeadDownIntoTheWind
Dear HDITW: Think again. Not only does monomania make HDTIW a dull boy, cross-training lessens your risk of overuse injuries. It also means that if you pick up an injury that stops you cycling, you may still be able to run or swim instead, so you won’t go nuts. And I know you hate the gym, but if you can find something you can bear to do indoors this is a real bonus, as you can still do it when it snows.
Dear Training Tsarina: Stretching is for wusses, isn’t it? Yours, @BunchedCalves
Dear BC: Many people shun stretching, thinking it is only for hardbody gymnasts and attention-seeking minor celebrities. But stretching helps to avoid weird aches and pains brought on by tight muscles pulling your body about, and also means you decrease your chances of having to walk sideways down the stairs the next morning.
Hey, Training Tsarina! I’ve discovered running! It’s brilliant! I’m doing fifteen miles a day! I feel great! Marathon next week! Love, @KeenAsMustard
Dear KAM: For you, the golden rule of training: Try harder, but just a little bit harder. The guy who ran my Uni circuits class used to bellow at us, ‘If you want to get FITTAH, you will have to work HARDAH!’ This is true. But suddenly doing loads more than you are used to ends in tears and pulled muscles. Add a little extra loop to your run; do a few more lengths of the pool. Don’t go mad.
Dear Training Tsarina: I’ve got my routine down pat now. Treadmill Monday and Wednesday; weight training Friday; long run Sunday. Trouble is, I’m bored stupid. And I don’t seem to be getting any fitter, or losing any more weight. Yours, @CreatureOfHabit
Dear CoH: Surprise your body. If you always do the same stuff, week in, week out, your body gets good at it, and stops adapting, and you stop getting fitter. Do something different: go for a hike. Or a swim. Or try yoga, or Pilates.
Dear Training Tsarina: Pilates? You’re joking, right? @NotGwynethPaltrow
Dear NGP: Be open to ideas. One of the best things I ever did was take up kung fu. I was the only girl in the beginners, and I had somehow overlooked that the main point of martial arts is hitting people. Ouch. But it was brilliant: I got stronger, and faster, and had a laugh. Even just a small change can be fun, like leaving your iPod at home and reading on the cross-trainer instead. Give it a go: it might work.
Dear Training Tsarina: All the training manuals say you should get out first thing in the morning. Trouble is, I can’t function before I’ve had poached eggs on toast and two cups of tea and read the paper. Do I have to? It’s making me miserable. Love, @NotAMorningPerson
Dear NAMP: Here’s the most important principle bar none. Work out what you and your body like, and do it. Don’t feel like you have to go running every day if it makes you grumpy and tired, even if Shirley from no. 42 does it and she seems fine. If you like short bursts of effort, but keeping going for hours on end makes you sad and lonely, don’t feel you have to do Audax riding. Be nice to yourself. Enjoy what you do.
*Of course, you are thinking to yourself, ‘Why should I take training advice from @accidentobizaro? Isn’t she, well, a bit crap?’ This is true. But as @spandelles points out on his blog, Proper Training Advice from Successful Athletes can be enough to make you hang up your SPDs in despair. No doubt you have lots of tips for me, too; I’d love to hear them. There’s a comments box just down there for them. Ta.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to my virtual training buddies, @mmmaiko, @CycleHermit and @stuckinoregon, for fun and thought-provoking conversations on these topics. All errors and idiotic pronouncements are my own.