April 19, 2016 at 11:53 am | Posted in barbershop, barbershop, music | Leave a comment
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Harmony College weekend started with a bang – literally – when I walked into a doorstop in the Premier Inn bathroom on the Saturday morning and broke a toe.

Liz [with a grin]: It’s been sent to take your mind off how nervous you are. It’s a GIFT.

It was true I’d spent the previous week trying not to be sick. LABBS Harmony College is a weekend of learning about barbershop, and listening to it and singing it and talking about it and thinking about it. A whole weekend. Sounds blissful, right? But a class called A Cappella Show & Tell was looming large in my nightmares. It was JUST what I needed to move me on with my arranging, except I’d only ever shown my work to people I could trust not to say, ‘Blimey! Well… it’s… um… interesting.’ As the weekend drew closer, I printed out seventy-three different arrangements and decided none of them were actually any good at all.


The boiz realised I was nervous and gave me this to wear

Liz went off to be awesome on the Directors’ Stream and I was on my own. Luckily, Heather Lane couldn’t have been more supportive and friendly. I was cheered to realise that not every arranger has fourteen music degrees and wanders around murmuring to herself about subdominant progressions using the tonic seventh. (Only some of them.) In fact, arrangers seem to fall into two groups: those who think in terms of the notes on the page, and those who rely on their ears. Each types values (and slightly envies) the skills of the other, and I realised arranging didn’t have to be me on my own with my computer; it could be a collaborative enterprise.

Once this was over, I relaxed and I learnt BAGS of stuff including FINALLY understanding the circle of fifths*, primary harmony** and musical themes*** (all of which you need in order to arrange a song Properly Barbershoppily). We had excellent fun pretending to be Music Category judges, watching DVDs with proper LABBS score sheets in front of us and trying to agree on whether performances were 59s or 61s. I imagined my mouth as a nave, or maybe a piping bag, in the Understanding Resonance class with Alison Thompson, and tried to judge videoed quartets on their singing. We wrote a tag collaboratively under Delyth Knight’s tutelage, with me going ‘Dah dah dah dah’ (singing the chord I wanted) and the rest of the class going ‘C E G Bb’ (#earsversusnotes).

the mix quartet HC 2016

The Mix, giving it the beans

Liz and I ran into utterly fabulous The Mix quartet, and sweet-talked them into letting us watch them warm up for their coaching session. (Sandra: You two are so funny. You’re sitting there, like [makes face of scarily unsmiling slightly stalkerish audience member]. Me: We’re CONCENTRATING.) The coaching-under-glass was fascinating – I was awed by their ability to take a piece of advice from Doug Harrington or Sandi Wright and immediately integrate it seamlessly into their performance.

We cheered the Quartet Stream participants, showing off what they’d learned over the weekend, and sang Bohemian Rhapsody en masse, and Doug taught the whole College a tag: ‘It would be great if we could keep it in D.’ Sandi inspired us to think differently about performance, and our beloved Sally McLean’s session on platforming brought everyone to raucous laughter and tears within about two minutes of each other.


Liz taking notes on how her part goes for the tag. This may be cheating #baritones

It was the first time I’d been away to a barbershop event without the White Rosettes massive, and it was weird without the formidable wave of #RosetteLove propelling me from one place to another. But it meant we talked to other people. We found out about barbershop dynasties, splits and shenanigans and other types of derring-do up and down the country. We caught up with the Barberettes who’d come to visit us in rehearsal a few weeks ago (‘I can’t believe how hard you guys WORK!’). We drank wine and formed a bass-heavy quartet. (We don’t need you, tenors. No sirree.) We sang with Norwich Harmony and Cheshire Chord Company in the bar, and a friendly bass warbled in my ear so I could try and sing along. Barbershoppers really are a lovely lot.

I came away feeling inspired, and that I had the tools to have a go at stuff. Liz and I drove back up the motorway listening to the Jackson Five and James Brown, playing Spot The Theme***** and working out the chords: ‘One. Five. One. Four. Five. One.’ I’m currently barbershopping The Pink Panther at the rate of about one bar an hour, and working on resonance in my upper range and providing good support for my singing (principally by trying to remember not to bop around with excitement while quartetting). Huge thanks to LABBS and to the Voices in Harmony Foundation, who awarded me a grant to attend Harmony College; you can read my slightly-more-sensible writeup in the upcoming edition of Voicebox magazine.


Tools of the trade… Everything I need to know is in this book****** [clears diary] [cracks knuckles]

* I strapped it up and channelled the legendary Jane Ford, who broke her wrist and was back on stage with the Rosettes a couple of days later sporting a black silk sling.

** It’s all about the sevenths. Why does nobody mention the sevenths?

*** Delyth Knight described primary harmony as ‘the points where a rubbish guitarist accompanying herself would be FORCED to strum a different chord.’

**** The theme is the point of the song: lyrical (the focus of the song is the lyrics), rhythmic, harmonic or melodic.

***** Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine is a song about how they are going to sing the song, and therefore in its own theme category. This is possibly why it’s not a popular choice for quartets

****** Many thanks to Helen Ring and Alys Galloway for the delivery of this awesome tome.


The hills are alive with the sound of Kraftwerk

April 27, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Posted in cycling, music | Leave a comment
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Some embrace the technological side of training. Until they’ve uploaded their Garmin file and downloaded their power data, their ride didn’t really happen. For the rest of us, impecunious, ill-equipped yet improvement-hungry, there are more basic measures such as rate of perceived exertion, where you judge which zone you’re in based on your words:panting ratio in conversation.

However, if you mostly cycle unaccompanied, these scales are inadequate: riding along talking to yourself tends to attract unwanted attention. Happily, Top Boffins at the University of Richmond and Ealing (URE) have come up with an alternative for solo bikers, the Richmond Assessment of Vocal Exertion – Objectively Normalised (RAVE-ON). This protocol is easily administered by even the most unscientifically-minded: simply match your level of effort to your ability to sing a set of well-known tunes.

No pictures of Whitney on a bicycle were available. So here’s Kate, instead

Level 0. Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You

Level 0 is rest. Pumping up your tyres. Shaking up your Science in Sport. Going for fifteen last-minute wees. Full of hope for the joys of the ride ahead, you may wish to sing your bike a love song. This one will do nicely. (Classical fans may substitute Handel’s melancholy ode to kit malfunction, Dove sei, amato bene? (‘O, where are you, other armwarmer?’) if they prefer.)

Marc contemplates how much cooler he’d look leaning up against a bike


Level 1. Soft Cell – Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Level 1 is your warm-up. Long on drama, short on breath control, emulating Marc Almond’s singing is ideal for maintaining a steady pace while perfectly articulating the abject horrors of raising your heart rate, trying to persuade your legs to go round, and resisting the urge to get off and go home at the end of your road.



Level 2. Kraftwerk – Tour De France

At Level 2, you’re properly warmed up. Your breathing settles easily into that familiar HUHH! HAHH! rhythm, yet you can still control the legato phrasing on ‘Sprint finale à l’arrivée’. Make sure your accent remains Audrey Tautou-esque: veering into ‘Allo, ‘Allo territory is a tell-tale sign you’re working too hard.


Level 3. The Jam – Eton Rifles

Level 3 is getting harder. The three-to-five-word phrases typical of Paul Weller’s oeuvre are all you should be able to manage as your breathing shortens. Staccato delivery and narrow vocal range also characterise this level, particularly when climbing out of the saddle. On the plus side, spitting and growling are likely to be interpreted by passers-by as simply part of your gritty rendition.

Level 4. Bee Gees – Staying Alive

At level 4, you’re working hard. You can still produce most of the chorus (hah! hah! hah! hah!), though the sustained efforts of the verse should be beyond you. As a bonus, many men find working at the top end of level 4 enables them to achieve the hitherto inaccessible falsetto range.


Level 5. James Brown – I Feel Good

At level 5, you won’t be identifying with the themes of this song. Instead, you’ll be laughing hollowly at the idea of ever feeling normal, never mind good, again. In fact, your reproduction of this song will be limited to the initial OWWW! Which is, in itself, probably the best summary of the state you’ll be in.

temple newsam lying on ground

Beyond beginnerism: building an inclusive cycling culture

March 12, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Posted in cycling | 23 Comments
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I read Collyn Ahart’s piece on beginnerism, and got a bit confused. I found things I agreed with, and things I didn’t, and things I didn’t understand. I may have the wrong end of the stick entirely but I wanted to respond.

I agree that a lot of stuff that’s aimed at women is aimed at beginners. This seems to be to be because there’s a genuine appetite for it. Women want it. Not all women, of course. But the success of Breeze rides and women-only initiatives of all sorts suggests that there’s a substantial number of women who *do* want this kind of stuff. I know women who want to ride without feeling that they are holding everyone up, who’d like to learn to adjust their gears without feeling patronised by the blokey atmosphere of most bike shops, who feel more comfortable taking what are to them challenging steps in the company of other women. This is how they feel. How can we tell them that’s wrong?

Personally, I’m not tempted to go out riding by the promise of cupcakes and girls-only giggles and a glimpse of Vicky Pendleton. Here in Yorkshire, the women scare me more than the men do. In ‘cross races, I’m generally battling it out with Mesh Insert Man at the back of the field; my female competitors have left me for dead in the first lap. Going out riding with a bunch of women here doesn’t generally involve much gossiping.

Me on the start line

The author, about to watch the rest of the women’s field disappear in a cloud of dust

So I’m not the target market, maybe. But there are beginners, and beginners. What about the next steps? What if you think you might like to race, for example?

If you read cycling magazine advice, they tell you to go out on the club run to develop bunch riding skills. I know women who do this, who go out with their local club, but they are very strong and very fast, fast enough to keep up with the lads sprinting for signs. I’m not that fast, and my self-belief is fragile; what doesn’t kill me, instead of making me stronger, mostly makes me weep and think I’ll just give up biking and take up crochet instead. I don’t seek out women-only events; I like men, I like racing and training for ‘cross with men, and some of the most helpful, encouraging and unpatronising advice I’ve had has been from men.

But I went to women-only road race training, and it was brilliant. The reason it was brilliant was not because it was full of women; it was because I was among peers. People at roughly my level. People who were a bit better than me at some stuff, and not as good as me at other stuff. I fitted in. I’m sure there are men out there who are at the same level as me, who I could ride with happily. But, just as ‘men who think they might like to have a go at racing’ are probably at a similar level to each other, so are ‘women who think they might like to have a go at racing’. We all need to find our level, and this is a simple way of judging it.

I’m bothered by the lack of opportunities to progress beyond the Breeze rides-and-cupcakes stage. I’m bothered by how difficult it still seems to be to find support and training for women in a sport that is so dominated by men’s racing. But I can see the green shoots appearing. The first CDNW women’s cat 2/3/4 road race this year had 64 finishers. SIXTY-FOUR. That’s nearly twice as many as last year, mostly because of road race training events like the one I attended. Last year I attended a BC women’s velodrome session that was bursting at the seams with good road riders keen to have a go at something new. Where were all these women the year before? What were they doing? Perhaps it does take a women-only session to make people think ‘Well, maybe I WILL have a bash at that’. At the moment, the culture of cycling is overwhelmingly male. Paying attention to women’s participation at all levels of the sport – not just beginners, and not just elites – will help to build a cycling culture that’s about all of us. But I don’t think this will happen without a clear focus on opportunities for women to progress, and this means (almost by default) that we end up defining ‘women’s cycling’ as something separate, something different.

In order to create a cycling culture that is inclusive of men and women, we need to define what is missing. Otherwise we are just assimilating women into the existing culture. That’s where people like @_pigeons_ and @Cyclopunk and @festinagirl come in, detailing and documenting and ranting and raving about the inequalities that still exist, and the fantastic, thrilling contribution that women’s cycling can make to cycling culture in general. We need to rewrite cycling culture, and to do that we need to recognise clearly what is absent from it. Then (I’ve argued this before) we can progress to a place where women’s-specific magazines and advice and events are redundant, and we define ourselves by the kinds of bikers we are. And our newsstands will be filled with these publications instead:

alt mags

Race ya

January 12, 2014 at 7:02 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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The fifth of January sounded perfectly reasonable when I signed up for a women-only road race skills session a couple of months ago. But Christmas came and went in a blur of port, crisps and Junior Monopoly, and suddenly I was getting up at improbable o’clock in the DARK on a freezing Sunday morning, struggling into sixteen layers of cycling kit and packing sandwiches, snacks, and any other warm clothing I could find into the car. I nearly left without my bidons as (in an uncharacteristic fit of organised-ness) I’d stashed them in the fridge the night before. Off to pick up @VicandLib and @1fishonabike. F-f-f-f-f-f-f.

It was good to be the designated driver, as otherwise I’m almost certain post-Christmas torpor would have set in and I’d have decided I didn’t want to go. I’m extremely happy this didn’t happen, as we had the most excellent time. Heather Bamforth had sent us a comprehensive set of instructions on what to bring (helmet, food, helmet, extra clothes, helmet, bike, don’t forget your helmet) and the structure of the day. We rolled up to see lots of young, athletic-looking chicks getting dropped off by their Dads, and resigned ourselves to representin’ the Old Crox wing [complicated handshake, followed by muttering about arthritis in fingers]. But when we got down on to the circuit, it was clear that the group were a happy mixture of ages, experience and fitness. In a few minutes, Huw Williams was trying to get thirty (thirty!) excitable women to calm down and listen.

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‘AWRIGHT TAMESIDE!’ Huw needs a Madonna mike

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Hastily-grown beards protect us from the cold

Tameside is a purpose-built traffic-free circuit, about a kilometre long, with corners and little inclines and a bit of grass (should you overshoot a corner and find yourself doing some impromptu cyclocross). It’s great fun to zip around. We spent three hours practising all kinds of skills, with Huw, Hannah Walker (from Epic Cycles-Scott Contessa Womens Race Team), Carley Brierley and Heather offering their expert advice. Some highlights:

  1. Riding in little groups and changing position (front rider goes to the back and so on). Avid readers will remember I am incapable of riding on someone’s wheel without grumbling HELPHELPHELPHELPHELP the whole time. I was still doing this to start with, but gradually it got easier, and I learned to look up and through the rider in front, which is a lot less panic-inducing than staring at their back tyre. (It also means you see corners coming, which is useful.)
  2. Cornering. I was hoping I’d be all right at this, having spent the summer practising for ‘cross. YESSS! Can’t tell you how terrific it feels to be good at something, and to get complimented on it (thanks Carley).
  3. Riding around in a big group being paced by Carley at 15mph, then 18mph. This came near the end, and I was thrilled to find myself riding in a bunch at speed, spotting gaps, trying to pick through the crowd, within elbowing distance of everybody. Never thought I’d have the courage to do this, and it felt so utterly PRO I could hardly speak for excitement.
  4. Mini-races (about 15 mins long). Yup, you know it’s serious when I finally take off my zippy cyclocross warmup trousers. Overtaking people on corners! Being overtaken again on the straights (damn)! Shouting ON YOUR RIGHT! Still haven’t really got the working-with-people bit sorted out, but golly, this was fun.
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l-r Carley (foreground), Hannah and Heather dispense #protips

We did a lot of other things, but these are the bits that stick in my head and make me grin to think of them. I made such a lot of progress in three hours. All the same, it was quite a relief to get into the relative warmth of the classroom. Freddie made us all a cuppa (life saver) and Huw did the Science Bit: what we need to know to improve our fitness and prepare for racing. There was LOADS to think about here, particularly as Carley and Heather were giving examples from their own experience of training, coaching and racing. Invaluable stuff, and plenty of lightbulb moments.

I came away keen to have a go. CDNW are organising several races just for 2/3/4 cat women this year, and Heather, with her irresistible enthusiasm, insisted we’re all capable of racing. One thing she said to the group sticks in my mind: ‘If YOU all show up to a race, you ARE the race.’ Of course. How simple. So come on, fellow hopeless people. Show up with me, and we’ll have a go together.

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Grinning is not part of the training but it’s hard to resist

There are two more sessions: Rhyl on 19 Jan 2014 and Blackpool on 02 Feb 2014. They’re filling up fast, but if you’re interested, you can read about them and sign up here.

Pictures by very kind permission of Fred Bamforth.

A bit more about the coaches here:

Huw Williams

Heather Bamforth

Carley Brierley

‘Cross diary 28: I pump up my tyres and I oil my chain

June 19, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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So, you know me. I’m the one who likes getting muddy, and toiling up slopes with my bike on my shoulder, and falling off on singletrack. I do a bit of running. I ride on the road when I have to, mainly to try and get a bit fitter for ‘cross.

But something weird is happening to me. I’m turning into a ROADIE. I find myself idly browsing forums, looking for views on Look vs. Time pedals. Someone goes past on a Dual and I think, that’s the one with the mudguard eyes. I wonder whether I need different handlebars. I still can’t do anything useful, like adjust my gears, but I nod sagely as the boyf tells me that clunk-down-two-gears-at-once-and-have-to-go-up-a-gear-again is a common Campy problem. I start to refer to Campagnolo as ‘Campy’.

Campagnolo Support Van From 1976

Of course, there’s a simple reason for this. Avid readers will remember me buying a new road bike. A part of me still feels embarrassedly ‘all the gear, no idea’ when I’m getting ready to go out on it. Everyone’s pointing and laughing at the slow chick on the cool bike, right? But this evaporates as soon as I am riding it, because the FUN takes up all of my brain.

Nevertheless, it strikes me I lack skillz. I mostly go out on my own, and the tricks of group riding are mysterious to me. (Until recently, I thought ‘through and off’ was when you wobble up the inside of a line of stationary traffic, then topple over at the lights because all your library books are in one pannier.) So when @sparkieturner volunteers to run some women-only skills sessions at Seedhill athletics track*, I know this has my name on it.

We have all sorts of laughs. Mark sets out the cones and we wobble in between them. (Well, I wobble; Lucy manages to nip in and out of them without knocking over a single one.) I practise. Mark moves the cones nearer to each other. It’s like the Matrix. I am Neo. Suddenly, I start to believe that the back wheel will follow the front one. I do it perfectly, raise both hands from the bars in jubilation, and don’t fall off. No-hands riding, too, then. There is no spoon.

We do partner work, passing each other bottles while going along, or giving each other a friendly push. We learn that elbows-out riding is just like that bit in Dirty Dancing. We try to learn to trackstand, to impress our kids.

josh tall bike trackstand

Most funly, we try to go FAST. I’m scared of this on the road. OK, I’ve been doing my TT-for-one, creaking up to Todmorden and back, trying to break 33 minutes for 10 miles. But I don’t dare go for it properly, as buses have a habit of suddenly appearing in front of me. Indecisive sheep loom out of the fog. Potholes materialise like gateways to Hades. Whizzing round a running track turns out to be the answer. The bike wants to go fast, and now I can let it try, safe in its artificial world, where the only thing holding us back is the indignant screaming of my quads and the howling headwind in the back straight. We do through and off in a little group. I’m so excited I keep forgetting to yell CLEAR! and the person behind has to do it for me. We push the pace up and SPRINT for the line, each lap. I’m right down as far as I can get, chin on the bars, pretending I am Cav (the boyf remarks later, ‘You’re just a 12 year old boy.’) I notice that I can wind the sprint up a bit and catch Lucy for the line, even when she starts ahead of me. This feels so utterly PRO I can hardly breathe for glee.

 Blue Blur Route

There’s a lot to learn. I’m still scared to get on someone’s wheel (though I’m getting used to the slightly unsettling feeling of staring at the bum in front of me). I have no idea how to position myself coming into the sprint, and I push far too big a gear, ‘cos I can’t think about changing up in the middle of it. I STILL can’t get my left foot into the DAMN pedal. But, astonishingly, I’m not terrible at this. And that makes me too happy for words.

* You’ll remember Mark from the terrific cyclocross skills sessions last winter. There are still a couple of weeks to go on the women-only road skills course: Fridays, 7-9pm, Seedhill Athletics Track, Nelson, BB9 7TY. Just show up with your bike. £5 a session.

‘Cross diary 26: I crunch my numbers

April 30, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Posted in cycling | 5 Comments
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I’m on Strava. I KNOW. Get me! It’s all highly scientific. I’m uploading all my rides, and checking myself out. I got my heart rate up to 162 on the turbo, the other day! And I beat my PB on one segment (though, admittedly, I did have that modern equivalent of a hen’s tooth, a tailwind up Cragg Vale). Garmin overestimates my calorie expenditure; Strava underestimates it, I reckon. I split the difference, and work out how many eclairs it equates to.

People are following me, mad fools. Not sure what they are expecting. Mostly I suppose it makes them feel a bit better about themselves, as I struggle through the week, running slowly, and cycling weakly. I ride 10 miles in 35 minutes; somebody gives me kudos. Bless them.

My friends in other parts of the country are busy amassing QoMs. There’s not much chance of that round here, what with all the demonically fast women Yorkshire seems to nurture. This got me thinking: how am I, a bit rubbish and Not Trying Very Hard, supposed to compete with these Amazons? How can Strava include us, the Crap Ones, and give us a bit of a chance? A level playing field, if you like? Of course, I’m not suggesting we dope (I’m already up to my eyeballs in that, as you may recall). No! Instead, I propose some modifications to the Strava interface.

A new Handicap feature will allow you to modify the details of your ride to take into account the particular conditions that we all know affect performance:

strava excuses cut down

For individual segments, you will also be able to filter results to include only riders who are similar to yourself:

strava exclude speedy

So, fear not! No more will you have to attach comments to your ride, saying how the sun was in your eyes, and you weren’t ready. Strava will work out your handicap for you, and move you up the appropriate leaderboard. Bon courage!

herbie green's cartoon resized

Cartoon by @HerbieGreen. Reproduced with kind permission.

‘Cross diary 23: It’s raining turbots

February 28, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Posted in cycling | 2 Comments
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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?

Rainy Day

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.’

‘Cross diary 22: I ride with some PEOPLE

January 15, 2013 at 3:36 pm | Posted in cycling | 6 Comments
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OK. You remember last time? I vowed to go out and ride with other people. My first opportunity was Friday night, at an informal CX skills session in Todmorden park. Riding over there just before 7pm, I was thinking, ‘God, I’m tired. I mean, I’m REALLY tired. What am I doing this for? It’s cold, it’s dark. I’ll have to wash my bike afterwards. Gah.’ And to be honest, if I’d been on my own, I would have turned round and gone home again. But the thought of seeing the #CXChix* kept me going.

Todmorden Park

When I got there, the Chix were already riding round and round the kiddies’ mini road layout (good cornering practice. And hilarious). We charged over to the other side of the park to find somewhere to practise dismounts & remounts. Hopelessly overexcited, I immediately toppled over. (I did turn my pratfall seamlessly into a TJ Hooker-style somersault; all that falling-off practice I did last year finally paid off.) Sweetly, the Chix managed not to laugh. We set out my orange mini-cones and did a little circuit, jumping on and off and leaping over imaginary barriers. We tried (not very expertly) to teach @CorinneKielty to do it. Then we rode up and down steep banks in the pitch black, which was BRILLIANT, and much easier than doing it when you can see (I’m just going to close my eyes in races from now on). We looked unsuccessfully for some steps to run up, and did some cornering between the bowling greens. We laughed and shared tips and supported and learnt from each other. It was almost tear-jerkingly lovely.

Deuce and Adam

The next morning, I was up early for my second #RidingWithPeople experience in as many days! So keen! Ali (@millsphysio) wanted to ride a bit of the CLIF’cross route which Emma (@waterrat77) had been speccing out. It was bright, clear and C-C-C-COLD as we trundled off from the Co-op and immediately turned up an impossible hill. We were still on-road, and I was walking… Hmm. Onto the bridleway, back into the saddle, and Ali reassured me she was just happy to be out, no pressure, no need to ride for hours, etc. I relaxed. A bit. The off-road riding was HARD for MTB-deniers like myself: lots of rocks and cobbly bits, holes and loosely packed rubble. Add in the gradient and my general lack of conviction, and I got off the bike quite a lot in the next couple of hours. Pushing didn’t feel like failure though, as it was almost as hard as riding. And we were having such a jolly time! It didn’t seem to matter. At the Top Of The World™ we grinned at the 360° view, then screeched down a long descent to Gorple reservoir and rode along past the water in delight.

Gorple to Colden Water (88)

UP and OVER and DOWN and UP and DOWN via Widdop reservoir to Hurstwood, where we were pretty sure we saw @GreatRock’s back (he says this is his best angle). We turned into the icy wind here and, although the track was easily rideable, I creaked almost to a stop. Hoo. TIRED. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t freak out. I’d eaten enough, and I knew I just needed to keep going. I can’t emphasise enough how COMPLETELY out of character this is for me. Normally I just cry. Maybe ‘cross is teaching me something after all… Ali’s happy attitude really helped, too. I knew I wasn’t being judged. We stopped for a ‘We Were Here’ photo, then turned on to the road for the return leg.

Riding straight into the freezing headwind, being buzzed by motorbikes, I realised how tired my legs had got. 8 fairly hilly miles to go, and nothing left at all. Ali was freewheeling uphill to give me a chance to catch up. Her: You OK? Gonna make it? Me: Yes. What’s the alternative? Her: Good attitude… We chose the offroad route back down from Blackshaw Head, mercifully out of the wind. Mirages of hot baths and cups of tea floated before me. I could smell home.

We took nearly three and a half hours to do 21 miles, which tells you something about the terrain**. It’s the longest ride I’ve done since having kids. We were IMMENSELY proud of ourselves.

So, the tentative verdict on #RidingWithPeople is: GOOD. Key for me have been a happy atmosphere, lots of chat and laughter, challenging riding but a complete absence of competitiveness. It IS possible…

* present: @waterrat77, @millsphysio, @makepiece and @CorinneKielty. Apologies: @bexrimmington, @trio25, @nosila107 and @sparkieturner (honorary chick).

**or maybe about my lack of leg strength and terror of going uphill and downhill

‘Cross diary 21: girly SWOT

January 2, 2013 at 6:14 pm | Posted in cycling | 1 Comment
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So. My 2012 season ended with a whimper, as I was ill for both the Heptonstall Fancy Dress charity ‘cross race and TodCross (which take place within a week of each other and are 2 miles and 5.5 miles from my house, respectively. Insert your own emoticon, here).

But it’s New Year, and everyone is busy Resolving. I hate resolutions; they just seem to be a formal way of giving yourself a hard time about not being good enough (at which I am already black belt, seventh dan). But I need a plan of action for this year, if I’m going to be not quite so comprehensively rubbish at ‘cross.

@sparkieturner suggested doing a SWOT analysis. Once I’d established that this didn’t mean reading a lot of books and sticking my hand up excitedly in class (it couldn’t be that easy, could it), I gave it a go. My first attempt looked like this:

SWOT analysis

@sparkieturner said this was ‘a start’, but I needed to put at least five items in each quadrant. Ooh.

Well, weaknesses are easy. Descending, rooty singletrack, riding in mud, riding up steep banks, riding down steep banks, grinning instead of doing #sufferface in photos, wobbling and shouting ‘Hoo!’ when people overtake me, being scared of everything, not really trying hard enough, almost complete lack of killer instinct, and most obviously, a general absence of power on the bike. I’m gonna need a bigger quadrant.

Strengths? Oh, I hate this. I don’t have any strengths. Writing about riding my bike? Not sure that qualifies. (I suppose I could always yell at everyone who laps me, “I bet my blog’s funnier than yours!”) Um… My cornering’s better than it was, though I’m still not sure I’d describe it as a strength. I’m going to put running, simply because I know some ‘crossers would do ANYTHING rather than run.

No Running

Opportunities. Well, the women-only training sessions have been great, and more of those would be fab. I can find time to ride, as my work is quite flexible, and there are plenty of places nearby to practise. I’m also getting to know other women ‘crossers around here, and they’re very friendly. I should be out riding with them, though I am dimly aware of avoiding this, which brings me to threats.

Threats are (as far as I can tell) almost entirely in my head. I’m not just talking about confidence to tackle scary stuff on the bike (though heaven knows I could do with a bit more of that). No, I’m frightened of riding with others. Anonymous at the back of some race, I can concentrate on how *I’m* doing. That corner was quite good! Look, I got up that bank! I’m gonna get you, Mesh Insert Man! And so on. But bring people I actually know into the equation, and I become despondent. The women’s race at Waddow was brilliant, but I’d really hoped I would do better; having my arse kicked by women who’d only been racing ‘cross for a couple of weeks honestly made me want to weep with despair.

Free ass kick

There are of course many excuses I can bring in here (though, strangely, there’s no column for these in the SWOT analysis*). These include: being a good ten years older than many of the women I’m comparing myself with; not having been in a race of any kind since childhood (apart from coming 176th out of 244 in the Hot Toddy a few years back); having always been completely rubbish at competitive sport; and being generally weak, feeble and prone to crying and giving up when I can’t do things. But enough! I can still improve. I must be able to do better than this: after all, I’m not dead yet. So what do I need?

I think the main thing is to be stronger. To get stronger I need to get fitter; to get fitter I need to ride harder, faster and further. I also need to stop thinking being competitive is nasty and unfriendly. To achieve both of these, I probably need people to whip my sorry arse. So, @waterrat77 and @millsphysio and @makepiece, my resolution is this: I will swallow my pride and my fear, and come out riding with you, if you’ll have me. Just try not to laugh at me until after I’ve gone home…

Point and Laugh

maybe because that would make it a SWEOT analysis, which sounds a bit icky

‘Cross diary 19: It’s training again

November 14, 2012 at 9:35 pm | Posted in cycling | 1 Comment
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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.
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