Cycling Skillz

I haven’t been on my bike since September.  I had full intentions of a leisurely New Years Eve ride with some of the Chaser girls but I discovered I had a puncture (I tried for an hour to get the bloody tyre off but it wouldn’t budge) so I didn’t make it.

The problem is, the more time I spend not riding, the more I find my confidence drops and my bike seems like a big scary monster.

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On Saturday, I went to a Surrey League ‘Race Preparation Training Session’.  In all honesty I had absolutely no idea what I was in for but it was positioned as being suitable for all levels and a session to improve group riding skills so I thought it would be perfect, especially as it took place on a circuit with no cars.  Despite being ‘suitable for all levels’, I was by far the most novice rider in our group as I made my way to Ardingly with some of the most speedy and experienced Chasers on earth.  The very thought of this made me so nervous that I almost didn’t turn up, but I reasoned with myself that the best way to gain cycling confidence is to surround myself with confident cyclists and, anyway, they’re all lovely people so there was nothing to be scared of.

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I almost fell at the first hurdle when I arrived at the train station and discovered I had another sodding puncture (and yes, I rode the 2 miles from home on a flat without noticing…)  I knew I couldn’t fix it on my own so was very grateful when Warbo said he would fix it on the train, it was as good as new by the time we got off (THANK YOU).

The next ‘hurdle’ was the 4 mile ride from the station to Ardingly showground.  How exactly do you keep up with the most experienced and speedy Chasers on earth when they’re riding at ‘an easy pace’, in the rain?  Well.  You don’t.  But, as I said, they’re a lovely bunch so they didn’t leave me behind (THANK YOU!)

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When we arrived (soaking wet and freezing cold I might add) I was surprised at how few women there were, maybe about 8 of 45-ish, I always thought cycling was a much more mixed sport but it would appear not.   The first thing I learned was that there’s a difference between a cycling ‘sportive’ and ‘race’.  A sportive is a mass participation cycling event which, although use timing chips, is a non-competitive event and attracts riders of all levels.  A race on the other hand, is exactly that, a race, and requires you to be a member of the British Cycling Federation as well as attending two of these Race Preparation Sessions.  For the record, I have no intention of competing in a race anytime soon.

The session, which was run by cycling coach Paul Butler, was split into two sessions with an indoor theory bit and an outdoor practical bit.  It was still raining and it was still cold.  It did not being rainy or cold allllll day.  Luckily Anna gave me a spare pair of tootsie covers (is that what they’re called?) which kept my tootsies warm and my shoes clean (THANK YOU!)

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Cornering

After going through the basics and importance of a good warm up, we learnt about cornering, when to break, the correct position of your pedals and where your body weight should be.  Out on the road, we went in a rectangular circuit (well, a circle would be no good for cornering would it…) and practised taking the corners, more in the correct position that at any speed, on the drop bars (I rode the drop bars and didn’t fall off!)

One Handed Riding

I still haven’t mastered the art of drinking and cycling at the same time, and signalling right is somewhat an issue, so when we were told to pair up and ride with one hand on someone elses shoulder I wasn’t overjoyed.  Luckily Ruth was a rock and we got through it without me hurting anyone!

Peloton

Next we had to form a peloton and the rider at the back had to make their way through the middle of the group to the front, not round the outside, straight through the middle.  This was my least favourite bit of the day, shouting at people that I was coming through whilst trying not to knock myself or anyone else off their bike AND trying and ride fast enough to get to the front was a tad stressful.  I was happy when that bit was over.  Plus I could no longer feel my fingers.

Chain Gang & Paceline

After another short theory bit we were back out practising how to ride in chain gangs and pacelines in small groups.  After a few hiccups (such as Dude A who insisted we had the push the pace so the group fell apart, and Dude B who rode straight into a cone…) we totally nailed this part.

The Puncture Crew

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Despite the rain, the wet muddy lycra, the mud on my face, and the frozen limbs, I had a really good day out.  I learned A LOT, gained some confidence, and had fun.  Even though I have no intention of participating in a race, this is a really worthwhile session for anyone looking to improve their group riding skills, if nothing else it will make you safer.

Also, I don’t want to show off or anything, but I can pretty much ride like this now…but I wouldn’t…cause that would be silly…and the very opposite of safe.

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Urban Cycling Club: The Next Generation Cycling Studio

This week I tried out Battersea’s brand new Urban Cycle Club and it’s unlike anything I’ve experienced before.  I quickly realised (just by walking through the door) was that it most definitely wasn’t a spin class.  I love a spin class, I really do, but spin is a general fitness class on sturdy, built-for-purpose bikes, rather than an actual cycling workout.

What Urban Cycling Club offer is a realistic cycling experience, on real road bikes, with real gearing systems that allow you to push yourself and hone your cycling specific fitness, without worrying about the London traffic and pollution and being sensible and stuff.  I know this because the workout left me with the same tired feeling I get after going out on my bike rather than a gym class… ie. ready for a long nap.

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The bikes themselves are fully adjustable and there are even some slightly smaller ones if you’re a bit shorter.  As the shortest member of our group I was on the smallest bike near the door, I wasn’t too keen on this at first but the cool night air turned out to be a winner because it got very sweaty very quickly.

The back wheel is attached to a turbo with some kind of top of the range computer system (very high techy-techy) that links to a computer screen directly in front of you. You can monitor your effort, RPM and heart rate (if you’re wearing a monitor) as well as watching your progress on the route.  It also allows you to see everyone elses stats so you can compare your performance.

The first thing we did was establish what our ‘Functional Threshold Power’ (FTP) was which we did by participating in a 15 minute race.  Your FTP is the highest average power you can sustain for an hour, measured in watts, and finding out what it is allows UCC to tailor the intensity of the ride to your individual bike based on your cycling level.  This means that, whilst everyone in the session is doing the same workout, the resistance on the bike is automatically programmed to your fitness level so everyone gets an equal workout.

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The races are fun!  Well, they probably would be if you didn’t come last (ahem) but the other people I was racing with were all super speedy professional-looking Chaser cyclists whilst I turned up post run in my running clothes (note: this was an error, padded shorts, ALWAYS wear padded shorts!) so I’m OK with finishing in a solid 7th place…

Anyway, during the races everyone is on equal ground, you cover the same course and control your own gears in the same way you would on the road, the idea is to simply get to the end first.  We then did a 25 minute interval session where the bikes were programmed to our personal FTP, we were all doing the same workout but the bike would adjust itself based on your fitness.  For example, if we went uphill, my bike would make it easier than Jack’s bike (race winner, didn’t like him) with the view that we were both putting in the same effort.  The screen infront of you told you what RPM you were aiming for and all you had to do was stick to it.  If you did you got a bloody good workout!

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What’s awesome about UCC?

  • There are only 8 bikes so it’s a small group that allows you to get a lot of personal attention from the instructors
  • They will help you establish your FTP
  • You will create your own personal profile with your height, weight, FTP and a history of your rides
  • You can literally race your friends
  • All the gory details of each session are emailed to you as soon as you finish
  • They use real road bikes with real gears
  • You don’t have to worry about falling off or getting into an argument with an idiot driver/other cyclist/small child/excitable puppy
  • It really is some top of the range technology
  • They play some banging tunes
  • There’s lockers, showers, sweat towels and even cycling shoes to hire if you don’t have your own
  • They’re super friendly and go out of their way to help you (useful if, like me, you’re not an experienced cyclist and have lots of questions)

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What’s not so awesome about UCC?

  • There are only 8 bikes – I imagine sessions will get booked up very quickly
  • The seats! At least the seats on a non-padded bum.  Don’t be a fool and rock up in your running compression tights like I did, it will hurt!

If you’re a keen cyclist I really think you’re going to love it. However, don’t be scared if you’re not a super speedy ‘pro’ cyclist, I’m definitely not, but one of the things I loved most about this was that it allowed me to train on a real bike in a safe environment which I think is really important to help newer cyclists build their confidence.  Go along and give it ago, it’s a really unique set-up and a lot of fun!

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RideLondon: 100 miles on 2 wheels

At 2am on Sunday morning I was staring out of the window watching the rain come down in sheets.  It was so loud it woke me up.  It was the worst rain I had seen in a very long time and it was far from ideal.

Just two hours later my alarm went off, but my heavy heart subsided with a quick glance outside.  The rain had stopped and it looked fairly promising.  It was going to be a good day.

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Just before 5am, after forcing some porridge down, I hopped on my bike and set off into the sunrise towards the Olympic Park.  I didn’t really know where I was going but I soon saw plenty of other cyclists heading the same way.  Following everyone else, I made the 12 mile journey to the start line taking in an eerily quiet Rotherhithe tunnel which was closed to cars.

Getting into the start area was easy, there were loads of signs, loads of toilets and plenty of space.  Luckily I bumped into my friend Laura so I had a pal to share my last minute worries with.  She had sandwiches and chicken nuggets…I did not.  Our start time was 7:24am and, although we still had an hour to go, it flew by.

Early Risers

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With credit to the organisers, the start was a military operation with each wave going off bang on time, I don’t know how many waves there were, but c.30,000 riders left the park at roughly 6 minute intervals over 4 hours.  It was an impressive set up.

Stage 1: Miles 1-25: The Jolly Bit

For the first 25 miles I felt great.  The air was cool and dry, everyone was in great spirits and I was pleasantly surprised that, not only was there more space around me than I was expecting, people were (mostly) riding considerately.  There were even some Rider Safety Captains.

After riding through London, I got a big cheer from Darren in Richmond Park, and we headed to the first ‘hub’ near Hampton Court.  As I’m really bad at drinking and riding at the same time, let alone eating, I took the opportunity to stop.

The hubs exceeded my expectations, there were tables and tables piled with bananas, Cliff Bars, gels, Shot Bloks and Graze snack boxes, as well as loads of water and electrolyte tablets.  There were toilets aplenty, and medical and mechanical help if needed.  The volunteers were all super friendly and happy, especially given the fact they had an earlier start than me!

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Stage 2: Miles 26-48: The Learning Curve Bit

The next section posed some challenges.  I hadn’t been eating anywhere near enough and I was feeling it.  Ruth had told me repeatedly that I needed to constantly scoff my face but I didn’t realise that meant literally.  A Cliff bar at the start line and a gel at the hub just wasn’t enough.  Somewhere around 40 miles I was feeling ropey and decided that if I had to stop every few miles to make sure I ate something, that was what needed to happen.

The Surrey countryside, with its beautiful views, was upon us now, and just before the second hub at mile 48 there was a fairly short, but fairly steep climb.  I was glad I had taken on some extra fuel (GU Stroopwafles for the win by the way).

At the hub at Newlands Corner, I took a longer time out, ate some proper food and had a little sit down with views over Surrey.  I was feeling much better. Onwards.

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Stage 3: Miles 48-75. The Hilly Bit

The next section brought the dreaded Surrey Hills.  Leith Hill came first, it was new to me, it was the the steepest on the course, and it was bloody hard.  People were getting a little narky with each other as the course narrowed and I eventually caved somewhere near(ish) the top and got off the bike.  I was far from the only one.

Finally at the top, with 58 miles on the clock, I got back on my bike and enjoyed some downhill rolling towards Dorking.  Soon after, we were at the bottom of Box Hill, I had already conquered this one recently and I have to say I quite enjoyed it!  There were some signs every 250m or so telling you how far you had come and some motivational words of wisdom such as ‘don’t fear the granny gear‘ and, of course, ‘shut up legs‘.

I had stuck to my new fueling plan but, as we neared the third hub at Leatherhead, I was looking forward to another break.

Thanks Buxton!

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Stage 4: Miles 75-86. The Blurry Bit

The next few miles rolled by in a bit of a blur.  I was tired, my quads were complaining, and my hands were sore.  I didn’t really know where I was and I couldn’t tell you what I saw, but we were heading back to London and that was all I could focus on.

Just as I was planning to pull over for more food, I saw a sign for hub 4.  There was a HUB 4??

Pulling into the stop at Kingston I have never been so happy to see a bag of salt & vinegar crisps.  I was less happy to see yet another banana, but I ate it anyway.  After a short mental battle with myself I got back on the bike again and set off on the last 14 miles. Shut up legs.

Stage 5: Miles 86-100. The Bloody Awesome Bit

The last section was the best.  The crowds were thicker, the roads were flatter, we were back in London and the finish was near.  I found a new lease of life and powered through the last few miles, not even Wimbledon Hill could get me down now.

The miles were ticking down quickly, I got a cheer from Jen at Parsons Green, and we were soon riding along the Embankment.  It wasn’t long before we were heading up Whitehall and swinging round for a pretty spectacular finish on The Mall.  The 100 mile finish line was in sight!!

I couldn’t help but grin like a lunatic as I flew down the final few metres and over the finish line, I even made it on the telly!

I’m in the background, I’m not the man being interviewed:

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And that was that, I had completed 100 miles on two wheels and I loved it!  It actually turned out to be 119 miles in total what with cycling there and back, no wonder I was a little sleepy…

The Reflection Bit

In my opinion, Ride London was organised pretty flawlessly.  Sure, there will always be some hiccups with the complexities of an event so big, but I was really impressed with everything, it couldn’t have been easy.

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I’m aware, although disappointed, that cycling generally, and this event in particular, attracts a lot of haters, especially from those who live along the route.  Sure, it’s an inconvenience, but it’s just one weekend a year.  One weekend that not only brings a lot of positivity towards sport and fitness and inspires people to get active, but keeps the legacy of the London Olympics alive and raises millions for charity.

The Best Bits:

  • Riding on closed roads. A privilege
  • The atmosphere. Electric
  • The cheery volunteers. Incredible
  • Box Hill. It’s Fun
  • Hitting a new max speed of 38.3 mph. Weeeeee
  • The Mile 86 salt and vinegar crisps. Godsend
  • The last 5 miles. Unreal
  • The finish along the Mall towards Buckingham Palace. Epic
  • In fact, almost everything. Fan-flippin-tastic

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The Worst Bits:

  • The 4 o’clock alarm. Zzzzzz
  • Having to stop to eat and drink. Such a newb
  • Leith Hill. Ouch
  • The dude who overtook me on a Boris Bike. Really
  • My sore hands. Hurty
  • Cycling through London traffic to get home. Wobbly

The Thank Yous:

  • Thank you to all the volunteers that made it possible, there were a lot of you, your constant enthusiasm and kind words gave me strength
  • Thank you to the emergency services who responded quickly to incidents
  • Thank you to the roadside angels who were offering mechanical help to those in need, you made me worry less
  • And thank you to everyone who wholeheartedly embraced the event and lined the streets in thousands to cheer and shout at us, you made the dark times brighter

Like the London Marathon, Ride London is a true testament to the spirit of this City and I can’t wait to be part of it again.  It was tough, it was challenging, it was rewarding, and it was a whole lot of fun!

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Ride 100: Way out of my comfort zone

They say the bit outside of your comfort zone is where magical things happen.  It’s dangerous, and scary, and a little intimidating, but it’s OK because unicorns live there and they can show you a whole new world of wonderful things.  Or something like that.  On Sunday I’m taking on my first cycling sportive.  It’s 100 miles long.  And it’s a whole new world to me.

My comfort zone is all but a dot on the horizon right now.  Mostly because I know s**t all about cycling.  Or bikes.  Or how to fix my bike if it breaks.  It doesn’t bode well when you have to phone your Dad from the expo to ask him what sort of inner tube you need, and you still don’t know what you’re look at so the random dude who overhears offers some help and picks the tube out for you after you tell him you have ‘you know, a normal bike…’.  Yep, my comfort zone is basically on another planet.

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Genuinely, I’d much rather run a marathon on Sunday, despite not being marathon fit, because marathons are my comfort zone (did I just say that?!).  I know what’s going to happen in a marathon.  I’ve run strong, I’ve run weak, and I’ve run when I probably shouldn’t have.  I know there will be good times, dark times, painful times, and many times when you have to fight the powerful desire to crumble and quit.  There’s little that could surprise me over the course of running 26.2 miles.  Cycling 100 miles however?  I can’t even comprehend how far that is on 2 wheels.

Honestly, this is the event that I never thought I would do.  I owe a huge amount of thanks to everyone who helped get me to this stage, including the Brutterly’s for helping me get kitted out and showing me the basics, my Dad for being my personal bike mechanic (and repeatedly reminding me how dangerous cycling on the road is in case I forget), and everyone who has ridden with me and boosted my confidence.  So thank you.  Now there’s only one thing left to do.  Or two if you include eating all the carbs tomorrow.

Fingers crossed for magic.  And maybe unicorns. #Ride100

 

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From 2 Feet to 2 Wheels

Back in February I got home to find the coverted ‘Congratulations. You have been successful in gaining a ballot place in the 2017 Prudential Ride London-Surrey 100’ magazine on my doormat.  RideLondon is pretty much the London Marathon of bike rides and I’d just got myself a place…I haven’t owned a bike since I was a teenager.

So I bought me a bike.  A pretty blue bike with bright green flashes.  And I’ve named him Walter.  Walter and I haven’t known each other for long, which only gives us a short period of time to get acquainted before tackling this pretty-big-deal 100 mile ride.  Just 11 short weeks in fact.

Learning how to ride in cleats in Wimbledon Park

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RideLondon is a three day cycling festival in its’ 5th year.  It came about after we hosted the Olympic Games in 2012 and is part of London’s long term goal to create a safe, easy, and well-connected environment to get more people active through cycling.  On the 30th July, the 100 mile sportive gives participants a rare opportunity to ride on closed roads around London and Surrey, finishing on the Mall.  It’s one of those things I’ve always admired from afar but never actually thought I’d do.

I know it’s difficult to get a place, and the fact I entered the ballot without a bike annoys people, but I’ve felt the same about the London Marathon (and other events) for many years.  It’s a new challenge for me and I’m going to give it my best shot, so I refuse to be sorry.

11 weeks really isn’t very long to get used to a proper road bike, on London roads, with cleats AND get ready for the challenge in hand.  I probably should have bought a bike earlier, but I was desperately trying to build my fitness post foot surgery and throwing a new sport in the mix was all a bit too much.

Gemma taking me out for my first proper ride in Richmond Park

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Cycling doesn’t seem to be quite as easy as just chucking my trainers on and going for a run.  I have to plan ahead, I have to know where I’m going, I have to have the time to do it to get any decent miles in, and, ideally, I have to avoid as much traffic as possible.  Plus cycling for 3+ hours is exhausting so then I need a nap!

I’m lucky to have some great friends, and a great Dad, who know a lot about bikes because I literally knew NOTHING.  They helped me pick out the right bike for me and showed me the ropes (ie how to remove the front wheel when you’re panicking about getting the bike in the car, THANKS MARTIN).

But not only that, Gemma & Martin came with me to pick up Walter, which was a lifesaver because I don’t think I would have made it home on my own.  I mean, Martin did tell us 3 times we were going left at a busy junction and then proceeded to cross 3 lanes of London traffic to go right after I had been on the bike all of 2 minutes, but I survived…I forgot that Martin’s left is everyone else’s right.

A hilly ride around the Purbecks with the brother.  Ice cream stop selfie

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I’ve since been riding with Gemma, my brother, a Chasers group and even all by myself.  I’ve even got those stupid cyclist tan lines that I can’t get rid of!

Anyway, so far, so good.  A couple of near misses and a few bruises but Walter and I are progressing nicely and have made it up to 40 miles.  Whether I’ll ever be able to keep up with other people, I don’t know, I just need to figure out how to put the tiger in the Kat…so to speak.

Dad – I’m bringing my bike home for us to clean ‘together’ and do puncture repair practice soon. You’re welcome 🙂